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These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness.
Moses’ discourse to Israel
I. The date of this sermon which moses preached to the people of Israel. A great auditory no question he had, as many as could crowd within hearing, and particularly all the elders and officers, the representatives of the people; and probably it was on the Sabbath day that he delivered this to them.
1. The place where they were now encamped was in the plain, in the land of Moab (Deuteronomy 1:1; Deuteronomy 1:5), where they were just ready to enter Canaan, and engage in a war with the Canaanites. Yet he discourseth not to them concerning military affairs, but concerning their duty to God; for if they kept themselves in His fear and favour, He would secure to them the conquest of the land; their religion would be their best policy.
2. The time was near the end of the fortieth year since they came out of Egypt. So long God had borne their manners, and they had borne their own iniquity (Numbers 14:34); and now a new and more pleasant scene was to be introduced, as a token for good, Moses repeats the law to them. Thus, after God’s controversy with them for the golden calf, the first and surest sign of God’s being reconciled to them was the renewing of the tables. There is no better evidence and earnest of God’s favour than His putting His law in our hearts (Psalms 147:19-20).
II. The discourse itself. In general, Moses spake unto them “all that the Lord had given him in commandment” (Deuteronomy 1:3), which intimates, not only that what he new delivered was for substance the same with what had formerly been commanded, but it was that God now commanded him to repeat. He gave them this rehearsal and exhortation purely by Divine direction. God appointed him to leave this legacy to the Church. He begins his narrative with their removal from Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 1:6), and relates here--
1. The orders God gave them to decamp and proceed in their march (Deuteronomy 1:6-7). “Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount.” That was the mount that burned with fire (Hebrews 12:18), and gendered to bondage (Galatians 4:24). Thither God brought them to humble them, and by the terrors of the law to prepare them for the land of promise. There He kept them about a year, and then told them they had dwelt long enough there, they must go forward. Though God bring His people into trouble and affliction, into spiritual trouble and affliction of mind, He knows when they have dwelt long enough in it, and will certainly find a time, the fittest time, to advance them from the terrors of the spirit of bondage to the comforts of the spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15).
2. The prospect He gave them of a happy settlement in Canaan presently: “Go to the land of the Canaanites” (Deuteronomy 1:7). Enter and take possession; it is all your own. “Behold, I have set the land before you” (Deuteronomy 1:8). But when God commands us to go forward in our Christian course, He sets the heavenly Canaan before us for our encouragement. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
Moses spake . . . according unto all that the Lord had given him.
A God-given sermon
Moses spoke what the Lord had commanded him; in other words, Moses gave the people what God had given him (Acts 3:6). Though the words were Moses’, the thing uttered was of God. Some speak according to the wisdom of the world: they can tell much about its craft, villainy, hollowness; and they preach selfishness, more or less refined, as a means of personal defence, and the true source of success. Some speak according to one thing, others according to something else. Moses spoke according to what God had given him. He therefore spoke God’s truth.
I. Because Moses spoke God’s truth he uttered what would be advantageous to the people. The path of happiness is the way of wisdom. Wisdom is happiness as well as pleasant (Proverbs 8:1-36.). True wisdom is the fear of God (Job 28:28). The man who declares God’s truth instructs in wisdom and leads men to happiness. Happiness is what men are seeking. Those who conduct others into happiness meet an universal want.
II. Because Moses spoke what God gave him, he could speak--
1. With courage.
2. With power.
III. Because Moses spoke what God gave him to speak, he relieved himself of responsibility.
1. Commissions are sometimes entrusted to men by God which they are afraid to execute. They thereby entail calamity upon themselves and all connected with them (Jonah).
2. Duties imposed by God, if neglected, bring desolation on the man and his family--Achan (Judges 7:1-25).
3. Knowledge, wisdom, visions of the Divine glory are vouchsafed to men to be used for the improvement of the world, the upholding of the Church, and the honour of God.
4. Money, influence, opportunity is entrusted to many in these days. Such is not to be lavished on ourselves. God gave it; He expects it to be used in His service. (J. Saurin.)
On this side Jordan, etc.--
The worth of the present
Moses repeated the law as soon as he had opportunity, and circumstances required it. He did not wait till the promised land was entered. The work of today was not delayed till the morrow. It was done at once. He did it where he was--in the land of the Gentiles--surrounded with heathen--in the country of foes. Trapp with no little humour remarks on these, words, “And he was not long about it. A ready heart makes a riddance of God’s work, for being oiled with the Spirit, it becomes lithe and nimble and quick of despatch.” Three practical hints--
I. What is to be done do at once. Moses on this side of Jordan began to speak. Had Moses been a boy at school he would not have put off his prayers till he got home, where there were no schoolfellows to chaff. He would have said them then and there.
II. Do not think that there will be a more propitious time than the present.
1. Dallying with duties does not diminish difficulties.
2. Delay positively increases difficulties. Power unused decreases. If duty is deferred a day we are a day’s wasted strength the weaker.
3. We know what is to be done now; tomorrow it may be forgotten. Cares of life may usurp attention. The duties are pushed aside--choked down--killed. Weeds grow faster than corn. Cares and duties come quicker than time.
III. Do some good things in this life--in the desert, so called, on this side of Jordan. Do not wait till heaven is reached, that angels alone may be witness of your good deeds. Moses did not defer till the promised land was reached. He did what he was able out of the promised land. It was well he did. He never reached Canaan. Had he put off all till then, nothing would have been done. (J. Saurin.)
God’s address to His people
I. God, in His address to His people, enjoins action. “Not slothful” is the apostolic command. “Ye have dwelt long enough.” The time of inactivity is over. “Turn you, take your journey.” God enjoins on His people to be like Himself. He is ever active. The whole seven days round His energies are going forth in creating and blessing. Not less active than the Father is the Son. Week day and Sabbath He exerted Himself to make man happier and the world brighter. His reason for this He gives in John 5:17. It is not unnatural, therefore, that God seeks in His people qualities so largely developed in Himself. God does not want idlers in His vineyard. Man was put into the garden of the world to work (Genesis 2:15). However, God permits some rest. Life is not all work. Storm and calm, battle and peace, make history. But still the law of life and growth is, the more we do within certain limits the more we are able to do. This is true both physically and spiritually. People of impaired health by proper exercise become strong. The morally weak are strengthened by the exercise of trial. The more kind a man tries to be, the more he is. So with faith, patience, hope.
II. God advises with regard to the nature, direction, and extent of this action.
1. Nature of the action. Let it be action with a purpose in view. Have an aim in life. “Go to the mount of the Amorites.”
2. Direction of the action. Two hints with regard to that--
(1) Let it go forth. It does not do for a man’s action to turn in on himself. Uniform selfishness is as injurious as constant introspection; and ceaseless introspection is as ruinous as unmixed selfishness. Live for others as well as self; work for others.
(2) This is modified by another hint. Go to what is near first.
3. Extent of the action. Begin at the near, then proceed to what is more remote, till the whole world is affected by your life, e.g.--
(1) First to the plain. Read part of the Bible easily understood and applied. Interpret providence as far as Son can trace a Father’s hands. What cannot be understood leave for a future day and clearer lights.
(2) After this go to the hill. Do not mind a difficulty sometimes. A little adversity strengthens the soul. Trust is perfected in suffering.
(3) Now you may proceed to the vale. There is the “valley of the shadow of death”--“the valley of humiliation”--“the valley of vision. Here the soul is quickened and brought into that region of experience that Paul designates as being “hidden with Christ in God.”
(4) Thus prepared with “the whole armour of God,” go to the “south.” Here were hills infested with foes. So the Christian, after mounting the Hill of Transfiguration with Christ, where for a moment the Divine glory is manifested, has to go back again to a world where man has to contend with demons (Matthew 17:14-18), where he has to grapple with many a spiritual foe, wolves in sheep’s clothing, the lion that seeks to devour, the subtle serpent.
(5) Then comes the reward. Having gone to the “south,” the people might turn aside to the sea. So does God bring the Christian after long and hard toil to gaze into those depths of love and grace which are as oceans mirroring the midnight skies.
(6) After such revelation of God’s glory and power the people of God can go forth to war with the Canaanite. The kingdom of Christ is extended to Lebanon (the far north)--to the river (the far cast). The whole world is filled with the glory of the Lord.
III. God, in His address, points out how rightly directed action will bring its own reward. “Behold, I have set (Hebrews ‘given’) the land before you: go in and possess.”
1. True work is sure to bring recompense of some kind. It brings external reward. A day’s work brings the day’s wages. The sewings of spring are followed by the harvests of autumn. It brings an internal reward in a man’s own nature and being.
2. Show what work is. Distinguish work from pleasure. Pleasure is the expending of energy without any end or purpose save the sensations caused by the act of waste, whereby pleasure has been defined as “dissipating enjoyments”; work is energy expended for a purpose. In its idea it is conservative. Work is action to get a return for the energy so spent, both to recuperate and increase the power thus employed. Pleasure seeks nothing save the sensation; work demands a recompense. God promises to work its recompense. “Go in and possess.” (J. Saurin.)
The discourse delivered by Moses
The faithful servants of the Lord, with advancing years and experience, frequently acquire increasing reputation for wisdom, integrity, and disinterested philanthropy, as well as pious zeal for the glory of God. While they draw nearer to the heavenly world they often seem to breathe a purer air, and all their words have a heavenly savour; their motion accelerates as they approach their rest; their earnestness increases, when they can be influenced by no earthly motive; and their confidence and comfort acquire strength in defiance of the approaching king of terrors. Under such circumstances their instructions are doubly impressive, and frequently have a durable effect upon the survivors. They should then seize every occasion of reminding the people of the wisdom, power, truth, and love of God, as manifested in His dealing with them: and there are times when they may also, consistently with deep humility, speak of their own conduct, their love to souls, their faithful labours, their self-denial, and patient sufferings in the arduous work about which they are engaged; in order to obviate prejudice, and to obtain a more favourable attention to further exhortations. But it is likewise necessary to show the people their transgressions, that they may be duly humbled; to warn them against the fatal effects of unbelief and sin; to point out the advantages of confidence in God and obedience to Him; and to unite confessions of their own imperfection and sinfulness, both to avoid giving needless offence, to suggest encouragement, and to excite personal humiliation. (Thomas Scott.)
Ordered from the mountain
God knows, then, how long we have been here or there. He keeps the time; He knows when we have been “long enough” in one place. “Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount.” We may get tired even of mountains. Wherever we live we need change. We are ordered down off the mountain. Soon after we have said, It is good to be here, the Leader proposes that we should go down again, tie will not have any heaven built upon earth; He will never allow us to build permanently upon foundations that are themselves transitory. There are many mountains to come down--mountains of supposed strength, when the very robustest man must lie down and say, “I am very weary, tired to exhaustion”; mountains of prosperity, when Croesus himself must come down, saying, “I am a poor man; let the meanest slave serve me, for I cannot longer serve myself.” Then there is the coming down that is inevitable--the time when God says to every one of us, “You have been long enough on the mountain of time; pass through the grave to the hills of heaven, the great mountains of eternity.” Sometimes we think we have been too long on the mountain, and wonder when He will come whose right it is to bring the sheep into the fold; we say in our peevishness--not always impious, but rather an expression of weakness--Surely we have been forgotten; by this time we ought to have been with the blessed ones; the night is coming on quickly, and we shall be drenched with dews. So long are some men kept outside, on the very top of the hill, where very little grass grows--bare, rocky places. But God cannot forget; we must rest in His memory; He puts Himself even before a mother who may forget her sucking child, but He has pledged Himself never to forget His redeemed Church. But, having ordered His people away from the mountain, where can they take up their abode We find the answer in the seventh verse. God has many localities at His command, so He disperses the people, setting them “in the plain, ill the hills, in the vale,” “by the seaside,” and “unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” What space God has! “In My Father’s house are many mansions”--in My Father’s house are many localities. Why do we choose our own place? Did ever man dispute the Divine sovereignty without regretting his encounter with the Eternal Will? Why have any will? Were we serving wooden gods, mechanical deities, divinities of our own creation or invention, we might dispute with them, point out what possibly they may have overlooked, and draw holder programmes; but if God is the only-wise, if God is love, if God is light, if God died for us in the person of His Son, why not say, Not my will, but Thine be done: take me to the mountain or the plain, the hills or the vale, the seaside or the river; the taking itself shall be as a vision of heaven? (J. Parker, D. D.)
A stationary position degrading
I remember hearing a naturalist describe a species of jelly fish which, he said, lives fixed to a rock, from which it never stirs. It does not require to go in search of food, because in the decayed tissues of its own organism there grows a kind of seaweed on which it subsists. I thought I had never heard of any creature so comfortable. But the naturalist who was describing it went on to say that it is one of the very lowest forms of animal life, and the extreme comfort which it enjoys is the very badge of its degraded position.
Go in and possess the land.--
The blessedness and glory of the promised land
I. To give a spiritual description of the land which Jehovah hath proposed as the end of our pilgrimage, and of which we all profess to be in search.
1. It is a land to whose delightfulness, beauty, and fertility Jehovah Himself had borne the most ample and undoubted testimony.
2. But the land of Canaan was not merely a country known by description, however magnificent and encouraging, as well as unchangeably true, the testimony of God might be concerning it. The spies who had been sent, in whatever guilty unbelief their mission originated, had searched it out, from Dan even to Beersheba; and they had brought with them of the grapes, and pomegranates, and figs, that the people might see, and taste, and judge for themselves. And what was this except a type of Christ, the true Vine, some clusters of which the searching eye of faith may see?
3. It is, moreover, a land of promise; and here is the leading feature of its peculiar preciousness. Jehovah saith not that Canaan is a country which His people might inhabit, if they could win it in their own strength; for then, where were the weapons of their successful warfare, and where the might in which to overcome their enemies? But it is a land which, in the exercise of His free and sovereign grace, He made over to them--not giving it to them because they were a great nation, for they were the fewest of all people, but because He loved them.
II. The injunction given by Jehovah to His people--“Go in, and possess the land”; and, as it is added in the twenty-third verse, where the command and promise are repeated, “Fear not, neither be discouraged.” The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. Never imagine that the Canaan which you profess to seek will be your own without a warfare. Fight valiantly, pray fervently, trust implicitly, and you will be made more than conquerors. Neither doubt nor distrust the sure promise and inviolable covenant of an unchangeable God. Oh, how keenly should this Scripture rebuke all loiterers in the holy war! We profess to love and follow Jesus, but when He cries “Go up and possess the land,” we willingly linger in the desert of our own coldness and worldly love. (R. P. Buddicom.)
Enlargement-a New Year’s address
John Foster, in one of his admirable essays, speaks of truth as presenting to the inquirer’s view a beautiful and spacious landscape, divided into delightful gardens, green meadows, so that wherever he casts his eyes he beholds some beautiful plant or flower of truth. You have entered into this goodly land of truth, “Go in and possess it”; extend this year your knowledge of it, make its riches your own priceless possession. God has given unto us intellectual power; and, having bestowed this blessing upon us, He requires that we do our utmost in order to secure mental culture. Truth has many departments, but truth in its highest form is presented to us in Holy Scripture. What a realm of beauty and fertility is presented to us here! Let us “go in and possess this land.” And let us “go in” feeling that we are entering a large land; not mistaking for the whole a little tract we have traversed, but convinced that there are unexplored regions yet to be brought to light. Oh, to be delivered from all narrowness in reference to our conceptions of truth, and specially of truth bearing upon our spiritual weal! There are, I know, certain teachings which are to be regarded as foundation teachings, as, for instance, the Divinity and Incarnation of Christ, the Atonement of Jesus, His victory over death, His resurrection, etc. But whilst holding these great verities of eternal truth unswervingly, let us come to the study of this Book of God believing that there are hidden treasures here, and which He will reveal to us by His Spirit if we carry on our investigation in the spirit of patience, thoughtfulness, courage, and prayer. One of the most beautiful conceptions of heaven we can possibly form is that of its being “the land of uprightness”; perfect purity, complete rectitude prevailing. And whilst it is true that heaven “remaineth to the people of God,” it is also true that they who have believed enter it even here. The blessings flowing to us through our union to Christ are present, and the elements which constitute the character of the glorified in heaven are to mark, in a growing measure, God’s servants who are still on earth. Be it ours, then, to go on developing in all the excellencies of the Christian character. There is a realm which must be described as one of sin and death, of bondage and darkness. Oh, to possess that land, and to transfer it to Christ, that thus, under the influence of His Spirit, its evil may give place to purity, its slavery to liberty, whilst through its chambers of death life may spread! This is our mission as the followers of the Lord Jesus. In calling us into union with Himself He calls us, in fact, into sympathy with Him in His glorious purpose of effecting the ultimate deliverance of the world from the captivity of evil. When we speak of possessing the world for Christ, what difficulties present themselves to our view! How vast is the territory yet to be covered! How inapproachable many of its tracts, so that noble lives are sacrificed by the way, or reach their destination only to die! How unhealthy the climates, and how unyielding the superstitions! How the work is impeded, too, by the policy of governments, taking the carnal weapons where we would use the spiritual, and introducing the soldier where we would plant the missionary. Truly, there are many hindrances. But we will not despair. It is the cause of God in which we are enlisted. When He works, who shall hinder? (S. D. Hillman, B. A.)
And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone.
The promised increase pleaded
I. The glorious being addressed. “The Lord God of your fathers.”
1. In His essential character as Lord God.
(1) In creation.
(2) In providence.
(3) In redemption.
2. In His relative character. “Lord God of your fathers.”
(1) Literally in its application to Israel. The Lord God, who called Abraham, blessed Isaac, and named Jacob; who delivered His people from the proud yoke of Pharaoh; guided, guarded, and supplied them in the wilderness; gave them the rich land of promise. Surely Israel might well sing, “There is no God like unto the God of Jeshurun.” Then let us apply it--
(2) To many of our fathers after the flesh. Many of our fathers served and trusted in the living God. How they spake of God, “Behold I die, but serve God, and He will be with you.” Is not their memory still sweet?
3. The subject has a general application to our spiritual predecessors. Those early Christian fathers who had to witness before the pagan world, and who passed through horrid persecutions, and yet were supported and made successful in spreading the Gospel through the world.
II. The comprehensive petition presented. “Make you,” etc. In the petition are two parts, multiplication of numbers and the Divine blessing.
III. The ground of encouragement adduced. “As He hath promised.” Now, God did promise Abraham. Observe some of the traits of these promises. They are--
1. Absolute in their nature. He has not said He will multiply the Church if--
(1) Her friends are active and willing. No. But He will make His people willing in the day of His power.
(2) If the governments of the world and the great of the earth are favourable; but it is written, They shall bring the gold of Sheba,” etc.
2. They are numerous. Scattered over the whole extent of revelation.
3. They have been principally made to Christ.
4. Partially fulfilled.
1. The divinity of our religion.
2. The benevolence of our religion.
3. The final triumphs of our religion.
4. The bearing of our subject on the religious instruction of the rising generation. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The blessing of a numerous progeny
I. That children ought to be esteemed blessings, and that he who has a numerous offspring ought to be thankful to God for them. This is a blessed tiling, for--
1. Such a man is a public blessing to the kingdom in which he lives; for the riches of a kingdom consists in the number of its inhabitants.
2. A numerous offspring is a valuable blessing with respect to private families, and that mutual comfort and support which those who came originally out of the same loins yield to one another. These bonds are inseparable when the same interests are bound by natural affection.
3. A numerous offspring is a valuable blessing to the parent himself, The Jew looked forward to the Messiah being born of his family; the Christian can see a new heir of righteousness. There is joy in their birth; there is pleasure in their after-life if the child is trained aright.
II. God is the sole author and disposer of these blessings (Psalms 127:3). This blessing is called an heritage. An heritage is an estate got by ancestors, and descends to us lineally without our painstaking. God is our Ancestor, from whom we enjoy all favours. Three lessons are gathered from the subject of this verse.
1. Let those who have no children learn from hence to wait with patience the Divine pleasure, to continue in prayer and alms deeds, and to be fruitful in good works; and if they have not children after the flesh, they will have a multitude who will call them blessed, and who in the endless ages of eternity will be to them as children.
2. Let those who have a numerous family of children be thankful to God for bestowing these blessings on them, and use their utmost endeavour to make them blessings indeed, by grounding them in the principles of religion, and bringing them up soberly and virtuously to some lawful calling.
3. Those who have had children and are deprived of them, either by natural death or, which is worse, by any unfortunate accident, may hence learn to resign themselves to the will of God, and entirely to depend on His good providence. (Lewis Atterbury.)
In this part of his narrative he insinuates to them--
1. That he greatly rejoiced in the increase of their numbers. He owns the accomplishment of God’s promise to Abraham (Deuteronomy 1:10). You are as the stars of heaven for multitude; and prays for the further accomplishment of it (Deuteronomy 1:11). God make you a thousand times more. This prayer comes in a parenthesis; and a good prayer prudently put in cannot be impertinent in any discourse of Divine things; nor will a pious ejaculation break the coherence, but rather strengthen and adorn it. But how greatly are his desires enlarged when he prays that they might be made a thousand times more than they were! We are not straightened in the power and goodness of God; why should we be straightened in our own faith and hope, which ought to be as large as the promise? It is from the promise that Moses here takes the measure of his prayer, the Lord bless you as He hath promised you. And why might he not hope that they might become a thousand times more than they were now, when they were now ten thousand times more than they were when they came down into Egypt, above two hundred and fifty years ago? Observe, when they were under the government of Pharaoh the increase of their numbers was envied, and complained of as a grievance (Exodus 1:9); but now, raider the government of Moses, it was rejoiced in, and prayed for as a blessing, the comparing of which might give them occasion to reflect with shame upon their own folly when they had talked of making a captain and returning to Egypt.
2. That he was not ambitious of monopolising the honour of the government and ruling them himself alone as an absolute monarch (Deuteronomy 1:9). Magistracy is a burden. Moses himself, though so eminently gifted for it, found it lay heavy on his shoulders; nay, the best magistrates complain most of the burden, and are most desirous of help, and most afraid of undertaking more than they can perform.
3. That he was not desirous to prefer his own creatures, or such as should underhand have a dependence upon him; for he leaves it to the people to choose their judges, to whom he would grant commissions; not to be turned out when he pleased, but to continue as long as they approved themselves faithful (Deuteronomy 1:13). We must not grudge that God’s work be done by other hands than ours, provided it be done by good hands.
4. That he was m this matter very willing to please the people, and though he did not in anything aim at their applause, yet in a thing of this nature he would not act without their approbation. And they agreed to the proposal (Deuteronomy 1:14). The thing which thou hast spoken is good. This he mentions to aggravate the sin of their mutinies and discontents after this, that the government they quarrelled with was what they themselves had consented to; Moses would have pleased them if they would have been pleased.
5. That he aimed to edify them as well as to gratify them; for--
(1) He appointed men of good characters (Deuteronomy 1:15), wise men, and men known men that would be faithful to their trust and to the public interest.
(2) He gave them a good charge (Deuteronomy 1:16-17). Those that are advanced to honour must know that they are charged with business, and must give account another day of their charge.
(3) He chargeth them to be diligent and patient; hear the causes. Hear both sides, hear them fully, hear them carefully, for nature hath provided us with two ears; and he that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame to him. The car of the learned is necessary to the tongue of the learned (Isaiah 50:4).
(4) To be just and impartial: judge righteously. Judgment must be given according to the merits of the cause, without regard to the quality of the parties. The natives must not be suffered to abuse the strangers; no more than the strangers to insult the natives, or to encroach upon them. The great must not be suffered to oppress the small, nor to crush them; no more than the small to rob the great, or to affront them. No faces must be known in judgment, but unbribed, unbiassed equity must always pass sentence.
(5) To be resolute and courageous. You shall not be afraid of the face of man. But not overawed to do an ill thing, either by the clamours of the crowd, or by the menaces of those that have power in their hands. And he gives them a good reason to enforce this charge; for the judgment is God’s. You are God’s vicegerents; you act for Him, and therefore must act like Him; you are His representatives, but if you judge unrighteously you misrepresent Him. The judgment is His, and therefore He will protect you in doing right, and will certainly call you to account if you do wrong. And lastly, he allows them to bring all difficult cases to him, which he would always be ready to hear and determine, and to make both the judges and the people easy. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
The execution of a nation’s laws
The constitution of a man’s body is best known by his pulse; if it stirs not at all, then we know he is dead; if it stirs violently, then we know him to be in a fever; if it keeps an equal stroke, then we know he is sound and whole: in like manner we may judge of the estate of a kingdom, or commonwealth, by the manner of execution of its laws. (J. Spencer.)
That great and terrible wilderness.
There are some things that are never to be forgotten in life. There are troubles whose shadow is as long as life’s whole day. The troubles are past, but the shadow is still there; the victory is won, but the battle seems still to be booming in our ear. We are miles and miles away from the desert--yea, half a continent and more--but who can ever forget “all that great and terrible wilderness”? Yet life would be poor without it. The memory of that wilderness chastens our joy, touches our prayer into a more solemn and tender music, and makes us more valiant, because more hopeful, in reference to all the future. There cannot be two such wildernesses in the whole universe. We are the better for the wildernesses of life, and we cannot escape them. Oh, that great and terrible wilderness! It comes after us now like a ghost; it darkens upon our vision in the dream-time; we repeat the journey in the night season, and feel all the sleet and cold, all the dreariness and helplessness of the old experience. How many a joy we have forgotten; but we cannot play with “that great and terrible wilderness.” The very pronouncement of the words makes us cold. It was “great”; it was “terrible”; it was a “wilderness.” But, rightly trodden, its barren sand made us men; taken in the right spirit, we thought we saw in it the beginning of the garden of God. Every man does not pass through exactly the same wilderness; it is not needful that he should do so in order to confirm this doctrine--namely, that in all lives there are great dreary spaces that we approach with fear and traverse almost with despair. What are the thoughts that such a review should excite? Can we look back upon that way, through all the great and terrible wilderness, without remembering the Divine help which we received? God was God in the wilderness; God looked at us through the darkness, and there was no blaze of anger in His eye. Who can forget the touch that came upon our burning brow in the night time? Who can forget the ever-branching tree just by the side of the bitter pool? Who can forget the clump of palm trees where no palm trees were expected? Who can cease to remember the voice of leadership--the strong, authoritative man who came amongst us like a revelation from God, and spoke broad words in broad tones, and was a tower of strength to us in the time of our weakness, and wonder, and fear--the sympathetic pastor, the mighty preacher, the kind friend, the one who understood us wholly through and through? Then, is there no Divine purpose, the recollection of which may sustain us in traversing wildernesses and lonely deserts? Who made the world? Is the world a fatherless thing, a self-rounded thing that may split up at any moment, or is there method in it? Is there a God above it? Is there a throne anywhere? And the King, is He but a name or an echo? I see purpose in my life; I see it now--Thou hast done all things well. I did not think so at the time; I should have made the wilderness a mile shorter, but it was on the last mile that I saw the brightest angel. I would have come to honour and renown sooner; but I see now that the very movements were ticked off, and that a moment earlier would have been a mistake. “I would have come,” says another Christian man, “to a sense of competency, and comfort, and household security ten years ago; but in my soul I see that ten years ago I could not have borne what I now carry gracefully.” Thou hast done all things well. I would not have had seven graves in the cemetery, nor two, nor one; but I see now that I am the richer for the seven; I would not now have it otherwise. They are my best estate; I have property in them; I grow my choicest flowers there; there I meet with the angels that understand me. There is a method in all this; I accept it; I will bow down before it; I will kiss the rod that lacerated me to the bone; it was in my Father’s hand. Then is there to be no human gratitude springing out of all this? Is ours to be a false life--an unsympathetic existence? As we have received help of God, let us give help to others. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The utility of sandy deserts
If we do not at once see the use of a thing which is unbeautiful, we are apt to disdain it altogether. Utility or beauty we demand as a characteristic of everything. But let it be constantly remembered that our limited vision and knowledge often prevent our discerning the uses which exist in things. Do not be deceived by the mere appearance. The sandy deserts which one might have been inclined to consider as mere encumbrances on the earth are of high importance in creating winds. They send off vast streams of hot air into the higher regions of the atmosphere, and hence the cooler air off the coasts is sucked away in an opposite direction. The deserts, indeed, may be regarded as vast suction pumps placed at certain stations on the earth, to create useful winds and help the transport of moisture to lands that are in want of it. But for the Thibetan deserts there would have been no southwest monsoon; and without the monsoon the fertile plains of Hindostan would have been a waste of sand. (Scientific Illustrations.)
The Lord . . . hath set the land before thee.
The heritage of grace
There is a heritage of grace which we ought to be bold enough to win for our own possession. All that one believer has gained is free to another. We may be strong in faith, fervent in love, and abundant in labour; there is nothing to prevent it; let us go up and take possession. The sweetest experience and the brightest grace are as much for us as for any of our brethren. Jehovah has set it before us; no one can deny our right; let us go up and possess it in His name. The world also lies before us to be conquered for the Lord Jesus. We are not to leave any country a corner of it unsubdued. That slum near our house is before us, not to baffle our endeavours, but to yield to them. We have only to summon courage enough to go forward, and we shall win dark homes and hard hearts for Jesus. Let us never leave the people in a lane or alley to die because we have not enough faith in Jesus and His Gospel to go up and possess the land. No spot is too benighted, no person is so profane as to be beyond the power of grace. Cowardice, begone! Faith marches to the conquest. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The folly of unbelief
Moses recounted what had occurred in the wilderness of Paran about two years after the Israelites went out of Egypt. They had reached Kadesh on the verge of the Negeb or South Country. They resolved to send spies before them to reconnoitre. This resolve, as the sequel proved, showed a want of faith on the part of many, and even a determined desire on the part of some to find an excuse for returning to Egypt. The majority of the spies, while extolling the country, magnified the difficulties which seemed to be on the path to its conquest. Only two of the spies were on the Lord’s side. But the latent unbelief of the people brushed aside their arguments. Only too ]ate the people repented of their folly, and were driven back before the Amorites to their forty years of wandering. Moses dwelt on this incident because it showed the folly and punishment of unbelief, and was thus a warning example. So it is to the Christian Church (1 Corinthians 10:6). It shows--
I. Some hindrances to faith.
1. The history is typical of what often occurs in the Christian life. Many come to the borders of the kingdom of God and fail to enter.
2. The causes of failure are similar, the chief cause is unbelief. Because of this the Israelites could not enter. The proofs God had given of His power and willingness aggravated this unbelief. Every step of the journey proved the Divine goodness. But they forgot all God had done. Unbelief frustrated all.
3. So is it with individual men. Barriers to entrance to the Divine kingdom are raised by themselves. They do not trust in the Divine promises. They are troubled by the thought that they are too sinful--that they must repent, prepare themselves, etc. But salvation does not depend on these things, though they may show that our hearts are set on it. The slave who is offered freedom does not need to attempt to purchase it. So sinful men may enter the strait gate in the Divine strength, through Christ. It was not their preparedness that entitled the Israelites to enter into the land of promise, but their faith in the Divine promises.
II. Difficulties in the way of spiritual progress.
(1) The desert life, the hardship of conquest, were not to the taste of many of the Israelites. In Egypt they enjoyed many luxuries now denied them. So not a few wished to return to Egypt. But this was folly--the way to death, to fall into the hands of the enraged Pharaoh.
(2) This is a faint type of those who turn their backs on the spiritual kingdom, lured by the pleasures of the world.
(3) Do not let any think, as some in Israel seemed to do, that if God intends us to overcome He will enable us to do so without effort. Israel could not possess Canaan till the Amorites and other foes were overcome, the strong cities overthrown, etc. This the Israelites in unbelief thought could not be accomplished.
(4) This is the plea of many at the entrance of the spiritual life. The way is too difficult, the enemies are too strong, we cannot overcome. But the New Testament word is, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Christ has commanded us to strive and agonise to enter.
(5) Let no man be deterred by this. Every noble life is a struggle. Good men, from the very constitution of things, must suffer. Even goodness incarnate was rewarded by the world with a cross. These difficulties are raised by the adversary.
(6) There are some events peculiarly saddening. A ship wrecked at the harbour mouth--a runner fainting when close to the goal--an heir bartering his inheritance for a mess of pottage. But sadder still--a sight fit to make angels weep--is it to see an heir of immortal glory turning from his father’s house back to the far country and the swine troughs! (W. Frank Scott.)
Our brethren have discouraged our heart.
Do not be discouraged
To be discouraged is to lose one’s energy and vitality. When a man is discouraged he is of no use; his power has gone out of him. Courage is a large and noble quality, and necessary in all the relations of life. It is not merely shown in the boldness which confronts danger and is self-possessed in peril. It also is needed to face other difficulties promptly, to do one’s duty cheerfully when the hope of success is small; to stand alone for the truth and right; not to be discouraged by disappointment, nor by the censures and reproofs of the hostile, nor by the indifference of the unsympathising. In short, courage is the quality which is opposed to all discouragement. No wonder people admire courage. It is indispensable to nobleness of life. How much courage some men and women display in taking on themselves new responsibilities, in going promptly to perform untried and difficult duties, in keeping up the struggle of life amid many discouragements. Courage is a virtue needed by women no less than by men. How many poor women there are who work on to support their families, rising early and going late to bed, and eating the bread of care. They keep their children tidy and neat, keep them at school, exhaust every contrivance to maintain themselves, try every possible means of overcoming the daily difficulties of life, and so hold on, year after year, when strong men might have been discouraged and have given up. I think as much heroism is shown every day in such ways as by the soldiers who hold an important position in a battle against overwhelming odds. There is no more important work in this world, no greater duty, than to help others to keep up their courage. He is our best friend whoso words of cheerful confidence give more life to our heart, and he is our enemy who by his words of doubt and his spirit of fear saps this ardour, and takes from us our courage. And yet how many there are whoso habit it is to look at the dark and discouraging side of life. They dwell on the faults and follies of men; they retail every petty scandal they hear; they exaggerate the amount of evil in the world; they suggest a low and selfish motive as the root of good actions; they quench the ardour of generous enthusiasm by a cold scepticism. Whenever we have talked with such persons we have been inclined to say, “Our brethren have discouraged our heart.” (J. F. Clarke.)
Here is a man like a cloud, and a cloud without any silver lining. He gets between you and the sun. He makes everything dark. He puts the worst constructions, and attributes the worst motives, and takes the darkest view. You do not like to meet the murksome man. You do not wish to be overcast. Perhaps today you are hopeful. You have difficulties, but by God’s blessing you can work out. Your church is struggling, but you think you see a brighter day. You have some sorry apples in your basket, but you have gotten the big ones on top. You have a skeleton or two in your closet, but they are out of sight. The sun is shining today up on the high places and valleys of your landscape. And here comes that human cloud, with his shadow creeping on before him. You avoid him. You take the other side of the street. Because you know in ten minutes he would get all the small apples on the top of your basket. He would have all the skeletons out of your closet, because he likes their company. You escape him, because you do not want him to cool your iron, for it is hot and you have made up your mind to strike it. Such a man may be a Christian; but he has a great besetting sin, which he must watch and pray against. Let him add this petition to his litany: From all blue devils; from all dismal dejection; from all bilious despondency; from all funereal gloom, and from all unchristian hopelessness--good Lord, deliver us. (R. S. Barrett.)
Joshua . . . Encourage him.
Encourage your minister
Joshua was a young man in comparison with Moses. He was about to undertake the onerous task of commanding a great people. He had, moreover, the difficult enterprise of leading them into the promised laud, and chasing out the nations which possessed it. The Lord commanded Moses therefore to encourage him, that in the prospect of great labour he might not be dismayed.
I. God, even our God, is graciously considerate of His servants, and would have them well fitted for high enterprise with good courage. He does not send them as a tyrant would send a soldier upon an errand for which he is not capable, nor does He afterwards withhold His succour, forgetful of the straits to which they may be reduced; but tie is very careful of His servants, and will not let one of them perish. The Lord our God hath strong reasons for being thus considerate of His servants.
1. Are they not His children? Is He not their Father? Does tie not love them? Now, none of us would send a child of ours upon a difficult enterprise without being anxious for his welfare. We would not put him upon a trial beyond his strength, without at the same time guaranteeing to stand at his side and make his strength equal to his day.
2. Moreover, the Father Himself is concerned as to His honour in all that they do. If any servant of God shall fall, then God’s name is despised. The daughters of Philistia rejoice, and the inhabitants of Ekron triumph. His honour is too much concerned ever to permit this. Ye feeble ones, to whom God hath given to do or to suffer for His name’s sake, rest assured that He hath His eye upon you now. He cannot leave you, unless He can cease to be “God over all, blessed for ever.”
3. Observe well how far the tender consideration of God for His servants extends! He not only considers their outward state, and the absolute interests of their condition, but He remembers their spirits, and loves to see them of good courage.
II. God uses His own people to encourage one another. He did not say to the angel, “Gabriel, there is My servant Joshua, about to take the people into Canaan--fly down and encourage him.” God never works needless miracles. Gabriel would not have been half so well fitted for the work as Moses. A brother’s sympathy is more precious than an angel’s embassy. To whom, then, should this work of encouraging the people be committed?
1. Surely the elders should do it; those of riper years than their fellows. I know of nothing more inspiriting than to hear the experience of a grey-headed saint. I have found much spiritual comfort in sitting at the feet of my venerable grandfather, more than eighty years of age.
2. Not the aged only, but the wise in the family should be comforters. All believers are not equal in knowledge. Oh, ye that have searched the Scriptures through and know its promises, be sure to quote the promises of God to trembling hearts, and especially to those engaged in arduous labour for the Master. Comfort them. Repeat the doctrine of God’s faithfulness; say to them, “He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.” Oh, that the wise-hearted in the Lord’s family would be thus employed at all times.
3. Nor can I doubt that the happier sort of Christians ought always to be engaged in comforting the mournful and sorrowing. You know whom I mean; their eyes always sparkle; wherever they go they carry lamps bright with animation, sunshine gleams in their faces, they live in the light of God’s countenance.
4. Let the brother of low degree be likewise encouraged by those who are rich among you. You may frequently breathe comfort into a desponding spirit by seasonable help.
III. I advance to the object that is uppermost in my mind. I believe there is a special occasion for the exercise of this duty of encouraging one another in the case of the minister and Church in this place. It is a fresh enterprise surrounded with peculiar difficulties, and demanding special labour. It is a work so solemn that if you do not encourage your minister your minister will probably sink down in despair. Remember that the man himself needs encouragement because he is weak. Who is sufficient for these things? To serve in any part of the spiritual army is dangerous, but to be a captain is to be doubly exposed. The most of the shots are aimed at the officers. There are all sorts of discouragements to be met with. Professing Christians will backslide. Those who do remain will often be inconsistent, and he will be sighing in his closet, while you, perhaps, are thanking God that your souls have been fed under him. Encourage your minister, I pray yon, wherever you attend--encourage him for your own sake. A discouraged minister is a serious burden upon the congregation. When the fountain gets out of order you cannot expect water at any of the taps; and if the minister be not right it is something like a steam engine in a great manufactory--everybody’s loom is idle when the motive power is out of order. See that he is resting upon God and receiving His Divine power, and you will all know, each Sabbath day, the benefit of it. This is the least thing you can do. There are many other things which may cause you expense, effort, time, but to encourage the minister is so easy, so simple a matter, that I may well press upon you to do it. Perhaps you will say, “Well, if it is so simple and easy, tell us, who are expecting to settle down in this place, how we can encourage the minister here.” Well, you can do it in several ways.
1. You can encourage him by very constant attendance. Those who are going from place to place are of no use to anybody; but those are the truly useful men who, when the servants of God are in their places, keep to theirs, and let everybody see that whoever discourages the minister, they will not, for they appreciate his ministry.
2. Again, let me say, by often being present at the prayer meeting you can encourage the minister.
3. Again, you can all encourage the minister by the consistency of your lives. I do not know when I ever felt more gratified than on one occasion when, sitting at a church meeting, having to report the death of a young brother who was in the service of an eminent employer, a little note came from him to say, “My servant, Edward--, is dead. I send you word at once that you may send me another young man; for if your members are such as he was, I never wish to have better servants around me.” I read the letter at the church meeting, and another was soon found. It is a cheering thing for the Christian minister to know that his converts are held in repute. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. The text supposes that difficulties will be encountered. In the Christian life there are many obstacles.
1. Difficulties made by ourselves.
2. Difficulties arising from the conduct of others.
3. Difficulties expressly sent by God to test His servants.
II. The text gives a command to surmount these difficulties. We should encourage our fellow Christians.
1. To meet their trials with patience.
2. Steadily to fight till they conquer them.
3. To profit by them.
III. The text contains a lesson for every Christian preacher and teacher. “Encourage”--
1. The penitent sinner.
2. The young believer.
3. The well-tried saint. (J. W. Macdonald.)
The Christian pastor encouraged by his flock
You need not be told that those clergymen who enter into the spirit of their office are oppressed with discouragements of various kinds. These it is incumbent on you to anticipate, and as far as lies in your power to prevent; a measure far more easy to effect than a removal of them after they have actually taken place.
I. He is liable to discouragement arising from fear as to the inefficacy of his public and private labours.
1. “Encourage him” by your regular attendance on the public, worship of God. Let it ever be remembered that attendance on the House of God IS not a matter of choice, but a sacred duty.
2. “Encourage him” by endeavouring to derive personal benefit from his ministry.
3. “Encourage him” by endeavouring to counteract his fears in manifesting your readiness to cooperate with him in all his efforts to do good. It is heartless work to labour alone.
4. “Encourage him” by praying for him.
5. “Encourage him” by informing him of the success of his labours, whether on yourselves or on others.
II. A second source of ministerial discouragement regards the unfavourable impressions likely to be made on some minds by the faithful discharge of his professional duties. Let it be your delight to “encourage” your minister by following him with patience and docility in all his researches into the inexhaustible treasures of inspiration.
III. Another species of ministerial discouragement sometimes arises from fear respecting the failure of the affection of our people and the diminution of our own usefulness should we continue long to labour amongst them. There are some who will show less forbearance to a minister than to others; and who, not satisfied with exciting the hostility of their families, labour by partial statements of their own case to create a general prejudice against him. Contentions in parishes and in churches have often caused clergymen to sigh for a place in the desert, that they might leave their flocks and go from them; indeed, they have made them long for that place “where the wicked cease from troubling and where the weary are at rest.” Encourage your minister, therefore, by endeavouring to be “all of one mind.” As Christians, you must walk in love. (T. Gibson, M. A.)
A gentleman travelling in the northern part of Ireland heard the voices of children, and stopped to listen. Finding the sound came from a small building used as a school house he drew near; as the door was open he went in and listened to the words the boys were spelling. One little fellow stood apart, looking very sad. “Why does that boy stand there?” asked the gentleman. “Oh, he is good for nothing, replied the teacher. “There is nothing in him. I can make nothing of him. He is the most stupid boy in the school. The gentleman was surprised at his answer. He saw the teacher was so stern and rough that the younger and more timid were nearly crushed. After a few words to them, placing his hand on the head of the little fellow who stood apart, he said, “One of these days you may be a fine scholar. Don’t give up; try, my boy--try.” The boy’s soul was aroused. A new purpose was formed. From that hour he became anxious to excel, and he did become a fine scholar. It was Dr. Adam Clarke.
A minister’s encouragement
I remember to have preached, years ago, at a watering place in the Virginia mountains, at the dedication of a new church. The people were all strangers to each other; and as he went away my friend said (who had a right to speak so familiarly), “I wonder, my dear fellow, that you could be animated at all today; for we are all strangers, and things were pretty cold I thought.” “Ah, but,” the preacher replied, “you did not see old brother Gwathmey, of Hanover, who sat there by the post. The first sentence of the sermon caught hold of him, and it kept shining out of his eyes and his face, and he and the preacher had a good time together, and we didn’t care at all about the rest of you.”
As Luther was passing to the assembly room of the Diet a noted commander, George Von Frundesberg, touched him on the shoulder, and said, “My dear monk, thou art now about taking a step the like of which neither I nor many a commander on the hardest fought battlefield has ever taken. If thou art right and sure of thy cause, proceed in God’s name, and be of good cheer; God will not forsake thee.” (Little’s Historical Lights.)
Lord Lytton, in his essay on the efficacy of praise, tells a story of Mr. Keen, who, when performing in some city of the United States, came to the manager when the play was half over, and said, “I can’t go on again, sir, if the pit keeps its hands in its pockets. Such an audience would extinguish AEtna.” Upon this the manager told the audience that Mr. Keen, not being accustomed to the severe intelligence of American citizens, mistook their silent attention for courteous disappointment, and that if they did not applaud Mr. Keen as he was accustomed to be applauded, they could not see Mr. Keen act as he was accustomed to act. Of course, the audience took the hint, and as their fervour rose, so rose the genius of the actor, and their applause contributed to the triumphs it rewarded.
In this thing ye did not believe the Lord your God.
These are the great battles of the world. Not the clang of swords and the roar of kingdoms, but the conflict of man with God,--man calling God a liar; these are the disastrous and fatal wars. We think ourselves refined because we shrink from the taste of hot blood, and then go and secretly disobey the God that made us. We are often called upon to contemplate what may be called partial faith. We have faith in spots; we are mainly bruises of unbelief, wounds of unconfessed but deadly atheism; yet here and there, leopard-like or zebra-like, we are studded with pieces of detached piety. How true this is let every man bear witness on his own account. We do believe some things, but generally they are things of no importance. We believe things that cost us nothing. Who believes the thing that has a Cross. Wet with red blood in the middle of it? We are all partially religious, whimsically religious, religious after a very arbitrary and mechanical fashion. It is marvellous how the conscience is trained in little dots and short lines, and how the total manhood is left in a practically atheistic condition. We see what is meant by partial faith when we contemplate a vision which comes before us every day of our life, and that is the vision of partial character. Where is there a man that is all reprobate? The son of perdition occurs but now and then in the rolling transient centuries. Who is there who has not some good points about him? How we magnify those points into character. The chain is no stronger than its weakest link. Would you trust a chain thirty links long if you were sure that one of the links was very weak? You are no stronger than your weakest point; study that weak point; repair, amend, or remove it, or replace it by some point worthy of the rest of the character. That would be common sense, that would be downright logic worthy of the market place. Why not accept it and realise it? We all believe in providence. Which providence? how much providence? in what seasons do we believe in providence? We are great believers in blossoming time, but what faith have we when the snow upon our path is six feet deep and the wind a hail and frost? The Lord has many fine day followers. When a man has had ten thousand pounds unexpectedly left to him, he is prone to sing, “God moves in a mysterious way.” He is mayhap, notwithstanding his psalm singing, a hypocrite; he does not understand the meaning of faith, which is self-transformation into the very bosom of God. We often hear of some persons who are remarkably sound on certain doctrines. I dread to hear of any man who is particularly sound, on any one doctrine, because I have the suspicion that he is magnifying his soundness upon that doctrine that he may ingratiate himself into my confidence so far as to inoculate me with some peculiar heresy of his own. As we have said before, what would be thought of any man who was partial to certain letters of the alphabet, and remarkably sound upon the consonants, or who held two of the vowels with most pious and clinging faith, who would lay down his intellectual life for the vowel a and for the vowel o, but who would take leave to cherish his own suspicions with regard to the soundness of the other vowels? What of the man who is strong upon the letter b, but a little heretical upon the letter z? This is God’s charge against us by the mouth of His prophets and apostles--“Yet in this thing ye did not believe.” We must not only be careful about what we do believe, but about what we do not believe. Do we really believe in providence?--in the shepherdly God, in the fatherly God, in the motherly God, in the God of the silent step, who comes with the noiselessness of a sunbeam into the chamber of our solitude and desolation? Do we really believe in the God who fills all space, yet takes up no poor man’s room, and who is constantly applying to broken or wounded hearts the balm that grows only in old sweet Gilead? Do we believe that the very hairs of our head are all numbered? I am not so old in faith as mighty Habakkuk, I could see many trees blighted without losing my faith; but there is ,one tree, if aught should happen to any single branch or twig of that tree, my soul’s faith would wither. What, then, can be my faith, if it is true, and it is true, that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link? We believe in prayer. How much? At what time do we believe in prayer? Are there not periods of agony in life in which we dismiss all around, and look with dumb sorrow upon the unheeding heavens? It is in vain that we say we believe in prayer, and that we lament for those who do not pray, if our prayer does not stand us in good stead in the hour and article of life’s extremest agony. Remember the possibility of our having a partial faith, a partial faith in providence, a partial faith in prayer, and remember that the chain is no stronger than its weakest point; and if in this thing or that we do not believe the Lord our God, we may strike the rest of our faith dead as with a sword stroke. Lord, save me, or I perish! What we want, then, is an all-round faith; in other words, what we want is an all-the-year-round faith. But our faith comes in fits and starts. Perhaps this may be accounted for by the fact that we have confounded the word creed with the word faith. Creed is weather, faith is climate; creed is a variable alphabet, faith is an eternal poetry. We live on faith, we walk by faith; without faith we have no life. As to our creed, take it, leave it, read it, despise it, adopt it, do what you like with it, but faith abides for ever, sometimes requiring new words and new modes, but never changing its inward and Divine substance and meaning. Let every man apply this text to himself. Let no man charge another about this merely occasional or spasmodic faith. Now and again we hear men say, My faith could not rise to that height. Sometimes I may ask for a little patience, now and again I may say, Give me time. Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee. That is the true faith. So long as that love lingers in the heart hell shall not have thee, nor the gates of hell prevail against the rock on which you build. This is very serious. This reflection makes life very solemn. Some of us have thought too much that we could take up our faith and set it down, that we may believe a little of this and a little of that; some of us have not thought much of the roundness of the orb of faith. Let us not give way to censoriousness upon others. You do not know how hard it is for some men to believe. It may be comparatively easy for you and me to believe. But we who are strong should bear the infirmities of the weak; we should be patient with the slow, we should desire that other men may know the joy and the blessedness and the triumph and the glory of the full life. (J. Parker, D. D.)
To show you by what way ye should go.
The Bible like the pillar of cloud and fire
I. As the pillar of cloud and fire was a blessing to the Jews, so is the Bible a blessing to all ages.
1. Consider the characteristics of the Bible as set forth by those of the pillar. That pillar had its own history.
(1) It was Divine in its origin. It was not a common cloud, nor yet an exhalation from the marshy ground. It was evidently, from the history, a supernatural phenomenon. Does not the Word of God give light, and show the path of duty when all is dark around? Is not its glorious guidance given in the perplexities of this wilderness? All the raging storms of this life diminish not its lustre.
(2) The Bible, like the pillar, is exactly fitted for the object for which it is designed. “It is a light to my path and a lamp to my feet,” said the Psalmist. “Oh, how I love Thy law; it is my meditation all the day.” “How sweet are Thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
(3) The pillar had two sides, and so has the Bible. The pillar was the same to all in itself, but it looked light and gave light to the Lord’s hosts, and it looked dark and cast a deep shadow as seen by their opponents. Such, too, is the Bible. To the child of God it is all good, all cheering; to the ungodly it is all dark and terrible. It speaks of God’s power. The power of God is the hope of the Christian, for it is power to help; but the power of God is the terror of the ungodly, for it is power to punish.
2. Consider the general influence of the Bible on the world as illustrated by the influence of the cloud upon those who went with it. The cloud benefited many who never knew or felt its value. In the camp of Israel there were many who were very thoughtless, as there are many in every age, yet did they enjoy the light and beat and guidance. They owed much of their comfort to that mystic cloud, but never felt or even thought of their obligation. Just so is it in reference to the Bible. Its influence is found in many a home where it is not acknowledged.
II. Some of those who were blessed by the light and comforts of the mystic cloud were barred at last from Canaan, as some who have been blessed by Bible truth will never find their way to heaven. When that man on yon northern hills was surrounded by thick mist--when in that mist he lost his way and was overtaken by the chill, dark night, and lost his footing on the narrow ledge along which the path led him, and fell headlong into the deep abyss and was killed--the sight was very sad. But I can point you to a sadder scene than that. It is to see a man walk over some terrible precipice when the sun of heaven is shining to show his danger, and his eyes are open to it. But the saddest sight of all is to see, lost for ever, men and women who have been instructed in the Bible. Many who know the way to heaven come short of it through unbelief.
III. Those who were faithful to God were led by the mystic cloud to Canaan; so shall all believers be led by the Word of God to heaven. Out of all the people who left Egyptian bondage only two entered the land of promise, Caleb and Joshua. The benefits of the fiery cloud were lost upon the rest. The cloud led them ever Jordan, and left them safe in possession of the land. Thus it ever is. Those who are faithful to God find His Word their guide and comfort to the end. Its promises turn their darkness into day, and calm all storms of inward fear. (E. Lewis, B. A.)
Because he hath wholly followed the Lord.
Following the Lord fully
You want to be a Christian, meanwhile your heart is set upon getting riches. You would store your mind with the learning and wisdom of the world, you wish to gain repute as a good talker in company, and a convivial guest at the social hoard. Ambition prompts you to seek fame among your fellows. Well, I shall not denounce any of these things, but I would use every persuasion to induce you who are believers in Christ to renounce the world. If Christ has redeemed you He has henceforth a claim on you as His servant, and it is at your peril that you take up any pursuits that are inconsistent with a full surrender of yourself to Him. Why many Christians never attain to any eminence in the Divine life is because they let the floods of their life run away in a dozen little rivulets, whereas if they cooped them up in one channel and sent that one stream rolling on to the glory of God, there would be such a force and power about their character that they would live while they lived. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Following the Lord fully
It ought to be the great care of every one of us to follow the Lord fully. We must follow Him universally, without dividing; uprightly, without dissembling: cheerfully, without disputing; constantly, without declining; and this is following Him fully. (Matthew Henry.)
Self-concentration on God
No man makes progress in any branch of human thought or science without this first condition--the habit of pinning himself down wholly to the subject in band, and rigidly restraining all other thoughts. You must bring your instrument to a point before it will penetrate, to an edge that it may cut; and only firm concentration of oneself on the matter before us will do that. Alas! how little of this patient prolonged concentration of interested thought on our dear Lord do even the best and devoutest of us employ! And as for the ordinary Christian life of this day, what a sad contrast does it present to such an ideal. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27