Friday, March 31st, 2023
the Fifth Week of Lent
the Fifth Week of Lent
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 14". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ numbers-14.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 14". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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The people wept.
Truths in tears
I. That to entrust the important affairs of society to the conduct of men of an inferior type is a great evil. Feeble-minded, and mean-hearted men, at the head of society, have always impeded its onward march, and endangered its interests.
II. That whilst it is common, it is not always well to follow the majority.
1. Because truth does not depend upon numbers. The crowds that skirt the base of a mountain cannot see as much as the man who climbs the heights and takes his view from the lofty summit. The solitary eagle sees more than can “the cattle upon a thousand hills.”
2. Because numbers in the present state of the world are likely to be wrong.
III. That it is not a wise thing to follow the opinions of men rather than the word of God.
1. Because God’s word is infallible; men’s opinions are not so.
2. Because God’s word ensures strength to the obedient; men’s opinions do not.
IV. That it is a sad evil to forget, under present trial, the past merciful interpositions of God. Had the Israelites remembered God’s wonderful interpositions in their behalf, the recollection would have given their spirits a moral force, which would have enabled them to bear with magnanimity the greatest trials, and to brave with undaunted hearts the greatest perils, and the greatest opposition (Psalms 77:10-11; Psalms 27:9; 1 Samuel 17:37).
V. That a life of servility eats out the independency of human nature. These Israelites, after their long servitude in Egypt, had scarcely anything of the heart of a man left within them. The only thing that could resuscitate their expiring life, and wake up their manhood, was a system of trial to throw them upon their own resources. (Homilist.)
A warning against murmuring and discontent
There are three good reasons why we should learn to mind this warning.
1. For our own comfort. Suppose you have a long walk to take every day, but you have a thorn in your foot or a stone in your shoe. Could you have any comfort? No; the first thing to do would be to rid yourself of thorn or stone. Till this was done you could not have the least comfort. But a feeling of discontent in our minds is just like that thorn or stone. It will take away all the comfort we might have, as we go on in the walk of our daily duties. A bishop was once asked the secret of the quiet contented spirit which he always had. He said, “My secret consists in the right use of my eyes. When I meet with any trial, I first of all look up to heaven; I remember that my chief business in life is to get there. Then I look down upon the earth, I think how small a space I shall need in it when I die; and then I look round and think how many people there are in the world who have more cause to be unhappy than I have. And so I learn the Bible lesson, ‘Be content with such things as ye have.’”
2. For the comfort of others. A contented spirit is to a home what sunshine is to the trees and the flowers. John Wesley used to say, “I dare no more fret than curse or swear. To have persons around me, murmuring and fretting at everything that happens, is like tearing the flesh from my bones.”
3. The third reason why we should mind this warning against discontent, is to please God. No trials can ever come upon us in this world without God’s knowledge and consent. He is so wise that He never makes a mistake about our trials, and so we try to be patient and contented, because we know that this will be pleasing to God. (British Weekly Pulpit.)
Giving credit to the report of the spies, rather than to the word of God, and imagining their condition desperate, they laid the reins on the neck of their passions, and could keep no manner of temper; like foolish, froward children, they fall a-crying, yet know not what they cried for. It had been time enough to cry out if the enemies had beaten up their quarters and they had seen the sons of Anak at the gate of their camp; but they that cried when nothing hurt them deserved to have something given them to cry for. And as if all had been already gone they sat them down and wept out that night. Note, unbelief and distrust of God is a sin that is its own punishment. Those that do not trust God are continually vexing themselves. The world’s mourners are more than God’s, and the sorrow of the world worketh death. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
Let us return into Egypt.
The rewards of the future not to be slighted because of a present inconvenience
The proposition of the people illustrates anew the principle that all sin is a species of insanity. They proposed to go back to Egypt. How did they suppose they were going to get back? Could they expect to live in the wilderness without the manna which God gave them? Could they overcome Amalek without Moses to intercede in their behalf? Would God be more likely to deliver them in a cowardly retreat than in a loyal advance? Could they hope again for water to flow from the rock to quench their thirst? or for favouring winds to open a new path through the Red Sea? When some departed from the Saviour, He said to His disciples, “Will ye also go away?” and they returned the pathetic answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” But, alas! the children of Israel were ready to go back from the promised land to the dangers of the wilderness and to the hopeless bondage of Egypt. In the words of Matthew Henry, “They wish rather to die criminals under God’s justice than live conquerors in His favour. How base were the spirits in those degenerate Israelites, who, rather than die (if it came to the worst) like soldiers in the field of honour, with their swords in their hands, desire to die like rotten sheep in the wilderness!” Similar paradoxes in the conduct of sinners abound in the world. A slight present danger or inconvenience is suffered to blind the eyes to great rewards in the future. A small hazard before us is likely to seem far greater than much more serious dangers behind us. Under the smart of present ills, we are ever ready to shut our eyes to the innumerable ills we know not of. The miners of England cursed the inventor of the safety-lamp because, in reducing the hazard to their lives, it diminished also their wages. Multitudes of young people attempt to evade the trials and self-denials of the ministerial calling or of missionary work, by choosing some profession or business that is more lucrative or gratifying to their ambitions. In this they fail to remember that there is a poverty in other callings than the ministry; that the high-road of selfishness is through a wilderness strewn with the carcasses of those who have fallen hopeless by the way. What is Wall Street but a maelstrom around which are circling innumerable vessels fated to augment the debris of countless wrecks already in the vortex? What is the path to worldly glory and fame but a crowded throroughfare of hungry and thirsty men, the majority of whom are moving on to inevitable disappointment? On the other hand, the path of the righteous, whatever its present shadows, shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. (G. Frederick Wright.)
The folly of impatience
1. It was the greatest folly in the world to wish themselves in Egypt, or to think if they were there it would be better with them than it was. If they durst not go forward to Canaan, yet better be as they were than go back to Egypt. What did they want? What had they to complain of? They had plenty, and peace, and rest; were under a good government, had good company, had the tokens of God’s presence with them, and enough to make them easy even in the wilderness, if they had but hearts to be content. But whither were they thus fond to go to mend themselves? To Egypt! Had they so soon forgot the sore bondage they were in there? Like brute beasts, they mind only that which is present, and their memories, with the other powers of reason, are sacrificed to their passions.(Psalms 106:7). We find it threatened (Deuteronomy 28:68) as the completing of their misery, that they should be brought into Egypt again, and yet that is it they here wish for. Sinners are enemies to themselves, and those that walk not in God’s counsels consult their own mischief and ruin.
2. It was a most senseless, ridiculous thing to talk of returning thither through the wilderness. Could they expect that God’s cloud would lead them or His manna attend them?
(1) The folly of discontent and impatience under the crosses of our outward condition. But is there any place or condition in this world that has not something in it to make us uneasy if we are disposed to be so? The way to better our condition is to get our spirits into a better frame.
(2) The folly of apostacy from the ways of God. Heaven is the Canaan set before us, a land flowing with milk and honey: those that bring up ever so ill report of it cannot but say that it is indeed a good land, only it is hard to get to it. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
To retreat is to perish
To retreat is to perish. You have most of you read the story of the boy in an American village who climbed the wall of the famous Natural Bridge, and cut his name in the rock above the initials of his fellows, and then became suddenly aware of the impossibility of descending. Voices shouted, “Do not look down, try arid reach the top.” His only hope was to go right up, up, up, till he landed on the top. Upward was terrible, but downward was destruction. Now, we are all of us in a like condition. By the help of God we have cut our way to positions of usefulness, and to descend is death. To us forward means upward; and therefore forward and upward let us go. While we prayed this morning we committed ourselves beyond all recall. We did that most heartily when we first preached the gospel, and publicly declared, “I am my Lord’s, and He is mine.” We put our hand to the plough: thank God, we have not looked back yet. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Lord is with us: fear them not.
A noble effort to arrest a nation’s rebellion
I. Joshua and Caleb were deeply grieved by reason of the rebellion of the nation.
II. Joshua and Caleb nobly endeavoured to arrest the rebellion of the nation.
1. They reassert the excellence of the land.
2. They declare the attainableness of the land.
3. They exhort the people not to violate the conditions of its attainment.
(1) By rebelling against the Lord.
(2) By dreading the people of the land.
III. Joshua and Caleb were in danger by reason of their effort to arrest the rebellion of the nation. “All the congregation bade stone them with stones.” See here--
1. The tactics of an excited mob when defeated in argument.
2. The folly of an excited mob. This proposal to stone Joshua and Caleb was insane.
(1) Stoning would not disprove the testimony, or take away the wisdom from the counsel of the two brave explorers.
(2) Stoning would involve the nation in deeper guilt and disgrace.
3. The perils of faithfulness.
IV. Joshua and Caleb rescued from danger by the interposition of God. (W. Jones.)
An encouraging declaration
I. A supposition. “If the Lord delight in us” (Proverbs 8:30). God delights in His Son, &c. He delights in His holy angels, &c. But have we reason to suppose that He delights in His saints?
1. We might conclude, indeed, that He could not delight in them, when we reflect--
(1) On their nothingness and vanity. “Man at His best estate,” &c.
(2) On their guilt and rebellion. Not one but is a sinner.
(3) On their pollution and want of conformity to His likeness.
(4) And more especially when we reflect on His greatness, independence and purity.
2. But there are the most satisfactory evidences that He does delight in His people.
(1) Observe the names by which He distinguishes them. His “jewels”--“inheritance”--“treasure”--“diadem”--“crown” and “portion.” See the very term in the text. And Proverbs 11:20.
(2) Observe the declarations He has made respecting them. “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of Mine eye.”
(3) Observe what He has done for them. Favoured--sustained--redeemed them--given His Son--Spirit--promises.
(4) What He has provided for them. “The Lord God is a sun,” &c. “My God shall supply,” &c. “Eye hath not seen,” &c.
(5) Eternal life and unceasing glory.
II. An inference. “Then He will bring us into this land,” &c. Observe here--
1. The land specified. It is “the land afar off.” The good land. The heavenly Canaan. Tile region of immortality.
2. This land is God’s gift. Not the result of merit. It is given in promise--given in Christ.
3. To this land God must bring His saints. Difficulties, enemies, and dangers intervene. He will guide to it. Keep--safely conduct, and at length put people into it, as He did Israel. “Fear not, little flock,” &c. “Let not your hearts be troubled,” &c. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 2:26; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 3:12). (J. Burns, D. D.)
The boldness and fidelity of Joshua and Caleb
I. How sound was their reasoning!
1. They drew a strong argument from the assurance that the Lord was with them, bat that the defence of the Canaanites had departed from them. They spoke of the country itself as worthy of the contest.
2. They reminded the people of the danger of disobedience, as appeared from their past history; and from the character of God. Sin was the only giant that they had reason to fear. Happy would it have been for the people, had they listened to these arguments.
II. How resolute was their spirit! Personally, no doubt, it would have been much more pleasant to remain in the tent; but viewing this as an opportunity of doing good, and glorifying God, they encountered the shame of uttering sentiments which were reprobated; and the danger of advising measures which were disliked. Thus numbers in the present day say, “Religion is all very well in its place”; but they have no idea of glorifying God, and endeavouring to save souls, by acting with the decision that Caleb and Joshua did. We, too, may mourn over sin, but we must do something more; we must use all our influence to put it down, and to lead forward the Israel of God.
III. How undivided was their aim! Their one desire was to get the land; and therefore if popular opinion coincided with them, well; but if not, they would not be guided by it. They could do without riches, or honour, or life itself; but they could not do without Canaan. (George Breay, B. A.)
How long will this people provoke Me?
Mistrust of God deplored and denounced
I. The sin of israel is here defined: “How long will it be ere they believe Me?” Observe that God’s account of all the murmuring and fear which these people felt was simply that they did not believe Him. They doubtless’ said that they were naturally afraid of their enemies: the Anakim, the sons of the giants, these would overcome them. “No,” says God “that is an idle excuse. No fear of giants would enter their minds if they believed Me.” If these sons of Anak had been ten times as high as they were, yet the almighty Lord could vanquish them, and if their cities had been literally as well as figuratively walled up to the skies, yet Jehovah could smite them out of heaven, and cast their ramparts into the dust. Gigantic men and battlemented cities are nothing to Him who divided the Red Sea. When the Omnipotent is present opposition vanishes. “Ah,” but these people might have replied, “we fear because of our weakness. We are not a drilled host, like the armies of Egypt. We know not how to fight against chariots of iron: we are only feeble men, with all these women and children to encumber our march. We cannot hope to drive out the hordes of Amalekites and Canaanites. A sense of weakness is the cause of our terror and complaint.” But the Lord puts the matter very differently. What had their weakness to do with His promise? How could their weakness affect His power to give them the land? He could conquer Amalek if they could not. Our trembling is not humility, but unbelief. We may mask it how we please, but that is the state of the case as God sees it, and He sees it in truth. Mistrust towards God is not a mere weakness, it is a wickedness of the gravest order.
II. Describe this sin of not believing.
1. At the first blush it would seem incredible that there should be such a thing in the universe as unbelief of God. Jehovah’s word is but Himself in action, His will making itself manifest; and is it to be supposed that this can be a lie under any conceivable circumstances whatsoever? Oh, the incredible infamy which lies even in the bare thought of calling in question the veracity of God. It is so vile, so unjust, so profane a thing that it ought to be regarded with horror, as a monstrous wrong.
2. Consider, next, that, though unbelief certainly exists, it is a most unreasonable thing. If God hath made a promise, on what grounds do we doubt its fulfilment? Which of all the attributes of God is that which comes under suspicion? Truth enters into the very conception of God: a false god is no God. Any other doubt in the world may plead some warrant, but a doubt of God’s truthfulness is utterly unreasonable, and if sin had not filled man with madness, unbelief would never find harbour in a single bosom.
3. Again, because this sin is so unreasonable, it is also most inexcusable. As it is to the glory of every man to be upright, so it is to the honour of God to be faithful to His solemn declarations. Even on the lowest conceivable ground, the Lord’s own interests are bound up with His truth. There is no supposable reason why the Lord should not be true: how dare we then, without the slightest cause, cast suspicion upon the truthfulness of the Most High?
4. I venture to say that unbelief of God’s word ought, therefore, to be impossible. It ought to be impossible to every reverent-hearted man. Doth he know God and tremble in His presence, and shall he think of distrusting Him? No one that hath ever seen Him in contemplation, and bowed before Him in sincere adoration, but must be amazed at the impertinence that would dare to think that God can lie.
III. The sin bitterly deplored. We have all been guilty of it. But what I want to call to your remembrance is this, that in any one case of doubting the truthfulness of God there is the full venom of the entire sin of unbelief. That is to say, if you distrust the Lord in one, you doubt Him altogether. The Scripture calls Him, “God who cannot lie.” Do you think He can lie once, then He can lie and the Scripture is broken? “Ah, but I mean He may not keep His promise to me; I am such an unworthy person.” Yes, but when a man forfeits his word it is no defence for him to say, “I told an untruth, but it was only to an unworthy person.” No, the truth must be spoken irrespective of persons. I have no right to deceive even a criminal. “Do you dare say that to one person the Lord can be untrue? If it can be so, He is not a true God any more. You may as well doubt Him about everything if you distrust Him upon any one matter. Do you reply that you doubted Him upon a very trivial matter, and it was only a little mistrust? Alas! there is a world of iniquity in the faintest discredit of the thrice-holy Lord. Reflect, then, with sorrow that we have been guilty of this sin, not once, but a great many times. Timorousness and suspicion spring up in some bosoms like weeds in the furrows. They sing the Lord’s praises for a great deliverance just experienced, but the next cloud which darkens the sky fills them with fear, and they again mistrust Divine love.
IV. Lastly, as we have now deplored this sin, we shall conclude by heartily denouncing it.
1. This sin of unbelief, if there were no other reason for denouncing it, let it be reprobated because it insults God.
2. This is sufficient reason for denouncing it, and yet since weaker reasons may perhaps help the stronger, let me mention that we are bound to hate unbelief because it is the ruin of the great mass of our race. Why are men lost? All their sins which they have done cannot destroy them if they believe in Jesus, but the damning point is that they will not believe in Him Thus saith the Scriptures, “He that believeth not is condemned already.” Why? “Because he hath not believed on the Son of God.”
3. We may hate it, again, because it brings so much misery and weakness upon the children of God. If we believed God’s promises we should no longer be bowed down with sorrow, for our sorrow would be turned into joy. We should glory in our infirmities--sea, we should glory in tribulation also, seeing the good result which the Lord bringeth forth from them. The man who steadily believes his God is calm, quiet, and strong.
4. One very shocking point about this unbelief is that it has hampered the work of Christ in the world. The Christ that can save is a Christ believed in, but of a Christ who is not believed in it is written, “He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The sin of unbelief
1. The heinousness of unbelief; shun it.
2. The large number and convincing character of the evidences of Christianity; remember that our faith should bear a proportion to them. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required,” &c.
3. God takes our conduct as evidence of our belief or unbelief; let us show our faith by our works. “Faith without works is dead.” “Faith worketh by love,” &c.
4. Take heed lest we be disinherited because of unbelief (Romans 11:20-21; Hebrews 3:12-19; Hebrews 4:1-11). (W. Jones.)
Two things God justly complains of to Moses.
1. Their sin: They provoke me; or, as the word signifies, they reject, reproach, despise Me; for they will not believe Me. That was the bitter root which bore the gall and wormwood. It was their unbelief that made this a day of provocation in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:8). Note, distrust of God, and His power and promise, is itself a very great provocation, and at the bottom of many other provocations. Unbelief is a great sin (1 John 5:10); and a root sin (Hebrews 3:12).
2. Their continuance in it: How long will they do so? Note, the God of heaven keeps an account how long sinners persist in their provocations, and the longer it is, the more He is displeased.
The aggravations of their sin were--
1. Their relation to God. This people; a peculiar people; a professing people. The nearer any are to God in name and profession, the more is He provoked by their sins, especially their unbelief.
2. The experience they had had of God’s power and goodness, in all the signs which He had showed among them, by which one would think He had effectually obliged them to trust Him and follow Him. The more God has done for us, the greater is the provocation if we distrust Him. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
Faith induced by inward discipline as well as by external evidence
It seems almost incredible; and yet when we think of it, it is only too natural. It is important to remember that faith is a plant of slow growth. It cannot be suddenly summoned into existence on a special emergency; and in order to its development there must be not only “evidences” presented from without, but a discipline going on within. We are apt to think that because so many deliverances have been wrought for Israel, therefore their faith must have become very strong. We forget that though God had done His part all the way through, they never had done theirs. Their faith was really utterly unexercised. It is not faith, to trust in God after He has wrought deliverance. That was all they did. If they had ever learned to trust Him before the deliverance came, it would have been a different thing. They had had abundant opportunities for the exercise of faith; but they had let them all pass by. They had contracted a habit of distrust. And instead of becoming stronger in faith, they were actually getting weaker; and accordingly when the crisis came, it was only what was to be expected that their courage should utterly fail, simply because it had no faith to rest upon. How shall we stand the test when our day of crisis comes? The answer will depend on the antecedent question, how we have improved those opportunities which have been previously given for the development of our faith. “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much.” “Weighed in the balances and found wanting.” After all their advantages they missed the prize. The appeal of Joshua and Caleb was the last opportunity; they never had another. “The glory of the Lord appeared” (verse 10), no longer to open up a way for them, but to frustrate their rebellious attack on His two faithful servants, and to pass sentence of condemnation on the entire congregation. Through the mediation of Moses, the lives of the people are spared; but they are degraded from their position as the hosts of the Lord. (J. M. Gibson, D. D.)
All the signs which I have shewed.--
Miracles no remedy for unbelief
Nothing is more surprising to us at first reading than the history of God’s chosen people; it seems strange that they should have acted as they did age after age, in spite of the miracles which were vouchsafed them.
I. Hard as it is to believe, miracles certainly do not make men better; the history of Israel proves it. The only mode of escaping this conclusion is to fancy that the Israelites were much worse than other nations, which accordingly has been maintained. But as we see that in every other point they were exactly like other nations, we are obliged to conclude, not that the Israelites were more hard-hearted than other people, but that a miraculous religion is not much more influential than other religions.
II. Why should the sight of a miracle make us better than we are?
1. It may be said that a miracle would startle us, but would not the startling pass away? Could we be startled for ever?
2. It may be urged that perhaps that startling might issue in amendment of life; it might be the beginning of a new life though it passed away itself. This is very true; sudden emotions--fear, hope, gratitude, and the like--all do produce such results sometimes; blot why is a miracle necessary to produce such effects? Other things startle us besides miracles; we have a number of accidents sent by God to startle us. If the events of life which happen to us now produce no lasting effect upon us then it is only too certain that a miracle would produce no lasting effect upon us either.
III. What is the real reason why we do not seek God with all our hearts if the absence of miracles be not the reason, as assuredly it is not? There is one reason common both to us and the Jews: heartlessness in religious matters, an evil heart of unbelief; both they and we disobey and disbelieve, because we do not love.
IV. In another respect we are really far more favoured than the Israelites. They had outward miracles; we have miracles that are not outward, but inward. Our miracles consist in the sacraments, and they do just the very thing which the Jewish miracles did not: they really touch the heart, though we, so often resist their influence.
V. Let us then put aside vain excuses, and instead of looking for outward events to change our course of life, be sure of this, that if our course of life is to be changed, it must be from within. Let us rouse ourselves and act as reasonable men before it is too late; let us understand, as a first truth in religion, that love of heaven is the only way to heaven. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
I will smite them . . . and will make of thee a greater nation.
Proffer of Jehovah, and answer of Moses
This is the second time that Jehovah, in His holy anger, had proposed to deal thus with Moses and make him the head of a righteous seed to receive the inheritance which Israel has so justly forfeited. How would any one else have acted in his place? As the offer comes from Jehovah, can the Judge of all the earth do wrong? And if the forbearance of Jehovah is exhausted, may not the patience of Moses well be? Here is an offer that will release him from the thankless burden of a cowardly, degraded people, which has again and again almost crushed him. Shall he not accept it, and not only free himself from trouble, but rise to the greatness in history of being the outflowing stock of the visible kingdom of God? No, Moses has in himself an intrinsic greatness of soul beyond all that, though it may make his name less celebrated. He will not dissociate himself from his people. He will rather be the type of the great Intercessor who is to come. The singleness of heart with which, as a saint, he loves God shall not impair the passionate love that bound him to his people. Yea, and above the love of his people rises his passionate earnestness for the honour of Jehovah. Lying there prostrate on the ground before the brightness at the tabernacle, hear--as you may almost hear in the Hebrew--his sobs in broken sentences, as he argues the case with Jehovah and pleads for his people. “And Egypt will hear that Thou hast brought Thy people in Thy might out of the midst of her; and they will say to the inhabitants of this land, they have heard how Thou, Jehovah, went in the midst of Thy people, seen of them face to face, and Thy cloud standing over them; even Thou, Jehovah, going in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. And Thou wilt make Thy people die as one man. And they will say, the nations that have heard tell of Thee: Through being not able to lead His people into the land that He had sworn to them, He hath slain them in the wilderness. And now, I beseech Thee, the might of Jehovah shall be magnified, even as Thou hast spoken, saying, Jehovah, long-suffering and of great mercy, bearing iniquity and transgression, and not cleansing, but visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children to the third and fourth generation: forgive, I pray Thee, the iniquity of this people according to Thy great mercy, and as Thou hast been gracious to them from Egypt up to this present time.” Do not these passionate pleadings raise Moses nearer than any born of woman to the type of the great Intercessor? And yet, now, with the great Intercessor on his side, the least in the kingdom of heaven, who is truly in Christ--one with Christ, is greater in power than Moses at the throne. (S. Robinson, D. D.)
The gentleness of Moses
Of Moses it was to be said in miniature what of his Antitype can be said in full--that his gentleness made him great. Not when he parted the waters of the Red Sea, not when he sang his hymn of triumph on the shores of liberty, is he half so great as when he bore the sorrows and endured the murmurings of that rude, undisciplined multitude. If ever a man has inherited the earth by meekness, that man was Moses. His was a grand, unselfish life, made to wait upon the lives of others. (G. Matheson, D. D.)
Pardon, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people.
What book but the Bible has the courage to represent a man standing in this attitude before his God and addressing his Sovereign in such persuasive terms? This incident brings before us the vast subject of the collateral considerations which are always operating in human life. Things are not straight and simple, lying in rows of direct lines to be numbered off, checked off and done with. Lines bisect and intersect and thicken into great knots and tangle, and who can unravel or disentangle the great heap? Things bear relations which can only be detected by the imagination, which cannot be compassed by arithmetical numbers, but which force upon men a new science of calculation, and create a species of moral algebra, by which, through the medium and help of symbols, that is done which was impossible to common arithmetic. Moses was a great leader; he thought of Egypt: what will the enemy say? The enemy will put a false construction upon this. As if he had said, This will be turned against Heaven; the Egyptians do not care what becomes of the people, if they can laugh at the Providence which they superstitiously trusted; the verdict passed by the heathen will be:--God was not able to do what He promised, so He had recourse to the vulgar artifice of murder. The Lord in this way developed Moses. In reality, Moses was not anticipating the Divine purpose, but God was training the man by saying what He, the Lord, would do, and by the very exaggeration of His strength called up Moses to his noblest consciousness. We do this amongst ourselves. By using a species of language adapted to touch the innermost nerve and feeling of our hearers, we call those hearers to their best selves. If the Lord had spoken a hesitant language, or had fallen into what we may call a tone of despair, Moses himself might have been seduced into a kindred dejection; but the Lord said, I will smite, I will disinherit, I will make an end; and Moses became priest, intercessor, mighty pleader--the very purpose which God had in view--to keep the head right, the leading man in tune with His purposes. So Moses said, “Pardon”; the Lord said, “Smite”; and Moses said, “Pardon”--that is the true smiting. The Lord meant it; the Lord taught Moses that prayer which Moses seemed to invent himself. The Lord trains us, sometimes, by shocking our sensibilities; and by the very denunciation of His judgments He drives us to tenderer prayer. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The intercession of Moses for the doomed nation
I. The petition which he presented.
II. The pleas by which he urged his petition.
1. The honour of the Divine name amongst the heathen.
(1) The relations of God with Israel and His doings for Israel were well known amongst neighbouring nations.
(2) If God should destroy Israel at a stroke, that also would be known amongst these nations.
(3) The interpretation of such destruction by the nations would be such as would reflect on the honour of God. They would conclude that His resources were exhausted; that His power had failed to sustain and lead Israel onward: and thus His glory would be tarnished.
(4) That this might not be the case Moses entreats the Lord not to disinherit the rebellious people.
2. The Divine character as revealed to Moses.
3. The truth of the Divine word.
4. The forgiveness which God had already bestowed.
Conclusion: From this intercession of Moses let us learn--
1. How to plead with God for ourselves.
2. How to plead with God for others, and especially for His people. (W. Jones.)
God’s pardoning grace in the past an encouragement to seek for the same in the present
I. God is as able and as willing to forgive now as ever he has been.
II. Man is now, as much as ever he has been, the object of God’s compassion.
III. God’s purpose with regard to the human race is now what it ever has been. (David Lloyd.)
The power of intercession
The intercession of Christians, who are already formed, is the leaven which is to leaven the whole earth with Christianity. It is one of the destined instruments, in the hand of God, for hastening the glory of the latter days. Take the world at large, and the doctrine of intercession, as an engine of mighty power, is derided as one of the reveries of fanaticism. This is a subject on which the men of the world are in a deep slumber; but there are watchmen who never hold their peace day nor night, and to them God addresses these remarkable words: “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest till He establish and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” (T. Chalmers.)
The mercy of God
I. What we are to understand by the mercy of god. It is His goodness to them that are in misery, or liable to it. Thus the mercy of God is usually, in Scripture, set forth to us by the affection of pity and compassion; which is an affection that causeth a sensible commotion in us, upon the apprehension of some great evil that lies upon another, or hangs over him. Hence it is that God is said, in Scripture, to be grieved and afflicted for the miseries of men. But though God is pleased in this manner to set forth His mercy and tenderness towards us, yet we must take heed how we clothe the Divine nature with the infirmities of human passions. When God is said to pity us, we must take away the imperfection of His passion, the commotion and disturbance of it, and not imagine any such thing in God; but we are to conceive that the mercy and compassion of God, without producing the disquiet, do produce the effects of the most sensible pity.
II. That this perfection belongs to God. I will only produce some of those many texts of Scripture which attribute this perfection to God. “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious” (Exodus 34:6). “The Lord thy God is a merciful God” (Deuteronomy 4:31). “The Lord your God is gracious and merciful” (2 Chronicles 34:9). “Ready to pardon, gracious and merciful” (Nehemiah 9:17). “All the paths of the Lord are mercy” (Psalms 25:10). “Unto Thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy” (Psalms 62:12). “Merciful and gracious” (Psalms 103:8). “With the Lord there is mercy” (Psalms 130:7). And so (Jeremiah 3:12; Joel 2:13; John 4:2; Luke 6:36), “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” The Scripture speaks of this as most natural to Him. In 2 Corinthians 1:3, He is called “the Father of mercies.”
III. The degree of it. A God of great mercy. Scripture speaks of it as if God was wholly taken up with it, as if it was His constant employment, so that, in comparison of it, He doth hardly display any other excellency; “All the paths of the Lord are mercy” (Psalms 25:10); as if, in this world, God had a design to advance His mercy above His other attributes. The mercy of God is now in the throne; this is the day of mercy; and God doth display it, many times, with a seeming dishonour to His other attributes, His justice, and holiness, and truth.
1. Preventing mercy. Does not that man owe more to his physician who prevents his sickness, than he who, after the languishing, the pains of several months, is at length cured by him?
2. Forbearing mercy. And this is the patience of God, which consists in the deferring or moderating of our deserved punishment. Hence it is that “slow to anger,” and “of great mercy,” do so often go together.
3. Comforting mercy (2 Corinthians 1:3).
4. His relieving mercy, in supplying those that are in want, and delivering those that are in trouble.
5. Pardoning mercy. And here the greatness and fulness of God’s mercy appears, because our sins are great (Psalms 78:38). And the multitude of God’s mercies because our sins are many (Psalms 51:1).
1. We ought with thankfulness to acknowledge and admire the great mercy of God to us.
2. The great mercy of God to us should stir up in us shame and sorrow for sin. The judgments of God may break us; but the consideration of God’s mercy should rather melt us into tears (Luke 7:47).
3. Let us imitate the merciful nature of God.
4. If the mercy of God be so great, this may comfort us against despair.
5. By way of caution against the presumptuous sinner. If there be any that encourage themselves in sin, upon the hopes of His mercy; let such know that God is just, as well as merciful. (Abp. Tillotson.)
Long-suffering of God
We may safely assert that Jeremy Taylor is none the less vigorous for illustrating the long-suffering of God by the Rabbinical story that the archangel Michael, being God’s messenger of vengeance, had but one wing, that he might labour in his flight, while Gabriel had two wings, that he might “fly swiftly” when bringing the message of peace. (J. Pilkington.)
God’s mercy is so great that it forgives great sins to great sinners after great lengths of time, and then gives great favours and great privileges, and raises us up to great enjoyments in the great heaven of the great God. As John Bunyan well says, “It must be great mercy or no mercy, for little mercy will never serve my turn.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I have pardoned according to thy word.
God’s answer to Moses’ prayer
I. The extremity of the sentence is receded from (Numbers 14:20). “I have pardoned,” so as not to cut them all off at once and disinherit them. See the power of prayer, and the delight God takes in putting an honour upon it. He designed a pardon, but Moses shall have the praise of obtaining it by prayer; it shall be done “according to thy word.” Thus, as a prince, he hath power with God and prevails. See what encouragement God gives to our intercessions for others, that we may be public-spirited in prayer. See how ready God is to forgive sin, and how easy to be intreated. “Pardon,” saith Moses (Numbers 14:19); “I have pardoned,” saith God (Numbers 14:20). David found Him thus swift to show mercy (Psalms 32:5). He deals not with us after our sins.
II. The glorifying of God’s name is in general resolved upon” (Numbers 14:21). It is said, it is sworn, “All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” Moses in his prayer had showed a great concern for the glory of God. “Let Me alone,” saith God, “to secure that effectually, and to advance it by this dispensation. All the world shall see how God hates sin even in His own people, and will reckon for it; and yet how gracious and merciful He is, and how slow to anger.” Thus when our Saviour prayed, “Father, glorify Thy name,” He was immediately answered, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again” (John 12:28). Note, those that sincerely seek God’s glory may be sure of what they seek.
III. The sin of this people which provoked god to proceed against them is here aggravated (Numbers 14:22; Numbers 14:27); it is not made worse than really it was, but is shown to be exceedingly sinful. It was an evil congregation, each bad, but altogether in congregation very bad.
1. They tempted God--tempted His power, whether He could help them in their straits; His goodness, whether He would; and His faithfulness, whether His promise would be performed. They tempted His justice, whether He would resent their provocations and punish them or no. They dared Him, and in effect challenged Him, as God doth the idols (Isaiah 41:23) to do good or do evil.
2. They murmured against Him. This is much insisted on (Numbers 14:27). As they questioned what He would do, so they quarrelled with Him for everything He did or had done, continually fretting and finding fault. It doth not appear that they murmured at any of the laws or ordinances that God gave them, through they proved a heavy yoke; but they murmured at the conduct they were under and the provision made for them. Note, it is much easier to bring ourselves to the external services of religion and observe all the formalities of devotion than to live a life of dependence upon and submission to the Divine Providence in the course of our conversation.
3. They did this after they had seen God’s miracles in Egypt and in the wilderness (Numbers 14:2). They would not believe their own eyes, which were witnesses for God that He was in the midst of them of a truth.
4. They had repeated the provocations ten times, i.e., very often. God keeps an account how oft we repeat our provocations, and will sooner or later set them in order before us.
5. They had not hearkened to His voice, though He had again and again admonished them of their sin.
IV. The sentence passed upon them for this sin.
1. That they should not see the promised land (Numbers 14:2), nor come into it (Numbers 14:30; Psalms 95:11). Note, unbelief of the promise is a forfeiture of the benefit of it. The promise of God should be fulfilled to their posterity, but not to them.
2. That they should immediately turn back into the wilderness (Numbers 14:25). Their next remove should be a retreat; they must face about, and instead of going forward to Canaan, on the very borders of which they now were, they must withdraw towards the Red Sea again. “To-morrow turn ye”; that is, “Very shortly you shall be brought back to that vast howling wilderness which you are so weary of; and it is time to shift for your own safety, for the Amalakites lie in wait in the valley ready to attack you if you march forward.” Of them they had been distrustfully afraid (Numbers 13:29), and now with them God justly frightened them.
3. That all those who were now grown up to men’s estate should die in the wilderness; not all at once, but by degrees. They wished they might die in the wilderness, and God said “Amen” to their passionate wish, and made their sin their ruin.
4. That in pursuance of this sentence they should wander to and fro in the wilderness, like travellers that have lost themselves, for forty years, i.e., so long as to make it full forty years from their coming out of Egypt to their entrance into Canaan (Numbers 14:33-34). Thus long they were kept wandering--
(1) To answer the number of the days in which the spies were searching the land. They were content to wait forty days for the testimony of men because they could not take God’s word; and therefore justly are they kept forty years waiting for the performance of God’s promise.
(2) That hereby they might be brought to repentance, and find mercy with God in the other world, whatever became of them in this.
(3) That they might sensibly feel what a dangerous thing it is for God’s covenant people to break with Him. “Ye shall know My breach of promise, both the causes of it--that it is procured by your sin, for God never leaves any till they first leave Him; and the consequences of it--that it will produce your ruin. You are quite undone when you are thrown out of the covenant.”
(4) That a new generation might in this time be raised up, which could not be done all of a sudden.
V. The mercy that was mixed with this severe sentence.
1. Mercy to Caleb and Joshua; that though they should wander with the rest in the wilderness, yet they, and they only of all that were now above twenty years old, should survive the years of banishment and live to enter Canaan.
2. Mercy to the children even of these rebels. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.
The earth filled with the glory of the Lord
I. The import of the promise before us. Glory is the manifestation of excellence. The glory of God is that display of His most blessed character and will which opens the way for His intelligent creatures to know, to love, and to obey Him. This glory is exhibited in various ways. It shines in all the works of creation. All the works of God, we are told, praise Him. Again, the glory of God is manifested by the works of His providence. But above all is the glory of God displayed in the work of redemption. Now, when the gospel, which proclaims this plan of mercy, shall be preached and received throughout the world, when every kindred and people and nation and tongue shall not only be instructed in its sublime doctrines, but also brought under its benign and sanctifying power, then, with emphatic propriety, may it be said that “the earth is filled,” &c.
II. What reason have we for believing that these scenes of glory will one day be realised?
1. Our hope is founded on Jehovah’s faithful and unerring promise. “Hath He said, and shall He not do it?”
2. Our confidence that the religion of Christ will one day fill the whole earth with its glory is confirmed by the consideration that this religion is, in its nature, adapted above all others to be a universal religion. Its doctrines, its worship, and its system of moral duty are all equally adapted to universality.
3. The present aspect of the world furnishes much reason to hope that the accomplishment of this promise is drawing nigh.
III. What is our present duty in relation to the promise before us.
1. Undoubtedly our first duty is to believe the promise. Unbelief poisons the very fountain of Christian confidence, cuts the nerves of all spiritual exertion, and tends to despondency.
2. Another duty incumbent upon us in relation to this promise is to labour and pray without ceasing for its accomplishment.
3. A third duty in relation to the promise in the text is that in labouring for the spread of the gospel no adverse occurrence, however painful, ought to discourage us or at all to weaken either our confidence or our efforts.
4. A further duty in reference to the promise before us is that we pray without ceasing for the power of the Holy Spirit, to render all the means which are employed for its accomplishment effectual. (S. Miller.)
When you understand that the glory of God is not self-laudation, nor enriching His own power, nor multiplying His own treasures, but that it is supremely to make others happy; when you understand that the glory of God means loving other people and not Himself, mercy and not selfishness, the distribution of His bounty and not the hoarding it up; when you understand that God sits with all the infinite stores of redemptive love only to shed them abroad upon men for ever and for ever, then you form a conception of what it is for God to reign for His own glory. If love is His glory; if generosity is His glory; if giving is His glory; if thinking of the poor is His glory; if strengthening the weak is His glory; if standing as the defender of the wronged is His glory; if loving and watching over every being that He has created for ever and for ever is His glory, then blessed be that teaching which represents that God does reign for His own glory. That is a glory which is worthy of the Divine regality. It will bring out blossoms of joy and gladness in heaven and on earth. (H. W. Beecher.)
The majestic consummation
Progress must be gradual toward that majestic consummation which shed its lustre from afar on the eyes of those in what we call the semi-civilised tribes of Judaea long ago. Progress must be gradual. Men of the world sometimes say derisively that it is very slow. “You say you have thirty thousand converts. What are they among so many?” Well, my friend, will you tell me what great effect has ever been realised in a short space of time? What city was ever builded to its ultimate completeness in one year or in ten years? Your growth here in Chicago has been phenomenally rapid and fast, and yet you go back over half a century and more to see the beginning of your city life. Will you tell me what national literature was ever developed to its completeness in one generation or in five? Will you tell me what government was ever established in equity and wisdom, even with the heroic efforts of men who gave their lives to its service, in one century or in two? Will you tell me what physical continent was ever transformed from barbarism to the beauty of civilisation in one century or in two? Great works imply always gradual progress; and nothing is more preposterous than to suppose that this immense, surpassing work, which man says is too great ever to be accomplished, is to be accomplished within a few generations. Why, there is an interval of ages between the cave or the skin tent, or the hemlock hut and any one of our modernly equipped houses. There is an interval of ages between the first attempt at a song or a narrative and the completed literature which dates from that attempt. There is an interval of ages between the hollow log floating on the water and the majestic steamship that unites the hemispheres. Gradual progress towards the mighty effect is the law everywhere; and we are simply foolish, we simply entertain the most preposterous notion that can ever come into the human mind, if we are offended because the expectation is not realised that in one year or ten years, in one generation or five generations, the work of redeeming the world unto Christ and purifying it unto His beauty is not accomplished. But let us also never forget that supreme fact that God is behind this progress, and that it never will cease until God is dead--never while Omnipotence has power, never while the Divine wisdom foresees the end from the beginning, never until the heart of God is turned to indifference or hostility towards His children on the earth. There is one banner that never goes down in any battle, and that is the banner of God’s truth. There is one army that always marches to success, and that is the army of the Cross. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
They shall not see the land.--
A bitter disappointment
It was a weary journey from Kibroth-hataavah to Hazeroth, and thence to Kadesh, probably the weariest of the entire route. Moses spoke of it afterwards as “that great and terrible wilderness.” And so at last the hosts came to Kadesh-barnea, on the very borders of the Land of Promise, within sight of the low hills, the flying buttresses, so to speak, of the verdant table-land which first arrests the eye of the traveller coming up from the vast limestone plain of the desert. How welcome that spectacle, after the four hundred miles of journey which had occupied the people for the past fifteen months! Welcome as the land-haze to Columbus, or as his native village nestling in the embrace of the hills to the returning traveller. It must have been specially grateful to the eye of Moses.
I. His hopes. As yet God had graciously veiled from him the weary journeys of the forty years that were to succeed. From the words he addressed to the people he evidently counted on a comparatively brief struggle, sharp but short, through which they would pass to their possession (Deuteronomy 1:19-21). As he said these words must there not have been, deep in his heart, a sigh of relief now his task was almost done and he might lay down his weighty responsibilities? Who can doubt that some such hopes and thoughts as these filled his soul, and whispered the one deep sweet word, “Rest! rest!” No more the daily gathering of manna, because it was a land of wheat and barley, in which they should eat bread without scarceness. Is it not thus that we all picture to ourselves some blessed landscape, lying warm and sunny under the smile of Heaven? Life is pretty hard just now--a march over a great and terrible wilderness, a stern fight. But never mind, it cannot last; there must be respite; the long lane must have a turning, the wilderness-march must have a Canaan. But suppose it be not so! What if He who loves us better than we love ourselves has marked out stations in a desert-march that lead right up to the mount from which we are to ascend to our Father’s home! What if we are to fight with Moab, and meet Balaam, and see every one of those with whom we commenced life droop around us!
II. The quarter from which his disappointment came. It came entirely from the people.
1. Their first mistake was in desiring to spy out the land (chap. 13:1). But the proposal did not emanate from the Lord; it had another origin. As in the case of Saul, the King of Israel, God gave them what they would have. It was a profound mistake. Had not God promised to give them the land, and could they not trust His choice? They had but, as Moses said, to go up and possess that which He had given.
2. Their second mistake was in receiving the discouraging report of the majority of the spies. The difference between the two lay in this, that the ten looked at God through the difficulties, as when you look at the sun through a reversed telescope and it seems indefinitely distant and shorn of its glory, while the two looked at difficulties through God. And the people sided with the ten. Here was a fatal mistake. Unbelief never gets beyond the difficulties, the cities, the walls, the giants. Faith, on the other hand, never minimises them, but looks them steadily in the face, turns from them, and looks up into the face of God and counts on Him. Note, that they lost Canaan not because of the graves of lust, but because of their unbelief. My brother, do not sit down beside that grave of lust and suppose that that is going to settle your future. Never 1 Know thou this, that the only thing which can exclude thee thence is that thou wilt not believe in a forgiveness and grace which are like the blue arch of heaven above thee or like the immensity of eternity itself.
3. Their next mistake was in their murmuring, which proposed to substitute a captain for their tried friend and God-given leader. “All the congregation lifted up their voice and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron,” &c. This was perhaps the bitterest hour in Moses’ life. They had proposed to elect a captain before, but it was when he was away; but this was proposed before his face. What unutterable agony rent his breast, not only that he should be thus set aside, but that the anger of God should be thus provoked by the people He loved! And as he lay there did he not also, in those dark, sad moments, see the crumbling of his fairy vision, the falling of a shadow over the fair prospect of his hopes, as when a pelting shower of rain hides all a landscape which a moment before had lain radiant in the summer light? So it has befallen in our own experience not once nor twice. We had been on the point of realising some long-cherished hope. We were within a day’s march of it. And suddenly there is some one or more to whom we are tied, and their education is not complete. They cannot yet go over into the good land. Because they cannot we may not. And as we stand there the voice says, “To-morrow turn and get you back into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.”
III. His refusal to escape the disappointment. The dream of Moses for a speedy entrance into the land might even yet have been realised. If all the people were cut off, and he spared to be a second Abraham, the founder of the nation, it might be possible even yet for him to pass into the good land, and, like Abraham, settle there. And so the trial was put into his life. Satan tempts us to reveal the evil in us, God to reveal the good. So God, knowing the hidden nobleness of His faithful servant, and eager that it should be revealed to all the world, suggested to him a proposal that He should smite the people with pestilence and disinherit them, and make of him a nation greater and mightier than they. “Accept it,” said the spirit of the self-life; “thou hast had trouble enough with them.” “No,” said his nobler, truer self; “it may not be. What would become of Jehovah’s fame? and how can I endure to see my people cut off?” There are few grander passages in the whole Bible than that in which Moses puts away the testing suggestion as impossible. And so he turned away from the open gate into paradise, and again chose rather to suffer with the people in their afflictions than enjoy the pleasures of Canaan alone.
IV. A contrast to his endurance of disappointment. When the people heard that they were to wander in the wilderness for forty years, till their carcases fell in its wastes, they rose up early in the morning and gut them up to the top of the mountain, saying, “Lo, we are here, and will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised. But Moses and the ark of the Lord departed not out of the camp.” By force of will and energy they sought to reverse the sentence just passed on them. Moses meekly bowed his head to it, and accepted the discipline of those long years. Do not times come into our lives like this? We have come to the brink of some great opportunity, and the prize has seemed within our reach; but by some outburst we have shown ourselves unable or unfit to possess it. God puts us back. He says in effect, “You are not fit to enjoy the blessing yet. You must go back to the common round, sit at the daily task, plod around the dull millwheel.” But we will not submit to it. “Nay, but we will go up.” We will storm the position; we will not be thwarted. It is a hapless and useless resolve. You cannot force the gate. Better a hundred times wait meekly outside, learning the lesson of patience and faith. The obscure journeyings of the forty years will then yield their harvest of blessing.
V. Moses’ solace in disappointment. Yet there were springs at which that weary spirit slaked its thirst. The sense that he did the will of God; the blessedness which unselfishness always brings to the elect spirit; the joy of seeing the result of the Divine discipline in the growing earnestness and strength of His people; the reception of daily grace for daily need--all these were his. But even better than these, there was the growing realisation that the true rest of which he dreamed was not to be found in any earthly Canaan, however enticing, but in that rest of heart, that repose of the nature in God which is alone permanent and satisfying, amid the change and transience of all human and earthly conditions. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The result of one false step
A single false step may bring with it irretrievable forfeiture of good when the good is conspicuous and attainable. This is true in temporal things. In all lives there are crises, more or less observable, on which the complexion of all their future depends. Some great advantage is set before us that if improved will be the making of us; but we doubt its value or reality or the sincerity of the offer, or it is not quite to our taste, or we lack courage to encounter the difficulties, to incur the dangers that lie in the way of its attainment. There are walled cities to be stormed, sons of Anak to be fought, and the difficulty and peril are magnified by a timorous imagination. We refuse, and the golden opportunity is let slip and will not come again. There is nothing for us but a life of poverty, obscurity, meanness, of hard, unfruitful toil and meagre results. And in spiritual things such crises also occur, and are as much more solemn as the interests they involve are more momentous. There are instances when the soul is awakened to attend to its spiritual concerns, and the proposal of heavenly good is made to us with such distinctness that we are compelled to determine whether we will labour in the good “that endureth unto eternal life” or take up with what this world offers and can afford. The choice is inevitable. We cannot cheat ourselves into the belief that we are merely weighing the question and postponing the decision to a more “convenient season.” We may doubt whether the good that is proposed to us is so essential to our welfare as it is represented to be, or whether our enjoyment of its benefits is really so dependent upon the resolution we then come to. Or we may timidly shrink from the requisite self-denial and labour, and cover up our cowardice under a pretty show of modesty and self distrust, a doubting of our competency to fulfil the obligations and meet the temptations of a consistent course, and may even plead our fear of dishonouring God’s cause by our weaknesses and failings. But, nevertheless, the choice is made, and there is too much reason to fear that it may be made finally and for ever. The Canaan that seemed so near that we could see it with our eyes recedes, and the garish world again asserts the full influence of its tawdry beauties. The blessed vision may never come back to us again. Henceforward we can only look upon “the things that are seen and are temporal.” And what is left to us if we make this mad and fatal choice? What is this world but a wilderness, where there is nothing to meet the wants of the immortal soul, where in our aimless pilgrimage we turn back upon our steps, and never reach a goal that can afford us solid satisfaction. Poor, poor portion of those whose aims rise no higher than the beggarly profits which a worldly life can give! And then when at last his “feet stumble on the dark mountains,” naked he must return to go as he came,” “and nought remains to him but the dark noisome grave and an awful accounting with God. (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)
My servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed Me fully.
I. The dignity of Caleb’s character “My servant.”
1. The Lord justly demands our services.
2. The Lord distinctly recognises His servants.
II. The commendation of Caleb’s piety. “Another spirit.”
1. The commendation of Caleb’s excellent spirit.
2. The commendation of Caleb’s faithful conduct. He was decidedly, universally, and eminently pious and faithful.
III. The recompense of Caleb’s fidelity. “Him will I bring into the land,” &c. This gracious promise may be Considered as partially applicable to the people of God in all ages, and suggests two important truths by way of direction and encouragement.
1. God highly approves of fidelity and decision. Nothing is so important as the Divine approbation. His favour is life. The characters He approves are greatly honoured and blessed.
2. He will fully reward His approved followers. There is a present reward, both of temporal benefits and spiritual enjoyments (Psalms 34:9-10; Matthew 6:33; Ephesians 1:3; Psalms 84:11). There is also a future reward of eternal bliss. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Caleb--the man for the times
It is a rough name that--“Caleb.” It signifies “a dog.” But what matters a man’s name? Possibly the man himself was somewhat rough; many of the heartiest of men are so. As the unpolished oyster yet beareth within itself the priceless pearl, so ofttimes a rugged exterior covereth worth. A dog, moreover, is not all badness. It hath this virtue, that it followeth its master; and therein this Caleb was well named, for never dog so followed his master as Caleb followed his God. The name, however, has another signification, and we like it rather better: it means “All heart.” Here was a fitting surname for the man whose whole heart followed his God.
I. Caleb’s faithful following of his God. He never went before his God. That is presumption. The highest point to which the true believer ever comes is to walk with God, but never to walk before Him.
1. He followed the Lord wholly; that is, universally, without dividing. Whatever his Master told him to do he did. I wish we could say the same of all professed Christians. You see Caleb was quite as ready to fight the giants as he was to carry the clusters. We have a host who are ready for sweet duties and spiritual engagements which bring joy and peace; but as for the fighting of giants--how many say, “I pray thee have me excused”!
2. Caleb followed the Lord fully; that is, sincerely, without dissembling. He was no hypocrite; he followed the Lord with his whole heart. One of the safest tests of sincerity is found in a willingness to suffer for the cause.
3. Caleb followed the Lord wholly; that is, cheerfully, without disputing. Those who serve God with a sad countenance, because they do what is unpleasant to them, are not His servants at all. Our God requires no slaves to grace His throne; He is the Lord of the empire of love.
4. He followed the Lord constantly--without declining. Having begun when he first started upon the search to exercise a truthful judgment, he persevered during the forty days of his spyship and brought back a true report. Forty-five years he lived in the camp of Israel, but all that time he followed the Lord, and never once consorted with murmuring rebels; and when his time came to claim his heritage, at the age of eighty-five, the good old man is following the Lord fully. Still his speech bewrayeth him; he shows a constant heart. God set His seal upon that man’s soul in his youthful days, and he remained his God when grey hairs adorned his brow. How many professors fail in this respect!
II. Caleb’s favoured portion.
1. In reward for his faithful following of his Master his life was preserved in the hour of judgment. The ten fell, smitten with plague, but Caleb lived. “Blessed is the man who hath the God of Jacob for his confidence.” If any man shall experience special deliverances, Caleb is he. It he follows God fully, God will fully take care of him. When you look to nothing but your Master’s honour, your Master will look to your honour. When Queen Elizabeth sent a certain merchant over to Holland he complained to her, “If I do your Majesty’s business, my own business will be ruined.” “You do my business,” said the Queen, “and I will see to your business.” It is so with our God. “My servant, serve thou Me, and I will serve thee.” Caleb is willing to give his life for his Master, and therefore his Master gives him his life.
2. Caleb was also comforted with a long life of vigour. At eighty-five he was as strong as at forty, and still able to face the giants. If there be a Christian man who shall have in his old age a vigour of faith and courage, it is the man who follows the Lord fully. We gain our old saints from among those faithful young ones.
3. Caleb received as his reward great honour among his brethren. He was at least twenty years older than any other man in the camp except Joshua. “All died, and their carcases were buried in the wilderness, except that man and Joshua the son of Nun.” At their council he would be regarded with as much reverence as Nestor in the assemblies of the Greeks; in their camps he would stand like another Achilles in the midst of the armies of Lacedaemon.
4. Caleb had the distinguished reward of being put upon the hardest service. That is always the lot of the most faithful servant of God. There were three huge warriors in Mount Hebron; no one will undertake to kill them except it be our good old friend Caleb. These Anakims, with their six toes on each foot and their six fingers on each hand, are to be upset and driven out. Who is to do it? If nobody else will offer himself, here is Caleb. Nay, he does not merely allow himself to be sent upon the service, but he craves permission to be allowed to take the place, the reason being because it was the worst task of the war, and he panted to have the honour of it. Grand old man! Would God thou hadst left many of thy like behind thee! If there is some pleasant thing to do for Christ, how we scramble after the service; but if there be a front place in the battle, “Oh, let Brother So-and-so do it.” Do not you notice the way the most of men decline the honour of special danger? “Our friend So-and-so is much better qualified for that; let him take it.” If we were true heroes, we should each of us contend which should undertake the most hopeless, the most difficult, and the most dangerous task.
5. Caleb left a blessing to his children. If I might envy any man, it would be the believer who from his youth up has walked through Divine grace according to his Lord’s commandments, and who is able, when his day comes, to scatter benedictions upon his rising sons and daughters, and leave them with godliness which hath the blessing of this life and that which is to come. The blessing of the upper and the nether springs, then, was the reward of good old Caleb.
III. Caleb’s secret character. The Lord saith of him, “Because he had another spirit with him.” He had another spirit--not only a bold, generous, courageous, noble, and heroic spirit, but the Spirit and influence of God which thus raised him above human inquietudes and earthly fears. Therefore he followed God fully--literally he filled after Him. God showed him the way to take, and the line of conduct he must pursue, and he filled up this line, and in all things followed the will of his Master. Everything acts according to the spirit that is in it. Yonder lamp gives no light. Why? It has no oil. Here is another; it cheers the darkness of the cell. Why? It is full of oil, and oil is the mother of light. There are two huge bags of silk. One of them lies heavily upon the ground, the other mounts up towards the stars. The one is filled with carbonic acid gas; it cannot mount--it acts according to the spirit that is in it; it has a heavy gas, and there it lies. There is another full of hydrogen, and it acts according to the spirit that is in it, and up it goes; the light air seeks the lighter regions, and up it mounts. Everything according to its own order. The real way to make a new life is to receive a new spirit. There must be given us, if we would follow the Lord fully, a new heart, and that new heart must be found at the foot of the Cross, where the Holy Spirit works through the bleeding wounds of Jesus. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. There was in Caleb a very reverend conception of magistracy and government which made him still use some word of honour when he spake of the government. As Joshua 14:6-7, “Thou knowest what the Lord said to Moses the man of God concerning me in Kadesh-barnes. Forty years old was I when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to espy the land,” &c. Moses was now dead and gone, yet mark it how Caleb speaketh not of a dead magistrate, but with addition of honour--“the man of God,” “the servant of the Lord”--which words being true, as in Moses they were, they equal--nay, they excel--all the swelling words of our age. Most mighty, high, renowned, illustrious, &c. Words given to great personages, to express their honour and our good affection to them. Now this was another spirit from the murmurers and mutineers, and therefore this is rewarded by God, to whom such reverence of governors is most pleasing. And let it ever teach us that as we see the Lord to observe the differing spirits of men, and accordingly to love them and hate them, to reward them and punish them as their quality is, so we ourselves should be ever careful to observe our own spirits, that so we may see whither we tend, and what either in mercy or justice is like to fall unto us.
2. Caleb, when he saw sedition and uproar against the magistrate, rent his clothes for grief, detesting and abhorring in his soul such carriage in men that should obey. This was again another spirit in Caleb most pleasing to God and graceful to Him. Aulus Fulnius, a heathen Roman, meeting his son going to join with Cateline, that traitor, laid hands upon him and slew him, saying with indignation at his villainy, “I begat thee not for Cateline, but for thy country.” And surely except we find that even against our own flesh we could in such a case do what lawfully we might with the like speech that for God, for religion, for their king and country we had begotten them, and not for treason and villainy, we have not that edge of spirit that we should have.
3. Caleb had a quiet disposition, not turbulent, not factious, not seditious, but loving order and obedience to superiors--a thing most pleasing again to God, as appeareth by the blessing of him. Adoniah, we know, could not be quiet, but plotting and working till his brother was forced by justice to take away his life, and so make him quiet. Korah and his company will be envious against authority till the earth open and swallow them up. Absalom against his own father cannot harbour a dutiful heart, but must ambitiously be hammering most hateful designs, till the vengeance of God, pursuing such pride, cut him off and hanged him betwixt heaven and earth by the hair of the head, for an example to the world’s end to all busy brains and disloyal hearts. Blessed Caleb was quiet of nature--no stirrer of coals; and the remembrance of him is registered up in God’s book. He was obedient to authority himself, and an earnest persuader of others to the same, whom had they hearkened unto they had escaped God’s wrath and their own ignominy for ever. Oh, sweet quality in a subject, obedience!
4. Caleb had a most thankful feeling of their deliverance out of Egypt in general and of his own in particular, detesting to hear of any return thither again with these mutineers; and this again was another spirit pleasing to God and good for himself.
5. Caleb used to speak as was in his heart (Joshua 14:1-15.); and this again was another spirit than others had, and greatly pleased the Lord. He counterfeited nothing to please men. And what a happiness were it if all men would do so! “Blessed are the pure in heart”; that is, such men as are free from glossing and dissembling.
6. The Lord saith of Caleb that he followed Him still; and this was another spirit than others had, pleasing to the Lord and honourable to Him even to this day. So liveth virtue after death. A blessed spirit this was, and happy had these mutineers been if they had had the like. “Commit thy thoughts to Him,” saith Solomon, “and thou shalt be directed”--so safe is it ever to follow Him.
7. Lastly, to his following join his constancy. He followed God, and he followed Him still, saith the text. Some have hearts to good things, but not constant, wherefore the exhortations in Scripture are many, to move us all unto this. (Bp. Babington.)
A man of real integrity
But to the young--to those who are beginning life--I would fain speak. I would fain inspire them with a higher conception of the safety and of the indispensableness of high moral qualities. Let not those that seem to be succeeding in life tempt you from the simple moralities of your father’s house, which you learned at your mother’s knee. I tell you there is no honour in this world like the honour of honest men. There is no honour like that of men whom you cannot tempt to swerve or bend. The dearest and the scarcest thing in the market to-day is a man who is thoroughgoing and clear-headed, who has right intentions, who chooses clean measures for clean ends, and who is unbribable. Why, such a man as that does not want a statue in Central Park: he is his own monument. We have enough men who are honest as the world goes; that is, who are honest as long as they see it to be their interest to be so, and who will never be dishonest except where dishonesty is profitable. We have men who will bend like a Damascus blade, clear round, hoop-like, and spring back on communion day, straight as a sword; but men who can go out into life and stand alone; men who can say, “The kingdom of my thoughts is greater than any other kingdom”; men who say, “I cannot sleep, nor eat, nor live with a dishonest man, and if I were that man I could not live”; men who believe in the kingdom of God--men of that kind are above all price in every vocation and everywhere; and I wish I could inspire the young with the sense that I have of the value of moral elements and with my faith therein; and higher than all others, and the very breastplate of the preparation for life, is a keen and abiding sense of real integrity. (H. W. Beecher.)
Caleb: the distinctions of a great man
1. That all men are not animated by the same moral spirit.
2. That God recognises the particular spirit that animates men, and deals with men accordingly.
I. here is a distinction of spirit. Caleb’s spirit was marked by--
1. Independent inquiry. Let us, like Caleb, enter the promised land of truth, and search it for ourselves.
2. Heroic faith.
3. Reliance on God.
II. Here is a distinction of conduct. Caleb followed the Lord “fully”--with all the powers and sympathies of his soul. This includes--
1. A knowledge of God’s will.
2. A thorough concurrence of the moral heart with His directions.
3. An unbounded confidence in His character.
III. Here is a distinction of destiny.
1. Here is a destiny which stands in contrast with the sad fate of his companions.
2. Here is a destiny which he ultimately realised (see Joshua 14:6-15). (Homilist.)
I. A servant of God, such as Caleb was, possesses a good character. Character is not everything that is required to make one a good servant to an earthly master. But it is the first requisite. He has a good character, and a good character well attested. It was “the majesty in the heavens” who bore testimony concerning Caleb. This leads us from the fact to the source of the good character which the true servant of God possesses. This is revealed in these words of our text concerning Caleb, “He had another spirit with him.”
1. The good servant of God has another spirit with his own spirit. He has the Spirit of God with him.
2. The good servant of God has another spirit with his old spirit. He who says, “I will put My Spirit within you,” says, “A new heart also will I give you.”
II. A servant of God, such as Caleb was, renders good service. A good servant is one who can do good work. The special form of service to which Israel was called, and in which Caleb proved faithful, was that of war. This reminds us that the service of every follower of God is largely a cow, filet. But when he is of the type of Caleb, and acts in character, then--
1. Having full faith in his Leader, he is ready to follow him, and--
2. Having no fear of the enemy, he is ready to encounter him.
III. A servant of God, such as Caleb was, receives a good reward. The return made to a servant for his services may be of two kinds. He may receive a stipulated wage; but, in addition, his services may be acknowledged by special gifts. To this class of returns for service the rewards of God’s servants belong. These may be according to the measure, but they do not rest on the ground of the servant’s faith and obedience. They, are grounded on the gracious free-will of God.
1. The servant of God is blessed in himself. He receives blessings now, but greater blessings are in store for him.
2. The servant of God is blessed in his children. Not only Caleb, but his seed was to reap the fruits of faith and obedience. So in the spiritual sphere. “The promise is to you and to your children.” These shall inherit the land which faithful parents possess. (A. Paterson, M. A.)
On following the Lord fully
I. As the foundation of all, we must look to the inward mind and disposition of him who aims at this character (1 Samuel 16:7). There is much meaning in that common expression which we are every day using, of making up our minds. When a man says, “I have made up my mind to do this or that thing,” we have no security that he will afterwards act rightly, but we have every reason to expect that he will take a firm and consistent course. So also in religion, the great point is to make up our minds; to come to a clear understanding with ourselves on every point which may affect the consistency of our future course. Wayward and divided affections invariably lead to capricious and hesitating conduct. A firm persuasion of God’s providence, an intimate conviction of His truth, and an unwavering reliance on His goodness, are the groundwork of a character which is equally “acceptable to God and approved of men,” the character of those who “wholly follow the Lord their God.”
II. A person who is thus “rooted and grounded in love,” will be prepared to fulfil the next requirement, viz., that of uniform and unreserved obedience.
III. But, as Christians, we must not forget that our religion is one of faith as well as of duty. In fact, the doctrines and precepts of the gospel are so mixed up together, and so dependent the one upon the other, that they must be accepted as a whole, as a system, or not at all. To “believe all the articles of the Christian faith” is as incumbent upon those who would follow the Lord fully, as to “keep God’s holy will and commandments, and to walk in the same all the days of their life.” If the preacher is bound to “keep back nothing” from his hearers, so, on the other hand, the hearers must “receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save their souls.” To “follow the Lord fully” is to accept the covenant of grace in its simplicity; to know, and to desire to know, no other terms of salvation than those of “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
IV. To “follow the Lord fully” is to follow him to the end. When we speak of final perseverance, we are not alluding to any supposed privilege of the saints, commonly called by that name; as if those who have once been truly converted to God, could never finally fall away from it. On the contrary, we believe that so long as we are in the flesh we must “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” But we speak of persevering in religion as we do of persevering in any other good work, which is begun with ardour, but which, in its progress, meets with difficulties and discouragements such as mere warmth of temper will never enable us to surmount. We speak of that perseverance of the saints which is pointed at in such texts as Matthew 10:22; Hebrews 3:14; Galatians 6:9. To “follow the Lord fully” we must pass through all the stages of the spiritual life; we must be subject to all the trials of the Christian course. (F. Field, LL. D.)
The upright man:
1. The first thing to be carefully attended to is your spirit--the motives, inclinations, and dispositions of your heart.
2. A submissive, cheerful obedience to the will of God is essential to the character of an upright man.
3. Consider, as a motive and encouragement to Christian fidelity, the certainty of a large reward. (Essex Remembrancer.)
On following the Lord fully
I. Let us begin with inquiring what we are to understand by following the Lord fully. And here I must observe that no man can follow the Lord at all till once he be acquainted with Him. Before we can follow God we must not only know that He is supreme, and hath a right to command; but we must likewise believe that He is worthy to command, and infinitely possessed of all those perfections which qualify Him to govern the creatures He hath made. Two things we must be thoroughly persuaded of: first, that the laws of our Sovereign are righteous and good; and next, that He is both able and willing to protect us in His service.
II. The duty may be considered as including the following particulars.
1. That we acknowledge no other Lord besides Him. It is to make His will the sole and absolute rule of our conduct, in opposition to our own humour, the temptations of Satan, and the corrupt maxims of a world that lieth in wickedness.
2. It is to obey Him without any reserve or limitation; it is to serve Him with an affectionate and liberal heart, and to do this at all times.
3. It is to follow Him openly, and in the face of the world. It is a profession that is neither ostentatious nor shamefaced; it neither courts observation nor avoids it. The true follower of the Lord, keeping the laws of his Master continually in his eye, performs every duty in its place and season.
4. It is to cleave to Him steadfastly when others forsake Him; and to persevere in His service, even when it exposeth us to the world’s hatred, and the persecution of wicked and unreasonable men. I am asking nothing that is unreasonable, nothing that you yourselves can find any pretence to refuse.
All I ask is--
1. That you should be honest men. You call yourselves Christians; and what is my request but that you be Christians indeed?
2. The duty I am recommending is equally necessary to secure the inward tranquillity of your minds; it contributes to your interest, no less than to your honour. How miserable is the man who hath discord within his own breast!
3. Our Lord hath in some measure entrusted us with His glory, and called the world to take notice of us, as the persons by whom He expects to be honoured. Oh, how should this fire us with a generous ambition to excel in holiness, that we may exhibit a just representation of the Master we serve, and show that He is in truth what the Scriptures report Him to be--“altogether lovely,” and “fairer than the children of men.”
4. I am now going to plead with you from love to your neighbours. This is a principle you profess to honour; nay, if I mistake not, the desire of obliging others, and of rendering yourselves agreeable to them, is your common apology for conforming to their manners, and avoiding the offensive singularity of following the Lord fully. This is a false expression of love. Surely it is no office of love to deceive another to his hurt, or to suffer him to continue in a pleasing mistake, which unavoidably must end in his ruin; such “tender mercies” would indeed be “cruelty.”
5. The reward that awaits those who follow the Lord fully. They shall possess that good land of promise, whereof the earthly Canaan was only an emblem or type. (R. Walker.)
1. From what I see of him here, I take Caleb to have been, first of all, a thoughtful person, a considering man, capable of being taught, which cannot be said of many. He had seen no more of God than had all the others, but what he saw, he saw, and after he had come through the Red Sea, and looked at the hand of the Invisible One in the wilderness, he felt that that was enough for a wise man; and so he did not go about afterward, as the others did, to frame doubts or to call every new case different, and say, “True, He saved us there, but can He save us here? He gave us water, but can He give us bread also?” He had no brutal capacity for forgetting, either. When the illustrious moments of God were past, their shining kept with him. He was not so swallowed up in to-day as to forget yesterday, and to say, “Where?” He forgot not how God “had wrought His signs in Egypt, and His wonders in the field of Zoan.” On the paths behind us, all along them, are scattered the tokens of a God as wonderful as the God of the Red Sea or the God of the desert; but, like these Hebrews, we must hear the sharp crack of His thunder again to-day, or we will not so much as know that there is a God.
2. See next the independence of Caleb. The act altogether nearest the godlike is that of a man who, in the face of opinion and of public shame, and against a fiery current of everybody’s feelings, even of those who are near to being a part of himself, stands fixed in his judgment of what is right, uncorrupted, and unshaken--a liegeman of duty! So stood Caleb; and his attitude is to me the noblest I can imagine. I know it is false and blasphemous, the maxim that “the voice of the people is the voice of God,” yet the mere power of universal opinion, universal feeling, is such that no one can exaggerate it, and few withstand it. He who resists it must be something above or below man. And no fine soul can resist it, unless he is under a higher sympathy--a sympathy with a better public opinion and with the nobler society of God and the just. A sympathy with God and with duty, with the welfare of the people--that, and that only, lifted Caleb up clean out of sympathy with the whole degraded nation.
3. See again, not only his independence toward his own people, but his courage. Never was there greater occasion for apprehension. “We are nothing”; all the people, all the leaders, say, “We be not able,” &c. “We are of a gigantic brood, higher and mightier than they all,” say Caleb and Joshua. All courage, if it is not merely animal, rests on something higher--rests often on duty and devotion to others. I think an example of this is seen in Arthur, Duke of Wellington. He was unawed, at the great crisis of Waterloo especially, because of duty. When all Europe, and military men particularly, were under a fascination as of magic from the genius and success of Napoleon, who towered over them like a phantom, the Duke had little or no imaginative fear on the subject. He looked coolly and soberly at the object as it was, and calmly confided in his forces and plans, resting on duty and right. And so this was the man whom God appointed to win: hence Waterloo. He first kept his soul unsubjugated, and the unprecedented and irresistible genius against him did not master or overawe his imagination. But the courage of Caleb was far higher than this; it was against far greater odds, and it was founded not merely on devotion to duty, but on perfect assurance in God. We call this courage, and is was; but it rested on something deeper and far more rare--on trust. The heroic virtues of those old Hebrews were net the heroic virtues of Plutarch; they were all that, but much more. Though the obstacles were bristling before him as high as heaven, the Lord on high was mightier. To go forward was to move in the invincible line of right. See, then, in Caleb just the virtues demanded of us to-day. To us--to each man of us--who have always a crowd of discouragements holding us back, creeping on with but half a heart, to us this exhilarating voice comes like a trumpet sounding from that distant time: “Let us go up, for we are able.” We need the joy, the hope, of courage; and that we may have courage, we need an unbounded trust in God. In this story of the old time--this historical picture, seen far back and illumined with miraculous lights--there is nothing old or strange to me; ourselves are there, in bare fact, as we are every day. We see that the land is good--but ah, the giants! We are appointed to reach a wide and rich and peaceable land through enemies. For this, I have said, we need a will which grasps success, and fastens upon it, and will never let it go; and there is no such courage without a fulness of trust in the heart. But this is not all our need. Listen: “But My servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed Me fully, him will I bring into the land.” That is God’s description of the man who wins. “Another spirit”--a spirit the precise opposite of that of the Hebrew mob--and “because he hath followed Me fully.” Wholeness--the heart whole. God does not praise Caleb’s courage and faith, though He might well have done so. One thing fixed the Divine attention and applause: “He hath followed Me fully.” “And him will I bring into the land.” The land--the better land on high--it is for him, and for all such. I sometimes ask myself: Must all this weak race perish except the handful who have a Divine energy in their souls? Ah! Lord God, some of us would follow Thee fully--but our weakness! Breathe Thou light and strength within us, touch us with a better trust, let us see and live in Thy presence, and feel Thy power, and remember Thy gracious promise. And oh, when we have finished our course here “as good soldiers of Jesus Christ,” may we rest in hope, and our record be: “This My servant, because he hath followed Me fully, him will I bring into the land.” (A. G. Mercer, D. D.)
The excellency of a gracious spirit
I. What that other spirit is which a godly man hath differing from the world.
1. A spirit that hath other principles, a better principled spirit than the spirit of the world. Where the spirit is well principled, it is carried on strongly in God’s ways; though the natural parts be weak, though objections against them many, pretences for evil ways fair, it cannot but hold the conclusion, Surely God’s ways are good.
2. It works by another rule. When God erected the frame of the world, which was to last but for a few years, He made all by measure. The frame of man’s actions here must be for eternity, and therefore a godly man dares venture upon no other rule but that which is Divine; he looks at the Word as a light to his feet, a lantern to his steps; knowing that every step he goes is either to hell or to heaven. God (1 Samuel 2:9) keeps the feet of His saints. His way is like the way of the mariner, guided by the heavens.
3. Another spirit--that is employed about other things; it is not for mean services, but set on work about high and honourable employments.
4. This spirit is carried to other ends; the spirit of the world looks at ease, pleasure, honour, gain, and self in all; it is a low spirit. The most excellent of the heathen, who had the most brave spirits the world had in their time, aimed no higher than to work according to reason, and a natural conscience; knew not what it was to aim at God in all they did: but the spirit of the godly is a raised spirit, looks at God and eternity in all it doth, carries things up to the highest good, and in this comes as near the working of God Himself as may be. Now where the spirit is carried to God as the last end, there the beauty, excellency, glory of whatever it hath or doth is judged according to the reference it hath to God.
5. This spirit hath other qualifications; the spirits of the godly are glorious within. As--
(1) It is an enlightened spirit; the light of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ, hath shined into it, and transformed it.
(2) It is a free spirit (Psalms 51:12).
(a) A free, disengaged spirit, not entangled with earthly engagements like the spirits of the world, but a spirit that is at liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17).
(b) Free from the bondage of sin. Not brought under the power of lust or Satan. Not in servile subjection to men.
(c) Free in regard of slavish fear. Able to look upon the face of God with joy (Job 22:26).
(3) A sublime spirit, raised high by spiritual, heavenly influences, not swelling by pride; a spirit that hath all earthly things under feet, as the Holy Ghost sets out the Church (Revelation 12:1).
(4) A firm, strong spirit (Isaiah 11:2). The Spirit of Christ is a spirit of might.
(a) First, strong to resist strong temptations.
(b) Secondly, strong to overcome strong corruptions.
(c) Thirdly, strong to bear strong afflictions.
(5) They are generous spirits, as--
(a) They are not mercenary, they will not indent with God for what they do; so much as they may get by their service, so much service, and no more. No, they go on in their work, and leave themselves to God.
(b) A true generous spirit cannot endure basely to subject itself to any; it knows how to lie under the feet of any to do them good, where God may have honour; but to be serviceable to any man’s lusts whatsoever it cannot endure.
(c) A true generous spit it is not ready to take advantages against those that are under it.
(d) A generous spirit is diligent to return good, as well as desirous to receive good (as David, Psalms 116:12).
(e) A generous spirit loves to be abundant in service; it is not satisfied in doing ordinary things; they prize their service as well as their wages (as John 17:4).
(6) Though sublime and raised as before, yet withal it is an humble, broken, and contrite spirit, one who is poor in spirit; this a blessed conjunction indeed, though it thinks itself too good for any lost, yet not too good to be subject to the least commandment; though not satisfied with mean things, yet accounts itself less than the least of all God’s mercies.
(7) It is a public spirit, enlarged for public good; not a narrow, straitened spirit. Godliness doth mightily enlarge the heart of a man.
(8) It is a sanctified spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
(a) Net such a mixed spirit as the common spirit of the world: hath not that mixture of filth and dross in it, but is pure.
(b) God hath set them apart for Himself (Psalms 4:3).
(c) All the abilities, common gifts of this spirit are sanctified, a higher excellency is put upon them than they have in the spirits of other men; weak, natural parts in these are more excellent than the strongest not sanctified.
(d) It is able to make a sanctified use of what it hath to deal in; of all the works and ways of God, it makes all to he holy to the Lord.
(9) It is a true heroical spirit; it is not discouraged by difficulties, it will set upon things a sluggish spirit thinks impossible; it will go through that which such a one thinks can never be.
(10) It is a solid, serious spirit; it examines the ground of actions, compares one thing with another, looks much at the issue of things; and this must needs be, because the fear of the great God and of eternity is fallen upon it (Isaiah 11:2).
(11) It is an active, lively spirit, serious, but not sullen, not dull; solid, but not stupid (1 Peter 2:5).
(12) The spirits of the godly are faithful spirits, faithful to God and men, such as will certainly be true to their principles.
6. Another spirit, it feeds upon other comforts, differing from those that common spirits feed upon. They are spiritual comforts, for they are administered to the soul by a special work of the Holy Ghost.
II. Wherein the excellency of this gracious spirit appears.
1. These spiritual excellencies have this propriety in them--they make a man a better man, wheresoever they are, which bodily excellencies do not, nor all the riches nor honours in the world.
2. These spiritual excellencies are the beginnings of eternal life, the same life we shall have in heaven.
3. This is not only the life of angels, the life of heaven, but the life of God Himself; for so it is called by God Himself (Ephesians 4:11).
4. This makes him, wheresoever it is, fit to glorify God in the world, and so the soul thus endued is not only a glass to represent, but as a glass to reflect upon the face of God Himself the glory of His own image, and that by a principle within itself.
5. These are such as are fit to stand before the Lord, to have converse and enjoy communion with Him.
6. This spirit is fit for any service, any employment God calls it to; it is a vessel of mercy, fitted for the Master’s use.
7. This spirit puts a lustre of majesty and beauty upon a man.
8. This spirit makes men fit for any condition that God shall put them into; they know how to yield to God, to find out God’s meaning, to carry themselves in every condition, so as to work out that which God would have by it; which men of ordinary spirits cannot do.
III. A discovery to the men of the world, whereby they may see that their spirits are not like the spirits of Godly men. When grace is gone from the soul the excellency is departed from it; as it was said of Reuben, in respect of that sin of his. How many a man or woman, who have comely bodies, good complexion, beautifully dressed up, but within, spirits most ugly and horrid; spirits full of filth, full of venom and loathsome distempers; men of corrupt minds, as the apostle speaks. How unsavoury to any who have the least of God in them! It is a rule in nature that the corruption of the best thing is always the worst, as a stain in fine cambric worse than in a coarse cloth. So by how much the spirit of a man is more excellent naturally than the body, which is the brutish part, by so much the corruption of the spirit is a greater evil than any the body is capable of. Spirit defilement is such a defilement as defiles everything you meddle with (as Titus 1:15).
IV. The reason why the men of the world and the Godly can never agree. Water and oil cannot mingle; no agreement between light and darkness: they look at them as men whose lives are after another fashion.
V. Learn to have. A right esteem of such precious-spirited men. There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration is from the Almighty; a spirit inspired by the Almighty, and beautified with His heavenly graces; this ennobles a man indeed; it is the ornament of the hidden man of the heart, the glorious clothing of that which makes truly beautiful and glorious.
1. This difference of their spirits from other men is a certain sign of the eternal love of God unto them.
2. The spirit receiving these spiritual excellencies from God’s choice everlasting love, receives likewise all other mercies from the same fountain.
3. The Lord hath an especial eye upon and delight to dwell with these who are of choice and excellent spirits.
4. The excellencies of this spirit are eternal excellencies.
5. But principally, these other spirits are most honourable creatures indeed, because they are reserved for other mercies; God gives common mercies to common spirits, but He reserves His choice mercies for choice spirits (2 Samuel 22:27). Other mercies (in some respect higher) than the very blessed angels themselves have.
VI. A rebuke to this vile world, who have vile conceits of this spirit, and abuse men of such excellent spirits. Certainly the Lord will not always suffer choice-spirited men to betrampled under feet; He looks upon them in their lowest estate as His jewels; but the time will come when He will make up His jewels (as Malachi 3:17); and then there shall be seen a difference between the righteous and the wicked (Numbers 14:18). God will own the excellency of the spirits of His servants to be the image of Himself; and what confusion will this be to the ungodly of the world!
VII. No dishonour to be singular. Seven notes to discover that Godly men differing from other men proceeds not from proud humorous singularity, but from the choiceness and excellency of their spirits.
1. Where humour and conceited singularity prevails with men, there is no evenness, no constancy in their ways, no proportion of one thing with another in their course; they are singular and humorous in some odd foolish things, but in other things where they have as much reason to be singular, they do as others do. But in God’s people you shall see an evenness, constancy, and proportion in the course of their lives; that which makes them singular in one thing, makes them so in all other of the same nature.
2. Those who do things out of singularity, they care less for such things they do out of that principle, when they come to be common, than they did before. But it is not so here in the ways of godliness; the more common they grow the better they are; the more doth God’s people rejoice and bless themselves in them, they are the more lovely and amiable in their eyes.
3. Humorous, singular men differ exceedingly one from another, one will be singular in one thing and another in another; but God’s people go all the same way, they have the same course with such as they never saw.
4. Proud, conceited singularity acts itself especially in things that are taken notice of by others; if others look not after them, and will not vouchsafe to take notice of them, they quickly grow weary of that they do, and this is the best way to deal with such people, to neglect them. But now the special work of godliness, wherein God’s people differ from other men, in which their souls most delight, is in secret things not subject to the view of the world. “The King’s daughter is all glorious within.”
5. If it were humorous singularity, it would not bring them so much sweet peace and heavenly joy when they are upon their sick-beds and death-beds; and when they have to deal with God in a special manner, to receive the sentence of their eternal doom, how many then bless God that ever He put it into their hearts to go another way, not according to the common course of the world.
6. Surely it is not humorous conceited singularity, because most men who have enlightened consciences, when they are most serious in their best moods, are of this mind.
7. It is not singularity, for we have the prophets, apostles, martyrs, saints of God before us, clouds of witnesses, and every one of them worth ten thousands of others. It is safe to follow the way of good men, according to that in Proverbs 2:20.
VIII. Bless God for making this difference between your spirit and the vile spirits of the men of the world. Spiritual blessings have this excellency in them, they cause a man to feel no need of many outward things which others know not how to want; and it is good to be in such an estate, to have no need of a thing, as to enjoy it when we want it. And, further, it is the excellency of spiritual blessings to keep down the body, and to carry the spirit above the body.
IX. Communion and converse with men of such excellent spirits is a most blessed thing. Seneca saw so much excellency that morality put upon man, that he says that “the very lock of a good man delights one.” The very sight of such servants of God, who walk close with God, who are careful to keep their spirits clear and shining; truly, it is very delightful, it hath much quickening in it; the uprightness, holiness, spiritual enlightenings, that their souls have, will guide them to advise for God in safe and good ways.
X. That all those whose spirits God hath thus differenced should improve this mercy by walking not as other men.
1. Your birth is from Him, and therefore it must not be with you as it is with others. Men of high birth will not live as other men do. Hence we read of a custom amongst the heathen, they were wont to derive the pedigree of their valiant men from their gods; to this end, though the thing were not true, yet they believing themselves to be a Divine offspring, they might upon confidence thereof undertake higher attempts than others with the more boldness. Much higher things should those endeavour after who are indeed born of God.
2. God hath put forth another manner of power upon your spirits than upon other men; other men have but a general common influence of God’s power let into their spirits; but He hath manifested the exceeding greatness of His power in you; as Ephesians 1:19.
3. God doth put other abilities into you that others have not: that grace with which He hath endued your spirits is a spark of His own Divine nature.
4. Your spirits have been made acquainted with more truths; God hath revealed to you the secrets of His councils, of His kingdom; He hath shown you Himself, His glory, His majesty, sovereignty, holiness; He hath shown you the reality, beauty, excellency, equity of His blessed ways. He hath made known to you the certainty, the infinite consequence of the things of eternity.
5. He hath separated you for Himself, He hath taken you into a near communion unto Himself.
6. More depends upon you than upon others; the weight of many services depends all upon you which are no ways expected to be performed by others. What shall become of God’s name, His glory, &c.?
7. Your sins go nearer to the heart of God than others. Other men may provoke God to anger, but you grieve His Holy Spirit.
8. The eyes of many are upon you; the name of God, the cause of God is engaged in you.
9. You are appointed by God to be the judges of other men (1 Corinthians 6:2). God will bring your lives and ways before all the world to judge the world by, and therefore they had need to be very exact, and to have something in them more than ordinary.
(1) In self-denial show that you can deny your opinions, your desires, your wills; though you have a strong mind to a thing, though you have fit opportunities to enjoy your desires, yet if you see God may have more honour any other way, you can freely and readily, without disturbance, without vexing, yield.
(2) Show the excellency of your spirit’s enabling you to do that which others cannot do, by loving your enemies, praying for them, doing them all the good you can.
(3) Fear the least sin more than the greatest suffering.
(4) Prize opportunities of service more than all outward contentments.
(5) Make conscience of time.
(6) Make conscience of thoughts and secret workings of heart, of secret sins to avoid them, and secret duties to perform them.
(7) Make conscience of the manner of performing holy duties, as well as the doing of them, and look after them, what becomes of them when they are done.
(8) Rejoice in the good of others, though it eclipses thy light, though it makes thy abilities, thy excellences dimmer in the eyes of others.
(9) If thou wilt show the excellency of this spirit in some choice thing, then labour to keep the heart low in prosperity, and an heavenly cheerfulness in adversity; not only contented, but joyful, in a quiet, sweet, delightful frame.
(10) Be more careful to know the fountain from whence all your mercies come, and to have a sanctified use of them when you enjoy them, than to have the possession of them or delight in them.
XI. An exhortation to labour to get this excellent spirit.
1. You had need of other spirits, more need than others for the improvement of those great mercies that you have above others. As some fowl that have great wings, yet can fly but little; so many men have great estates, but not having spirits to improve them, they are of little use. Know that your estates are either mercies or miseries, blessings or cursings to you, according as you have hearts to improve them.
2. You had need of other spirits for the improving of the large opportunities of service for God and His church that you have more than others; these are as great blessing as your estates or any other dignities you have above others.
3. You who are in high and eminent dignities, you have the earnest prayers of God’s servants in all places, that God would raise you up with truly noble, excellent, and gracious spirits, that you may be instruments of His glory. How blessed you if God fulfils the prayers of His servants upon you!
4. Again, you have need of other spirits, for your example is looked at more than others, either in good or evil.
5. Their sin is worse than others, for it doth more hurt, and therefore their punishment will be greater than others.
6. And yet, further, you have need of other spirits because you have temptations greater and stronger than others; you are in greater danger than others. The high estate of great outward dignity is a very dangerous estate if God gives not an extraordinary spirit.
7. Above all, you who are honourable and great in the world, you had need labour to be gracious, because sin is more unsuitable to your condition than to others.
8. And would it not be a grievous thing to you to see poor, inferior men and women to be lifted up to glory, and yourselves cast out an eternal curse? Have not many of them most excellent precious spirits? Do they not do God far more service than you? Do they not bring more honour to His name than ever you did? Think then with yourselves, why should God put those who are of such choice precious spirits into such a low condition, and raise me to such an high? Is it not because He intends to give me my portion in this life, but reserves better mercies for them afterwards?
9. The hopes we have of the continuance of our peace in the happy enjoyment of those precious liberties of the gospel, that in so great mercy have been continued unto us, depends much upon the work of God’s grace upon your souls. You, therefore, whom God hath honoured with excellent parts, that you may not be confounded another day before the Lord and His blessed angels and saints, be you restless in your spirits till you find God hath added a further beauty to them, even the beauty of holiness, the sanctifying graces of His Holy Spirit, that may make you lovely in His eyes, truly honourable before Him, and for ever blessed of Him. Take heed you rest not either in gifts of learning or in gifts of morality; the gifts of morality are yet a further ornament to men’s spirits, but yet they come short of those Divine excellences of spirit that will make it blessed for ever.
(1) This other spirit is a renewed spirit (Ezekiel 11:19).
(2) This other spirit works from God, and for God.
(3) Where true spiritual excellency is, there is a connection of all spiritual excellences, of all graces (Ephesians 5:9).
(4) Where there are true spiritual excellences there is an impulse of heart, a strong bent of spirit in following after the Lord; there is such a powerful impression of Divine truths upon the soul as presses it on with strength in God’s ways, for that it cannot easily be hindered, as the prophet saith (Isaiah 8:11).
(5) Where there are only moral principles, there the soul sees not into, turns not from the evil of sin; it sees not such evil in it as to make it subscribe to the righteousness of God in all those dreadful things that are threatened against it, but thinks they are too hard. Surely God is not so severe a God. God forbid things should be so as those we read of in the gospel.
(6) Where there are only natural and moral excellences, they do not raise the soul to a love of the strictest ways of God.
(7) Where there is only nature or morality, there is no sense of the breathings of God’s spirit in His ordinances. (J. Burroughes.)
A gracious spirit follows God fully
I. What is it for a man to follow God fully.
1. A fulness of all graces; though not the degree of all graces, yet the truth of every grace. There is no grace wanting where this evangelical fulness is.
2. There is no want, no not of any degree, wherein the soul rests; there is such a perfection as the soul takes no liberty to itself to fail in anything.
3. There are sincere aims, as in the sight of God, to attain to the highest perfection, the full measure of holiness; and--
4. There is that uprightness of the soul, as it doth not only desire and endeavour to attain, but doth indeed attain to the truth of that I shall deliver.
5. The heart is fully set and resolved for God; there is fulness of resolution; so the Septuagint translates that place in Joshua 15:8.
6. There is a fulness of all the faculties of the soul working after God; full apprehensions, full affections; the soul is filled with the will of God, “That ye may stand perfect, and full in all the will of God” (Colossians 4:12), as the sails filled with the wind. “My soul and all that is within me praise the Lord,” saith David. As it is in giving men full possession of a house, they give up the keys of every room, so here the soul gives up every faculty to God; the whole soul opens itself to receive the Word and His truth.
7. The soul follows God fully in regard of the true endeavours of it to put forth what strength it hath in following the Lord.
8. The soul that fully follows the Lord, follows Him without delay in the use of all means and in all the ways of His commandments.
9. Again, a soul that follows God fully follows Him in all the ways of His commandments, as the Lord saith of David (Acts 13:22).
(1) It is willing to follow the Lord in difficult duties, when it must put the flesh to it, in duties that require pains, that cannot be done without some hard things attending on them.
(2) One that follows God fully will follow Him in discountenanced duties.
(3) One that is willing to follow God fully in all duties, he will follow Him in those where he sees no reason but the bare command of God.
(4) The soul that is willing to follow God in all duties, will follow Him in commandments that are accounted little. God expects faithfulness in little things; God prizes every tittle of His law more worth than heaven and earth, howsoever we may slight many things in it, and think them too small to put any great bond upon us.
(5) The soul that follows God fully in all duties, is willing to follow Him in duties wherein it must go alone; it is willing to follow God in solitary paths.
10. To follow God fully is to follow Him so as to be willing to venture the loss of all for Him, willing to cast off whatsoever comes in the way, though never so dear to us; to follow Him close whatsoever comes in competition with Him when our following Him will cost us the loss of our formerly most dear comforts and contentments.
11. To follow God fully is to follow Him only, so as to be willing to dedicate whatsoever God lets us still enjoy to God alone.
12. The soul then follows God fully when it carries through the work it undertakes against all discouragements and hindrances, as a ship coming with full sail bears all down before it. It doth not only work, but works thoroughly, works out that it doth.
13. One that follows God fully is willing to bind himself to God by the most full and strong bonds and engagements; his spirit is at the greatest liberty when he is most strongly bound to the Lord.
14. To follow God fully is to abide in all these constant to the end of our days. That is, we must be constant in God’s ways, not think it enough to enter into them by fits and starts, but the ways of God must be our ordinary track (Proverbs 16:17).
(1) Wherever the Lord brings any to follow Him fully, He causeth such a perfect breach between sin and that soul as there is no possibility that the breach should be made up again.
(2) A second reason why that man that follows the Lord fully must needs follow Him for ever, is because at the first giving up himself to God he was content to let go all other holds and all other hopes in all creature-comforts whatsoever, and so to venture himself upon God; he hath no other prop that he doth expect support by. There is a blessed necessity upon him to follow the Lord for ever, and this necessity the soul is glad of.
(3) The soul that follows God fully will follow Him for ever, because in the full following of the Lord it finds so much ease, peace, joy, satisfaction, as it is for ever settled and confirmed in this way.
II. The excellency of this frame of spirit.
1. This is truly to honour God as a God; except God be honoured as infinite He is not honoured as God; where God is followed and not thus, He is followed no otherwise than a creature may be followed. This is not therefore to honour Him as a God, but rather it is a dishonour to that infinite excellency and blessedness of His, whereby He is infinitely above all that creatures are, or that they are any way capable of.
2. This full following of God doth much honour the work of grace and the profession of godliness; it shows a reality, power, excellency, and beauty in it
3. This has such excellency in it, as that God Himself boasts of such as these are; as they glory in the Lord and bless themselves in the Lord, so the Lord seems to glory in them, and to account His name blessed by them, as you may see how God rejoices in and makes His boast of Job (Job 1:8).
4. This following of the Lord fully doth ever attain its end.
III. Rebuke to divers sorts whose spirits are not full in following after the Lord.
1. As some are convinced, their judgments and consciences arc for God but their lusts carry them violently another way.
2. Others rest in their good inclinations, their good desires; they say they would fain do better, and they hope God will accept the will for the deed; they like God’s ways, and speak well of good men, and therefore they think their hearts are for God.
3. Others have good resolutions now and then in some good moods; the truths of God come darting in with some power, as they cannot but yield to them, and then they are resolved that they will do better and their lives shall be changed; but yet these vanish too, they follow not God fully.
4. Others have strong sudden affections, they feel sometimes some meltings, in sorrow for sin, in hearing the blessed truths of God revealed to them; they feel some sweetness in the working of truths upon their hearts, they have a taste of the powers of the world to come. Yet these are a great way off from following the Lord fully. For--
(1) These affections are sudden and flashing; the truths of God pass by them, leaving a little glimmering behind them, or as water passeth through a conduit and leaves a dew; but they soak not into the heart, as the water soaks into the earth to make it fruitful.
(2) These are stirred with the pardoning, comforting, saving mercies of God, but not with the humbling, renewing, sanctifying mercies.
5. Others follow the Lord, but they follow Him in a dull, heavy manner; there is no spirit, no heat, no life in their following of Him, and therefore they do not follow Him fully. They rest themselves in a lukewarm course; they like well of religion and profession, but what need men go so far, what need they do so much? As Pharaoh said to the Israelites (Exodus 8:28).
6. Some go beyond this dull lukewarm temper; they are very forward in some things, but in other things their hearts stick; they come not off fully in them.
7. There are others who cannot be so easily convinced in what particulars they forsake God in any of His ways; they seem to have a general forwardness in that which is good, but the truth is, they follow themselves, and not God in all; they rise no higher than self in all they do, which their own consciences, upon search made, will tell them: the commandment of God may be made the pretence, but self is the great mover in all.
8. Others follow the Lord earnestly a while, but afterwards forsake Him. Many are very hopeful at the first, yet they prove exceeding vile afterwards; yea, the more forward in good at first, the more vile after-as water that hath once been heated, and grows cold again, is colder than ever it was. Let none, then, rest themselves in their good beginnings. The evil of forsaking the Lord were great, if this were all--
(1) That all your labour in religion, that all that you have done is lost. It is an evil thing to lose all that we have wrought for; but this is not all.
(2) If you leave off from following the Lord, all the good that ever you have done and made profession of shall serve only to aggravate your sin and increase your torment.
(3) This leaving off from following the Lord is a great dishonour to God and His ways; an upbraiding of them, as if they were not good enough to draw the heart constantly after them.
(4) Such men as these do much mischief in the world; they are grievous scandals.
(5) These men shall have their spirits filled with horror; they did not fill up their work in following the Lord; but God and conscience shall follow them with anguish, and fill up their spirits with them.
(6) Lastly, these men are hateful both to God and men; they are hateful to men because they go no further, as Hebrews 10:38.
IV. Comfort and encouragement to those who follow the Lord fully. Blessed are you of the Lord, you are honourable in the eyes of God and man, you make up in part that hurt that is done to religion by others. If you be content to give up all to God, to betrust God with all, know that there are many blessed promises full of mercy and encouragement for you; they shall come to you fuller of goodness and blessing than you can imagine. God certainly will remember the kindness of those who are willing to follow Him through the wilderness of difficulties and discouragement (Jeremiah 2:2). You who do thus shall die without stain, which few do; your memories shall be sweet and blessed when you are dead and gone. You shall have “an entrance ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). This is promised, not only to those that are godly, but abound in it, as verse 8. They shall be as a ship coming gloriously into the haven with full sail.
V. An exhortation to follow the Lord fully.
1. There is infinite reason that our hearts should be fully after the Lord. For--
(1) There is a fulness of all good in God; He is worthy (Revelation 4:11). As that blessed martyr John Ardley once said: “What, have I but one life to lay down for Christ? If I had as many lives as there are hairs upon my head, they should all go for Jesus Christ.” He saw Christ worthy of all he had, yea, of more than he had. This was God’s own argument to Abraham, “Walk before Me and be upright”; be perfect, for I am God all-sufficient; I have all perfection in Me, and therefore be thou perfect before Me.
(2) Consider God might have had full glory in your destruction; let Him not be a loser in His showing mercy to you.
(3) Christ hath fully gone through the great work of redemption; He would never leave it till He had accomplished all, and said, “It is finished.”
(4) Yea, God’s mercier for the present are very full towards you; His pardoning mercies, and His supplying mercies, with all things needful. This was David’s argument (Psalms 103:1-3).
(5) Wicked men do fully follow after that which is evil; an infinite shame and confusion then would it be to us, likewise unto God, if we should not as fully follow the Lord in that which is good. I have read a passage in St. Cyprian how he brings in the devil triumphing over Christ in this manner: “As for my followers, I never died for them, as Christ did for His; I never promised them so great reward as Christ hath done to His; and yet I have more followers than He, and they do more for me than His doth for Him. Oh, let the thought of our giving the devil occasion thus to triumph over Christ in our slackness and negligence in following after Him cause shame and confusion to cover our faces.”
(6) The more fully we follow God, the more full shall our present peace, and joy, and soul-satisfying contentment be (Psalms 119:130).
(7) There is great reason why we should walk fully after the Lord, because the way that God calls us to walk in is a most blessed and holy way.
(8) The consideration of the end of our way should be a strong motive to draw our hearts fully after the Lord in it; the entrance into it is sweet, the midst of it more, but the end of it most sweet of all; there is that coming that will fully recompense all.
2. And thus I pass to the second thing propounded in this use, namely, to show what are the causes that hinder men from following the Lord fully. And they are five especially, which I shall but name.
(1) Low apprehensions that men have of God; they see not God in His glory, in His greatness; surely they know not God, and therefore it is that their hearts work so poorly after Him (Jeremiah 9:3).
(2) Unsound beginnings in the profession of religion are the cause why men do not fully follow after the Lord. Their hearts are not thoroughly broken, not deeply humbled. If cloth be not wrought well at the first, though it shows fair in the loom, yet it will shrink when it comes to wetting. The cause why many do so shrink in the wetting, when they come to suffer anything in the ways of religion, it is because their hearts were not well wrought at first.
(3) A third cause is the strength of engagements; their hearts are so wrapped in them, so glued to them, as it is exceeding painful to get them loosened from them, they are so near and dear to a corrupt heart.
(4) A fourth thing that hinders men from following God fully, it is going out in the strength of their own resolutions, not in any strength that they receive out of the fulness of Jesus Christ.
(5) A fifth cause is the meeting with more difficulties in God’s ways than we made account of, when Christians think only of the good and sweet that they shall meet with in God’s ways; but they do not cast in their thoughts what the troubles are like to be that they shall find in them.
VI. That it is the choiceness of a man’s spirit that causes him to follow God fully.
1. We shall show what there is in this spirit that doth carry on a man fully.
(1) By this a man comes to have a more full presence of God with him.
(2) The choiceness of a man’s spirit raiseth it to converse with high things, and so carries it above the snares and hindrances that are below; and being above these, it goes on freely and fully in its course, and is not in that danger of miscarrying as other poor spirits are who converse so much with the things upon the earth; as birds that fly high are not caught by the fowler, they are not taken by his lime-twigs, by his net or pitfall, so as others are who are much below upon the ground (Proverbs 25:24).
(3) The choiceness of a man’s spirit changeth his end and so carries him on fully after the Lord; for when the end is changed all is changed.
(4) This choiceness of spirit causeth a suitableness, a sympathy between the frame of the heart and the ways of holiness.
(5) This choiceness of spirit causeth a man to look to his duty and not to regard what may follow.
(6) The choiceness of a man’s spirit causes a man that if he doth look at any consequences that may follow upon his way, he looks only at the last issue of all. Will it then be peace? shall I then be glad of these ways I now walk in?
(7) The choiceness of a man’s spirit strengthens it against the impressions that sensitive objects use to leave upon soft and weak spirits.
2. Thus you see what there is in this choice spirit that carries it on fully after the Lord. Now there must of necessity be this, or else this full following of the Lord will never be; nothing else will do it. And that--
(1) Because the ways of God are supernatural, and therefore there must be something in the spirit of a man which is supernatural that must reach to them; this which is supernatural in the spirits of godly men we see it in the effects, and we know it is above reason and all natural principles whatsoever.
(2) The ways of God are not only above nature but contrary to nature, and therefore there must needs be some special choiceness of spirit to carry a man on in them. In following after the Lord, all natural abilities and common grace will do no more but stop the stream of corrupt nature; they cannot so overpower it as to carry the soul another way; but the work of grace in this choiceness of spirit will do it.
(3) The stream of times and examples of men are exceeding strong, and it is not a little matter that will carry on the soul against them.
(4) There are so many strong alluring temptations, wherein the wiles of Satan are very powerful to draw the heart away from God, that except there be some special work of God’s grace to give wisdom to discern the deceits of sin and to discern the danger of them, the soul most certainly could never hold on in the way of its following after the Lord.
(5) There are so many troubles, oppositions, that it meets withal in this way, that most certainly would drive it out were it not for some choice work of God’s grace in it; but this choiceness of spirit will carry a man through all them.
(6) There are so many scandals and reproaches that rise against the ways of God, that if a man hath not more than an ordinary spirit he most certainly will be offended.
(7) Yea, God many times hides Himself from His servants, while they are following after Him, and this oftentimes proves the sorest temptation of all, and a greater discouragement than all the rest. It must needs be something extraordinary that preserves a spark in the midst of waves, that preserves a candlelight in the midst of storms and tempests.
Use 1: Never wonder then, or be offended, to see so many to fall off from God; few men have choice spirits.
Use 2: Hence the world is mistaken, who judge it stubbornness of spirit in God’s servants that will go on in the ways of godliness; they are a kind of inflexible people. No, it is no stubbornness, it is the choiceness of their spirits; you judge it stubbornness because you do not know the principles upon which they go.
Use 3: Let those who have this choice spirit encourage themselves in this, that surely it will enable them to follow God fully; let them know--
(1) That though they be weak, if their spirits be right, if of the right kind, they shall certainly hold out.
(2) Therefore is Christ filled with all fulness of all grace, that out of His fulness thou mayst receive grace for grace.
Use 4: If it be this choiceness of spirit that is the only thing that will fully carry after the Lord, then let us learn to look to our spirits: “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it come the issues of life.” But wherein should we look to our spirits?
(1) Take heed to your judgments; keep your judgments clear for God and His truth, as it is said (Isaiah 33:6).
(2) Labour to keep conscience clear, take heed of pollution there, take heed of a breach in thy spirit there, for that will weaken it much.
(3) Labour to keep thy heart low and humble; when the flesh swells it cannot bear any hard thing upon it; though a member grows bigger when it swells yet it grows weaker; so it is with the soul.
(4) Labour to keep the spirit heavenly; mixture of dross will weaken it.
(5) Labour to keep thy spirit in a continual trembling frame, abiding in the fear of the Lord all the day long. (J. Burroughes.)
To follow God fully demands--
3. Heroism. Many temptations and obstacles to be overcome.
4. Entireness. No compromise.
5. Study. We cannot follow without imitating. Use cannot imitate without knowing the character. (Homilist.)
I. True christian heroism aims at great things.
II. True spiritual heroism endures great trials in the performance and achievement of its great ends.
III. To all such heroism faith is essential.
IV. True heroism is under the inspiration and power of great motives. (T. Archer, D. D.)
Faithfulness towards God exemplified and rewarded
I. That the honest servants of Jesus Christ must distinguish themselves from others by following the Lord fully.
1. What it is to follow the Lord fully.
(1) It is to follow the Lord only as our great Guide and Leader (Hebrews 12:2).
(2) To follow the Lord fully is to follow Him universally (Psalms 119:6).
(3) To follow the Lord fully is to follow Him uprightly. A hypocrite does but walk in a vain show. His feet only, not his heart, do follow the Lord.
(4) Finally, it is to follow the Lord resolutely, as Ruth did Naomi, in opposition to all discouragements and impediments in the way. There is the river of evil example of the world, but they must strive against the stream; there are corrupt strong lusts of the heart, but they must cut off right hands and pluck out right eyes; and there is the cross that will be laid on their backs, which they must go through with. They must not be as those who go to sea for pleasure, but like hardy mariners who ride out the storm.
2. We now proceed to give the reasons of the point.
(1) Because the change made in regeneration is a real change though not perfect. Believers are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” The new creature, from the time of its birth, is perfect in its parts though not in degrees.
(2) In closing with Christ there is an universal resignation. They give themselves up wholly to the Lord.
(3) The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth (Ephesians 5:9). When there is not something of all goodness, there the Spirit dwelleth not.
II. That they who would follow the Lord fully must have another spirit, another than the spirit of the world, another than their own spirit naturally is.
1. A noble elevated spirit, aiming at high things, and is not satisfied with these with which the common herd of mankind are satisfied. Thus Caleb aimed at Canaan (Numbers 13:30), while the rest were for Egypt again (Numbers 14:4). Such another spirit have the saints (Philippians 3:14).
2. A spirit of faith (2 Corinthians 4:13).
3. A spirit of holy courage and resolution (Numbers 14:9).
III. That those who, by following the Lord fully in the time of general declining, distinguish themselves, God will distinguish them from others by special marks of favour in the time of general calamity. We are then--
1. To show how those must distinguish themselves from others in the time of general declining, who would have the Lord to distinguish them from others in time of general calamity. Here we observe--
(1) That they must be best when others are worst (Genesis 6:9).
(2) That they must cleave to God, especially in that article in which others are leaving Him, as in Caleb’s case: they must be careful that they be not led away with the sins of the time, that they do not enter into the general conspiracy of the generation against the Lord and His way, whether it be against truth or holiness.
(3) That they must witness against every declining, according to their stations, and as they have access, for the exoneration of their own consciences and the honour of God.
(4) That they must be mourners over the sins of others, lamenting them before the Lord; sighing for all the abominations which are done in the midst of the land (Ezekiel 9:4). Let us now--
2. Point out the marks of favour by which, in times of general calamity, God useth to distinguish such. There is--
(1) Liberal furniture for duty, in a large communication of the Spirit, when the Spirit is withdrawn from others (Matthew 10:19).
(2) Intimation of His special love to their souls. Thus had Caleb in the text, the saints of God have often golden days in the dregs of time upon this account. (T. Boston, D. D.)
Of following the Lord fully
I. What we are to understand by “following the Lord fully.”
1. That we acknowledge no other Lord besides Him.
2. That we obey Him without reserve.
3. That we follow Him openly.
4. That we cleave to Him steadfastly when others forsake Him, and when exposed by His service to the world’s hatred.
II. Press the duty by some motives and arguments.
1. If we would be honest men and Christians indeed, we must “follow the Lord fully.” So that it is for our own honour.
2. It is necessary to secure inward peace.
3. Our Lord has in some respects entrusted us with His glory.
4. The love of our neighbour is another motive.
5. Those who “follow the Lord fully” shall possess the good land of promise, of which Canaan was only a type. (T. Hannam.)
The thorough Christian
To follow Christ “fully” means resolute, unflinching obedience to all of Christ’s commandments. It is the carrying out of religion to the utmost detail of Christian duty. Such a Christian never asks to commute with his Divine Master as to hard work; he never strikes for an eight hours’ system of labour or higher wages. He is not all the time coming up before that bleeding, self-sacrificing Saviour and whimpering, “Master, I pray thee, have me excused.” He never interprets the Bible in a latitudinarian sense, never reads it in a lax, ultra-liberal light; and if there is a right side to be found to the ethical questions of the hour, his first question is, “What is right? What will please Jesus?” He aims to be thorough in small things, and he loves the wholesome severities of duty. Now, there is a religion nowadays that runs very rapidly on the down grades, and goes fast on the descending grades, but it never climbs. Commend me to the loyal, uncompromising, sturdy Christian that bears a pain, a pinch, or a penalty; a scowl or a scoff; a religion that can afford to get rich, and yet can be humble; that can afford to go into high society, and yet carry Christ there; to a religion that “follows the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.” In our day the test is not to go to Smithfield. Our trial is to follow Christ in the warm, relaxing atmosphere of quiet and external prosperity, and not to be enervated thereby. It is very easy to be a Christian sometimes; or rather, for a Christian to be very warm and glowing sometimes. For instance, when a prayer-meeting is crowded with fervent hearts, and the atmosphere is alive with enthusiasm, how easy is it then to catch fire, and to glow, and to sing and pray. It was very easy for Caleb to exercise faith when he was in the valley of Eshcol picking grapes; but to keep up his faith in face of the contagious cowardice and treason of the camp, that was another thing. To hold out with his faith during forty long and wearisome years of marching, that demanded and developed the most resolute principle of his God-loving heart. To serve God faithfully in an irreligious family, or in a counting-house or shop where two-thirds of them are scoffers, and in polite fashionable life, to serve Christ there proves the mettle of your religion. It is one thing to follow Christ when everything helps you; it is quite another thing to follow Christ when everything hinders you. And to follow Christ fully means to keep following Him in every place, and under every circumstance, against the current. I remember when treason first broke out in my own beloved country, it went through our army and navy, and sifted it. We soon found out who would follow the old flag of freedom to the death, and who would desert it. I could point to a Christian merchant who gives so largely and liberally that the amounts seem almost incredible, and I happen to know that that man begins his every day with an hour with Jesus, on his knees, and reading his Bible; he breaks away from his business at noon for the noon-day prayer-meeting. Such a man as that follows Christ fully, and yet he might excuse himself by the very vastness of his traffic and the pressing nature of his immense business. Now when I find such a man here and there in our churches, I feel that each one of these is a Caleb to stir and stimulate others to imitation. Sometime ago, when in a mine, looking through its dark corridors, I every now and then saw the glimmer of a moving lamp, and I could track it all through the mine. The reason was that the miner carried it on his hat--it was a part of himself, and it showed where he went. I said, would that in this dark world every miner of the Master carried his lamp to show where he walks. Such people are Christians everywhere--before their own children, at their own fireside, and in their own homes. In their commercial transactions they buy and sell by the golden rule, and measure their goods with a Christian yardstick. Wherever they can honour God, or set a pure example, and save a sinner by living out Christ, they are ready to do it. In short, they follow Christ fully, and heartily, and faithfully, looking to the inheritance of the reward. And the reason of this is the same reason that Caleb had: for we are told that Caleb had “another spirit.” Theirs is another spirit from the worldling, and another spirit from the gold hunter, the devotee of fashion, the carnally-minded. Their spirit is from above, the fruit of conversion; it is the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Loving Christ, they love to follow Him; fearing God rather than man, they so live as to please God, who trieth the heart. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
What we want is not to look Christians, or to pretend Christians, or to profess Christians, but to be Christians. You need not then so carefully guard yourself; you need not be on the ceaseless watch what you do. Take an anagram, read it from the right or from the left, or from the top or from the bottom, it reads the same thing. Take a Christian, look at him at one angle, or look at another angle; look at him in any light or in any direction, and he is a Christian still. The great secret of getting rid of a vast amount of trouble and inconvenience is being a Christian; and when you are a Christian your eye will be single, your body will be full of light, and all influences sanctified and blessed by the Holy Spirit of God, will be sanctifying and will bless all that are connected with you.
Difficult ministry the reward of thorough service
When the Spartan king advanced against the enemy he had always some one with him that had been crowned in the public games of Greece. And they tell us that a Lacedaemonian, when large sums were offered him on condition that he would not enter the Olympic lists, refused. Having with much difficulty thrown his antagonist in wrestling, one put this question to him, “Spartan, what will you get by this victory?” He answered with a smile, “I shall have the honour to fight foremost in the ranks of my prince.” The honour which appertains to office in the Church of God lies mainly in this--that the man who is set apart for such service has the privilege of being first in holiness of example, abundance of liberality, patience of long-suffering, zeal in effort and self-sacrifice in service. Thou gracious King of kings, if Thou hast made me a minister in Thy Church, enable me to be foremost in every good word and work, shunning no sacrifice and shrinking from no suffering. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.
The rule of the road
Every traveller has heard of the “rule of the road,” which must be obeyed in order to avoid accidents. There are certain rules of the road also to be observed by the pilgrim band on our journey to the Eternal City.
1. First of all, there is only one road for Christ’s people to walk in. Walk in the old path, the King’s highway, the way of God’s commandments. And this road of ours is by the way of the Red Sea--the Red Sea of Christ’s most precious blood! We must always keep in sight of that.
2. Here is another rule of the road; do the duty which is nearest to you. There is an old English parsonage somewhere by the sea which has this sentence carved over its porch, “Do the next thing.” Let it be our motto. Some of us do nothing, because we do not know where to begin; we are thinking of next week, when to-day’s duty stands before us. Each day brings its own work; let us try to do it faithfully, prayerfully, cheerfully, trustingly, and then we may be sure we are going forward in the right way.
3. Another rule of the road is: be brave, “ only be strong and very courageous.” Be brave enough to do what is right, no matter at what cost. The world will laugh at you, sneer at you, misjudge you. “Trust in God and do the right.”
4. Here is another rule of the road: be neighbourly. Never forget that you belong to one family, one army on the march--the Holy Catholic Church. Naturalists tell us that the pine tree is one of the most inhospitable, just as the oak is the most kindly, of trees. Beneath the shadow of the pine tree all is bare and desolate. No primrose opens its bright eyes there, no wild rose clings, no woodbine blossoms. There are some people like the inhospitable pine tree, they live only for themselves, and never offer help, or comfort, or shelter to another. Let us try by God’s grace to make our path of life bright for others, not sad and desolate, like the pine wood.
5. Yet another rule of the road: keep in the sunshine. On the journey through life there is always a sunny side for the Christian. A certain king once asked a famous general if he had seen the eclipse of the sun, and the Duke of Alva answered that he had too much to do on earth to have time to look up to heaven. Ah! if any of us are melancholy, discontented, it is because we are looking too much at the earth, and not lifting up our eyes to heaven. I say to you, come out of the gloom of your own thoughts into the sunshine, and thank God--“Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”
6. One last rule of the road now: remember the road leads home. In all earthly journeys, however long and tiring, this thought always strengthens the traveller--I shall soon be home. Home, even an earthly home, is the central spot of every man’s life. (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)
I have heard the murmurings.
Murmuring is not a simple sin, but involves--
I. Murmuring without any cause.
II. Murmuring against the best being.
1. Think who and what He is--the Supremely Wise and Good, &c.
2. Think of what He had done for the Israelites, and what He has done for us--redeemed, guarded, sustained, &c.
3. Think of what He had promised to them, and what He has promised to us. How base to murmur against our great Benefactor!
III. Murmuring of long continuance. There are many to-day who are habitual grumblers; murmuring is not occasional. How great is their sin l how great, also, is the patience of God with them!
IV. Murmurings known to god. God hears every bitter complaint; He perceives every unthankful and rebellious mood.
V. Murmuring punished by god. These Israelite murmurers were excluded from the Promised Land. The murmurer excludes himself from the Canaan of joy, and peace, and contentment. Murmuring is a self-punishing sin. God has made it so. (W. Jones.)
Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness.--
The sentence of God upon the sinful people
I. The sentence. Was conspicuously just. Its justice is manifest.
1. In the correspondence between the nature of the sin and the nature of the punishment.
2. In the correspondence between the duration of the unbelieving exploration and the duration of the punishment.
3. In the correspondence between the different degrees of guilt and the different severities of punishment.
II. The sentence was utterly irreversible.
III. The sentence caused great sorrow.
1. Their sorrow had a real and sufficient cause.
2. Their sorrow was not that of repentance, but of selfishness. (W. Jones.)
Verses 31. Your little ones . . . will I bring in.
The duty of parents to their children
I. I propose to extract from our text some permanent and root principles with respect to the relations between parents and children, that God would have us pay special heed to; and then from these root principles I shall endeavour to draw a few practical instructions for our conduct with our children at home.
1. Our first thought is--how completely Almighty God recognises the sense of preciousness which all parents with a spark of heart in them attach to their children, their little children especially; and how God turns the instinct of affection in parents to their children to the parents’ condemnation, if they will not use their affection in the direction of securing eternal life for those whom they love.
2. That children in the providence of God, and according to the rules of God’s government, do, in a certain degree, share their parents’ privileges, suffer their parents’ penalties, nay, even sin with their parents’ sin.
3. That although, in a certain degree, the children share the privileges, the penalty, and the sin of their parents, yet there is mercy, ay, and there is justice also.
4. That the great cause why the children of Israel refused to go up to the land of Canaan was a want of faith. So the great reason why so-called Christian parents do not take the trouble to prepare their children for eternity is that their own personal belief about the things of eternity is not as strong as it ought to be.
II. Now let me put these principles into a practical shape for our instruction. What is the way in which our great God and Father, who has put us into the responsible and blessed position of parents towards children whom we love, would have us fulfil that responsibility? First of all, He would have us fulfil it in careful, and exact, and regular instruction concerning the things of God. Do not be content to leave this duty to others, but ascertain for yourselves what your children are actually learning about their Lord and Saviour, how far they feel it and know it. And then about example. It is a very good thing to teach your children out of the Word of God; but it is as good to teach them in your own daily life and conversation. There is one thing more--prayer. (Bp. Thorold.)
Each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities.
God often punishes sin proportionably
God oftentimes punisheth in proportion, so that the judgment is answerable to the sin. Of what kind the sin is, of the same kind is the punishment (Genesis 42:21). God sent upon Sodom a punishment like to the nature of their sin; they burned in unclean and unnatural lust one toward another, and the Lord sent fire from heaven to burn them up.
1. God hath many ways to punish sin, yet it pleaseth Him to send His punishments according to our sins, thereby to strike us with inward remorse and to work a deeper impression in the conscience. For when He punisheth after this manner rather than after any other, the judgment itself doth more effectually force the sufferer to acknowledge God’s justice in plaguing of Him in that sort.
2. This maketh men not only to justify God, whose, judgments are always just, but maketh them also to judge themselves, and thereby they oftentimes prevent the more heavy judgments of God.
3. God hath given a law, and by the law He requireth a proportionable punishment for sin (Leviticus 24:19). This course will the Lord take (who is the supreme Magistrate) so often as it pleaseth Him, albeit He do not tie Himself to that law.
1. This serveth to warrant us that we may lawfully expect judgment from God in proportion upon men for their sins. For the which hath been, may be; and that which the Lord hath done, He will certainly do it again, so that we may promise and persuade ourselves that they shall in the end be paid home to the full, with due proportion of punishment according to their sins.
2. Whensoever we remain under any judgment of God’s hand, let us labour for spiritual wisdom, that we may discern what the sin is which is the cause thereof. For by the manner of the judgment we may oftentimes find out the manner of our sin. This way we shall make the punishment profitable unto us, if we take it and lay it unto the sin, as it were a salve upon the sore. It will work in us a care to “judge ourselves, that we be not judged of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:31-32).
3. As God dealeth with men in regard to their sins, so He dealeth oftentimes with His children in good things and for good things. He will reward according to our deeds, blessing with the same blessing, and mercy with the same mercy (2 Timothy 1:18). (W. Attersoll.)
But they presumed to go up.
A presumptuous enterprise and its disastrous termination
In these verses we have an illustration of--
1. The sad perversity of sinful human nature.
2. The confession of sin, and persistence in sin.
3. The great difficulty of walking humbly and patiently in the path which our sin has rendered necessary for us.
I. The presumptuous enterprise.
1. In opposition to the command of the Lord.
2. Despite the remonstrance of Moses.
3. Without the symbol of the Divine Presence and the presence of the Divinely-appointed leader.
II. The disastrous termination of this presumptuous enterprise.
1. Disgraceful defeat.
2. Sore slaughter.
3. Bitter sorrow.
Conclusion--From the whole let us learn the sin and the folly of entering upon any enterprises, and especially difficult ones, in our own strength. “Apart from Me,” said Christ, “ye can do nothing.” This is applicable to--
1. Spiritual life in its origin and progress. The attempt in our own strength to lead a religious, godly life, is sure to end in sad disappointment and utter failure.
2. Spiritual conflict. Unless we take to ourselves “the whole armour of God,” our spiritual foes will be too many and too mighty for us. We can conquer only through Christ.
3. Spiritual service. Our efforts to benefit our fellow-men will succeed only as they are made in reliance upon the blessing of God. We can bless others only as He blesses us (comp. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7). (W. Jones.)
The man who forsakes God’s commandments forsakes his own happiness.
1. The importance of improving present opportunities. You have a throne of grace to go to; go there to-day, lest by delay your anxiety, though earnest, should be as unavailing as was that of Israel to go to Canaan, and you are compelled to say with the prophet (Jeremiah 8:20).
2. The necessity of God’s blessing on all our undertakings. We do not say that man, without God’s blessing, never gets what he wants; he often does, but not what is good for him; all things work together for good only to those who have this blessing. And further, those undertakings which, with the Divine blessing, are easy, without it are impossible.
3. The connection which subsists between transgression and sorrow. Sorrow is of two kinds; first, godly sorrow, which worketh repentance unto salvation, not to be repented of--such was that of Peter; and, secondly, the sorrow of unavailing regret, when the day of recovery has passed away. It was this unavailing sorrow that Israel felt when the Lord said, “Thou shalt not enter into My rest.” In a spirit of rebellion they resolve, “We will go up”; but they went without the Lord, and they were driven back.
4. The danger that results from an unbelieving heart!
5. We see from this passage the holiness of that God with whom we have to do. While every provision is made for the returning penitent, the impenitent transgressor will certainly be destroyed. God never tolerates sin; no, not even in His own people.
6. Finally, we should learn from this subject our need of special sanctifying grace; for no outward advantages can secure personal holiness. (George Breay, B. A.)
Religious explanation of failure
“Because ye are turned away from the Lord, therefore the Lord will not be with you.” Even that is a word of comfort. The comfort is not far to fetch, even from the desert of this stern fact. The comfort is found in the fact that the Lord will be with those who have not turned away from Him. The law operates in two opposite ways. Law is love, when rightly seized and applied; and love is law, having all the pillars of its security and all the dignity of its righteousness to support it in all the transitions of its experience. The reason why we fail is that God has gone from us. Putting the case so, we put it wrongly. God has not gone from us; we have gone from God. The Church is nothing without its godliness; it is less than nothing: it is not only the negation of strength, it is the utter and most helpless weakness. Israel was the Church in the wilderness, and Israel was nothing without its God. The number might be six hundred thousand fighting men, and they would go down like a dry wooden fence before a raging fire, if the Lord was not in the midst. They were not men without Him. The Church lives, moves, and has its being in God--not in some high or deep metaphysical sense only, but in the plain and obvious sense of the terms: that it has no being or existence outside God. When it forgets to pray, it loses the art of war; when the Church forgets to put on the beautiful garments of holiness, though it be made up of a thousand Samsons, it cannot strike one fatal blow at the enemy. Count the Church by the volume of its prayer; register the strength of the Church by the purity and completeness of its consecration. If you number the Church in millions, and tell not what it is at the altar and at the cross, you have returned the census of a cemetery, not the statistics of a living, mighty, invincible host. Genius is nothing, learning is nothing, organisation is a sarcasm and an irony--apart from that which gives every one of them value and force--the praying heart, the trustful spirit. The Church conquers by holiness. (J. Parker, D. D.)