Deuteronomy Chapter Seven
Intercourse with the Canaanites forbidden. (1-11) Promises if they were obedient. (12-26)
Commentary on Deuteronomy 7:1-11
(Read Deuteronomy 7:1-11)
Here is a strict caution against all friendship and fellowship with idols and idolaters. Those who are in communion with God, must have no communication with the unfruitful works of darkness. Limiting the orders to destroy, to the nations here mentioned, plainly shows that after ages were not to draw this into a precedent. A proper understanding of the evil of sin, and of the mystery of a crucified Saviour, will enable us to perceive the justice of God in all his punishments, temporal and eternal. We must deal decidedly with our lusts that war against our souls; let us not show them any mercy, but mortify, and crucify, and utterly destroy them. Thousands in the world that now is, have been undone by ungodly marriages; for there is more likelihood that the good will be perverted, than that the bad will be converted. Those who, in choosing yoke-fellows, keep not within the bounds of a profession of religion, cannot promise themselves helps meet for them.
Commentary on Deuteronomy 7:12-26
(Read Deuteronomy 7:12-26)
We are in danger of having fellowship with the works of darkness if we take pleasure in fellowship with those who do such works. Whatever brings us into a snare, brings us under a curse. Let us be constant to our duty, and we cannot question the constancy of God's mercy. Diseases are God's servants; they go where he sends them, and do what he bids them. It is therefore good for the health of our bodies, thoroughly to mortify the sin of our souls; which is our rule of duty. Yet sin is never totally destroyed in this world; and it actually prevails in us much more than it would do, if we were watchful and diligent. In all this the Lord acts according to the counsel of his own will; but that counsel being hid from us, forms no excuse for our sloth and negligence, of which it is in no degree the cause. We must not think, that because the deliverance of the church, and the destruction of the enemies of the soul, are not done immediately, therefore they will never be done. God will do his own work in his own method and time; and we may be sure that they are always the best. Thus corruption is driven out of the hearts of believers by little and little. The work of sanctification is carried on gradually; but at length there will be a complete victory. Pride, security, and other sins that are common effects of prosperity, are enemies more dangerous than beasts of the field, and more apt to increase upon us.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Deuteronomy》
 When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;
Seven nations — There were ten in Genesis 15:19-21. But this being some hundreds of years after, it is not strange if three of them were either destroyed by foreign or domestick wars, or by cohabitation and marriage united with, and swallowed up in the rest.
 For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.
To serve other Gods — That is, there is manifest danger of apostacy and idolatry from such matches. Which reason doth both limit the law to such of these as are unconverted (otherwise Salmon married Rahab, Matthew 1:5) and enlarge it to other idolatrous nations, as appears from 1 Kings 11:2; Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 13:23.
 But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire.
Their graves — Which idolaters planted about the temples and altars of their Gods. Hereby God designed to take away whatsoever might bring their idolatry to remembrance, or occasion the reviving of it.
 The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people:
The fewest — To wit, at that time when God first declared his choice of you for his peculiar people, which was done to Abraham. For Abraham had but one son concerned in this choice and covenant, namely, Isaac, and that was in his hundredth year; and Isaac was sixty years old ere he had a child, and then had only two children; and though Jacob had twelve sons, it was a long time before they made any considerable increase. Nor do we read of any great multiplication of them 'till after Joseph's death.
 But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
The Lord loved you — It was his free choice without any cause or motive on your part.
 And repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face.
Them that hate him — Not only those who hate him directly and properly, (for so did few or none of the Israelites to whom he here speaks,) but those who hate him by construction and consequence; those who hate and oppose his people, and word, those who wilfully persist in the breach of God's commandments.
To their face — That is, openly, and so as they shall see it, and not be able to avoid it.
Slack — So as to delay it beyond the fit time or season for vengeance, yet withal he is long-suffering, and slow to anger.
 Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the LORD thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers:
The covenant and the mercy — That is, the covenant of mercy, which he out of his own mere grace made with them.
 And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee.
He will love thee — He will continue to love thee, and to manifest his love to thee.
 And the LORD will take away from thee all sickness, and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, upon thee; but will lay them upon all them that hate thee.
The diseases of Egypt — Such as the Egyptians were infected with, either commonly, or miraculously. It seems to refer not only to the plagues of Egypt, but to some other epidemic disease, which they remembered to have prevailed among the Egyptians, and by which God had chastised them for their national sins. Diseases are God's servants, which go where he sends them, and do what he bids them.
 The great temptations which thine eyes saw, and the signs, and the wonders, and the mighty hand, and the stretched out arm, whereby the LORD thy God brought thee out: so shall the LORD thy God do unto all the people of whom thou art afraid.
The temptations — The trials and exercises of thy faith and obedience to my commands.
 And he shall deliver their kings into thine hand, and thou shalt destroy their name from under heaven: there shall no man be able to stand before thee, until thou have destroyed them.
No man shall stand — This promise is made upon condition of their performance of their duty, which they neglecting, justly lose the benefit of it.
 The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the LORD thy God.
The silver or gold — Wherewith the idols are covered or adorned, nor consequently any other of their ornaments. This he commands to shew his utter detestation of idolatry, and to cut off all occasions of it.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Deuteronomy》
07 Chapter 7
Them that love Him and keep His commandments.
Love God, and keep His commandments
The love of God, according to the Scripture notion of it, is a duty easy to be comprehended. And the text before us, which attaches so great a reward to this grace, does, at the same time, show us what it means in saying that God keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments. For the latter words fix and ascertain the meaning of the former, and give us to understand that he who keepeth God’s commandments is he that loveth Him. Nor are the laws and commandments of God, by the keeping of which is evidenced our love of Him, so hard to be understood. For He hath marked out the great lines of our duty by His works of creation and providence, and hath clearly filled them up in His holy Scriptures. “By these He hath showed thee, O man, what is good.” I proceed to the main design of this discourse, which is, to lay before you the reasons and motives of loving and obeying God, which the text offers, from His nature and promises. The name of God implies all that is excellent and adorable; and here, in the first place, by the title of Lord added to it, directs our view to His dominion and sovereignty, by which He hath a right to our submission and obedience. We were created by His power, and are sustained by His providence We are born the subjects of His kingdom, which ruleth over all; and are the children of the family of which He is the great Father and Lord; who allots to everyone his rank and condition in it, and expects from all an account of their works. Our passage through life is compared to a voyage over a great ocean where we must wander and be lost, without somewhat to direct us through it. But our safe and certain direction is the law of God, in which we have not less reason to rejoice than “they who go down to the sea in ships and do business in great waters” have in beholding and observing the signs and constellations by which they govern their course over the face of the deep. For mariners, who sail in such tempestuous weather that neither sun nor stars in many days appear, are not in a state of greater perplexity and danger than man would be left in without the laws and commandments which God has set forth, as so many lights and signs from heaven to guide him securely through this voyage of life. We read that, in certain climates of the world, the gales that spring from the land carry a refreshing smell out to sea, and assure the watchful pilot that he is approaching to a desirable and fruitful coast when as yet he cannot discern it with his eyes. And, to take up once more the comparison of life to a voyage, in like manner it fares with those who have steadily and religiously pursued the course which heaven pointed out to them. We shall sometimes find by their conversation towards the end of their days, that they are filled with hope, and peace, and joy, which, like those refreshing gales and reviving odours to the seaman, are breathed forth from paradise upon their souls, and give them to understand with certainty that God is bringing them unto their desired haven. But to return to our proper argument. The wisdom of God is incapable of being misled itself, and His goodness of misleading us; and therefore the precepts which He hath given for the government of our lives must be excellently framed to the perfection and happiness of our nature. His laws, which enjoin the worship and honour of Himself, which command us to honour our parents, to do justice, and to love mercy, which forbid us to injure the life, the peace, the property of our neighbour, are evidently framed for the general good of mankind. And this we are mostly willing to allow. But there are some cases which the laws of God treat as sinful, wherein we are fondly apt to imagine that the injunction is rigorous which forbids us to follow the bent of our inclinations, when, as appears to us, no injury is done to others. Yet God is gracious, alike in His restraints and in His allowances. Some things which He hath forbidden prove injurious to others, if not directly, yet in their consequences. Some waste our time, divert our thoughts from worthy objects, and prevent our usefulness, to which God and society have a right; some consume our substance, to which our families, or the poor, have a claim; some impair the health of the body, which we have no right to destroy, and which, being lost, men become uncomfortable to themselves, dissatisfied with others, and disposed, perhaps, even to repine against that providence which hath left them to reap the fruits of their own folly. In the meanwhile those better principles and purer sentiments of the mind, without which religion and virtue cannot subsist, grow weak and faint, or are blotted out. Evil courses, in the expressive language of Scripture, “take away the heart”; that is, they deprive men of their judgment and darken their understanding; it may be, in the affairs of the world, but most undoubtedly in those things which are spiritually discerned. We are in this life as children in a state of education, training up for another condition of being, of which, at present, we know but little; only, we are assured that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”; that its enjoyments are of a spiritual nature, corresponding more with the faculties of the soul than with the present constitution of the body. The restraints, therefore, under which we are laid, and which seem grievous to us, as children, are parts, no doubt, of a wise and gracious discipline, which is to qualify us for a heavenly inheritance, and is so necessary a preparation for it that we cannot otherwise see God or enter into the joy of our Lord. Reason, therefore, in some particulars, and in others faith, which is the evidence of things not seen, will assure the mind of the Christian that every branch of the law of God is most worthy to be honoured and obeyed, as proceeding from infinite loving kindness and goodness to man. Is anyone, then, who professes himself the servant of the Lord, called by Him to a trial of his obedience, wherein some hardship or peril must be undergone? Let him call to mind how much harder trials they who loved and feared God formerly have undergone; let him consider how great things men of noble and ingenuous natures will do, even for an earthly commander; and let him recollect that he is serving a Master who never faileth to succour those who trust in Him, and in whose service he cannot lose the promised reward. For He is the faithful God who keepeth covenant and mercy. And here I am led to the last observation proposed, namely, the encouragement to obedience arising from this consideration, that the Almighty is our Deliverer, who hath visited and redeemed His people by His blessed Son Jesus Christ. (T. Townson, D. D.)
Thou shalt consume all the people.
The destruction of the Canaanites
I. The destruction of the Canaanites was in conformity with the ordinary procedure of God in the moral government of the world. If He choose, in punishing sinners, to visit at one time with a flood of waters, at another with fire from heaven, at another with a deadly epidemic, at another with the scourge of war, who shall dare to question the propriety of His choice in the weapons of destruction?
II. The destruction of the Canaanites was in punishment of sin and as such was just towards themselves. The vilest practices were rife among the people. Their very religion was a system of sorcery, sensuality, and depravity. The traces of ancient Syrian worship exhibit the vilest features of pagan idolatry. Their very gods were demons (Psalms 106:37). Human sacrifices were offered at their shrines. The grossest abominations were practised in their orgies. If such, then, was the light, what would the darkness be? In other words, if this was the religion of the country, what would the vices of the people be?
III. The destruction of the Canaanites was a spiritual safeguard to the Israelites. We are tempted to ask whether it was well that the Israelites should be made the executioners of God’s wrath upon their brother man. Would they not be tempted to lose sight of their subordination to God’s purpose, and to take up the cause with feelings of proper fanaticism? Again, would not the part to which they were called tend to foster in them cruelty and recklessness of human life? On the contrary, we find that the snare of the Israelites lay in the opposite direction, and that they were ever more ready to spare than to slay. No token appears of any tendency to rapacity or violence having been impressed upon the national mind, while the salutary lessons that were thus taught them are apparent. In no way could the Israelites have been so forcibly convinced of the hatefulness of idolatry and impurity as when they themselves were made God’s ministers of vengeance against the crying evils. They were thus made witnesses against themselves should they ever adopt like abominations.
IV. The destruction of the Canaanites was necessary for the moral preservation of the world. Clearly it was an act of mercy to the little children of the Canaanites, who were cut off before they knew between good and evil. To the Israelites the extirpation of these nations was an act of mercy. Even crippled and curtailed as the Canaanites were, their influence for evil was too strong; but had they remained in larger bodies, and especially had the women been spared, piety would soon have become unknown among the people of God. But if the destruction of the Canaanites was an act of mercy to Israel, and necessary for their spiritual safely, it follows that it was not less a mercy to the whole world, and necessary for the preservation of the spiritual life of the entire family of mankind. The Church of the present day is but the continuation of the Church of the wilderness. Had that been destroyed, the materials of which the Saviour at His coming built the Church of the New Testament would not have been in existence. The impediments in the way of the Gospel would have been tenfold. To the present day the early ruin of the faith of God’s people which would have resulted from the general toleration of the Canaanites would have borne its bitter fruits.
V. The destruction of the Canaanites has a deep symbolical and practical lesson for us all. God changes not; the same principles direct His dealings now as then. The flesh must be mortified and subdued. See Jesus, our Joshua, stretches forth the spear. He commands the conflict; onward, then, and conquer. (G. W. Butler, M. A.)
The Christian failure and its reasons
Though the Israelites have passed out of Egypt and beyond the Red Sea and through the wilderness, they have not passed beyond the domain of struggle and duty; they must go on to possess the land. In its southeastern border dwell the Moabites; north of them are the Amorites, strongly intrenched; above them the Hittites; on the west side, beyond the Jordan, are the Anakim; above these, a mighty nation, the Canaanites; near them the Perizzites, etc.
I. The thing to be done. Too much is our Christianity over-anxious about its beginnings and too careless about its subsequent growth and reach. We are all the time seeking just to get people out of Egypt, we are all the time too unconcerned as to whether these people go on to conquer Canaan for the Lord. Having “come to Jesus,” the reign of Jesus is to be extended inwardly over the entire soul, outwardly over the entire life. Canaan reached was not Canaan conquered. The converted man is not yet a sanctified man. Evil pride, vanity, jealousy, covetousness, passionateness, discontent, bad habits, etc.
Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites enough are yet resident in even the converted soul.
II. The force by which this conquest is to be accomplished. “And thou shalt consume all the people which the Lord thy God shall deliver thee.” The soul and God--these are the forces of conflict.
III. Some reasons for the Christian failure.
1. Ceasing of battle. After a while some of the Israelites stopped struggling against the aliens.
2. Fear. These Israelites would not struggle against certain of the aliens, because they had chariots of iron. So some bad habit frightens a Christian from struggle.
3. Success of a sort. “And it came to pass when Israel was strong they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out.” Many a man, professedly Christian, dares not attempt to be the Christian he knows he ought to be because, successful in worldly affairs, his worldly interests will not let him. So he salves his conscience by putting his questionable gain “under tribute”; gives it, or a portion of it, in charity, etc.
IV. Result. “Will be a snare unto thee.” Was their failure not a snare? Call to mind the history of the Israelites, the destruction of the ten tribes. The only proof of a real Christianity is a continually advancing self-conquest. (Homiletic Review.)
Thou shalt not be afraid of them: but shalt well remember what the Lord thy God did unto Pharaoh.
Encouragement for the Christian warrior
To a man about to journey into a strange country nothing gives more comfort or confidence than if there be put into his hand, by way of guide through it, a book written by someone who has travelled that country before him. He will read that book not for entertainment, but instruction; that he may learn beforehand how to make his way, what to take with him, what to beware of, and whither to betake himself for rest and refreshment on the way. In like manner the Bible has been given us to make us acquainted with the way itself, with the difficulties and the dangers of it, with the enemies that we shall meet with in it, and our only way of overcoming them.
I. The spiritual state here represented. The Jewish Church in the wilderness may be here regarded as a type or figure of the Church of Christ in the world, and the case of each member of the one as prefiguring in some particulars the condition of each believer in the other. But like as Israel, though free from Egypt and from all fear of being carried thither again, notwithstanding, had not overcome all enemies, but was to fight his way against them and never give them quarter, but fight on till they were utterly destroyed; so now is the believer in Christ called to fight the good “fight of faith, and lay hold upon eternal life.” We may perceive, then, that the situation of Israel when Moses addressed them in the words of the text, represents to us the present state of the follower of Christ, and the warfare which he has to war under Christ as his captain against the enemies of his salvation.
II. The fears which commonly attend this state. The strength and number of the enemies whom Israel had to fight was well known to that people; but the Lord Himself had repeatedly put them in mind of it, saying continually, after He had numbered them over, that they were “seven nations greater and mightier than Israel.” But why did God say so? Was it to make them afraid of these nations? No; but to enliven their faith and exercise their dependence upon God. It was quite true, and a notorious truth, that those nations were in point of strength and number quite an overmatch for Israel; so that it was impossible for him in his own strength to dispossess them. It was also true that, till they were dispossessed, the land of promise could not be enjoyed; so that these two considerations, the strength end number of the enemies of Israel and his own weakness, were the more immediate causes of his fears. The fears often felt by the Christian are much of the same kind. His enemies are of three kinds--the world, the flesh, and the devil: mighty all of them, and many; for the world and the flesh and the devil have marshalled under them whole hosts of enemies, of whom anyone, encountered by the Christian in his own strength, would be too strong. And oh I should he compare himself with them, what painful cause has he for the acknowledgment, “These are more than I!” It is in such a ease too natural for him to look within himself, and, pausing upon what he finds there, ask, almost in despair, “How can I dispossess them?” But mark how graciously the Lord anticipates, prevents such fears: “If thou shalt say in thine heart (He too well knows His people will say so), These nations am more than I: how can I dispossess them?”--this is their--
III. Encouragement. “Thou shalt not be afraid of them: but shalt well remember,” etc. What God had done to Egypt and her king, Israel had seen and knew: it was because of this that they were then where they were, and that they were not in Egypt now; and God calls upon them to remember, for encouragement, what they had been in time past, “Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt”; and what had been done for their deliverance, and who had been the doer of it, Himself, the Lord their God: thus every word appears to have an emphasis intended to encourage them against their fears. Now, this encouragement, which God addressed to them, may serve as a figure of that which forms the encouragement of every Christian; for it is now the privilege of every Christian to look, for his encouragement, at the redemption wrought for him by Christ. Under all his fears he should remember what a wretched, lost condition Christ redeemed His people from, and how and why He did it. That state is thus described in Ephesians 2:1. This was the state of every one of us by nature. And how were they set free from it? By no less an act of love than the death of God’s own Son in His dead people’s stead (Romans 5:6). We see, then, that the encouragement of a true Christian, under all his fears and against all the enemies of his soul, is in that sure covenant and rich provision of all things his soul can need, through that redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Does he find the world too strong for him; does he dread the rage and malice of its children who are set against him, or the snares and perils which the God of this world sets about his path? Or does he tremble at that overwhelming crowd of cares which comes upon him daily with his first waking thought? Let him not be afraid of these things, but let him well remember what Christ did for him when he was dead in trespasses and sins; and thus strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might, let him cast all his care on God. Does he dread the power of his own corruptions, and ask, “How can I dispossess them? Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Let him faithfully remember the encouragement suggested by the text, and he shall soon say also with the apostle, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Or lastly, is he troubled by the fear of death, “the last enemy that shall be destroyed”? Christ, his Redeemer, through His own death, hath abolished death by destroying him that had the power of death--that is, the devil. In short, the Christian’s “life is hid,” and so kept safe from every enemy, “with Christ in God.” (F. F. Clark, B. A.)
The Lord thy God will send the hornet.
Secret sins driven out by stinging hornets
I. Sins which are left and hidden. John Bunyan very wisely describes the town of Mansoul after it had been taken by Prince Immanuel. The Prince rode to the Castle called the Heart and took possession of it, and the whole city became his; but there were certain Diabolonians, followers of Diabolus, who never quitted the town. They could not be seen in the streets, could not be heard in the markets, never dared to occupy a house, but lurked about in certain old dens and eaves. Some of them got impudent enough even to hire themselves out for servants to the men of Mansoul under other names. There was Mr. Covetousness, who was called Mr. Prudent Thrifty, and there was Mr. Lasciviousness, who was called Mr. Harmless Mirth. They took other names, and still lived here, much to the annoyance of the town of Mansoul, skulking about in holes and corners, and only coming out on dark days, when they could do mischief and serve the Black Prince. Now, in all of us, however watchful we may be, though we may set Mr. Pry Well to listen at the door, and he may watch, and my Lord Mayor, Mr. Understanding, be very careful to search all these out, yet there will remain much hidden sin. I think we ought always to pray to God to forgive us sins that we do not know anything about. “Thine unknown agonies,” says the old Greek liturgy; and there are unknown sins for which those agonies make atonement. Perhaps the sins which you and I confess are not the tithe of what we really do commit. There are, no doubt, in all of us Canaanites still dwelling in the land, that will be thorns in our side.
II. A singular means for their destruction--“thy God will send the hornet among them.” These fellows resorted to caves and dens. God employed the very best means for their destruction. I suppose these hornets were large wasps; two or three times, perhaps, as large as a wasp, with very terrible stings. It is not an unusual historical fact to find districts depopulated by means of stinging insects. In connection with the journey of Dr. Livingstone we can never forget that strange kind of guest which is such a pest to the cattle in any district, that the moment it appeared they had either to fly before it or to die. The hornet must have been a very terrible creature; but it is not at all extraordinary that there should have been hornets capable of driving out a nation. The hornet was a very simple means; it was no sound of trumpet, nor even the glitter of miracles, it was a simple, natural means of fetching these people out of their holes. It is well known that insects in some countries will sting one race of people and not another. Sometimes the inhabitants of a country are not at all careful about mosquitoes or such creatures, when strangers are greatly pestered with them. God could therefore bring hornets which would sting the Hivites and the Jebusites but not molest the Israelites, and in this way the Canaanites were driven out of their holes; some died by the stings of hornets, and others were put in the way of the sharp swords of the men of Israel, and thus they died. The spiritual analogy to this is, the daily trouble which God sends to every one of us. I suppose you have all got your hornets. Some have hornets in the family; your child may be a hornet to you--your wife, your husband, your brother, the dearest friend you haves may be a daffy cross to you; and, though a dead cross is very heavy, a living cross is heavier far. To bury a child is a great grief, but to have that child live and sin against you is ten times worse. You may have hornets that shall follow you to your bed chamber--some of you may know what that means--so that even where you ought to find your rest and your sweetest solace, it is there that you receive your bitterest sting of trouble. The hornet will sometimes come in the shape of business. You are perplexed--you cannot prosper--one thing comes after another. You seem to be born to trouble more than other people. You have ventured on the right hand, but it was a failure; you pushed out on the left, but that was a breakdown. Almost everybody you trust fails immediately, and those you do not trust are the people you might have safely relied upon. Others have hornets in their bodies. Some have constant headaches; aches and pains pass and shoot along the nerves of others. If you could but be quit of it, you think, how happy you would be; but you have got your hornet, and that hornet is always with you. But if I tried to get through the whole list of hornets I should want all the morning, for there is a particular grief to every man. Each man has his own form of obnoxious sting which he has to feel. There is one point I want you to notice in the text, and that is, we are expressly told the hornets came from God. He sent them. “The Lord thy God will send the hornet.” This will help you, perhaps, to bear their stings another time. God weighs your troubles in scales, and measures out your afflictions, every drachm and scruple of them; and since they come, therefore, directly from a loving Father’s hand, accept them with grateful cheerfulness, and pray that the result which Divine Wisdom has ordained to flow from them may be abundantly realised in your sanctification, in being made like unto Christ.
III. A very suggestive lesson to ourselves. It is this. What is my particular besetting sin? Have I been careful in self-examination? If not, I must expect to have the hornet. God never punishes His children for sin penally, but He chastens them for it paternally. You may often discover what your sin is by the punishment, for you can see the face of the sin in the punishment--the one is so like the other. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
It seems as if the insectile world were determined to extirpate the human race. It is bombarding the grain fields, and the orchards, and the vineyards. The Colorado beetle, the Nebraska grasshopper, the New Jersey locust, the universal potato bug seem to carry on the work which was begun ages ago, when the insects buzzed and droned out of Noah’s Ark as the door was opened. In my text the hornet flies out on its mission. It is a species of wasp, swift in its motion and violent in its sting. Its touch is torture to man or beast. The hornet goes in swarms. It has captains over hundreds, and twenty of them alighting on one man will produce certain death. The Persians attempted to conquer a Christian city, but the elephants and the beasts on which the Persians rode were assaulted by the hornet, so that the whole army was broken up, and the besieged city was rescued. This burning and noxious insect stung out the Hittites and the Canaanites from their country. What gleaming sword and chariot of war could not accomplish was done by the puncture of an insect. The Lord sent the hornet. When we are assaulted by great Behemoths of trouble, we become chivalric, and we assault them; we get on the high-mettled steed of our courage, and we make a cavalry charge at them; and, if God be with us, we come out stronger and better than when we went in. But, alas! for these insectile annoyances of life--these foes, too small to shoot--these things without any avoirdupois weight--the gnats and the midges, and the flies, and the wasps, and the hornets. In other words, it is the small stinging annoyances of our life which drive us out and use us up. In the best conditioned life, for some grand and glorious purpose, God has sent the hornet.
1. I remark, in the first place, that these small stinging annoyances may come in the shape of a sensitive nervous organisation. People who are prostrated under typhoid fevers or with broken bones get plenty of sympathy; but who pities anybody that is nervous?
2. Again, these small insect annoyances may come to us in the shape of friends and acquaintances who are always saying disagreeable things. There are some people you cannot be with for half an hour but you feel cheered and comforted. Then there are other people you cannot be with for five minutes before you feel miserable. They do not mean to disturb you, but they sting you to the bone. They gather up all the yarn which the gossips spin, and peddle it. They gather up all the adverse criticisms about your person, about your business, about your home, about your church, and they make your ear the funnel into which they pour it. These people of whom I speak, reap and bind in the great harvest field of discouragement. Some days you greet them with a hilarious “good morning,” and they come buzzing at you with some depressing information. “The Lord sent the hornet.”
3. Perhaps these small insect annoyances will come in the shape of a domestic irritation. The parlour and the kitchen do not always harmonise. To get good service and to keep it is one of the great questions of the country.
4. These small insect disturbances may also come in the shape of business irritations. It is not the panics that kill the merchants. Panics come only once in ten or twenty years. It is the constant din of these every day annoyances which is sending so many of our best merchants into nervous dyspepsia and paralysis and the grave.
5. I have noticed in the history of some of my congregation that their annoyances are multiplying, and that they have a hundred where they used to have ten. The naturalist tells us that a wasp sometimes has a family of twenty thousand wasps, and it does seem as if every annoyance of your life brooded a million. By the help of God today I want to set in a counter current. The hornet is of no use? Oh yes! The naturalists tell us they are very important in the world’s economy; they kill spiders and they clear the atmosphere; and I really believe God sends the annoyances of our lives upon us to kill the spiders of the soul and to clear the atmosphere into the skies. These annoyances are sent on us, I think, to wake us up from our lethargy. If we had a bed of everything that was attractive and easy, what would we want of heaven? We think that the hollow tree sends the hornet. You think the devil sends the hornet. I want to correct your theology. “The Lord sent the hornet.” Then I think these annoyances come on us to culture our patience. When you stand chin-deep in annoyances is the time for you to swim out towards the great headlands of Christian attainment, and when your life is loaded to the muzzle with repulsive annoyances--that is the time to draw the bead. Nothing but the furnace will ever burn out of us the clinker and the slag. Now, would you not rather have these small drafts of annoyance on your bank of faith than some all-staggering demand upon your endurance? I want to make my people strong in the faith that they will not surrender to small annoyances. In the village of Hamelin, tradition says, there was an invasion of rats, and these small creatures almost devoured the town and threatened the lives of the population, and the story is that a piper came out one day and played a very sweet tune, and all the vermin followed him--followed him to the banks of the Weser, and then he blew a blast and they dropped in and disappeared forever. Of course this is a fable, but I wish I could, on the sweet flute of the Gospel, draw forth all the nibbling and burrowing annoyances of your life, and play them down into the depths forever. How many touches did Mr. Church give to his picture of “Cotopaxi” or his “Heart of the Andes”? I suppose about fifty thousand touches. I hear the canvas saying, “Why do you keep me trembling with that pencil so long? Why don’t you put it on in one dash?” “No,” said Mr. Church, “I know how to make a painting. It will take fifty thousand of these touches.” And I want you to understand that it is these ten thousand annoyances which, under God, are making up the picture of your life, to be hung at last in the galleries of heaven, fit for angels to look at. God knows how to make a picture. God meant this world to be only the vestibule of heaven, and that is the great gallery of the universe towards which we are aspiring. We must not have it too good in this world, or we would want no heaven. You are surprised that aged people are so willing to go out of this world. I will tell you the reason. It is not only because of the bright prospects in heaven, but it is because they feel that seventy years of nettlesomeness is enough. They would lie down in the soft meadows of this world forever, but “God sent the hornet.” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Thou shalt not be affrighted at them: for the Lord thy God is among you, a mighty God and terrible.
Courage and humanity
I. The complaint has been made often that the qualities which Christians are especially encouraged to cultivate are not manliness and courage; that, so far as the Christian ideal is set continually before the mind of a nation or a man, that mind is likely to become submissive, not energetic. I believe that the courage, which is only another way of expressing the heart, of a nation is liable to a continual weakening and decay; that left to itself it will certainly wither; that some religions may hasten its death; but that by doing so such religion will prove that it does not come from God, that it is not His religion, not His instrument for reforming and regenerating the world.
II. A return to the old faith that courage and humanity are not enemies, but inseparable companions, has certainly commenced among us. The misfortune is that Christianity is supposed to be not identical with humanity, but a substitution for it. And this opinion is closely connected with another: that courage is a heathen, or perhaps the heathen, virtue, and that we have cherished it by giving our children a semi-heathen education. Consider this opinion under different aspects.
III. By a heathen we mean one who is not a Jew. That is the simplest, most accurate use of the name. Taking it in this sense, our text is decisive that a high estimate of courage was not confined to heathens; that if to form such an estimate is ungodly, the chosen people were as ungodly as any. The Bible tells us that idolatry is the great destroyer of courage, reverence for the true God and an abiding sense of His presence and protection the upholder of it. Now is this doctrine compatible with the fact that the most illustrious of the heathen nations were singularly brave nations, and that our forefathers sought to kindle English courage at their fires? It is incompatible if we regard a heathen merely as an idolater. It is perfectly compatible if we trace through the history of the great nations that worshipped idols a continual witness against it. Their belief in courage, as a quality which raised them above the animals, was the greatest of all the protests which the conscience of heathens was bearing against idolatry, against the worship of visible things, which is directly connected with our animal instincts, which is always lowering the human being to the level of that which he should rule.
IV. The courage of the Hebrew was derived from his trust in the Being who had chosen him to do his work in the world, who would accomplish that work, let what powers would unite to defeat it. Christianity is not a denial of Judaism or a denial of heathenism, a tertium quid which excludes all that is strongest and most vital in both, but the harmony and concentration of both, the discovery of Him in whom the meaning of both is realised and raised to its highest power; but out of the union and reconciliation of apparent opposites in the faith of a Father and a Son, of a Spirit proceeding from both, to quicken men and make them the voluntary, cheerful servants, because the sons, of God, there must come forth a courage diviner than the Hebrew, more human than the Greek, more pledged to a continual battle with disorder than the Roman. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
Moses’ address to the people
The manner in which the possession of Canaan is invariably spoken of is worthy of notice. Moses never supposes it impossible that they should reach Canaan; the style of his expression is uniformly that of certainty; he does not say, “If the Lord,” but “when.” This confidence did not rest on human grounds, for their enemies were in themselves formidable, but on the Divine promise. Those who have the Lord’s promise are safe, and they who trust in it are happy. But another fact is, that the Lord condescends to the state of His people; He knoweth their frame, and remembereth they are dust that they are prone to fear. True, there is no cause for fear, but their infirmity may lead them to do so. Hence He anticipates those fears, provides a remedy, and suggests every consideration calculated to encourage them.
I. The fears which they were in danger of indulging.
1. The superior strength of their enemies.
2. The consequent difficulty of dispossessing them. A few, comparatively, against many; the weak against the strong. How can I dispossess them? Is not the case very similar now? The Christian cannot be blind to the fact that his enemies are greater and mightier than he; the hosts of hell are marshalled against him. Legion is their name, implying unity, order, zeal, and perseverance. The enemies are mighty, and have overcome their thousands. There are few who have not been tempted to consider the contest hopeless, and to say, “Surely I shall one day perish.” Now if there be one here saying this in his heart, let him attend--
II. To the encouragements provided against those fears.
1. A recollection of God’s past dealings. Thou shalt remember well what the Lord thy God did unto Pharaoh, and unto all Egypt. The difficulties there were as great as they could be;--Pharaoh had chariots and horsemen; the Israelites were despised slaves; he had power, and was determined to use it in retaining them; yet the Lord brought them out, and therefore they need not fear now.
2. They were instructed as to the Lord’s future methods. So shall the Lord do unto all the people of whom thou art afraid: He had ten thousand ways of weakening the power of the enemy; the whole kingdom of nature was at His command; He could send the hornet among them; even the insect tribe shall be made subservient to the accomplishment of God’s design towards them. Joshua records the fulfilment of this promise (Deuteronomy 24:12). But this conquest was to be gradual. The Lord thy God will put out those nations by little and little. Immediate and entire victory would have been attended with undesirable consequences; God therefore gave them as much as in their circumstances was good for them.
3. Assurance was given of final victory. And are there not equal encouragements now, to everyone anxious to attain the heavenly Canaan? There is, however, this happy difference in the two cases: that when once the Christian has passed over the Jordan of death, every difficulty will be over, every enemy conquered, he will have the land in possession.
In conclusion, I would say--
1. Let no one expect the victor, who fights in his own strength.
2. Let no one despair of victory who fights in the Lord’s strength. (George Breay, B. A.)
I. The enemies of God’s people. We know that the inhabitants of Canaan were emphatically idolaters. This was their special characteristic. Now it is idolatry, in some shape or other, that draws men away from the service of God. Some make pleasure their idol; some make wealth their idol. But their enemies are many in number. There is a special danger in the present day arising from those false doctrines which have arisen in the household of faith and caused hostile parties in the Church. In connection with this I may mention a contrary error--latitudinarianism. Again, the world is very dangerous; the example of those who live in it is most seductive. Again, we meet with those who are men of learning and great talent, and we are exposed to danger even from them. We hear them maintaining opinions which are not scriptural, but we think it is scarcely possible for those who are so learned to be wrong; we are thus left to ask in perplexity, “Who is in the right?” We forget that men must “become fools that they may be wise” as respects spiritual knowledge. But there are enemies within. And here I must not omit to place in the forefront self, in all its varied forms (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Then, again, we have to contend against the whole army of lusts--“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” All these are of the world, and all these lust against the Spirit, so that we cannot do the things that we would.
II. Now let us inquire what are the weapons with which we must fight? Scripture teaches us (2 Corinthians 10:4) that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal.” Amongst our defensive weapons I may mention, as the first and chiefest, prayer. With this we must join faith in the promises. And, also, we must remember that throughout our whole life we shall have need of active watchfulness. There are also offensive weapons which we are bound to use. The first of these which I will mention is consistency. Outward consistency of character deters many from attempting their proposed assaults. Nor must we forget the Word of God. Here, indeed, is our great weapon; and so powerful is it, that it is the great desire of Satan to keep it out of our reach.
III. But I own there are great difficulties in the way. The first to which I will allude is that which arises from our peculiar position in the world. We must be in the world, and the difficulty at the same time is to take care that we are not of the world. To have a wise discerning judgment; to distinguish between the fulfilment of our duty in that station of life in which God has placed us, and the yielding to the secret subtle snares of Satan, is often a work of great difficulty for the Christian. Again, the Christian’s difficulties and afflictions are not all at once removed. Like the enemies of the Jews they are put down, as it were, “little by little.” It is a gradual and a progressive work. But assuredly it does progress towards final victory. But numerous as are our enemies, great as are our difficulties, blessed be God, we have--
IV. Our encouragements also. And first among these we know we shall have the victory. The promise of victory has been given, and it is as sure as if it were accomplished. We know that we are on the conquering side. The numbers of our enemies, then, need not terrify us. “Greater is He that is for us than all they that are against us.” The past mercies we have received are all pledges of future mercies. If we had but received that one pledge of God’s love which He afforded us in the gift of His Son for us, this would of itself be sufficient to encourage the assurance of hope. For (Romans 8:32) we have nothing to fear from present weakness. The Lord has laid help upon One that is mighty to save. Though our gracious Saviour is not Himself personally present He has told us the reason (John 16:7). Still He is spiritually present with us. His Spirit still abides with His Church--and therefore with us, if we be indeed members of that Church--comforting us, assisting us, strengthening us, and ensuring us victory at the last. Furthermore, the Lord is on our side. “The Lord thy God will do this” (H. M. Villiers, M. A.)
The Almighty Helper
This description of God is a terror to sinners, but an encouragement to Christians. His mighty presence is--
1. Unmerited. The aid we get from earthly friends is often a reciprocity of kindness--a discharge of obligation. But our goodness extends not to God. We have done nothing to deserve help.
2. Unexpected. In most extreme danger and when most unlikely, comes deliverance. “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” The Mace of fear and sorrow becomes one of joy and triumph.
3. Singular. “God’s methods are peculiar to Himself. Events Which appear to combine to work our ruin bring our salvation. In the deliverance from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan God was terrible to His enemies.
4. Timely. We think He has forgotten or forsaken us if He appears not when we wish; but He knows better than we do when it is time for Him to work. “Too late” can never he said of His mercy. “A very present help in trouble.”
5. All-sufficient. Earthly friends fail. God is always among us, “a mighty God and terrible.” He conquers most formidable foes, rescues from the greatest dangers. (J. Wolfendale.)
The Lord thy God will put out those nations.
God’s expulsion of evil
As you read this Scripture you will instantly remember the position occupied by the Jews at the time these words of promise were spoken to them. The forty years of wilderness wandering had run their round. The narrow stream of Jordan was all that lay between them and the land of promise, and in a few days they would cross the swollen flood, and take possession of the goodly country in the name and for the glory of that God who had given it to them for a heritage forever. In prospect of the work, the warfare they would have to carry on in their conquest of Canaan, these words of exhortation were addressed to them, teaching them a two-fold truth. First, God would be with them; God would work for them. Therefore they might cherish the utmost confidence of ultimate success. Secondly, God would be with them, but not to complete the work for them at a single stroke. He would do it surely; but He would do it slowly also. Therefore they might have quiet contentment as well as unfaltering hope. They must “rest in the Lord, arid wait patiently for Him.” This was no new arrangement on the part of God; it was no new revelation to the Jewish people. The Lord had spoken to them forty years before in the self-same strain, As in the words of the text, so in those of the twenty-third chapter of Exodus, He impressed this truth upon them, that they must both labour and wait, The words then set before us: Work done at God’s command, work done with God’s help, work done successfully, and yet work progressing slowly towards its promised perfection; the slow progress not because of human indolence and faithlessness, but because of Divine ordinance. Why did He not do it all at once? How easily with the breath of His mouth He could have swept the land clear of the last polluting remnant of the Canaanites and their idolatries! The reason for the delay God gives. It was no use for the people to gain the country faster than they could fully occupy and properly cultivate it. This was one reason, though doubtless there were others which God has not made known to us. Let us now turn from Jewish history to our own Christian circumstances, and to our own work. This ancient story throws light on the principles and processes of Divine providence in all ages. It is one practical proof of the truth that, even in the destruction of wrong and the re-establishment of right, our God often works with what seems to us a strange slowness. In His warfare against the power of evil which is so alien to His heart, so hurtful to His creatures, so contrary to His will, the All-holy One does not annihilate it with a word, but He gradually crumbles it to fragments, and He casts it away little by little. There is the work of individual sanctification. A Christian man does not find his nature a blank sheet, on which he can at once write all manner of holy sentences. Nay, but it has already been written upon. There are unholy words, which to deface is his work, and which to entirely remove requires more than human skill. He finds that his nature is anything but an empty country, in which he has just to plant his standard of heaven, and of which he has just to take possession in the name of God. It is full of inhabitants--evil passions, thoughts, desires, habits--and they have all to be cast out, that their place may be taken by thoughts and desires and habits, pure and holy, God-pleasing and God-like. And this expulsion of the Philistines, this filling of the land with the children of God, is in every ease a lifelong work. It is only done by little and little. This is one of the mysteries of our present position. The false is often so much, and the true is often so little; the wrong is often so easy, and the right is often so difficult. The evil, the worldly, and the devilish, is often just yielding to nature, just floating with the tide. The good, the heavenly, the God-like--to follow it is often to go against tide and tempest, against flesh and blood, against all manner of opposing forces. Why are we taught to see the beauty and to appreciate the blessings of wellness, and yet are left to wrestle so continually with sins and doubts and fears? Could not our God come, and at once sweep every defiling thing out of our heart forever? We know that our God could do this if He saw it to be wise and best; and this must be our comfort under the fact that He does not do it. He does not abstain because of His weakness. He does not abstain because of His unwillingness. He sees that the discipline of weakness and tears, and not unfrequent failures, and success only partially secured--He sees that His discipline is good for us. He knows how it will prepare us for higher service and for holier joys in heaven; and so, while we are sighing for instant redemption, He grants us only gradual deliverance. (C. Vince.)
By little and little.
Victory sure but gradual
The victory over our enemies, that is, over our sins, will, in general, not be sudden, but gradual. Final success is promised: the first attempt to resist is a pledge of that final success; continued resistance is a continued pledge of that result; it needs only to persevere in the struggle, and the victory is ours--ours already in prospect. We must be prepared, therefore, for a continuous warfare. Sometimes we shall prevail over the temptation of the day--then we shall be encouraged; the next day, perhaps, we shall be defeated by it, and then we shall be humbled. Sometimes we shall look back, and feel that we have advanced. At other times we shall be conscious of a loss of ground, and we shall betake ourselves afresh to humiliation and prayer. But, on the whole, there will be no doubt so long as we continue to struggle, by faith not in ourselves but in Christ, that we are making progress. Things which once seemed impossible will have become easy; things which once seemed irresistible will have been found conquerable in the name of Christ. “By little and little” our foes are giving way before us. Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and find us with His armour on, maintaining the post which He has assigned. Nor is this an arbitrary arrangement, but one calculated for our good. “Thou mayest not destroy them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee.” The sudden and final discomfiture of our foes at the moment of our first onset would not, in all probability, promote but defeat our ultimate good. There is a lesson to be learned, without which virtue itself might be a curse and not a blessing. That lesson is humility. He who would see God must be a humble man; and humility is a grace of gradual attainment. It comes by difficulty, sorrow, conflict, often by defeat. Worse than any fall is that pride which precedes it--that pride which, without a fall, would never be humbled. Was there danger lest the beasts of the field should increase upon Israel, if their enemies should fall before them at once? So the heart abruptly cleared from the assaults of other sins--of ambition, and vanity, and selfishness, and lust--might fall an easy prey to the ravenings of spiritual pride; and the last end of that man would be worse than the first. (Dean Vaughan.)
By little and little
The rule of heaven, earth, and hell is--“By little and little!” Whether you look to the outward and visible, or to the inward and invisible; to the world of matter, or to the world of spirit; to the kingdom of nature, or the kingdom of grace,--you will surely find this rule to hold good. “First the blade,” etc. Look at the history of yon giant oak. There is a little bird, and in his beak he bears a tiny acorn along. Away he wings his flight, over hedge and ditch, brier and brake, until, frightened by a hawk, he lets his little acorn fall in yon pasture field. Oxen are grazing there. The ox comes by, and beneath his hoof the tiny acorn is trodden deep down into the soil. The ox passes on his way. The acorn remains, uncared for and forgotten; but “by little and little” it bursts its shell; “by little and little” it takes root downwards and bears fruit upwards; “by little and little” the tender twigs peep out amid the surrounding blades of grass, and thus slowly but surely it rises higher and higher, and grows broader and broader, until at length a sturdy oak marks now the spot where years before the little acorn fell. My object, however, is to point you rather to the world of spirit than to that of nature. Just as the ancient Israelites were sure of the Promised Land as their inheritance ultimately, but still could not secure it without a struggle, or rather a series of struggles, even “by little and little”; just so with the child of God, although from the moment that he believes in Jesus, as the only Saviour of his soul, he by that very act secures to himself the right to enter heaven; nevertheless his meetness for heaven is a work which will require years of stern struggling with his spiritual enemies. Now we may rest assured that the Master’s reasons for not destroying our spiritual enemies at once, but enabling us to overcome “by little and little,” are both wise and all-sufficient. That we cannot overcome these enemies at once, will, I take it, be acknowledged to the full if I appeal to the experience of any Christian man or woman. Have ye never been harassed by those enemies of the Christian’s peace, even by the nation of worldly cares? This nation is compared by the Master to briers and thorns, which spring up, and unless the greatest and most constant care be taken will choke the good seed. I know of none other nation, perhaps, more to be dreaded than these worldly cares, and this is especially the case in these days, when many causes, such as the great competition in trade, the high price of provisions, and an ever-increasing population, give to Satan a terrible vantage ground wherefrom to attack. Ye have tried to shake them off once and forever, as unworthy of the child of God, but they will not be shaken off at once. Still strive on, and the Lord thy God will put them out before you “by little and little.” Again, the true Israelite is worried by a nation of idle and wandering thoughts. Now ye must not be discouraged at this state of things; ye must not incline to despair because unable to be rid of these vain thoughts at once. Continue to strive against them, and God will put them out before thee “by little and little.” Thus might I enumerate enemy after enemy that will harass and impede us by the way. I might remind you of the sickening doubts and fears, of the lurking treachery of that poor heart, of the seducing friends and the too frail flesh. These cause you frequent and fearful pain, and ever and again break in upon your peace. Still in any moment of despair I would point you to the truths of the text, and entreat that you will not forget how that God has all-wisely willed that we should not conquer at once, not become perfect at once, but conquer one foe after another, and become perfect only “by little and little.” And as this is the rule of heaven, so alas! is it also the rule of hell. In Genesis 3:1-24, we read that “the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field,” and surely in nothing has he manifested his cunning more than in the cruel way wherewith he has imitated God in dealing with men’s souls. I see that in saving souls, he would seem to say, “Jehovah takes not the sinner out of his sin so as at once to transform him into a perfect saint. I see that in winning souls to glory He woos them gradually away from earth, and by little and little makes them meet to be forever with the Lord. I will go and do likewise. In seeking the eternal ruin of souls, my principle of action shall be the same. I will not try to make a man a tenant meet for hell at once, but step by step I will lead him down. I will first coax him till he gives up some one good habit; I will then tempt him till he indulges in some one sin, and again I will blunt his conscience by tempting him to repeat that sin, until by little and little I shall be able to sap the very foundations of his character, and gradually make him fit for the abode of the lost.” I adjure you, then, as you value your happiness in time and in eternity, beware of the very first little tendency to sin. It is here the danger lies. This is the rule of hews attack. (D. P. Morgan, M. A.)
Every day a little
1. Every day a little knowledge. One fact in a day. How small is one fact! Only one. Ten years pass by. Three thousand six hundred and fifty facts are not a small thing.
2. Every day a little self-denial. The thing that is difficult to do today will be an easy thing to do three hundred and sixty days hence, if each day it shall have been repeated. What power of self-mastery shall he enjoy who, looking to God for grace, seeks every day to practise the grace he prays for!
3. Every day a little helpfulness. We live for the good of others, if our living be in any sense a true living. It is not in great deeds of kindness only that the blessing is found. In “little deeds of kindness,” repeated every day, we find true happiness. (Anon.)
Theory of graduality
My text is representing the gradual process by which God will exterminate the Canaanites and give the land into the possession of the Israelites. It will not be by one fell blow, or instantaneously, but “by little and little.” Indeed, that is God’s usual way. Gradually the world was peopled. Gradually the rocks wear away. Gradually great changes occur. The world ages in being built. The world ages in being redeemed. Eternity is the lifetime of God. We hasten and worry and die, but God waits, and His stupendous projects go on gradually, slowly, inch by inch, “by little and little.” This theory of graduality has its illustration in the achievement of spiritual knowledge and character and the driving out of Canaanitish ignorance and Canaanitish sin from the heart. The most accomplished rhetorician or poet who has filled a whole shelf with admirable books of his own began by learning the alphabet. The mightiest mental toil in which we ever engaged was the learning of our a-b-c’s. The swiftest reportorial pen failed once in attempting to make a perpendicular stroke on the boy’s copy book. The printer, whose fingers move with electric speed, once pulled out from the “case” slowly, cautiously, studiously, type by type. The boy, who bounds over the playground with so much celerity that he does not seem to touch it, once poised himself cautiously against the wall, and could not be tempted to cross the floor until he saw his mother’s arms out ready to catch him if he fell. So in all spiritual knowledge, it is by little and little that we advance. We went on from one attainment to another. Each of the attainments, perhaps, seemed to be very small indeed, but they came on--now a resolution added to a resolution, hope added to hope, experience added to experience, joy to joy, struggle to struggle, victory to victory. They did not come up on this great mount of Christian excellency by one great athletic stride, but inch by inch, step by step, “by little and little.” Paul came to his great attainments in piety gradually. He had to take a course of mobs, of shipwrecks, of scourgings, of imprisonments, of execrations before he came to the rounding out of his character, and every Christian now must come through ups and downs, and losses, and slights, and blunders, and abuse, and struggles to that rounding out of his character. A merchant tailor takes down the goods, he unrolls them, he makes the line of chalk mark, with his scissors he follows the chalk mark until the garment is cut out, and though there may be many pieces, the whole garment is made out of one cloth. But it is not so in the putting together of a Christian character. It is a little of this to make the robe of character, and a little of that, a little of the bright coloured prosperity, and a little of the dark-shadowed calamity. It is a sort of patchwork. Little by little. Conversion is an instantaneous work. Believing is becoming a Christian. But there is a great difference between conversion and sanctification. Conversion is turning around from the wrong direction and starting in the right direction; but sanctification is keeping on in the right direction after you have started. After conversion, oh! how much work. And your greatest battles with the world, the flesh, and the devil will be after you have declared against them. Men think after they are converted the work is done. They suppose that in some way there will be heaved up in their souls a grand Christian character as an earthquake heaves up a beautiful island in the midst of the sea. No. No. “By little and little.” Troubles will help you. There is no such thing as “wrought iron” without passing through the fire. The seniors in Christ’s college, of course, know more than the freshmen. But be accumulative every day. A handful of acorns will make a forest of oaks. “By little and little.” Again, this theory of graduality has its illustration in the formation of bad habits. Look at that habit of falsifying. The man began with what is called a “white lie,” or a “fib.” He can stand in his store, behind his counter, and unblushingly, deliberately, calmly say that which he knows to be false, and which you know to be false. There are hundreds of men in this house today who would confess that the habit is injurious to them, but somehow they cannot stop. How, my brother, did you get this bondage on you? In one day? In one hour? No. “By little and little.” Again, this theory of gradually is illustrated in the right kind of domestic discipline, and the driving out of Canaanitish evil from the child’s heart. Family government is by fits and starts, but it is worth less than nothing unless it be calm, deliberate, continuous all through boyhood and girlhood. Your children by this process are making character noble or degraded. “By little and little.” To the nursery story and the picture book of the first four years must be added the influence of a Christian fireside, proper improvement of anniversaries, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little there a smile, there a look, here a frown, here a walk, here a ride, here a flower plucking, here this, here that. “By little and little.” Once more, this theory of graduality has its illustration in the conquest of the world for God and the extermination of the Canaanites forever. Would it not be pleasant if in one day all the race could be evangelised, and the Atlantic cable could thrill with the news that Europe, Asia, and Africa are converted? Because it is not done rapidly, Christian people get discouraged. They say: “Nineteen centuries since Christ came, and yet the world not saved.” O, you cavillers; you do not realise the way God does things. God is not in a hurry. Many generations are to have joy in this work; you shall not monopolise it. Your children and your children’s children and their successors innumerable, shall help to draw on this Gospel chariot. Let God control the great affairs of the universe. Let us each one do his own little work. The hands that made the curtains in the ancient tabernacle did their work. And you will favour the work in one way, and I will favour the work in another way. Each one doing his own work, in his own way, according to his own capacity. “By little and little.” Then God will at the last gather up all these fragments of work, and in the great day of eternity we shall see it, and under arches of light and in bowers of beauty, and amid the battle flags of God’s great host of the redeemed, and amid the blast of all heaven’s trumpets, we shall see the consummation. Amid that “great multitude that no man can number,” God will not be ashamed to announce that all this grandeur and glory and triumph were achieved “by little and little.” (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Tick by tick
In listening to the sound by which a clock or watch marks the passing of the diminutive portions of time, one might almost fancy that deductions so extremely small would never wear away the whole duration of a long life. But it has been by such minute lapses in never ceasing succession that the vast series of ages since the creation has passed away; it has been by this succession of instants that all our ancestors have completed their sojourn on earth, and by this it will be that we shall one day have arrived at the end of our mortal existence. Each passing moment, then, may be regarded as having a relation to the end, and everything which hints to us that moments are passing, may be a monition to us to be habitually at the great work which ought to be accomplished against the period when the last of them shall come. (J. Foster.)
The progress of our truest life
We have watched, on a summer’s day, the tide coming in upon the shore. How slow and scarcely perceptible its advance! Now a strong onrush; then a temporary ebb; presently a further advance; so, inch by inch, the ground is gained. Such should be the progress of our truest “life.” Steadily the tide of purer, stronger feeling, of nobler and more strenuous endeavour should ripple in, until life flows to its height, musical as the sound of many waters!
The concentration of the little
The weakest living creature, by concentrating his powers on a single object, can accomplish something; the strongest, by dispersing his over many, may fail to accomplish anything. The drop, by continued falling, bores its passage through the hardest rock the hasty torrent rushes over it with a hideous uproar, and leaves no trace behind.
The conquest of character
The boundary line between legitimate aspiration and a reasonable content is sometimes hard to find. Contentment may be construed by some as lack of enterprise, and so more or less ignoble, while aspiration may, and often does, become mere restlessness and discontent. But all depends on what we aspire to and what we are content with. The man who wants to be a little better, a little wiser, a little richer than he is, whose aspiration takes the form of gradual growth by littles, will probably realise his desires. And if he refuses to fight the inevitable and the immutable limitations that are set about him, even while constantly bettering his condition, be may yet be content and happy. Great estates are built up by slow and gradual accretion running through the years. Great scholarship is the result of constant aspiration, unflagging industry, and tireless diligence. So fine character is the result of innumerable conquests over self and selfishness and ease, and evil and vicious tendency. It is built up as the coral animal builds the reefs, one act at a time, and a great many of them going to the erection of the lofty structure.
Little things done well
Young men in beginning life are apt to be impatient of the first little steps that apparently make no advance, forgetting that seeming “trifles make up the sum of life,” just as in building, the little bricks, laid carefully one at a time, side by side, and securely cemented together, make at last the great, strong structure. A young man, having exhausted his patrimony in obtaining a professional education, settled himself in a town already filled with successful lawyers, to practise law. One day one of these older lawyers asked him how, under such circumstances, he expected to make a living. “I hope I may get a little practice,” was the modest reply. “It will be very little,” said the lawyer. “Then I will do that little well, answered the young mall decidedly. He carried out his determination. The little things well done brought larger ones, and ill time he became one of the most distinguished jurists of his State. Again, a certain old bishop, who was fond of finding odd characters in out-of-the-way places, was visiting in a quiet neighbourhood. One day, in a walk with a friend, he came across a crossroads settlement of a few houses. Among them was a snug little shoe shop, kept by an old negro man, which showed signs of prosperity. Interested in the old cobbler, the bishop stopped for a chat. “My friend,” he said, “I would not think so small a business as mending shoes would pay so well.” “Ah,” said the gentleman with him, “old Cato has the monopoly of shoe mending in this region. No one else gets a job.” “How is that, Cato?” asked the bishop. “Just so, master,” replied Cato. “It is only little patches put on with little stitches or tiny pegs. But when I takes a stitch it is a stitch, and when I drive a peg it holds.” Little things well done! The good bishop used that reply as a text for many a sermon afterwards. (Christian Age.)
Thou shalt not desire the silver or gold.
Things not to be desired
Showing, as he always shows, a most penetrating mind, Moses points to a very subtle temptation which would arise in connection with the progress of Israel. The graven images of the heathen nations were to be burned with fire. Moses says in the twenty-fifth verse: “Thou shalt not desire . . . lest thou be ensnared therein.” How subtle is the temptation in that direction! Shall we cast in the hideous gods and the valuable gold, and consume them both in the unsparing fire? How much better first to strip the god of his golden coat and then burn the wood or clay or grind the stone to powder! Moses, foreseeing this temptation, and by the very inspiration of God, knowing the mysteries of human nature, said: “Touch not; taste not; handle not.” In such abstention is the only possible safety of the Church. The temptation operates today. Men will sustain a questionable mode of earning a livelihood on the pretence that they can gather from the forbidden trade gold and silver which they can melt down and mint with the image and superscription of God; they can allow the devastating traffic to proceed, reeking like the pit of hell, destroying countless thousands of lives, and yet justify the continuance of the iniquity by taking off the gold and the silver and throwing part of it into the coffers of the Church. Missions so sustained are dishonoured. The gold torn from any evil way of getting a livelihood and given to the Church is an abomination to the Lord thy God. He does not want even good gold stolen for His purposes, or gold won by unholy means thrown into His exchequer. Let us give honest money. Let us eat bread unleavened by wrong-doing; there may be little of it, but Christ will break it with His own hands, and it shall be more than our hunger needs. Marvellous, too, is the prevision of Moses when he lays down the only law or principle by which all these abstentions and all these actions can be sustained. Do not let us ascribe these regulations to the prevision of Moses unless we understand by that term the inspiration of God. What is the principle which guarantees safety and protects the soul from the unclean things of heathen nations? That principle is laid down in the twenty-sixth verse. Speaking of heathen abomination Moses says: “Thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it.” There is no middle feeling; there is no intermediate way of dealing with bad things. “If thy right, hand offend thee, cut it off”; “if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.” Thus the Testaments are one: the moral tone is the same; the stern law never yields to time--its phrase changes, its words may come and go, its forms may take upon them the colour of the transient times, but the inner spirit of righteousness is the Spirit of God, without beginning, without measure, without end. (J. Parker, D. D.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》