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That thou shalt set up great stones.
On the boundary line between European and Siberian Russia there is a square pillar of brick bearing on one side the coat-of-arms belonging to the province of Perm in Europe, and on the other side the coat-of-arms belonging to the province of Tobolsk in Asia. That pillar has more sorrowful associations than any other pillar in the world. For many years the exiles to Siberia had to pass it, and there bade a long farewell to home and country. Strong men wept; some pressed their faces to the loved soil they were leaving, some collected a little earth to take with them to their new abodes, and some passionately kissed the European side of the pillar. The plaister on the bricks was covered with inscriptions, plaintive and pathetic as the epitaphs in a graveyard. Moses thought of pillars which were to have not a mournful, but a joyful significance. The stones were afterwards set up by the people as memorials of God’s work on their behalf. The stones were to be a perpetual memorial of indebtedness to God for rescue from slavery and guidance to prosperity and honour. The disciples of Christ have experienced a change wonderful as that experienced by the Israelites. They have passed from bondage to liberty, from darkness to light, from moral debasement to spiritual glory. They are not to boast as if by their own endeavours they had wrought out the salvation in which they rejoice, but gratefully to confess that God has made them what they are. They are themselves to be monuments of God’s power such as all can see and understand. Something more is needed from them than activity in setting up great stones as abiding witnesses of the great revolution in their life. They are to stand before the world as witnesses of God’s saving, hallowing work in the human soul. The stones the Israelites were to set up were to be plaistered, and the law written on the plaister. There was a deep significance in the words thus inscribed. The people would be reminded by them that though they were out of the wilderness they had not ceased to be under the law. The horrors of Egyptian slavery would have been better for them than luxurious life in Canaan unrestricted by Divine precepts. The written stones were an attestation of God’s supremacy over them, and as a restraint from the moral laxity to which they would be tempted when at ease amid “the limpid wells and orchards green” and all the other charms of the land “where Abraham fed his flock of yore.” The disciples of Christ are to be as pillars inscribed with the law of the Lord. They do not bear the words of the ceremonial law, nor are they under direct obligation to bear those of the social law enacted in the wilderness. It is the moral law they bear as a sacred inscription on their life. Special prominence is to be given to the two great commandments, love to God and love to man, which, according to the teaching of Jesus, include the whole of the Decalogue. Faith in Christ does not mean freedom from the law as a rule of life. Truth, honesty, amiability are as much required in members of the Church as if those qualities were the sole condition of salvation: evangelical righteousness implies practical righteousness. (J. Marrat.)
Obey the voice of the lord thy god.
Of obedience to God’s revealed will
I. What is the rule of obedience? The written Word.
II. What are the right ingredients in our obedience to make it acceptable?
1. Obedience must be free and cheerful, else it is penance, not sacrifice (Isaiah 1:19). Willingness is the soul of obedience; God sometimes accepts of willingness without the work, but never of the work without willingness. Cheerfulness shows that there is love in the duty; and love doth to our services, as the sun doth to the fruits, mellow and ripen them and make them come off with a better relish.
2. Obedience must be devout and fervent: the heart must boil over with hot affections in the service of God.
3. Obedience must be extensive, it must reach to all God’s commands (Psalms 119:6). True obedience runs through all duties of religion, as the blood through all the veins, or the sun through all the signs of the zodiac.
4. Obedience must be sincere--namely, we must aim at the glory of God in it, in religion the end is all. The end of our obedience must not be to stop the mouth of conscience, or to gain applause, but that we may grow more like God, and bring more glory to God.
5. Obedience must be in and through Christ, “He made us accepted in the Beloved.”
6. Obedience must be constant, “Blessed is he who doeth righteousness at all times.” True obedience is not like an high colour in a fit, but it is a right sanguine; it is like the fire on the altar which was always kept burning.
III. Whence is it that men do not obey God?
1. The not obeying of God is for want of faith: “Who hath believed our report?” Did men believe sin were so bitter that hell followed at the heels of it, would they go on in sin? Did they believe there were such a reward for the righteous that godliness were gain, would they not pursue it?
2. The not obeying God is for want of self-denial. God commands one thing, and men’s lusts command another, and they will rather die than deny their lusts; now, if lust cannot be denied God cannot be obeyed.
IV. What are the great arguments or incentives to obedience?
1. Obedience makes us precious to God; we shall be His favourites (Exodus 19:5; Isaiah 43:3).
2. There is nothing lost by obedience. To obey God’s will is the way to have our will. (T. Watson.)
Implicit obedience is our first duty to God, and one for which nothing else will compensate. If a lad at school is bidden to cipher, and chooses to write a copy instead, the goodness of the writing will not save him from censure. We must obey whether we see the reason or not; for God knows best. A guide through an unknown country must be followed without demur. A captain, in coming up the Humber or Southampton Water, yields complete authority to the pilot. A soldier in battle must fight when and where he is ordered; when the conflict is over he may reflect upon and perceive the wisdom of his commander in movements that at the time of their execution were perplexing. The farmer must obey God’s natural laws of the seasons if he would win a harvest; and we must all obey God’s spiritual laws if we would reap happiness here and hereafter.
Obedience proceeding from love
The son of a poor man that hath not a penny to give or leave him, yields his father obedience as cheerfully as the son of a rich man that looks for a great inheritance. It is, indeed, love to the father, not wages from the father, that is the ground of a good child’s obedience. If there were no heaven God’s children would obey Him; and though there were no hell yet would they do their duty; so powerfully doth the love of the Father constrain them. (J. Spencer.)
Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark.
The landmarks of faith
The landmarks of faith are just the truth which God has revealed to men, and the duty which He requires of them. Among the sins, the criminality of which it was the will of God should be deeply impressed on the minds of the children of Israel, that of removing the ancient landmarks was one. The reference manifestly is to landmarks that were set up, when the land of Canaan was divided among the tribes and families of Israel; to determine the boundaries of the portion belonging to each individual family, or tribe. This is a kind of crime which is spoken of and pointedly prohibited in other parts of Scripture as well as that quoted above. (Proverbs 22:28.) God saw meet to employ men of high character in the division made of the land, and that division He so sanctioned that it was His will that it should be maintained throughout the successive generations of Israel. But however great a crime it was to remove any of these landmarks, the criminality of the removal of such landmarks and its evil consequences were exceedingly small compared with the guilt that has been and is being contracted by the removal of the landmarks of faith. The dishonour done to God, and the injury to society by the one form of wickedness, is as nothing compared with the other. Of this there is ample illustration and confirmation furnished in the past history of our fallen world. The landmarks of faith were set up progressively by God Himself in the special revelation which He was pleased to give to men regarding His own character and will in relation to doctrine and practice; to the truth to be believed and the duty to be performed to Him and to one another. In most cases, though not in all, the removal of those Divinely erected landmarks has been a gradual process. Of Abraham God said, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” (Genesis 18:19). By this patriarch we can have no doubt the landmarks of faith as to truth and duty were faithfully set up in his household, both by precept and instruction, commended by the best example. But except in the line of Jacob, how speedily did these come to be removed among all the other branches of his posterity. His son Ishmael, and his children by Keturah, as well as Isaac, were no doubt highly favoured in their early years with the advantages of earnest paternal counsel. Reminiscences of this behoved to follow them to their respective places of sojourn and location. But the light which might thus shine for a time became gradually more and mole obscure, till at length there was scarcely anything left to distinguish them from the other branches of Noah’s descendants, who had at an earlier date sunk into that state of moral debasement which is inseparable from idolatry. How brief the time during which these landmarks stood up erect in the days of David and the first years of the reign of his son Solomon! In the history of Judah we see the same issues realised so far as a similar course was pursued in that kingdom; and in the conduct of the Jews after their restoration from the Babylonish captivity, when the landmarks of faith were set up anew among them--by such notable instruments as Ezra and Nehemiah--and to which they bound themselves to adhere by solemn covenant. How soon did they also fall back and become hardened in unbelief. Again, at the era of the glorious Reformation from Popery, God graciously interposed for a blissful restoration of the widely obliterated landmarks of faith in a number of the nations of Europe. Distinguished instruments were simultaneously raised up in different countries, by whom these were anew set up in a remarkable degree of conformity to the Divine pattern. These, alas, have been, to a very lamentable extent, practically removed in all the Reformed Churches on the Continent--in France, Switzerland, Holland, and Germany. (Original Secession Magazine.)
I. A lesson of acquiescence in the Divine law. “Amen” is understood to denote truth or certainty. Such, without doubt, was its signification here. The leading principles of the moral law were then being enunciated, in the hearing of all the people, and in token that these met with their acquiescence, they were to superadd the emphatic “Amen.” Now, every believer knows that the God in whom we live and move, is a God of infinite holiness, and that the Scripture is filled with precepts which every responsible creature is bound to carry into hourly practice. “Be ye holy, for I am holy”--“Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them--“Except your righteousness shall exceed”--such are precepts whose import may not be misunderstood, leaving it as one of the dearest and most intelligible of Gospel maxims that to God’s moral law the Christian is called upon to append his sanction--his solemn “Amen.”
1. The Christian Church is not placed under the law, as a covenant of works. An acquiescence, therefore, in the moral law, or of our saying “Amen” to every one of its precepts, does not imply that we have elevated these to be the conditions of our salvation, or the grounds of an acceptance before God.
2. This does not stand in the way of an acknowledging the surpassing excellency of every such precept. The law may in itself be good and holy, although we cannot keep it--just as the light of the sun’s meridian splendour may be pure and glorious, although there are eyes too weak to bear it. And this we affirm.
3. We must consider the law as still the rule of our life. Our inability to realise the lofty standard of holiness indicated in the Decalogue, no more releases us from our obligation to perform it, than the mere declaration of bankruptcy cancels a debt, discharges the conscience from the duty of paying it, should there be ability to do so at any future time, or authorises a man to contract fresh obligations with the secret purpose of getting quit of them by a similar process.
4. As Christians, we are necessarily anticipating a restoration to that moral perfection which the law requires.
II. A lesson of conformity to the Divine method of salvation. Momentous, of course, are the effects which ensue upon the acceptance or rejection, but everyone who listens to the overtures of the Gospel does so in the attitude of an independent and rational being. There is no restraint, no compulsion. “My son, give Me thine heart,” is, indeed, the impressive demand; but we ought to know, that if we choose to risk the fearful consequences of embracing the alternative, there is no constraining influence compelling us to believe against our will. The thing, indeed, is impossible. Faith is a voluntary, act; and this is the most important principle suggested by the text, that to God’s method of salvation, our heart, in the hour of regeneration, must respond with an unreserved and cordial “Amen.”
III. A lesson of submission to God’s providential dispensations. It is obvious to even the natural judgment of man, that, of all methods of meeting the calamities which flesh is heir to, the worst is to murmur and oppose. Not only does this involve the turpitude of virtual rebellion against the authority of heaven; it positively adds to and renders more poignant the distresses we are called upon to endure. It were folly to imagine, for a single instant, that affliction can be thereby either mitigated or removed. The dying soldier may cherish the fiercest resentment against the enemy who has smitten him, but that resentment will not heal the deadly wound. The chances are that death will be thereby precipitated. So is it with our calamities. Whether we will or no, these will descend upon us; and our spiritual enemies can desire no greater victory over us than that these should crush and drive us to despair. Submission, then, is the lesson inculcated upon us by the afflictive dispensations of God. Whatever these may be, let the tendency of the Christian’s heart be to acknowledge them with a cordial “Amen.” Peace will be his in the present. He will experimentally know the meaning of that apostolic paradox, “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”; in the world’s chastisements realise a pledge of his heavenly Father’s love; and anticipate with gladness unspeakable the approval of that blissful era when “God the Lord shall wipe away,” etc.
IV. A lesson of confidence in the Divine promises and of assurance regarding the execution of the Divine purposes. (James Cochrane, M. A.)
That maketh the blind to wander out of the way.--
Against imposing on the ignorant
In this chapter, curses are pronounced against several heinous crimes, such as idolatry, contempt of parents, murder, rapine, and the like; and amongst these crimes is mentioned this, of causing the blind to go out of their way; a wickedness of a singular nature, and which one would not expect to find in this list of vicious actions. It is a crime which is seldom committed; there are few opportunities for it; there is little temptation to it: it is doing mischief for mischief’s sake, an enormity to which few can easily bring themselves. We may therefore reasonably suppose that more is intended than barely to condemn those who should lead a blind man out of his way. And what that may be, it is not difficult to discover. Blindness in all languages is put for error and ignorance; and, in the style of the Scriptures, ways and paths, and walking, running, going, wandering astray, stumbling, falling, mean the actions and the behaviour of men. These obvious observations will lead us to the moral, mystical, spiritual, and enlarged sense of the law, or commination; and it is this: Cursed is he who imposeth upon the simple, the credulous, the unwary, the ignorant, and the helpless; and either hurts, or defrauds, or deceives, or seduces, or misinforms, or misleads, or perverts, or corrupts and spoils them.
1. As to the ministers of the Gospel, they may be said to mislead the blind when, instead of endeavouring to instruct and amend their hearers, they deal in false opinions, or unintelligible doctrines, or unprofitable disputes, or uncharitable reproofs, or personal reflections, or flattery, or in any subjects foreign from religion and void of edification; much more when they teach things of an evil tendency, and which may have a bad influence on the minds and manners of the people.
2. In all our worldly affairs and intercourse with others, as we ought to act fairly, justly towards every person, so more especially ought we to behave towards those whom we might injure with impunity, that is, without danger of being called to account for it in this life.
3. As nations subsist by trade, so trade subsists by integrity. In commerce upright dealing is an indispensable duty, and defrauding is a vice. But if it be a fault to make unreasonable advances in our dealings even with those who are skilful as ourselves, it is far worse to impose upon the ignorant and the necessitous, and to wrong those who have a good opinion of us, and place an entire confidence in us.
4. Of the same bad nature is giving wrong counsel and hurtful advice, knowingly and wilfully, to those who have an opinion of our superior skill, and apply to us for direction. As likewise all dishonesty in offices of trust and confidence.
5. To take bad courses, to keep bad company, to be vicious amongst the vicious, dissolute amongst the dissolute--this is confessedly a great fault. But yet there is a greater, which is, to seek out the weak, the young, the ignorant, the unsteadfast, to instill bad principles into them, to entice them to sin, to spoil an honest disposition, to seduce an innocent mind, to rob an unspotted person of virtue, of honour and reputation, of peace of mind, of a quiet conscience, and perhaps of all happiness present and future. This is not an ordinary offence; it is to be agents and assisters to the devil, and to do his work and imitate his example. It is a crime attended with this terrible circumstance, that even repentance itself can be attended with no suitable reparation to the injured person. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 27". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent