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Love the Lord thy God, and keep His charge.
On the imperfection of righteousness without religion
In the expression, “the love of God,” are comprehended admiration of Him, and delight in meditating upon Him, reverence towards Him, desire of His approbation, and a fear of offending Him, gratitude for His benefits, and trust in Him as our Father; for perfect goodness, which is the object of this love, at the same time calls for the exercise of all these affections of soul. And this inward religion is the sole fountain of an uniform righteousness “of keeping the commandments of God alway.”
I. The influence of religion upon righteousness will appear, if we consider--
1. That God, who is the wise and righteous Creator and Governor of the universe, and the object of all religion, is also the perfect pattern of all excellence.
2. As loving God under the notion of the pattern of all goodness, naturally transforms a devout mind into the Divine image, by a secret but strong sympathy betwixt God and the pious soul, by its essential admiration and love of what is really beautiful, righteous, and excellent, and by its desire of possessing what it so much admires; so the same view of God will appear to work the same effect in another way. Perfect goodness, which is the true object of love, is an awful thing, commanding reverence from every mind, and a care not to contradict its ordinances. It is not a changing principle, but ever holds one fixed invariable course. Every attentive person therefore will perceive that the only way to be acceptable to this goodness is to resemble it, and consent, in all his actions, to its dictates. This must be a natural reflection upon the first just apprehension of the Divine goodness, and of some force even before love towards it has grown strong in the soul. Can, then, a man who really loves the perfect goodness of God, be without great awe of Him? Must he not be earnest for God’s approbation, and be afraid to do anything disagreeable to Him?
3. The devout Christian looks upon himself as a son of God through Jesus Christ the Redeemer of mankind; and shall he not be animated with a spirit suited to the dignity of his high birth and origin?
4. Must not the soul of that man who loves God be animated by a strong gratitude towards Him? Can he behold the Almighty continually pouring forth His bounty on himself and on all other creatures, without feeling himself moved with the warmest sentiments of gratitude leading him to keep the charge and statutes of God cheerfully?
II. We come now to make improvement of all that has been said.
1. Hence we may see how much we are indebted to our holy religion, which has given us so amiable a character of God as naturally invites our love. The Gospel has opened our eyes to discern the beauties of His holiness; it has banished all that darkness which overshadowed the nations, and all those dreadful opinions of the Almighty, which were fitted only to excite terror in the breasts of men.
2. Considering the necessity and great advantage of religion and true devotion, whence can it proceed that a matter of such moment is so generally neglected? It is very observable that many, who bestow little thought upon God and His righteousness, never fail to applaud every instance of worth and righteousness amongst men. An upright, a merciful, a generous man they extol with the most liberal praises; while the fountain of all this excellence is not acknowledged, is not heeded. What can occasion this egregious contradiction? There are many causes for it; but amongst others this must be acknowledged not a small one. That the hypocrisy and sinful lives of many who profess piety and devotion, bring a strong prejudice against religion itself, and occasion it to be evil thought of and evil spoken of.
3. From what has been said, let us all be persuaded to cultivate a spirit of devotion, and strive to grow in the love of God. (John Drysdale, D. D.)
God requires our love
You buy a camellia, and determine, in spite of florists, to make it blossom in your room. You watch and tend it, and at length the buds appear. Day by day you see them swell, and fondly hope they will come to perfect flower; but just as they should open, one after another they drop off, and you look at it, despairingly exclaiming, “All is over for this year.” But someone says, “What! the plant is healthy; are not the roots, and branches, and leaves good? Yes,” you answer, “but I do not care for them, I bought it for the blossom.” Now, when we bring God the roots, and branches, and leaves of morality, He is not satisfied, He wants the blossoming of the heart, and that is love.
God the only object of supreme love
There is a noble economy of the deepest life. There is a watchful reserve which keeps guard over the powers of profound anxiety and devoted work, and refuses to give them away to any first applicant who comes, and asks. Wealth rolls up to the door, and says, “Give me your great anxiety”; and you look up and answer, “No, not for you; here is a little half-indifferent desire which is all that you deserve.” Popularity comes and says, “Work with all your might for me”; and you reply, “No; you are not of consequence enough for that. Here is a small fragment of energy which you may have, if you want it; but that is all.” Even knowledge comes, and says, “Give your whole soul to me”; and you must answer once more, “No; great, good, beautiful as you are, you are not worthy of a man’s whole soul. There is something in a man so sacred and so precious that he must keep it in reserve till something even greater than the desire of knowledge demands it.” But then, at last, comes One far more majestic than them all--God comes with His supreme demand for goodness and for character, and then you open the doors of your whole nature and bid your holiest and profoundest devotion to come trooping forth. Now you rejoice that you kept something which you would not give to any lesser lord. Now here is the deep in life which can call to the deep in you and find its answer.
And what He did unto Dathan and Abiram.
The spirit of revolution
Moses recalls the revolt against his authority in the wilderness. It took place in conjunction with the revolt of Korah (Numbers 17:1-13). The point which Moses emphasises is the revolt against Divinely constituted authority, and the result thereof. At the head of the civil rebellion were the sons of Reuben, Dathan and Abiram. As descendants of the first-born of Israel they grudged Moses his lofty position. They allied themselves with the Levitical revolt, and under the cloak of asserting the universal priesthood of the people (Numbers 16:3) led many to follow them into the vortex of revolution. This insurrection against the Divinely ordered religious and political order threatened the very existence of Israel. God therefore visited the rebels with special Divine judgment, and the nation was saved. This episode in Israel’s history gives us a glimpse of the motives which underlie most revolutionary movements. In these--
I. Vice decks herself in the appearance of virtue.
1. The revolutionaries profess ardent desires for the commonweal, for freedom--to save the “enslaved community,” etc. Liberty, equality, etc., is their cry, war against tyranny and oppression. They seek to play the role of unselfish friends of the people.
2. But in their depths such movements are mostly dominated by selfishness. In the revolt here referred to Korah was simply an ambitious Levite, hypocritical and selfish. The Reubenites were moved by tribal ambition. Selfishness, ambition, special interests were the moving springs of this as of other revolutions.
3. The revolution of Dathan and Abiram took its rise first on an ecclesiastical ground; but the political movement was not far behind the ecclesiastical. Men with widely differing opinions joined in opposing constituted authority. The cry for “illumination” is speedily followed by that for so-called “freedom.”
4. Revolution is not accompanied by penitence. It never seeks the ground of its complaints in the faults of the people themselves.
5. Most revolutions are dominated by some “phrase” or party cry. Here it was: “All the people are holy.” The power of the partial truth in it lay in God’s Word: “Ye shall be to Me . . . an holy nation.” But God had appointed leaders in Church and State, therefore it was against His authority Dathan and Abiram rebelled.
II. The prophetic significance of this typical event.
1. The deepest fulfilment lies in the future--in the days of antichrist. Then the political and ecclesiastical order will be overturned--when antichrist comes offering promise of deliverance from all ecclesiastical and political ills.
2. But the punishment meted out to Dathan and Abiram with their fellow rebels shall fall more fiercely on antichrist (Revelation 19:20).
3. A veil, however, overhangs this future. Still there are experiences in history which prepare us to understand what shall be. The French Revolution is a striking example. It was not merely a revolt of ruled against rulers. It was first a spiritual revolution. Scepticism had loosened religious authority, and the political crisis speedily followed, as in the rebellion of Korah. So in France ambitious leaders shrieked of liberty, etc. The whole foundations of order were overturned. Then from the Revolution rose one who had no law but his own will. He trod men under his feet; for twenty-five years the storm raged. Here was a faint experience of what will be in the times of antichrist. A respite has been given; but he who has eyes may conceive somewhat of the trend of that great future revolt.
III. What shall we do in view of what is coming?
1. Let us ask, guided by God’s Word, what revolts in Church and State will lead to. What is the meaning of much of so-called “progress” and “freedom”? “If the Son shall make you free,” etc. (John 8:36). What is “culture” if not found in Christ’s Gospel?--this is the only “culture” of eternal worth. Modern “progress” does not always mean progress in righteousness.
2. Do not let the hollow “phrases” of the modern age influence us. In God’s Word the madness of rebellion, its falseness and hypocrisy are seen, and its terrible end. The way of righteousness is conformity to the Divine order. The sin of participation in rebellion must be shunned. Those who stand on the side of revolution, of the antichristian age, or (in the future) of antichrist, lay themselves open to the punishment of the rebellious Reubenites. (W. Grashoff.)
Not as the land of Egypt.
Canaan on earth
Egypt is typical of the condition of the children of God while they are in bondage to the law of sin. There they are made to work unceasingly, without wages or profit, but continually subject to pains. The coming up out of Egypt is the type of the deliverance which every one of God’s people enjoys, when by faith he strikes the blood of Jesus on his doorpost, and spiritually eats the paschal lamb; and the passage through the wilderness is typical of that state of hoping, and fearing, and doubting, which we usually experience between the period when we come out of Egypt, and attain unto the full assurance of faith. Many of you are really come out of Egypt; but you are still wandering about in the wilderness. “We that have believed do enter into rest”; but you, though you have eaten of Jesus, have not so believed on Him as to have entered into the Canaan of rest.
I. True religion makes a difference not only in a man, but in a man’s condition; it affects not only his heart, but his state; not only his nature, but his very standing in society. The Lord thy God cares not only for Israel, but for Canaan, where Israel dwells. God has not only a regard to the elect, but to their habitation, and not only so, but to all their affairs and circumstances. My habitation is now guarded by Jehovah; my position in this world is no longer that of a needy mendicant; my position, which was that of a bondslave in Egypt, is now become that of an inheritor in Canaan. In this difference of the condition of the Christian and the worldling we shall mark three things.
1. The Christian’s temporal condition is different to that of the worldling, for the worldling looks to secondary causes; the Christian looks to heaven; he gets his mercies thence.
2. But now comes the second distinction, and that is, a difference in the toilsomeness of their lives. The worldly man, just like the Israelites in Egypt, has to water his land with his foot. Read the passage: “For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot as a garden of herbs.” This alludes, possibly, to the practice amongst all eastern nations where the land is irrigated, of letting out a certain quantity of water into a trench, and then having small gutters dug in the gardens, to compel the water to run along different parts of the ground. Sometimes one of these gutters might be broken, and then the gardener would press the mould against it with his foot, to keep the water in its proper channel. But I am inclined to think that the passage alludes to the method which those eastern countries have of pumping up the water by a tread wheel, and so watering the land with their foot. However that may be, it means that the land of Egypt was watered with extraordinary labour, in order to preserve it from sterility. “But,” says Moses, “the land, to which ye are going, is not a land which you will have to water with your foot. The water will come spontaneously; the land will be watered by the rain of heaven. You can sit in your own houses, or under your own vine, or under your own fig tree, and God Himself shall be your irrigator. You shall sit still, and ‘in quietness shall ye possess your souls.’” Now, here is a difference between the godly and ungodly--the ungodly man toils. Suppose his object is ambition; he will labour and spend his very life, until he obtains the desired pinnacle. Suppose it is wealth; how will he emaciate his frame, rob his body of its needed sleep, and take away the nourishment his frame requires, in order that he may accumulate riches! And if it is learning, how will he burn his eyes out with the flame of his hot desire, that he may understand all knowledge; how will he allow his frame to become weak and wan by midnight watchings! Men will in this way labour, and toil, and strive. But not so the Christian. No; his “strength is to sit still.” He knows what it is to fulfil the command of Paul--“I would have you without carefulness” We can take things as God gives them, without all this toil and labour. I have often admired the advice of old Cineas to Pyrrhus. Old story saith, that when Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, was making preparation for his intended expedition into Italy, Cineas, the philosopher, took a favourable opportunity of addressing him thus: “The Romans, sir, are reported to be a warlike and victorious people; but if God permit us to overcome them, what use shall we make of the victory?” “Thou askest,” said Pyrrhus, “a thing that is self-evident. The Romans once conquered, no city will resist us; we shall then be masters of all Italy.” Cineas added, “And having subdued Italy, what shall we do next?” Pyrrhus not yet aware of his intentions, replied, “Sicily next stretches cut her arms to receive us.” “That is very probable,” said Cineas, “but will the possession of Sicily put an end to the war?” “God grant us success in that,” answered Pyrrhus “and we shall make these only the forerunners of greater things, for then Libra and Carthage will soon be ours; and these things being completed, none of our enemies can offer any further resistance.” “Very true,” added Cineas, “for then we may easily regain Macedon, and make absolute conquest of Greece; and when all these are in our possession, what shall we do then. Pyrrhus, smiling, answered, “Why then, my dear friend, we will live at our case, take pleasure all day, and amuse ourselves with cheerful conversation.” “Well, sir,” said Cineas, and why may we not do this now, and without the labour and hazard of an enterprise so laborious and uncertain?” So says the Christian.
3. This brings us to the last difference that we will note, and that is, that the unbeliever, he who has not crossed the Jordan and come to full confidence, does not understand the universality of God’s providence, while the assured Christian does. In Egypt the ground is almost entirely flat; and where it is not flat, it is impossible, of course, to grow anything, unless the ground is watered at considerable difficulty by some method of artificial irrigation, which shall force the water on to the high places. “But,” says Moses, “the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys.” The Egyptians could not get the water up on the hills, but you can; for the mountains drink in the rain, as well as the valleys. Now look at a worldling. Give him comforts, give him prosperity. Oh! he can be so happy. Give him everything just as he likes it; make his course all a plain, all a dead valley and a flat; he can fertilise that, and water it; but let him have a mountainous trouble, let him lose a friend, or let his property be taken from him--put a hill in his way, and he cannot water that, with all the pumping of his feet, and all the force he strives to use. But the Christian lives in “a land of hills and valleys”; a land of sorrow as well as joys; but the hills drink the water, as well as the valleys. We need not climb the mountains to water their heads, for our God is as high as the hills.
II. We must consider the special mercy. We must now turn away altogether from the allegoric, and come to this special mercy, which is the lot only of God’s people. “The eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.” That is, upon the lot of all Christians individually. Do not pick out one day in the year, and say it was a bad day, but take all the year round. “Ah! bless the Lord! He hath done all things well; my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!” And you know why all things have been well. It is because the eyes of the Lord have been upon you all the year. Then might I not say a word to you concerning the eyes of the Lord having been upon us as a church? Ought we to let this year pass without rehearsing the works of the Lord? Hath He not been with us exceeding abundantly, and prospered us? Some old writer has said, “Every hour that a Christian remains a Christian is an hour of miracle.” It is true; and every year that the Church is kept an entire Church is a year of the beginning of the miracle. “The eye of the Lord” has been upon us, “from year even unto the end of the year.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Gospel for the day-a glad word for the New Year
I. Notice that the people are reminded of the past. Confidence in God for the future is to grow out of the memory of His former dealings with them. “Your eyes have seen all the great acts of the Lord which He did.” “Think of your almighty Helper,” cried Moses, “He goeth with you into this land: He careth for it.” And so let us call to mind the greatness and the glory of our God. What tokens of His love to us we have! What pledges of His care for us, far outpassing all that Israel ever looked upon.
II. Look at the land in which God would have us to live. Egypt is the type of the world, the world that knows not God. “Who is the Lord that I should serve Him? I know Him not.” This is the language of Pharaoh, the language, too, of the prince of this world. Egypt is the land where they looked down for their supply--wateredst it with thy foot. They got their harvests by their own toil and depending upon themselves; they knew not God. Israel must come out of this into a land where they look up for their supply, up into the hills whence cometh their help--a land of hills and valleys that drinketh in the rain of heaven. The wilderness between the two was the school where the people were to learn the first lesson of their dependence upon God. We have long enough been fretting and murmuring in the wilderness. In the Lord’s name arise and enter into the land where God’s presence encircles all, the eyes of the Lord are always upon it. Rest in the Lord. Believe in His power, not as a reserve fund from which you are to draw when your strength is spent, but as actively engaged for you, interested in all your affairs, ever eager to help and guide.
III. Notice the lord’s promises concerning this land in which we are to dwell. “The land whither ye go to possess it is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven.” All our supply is to come from the Lord. Here are springs that shall never dry; here are fountains and streams that shall never be cut off. Here, anxious one, is the gracious pledge of the Heavenly Father. If He be the Source of our mercies, they can never fail us. Do not go down to Egypt for your pleasure, or your strength, or your wisdom, or your comfort. Man of God, thy place is Canaan, the land that the Lord careth for. Fetch all thy supplies from Him. If strength is needed, who can help thee like the Lord? Who else can give thee patience or who so tenderly comfort as the God of all consolation, the God of all patience? If the way grow tangled, who can give thee wisdom as He can? There is the land to live in--the land that drinketh in the rain of heaven.
IV. Here is a lesson in physical geography. The land is a land of “hills and valleys.” That is all we are told of it. And that is all we know of the land in which we are just entering. This much I can tell of your fortune in the New Year. It will be a year of ups and downs, of hills and valleys. The hills, so hard to climb, that make you sigh and wonder why they are sent--they make the glad and fruitful valleys. If life were all one dead level every pleasure would grow wearisome, the dull sameness of life would oppress us. We want the hills and valleys. The steep climb shows us the landscape that we could never have seen otherwise. The little vexations make the pleasant things fresh in their pleasantness. Only he who has tasted the bitterness of sorrow for sin can taste and see how gracious the Lord is. The beauty, the blessedness, the pleasure of our life is more dependent than we can ever know on the hills of life. The land whither thou goest is a land of hills and valleys. “A land of hills and valleys.” Look again. The hills drink in the rain of heaven and thereby make the valleys fruitful. The desert is a desert, because no hills rise up to heaven to touch the clouds and bring down blessings on the thirsty land below. The hills collect the rain for a hundred fruitful valleys. Ah, so it is with us. It is the hill difficulty that drives us to the throne of grace and fetches down a shower of blessing. It is the trial that sends us to the Lord for help. The hills, the bleak hills of life that we wonder at and perhaps grumble at, bring down the showers. They drink in the rain from heaven. And yet again--the hills give to the valleys their fruitfulness and beauty by protecting them. They rise up and shut back bleak winds and furious storms: then in the sunny shelter the valleys shall be covered over with corn, the pastures are clothed with flocks. So is the land whither we go to possess it--a land of hills and valleys. Ah, how the soul had been withered, dead, if no steep hill had risen for its shelter. How many have perished in the wilderness, buried under its golden sands, who would have lived and thriven in the hill country. We cannot tell what loss and sorrow and trial are doing. Do not judge, much less grumble. Trust only. (M. G. Pearse.)
The land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys.
The land of hills and valleys
1. Note how often God tells Israel that the land they were making for was their possession. In Egypt they had possessed nothing; they were possessed. Their time, their children, their lives were not their own there. Now they were to be slaves of a tyranny no more. And every man who is living his life well is marching forward in the track of Israel. There is a sense in which we all begin by being possessed; but we shall end, God helping us, possessing. Sometimes it is a foolish ambition that possesses us; sometimes it is a hereditary curse: or a habit, or sloth, or cowardice, or passion; and we are not our own. But when God breaks that bondage of the soul, far off, it may be, but gleaming in the morning, we see the peaks of a land that shall be ours. Gradually, not without many a failure, through daily effort, and prayer, and watching, we come to a country where we are not slaves but kings.
2. These marching Israelites had been told what the land was to be like in outline. It was to be “a land of hills and valleys.” How high the hills would be, they did not know. Much was shrouded in impenetrable dark. And do you say that the future is all hidden? There is a deep sense in which that is true. The separate secrets of the coming days are lodged and locked in the eternal mind. But there is an outline of the coming year that God makes plain to every child of man. For, what your past has been, and what your God has been, and what your heart is eager for tonight--all that will map out the New Year for you.
3. There was to be no monotony in their new home. It would be ever fresh with endless charm. Every valley would have its rushing stream, and every ridge its separate vista. And is there ever monotony where God conducts? It is a lie to say that being good takes all the charm and colour out of life. It is our sins that grow monotonous; our graces are dew-bespangled till the end.
4. I wonder how long it took the Israelites to learn that the hills were necessary to the valleys. How sweet and fertile the valleys were, they knew. Life was a joy down by these happy meadows; it was a sweet music, that of the rustling corn. But yonder, towering skyward, were the hills, and the brigands were there, and over them, who could tell what tribes there were? And there was an element of tempest too, among the hills. The children said life would be perfect here, if God had but spared us those barren and baneful hills. But halt! these rushing brooks, where did they come from? Out of the hills. And where were the sharp sea winds that would have blighted the vine and withered the springing corn? It was the barrier of mountains that kept them off. The children said, we hate these ragged hills, and we wish that God would level them to the ground;--and it was when they grew to men and women that they knew that never a vine would have clustered in the hollows, and never a harvest turned golden in the valleys, but for the mountains that they wished away. Is there nothing in your life you wish away? Is there no cross, no trial, no limitation? Do not be angry with the hills, because they shut you in. Fret not. Accept them. Is there no lily of the valley at your feet? It would never have been there but for the hills.
5. But the valley does not always speak of harvest. It is not always ringing with the vine dresser’s lilt. There are valleys in which we catch the sound of weeping, and see the rolling mist and never the sunlight. And it is then that we need this text graven upon our heart. For in the valleys we sometimes forget the hills. In the hour of mist we forget that the sun was ever shining. You would think there had never been any blue sky at all, we are so utterly disheartened in the cloudy day. Are the stars not there, though the clouds are abroad tonight? Are the hills not rising heavenward and Godward, though I am in the valley of the shadow? Recall the hours of vision on the mount.
6. Remember the valley when on the hill. To stand on the hill-top is an exquisite joy. There is vision in it: there is the birth of song. And to be strong and vigorous, with a firm grasp of oneself and one’s work, that is like heaven began. Only remember, the day of the valley is coming; the shadow, the mist, and parting are coming; and the wise man, though not with noise and fuss, will be quietly preparing upon the hills for that. (G. H. Morrison, M. A.)
Drinketh water of the rain of heaven.--
The God of the rain
Beautiful, simple, noble, true words. Who would change them for all the scientific phrases in the world? The eyes of the Lord were upon the land. It needed His care; and therefore His care it had. Therefore the Jew was to understand from his first entry into the land, that his prosperity depended utterly on God. The laws of weather, by which the rain comes up off the sea, were unknown to him. They are all but unknown to us now. But they were known to God. Not a drop could fall without His providence and will; and therefore they were utterly in His power. God is the living Judge, the living overlooker, rewarder, punisher of every man, not only in the life to come, but in this life. His providence is a special providence. But not such a poor special providence as men are too apt to dream of nowadays, which interferes only now and then on some great occasion or on behalf of some very favoured persons, but a special providence looking after every special act of man, and of the whole universe, from the fall of a sparrow to the fall of an empire. And it is this intense faith in the living God, which can only come by the inspiration of the Spirit of God, which proves the Old Testament to be truly inspired. This it is which makes it different from all books in the world. This it is, I hold, which marks the canon of Scripture. As it was then, so may it be again. There may come a time in this land when people shall profess to worship the Word of God; and yet, like those old scribes; make it of none effect by their own commandments and traditions. When they shall command men, like the scribes, to honour every word and letter of the Bible, and yet forbid them to take the Bible simply and literally as it stands, but only their interpretation of the Bible; when they shall say, with the scribes, “Nothing new can be true. God taught the apostles, and therefore He is not teaching us. God worked miracles of old; but whosoever thinks that God is working miracles now is a Pantheist and a blasphemer. God taught men of old the thing which they knew not; but whosoever dares to say that He does so now is bringing heresy and false doctrine, and undermining the Christian faith by science falsely so called.” From ever falling into that state of stupid lip-belief, and outward religion, and loss of faith in the living God: Good Lord, deliver us. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
The eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it.--
Good cheer for the New Year
Observe here a type of the condition of the natural and the spiritual man. In this world in temporals and in all other respects the merely carnal man has to be his own providence, and to look to himself for all his needs. Hence his cares are always many, and frequently they become so heavy that they drive him to desperation. He lives in Egypt, and he knows no joy. But the spiritual man dwells in another country; his faith makes him a citizen of another land. It is true he endures the same toils, and experiences the same afflictions as the ungodly, but they deal with him after another fashion, for they come as a gracious Father’s appointments, and they go at the bidding of loving wisdom.
I. First, we will consider the text as we find it. “The eyes of the Lord.” What is meant here? Surely not mere omniscience, No, there is love in the text to sweeten observation. “The Lord knoweth the righteous” with a knowledge which is over and above that of omniscience. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, not merely to see them, hut to view them with complacency and delight.
1. The meaning of the text then is, first, that God’s love is always upon His people. The big heart of Deity is set upon us poor insignificant, undeserving, worthless beings.
2. The expression of the text teaches us that the Lord takes a personal interest in us. It is not here said that God loves us, and therefore sends an angel to watch over us; but the Lord does it Himself.
3. Further, the text reminds us of the unwearied power of God towards His people. What, can His eyes be always upon us? This were not possible if He were not God. The next word that seems to sparkle in the text is that word “always.” “The eyes of the Lord are always upon it.” And it is added, as if that word were not enough for such dull ears as ours, from the beginning of the year even to the end of the year. I tried to discover the other day what time there was in one’s life when one could best afford to be without God. Perhaps imagination suggests the time of prosperity, when business prospers, wealth is growing, and the mind is happy. Ah, to be without God then, why it would be like the marriage feast without the bridegroom, it would be the day of delight and no delight, a sea and no water in it, day and no light. What! all these mercies and no God? If you can do without God at all, it certainly is not when you are standing on the pinnacle. What then? Could we do without Him in adversity? Ask the heart that is breaking! Ask the tortured spirit that has been deserted by its friend I Ask the child of poverty, or the daughter of sickness tossing by night and day on that uneasy bed, Couldst thou do without thy God? And the very thought causes wailing and gnashing of teeth. With God pain becomes pleasure, and dying beds are elevated into thrones, but without God--ah! what could we do? Well then, is there no period? Cannot the young Christian, full of freshness and vigour, elated with the novelty of piety, do without his God? Ah, poor puny thing, how can the lamb do without the shepherd to carry it in his arms? Cannot the man in middle life then, whose virtues have been confirmed, do without his God? He tells you that it is the day of battle with him, and that the darts fly so thick in business nowadays, that the burdens of life are so heavy in this age that without God a man in middle life is like a naked man in the midst of a thicket of briars and thorns--he cannot hope to make his way. Ask yon grey beard with all the experience of seventy years, whether at least he has not attained to an independence of grace, and he will say to you that as the infirmity of the body presses upon him it is his joy that his inner man is renewed day by day, but take away God, who is the spring of that renewal, and old age would be utter wretchedness. Ah! there is not a moment in any one day that you or I have ever lived, that we could have afforded to dispense with the help of God, for when we have thought ourselves strong, as, alas! we have been fools enough to do, in one five minutes we have done that which has cost us rivers of tears to undo; in an unguarded moment we have spoken a word which we could not recall, but which we could have recalled if we should have had to bite our tongues in halves to have had it unsaid. The next word that springs from the text is that great word “Jehovah.” He who surveys us with love and care is none other than the one and indivisible God, so that we may conclude if we have His eyes to view us we have His heart to love us, and if we have His heart we have His wings to cover us, we have His hands to bear us up; we have all the attributes of Deity at our command. Oh, when God says that He always looks at you, He means this, that He is always yours, there is nothing which is necessary for you which He will refuse to do; there is no wisdom stored up in Him which He will not use for you, there is no one attribute of all that great mass of splendour which makes up the Deity which shall be withheld from you in any measure, but all that God is shall be yours. He shall be your God forever and ever. He will give you grace and glory, and be your guide even unto death. Perhaps the sweetest word of the text is that next one--the eyes of Jehovah “thy God.” Ah, there is a blessed secret! Why? Ours in covenant, our God, for He chose us to be His portion, and by His grace He has made us choose Him to be our portion. We are His and He is ours.
II. We are now to turn the text over; that is to say, we will misread, it, yet read it rightly. Suppose the text were to run thus--“The eyes of the Lord’s people are always upon Him from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” We like the text as it stands, but I do not believe we shall ever comprehend the fulness of it unless we receive it as I have now altered it, for we only understand God’s sight of us when we get a sight of Him.
III. In the third place, we will imagine that we blot the text out altogether. We are to suppose that it is blotted out, to imagine that you and I have to live all the year without the eyes of God upon us, not finding a moment from the beginning of the year in which we perceive the Lord to be caring for us or to be waiting to be gracious to us. Imagine that there is none to whom we may appeal beyond our own fellow creatures for help. Oh, miserable supposition! We have come to the opening of the year, and we have to get through it somehow, we must stumble through January, go muddling through the winter, groaning through the spring, sweating through the summer, fainting through the autumn, and grovelling on to another Christmas, and no God to help us; no prayer when God is gone, no promise when God is no more. There could be no promise, no spiritual succour, no comfort, no help for us if there were no God.
IV. Let us close with using the text. The way to use it is this. If the eyes of the Lord will be upon us His people, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, what shall we do? Why, let us be as happy as we can during this year. You have your trials--do not expect that you will be free from them. The devil is not dead, and sparks still fly upward. Herein is your joy, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ will never leave you nor forsake you. Up with your standard now and march on boldly! I would have you use the text by the way of seeking greater blessings and richer mercies than you have ever enjoyed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s care for His Church and people in all ages
The land which the Lord thy God careth for. This is true not only of the land of Canaan which was considered in the proper sense of it, but also of any other land together with it, which is the place and residence of the Church, and ordinances, and people of God. This is reductively, and interpretatively, and proportionably the land which the Lord thy God careth for.
I. When it is said here that He careth for it, this word care may admit of a three-fold explication. First, as a word of respect. He cares for it--that is, He regards it. Secondly, as a word of providence. He cares for it--that is, He looks after it and takes care of it. Thirdly, as a word of solicitude. He cares for it, is anxious about it.
1. As a word of respect. The Church of God, and such a land where the Church resides. God cares for it--that is, He regards it, and has an esteem for it. It is precious and of great account with Him.
2. It is a word of forecast or providence. He cares for it--that is, He looks after it, and inquires into the state of it. He casts about what may be best and most convenient for it, and answerably does bring it about.
3. It is a word of solicitude and perplexity. He cares for it--that is, He is anxious about it (Hosea 11:8). There is no man can express more affection in any thing whereof he is solicitous as to the welfare of it, than God does express towards His Church, as there is occasion for it. It is the land which the Lord cares for in the full extent and latitude of care.
Now as there is a three-fold expression of God’s care for His Church; so there is a three-fold account also, which may be given to us of this care, as from whence it does proceed in Him.
1. From His relation. The Church is His own land by special purchase and redemption, and so He takes care of it more particularly in that respect.
2. From His covenant. It is the land that He cares for upon this consideration also. Because He has engaged Himself hereto.
3. From His interest and more peculiar concernment. The Lord takes care of His Church as that which He receives the greatest advantage from any other besides; not in a strict sense, but in a qualified, and as He is pleased to account it. The use of this point to ourselves comes to this purpose. First, as it serves to inform us, and to satisfy us in the truth of this point, which we have now before us, that we be persuaded of it. It is that which we are ready sometimes to doubt of whether God cares for His Church or no. Especially according to the circumstances wherein it may be as Gideon sometimes reasoned with the angel (Judges 6:13). This proposition which we are now upon, it hath both an inclusive emphasis and an exclusive. It has an inclusive emphasis in it, as it does signify; that God does indeed take care of His Church and land. An exclusive emphasis, as it does signify that He does care of it both in the denial of others’ care for it, and in His own denial of care for others. And so now I have done with the first general part of the text, which is the interest this land here had in God’s affection expressed to us in these words, “The land which the Lord thy God careth for.”
II. The second is the interest which it hath in God’s inspection in these words. The eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of, etc. Wherein, again, we have two branches more. First, the privilege itself, and that is of being under the eyes of God; the eyes of the Lord thy God are upon it. Secondly, the continuation of this privilege, and that is expressed in two words more. First, in the word of perpetuity, and that is, always. Secondly, in the words of extent. From the beginning of the year to the end of the year.
1. First, we will take notice of the former, namely, the privilege itself here mentioned. And that is, of being under God’s eye. First, an eye of observation, that is one which God hath upon His Church, He does mark, and mind, and take notice of the state and condition in which it is. Secondly, an eye of compassion; He has an eye upon it, to pity it, and to comfort it in the state in which it is. Thirdly, an eye of direction, a teaching eye; God has such an eye as this which He does sometimes vouchsafe His Church. There is a great matter in the eye to such a purpose as this is, and it is here considerable of us, as we have it in Psalms 32:8. Fourthly, an eye of protection and preservation and authority.
2. Now for the second, which is the continuation of this privilege, that is exhibited to us in two expressions more. First, in the word of constancy or perpetuity; and that is always. Secondly, in the words of extent, or production. From the beginning of the year to the end of the year. First, we may take notice of the continuance of the privilege he mentioned in the word of constancy or perpetuity. And that is always. It hath three properties in it, which are here particularly considerable of us. First, it is a quick eye, there are many persons which see a thing at last, but it is a great while first before they come to do so; yea, but God beholds His Church, and the state and condition of it, as soon as ever there is need for Him to see it. Secondly, it is a fixed eye. He looks upon His land, as if He would in a manner look through it and pierce it with His eyes. Thirdly, it is a frequent eye. His eyes are never off it. The second is the words of extent or production. From the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Where there are three periods, as I may so call them, of the care and providence of God towards His land and people. There is the initial, and the intermediate, and the final. First, here is the initial point of God’s providence, taking its rise from the beginning of the year. Thus it signifies to us God’s earliness, and readiness, and forwardness in His goodness towards His people, that He takes the very first season and opportunity that is afforded unto Him, for the hastening of His favours upon them. Secondly, here is the intermediate point, in the rising or progress of the year, that is also included as joining both terms together: God is not only kind a little at first, when the year begins, and so making a good entrance, but He holds on and proceeds in His goodness as the year itself rises and gets up. This is God’s manner of dealing, not only like some misers, perhaps, to make a feast for a time, and once a year, but like a liberal and free-hearted person--that keeps open house all the year long, from the beginning of the year to the end. The third is the final point or conclusive. He ends the year as well as begins it, with the expressions of His goodness in it; “He crowns the year with His goodness” (Psalms 65:11). Thus is God gracious to His land and people, in all points and periods of time, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year; from one year to another: yea, from one age to another. Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Lessons:
1. First, in a way of thankfulness and acknowledgment, where we have at any time the experience of this made good to us in our own particulars, as we very much have.
2. In a way of faith and dependence, let us make use of it also, that so we who have had experience of His goodness in the past may still wait upon Him and rest comfortably in His providence.
3. In a way of fruitfulness and obedience, we are to improve this point so likewise. That as the eyes of the Lord our God are upon us, in this extent and production, so our eyes may be upon Him likewise in the same extent. As His in a way of providence, and protection, and preservation; so ours in a way of obedience, and fruitfulness, and circumspection. To begin the year with Him, as He does with us, and thereby to lay a good foundation of holy conversation to ourselves; to set ourselves in a good way at first, in this entrance of time. If we have hitherto been any way failing in our duty, and neglected it, let us now at least and at last keep it. Let us proceed also, as God does with us. He begins, and He goes on in His goodness, His eyes which He cast upon His Church and people, they never fail, but continue, and hold good still. So should our eyes be also upon Him, we should perfectly continue in goodness; and proceed in it, from one degree of it to another. As the year rises in the light of it, so should we rise also in the improvement of it. Let us also end well; be especially careful of that. (T. Horton, D. D.)
The Lord’s eyes on the land
Consider Canaan, with its privilege of being ever under the open eyes of the Lord, as setting forth to us, in a very real manner, the spiritual condition of the Church of Christ, and the blessedness of that state.
I. The spiritual ground of the Christian Church.
1. The freedom of the new land, though Divinely given, was to be acquired and retained by courageous conflict and endeavour.
2. The productiveness of the new land was to be a blessing to the producer. God has expended His Divine treasures, that His children may bring forth the rich fruits of His own glorious life.
3. Purity of life was to be realised in the new land. The Church exists to promote the worship of the Revealed Father in spirit and in truth. The Church’s worship is the drawing forth of its strength from God--the reception of the Divine life into the human.
4. The beauty of the new land was to be the counterpart of spiritual beauty. The fruits and flowers of earth were the response to the light and rains of heaven. The Church exists, that the beauty of the Lord our God may be upon us. Nothing in creation is more beautiful than the sight of consecrated spirits cooperating in the work of God and of His Christ.
II. The divine observation of the Christian Church. A high privilege and blessing.
1. For the condemnation of wrong.
2. For the approbation of right. No encouragement to the pursuit of goodness can be so great as that which is derived from the truth that God is beholding the fight with evil. (W. R. Percival.)
The ideal country
Palestine included everything required to make a perfect commonwealth, an earthly paradise. It had--
1. God’s special husbandry. God cared for it.
(1) A free land.
(2) A productive land.
(3) A beautiful land.
(4) A holy land.
2. The perennial watchfulness of God.
(1) The land, with all its interests, was precious to Him.
(2) The produce of the land was assured.
(3) No wrong-doer could be uncondemned.
(4) The right had His approbation. (Homiletic Monthly.)
The land that the Lord eateth for
I. “A land which the Lord thy God careth for,” says the Jewish lawgiver. The word is very suggestive to us. It speaks to our hearts of a kind and loving oversight. Our age, distinguished as it has been by scientific advances of all kinds, has perhaps in nothing made more rapid strides than in improved methods for the cultivation of the soil. The farmer no longer rejoices in his ignorance; and agricultural chemistry has taken rank among the established studies of the day. But what proof are all such appliances against the continued drought, or the falling blight, or the wasting rains? No; we must be taught, as Israel was taught, that fruitfulness was not so much the happy product of the soil, still less the natural requital of man’s industry and skill, but an immediate effect of the Divine blessing--a consequence of the eyes of the Lord never being off the land, but ever seeking and ever caring for it to do it good.
II. But the evidence that we are a cared for people, and, therefore a fresh ground for our devotedness and love, is to be found in the time when this blessing of an abundant harvest has been sent to us.
III. But here the scoffer may interject, “Why, if this be ‘a land which the Lord careth for,’ is it suffered to be darkened here and there by the overhanging pestilence, or drained of its best blood to keep down a despot’s pride?” Should we call that a cared for land over which the ploughshare had never passed, neither iron had entered to break up the fallow ground? Many can see this with regard to the wasting sickness, who find it hard to apply to the case of a tyrant’s misdoing. But we cannot allow a Divine purpose to the pestilence, and refuse a heavenly mission to the sword. It would be a deep enigma in Providence, and contrary to all that has been hitherto known among men, if the desolating scenes which are now taking place in the East should be without some great moral--should pass away, like the dark shapes upon a storm cloud, and leave no trace behind. All God’s judgments, whatever the instrumentality employed, are to teach men righteousness. It is so with individuals; it is so with nations. (D. Moore, M. A.)
The beginning of the year.--
A sermon for the New Year
What are the reflections which are specially appropriate to “the beginning of the year”? It occupies, as it were, a middle position between the year which has just closed, and which you cannot recall, and that portion of time of equal duration on which you have entered; and it thus invites you to look back to the one, to look forward to the other, and in connection with both to look up to that God who has brought you safely through the former, and who alone can determine the events that will befall you during the course of the latter.
I. Look back on the year which has expired. The man of business is accustomed at this season to review the transactions of the preceding year, that he may ascertain the amount of his gains and losses. And it becomes you as rational, as immortal, and as accountable beings, to reflect seriously on all that you have received and endured and done during the past year, that thus you may be able to correct what has been wrong, and to supply what has been wanting, in your character and conduct, so as to be better prepared for the trial which you must undergo when you leave the present scene of activity.
1. The outward blessings you have received, and the manner in which you have employed them.
2. The spiritual privileges with which you have been favoured, and the improvement which you have made of them.
3. The trials you have endured, and the effect which they have had upon you.
4. The sins you have committed, and the sentiments and feelings which they have awakened in you. Have you been led gradually to think less of the evil involved in them, and to indulge in them with diminishing repugnance? Or have you been prompted to increased vigilance, in avoiding everything that has a tendency to betray you into them, and increased care to keep at a distance from them, and shun even the appearance of them? In the one case, there is evidence that you have been making a mock at sin, or have looked on it as a trivial thing, which ought not to awaken in you any deep distress; in the other, there is ground for the conclusion that you possess the broken and contrite spirit which God does not despise.
II. Look forward to the year which has commenced. I do not mean that you should look forward to it with the design of discovering the events which will occur in your history, or the vicissitudes which you will experience during its course. That would be a vain attempt; and if it were practicable, it would be unwise in you to make it. But your ignorance of futurity should urge you to seek preparedness for the events that will befall you, whatever they may be. You ought not, indeed, to conjecture new and unusual circumstances in which it is possible that you may be placed, and to distract your thoughts from present duties, by considering what in all probability you would do, were these conjectures to be realised; for the grace, or Divine assistance, which the Christian is encouraged to ask, is grace for present need, and not present grace for future supposed necessities. Still, however, there is a state of habitual preparedness for everything that may occur in his future life, which it is of the highest importance for you to possess. Now, there is a two-fold preparedness for death which you should desire to possess. The first is a preparedness as to state, which imparts a title to eternal blessedness. And the second is a preparedness as to character, which fits or capacitates for the enjoyment of eternal blessedness.
III. Look upward to God, in connection both with the retrospect of the past, and with the anticipation of the future.
1. With self-dedication. Cherish a sincere desire and resolution to have Jehovah for your God. Enter now into covenant with Him, if you have not hitherto done so; and if in past times you have chosen Him to be your God, renew your solemn engagement to Him.
2. With confession of sin, and engagement to holiness. Let your contemplation of the past prompt to an humble acknowledgment of the greatness and inexcusableness of the offences by which you have provoked the Divine displeasure, and let the anticipation of the future be accompanied with sincere resolutions of new obedience.
3. With prayer for forgiveness and needed grace. Ask God in His great mercy to pardon the sins of the past year, and to grant to you that assistance which will enable you to avoid these sins during the year that has commenced.
4. With gratitude and confidence. While you cherish thankfulness to God for the goodness which He has manifested to you during the past year, cherish also reliance on His kindness and care for the year that is to come. (D. Duncan.)
Take heed . . . that your heart be not deceived.
Religion no humbug
I. Let us not be deceived in our ideas about God.
1. Let us not be deceived in thinking that our heavenly Father is partly good and partly bad.
2. Let not your heart be deceived in thinking that God cannot pardon the one who supposes himself or herself to be the worst. We all do wrong, in some sense or another; and when the thought of our sin weighs down our hearts, let us feel persuaded that God can forgive us. But do not mistake His pardon by thinking that when He forgives us, there is an end of it. Here is a careless weaver at work, throwing the shuttle containing the weft. When she has got half through the warp, she finds she has made an error in the pattern, and when the overlooker unwinds the piece he discovers the flaw running through the whole. Well, what is to be done? She says, “O, do forgive me!” He replies, “Certainly I will; but you know it must be undone.” It is weary work undoing a web of long threads; but nobody would buy that piece as it is. So the weaver begins with the last thread and pulls it out from side to side and begins again. Likewise, though the Lord forgives us, we must undo the bad life. As the kindly overlooker stands beside the weaver, saying, Let me help you, so the Lord stands by us to help us to amend the tangled web of our life. While God forgives us and inspires our heart, the rectification of what is wrong must, however, be our own act. We must undo our bad life by beginning afresh.
II. Do not be deceived in your views concerning religion. Religion is not a theory; it is the living spirit of usefulness. Religion that does not inspire us to be pure ourselves and useful to others is not the true Christian religion; it is a humbug. Religion will comfort your own heart and make you a blessing wherever you go. While it teaches you to fight against your evil propensities, it trains you to be kind-hearted at home and peaceable-minded abroad. In leading you down the steps of true humility, it exalts you to the noblest manhood; and while constraining you to surrender your will to the Christ-spirit, it gives you the glorious power of God-likeness. A minister was on one occasion preaching on peaceableness, having special reference to Messrs. Pincher and Stiggins, two of his deacons who had long been at daggers’ point. Such was his faithful earnestness that the whole congregation was moved, and when the benediction was pronounced, Mr. Pincher went across the chapel to the other, and with tears in his eyes, remarked, “Brother Stiggins, after such a sermon there must be peace between us. Now, I can’t give in, so you must!” The other replied, “Well, Brother Pincher, if you won’t give in, I’m blessed if I will!” You see, they were religious in theory but not in practical life.
III. We should not be deceived in our thoughts about the invisible world called heaven and hell. If you have good things in this world, and do not care for the destitute, you cannot have good things in the other world. (W. Birch.)
A caution against deception
I. An evil anticipated. That of having the heart deceived.
1. The scantiness and imperfection of human knowledge.
2. The deceitfulness of the heart.
3. The deceitfulness of sin.
4. The deceitfulness of the world.
5. The deceitfulness of the devil.
Such are the reasons we have for believing that our hearts may be deceived. But the text assumes that this deception is an evil pregnant with very pernicious consequences. And this appears from the consideration, that those whose hearts are deceived are involved in a state of the most palpable error. What tradesman would wish to make errors in his accounts? What scholar would not guard against error in his sums? But these errors are trivial, when compared to the grievous error in which those are involved whose hearts are deceived concerning their salvation and their God. Nor is this all; those whose hearts are deceived, are exposed to extreme danger.
II. The caution urged against this deception. “Take heed to yourselves,” etc.
1. Be alive to a sense of your extreme danger. Let us consider what we are--how deeply fallen! Let us weigh well our circumstances, dangers, and enemies; this will lay the foundation for caution and circumspection.
2. Seek for the illuminating and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit; O, seek His influence by fervent, importunate prayer. “Take heed to yourselves.”
3. By the constant practice of self-examination.
4. By watching over yourselves. “Watch and pray.” “Be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” “Watch thou in all things.” Watchfulness will lead you to keep a strict guard over your thoughts, words, actions. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Lay up these my words.
The four places in which a good male keeps God’s truth
The four places are here: heart, soul, hand, head; or put it another way: there are two departments of the religious life--first, the truth of God, the reality of religion revealed in us, that is in the heart and soul; and second, the truth of God revealed by us, that is, by the hand and by the head. Even as it is said there were four rivers flowing from paradise, so also there are four rivers which flow through the paradise of a good man’s life. They, are love, truth, use, beauty.
I. The first place is the heart.
1. Lay up God’s words like treasure in a chest; they are the family plate of believers, the heirlooms of the household of faith.
2. Like books in a library, ready for reference. We cannot read all books at once; we cannot read the whole Bible at one time, it is neither necessary nor desirable. In a very large library well selected, it may be thought there are no books useless, every book has its place and worth, and may be referred to again and again; but it is laid up on the shelf against the time.
3. Like clothes in a wardrobe, ready for all weathers: for summer’s sunshine, and for winter’s storms. The truth of God should be the garment of the soul.
4. Like conserves of precious fruit, gathered in the time of plenty to be eaten in the snow time of winter scarcity; as of Mary, the mother of our Lord, we read, “She kept all these sayings and pondered them,” she laid them up for love to brood over.
5. Like knowledge hidden but not lost. It does not follow always that what does not appear does not exist. A capable captain on shore is not always telling you how he would manage a ship in difficulties; an accomplished musician may be sitting quite still, and saying nothing of the art he loves and of which he knows so much; but in both of these, and many such men, the knowledge only needs the occasion; it is there.
6. Lay them up in the heart as guides. We are not always studying the map, but if we desire to know a country, it is useful to have it; and these words are for use, meditation, and memory.
7. In the heart: not like misers’ hoards, but like bankers’ gold, which turns into capital, and is not only wealth itself, but a means of creating more.
II. The second place is the soul.
1. The soul is the seat of thought or understanding.
2. The soul is the seat and place of mind-life.
3. The soul is the scat of conviction, and conviction is mental activity and independence.
III. And now the relations of the text change; and this third head brings us to the second department. I said at the first, those two places to which I have referred speak of the truth of God revealed in your heart and soul--refer to the moral and mental power of man. Now in this third particular religion is brought into notice; it is the truth of God revealed by us, “therefore shall ye bind these words for a sign upon your hand.” I suppose, that is as much as to say, realise them in your life. Religion is for use, fuel is for fire, wood cut down is to be used, bricks are to build, cloth is for clothes, religion is for life. If you have any religion, use it. Some years ago there was a sect of people called the Rosicrucians; they were a very remarkable people. It was said of them that they had discovered the principle of an ever-burning flame; but then nobody was able to see it; the singularity of the lamp was, that it only shed its lustre in vaults, in closely sealed and concealed tombs. I do not so much doubt the discovery, as I deny the use of such a flame; open the door, it was said, and instantly the light was extinguished. Why, whatever is the use of such a light as that--a light that nobody ever sees? And so it is with the religion of some people; if they have got any, they keep it all to themselves as in a vault or a tomb. “Therefore bind these words as a sign upon the hand.”
1. Like a glove, on the hand for defence. The hedger and ditcher tears up many a weed, and encounters fearlessly many a prickly thorn with his rough glove, which he would be fearful to grapple with his ungloved hand.
2. Like a gauntlet, as a sign of challenge.
3. Like a tool, an implement of labour, something to work with, to build with.
4. Like a sword.
IV. The head. “Lay up these words in the heart, that they may be a frontlet to the eye,” that is, before you; what you possess you will profess; in a word, avow the Word; do not be ashamed of it. On the other hand, do not make profession of it before you possess it. Thus--
1. These words are to be a source of pride; for what is worn on the head, or between the eyes, is usually a source of pride, or a manifestation of it. Be proud then, not of yourself, of your attainments, but of that which has been conferred upon you in the possession of these words.
2. As frontlets between the eyes, for this implies dignity, giving ornament, rank, elevation; so it ought to be if these words are laid up in heart and soul and are manifested in the life; they will be like an ornament of grace to the head, and chains about the neck; they will be wreathed into a coronet, diadem, a tiara, a crown--all these are worn on the head; and I cannot imagine religion really possessed without its giving beauty, some royalty and elevation to character, something that alike dignifies person and speech.
3. That they may be as frontiers between your eyes, that they may be a source of protection. Wear them as helmets are worn, like that of which we read, “for a helmet the hope of salvation.” And is not this also in the words of God? for they constitute not only the ornament or character, but its defence too, as it is written, “Thou through Thy commandments hast made me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me.” These are the principles of a religious, life--these, are the principles which the great Hebrew lawgiver beheld as lying at the foundation of all prosperous states, and all truly noble personal character. (The Preacher’s Lantern.)
You cannot read this Book without perceiving that Moses delivers himself with the energy and affection of one who knew that though his strength was unabated and his eye not dimmed, he had but few days to remain upon earth, and who therefore desired to gather into a parting address whatever was most calculated to arrest the attention and confirm Israel in loyalty to Jehovah. And if we attach a more than ordinary interest to the last words of distinguished individuals, ought we not to listen with a reverent attention to the lawgiver with whom God had spoken face to face, whilst in the thought of a speedy dissolution he pours forth lessons, warns, and exhorts? Now, we believe that in our own day, perhaps more than in any other, there is a risk of men being satisfied with a merely intellectual religion. Undoubtedly the character of the age will tell upon the character of the religion of the age, and a mere head knowledge of Christianity will satisfy many of the admirers and cultivators of intellect. And besides this possible case of surrendering to religion an intellectual homage, in which, from the beginning to the end, the heart has no share, we believe that with those who are really converted the head very often outruns the heart, and that many truths are acknowledged which are not at all felt.
I. Now, let it be distinctly observed, that there is a great province for the understanding as well as for the affections in the matter of true religion. It is the business of reason to scrutinise the claims of the Bible to the being received as inspired; and there can be no proper place for the exercise of faith until there be in some shape this exercise of reason. I can never ask a man to believe that the Bible is God’s Word, except as the result of a painstaking inquiry; but when once this inquiry has been made, when once the conclusion has been arrived at, that the Bible is inspired, then, indeed, we expect of a man that he prostrate his reason before the disclosures of the Book, and that, whenever these disclosures surpass his comprehension, he give them that unhesitating admission which is due to the confessed fact that they are communications from God. And over and above this employment of the understanding in determining the evidence of the Volume, and therefore the veracity of the doctrines, a man is to read Scripture with just the same endeavour to gain a clear and intelligent acquaintance with its statements which he would make in perusing an ordinary book. There is no fault in the effort to comprehend whatever comes within the range of a finite comprehension; the only fault is in the refusing, when a point is reached by which the understanding is baffled, to receive on God’s Word what we cannot clear up by human reason. And thus the intellect is to be no idle agent in religion, for a man must know what he is to believe before he can believe it. We contend that faith cannot be in advance of the understanding; but we are equally clear that the understanding may often be in advance of faith. We are not speaking of mere historical faith, but of that powerful principle which the Scriptures alone recognise as faith; and we say that faith cannot be in advance of the understanding, for according to the foregoing statements, a man must know the object of faith before he can believe: he must know that there are Three Persons and but One God, ere he can believe a Trinity in Unity. But then, on the other hand, the understanding may be very far in advance of the faith, for a man may have knowledge of a vast variety of truths, on not one of which is there any influential fastening of his belief. So that whilst there is a kind of necessity that the intellect possesses itself of doctrines before they can become objects of faith, it by no means follows that the intellect will send them on to the heart; on the contrary, it is a thing of most common occurrence, that the intellect will retain them as merely speculative truths, and that the historical uninfluential assent is the highest homage which they shall ever obtain. And our business is to endeavour to show you the danger of this laying up of religious truth within the confines of the intellect, and the consequent importance of attempting all obedience to the precept of our text. There is a danger to those who are unconverted; there is a danger also to those who are converted. We begin with the former, and we declare that the parties on whom it seems hardest to make a moral impression are those who are thoroughly well acquainted with the letter of the Gospel. If there be one of you who knows thoroughly well the whole plan of salvation, but who has nothing more than an intellectual religion, we should like to look over what may be called the elements of his knowledge, and see whether he can stand acquitted of the charge of hindering his own conversion. It is a part of your knowledge that it is your duty, to detach yourselves from those habits and associations which are opposed to God’s Word. Do you labour to effect this detachment? You have the intellectual persuasion that you must be lost, unless Christ heal your moral disease. Do you act as you would do, if you had the intellectual persuasion that you must speedily die unless you betake yourself to this or that physician? We are sure that if there were anything of candour in your replies, they would furnish an ample demonstration that man is himself chargeable with detaining truth in the intellect, when it ought to go forward to the heart, and that it is simply through his not making that use of religious knowledge which he would and does make use of any other sort of knowledge, that he fails to become spiritually as well as intellectually a Christian. Now, up to this point we have confined our remarks to the case of unconverted men; and it may be thought at first sight that intellectual religion can never be attributed to the converted; yet, if you examine with a little attention you will perceive, that in respect of every man there is a likelihood of the understanding outstripping the affections, so that many truths may be held by the intellect which are not known in the experience. Now, look, for example, at the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not possible that a renewed man should fail to give his unqualified assent to the truth that the death of Christ was an expiation for sin, so that he will unreservedly hold the doctrine of the atonement. But all this, you observe, is purely intellectual. The truth may be thus held, but yet held only in the understanding; and the question is, whether the believer lives in the daily experience of this truth--whether as fast as sin is committed it is carried to the blood of the atonement, and whether, therefore, the opening of a fountain for human defilement is a fact which has only gained the assent of the intellect, or one in which the heart feels a deep and abiding concern. And thus, again, there must be with every real Christian an intellectual holding of the truth, that we are to live each moment in a realised dependence upon God; that we are to cast our burdens upon the Lord, that we are to refer to Him our every care, our every want, our every anxiety. But we want to know whether, in respect of the providence of God, as well as of the priesthood of Christ, the intellect is not often in advance of the experience. There may be an unqualified admission by the understanding of the noble truth, that not a sparrow falls without our Heavenly Father. But unless a man continually act on the admission--unless, indeed, he carry his every concern to the Almighty, so as to ask His counsel in each difficulty, His support in each trial, His guardianship in each danger, why, we contend that the understanding has outstripped the heart--in other words, that the intellect is in advance of the experience. And there are, we suppose, but few Christians who will deny that they are chargeable with this inequality of pace in the understanding and the heart.
II. We will just show you what we think the consequences of the intellect being in advance of the experience. If you know a doctrine whose power and preciousness you do not feel--and this is, in other words, the outstripping of the heart by the understanding--then you receive that doctrine only as an unconverted man receives it, and you must be chargeable even in a greater degree with its detention in the intellect, when it ought to be sent on to the affections; and there must be produced something of the like effect in two cases. You strip the doctrine of energy by allowing it to remain inert in the understanding; you reduce it into a dead letter, and thus you grieve the Holy Spirit, who intended it as an engine by which you might carry on the conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil; and we need not tell you that what grieves the Spirit must sensibly affect your well-being as Christians. Besides, in all your religious intercourse with others, the probability is that your conversation will take its measure from your knowledge and not from your experience. Take the case of a preacher. The preacher, and we suppose it to be his duty, will press upon his congregation the amount of truth which is known to himself, whether or not it be felt by himself. When I speak up to the extent of my knowledge, if that knowledge outruns my experience, I represent myself as attaching value to certain truths of which, after all, I have not tasted the preciousness. And what is this but representing myself as a more thorough believer than I am? And what again is this but the playing the hypocrite, though I may have no distinct purpose of palming a false estimate upon others? And if the excess of knowledge over experience thus makes it almost certain that in attempting to instruct others we shall virtually be hypocrites, you have only to remember how hateful is hypocrisy in every degree, and under every disguise, to the Almighty, and you will have no difficulty in discerning the signal danger of allowing the intellect to outstrip the heart. It is true, you may say, we will avoid the danger by abstaining from all endeavour to instruct, but you will thus again be neglecting a positive duty--and is not this perilous? You may say, “We will never, speak beyond our experience,” and this will secure us against the alleged risk; but since your experience comes not up to your knowledge, you would thus be guilty of keeping back truths which God has given to be advanced, and you would hardly then think that the danger which you incur would be less than the danger you avoid. If, therefore, any one of you as a true Christian values peace, then his constant aim will be, that whatever of religious truth finds its way into the understanding may be sent onward at once to the affections, and that thus the precept of Moses may be sedulously obeyed--“Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Attention to the Scriptures
Attention to the Word of God is strongly urged upon the Israelites in my text. At that time, however, only a small part of that Word--the five books of Moses--had been given by God to marl. How much more strongly, then, is our attention called to the Holy Scriptures, now that every part of the Bible, containing the will of God, is made known to us!
I. We have the reason given why we are to attend to the words of the Bible, namely, because they are the words of God; therefore shall ye lay up these My words. If an earthly king were to write a book for his subjects, how eagerly would it be read! In proportion to his authority would be the attention paid to what he wrote, especially if he were a king from whom his subjects had received great blessings, and who had no other object in view than their real good. What attention, then, ought to be paid to the Bible! It is the word of the King of kings. It also contains treasures worth more than thousands of worlds, even the Gospel of salvation to perishing sinners. Yet, alas! nothing, in general, is more neglected than the Bible. Or, if it is read, it is only in a formal manner, as a matter of duty, undertaken in order to work out a supposed righteousness. The Bible must be searched into as for hidden treasures, by all that are really anxious for the salvation of their souls; and the glorious truths it contains must be laid up in the storehouse of the heart.
II. We are commanded not only to lay up the Word of God in our own hearts, but also to teach it to the rising generation. “And ye shall teach them your children.” We have here another melancholy proof of the blindness of the natural man. We see children taught, indeed, but not taught the Word of God. We see boys taught to seek after the good things of this life. We see girls taught to adorn their perishing bodies. But we look around, almost in vain, for those who teach their children the words of the Lord. All, however, to whom the Word of God is precious, should teach it to the rising generation.
III. The next command given is to speak of the words of God, when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. Alas! there is, in general, no subject so completely banished from conversation as religion. To hear men in their common discourse, we might suppose that God had commanded His creatures never to talk of His words. And, surely, if the command were given to the Israelites, it is urged with far greater force upon us, in proportion as the reason is stronger. The Israelites could only talk of the wonders of creation, of the history of their forefathers, and of the law of Moses--that law which, from its very holiness, is a law of sin and death to fallen man. But, beside all this, we can talk of the wonders of redemption, and of the gracious dealings of the Lord with His people in all ages.
IV. But still further, the words of God should always be had in remembrance. The text commands the Israelites to write His words upon the doorposts of their houses. There might be some reason for this, when printing was unknown, and therefore copies of the whole Word of God scarce--but that reason exists not now. Through the mercy of God the whole of His Word may now be in the hands of everyone who wishes it. We therefore must enter into the spirit of the text. We should have the precepts and promises of the Bible fastened to the gates of our hearts, to direct our actions, words, and thoughts.
V. In the close of our text we are reminded of the encouragement given to obey the command--that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon earth. Those who govern their lives by the Word of God are the only really happy people in this world. Faith in Christ delivers believers from the hard service and bondage of this world, and leads them into the glorious liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (H. Gipps, LL. B.)
Teach them your children.
I. This is the simplest notion of education, for undoubtedly he is perfectly educated who is taught all the will of God concerning him, and enabled through life to execute it. And he is not well educated who does not know the will of God, or, knowing it, has received no help in his education towards being inclined and enabled to do it:
II. The special thing meant to be taught to the Israelites was a knowledge of God’s statutes and ordinances, not the Ten Commandments only, nor all the early history of their forefathers contained in the Book of Genesis, but God’s law given to them His people, His will respecting them morally and politically, His will with regard to all the relations of private and public life; all this was laid down in their law; all this was carefully to be taught them in their youth, that so, in whatsoever line of life they might be thrown, or whatever questions might be agitated, they might know what was God’s will, and therefore might know and do their own duty.
III. For the Israelites the Bible contained both the rule and its application; for us it contains only the rule. In order, therefore, to instruct our children fully in God’s will and enable them to execute it, we must bring in some other knowledge and other studies, not to be found in the Bible, in order to make up for that part of the Bible which gave this instruction to the Israelites, but which gives it us no longer. And hence it is clear that neither is the Bible alone sufficient to give a complete religious education, nor is it possible to teach history and moral and political philosophy with no reference to the Bible without giving an education that should be anti-religious. For in the one case the rule is given without the application; in the other the application is derived from a wrong rule. (T. Arnold, D. D.)
Parents the divinely appointed teachers of their families
I. The light in which we ought to regard the family relation. Parents should never forget that the family is the school in which they are training the men and women of the future age, from whom the world will gain its votaries, the church its members, heaven its redeemed spirits, and hell its victims, and that their examples are making impressions which will extend their blissful or baneful influence on their eternal destiny.
II. The teachers and their qualifications. Parents are constituted the teachers of their children by the express appointment of God, and any arrangement that sets aside this appointment can neither be wise nor safe. As God has thus clearly defined who are to be the teachers, so He has, in the text, no less clearly pointed out what are to be their qualifications.
III. The matter and the manner of the teaching which God has enjoined. Surely nothing is so worthy of engaging the first recollections of the mind as “the words of God,” nor anything so important as to have the heart--before it is immersed in the cares of life--fully brought under the guidance of God, the grace and love of Christ, and the attractions of heaven. And to attain this should elicit the daily efforts and the daily prayers of the Christian parent, as he sits in his house, or walks by the way, or lies down, or rises up.
IV. The happiness which may be expected to result from this. There are those who would make us believe that these, and all similar promises of a temporal nature, which we meet with under the Old Testament dispensation, have no place under the new. But so long as it is true that “in the keeping of God’s commands there is a great reward,” and that “godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come,” and that there is a natural adaptedness in a life of piety to promote the universal well-being of man, I cannot see how such interpretations of Scripture can be according to truth. It is quite true, however, that the chief and most glorious part of “the recompense of reward” is spiritual, and such as can be fully enjoyed only in the heavenly state. (M. T. Adams.)
The training of children
The most powerful institution that abides today is not the regal, nor the noble; it is not political economy; it is not industry, nor is it the Church: it is the family, the household.
1. In rearing children, the first step should be in securing health; and for this sake the requirement is healthy parents. Children that bear the sins of their fathers are not few, and miserable are they; but taking it for granted that children are born with fair chances of life, sound in every part, and well-tempered together, the very first parental duty is to secure for them, from year to year, air, exercise, and wholesome food, that they may grow up healthily. Under this general head of health parents need instruction against the early forcing of their children. See that your children are kept down to animal conditions, so that the brain shall not destroy them.
2. Next to health in importance in the family, as well as in order, is obedience. The child is born into a world of infinite subordinations, where the business of life itself is to suppress one’s self, and to give way here and there to strength, to social arrangements, to law. There can, therefore, be nothing less wise in the parent, and nothing less beneficial to the child, than that questioning, hesitating obedience which finally dragged into an unwilling submission, the child at last yields; but that is family government, as it is seen in many households; and wherever you see this--especially if you see it in your own house--understand that you are bringing up your children to disobey God, and the magistrate, and their fellow men, by teaching them to disobey you, or to give only a grudging instead of a cheerful and prompt obedience. It may be said that this is to break the will of the child, and that he needs all the will he is possessed of with which to fight his way through life. Now it is no more breaking the will of the child to teach him to obey his father and mother, than it is the breaking of the bones of my arms to teach me exactly how to use them, or exactly how to hold my hand to the keyboard of a piano. It is merely teaching the child how to use his will; and without teaching of that kind we are all brutes and barbarians.
3. We are next to consider that our children are not given to us for our accommodation and our pleasure. They are not, in one sense, our own children; they are lent to us; and no trust was ever reposed by king, by noble, by any human being upon another, so august, and of which the responsibilities are so tremendous, as the trust of a child placed in the hands of fallible, feeble, erring men, to be brought up for his destiny in this life, and in the life which is to come. These considerations reach backward. The laws of taking care of our children ought to go back further than the birth of the child, to antecedent conditions. I do not think that civilisation will ever take its last flight, or that religion will ever universally prevail, until physiological laws are observed to the letter.
4. Let me say that I regard a happy Christian family, consisting of wise parents and dutiful children, dwelling together in love as Eden restored. I regard the development of love in the family, its impartiality, its pitifulness to the weak, its watch and care, its patience, its suffering, its power to suffer, its stern requisition, its discrimination between right and wrong, its endurance of pain for the objects of its discipline, as the grandest, and as the only perfect revelation of Divine moral government. (H. W. Beecher.)
Have the Word of God ready far use
It is a Word directive, explanative, consolatory, inspirational, redemptive. It is God’s spoken wisdom for man’s active guidance. And the wise man will ponder well these Divine revelations before he sets out, will get a good grip of heaven’s instructions and promises before passing on to the stress and strain of conflict. The heart has need to store such things as these in readiness. They are not easily or readily found if left at one side till immediately wanted. It is an easier and wiser course for your railway official to light up his carriages amid broad daylight and before the train starts than it would be to send a man with flaming torch along the roof of a speeding train after it had dashed into the darkness of a tunnel. The ship that sails forth well equipped does not put her lifeboats in the hold because the day is fine--she carries them taut, furnished, ready fitted for immediate use, prepared beforehand even down to details for any moment’s service. So must we equip ourselves with Divine wisdom for life’s voyage. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Let it be a perpetual remembrance. Its interpretation of life’s meaning and issue, its solution of the ways of Providence, its new and chivalrous setting of old moral obligations, its bright-hued promises, above all its message of grace to the needy soul--let us take a lively realisation of these truths with us. (C. A. Berry, D. D.)
Aids to memory required
The Hebrew prophet anticipated the difficulty of attaining this Divine consciousness. Our natural tendency in respect of spiritual verities is not towards remembrance but forgetfulness. Great emotions, bright visions, hours of keen insight, pass, leaving behind only a vague, occasional reminiscence. We are alive at so many sensuous points, and there is so much to be alive to in the intensity of our worldly life, that we easily become absorbed in what is passing, our thought of the Divine becomes meagre, spasmodic, feebly influential--an occasional jerk, not a constant, steady, regnant force. Moses foresaw this: foresaw, too, that the only way to check this and to reverse it was to turn the outward into a ministering reminder of spiritual things. In the first place he asked them to associate everything in life with the gracious words of God, to turn their surroundings into memory helps, recalling to the mind the great lessons of heaven. In the next place, observing that men best learn what they oftenest teach, he directed them, in relation to God’s Word, to follow a course of pupil-teachership, to fix in themselves by imparting to others the truths and promises of grace. Our first step towards the perpetual remembrance of Christ is to surround ourselves with memorials of Him, to put up tokens, symbols, writings, which shall recall past lessons and experiences. We must use our common sense in this matter. We must give to the soul at least as many helps as we give to the mind in our efforts to produce and to fix great impressions. When I go into a schoolhouse I find the wise teacher calling into the service of his pupils’ memory every sense with which they are gifted. He is not content to repeat a thing, nor even to make it clear: he seeks thereafter to set up a sensuous memorial of the thing taught. Now by a rhyme which captivates the ear, now by a picture or demonstration which masters the eye, he endeavours to render permanent the instruction of the hour. Every surrounding of life is thus turned into the service of the memory. Things are made vocal of ideas. The eye and the ear are made daily ministers to the intellect and the heart. Memory is built up of memorials. Every Christian home should be well furnished with memorial writings and suggestive memory helps. Some vivid experience has lit up for you the full meaning and graciousness of an old Scripture promise. Put up that promise where it shall often meet the eye, and through the eye you shall be able to re-awaken the soul to that old and blessed experience. A blessed answer to family prayer has saved your home from disaster, has brought back to you a wanderer, has delivered you from the loss of members or fortune. Set up in the midst of your household a monument of that great answer. So ought it to be with all the cardinal truths and promises of the Gospel. But there is suggested another help to the realisation of Christ’s Word. It is that which springs from teaching to others what we ourselves have learned. “Teach them your children.” (C. A. Berry, D. D.)
The young should be valued
Value the young. How precious these germs are! These spring buds are lovely to look upon, but their worth is greater than their beauty. An immortal life is opening there; heed it well. Proprietors rear strong fences round young trees, while they leave the aged forests to take their chance. Permit not the immortal to be twisted at the very starting of its growth for the want of such protection as it is in your power to afford. (W. Arnot.)
The mind of a child
The mind of a child is not like that of a grown person, too full and too noisy to observe everything: it is a vessel always ready to receive, and always receiving. (Mrs. Child.)
Scriptural instruction of children
Charles Dickens once addressed a letter to his son Henry while he was at college, advising him to keep out of debt and confide all his perplexities to his father. The letter concluded as follows: “I most strongly and affectionately impress upon you the priceless value of the New Testament, and the study of that book as the one unfailing guide in life. Deeply respecting it, and bowing down before the character of our Saviour, you cannot go very wrong, and will always preserve at heart a true spirit of veneration and humility. Similarly, I impress upon you the habit of saying a Christian prayer every night and morning. These things have stood by me all through my life, and remember that I tried to render the New Testament intelligible to you and lovable by you when a mere baby. And so God bless you.”
That your days may be multiplied.
A long life and a happy one
I. That experimental godliness has a tendency to add length of days to man’s life.
1. Genuine religion engenders and fosters states of mind highly conducive to physical health.
2. Genuine religion stimulates a practical regard to the laws of human health.
II. That experimental godliness has a tendency to add heaven to a man’s life.
1. It gives him the spirit of heaven.
2. It engages in the service of heaven.
3. It introduces into the fellowship of heaven. (Homilist.)
As the days of heaven upon the earth.--
The days of heaven upon the earth
The text implies a very elevated principle, that we should spend our days on earth as the days are spent by angels and the spirits of the just in heaven. And, without doubt, men might be incomparably happier than they are, if they would. There is no hindrance in God; there is no obstacle in the Divine arrangements; but man destroys his own well-being, and is ofttimes miserable, amid all the opportunities of the sweetest peace and the deepest joy, and when he might have days of heaven upon the earth.
I. What are the days of heaven? “No night there.”
1. In heaven they see the face of God. Manifestations of the excellence and glory of the Divine perfections: satisfying, felicitous, transforming.
2. In heaven they glorify Christ and celebrate His praise.
3. In heaven they are full of knowledge.
4. Full of love.
5. Prompt and perfect in obedience.
Their delight is in doing God’s will; they dwell together in perfect unity. And from this state of mind and nature unmingled satisfaction flows, like waters from a fountain. Deep and ineffable happiness is realised. The pulsations of their joy produce no exhaustion, but forever increase in pleasantness and power.
II. The possibility of this, and the duty of attempting to make our days like the days of heaven, whilst we are upon earth.
1. And, first, I would refer to the elements of happiness which have been already specified. Respecting the spiritual sight of the Deity, our Lord affirms, “Blessed are the pure in heart,” etc. “The world seeth Me no more, but ye see Me.” “I will manifest Myself to you, as I do not unto the world.” If you delight in the complacency of God, be sure that His favour will be opened upon you as the sun shining in his strength. Then, as to glorifying and praising Christ; do we not now say, “Unto Him that loved us,” etc.? And have we not love in exercise? Are we not ready to do the will of God? Do we not dwell in peace? When the light and fire of the Holy Ghost is given; when our best passions are kindled, when we are filled with the celestial communications and communion, there is a near resemblance of heaven upon the earth.
2. Let me appeal to some passages of Scripture which convey the same truth. The Gospel dispensation is the reign of heaven. It is the ascendency of holiness in the heart and mind. The kingdom of God is within you, and it consists of righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
3. Let us advert to some of the recorded experiences of good men on the subject. It has been said, “Grace is glory in the bud, and religion in the soul is the glory of the soul.” “A timorous faith will bring a man safely to heaven, but a strong and vigorous faith will bring heaven to us now.” And I was startled by this sentiment: “It is better to be here than in heaven.” Yes, so long as it shall please God it is so, and to think the contrary shows insubmissiveness to His will and discontent with His providential arrangements.
III. How may they be secured to us?
1. Receive the Gospel. Christ is our life; if He and the Father come and abide in our souls, heaven is begun.
2. Settle the possibility of it in your own mind.
3. Observe the ordinances of Christ.
4. Avoid all known causes of disquietude.
5. Maintain your self-possession. Cultivate tranquility of spirit.
6. Take care of your thoughts.
7. Take care of your tongue.
8. Take care of your conscience.
9. Do not harass yourself concerning the future.
10. Study to be quiet, and to attend to your own business.
11. Do good every day to someone, either by example, instruction, or generosity. (James Stratten.)
Heaven upon the earth
In this clause extremes meet. Things that are distant are brought together--“heaven” and “earth.”
1. We know something of the “days . . . upon the earth.” If we told our story, each would be different from the other; yet there would be a wonderful sameness. It would be a story of light and shade, beauty and barrenness, laughter and tears, success and failure.
2. We have dreamed, most of us, of “the days of heaven”; when the sun, no longer battling with the mists, should shine in the glory of his brightness; when fleecy clouds, like angel chariots, should fleck the blue expanse; when all the bustle and riot should be exchanged for unbroken peace and perpetual quiet; when vision should be no longer blurred by the uprising vapours of evil.
3. The text speaks to us of realisation, enjoyment, benediction, contentment. It contains the ideas of continuity and felicity, duration and fulness, or a blending of these ideas.
I. The text finds a pleasing illustration in happy childhood under kindly parental control.
1. Given all the healthful influences of a home where judicious training is linked with affectionate yearning; where example is set like a jewel in a circlet of gold, and the parents are recognised as priest and priestess of the home sphere: I know no words more fittingly appropriate to describe that period of life than these, “As the days of heaven upon the earth.”
2. The child’s best interests are secured by obedience and subjection, and his heaven is found in harmony with the parental will. Then shall his course be crowded with sunny memories, for his way shall be illumined by the father’s smile; voices shall cheer him in the darkness; while from day to day shall be added mercies new and many, the true value of which shall only be discovered upon review.
II. The text is suggestive of the new epoch inaugurated at conversion. One summer morning a lady I knew well went into her garden. She looked up at the blue sky, she gazed at the trees, she bent over the flowers, she examined everything as though she had not seen anything of the kind before. Her sister inquired, “Why are you looking at everything thus?” She replied with a smile, “Well, it is all so very lovely, and seems so new.” She had been converted the previous evening, and that was the explanation of her awakened interest and evident admiration.
III. View the text as the epitome of the grateful soul’s estimate of a life that often seems anything but heavenly. The point of view makes all the difference in the estimate of the life of faith on the earth. I read somewhere of one who had moved into a new flat, which could hardly be described as cheerful in its surroundings. The outlook was not very pleasant, and the building had not what the Frenchman called “a sunny exposition.” The ordinary woman would have regarded it but as a dismal shelter from the frosts of winter or the rains of summer. A friend called one day, and was asked by the cheerful housewife to notice the pleasant view from the window. “Yes,” said the friend, “I see a remarkably fine lot of chimney pots.” “Chimney pots,” said her hostess in astonishment,--“why, I never saw any chimney pots before. I looked over the chimneys, and saw only those trees which form the line on the horizon. I thought only of the trees and the sunsets.” Happy are they who look beyond all which tends to depress and distress!
IV. The text singles out the red-letter days in the spiritual experience of those whose faces are heavenward set. Cannot we recall seasons of elevation, times of transport, periods of exceptional delight? When thoughtfully reading, when quietly meditating, when kneeling in prayer, when gathered for worship, when observing the ordinances with our fellow believers, have we not often been lifted out of and above ourselves? Such experiences are not to be forgotten. The record of them must be deeply engraven. (Isaac O. Stalberg.)
Days of heaven upon earth
The text shows us a Divine method in providence; a law for individual and national life, and for the larger life of the race; a law borne witness to by the history of the people whose history is a light for all time, and by which we have gleams through experience of bitter times, earnests of the inheritance of light, periods filled with special mercy and truth, times of quickening and spiritual growth, days of heaven upon earth.
I. The first days of the Christian revelation were, in the highest and most absolute sense, days of heaven upon earth. A light began to shine amid the dark shadows of that time, and a Divine life to give forth sparks and gleams of a better world. God was manifest. He dwelt with men. He trod the common paths of life. Brief though the days were, all the great days of human history which preceded them had led up to them; and they were themselves, while they lasted, a vision of heaven for all time, an actual dawn of the possibilities to which Christ is conducting His Church, a demonstration of the power of that life of Christ in His people which, today as then, may be an opener of blind eyes, and a raiser of the dead, and may still go forth, as in the first apostles, to conquer the world. Those days were sent to us to create new days in our daily lives, and enable us, even amid the shadows and imperfections of our earthly life, to live lives of heaven upon earth. And these days still return to us. Times of revival are simply repetitions on a smaller scale of the first days of the Church. The light that shines upon human life at such times is light from heaven. Christ once more walks among men, and His presence seems to encompass them wherever they go.
II. The times when the soul is open to the revelations and offers of Divine life are days of heaven upon earth. The dawns and sunsets of these days are in the soul itself. These are the blessed times when the heart is still impressible, when the eyes of the soul are undimmed, when the conscience is still tender. The soul is face to face with the claims of God. It has new views of its responsibilities, of its aims, and of its destiny. Christ’s word and the Spirit of God and our own conscience work together to range us on the side of God. New visions of the Divine mercy and goodness are opened up to us, and we are placed under the argument of the love that died for us, to admit that love into our hearts.
III. The coming of Christ into a life is the beginning of days of heaven for that life. We are not our true selves until the blood of the Divine life has been mingled with ours. In the midst of natural occasions for joy we are not glad. Christ enters and joy begins. The long absent Friend has come--the life is heightened. The thoughts flow forth, the nature expands, the eyes kindle, and the whole wide world of circumstance and relationship takes on our joy.
IV. Times of service under Christ are days of heaven upon earth. The soul has now entered into loving relations with the Lord. It is no longer its own, but His. Its joy is to live in Him. Its life is a daily consecration to His service. Sacrifice, gifts, labours, worship: Christ is the object of them all.
V. The beautiful days of earth are types and sometimes actual realisations of such days. On such days every river becomes an emblem of the river of life; every tree, of the tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations; and the glory of the sky when the dawn burns into the perfect day, of the glory which is to lighten the streets of the New Jerusalem, and clothe the nations of the saved who shall walk in its light. I recall at this moment such a day of heaven upon earth. Here and there, all up the sides of a Highland mountain, patches of corn were yellowing for the sickle. These literally peeped out, so small they were, from amid great breadths of purple heather. Little hollows of meadow grass shot up over their edges the richest green; and, at irregular intervals, the bare rock displayed itself like protruding bones. The sun was setting. His rays came level and struck all that breast of colour at once, and seemed to touch it into active life. It expanded, it swelled, it rose upwards until clouds of colour floated about all the mountainside. The whole scene glowed with coloured light--yellow and green and purple. It flamed upwards, outwards, downwards, casting back upon the naked granite an ethereal brightness, and down upon the spectator a glory as if the gates of heaven had been opened to his view. It was one among ten thousand glimpses of the glory of God in the face of harvest. To them who were present it was a day of heaven upon earth.
VI. Christ is the light which makes days of heaven possible. And such days fail of their purpose if they fail to increase our joy in Him. Man in his ordinary state can neither see nor enjoy such days. He is blinded and oppressed by his burdens--the well known, the universally felt burdens, which only Christ can remove--of guilt and care and sorrow. (A. Macleod, D. D.)
Days of heaven
I. When may our days be said to be “as the days of heaven upon the earth”? When--
1. We enjoy much of a sense of the Divine presence, and live in the contemplation of the glorious perfections of God.
2. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.
3. We enjoy a spirit of gratitude and praise.
4. We possess brotherly love and enjoy the happiness of fellowship with the saints.
5. We obtain great victories over sin and have intense rove of purity.
6. We cheerfully obey God’s commands.
7. We frequently meditate on the heavenly state.
II. What course should we take in order that our days may be as such? We must--
1. Be partakers of vital faith in Christ, and be renewed in the spirit of our minds.
2. Make the glory of God our highest aim.
3. Wean our hearts from earthly things.
4. Watch against grieving the Holy Spirit.
5. Be perpetually employed for God, and resign our wills to His. (J. Ryland.)
The spirit of heaven to be infused into the present life
He whose mind is here absorbed in the desire for the distant heaven is like a man walking through scenes of exquisite loveliness, and fields of delicious fruit, with his eye so fixed on a mirage scene in the distance, that he sees no beauty on his way, starves amid the exuberant provisions which lie about his path, and reaches what he sees, an exhausted pilgrim, to find the object of his search vanish into air. Infuse, then, the spirit of heaven into thy present life. Moral goodness of soul, springing from faith in Christ, is your way into the present and all the future heavens of your being. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Heaven on earth
It was said of an old Puritan, that heaven was in him before he was in heaven. That is necessary for all of us--we must have heaven in us before we get into heaven. If we do not get to heaven before we die, we shall never get there afterwards. An old Scotchman was asked whether he ever expected to get to heaven. “Why, man, I live there,” was his quaint reply. Let us all live in those spiritual things which are the essential features of heaven. Often go there before yon go to stay there. If you come down tomorrow morning, knowing and realising that heaven is yours, and that you will soon be there, those children will not worry you half so much. When you go out to your business or to your work, you will not be half so discontented when you know that this is not your rest, but that you have a rest on the hills eternal, whither your heart has already gone, and that there your portion is in the everlasting dwellings. “Lay hold on eternal life.” Get a hold of it now. It is a thing of the future, and it is a thing of the present; and even your part of it that is future can be, by faith, so realised and grasped as to be actually enjoyed while you are yet here. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Days of heaven on earth
A minister one day preached on heaven. Next morning he was going down town, and he met one of his old wealthy members. The brother stopped the preacher and said: “Pastor, you preached a good sermon about heaven. You told me all about heaven, but you never told me where heaven is.” “Ah! “said the pastor, “I am glad of an opportunity this morning. I have just come from the hill top yonder. In that cottage there is a member of your church. She is sick in bed with fever; her two little children are sick in the other bed, and she has not got a bit of coal nor a stick of wood, nor flour, nor sugar, nor any bread. If you will go down town and buy five shillings’ worth of things--race provisions--and send them up to her, and then go up there and say, ‘My sister, I have brought you these nice provisions in the name of our Lord and Saviour,’ then ask for a Bible and read the twenty-third Psalm, and get down on your knees and pray--if you don’t see heaven before you get all through, I’ll pay the bill. The next morning he said: “Pastor, I saw heaven, and I spent fifteen minutes in heaven as certainly as you are listening.”
A blessing and a curse.
Mount Ebal, we are told, “is a barren, stony, and arid crag”; so would God “smite the apostates with barrenness, hunger, and misery.” Gerizim was “covered with luxuriant verdure, streams of running water and cool and shady groves;” so would God “bless the faithful Israelites with abundance, beauty and peace.” It is a grand prophecy in landscape of the judgments of God’s eternal providence. Henceforth their future, in the country they conquer and colonise, is in their own hands. The two ways of national and individual life, to ruin or to glory, part plainly before their eyes. The things shown in that early age of symbols were only outward patterns of what goes on in facts and decisions within us. Gerizim and Ebal raise their significant and speaking summits before every life.
I. For, in other words, life is overspread, permeated, and bound in, by God’s law. That law occupies every inch of its extent and every fibre of its organisation. Obey and be blessed, disobey and be accursed; here is the sharp alternative imprinted on every department of our being. Your body, your business, your appetites, your affections, your intellect, your memory, your judgment, your imagination, your household manners, your talk at the table and in the street, your practice of your profession or performance at your trade, your levity or sobriety, your temper and your tongue, your bargains and your salutations, your correspondence and your meditation, your action and your reveries, your hands, heart, and brain, all are penetrated and encircled by this law.
II. This law is permanent and unchangeable, as its Author is, being the uniform will of an unchangeable mind; not one thing for preachers and communicants, but for persons who never chose to confess themselves Christians another and easier thing; not strict for one seventh of your time and lax for six sevenths; not varying with situations and fluctuating with opportunities for concealment or degrees of temptation; not satisfied to be respected in the dwellings at one end of a city while it is despised in the warehouses and offices at the other end.
III. Again, the consequences of this law which we are born and live under, in its two-fold working, whether as visiting penalties upon its violators or peace and strength upon its servants--are not to be prevented though they should be apparently obscured or postponed. This truth requires something more than a theoretic admission. How many of us realise it--that every offence against the Divine Will is certain to bring on, at last, its penal pain ant: sorrow--even its delay aggravating its torment; that every faithful or religious act or feeling must yield its infallible return of joy--the very hindrance enhancing its richness and depth; that Gerizim is sure of the fulfilment of its promise, and Ebal sure of the execution of its warning?
1. Helps enough are given to enable us to realise it. Can we pretend the law is not made plain?
2. We let our short-sightedness be deceived by the slowness of its operation; and, because sentence against our evil works is not executed speedily, suffer our hearts to get set in us to do evil. But the majestic order of nature is not really so stable as the moral results of moral choice, from greatest to least.
IV. With every right-minded Christian it must be a very earnest and very constant prayer, that he may gain larger and larger apprehensions of the extent and the sanctity of this law--the law that puts him on a perpetual choosing between holiness and worldliness, at between blessing and cursing.
V. Another step in the doctrine is to trace up this commandment to its conscious and personal infinite source. The law has its seat in the heart of God. No rigid, unfeeling abstraction is it, but the living Will of a living Father. Choose the right and scorn the wrong; and there will be growing within you a sense of His Almighty Presence, without whom no right could be, and all would be wrong. But remember that moral obedience can never be religious till it has God for its object, God’s Will for its guide, and communion with God for its daily inspiration.
VI. And thus we are led up by this order of our subject to discover, finally, the positive grandeur of allegiance to the Divine law. That grandeur is witnessed both by its nature and its effects.
1. In its nature. For obedience to the commandment is of itself a noble and valiant element in character. It is no paradox to affirm that the obedient mind is a commanding mind. The law that carries blessings in its right hand and curses in its left appeals to a deeper principle than selfishness. The blessings are not earthly advantages, but those spiritual gifts and honours, like confidence and holiness, love and faith, power and peace, which exclude all thought of self, and are kindred with the glory and purity of heaven. The curses are those elements of spiritual ruin--fear, hatred, passion, jealousy, despair, which impoverish the whole moral creation. The law does not reveal its encouragements and threatenings from Gerizim and Ebal, to make a rich or famous people, but a holy people.
2. So the effect is holiness of life. The commandment is holy, just, and good; and so must its fruit be. (Bp. F. D. Huntington.)
Moses does not divide the people into two classes: he sets before them alternative courses:--proceed upon the line of obedience, and you come to blessing; proceed along the line of disobedience, and a curse is the inevitable necessity--not a threatening, not an exhibition of fretful vengeance, but a spiritual necessity; a curse follows evil-doing, not as an arbitrary punishment, but as the effect, which can never be changed, of a certain, positive, operating cause. What if everything round about us be confirming the testimony of Moses? What if the Decalogue be written every day of the week? What if in the operation of moral influence it can be distinctly proved that the Bible is true, that the Word of the Lord abideth forever, and that, whatever changes may have occurred, obedience still leads to blessing, disobedience still leads to cursing, and it is not within the wit or the strength of man to change that outgoing of law and consequence? A very precious thing it is that we have only to obey. At first it looks as if we were humbled by this course of service, but further inquest into the spiritual meaning of the matter shows us that in the definition of right and wrong, law and righteousness, God has been most tenderly pitiful towards us, and law is but the practical and more visible and measurable aspect of love. One who knows the universe, because He made it, and all eternity, because He inhabits it, has condescended to tell us what is good, what is true, what is pure, what is right. If we were inspired by the right spirit we would instantly stand up in thankfulness and bless the Giver’s name, and ask but one other favour--that we might have eyes to see the innermost meaning of the law, and hearts trained, disciplined, and sanctified to accept and obey it, and express it in noble behaviour. Is it true, within limits that we know, that obedience leads to blessing and disobedience to cursing? Sometimes we have to interrupt the Divine reasoning that we may assist ourselves in its comprehension by the study of analogy upon lower ground. Is it true that there is a seed time, which, if neglected, will be followed by desolation and death?. . .If all these little outside Bibles are true and can challenge facts to prove their truth, it is not difficult to rise to the higher level, and to say, There may be a Bible meant for the soul; there may be a revelation addressed to the reason, and to the higher reason called faith, and to the higher self called the spirit. This higher revelation has not the immediate advantage of the lower Bibles, because they deal with earth, body, space, time, measurable quantities; but the higher Bible deals with soul, spirit, thought, will, eternity. He who operates within a radius of a few inches can be, apparently, quicker in his movements, more precise and determined in his decisions, than the man who claims the globe as the theatre of his actions. So the Bible, having the disadvantage of dealing with spiritual quantities, must be judged, so far as we can approach it, by the spirit of the lower laws, or the laws applying to the lower economy The argument is this: seeing that in the field, in the body, in the social economy, there is a law of blessing and a law of cursing, who shall say that this same reasoning does not culminate in a great revelation of heaven, hell; “the right hand,” “the left hand”; eternal life, everlasting penalty? If the analogies had been dead against that construction, we might by so much have stood in doubt and excused ourselves from completeness of service; but every analogy becomes a preacher: all nature take up her parable and speaks the revelations of her God: all life beats with a pulse below a pulse, the physical throb being but an indication of a growing immortality. We stand in a solemn sanctuary. We cannot get rid of law. The spiritual is a present blessing or a present curse. We cannot be happy with a bad conscience: it hardens the pillow when we need sleep most, it upsets all our arrangements, or makes our hand so tremble that we cannot clutch our own property; and we cannot be unhappy with a good conscience: without bread we are still in fulness, without employment we are still inspired by hope, without much earthly charity or largeness of construction of our motive and force we still retire within the sanctuary of an approved judgment and conscience. Blessing is not a question of posthumous realisation, nor is cursing. Heaven is here, and hell in germ, in outline, in hint, in quick, burning suggestion. Even now sometimes men know not whether they are in the body or out of the body by reason of religious entrancement and ecstasy; and there are men who, if they dare put their feeling into words, would say, “The pains of hell gat hold upon me.” “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked”; “Though hand join in band, the wicked shall not be unpunished”; “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Who can fight God and win the battle? (J. Parker, D. D.)
The blessing and the curse
1. What is the blessing set before us? The blessing of him whose sins are forgiven, who lives in God’s favour and dies in peace.
2. What is the curse? Just this, “The soul that sins shall die.” “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things written,” etc.
3. What is the way to escape the curse? By the death of Christ we are delivered from sin, redeemed from the curse, and by His obedience entitled to a blessing.
4. Which will you choose? Some people think they can make a compromise; that they need not be intensely Christian, as they are not, and will not be intensely worldly. If they do so, it is not really an alteration of their state, but a deception of themselves. You must take the sunshine or the shadow--the evil or the good--the “Come, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom”; or the withering sentence, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” (J. C. Cumming, D. D.)
Ye shall pass over Jordan.
Jordan and Canaan typical of death and heaven
I. The anticipated inheritance.
1. A land of promise.
2. A land of abundance.
3. A holy land.
4. A land of rest.
5. Permanence of residence.
6. A land freely given.
II. The manner of possession.
1. The streams of Jordan rolled between the desert and the land of Canaan. So does the river of death flow between earth and heaven.
2. Jordan separated the Israelites from the inhabitants of Canaan. Death separates the church militant and the church triumphant. On this side is a parent, on the other side a child.
3. Jordan was subject to the command of God. When He gave the word, the waters rose and stood up (Joshua 3:16). Death, too, is under His control. Christ “destroyed him who had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
4. Through Jordan was a necessary way to the laud of promise. So is death, however painful and affecting. It is necessary that the river of death should be dark and formidable to render us content with the present state of existence.
5. Jordan was the last river they had to pass. Death will be the last conflict--the last enemy with which the saint will have to struggle. Observe that when the children of Israel passed over Jordan the following things were observable.
(1) They were required to sanctify themselves previous to the passage (Joshua 3:5). Before death Christ must be made unto the believer “sanctification” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
(2) The priests were to enter the river first. So Jesus entered the river before us--as our Forerunner. The eye of faith in the dying believer beholds His footprints at the bottom.
(3) The priests stood firm in the midst of Jordan until all the people passed over (Joshua 3:17). Christ stands by His people in their dying moments, and they “feel the bottom of the river, for it is good.”
(4) When they had passed over, they erected memorials of praise (Joshua 4:5; Joshua 4:8; Joshua 4:20). So when the Christian reaches heaven he shall utter a song of praise. “We went through fire and through water, but Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place” (Psalms 66:12). “Unto Him that loved us” (Revelation 1:5-6).
1. The possession of the heavenly inheritance is certain: “Ye shall possess it.” “Faithful is He who hath promised it, who also will do it.”
2. Meditate much on heaven and Christ as an important means of inducing to preparation for the last conflict.
3. All sinners will be overwhelmed in the swellings of Jordan. (Helps for the Pulpit.)
Observe to do.
Obedience to the Divine commands
I. It is a breach of the injunction in the text for any man to substitute any contrivance or invention of his own, in the room of that which God hath prescribed in His worship, when such prescription is plain and express.
II. By virtue of the injunction in the text, we are bound to take heed, that we do not interpret any portion of Scripture, to such a sense as to pervert it from its true meaning and intention.
III. By these words we are strictly prohibited from pretending that anything is a Divine command, which is really not so.
IV. But though we must not add anything to the Word of God, or detract anything from it, pretending that any such alteration is of Divine appointment, yet where the Lord hath not spoken, I mean in such things as may be left to human prudence and discretion, the lawful magistrates, and the governors of the Church lawfully appointed, have an undoubted right to order and appoint such observances as are necessary and convenient for edification and external decorum in the public worship; and to take care that everything be done decently and in order; and so far as their commands are not in opposition or contrary to the Word of God, it becomes the duty of their people to comply with them. (Alex. Grant, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 11". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26