Deuteronomy Chapter Eight
Exhortations and cautions, enforced by the Lord's former dealings with Israel, and his promises. (1-9) Exhortations and cautions further enforced. (10-20)
Commentary on Deuteronomy 8:1-9
(Read Deuteronomy 8:1-9)
Obedience must be, 1. Careful, observe to do; 2. Universal, to do all the commandments; and 3. From a good principle, with a regard to God as the Lord, and their God, and with a holy fear of him. To engage them to this obedience. Moses directs them to look back. It is good to remember all the ways, both of God's providence and grace, by which he has led us through this wilderness, that we may cheerfully serve him and trust in him. They must remember the straits they were sometimes brought into, for mortifying their pride, and manifesting their perverseness; to prove them, that they and others might know all that was in their heart, and that all might see that God chose them, not for any thing in them which might recommend them to his favour. They must remember the miraculous supplies of food and raiment granted them. Let none of God's children distrust their Father, nor take any sinful course for the supply of their necessities. Some way or other, God will provide for them in the way of duty and honest diligence, and verily they shall be fed. It may be applied spiritually; the word of God is the food of the soul. Christ is the word of God; by him we live. They must also remember the rebukes they had been under, and not without need. This use we should make of all our afflictions; by them let us be quickened to our duty. Moses also directs them to look forward to Canaan. Look which way we will, both to look back and to look forward, to Canaan. Look which way we will, both to look back and to look forward will furnish us with arguments for obedience. Moses saw in that land a type of the better country. The gospel church is the New Testament Canaan, watered with the Spirit in his gifts and graces, planted with trees of righteousness, bearing fruits of righteousness. Heaven is the good land, in which nothing is wanting, and where is fulness of joy.
Commentary on Deuteronomy 8:10-20
(Read Deuteronomy 8:10-20)
Moses directs to the duty of a prosperous condition. Let them always remember their Benefactor. In everything we must give thanks. Moses arms them against the temptations of a prosperous condition. When men possess large estates, or are engaged in profitable business, they find the temptation to pride, forgetfulness of God, and carnal-mindedness, very strong; and they are anxious and troubled about many things. In this the believing poor have the advantage; they more easily perceive their supplies coming from the Lord in answer to the prayer of faith; and, strange as it may seem, they find less difficulty in simply trusting him for daily bread. They taste a sweetness therein, which is generally unknown to the rich, while they are also freed from many of their temptations. Forget not God's former dealings with thee. Here is the great secret of Divine Providence. Infinite wisdom and goodness are the source of all the changes and trials believers experience. Israel had many bitter trials, but it was "to do them good." Pride is natural to the human heart. Would one suppose that such a people, after their slavery at the brick-kilns, should need the thorns of the wilderness to humble them? But such is man! And they were proved that they might be humbled. None of us live a single week without giving proofs of our weakness, folly, and depravity. To broken-hearted souls alone the Saviour is precious indeed. Nothing can render the most suitable outward and inward trials effectual, but the power of the Spirit of God. See here how God's giving and our getting are reconciled, and apply it to spiritual wealth. All God's gifts are in pursuance of his promises. Moses repeats the warning he had often given of the fatal consequences of forsaking God. Those who follow others in sin, will follow them to destruction. If we do as sinners do, we must expect to fare as sinners fare.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Deuterronomy》
 All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers.
Live — Live comfortably and happily.
 And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.
All the way — All the events which befel three in the way, the miraculous protections, deliverances, provisions, instructions which God gave thee; and withal the frequent and severe punishments of thy disobedience.
To know — That thou mightest discover to thyself and others that infidelity, inconstancy, hypocrisy, and perverseness, which lay hid in thy heart; the discovery whereof was of singular use both to them, and to the church of God in all succeeding ages. It is good for us likewise to remember all the ways both of God's providence and grace, by which he has led us hitherto through the wilderness, that we may trust him, and chearfully serve him.
 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.
By every word — That is, by every or any thing which God appoints for this end, how unlikely so-ever it may seem to be for nourishment; seeing it is not the creature, but only God's command and blessing upon it, that makes it sufficient for the support of life.
 Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee.
As a man chastiseth his son — That is, unwillingly, being constrained by necessity; moderately, in judgment remembering mercy; and for thy reformation not thy destruction.
 For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;
Depths — Deep wells or springs, or lakes, which were numerous and large.
 A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.
Whose stones are iron — Where are mines of iron in a manner as plentiful as stones, and upon which travellers must tread, as in other parts they do upon stones.
 When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.
Bless the Lord — Solemnly praise him for thy food; which is a debt both of gratitude and justice, because it is from his providence and favour that thou receivest both thy food and refreshment and strength by it. The more unworthy and absurd is that too common profaneness of them, who, professing to believe a God, from whom all their comforts come, grudge to own him at their meals, either by desiring his blessing before them, or by offering due praise to God after them.
 Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;
Lifted up — As if thou didst receive and enjoy these things, either, by thy owns wisdom, and valour, and industry, or for thy own merit.
 Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end;
That he might humble thee — By keeping thee in a constant dependence upon him for every day's food, and convincing thee what an impotent, helpless creature thou art, having nothing whereon to subsist, and being supported wholly by the alms of divine goodness from day to day. The mercies of God, if duly considered, are as powerful a mean to humble us as the greatest afflictions, because they increase our debts to God, and manifest our dependance upon him, and by making God great, they make us little in our own eyes.
To do thee good — That is, that after he hath purged and prepared thee by afflictions, thou mayest receive and enjoy his blessings with less disadvantage, whilst by the remembrance of former afflictions. thou art made thankful for them, and more cautious not to abuse them.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Deuteronomy》
08 Chapter 8
Remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee.
Remembering and forgetting
(with Philippians 3:13):--Thou shalt remember, and thou shalt forget. We need a good memory and a good forgettery.
I. First, then, the past; we are to remember it. The old lawgiver sought to make the nation’s great history sacramental. Much might well be forgotten. The old rebellions, the old murmurings, their lapses from loyalty, and the heavy, hard work they had made for their great spiritual leader--they had better break with much of this unsavoury record. But they must remember the lessons of history. Unfortunate is the man or the nation without the memories of great providences, that has never known the discipline of heaven. We are never to forget the past: the fact that we are the product of the past, that the ground on which we stand is made soil; that if you sink your pick into it you cut into the layer of forty or fifty centuries; that all our sowing is upon the prepared ground and top dressing contributed by all the older periods. God has been working and good men have been building at all the substructures that are the foundations on which we start the work we have in hand. Providence is not the mintage of yesterday, and God has not been waiting for us to appear on the scene before He set His plough in the furrow. We had better not be too ready to quit with the past. Foundations have been made for us; we are ourselves the creations of the past, and most of the instruments with which we work are contributions from the past. We may easily exaggerate our abilities and resources, especially our originality. We are a little inflated just now with our physical resources. The greatest moulders of men, the greatest teachers of the world are not any of them above ground, when we come to think of it. The mightiest forces that reach forth their transforming energies to mould human life come to us from sources back of all contemporary history. For our greatest literature, for the most truly constructive, forces for shaping history, and for our religion we must go to the past. The history of the great peoples of the world is a veritable mine of wealth if we could better afford to throw all our gold into the sea than to lose our past and the past of the divinely led nations among whom God has been so visibly working. We had better remember all the way the Lord hath led us,--remember it because it has made us what we are, and because God’s footprints are visible upon it. God has been here before us; has been forehanded with us; has wrought at the basis of all our individual and national life.
II. The first word is remember, the second is forget. We are to remember the past and we are to forget it. The made soil on which we sow is an inheritance from the past, but we are to add a new layer of soil on which others are to sow. Our best use of the past, Phillips Brooks tells us, is to get a great future out of it. Many people and many nations overwork their past, give themselves in excess to retrospection, build the sepulchres of the fathers, and give themselves to criticism of their own age and time. They behold God and nature through older eyes alone, forgetting the individual relation of each personal soul. “Why,” asks Emerson, “should we not enjoy our original relation to the universe and demand our own works, laws, and worship? The past is for us, but the sole terms on which it can become ours are its subordination to the present.” And so one way of forgetting the past and leaving the things that are behind is to go and do better things. Good precedents are good, but we ought to improve on them. We ought to swing clear of the mistakes of predecessors, and do a better work than they did. We need in the interests of personal growth to forget many things which we insist on loading ourselves with. It is very human to blunder, but it is a Divine thing in imperfect people not to repeat blunders. Past sins too, if repented of, are good things to forget. And old sorrows we had better leave with the dead yesterdays: the tomorrow of hope is already kindling in the east. Even old successes had better be left with the past, if we are making them the limit of responsibility and the end of duty. The future should be reserved in all eases for constructive work: for new undertakings, for larger tasks, for better fidelities. Learn new things; do new things every week you live. Our life stagnates when poised on the older standards of duty or achievement. (S. H. Howe, D. D.)
I. The divinely governed life. “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness.” Now, it is not difficult for us to believe in the Divine government when we look up into the midnight sky. Ten thousand times ten thousand stars moving in their orbits, and pursuing from age to age their march of light, compel us to believe that this is a divinely governed cosmos. It is also easy to believe in the government of God when we look upon this world in which we live. This planet is evidently a rational and ordered sphere. The form of the argument for design may change, but the conviction of design persists in the consciousness of mankind. They feel that at the back of earth and sea is an Architect building with a plan; an Artist working out a distinct ideal and purpose; a Dramatist fitting perfectly each act of the drama. Looking on the beautiful world, it is easy to believe this, it is almost impossible to disbelieve it. Again, it is not difficult to believe in the Divine government when you consider the history of the human race. It is as difficult to resist the idea of order, progress, purpose in contemplating the course of human history as it is to resist that idea in surveying nature. There is a doctrine known as the doctrine of purposelessness, a doctrine that maintains the inconsequence and irrationality of nature and history, but it has found few defenders. And, once more, it is not difficult to believe in a Divine government when we mark the career of extraordinary men. When we consider Cyrus and Caesar, St. Paul and Luther, it is easy to believe in the divinity that shapes men’s ends. The real difficulty of believing in a supernatural order arises when we begin to think of a Divine government ordering the individual lives of such obscure and mediocre beings as we are. Any unbelief here is fatal indeed. We must believe that the same infinite knowledge and power which shape the destinies of orbs, races, and heroes, shape the life history of the lowliest man and woman on the face of the earth. What did our Lord teach us on this very matter? “If God so clothe the grass of the field, shall He not much more clothe you?” And certainly the science of the day helps us to the same conclusion. The world is built upon the atom; the microbe in many ways teaches the grandeur of insignificance. We may be very obscure and ordinary people, but it is our joy to remember that we are certainly embraced by the government of God, and that He ever seeks to lead us and guide us as a shepherd guides his sheep. And have we not many of us a very vivid consciousness of this overshadowing Providence? Do you say, “I am the architect of my own fortune”? If you are, you are the architect of a precious jerry building. If your life is really rich and successful, ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. And if God has blessed us marvellously, has He not also wonderfully kept us amid the temptations and perils of the pilgrimage? The man who congratulates himself upon his character and standing, and imputes all to his own strength, and caution, and skill, is strangely blind and forgetful. What would you think if an ocean liner were to flatter itself because it had found its way from New York to Liverpool? “How cautiously I crept through that fog; how skilfully I kept clear of those icebergs; how cleverly I piloted myself past those sandbanks; what a wide berth I gave those rocks; how delicately I threaded my way along the Mersey!” Forgetting all the time the captain on the bridge. We must not forget the Captain on the bridge, the Captain of our salvation. How wonderfully God has disappointed our fears and misgivings! We have often looked forward with solicitude and even anguish to impending, threatening trials, and yet God has brought us safely through. God has been with us through all the years, filling us with good things, delivering us in the evil day, scattering our fears, bringing us onward to the appointed rest.
II. The Divine purpose in our life. “To humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments or no.” The moral idea is the grand end to which God governs the race, the nation, and governs us. God seeks to bring men to the knowledge of Himself, to purify them from false love and lusts, to teach them obedience, to make them fit for their great and holy inheritance. The Egyptian historian, the Greek historian, the Roman historian simply gave a series of grand pictures of kings, cities, marches, battles won and lost, and ended with such pictures; but the Jewish lawgivers and prophets grasped the fact of the moral character and aim of the Divine government. The aim of God’s government is not the material enrichment of men. The great symbols of His final purpose are not L.S.D. He does not rule the world to create rich nations or individuals. He has not led you for forty years that you might make a big pile, and get at length an embroidered shroud. And the final idea of God is not intellectual. He is not satisfied with genius, scholarship, taste. Some seem to think that the ultimate purpose of the governing Power of the universe is to produce a sensual race with a magnificent environment of palaces and pictures, like Victor Hugo’s devil fish in the enchanted cave. The great end of God’s government is stated in the text. For forty years God disciplined Israel in the wilderness, that they might pass from being a nation of coarse slaves into a nation of saints, losing their sensuality and wilfulness, being weaned from idols, growing into righteousness and spirituality; and it is precisely for the same great end that God disciplines us today. He anticipates, disposes, adjusts, rules, and overrules, so that we may taste His love, keep His law, reflect His beauty, and be prepared to see His face. How far has this great end been answered in us? God has greatly blessed us, humbled us; what is the result? How do we bear the moral test? Some of us are in many worldly respects far worse off than we were forty years ago. Life is a wonderful process for spoiling dreams and frustrating hopes, and some of you feel that your life has not been the success you expected, that you have been sorely disappointed, that life ends in frustration, if not in a general breakdown. Are you at last humble, spiritual, godly, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life? Then glorify God with all your ransomed powers. Blessed humiliation! You are no failure. You are a splendid, Divine, eternal success. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Memory is said to be sometimes quickened to an unusual activity at the end of life. The dying, and especially the drowning, are said to have set before them in swift panorama view the varied experiences of the life which is hurrying to a close. “Son, remember”--is the thrilling admonition--“that thou, in thy lifetime, receivedst thy good things.” It is in a more merciful and hopeful way that we are called upon to exercise our memory today. While we still live and the result of our life may be influenced, we are required to pass it in review. Occasionally circumstances arise which seem to set us upon this duty in an altogether special way. You pass along a road where you have not been for fifteen or twenty years. You see a face that you have not seen since you were a child, or you meet a man that was your friend in youth. Or perhaps it is some particular crisis in life, or the return of some birthday, that sets the past in review. Life is here regarded as a discipline, and we have set before us first of all--
I. The agent of this discipline. “The Lord thy God.” Think of the multitude of influences to which these Israelites were exposed in their great migration. Moses to lead them, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram to mislead them, Aaron to do sometimes the one and sometimes the other; the Red Sea to bar their way at the beginning of their journey, and the Jordan at the end; famine and pestilence, quails and manna; Caleb and Joshua to encourage, the unfaithful spies to discourage, the Egyptians to drive them, Moabites, Amorites, and the rest to harass and hinder them. Yet as they look back they are taught to see One Hand at work, and that the hand of the Lord their God. The great lesson which this old Hebrew history has to teach us is the clear recognition of God in everything. There is no lesson, surely, which our strained and worried modern life more urgently requires than this. If our lives, and lives dearer to us than our own, are to be the sport of every malign influence, and every wilful or foolish person; if we are at the mercy of all those varied calamities and deaths which ride upon the breeze and lurk in the dust and lie in wait at every point, we may well be driven to distraction.
II. The sphere of this discipline. “In the wilderness.” The place in which the discipline was conducted was not without its bearing on the result. It was a place in which the influence of things seen was as weak almost as it could be upon the earth. If you wish to teach a child a specially important lesson you will take him into some quiet room, where he shall not be interrupted, and where in the room itself there shall be as little as possible to distract attention. Such a school room was this desert place, where God took the nation to Himself, and taught them the great lessons in regard to His nature and character which, through them, in after ages have been taught to the world. Our life, as a whole, is not a wilderness; it is rather a garden, which ever tends to become richer and more fruitful as generation after generation toils upon it. Yet there is in many of our lives what may be termed a wilderness experience--a time of affliction, bereavement, disappointment, perplexity; in which God is doing for us in a briefer period what He did for the Israelites during this long forty years. If God does give us a taste of the wilderness life, let us remember that He is not doing it without a purpose.
III. The definite term of this discipline. “These forty years.” The Israelites were not to be on trial forever. At the end of forty years a result had been arrived at and ascertained which would not now be materially altered. There is a loose idea, only too common nowadays, that probation is to be extended indefinitely into the future. People allow themselves to think that if a man does not come right at first he is to be kept on with till he does come right, so that the drunkard, the Pharisee, and the miser, though they grow worse and worse, and pass out of this life drunken, pharisaic, or miserly, are yet by some unexplained process in the indefinite future to become saints. Now, such an idea not only sets itself squarely against the main body of Scripture teaching, but altogether fails to commend itself to common sense. Indeed, a wide observation will lead us to this, that even within this life character tends to final permanence, so that forty years, for example, do not pass without leaving a mark, and setting character into a form. Professor Drummond has said that a man cannot alter his collar after he is forty, much less his character.
IV. The purpose of this discipline “To humble thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments or no.” It was to humble them, that is, to bring them by means of privation and distress to feel their need of His help, and their dependence upon Him. To prove them, to put them, that is, in such positions as would drive them to show what was in them. Times come to us also when we are obliged to speak out, and to take our stand, and to do distinctly either right or wrong. Young people at the beginning commonly regard life mainly or chiefly as a sphere or opportunity of enjoyment. And we must not be unsympathetic. It is natural, and perhaps unavoidable, that they should take this view at first. This aspect of life, however, very soon turns out to be utterly unsatisfactory. Then, after the thought of enjoyment there often comes with earnest young people the higher and better thought of achievement. They say: I will accomplish something; I will make a mark; I will get to the top of the tree. But the top of the tree is so hard to reach, so few can reach it, those who do reach it have to pay such a heavy price, and find it, after all, such a barren and comfortless elevation, that this view of life frequently ends in disappointment too. Then it is that the Divine view of life comes to our rescue. Enjoyment is not left out of the account. It comes in, not as the object of life, but as the divinely given accompaniment of service. Achievement also finds its proper place. The faithful servant shall have the “Well done.” But above the thought either of enjoyment or achievement there rises the thought of discipline. In forming our estimate of a man we ask, What has he done? God asks, What has he become? There is no subject on which greater mistakes are made than in the matter of getting on in the world. We all want to get on, and for our children to get on, but few have the right idea of what getting on really is. A man thinks he is getting on when his business prospers, and everything turns to gold in his hands. Not necessarily. He may be losing ground all that time. No! When he can stand in the presence of temptation without yielding to it; when he can bear humiliation and disappointment without murmuring; when he can see the unscrupulous competitor go in front of him, and yet refuse to be unscrupulous himself, and let the best bargain he ever saw in his life go past him, rather than secure it by doing or saying that which is unworthy; when he can toil all day and accomplish very little, and go home at night and neither scold the wife nor be angry with the children, that’s when he is getting on. When we get into such a position that our word is always listened to with respect and deference, and “when we ope our lips no dog durst bark,” we think we are getting on. No! When we can bear hard and cruel speech, and not resent or retaliate; when we can give the soft answer that turneth away wrath, or even be reviled and not revile again, that’s when we are getting on. A woman thinks she is getting on when she is moving into a bigger house, when her drawing room is splendid and crowded, and she a gay and brilliant queen in the midst of it. But it is quite possible that she may be suffering loss at such a time as that. No! When she can move into a smaller house, and make every corner of it radiant with her smile; when she can work in narrowed circumstances without becoming soured, or meet affliction and distress and bear it like a heroine, that is when she’s getting on. (Sidney Pitt.)
The power of memory
I. The agency of memory and its attendant faculty recollection in the work of spiritual advancement.
1. Among the faculties with which God has beneficently endowed man, memory ranks with the most important. It is a gallery lined with the pictures of past events, and with scenes on which we have gazed--a gallery sometimes vocal with sounds that fill the heart with gladness, or pierce it with keenest pain. It is memory that makes the record to which conscience points when it speaks in tones of menace. It is in memory that there is stored up the treasures knowledge has patiently amassed, and it is with memory we take counsel when we would investigate, or must decide.
2. Illustrate the influence on spiritual work. These are not merely intellectual faculties. These have a moral work to do. It may be illustrated in the aid given to convince Joseph’s brethren (Genesis 42:21). It ever presents to us the teachings of God’s dealings with us. To lead to avoid past errors, and to show that the purpose was to do us good at our latter end.
II. The Israelite who thus remembered would perceive that God’s purpose had been to humble.
III. To prove thee, to know what was in thine heart. Not to show God, but to show us our faults. The great gun is taken to a proof house, and tried with the great charge, and if some crack is revealed men say it was well it did not burst and spread dismay at some crisis of the fight. The anchor and chain is tested link by link, to see if any flaw should be revealed. If it had gone untested, how great the peril! (J. R. Hargreaves.)
The advantages of a devout review of the Divine dispensations
I. Explain the solemn charge.
1. The object of remembrance is extensive: the way--all the way which the Lord our God has led us; that is, the whole tenor of the Divine dispensations toward us--their nature, means, seasons, relatives, tendencies, and actual effects.
2. It supposes that this exercise, interesting and beneficial as it is, we are prone to neglect
II. enforce obedience to the charge.
1. An enlightened and devout retrospect of the dispensations of God to you will present you with many impressive displays of His glory.
2. This devout retrospection will supply us with many affecting displays of our own corruption.
3. This remembrance will supply the saints with pleasing discoveries of the sanctified tendencies of their souls.
4. This remembrance will confirm our faith in the Scriptures as the Word of God, and improve all our practical views both of things seen and unseen. (James Stark.)
Remembrance of God’s dealings
I. On the duty of remembering the dealings of God towards us. Look back to the earliest period of your history--the time and place of your birth--the varied circumstances of your education--the business or the profession in which you have been engaged--the measure of prosperity or adversity you have experienced--the various connections and engagements you have formed--the sicknesses, accidents, and dangers you have encountered, and the merciful deliverances which you have received;--all these come under the general idea of the dealings of God with you, which it becomes you to remember. But this review of the providential dispensations of Almighty God should lead us to contemplate also that grace and mercy with which we have been favoured. Ever let us remember that we were not born in Egyptian darkness, or consigned from our birth to a waste, howling wilderness. We were born in a highly favoured land, brought by Christian parents and pious friends to the house of God; early baptized in the Saviour’s name; accustomed to worship God in His house. And has not God graciously vouchsafed to meet with and bless us in His house, and under those ordinances which through His mercy have been administered among us?
II. The means to be adopted in order to remember the Divine dealings towards us. We are prone to forget the God of our mercies, to lose sight of His dispensations, to sink into carelessness and neglect, to regard passing events as matters of course, not calling for any special recollection or acknowledgment. Now, to guard against this forgetful disposition it becomes us ofttimes to stir up ourselves, and all with whom we are connected, to record and remember God’s mercies; and especially to improve those times and seasons which He hath set apart for this purpose. And while we carefully observe seasons which are especially set apart in commemoration of the Divine dispensations, we should also diligently improve the ordinances which are appointed for the same important end.
III. The end which this remembrance of the Divine dispensations is calculated to produce:--Namely, “to humble us, to prove us, to show what is in our hearts.” When we observe the conduct of Israel in the wilderness we are compelled to feel how foolish, perverse, and ungrateful that people were; but when we review our own conduct, must we not too often pronounce the same sentence upon ourselves? The remembrance, therefore, of the dealings of God with us should deeply humble us under a sense of our unprofitableness and ingratitude. When duly considered, it will show us what has been in our hearts, how foolish, how vain, how deceitful they are, and how often our own conduct has been inconsistent with our profession, and what need we therefore have of pardon. It will teach us the fallacy of many of those excuses which we have made for the neglect of duty, and evince that God has been merciful and gracious to us all our journey through. This remembrance of God’s dealings with us is especially calculated to bring us afresh, as sinners, to our gracious and merciful Saviour. (T. Webster, B. D.)
A protecting providence
This is emphatically a day of remembrance. Parted families meet, and recount the course of providence since they were last together. The monuments of Divine love are crowded so closely together that we are prone to pass them by unnoticed. The experience of all of us is so much alike that we cease to marvel at it.
I. In helping you in the performance of this duty, I would first ask you to reflect on the amount of happiness which you as an assembly represent. There is probably not one of you to whom, in the sight of God, this is not a happy day; not one whose glad do not outnumber his regretful thoughts. How many sources of happiness flow for us! In a thousand ways must an incessant providence watch, guard, and guide, avert peril, and bestow aid, in each of our households, with every new day, to make health the rule, disease and death the rare exception,--joy the current, grief the transient ripple on its surface. I have spoken of common blessings. Have we not each special mercies which we would own with devout gratitude,--mercies adapted to our peculiar wants, as distinctly marked, so to speak, with our names, as keepsakes from a friend might be? How often have we received the very favours which we most needed, and dared not anticipate, sent in at the only moment and in the only mode in which they could have been availing! In this connection it is well for us to consider how little we can do for ourselves. We are too prone to feel as if our own industry, energy, and forethought could accomplish much. But think how many sources of joy must all flow together, how many departments of nature and of being must all be brought into harmony, in order for us to pass a single hour in comfort.
II. What are the duties to which this review calls us? Does it not make the gratitude of the most thankful seem cold? What but unceasing praise can worthily respond to this incessant flow of mercy? And yet, do not some of us live without thanksgiving? Oh, that every soul might feel the love in which it is embosomed, and might send heavenward the blended anthem of all its powers and affections, “Bless the Lord, and forget not all His benefits!” In these mercies, hear we not also the voice of religious exhortation, “My son, give Me thy heart”? (A. P. Peabody.)
The common levels of life
The forty years’ wanderings! What remains of them? A list of unknown names, no more. The dust of time has settled on the stations; and the events, big at the time with interests to millions, are without a note in history. What weary years of plodding marches through a dark, unheavenly country; what dreads and dangers, what wants and distresses, what keen agonies and fierce complaints, that oblivious silence covers! They are all there, days of fighting, nights of weeping, years of trudging. They seemed at the moment as if they were burning an indelible mark deep into life records; but they are already behind us, dim in the distance, a softening veil has fallen over the whole pilgrimage; a broad sense of pain conquered, shame endured, duty done; the consciousness that we have come out of the wanderings richer, braver, stronger, more earnest, but sadder, than when we entered the desert, is all that is left to us. In order that we may better understand the method of God in ordering our wilderness marches let us consider--
I. The reason of “the wanderings.” Why is so large a portion of our years spent under the yoke of undistinguished duties, leaving no record but “the wanderings” behind? Briefly, because a few critical experiences do not make a character; a few impassioned, enthusiastic moments do not make a life. The inevitable falling off of the common hours and experiences seems to me to be the great teaching of this passage of Israel’s history. It is a broad fact in the history of every life; in a measure, of every day’s life, for the great cycles repeat themselves in little, as the organs of the body are present potentially in every part. But these narratives gather up the scattered incidents of our moral life into one grand incident, and show us with a large dramatic point and emphasis what we are daily doing under the eye of the great Leader, which makes these long, dry, unnoted wanderings inevitable; what it is which compels Him to impose what I have called the yoke of undistinguished duty, and to lead us up and down in the wilderness, that we may, if we will yield ourselves to His hand, work the sublime lessons, which we cannot learn and practise in a moment, into the common daily texture of life, that is, of eternity.
II. The purpose of the wanderings. Briefly, again, to work godly principles of action into the common texture of our daily lives. To make it a matter of perpetual, quiet choice and habit to square every action by the rule of the mind of God.
III. The “wanderings,” in view of their eternal results. They, obscure and unprofitable as they may seem are the builders for eternity. The quiet, undistinguished years decide the matter for the moments when the election is finally and openly made. It takes years to give a form and bent to a character. Temperament we are born with, character we have to make; and that not in the grand moments, when the eyes of men or of angels are visibly upon us, but in the daily quiet paths of pilgrimage, when the work is being done within in secret, which will be revealed in the daylight of eternity. Habits, like paths, are the result of constant actions. It is the multitude of daily footsteps which go to and fro which shapes them. Let it light up your daily wanderings to know that there--in the quiet bracing of the soul to uncongenial duty, the patient bearing of unwelcome burdens, the loving acceptance of unlovely companionship--and not on the grand occasions, you are making your eternal future. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
The journey of life
I. Life is a journey. “All the way.”
1. Intricate. Perplexities and difficulties in every stage and turn.
2. Eventful. Changes in every step. All is shifting.
4. Perilous. Poisonous streams, noxious herbs, venomous serpents.
5. Solemn. Leads body to grave and spirit to heaven or hell.
II. Life’s journey has a guide. “The Lord thy God led thee.”
1. The guide thoroughly understands the way.
2. The guide has resources equal to all possible emergencies.
III. Life’s journey can never be forgotten. “Thou shalt remember.”
1. Some memory of it is a matter of necessity.
2. A right memory is a matter of obligation.
Remember it so as to awaken contrition for past sins, gratitude for past mercies, resolutions for improved conduct. (Homilist.)
I. A Divine superintendence of human life.
1. The fact of this superintendence. “The way of man is not in himself.”
2. The purpose of this superintendence. Moral discipline.
II. A symbolic representation of human life. Morally, we are all in a wilderness, intricate, perilous, privational. It is only as we get the true manna from heaven that we can live spiritually in the wilderness of our present life.
III. A solemn obligation of human life. “Remember.”
1. Man does remember the past. Cannot help it; linked to it by a necessity of his nature.
2. Man does not always remember God in the past. This is the duty here commanded--to see God in the past, to see Him in all, in the tempest and the calm, the darkness and the sunshine.
IV. An eternal necessity of human life. Bread is not more necessary to support material life than the Word of God to sustain spiritual. The soul can only live as it receives communications from the Great Father of spirits. (Homilist.)
The Christian called to review the dealings of God with him
I. The way in which we are led.
1. The way of providence.
2. The way of grace.
II. The end for which we are led in this way.
2. “To prove thee.” God tries the genuineness of our repentance when He permits temptations to assault us, and suffers sin to wear a pleasing dress. Of our faith, when difficulties seem to arise in the way of His fulfilling His declarations and promises. Of our trust in Him when dangers, wants, enemies, distresses, assault us. Of our resignation to His will, in reproach and affliction, and in the death of those we love. Of our patience, in long-continued pain, or in a succession of calamities. Of our contentment with our lot in poverty. Of our meekness, gentleness, and forgiving spirit amidst provocations and injuries. Of our long suffering amidst the follies and sins of those round about us. Of our love to mankind, and to our enemies, amidst the hatred and ill-will of others. Of our love to God, when the world courts us, and we must of necessity abandon one or the other. Of our obedience when difficult duties are enjoined, and we are called to deny ourselves and take up our cross. Of our hope of everlasting life, when both the wind of temptation and the tide of our corruption are strongly against us.
3. “To know what was in thy heart.” God, who searches the heart and knows what is in man, infallibly knows what is in thine heart; but thou must know thyself, and discover to others what is in the heart.
4. “Whether thou wouldest keep His commandments or no.” Whether thou wouldest be brought to love Him with all thy heart, as thou art commanded; to serve Him with all thy strength; to make His will thy rule in all thy actions; to make His glory thy end, and not thy own honour, or interest, or pleasure. (J. Benson.)
The way of the past
I. The way of providence.
1. This we have experienced nationally.
II. The way of privilege.
1. We have possessed the Word of God.
2. All have been welcome to the house of God.
3. As Christians we have enjoyed fellowship with the people of God.
III. The way of experience.
1. Each of us has had his share of conflict.
2. To each has come deliverance in times of perplexity.
3. Even in the midst of trial we have, through faith in Christ, realised a measure of peace.
4. To every believer there has been vouchsafed spiritual joy.
Application: The past should thus be remembered
Remembrance of past trials
I. The duty of remembrance. The world likes to forget. There is so much that is self-humiliating in the past, so much that is disagreeable, that men would like to get it out of their thoughts. But not so the Christian. He is taught that it is his duty to bear in mind all the incidents of his past. It is an important duty. The way has been rough and varied, but it has been fraught with momentous issues. Have all the varied experiences been given us in order that they might at once pass from our ken? Some forget from indifference; they never can remember. Go through what they may, they never learn experience. Some forget from loose habits of mind; from long indolence. Others forget because they want to avoid the pain of remembrance. But none of them realise that remembrance is an important duty, an absolute command of God. It is important in worldly things, for it does much to form our human character. But it is still more important in spiritual things, for it does still more to form our spiritual character.
II. The profit to be derived. Our past lives have been directed for two ends--
1. To humble us. How insignificant we appear to ourselves in the light of the past! How our plans have been thwarted, our ambition damped, our desires crushed! Where is our pride at the end of the journey of life?
2. To prove us. There is much alloy in the best of our services, much sin even in holy things.
III. The comfort to be imparted. At first sight it seems that no affliction for the present seemeth light. It is always painful. Nevertheless it worketh out an abundant weight of glory. Persecutors mean evil, but God causes it to be good. Consider--
1. The future good more than counterbalances the present evil. When the rod is removed the purified soul will rejoice in the eternal presence of God.
2. Trials by the way are proofs of Divine love. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth. God sees better and further than we do. (Preacher’s Analyst.)
To bring to remembrance
I. Why we are to remember the beginning. It was almost the first business of Moses, in giving this long address which we have in Deuteronomy, to show that the Israelites, for want of remembering all the way the Lord had led them, lost the promised land. Let us, then, take a three-fold view of the beginning, as applicable to us spiritually.
1. What is the first thing that we shall call the beginning? That which the people of God as a general rule come to last, and that which is almost everywhere despised. The beginning was a manifestation of the pure sovereignty of God. In Exodus 11:1-10, the Lord said that He would put a difference--as the margin reads it, a redemption--between the Egyptians and Israel; referring to the paschal lamb. Now, how did the Lord begin with you? Why, by making a difference, not only between you and others, but by making us something very different from what we had been before.
2. Then the second thing in the beginning was that beautiful circumstance as a type of the Saviour. “When I see the blood I will pass by the house, and the sword shall not come near to hurt you. Oh, let us remember that the original way of escape was by Jesus Christ; if we were left of the sword, it was by the blood of the Lamb.
3. Then the third thing in the beginning was the victory which was wrought. Look at the victory the Lord gave to the Israelites; see how He divided the sea. God did in that case what none but God could do. Now apply this closer home. Who but the God-man Mediator could have divided a greater sea? Who but the God-man Mediator could bring in such a victory as Jesus Christ hath brought in? Who but Jesus Christ could penally bear our sins?
II. Why we are to remember the present. How much wilderness experience the people of God have! what solitude! “Like an owl of the desert,” “like a sparrow alone upon the house top”; and “that He will hear the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer”; and “they wandered in a solitary way, and found no city to dwell in.” I dare say some good Christians think that ministers have not much of this wilderness experience; but I can tell you this, if they have not, they will not be of much use to the people. They may pretend to weep with the people, but they cannot feel as they would if they had these experiences. The doctor may be very sympathising over the dying patient, but the doctor cannot feel what the parent feels, the doctor cannot feel what near and dear relatives feel. The apostle saith, “We have ten thousand instructors, but not many fathers.” For a minister, therefore, to be of that sympathising nature that he shall strengthen file diseased, heal the sick, bring again that which is driven away, he must from time to time know what this wilderness experience is; and then he will think when he comes into the pulpit, and say to himself, I am a poor, dark, helpless creature, no more fit to preach the Gospel than to create a world; and thus the man is humbled down like a little child, and the Lord knows that is just the time for Him to come; so in the Lord steps, the man’s heart is warmed, his soul is enlarged, Satan flies off, and the man is astounded how it is he is so strong; and one thought comes, and another; and the man that one half his time perhaps is little more than a stammerer, all at once becomes eloquent, and pours forth torrents of thoughts, and blessing after blessing, until the people lose their troubles and their sorrows, and he loses his.
III. How we are to look at the future. With confidence in Him who has been so gracious to us up to the present. (J. Wells.)
I. The call to remembrance. If knowledge is important, memory is important in precisely the same degree; for knowledge is nothing unless it be applied, and it cannot be applied unless it be remembered. But there are many who resemble the workmen in the days of Haggai, who received wages to put them into a bag of holes. And therefore says the apostle to the Hebrews, “Give the more earnest heed to the things you have heard, lest at any time you should let them slip”; for we are now considering memory not in reference to the scholar, or the man of business, but with regard to religion; and it is remarkable that the whole of religion is expressed by the word, “Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” One thing, however, is worthy of consideration--that in all these instances the remembrance is to be considered, not as a speculation, but as experimental and practical. The sacred winters never regard remembrance as an end, but as an instrument; to call forth such feelings, and to produce such actions as will correspond to the things we are required to remember. As they consider knowledge without practice to be no better than ignorance, so they consider remembrance without influence and efficiency as no better than forgetfulness.
II. The subject to be reviewed.
1. The place--“the wilderness.”
2. Their conductor--“the Lord thy God.” God guides the people with His eye, He leads them by His word and His Spirit and His providence. He is a very present help to them in every time of trouble, and He will never leave them nor forsake them till they have entered the promised land.
3. The passages--“all the way.” Not that everything in their journey was equally important and interesting; this could not be; but all had been under the appointment and discipline of God, and all would be rendered profitable.
4. The period--“these forty years.” (W. Jay.)
The advantages of a frequent retrospect of life
I. The way which we are here called on to remember, is, “all the way which the Lord our God has led us”; the whole course of His dispensations towards us from the day of our birth to the present hour. Even the most minute occurrences in our history have had some influence on our condition and character; they are affecting us now, and will continue to affect us through an endless eternity. But while all the events of our life ought to be preserved in our memories, those events ought especially to be treasured up there which are more immediately connected with the way that is leading us to heaven.
1. And among these the means by which we were first brought into this way should hold a chief place.
2. We are called on to remember also the afflictions with which we have been visited since we have been walking in the path of life.
3. Neither must our mercies be forgotten in the retrospect of our lives.
4. The sins we have committed in the midst of our afflictions and blessings must also be often retraced; not merely viewed in a mass, but, like our mercies, contemplated one by one with all their aggravations.
II. The remembrance of these things, however, in order to be beneficial to us, must be accompanied with a lively conviction of the overruling providence of God in all that has happened to us, and as lively a sense of His close connection with us. The text points out to us the ends which God had in view in afflicting the Jews, and it consequently affords us the means of ascertaining the reasons of His diversified dispensations towards ourselves.
1. They are intended to humble us. All is humility in that kingdom where God dwells. Here, in this fallen world, the meanest sinner lifts up himself against Him; but there the loftiest archangels cast down their crowns before His footstool. Before we can enter that glorious world we also must learn to abase ourselves.
2. The various changes in our condition have been designed also to prove us.
3. They have a tendency to teach us the insufficiency of all worldly things to make us happy, and the all-sufficiency of God to bless us.
III. These, then, are the immediate purposes for which the Lord has led us through so many trials and mercies in our way to heaven. There are, however, other ends which they have been designed to answer; and that these may be accomplished He commands us to look back on the course in which we have walked, and has connected with the retrospect many spiritual benefits.
1. A review of the past is calculated to confirm our faith in the Bible. Our lives are practical illustrations of this blessed book. Indeed the whole world and all that is passing therein is one continued commentary on it, and confirmation of its truth.
2. A retrospect of the past has a tendency also to increase our knowledge of ourselves.
3. The remembrance enjoined in the text is calculated also to strengthen our confidence in God. It brings before our mind the help we have received in our difficulties, the supplies in our wants, the consolations in our troubles; and reasoning from the past to the future, we are naturally led to infer that He who never has forsaken us never will forsake us; that the goodness and mercy which have followed us all the days of our life will follow us still; that no vicissitudes in our condition, no tribulation, no distress, no persecution, no peril, “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The lesson of memory
I. What we should be mainly occupied with as we look back. Memory, like all other faculties, may either help or hinder us. As is the man, so will be his remembrance. The tastes which rule his present will determine the things that he likes best to think about in the past. There are many ways of going wrong in our retrospect. Some of us, for instance, prefer to think with pleasure about things that ought never to have been done, and to give a wicked immortality to thoughts that ought never to have had a being. Such a use of the great faculty of memory is like the folly of the Egyptians who embalmed cats and vermin. Then there are some of us who abuse memory just as much by picking out, with perverse ingenuity, every black bit that lies in the distance behind us, all the disappointments, all the losses, all the pains, all the sorrows. And there are some of us who, in like manner, spoil all the good that we could get out of a wise retrospect by only looking back in such a fashion as to feed a sentimental melancholy, which is, perhaps, the most profitless of all the ways of looking backwards. Now here are the two points in this verse of my text which would put all these blunders and all others right, telling us what we should chiefly think about when we look back. “Thou shalt remember all the way by which the Lord thy God hath led thee.” Let memory work under the distinct recognition of Divine guidance in every part of the past. That is the first condition of making the retrospect blessed. Another purpose for which the whole panorama of life is made to pass before us, and for which all the gymnastics of life exercise us, is that we may be made submissive to His great will, and may keep His commandments.
II. And now turn to the other consideration which may help to make remembrance a good, namely, the issues to which our retrospect must tend if it is to be anything more than sentimental recollections.
1. Remember and be thankful. If it be the case that the main fact about things is their power to mould persons and to make character, then there follows, very dearly, that all things, that come within the sweep of our memory may equally attribute to our highest good.
2. Remember, and let the memory lead to contrition.
3. Let us remember in order that from the retrospect we may get practical wisdom.
4. The last thing that I would say is, Let us remember that we may hope. The forward look and the backward look are really but the exercise of the same faculty in two different directions. Memory does not always imply hope; we remember sometimes because we do not hope, and try to gather round ourselves the vanished past because we know it never can be a present or a future. But when we are occupied with an unchanging Friend, whose love is inexhaustible, and whose arm is unwearied, it is good logic to say, “It has been, therefore it shall be.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A call to remembrance
When Charles I was executed, January 30, 1649, the last word he was heard to utter was “Remember.” Memory is a power that may be vivid to the last moment on earth; it may echo its terrors in hell, or carry its blessed lessons and reviews to the heavenly world. It is a mighty faculty of the human mind. It is meant to be useful as a storehouse of information and a granary of knowledge. Again, it is intended to remind us of the lessons gathered by experience and observation. These lessons may have been dearly learnt, but may be all the more precious as they serve to correct our pride, and to reveal our sinfulness and weakness.
I. Mark the stages of Israel’s journey.
1. Border of Red Sea.
4. Wilderness of sin.
6. At foot of Mount Sinai.
II. Mark the suggestiveness of that journey to us. It is a parable of the journey taken by God’s children by faith in Jesus Christ.
1. They also leave the slavery and sin of Egypt.
2. They too must go forward in the way of repentance and faith, in discharge of Christian duty, in cultivation of Christian graces, and in the path Providence and grace has ordained.
3. They often drink the bitter waters of sorrow and trial; but these waters are sweetened by Christ.
4. They drink of the waters of Elim, where they find joy and refreshment.
5. They also have to learn lessons of Divine care and Divine trust.
6. What rich supplies of the water of life flow around the camp of the spiritual Israel.
7. Where Israel encamps before Sinai, it reminds us that the law written on tables of stone is by the covenant of grace written on the tables of our hearts, and we are to remember those commandments of Jehovah that are a rule of life for all time, even the Ten Commandments.
III. Great facts Israel would remember.
1. Surely Israel remembered they had a glorious Guide.
2. Surely they would remember their full supplies. No good thing will God withhold from them that walk uprightly.
3. Israel would remember with sorrow their sins, and so must we.
4. They were to remember their rebukes and chastisements.
5. They were to remember their conflicts.
6. Surely they would remember the devious way they took.
7. Surely Israel might say, Mercy has ever been mingled with judgment.
8. Would not Israel remember all the way in the light of the glorious end then in view?
IV. The purpose to be served by the way that Israel journeyed.
1. To humble the people.
2. To prove the heart.
3. To lead to God and heaven. (F. A. Warmington.)
I. The way in which the Lord led His people.
1. A way not chosen by themselves. Grace--freely bestowed (John 5:16).
2. A trying way. Walking by faith, not sight (1 Peter 1:7).
3. A mysterious way.
4. A discouraging way (Numbers 21:4-5). So the Christian is often discouraged. He wants to feel that he is going on spiritually; but he feels, more and more, his own helplessness. Some days he has most cheering and delightful thoughts of God; on others he feels bereft of faith, love, joy, hope, comfort, and every spiritual gift.
5. A way of tribulation (John 16:33).
6. A way in which God went before them (Exodus 13:21-22). He is with every one of His people every moment, to keep them by His Almighty power, in the way of grace.
II. The place in which the Lord led His people His people into the wilderness.
1. To humble. In order that He may magnify Christ in them.
2. To prove. That He may convince them of their own weakness.
3. That He may know what is in his heart--its secret corruptions, etc. (J. J. Eastmead.)
Human life a pilgrimage
I. The wandering of the Israelites through the wilderness to Canaan is a lively image and representation of a Christian’s passage through this world to heaven.
1. The passage of the Israelites through the wilderness was a very unsettled state; so is ours through this world. If we do not continually wander about from place to place as the Israelites did, yet we are far from having any fixed and constant abode. The perpetual alterations we see about us, either in our friends, our neighbours, or ourselves, our persons, tempers, estates, families, or circumstances, and in short, the vast change which the compass of a few years makes in almost everything around us, is sufficient to convince us that we are in no settled condition here.
2. The travel of the Israelites through the wilderness was a troublesome and dangerous state. Now, here is another fit emblem of a Christian’s pilgrimage through this world which to him is not only a barren but a hostile land. From the very nature of things, and the circumstances of his present state, he meets with many inconveniences and sufferings, and from the malice of his enemies more. Setting aside the natural evils which he bears in common with others, sickness, pains, crosses, disappointments, personal and family afflictions, he is exposed to many spiritual evils and dangers as a Christian which create him no small concern; particularly frequent instigations to sin, from a depraved nature, from an ensnaring and delusive world, and from a wily and watchful enemy going about indefatigably seeking whom he may devour.
3. In the wilderness through which the Israelites travelled to Canaan, there were many by-paths or devious tracts by which they might be in danger of going astray. And how much this resembles a Christian’s walk through this world is very apparent.
4. Notwithstanding all the by-paths and windings in the wilderness, the Israelites had an infallible Guide to lead them in the way they should go.
5. Though the Israelites travelled forty years in the wilderness, yet they were all that while not far from the promised land. We have here another circumstance of similitude to a Christian’s state in this world. If he be in the right way to heaven, he is never far from it; he lives on the borders of it. A very little and unexpected incident may let him suddenly into the eternal world, which should every day therefore be in his thoughts.
6. The reason why the children of Israel wandered so long in the wilderness before they reached the promised land is given us in the text. Now, whether it be not sometimes by way of punishment that God is pleased to detain some of his people from their state of rest and happiness for a long time, as He did the Israelites from the land of Canaan, I will not take upon me to say. But without all doubt, this world is a state of trial and temptation to them all; in which they are detained the longer that they may be more fit for and more ardently desirous of the heavenly Canaan when they are well wearied with the labours and difficulties of this their earthly pilgrimage. And there are three graces which the trials of life are very proper to cultivate, and to the exercise of which the Israelites were more especially called during their passage through the wilderness. And they are faith, hope, and patience: all proper to a state of suffering and mutually subservient to each other. Faith keeps its eye on God in all we suffer; looks beyond the agency of second causes; views the direction of the Divine band and adores it. Patience, under the influence of faith, submits to the hand of God in all. And hope, enlivened by faith and confirmed by patience, looks beyond all to that future and better state of things where we shall meet with an unspeakable recompence for all we can go through to obtain it.
7. In order to keep up the faith, patience, and hope of the Israelites, full and frequent descriptions were given them of the goodness of that land to which they were travelling. Nor are our faith and patience and hope without the like supports in respect to the heavenly Canaan. Oh, what great and glorious things are told us of the city of the living God, the metropolis of the universal King!
8. When the Israelites were come to the end of their pilgrimage, before they could enter the promised land, they were obliged to pass over the river Jordan which separated the wilderness from Canaan. Here lay their greatest difficulty at the very end of their journey. Now to apply this part of the history to the Christian’s life and pilgrimage. The last enemy he is to overcome is death. And as it is the last, so to some Christians it is the most terrible of all their trials; and all their faith and hope and patience is little enough to support them under it. But there is no arriving at the heavenly Canaan without first passing through the fatal Jordan. And as the Israelites by the long and frequent exercise of their faith and hope and trust in God were better prepared for this last difficulty of passing over Jordan, so the more these graces are wrought into a lively habit, the more composed will the soul be under the apprehensions of approaching death.
I shall now conclude this with a few reflections:
1. Let these thoughts, then, be improved to abate our desires after the pleasures of the present life and excite them after those of a better.
2. What reason have we to be thankful that we have so sure a Guide through this dangerous desert! The Israelites themselves had not one more safe.
3. Though our state and condition in this world be much the same as that of the Israelites was in the wilderness, let us however take care that our temper and disposition be not the same. They are set up as our warning, not as our pattern.
4. Whilst we are in this wilderness let us keep the heavenly Canaan always in our eye. The frequent thoughts of it will speed our progress towards it, quicken our preparations for it, and be a sovereign support under all the trials we may meet with in our way to it; will soften our sorrows, and reconcile us to all our earthly disappointments. And indeed, what is there which a man need call a disappointment whose heaven is secure? (John Mason, M. A.)
The way to improve past providences
I. I am to specify some of those providential dispensations which we ought in a more especial manner to recollect and consider. And this review ought to be universal. We should not willingly let pass any of the ways and dispensations of Providence towards us without a serious remark. But as we cannot remember them all, we should take the more care to retain the impression of those that are more remarkable, as a testimony of our dutiful acknowledgment of God and our dependence upon Him in all our ways.
1. Then we should often call to mind God’s afflicting and humbling providences. Have we been afflicted in our bodies? let us remember how it was with us in our low estate; what thoughts we then had of our souls and another world; what serious impressions were made upon our minds which we should endeavour to renew and retain. Again, have we been afflicted in our spirits? By sore temptations, grievous dejections, severe conflicts with sin and Satan, little hopes, great fears, dreadful doubts, and terrifying apprehensions concerning the state of our souls, and what is like to become of them hereafter. These kinds of troubles ought by no means to be forgotten. And when they are remembered, our proper inquiry is, How we got rid of them? For there is a very wrong and dangerous way of getting rid of such spiritual concern of mind. If stupidity and indolence, neglect or worldly-mindedness, carnal security or prevailing vanity, have contributed to overbear and drown those convictions, and banish that serious thoughtfulness and religious sorrow we once had, our state is really worse than it was then; and we have more reason now to be concerned than we had before. Again, have we been afflicted in our family or friends by the death of some, or the sickness and distress of others, let us not soon forget these kinds of afflictions when they are past. It is possible we may know very well from what immediate cause they flowed, yet let us not overlook the sovereign hand of God therein. And if they have in any degree been owing to some neglect or fault in us, they should especially be remembered, to humble us and make us more wise and cautious for the future.
2. We should likewise remember the merciful providences of God towards us. For instance, our temporal mercies should be frequently remembered--the health, the peace, the prosperity, and the worldly advantages we enjoy above so many others. Again, our spiritual mercies and religious advantages should be thankfully recorded by us, and especially that invaluable one of a good and pious education. Again, family mercies should be often remembered by us--family health, peace and prosperity, the comfort of relations, the blessing of children, especially if they be found walking in the way of truth. And so should public mercies; especially the signal interpositions of Providence in preserving us from our enemies and restoring to us the blessings of national prosperity and peace.
II. Let us now consider in what manner the past providences of God are to be recollected and considered by us.
1. We should review them very intently and seriously, call to mind as many particulars as we can, reflect upon them, dwell upon the reflection till the heart be deeply impressed with it.
2. We should review past providences with thankfulness (Ephesians 5:20). What! are we to give thanks for afflictions, pains, and crosses; for those humbling providences under which we mourn? Yes; there is no providence, though ever so adverse, in which a Christian may not see much of the Divine goodness, and for which, upon the whole, he will not see abundant cause to be thankful. He hath reason to be thankful that his afflictions are not greater; that when some of his comforts are gone he hath so many others left; that some honey is thrown into his bitter cup; that there is such a mixture of mercy with judgment; that his supports are so seasonable and effectual; that under these strokes he can eye the Father’s hand and look upon them as the effect of His love, for He chasteneth every son He loves. But especially are kind favourable providences to be gratefully recorded. It is not to be supposed but that every one of us may call to mind many a merciful providence which has contributed greatly to the comfort of our lives, and laid the foundation of our present happiness and future hopes.
3. Our remembrance of the past providences of God should be improved for the confirmation of our hope and trust in Him. By what God hath done for us we see what He is able to do. Our experience, then, should support our hope, and past mercies establish our trust in God for future.
4. When we call to mind the past ways of God towards us, we should seriously reconsider in what manner we behaved under them and what good we have gained from them. Every providence hath a voice, some a very loud one calling us in a more especial manner to practise some particular duty, or forsake some particular sin. Have merciful providences made us more active, diligent, and steadfast in the service of God? and together with greater power given us a better heart to do good? Again, what effect have providential afflictions had upon us? And all afflictions are to be deemed such excepting those that are the genuine effects of our own sin and folly. Have they humbled us? mortified our worldly-mindedness? checked our false ambition? or subdued any secret lust that before too much prevailed? Have they fixed our hope and dependence on God? and made us think more seriously of death and another world? and, in a word, been the means of making us more circumspect and better Christians?
III. I am now to lay before you some of those considerations that are most proper to induce us hereunto.
1. The express command of God should be a sovereign motive to this duty.
2. The duty recommended in the text is necessary as subservient to the great end for which such providences are intended--namely, to do us good in the latter end. So that if we seldom or superficially reflect upon them, we frustrate the chief design of them, and lose the benefit intended thereby.
3. This is a very pleasant as well as useful employment of the mind; and a very happy way of filling up those leisure minutes which, through the vagrancy and dissipation of thought, do so frequently run to waste.
4. Such a serious reflection on past providences may be of use to direct us in our future conduct.
5. The shortness and uncertainty of life makes this duty more especially necessary. What is past we know, what is to come we know not. For anything that we know, by far the most important periods and occurrences of life may be past with us. If the hand of Providence therein hath not yet been properly attended to and improved by us, it is high time it were. (John Mason, M. A.)
Remember the way
I. What it was that God did.
1. God kept the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness ten times longer than would be necessary for a man’s passing through it. We hasten because we are impatient, distrustful, and uncertain. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” We do not believe, and therefore we are in a hurry. We see only brief time before us as our day in which to work. God does not hasten, for eternity is before Him as His working day, and He has no misgiving about accomplishing His purposes: for He saith to Himself and of Himself continually, “I am that I am”--“I am the Almighty God.” The great question with our God is not our getting through so much of our course as quickly as possible, but our so passing through it as that all things shall work together for our good. A man is in a hurry to secure a certain object and to get to a certain position; and God hedges his way with thorns and there he stops, and a voice from heaven saith to him, “Be still,” and he is obliged to “be still.”
2. God exposed the people to much difficulty and hardship, but He did not suffer them to sink under their troubles. They were long kept back from Canaan, but God did not forsake His people. The glory, the pillar of cloud and fire, and every Divine ordinance were as so many tokens and symbols of His presence.
II. What did God mean by dealing thus with the people? God has a meaning in everything. You know one great design embraces our whole life, from the beginning to the end; and then a still larger design takes in the lives of all living things: so that God is not only dealing with me in His dispensations toward me, but He is dealing with all His creatures in dealing with me. There is an end to which everything that happens is subjected. What did God mean by dealing as He did with the people before us?
1. He treated them in this way to humble them. They thought of themselves more highly than they ought to think. They had been accustomed, some of them, to stand by Him as though they were on a level with Him, and to ask Him what He did this for, and what He did that for--not, mark, as an obedient and trustful child, but as a rebel would inquire of some ruler against whom he had risen up. Well, the people had been accustomed in this way to ask God, “Why?” and God brought them down from this. And we say that this is a sublime spiritual spectacle, a man injuring himself by pride, and God lowering that man’s estimate of himself. There is something sublime in this--in the great God occupying Himself with one of us men, having our abasement for His object, and so ordering all things as that our pride shall be laid low.
2. God dealt with the people thus to show them what material they were made of. He knew them, but they did not know themselves, and He would have them know themselves. Is the eye evil? Is the ear deaf? Is the tongue fired by hell? Is the neck an iron sinew? Is the heart stone? God knew: they did not--and He dealt with them as He did to show them what they were.
3. God dealt thus with them to show them further what He could do. “That He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.”
4. God’s end in His dealings with Israel was instruction and correction, and all the spiritual advantages to be derived from that instruction and correction.
III. What God requires in respect of this instruction and correction. What a mighty effect upon life memory has! It adds the past to the present. Now among the several moral and religious advantages of memory is your being spared the toil of learning the same lesson over and over again. (S. Martin, D. D.)
The duty, benefits, and blessings of remembering God’s commandments
I. The duty of remembrance. “Thou shalt remember,” etc. Here we have the same form as in the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have none other God but Me”; “thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath,” etc. It is, therefore, a positive duty, an obligation insisted on, to remember God’s dealings with us and those before us. But now what is the general course of the world about this important duty? Altogether opposed to it. Some persons we see and know never do remember. Go through what they will, suffer what they may, they never learn experience, or what is called common sense. They continue the same thoughtless, headstrong, violent people they ever were. They never remember. Some there be, however, whose habit of mind is so loose from long indolence, that they really find it difficult so to do; others because it is painful--the thoughts of past years have so much pain in them. There are the false steps that we wilfully made, the neglected opportunities of both doing and getting good, old instances of influence abused, courses of sin persevered in, misgivings of conscience disregarded. To look back on all these is contrary to that peace which we strive to say to ourselves when there is no peace. Instead of meditating and examining themselves, and praying for God’s grace to become altered characters, these men shut out all such reasonings as far as they can, and go on with self-willed eagerness in their old plans: sometimes, if driven from them, they go on only in other courses of the same character, and these, too, with their old eagerness. But if this duty of remembrance is important in a worldly point of view, as it regards our mutual relations on earth, it is of far greater consequence in heavenly things. It is possible to get through our earthly career, though never happily, without remembering; but heaven, the city of our God, we never shall attain unless we do remember all the way the Lord our God hath led us. We must remember Him in our ways, bear in our minds our old sins, and what led us into them. Thence we shall think of what befell us in consequence; and, calmly weighing these over in our minds, we shall pray to God for grace in the future, and will avoid those occasions of sin which previously tried us.
II. In remembering all the way which we have been led, we shall find it highly profitable; because each of our lives is so directed, sooner or later, for two ends--to humble us, and to prove us whether we will serve God or no.
1. Here we see, first, that all events are ordered for our humiliation. Is it not so? Have you had no remarkable turns in your lives, when, yourself or your friends intending one thing, another has come to pass? Have you had no answers to prayer, when, in your helplessness or agony, you besought God and He hearkened? Look back to your youth; how He controlled your self-wickedness, overruled your ignorance, directed your forwardness. It may be, He answered your prayers and punished your inventions; or that what you were so eager for and prayed to obtain so earnestly, as thinking it would without fail make you happy, He refused, and you now find greatly to your comfort. You must bear these in mind; they were so ordained to humble you. We hear men say of their troubles that they are humbling; how they will try in consequence to remove them, to fling themselves out of them. They are thwarted: this causes irritation; it shows them a glimpse of what they really are, poor and weak, blind and naked, and humbles them. God sends these troubles for this purpose--to humble you. Let no Christian therefore try, for it is a vain work, to shake them off; God sends them to humble him. Let the prayer of this man rather be, Let me be humbled. God exalteth the humble, but casteth away the proud.
2. But in discussing this branch of our subject we have another end also laid open to us; this is to prove us. Christ, by Malachi, says, that His coming will have the same effect on the world as the fire of the refiner on silver. And as all the multiplied complications of our chequered lives are ordered to fit us for Christ’s kingdom, we may well suppose they are calculated to produce this same effect--that of refining or proving. We are told that God will do this in several passages: “I will refine them as silver is refined: the Lord your God proveth you.” Now there is so much alloy, even in our best services, that all this is necessary.
III. Do these things seem hard? Listen to the great comfort to be derived from our subject. It is all--if you turn to verse 16--to do thee good at the latter end. It is true, enemies mean mischief; false friends wish confusion of face: but, as Joseph said to his brethren who had sold him, and instrumentally had brought on him the miseries he suffered in Egypt, “Ye meant it for evil; but lo, God hath brought it to good,” so with Christians; the different tribulations and unevenness on their road, are the spurs which should quicken their pace to Jerusalem above, the mother of us all. (J. D. Day, M. A.)
I. Those words were addressed by God Himself to the Israelites. God has a right to call on each one of us to remember His guidance. Observe--
II. These words were spoken to a people, the great majority of whom were ungodly, wicked people. God has been leading them. They do not think so.
III. In calling us to remember, God has the most important practical purposes to answer. There is a moral purpose to every man’s life.
IV. There are many things we ought to remember. Infancy. Childhood. Opportunities of receiving truth. Trifling with religious impressions.
V. There must come a time when we shall be obliged to remember.
VI. Remembrance now will save us from all this. VII. The first effort to remember will be owned and blessed by a gracious Saviour. “I will arise,” etc. (W. G. Barrett, M. A.)
A New Year’s meditation
I. Let us emphasise the all, for on that word the emphasis of the sentence truly lies. Survey one part, and then not only the whole, but even that particular portion will inevitably be misunderstood. Take it all together. The very principle of it implies a wholeness, a continuity of purpose, which can only be fully comprehended in the result. It is a way somewhither. No way explains itself at every step. And believe that a Being of unerring wisdom laid the plan of your life course, the nature and conditions of your journey, and the certainty that that was the straightest way to your home. Believe that a Father’s wise and loving eye has surveyed the whole of it; and that not a quagmire, not a perilous passage, not a torrent, not a mountain gorge, not a steep, rocky path, not a bare, sandy plain, has been ordained that could have been spared. Thou shalt consider all the way. Consider--
1. That it is a way. That the character of the path is to be estimated not by the present difficulty or danger, but by the importance of the end. God says to you, as you would say to every traveller along a difficult path, “Look up; leave caring for the track at thy feet; look on to the end that is already in sight.” Full little cares the weary pilgrim for the roughness of the path or its peril; his heart strains on--Rome, Jerusalem, will reward it all. Is the end worth the toil? That is always the one question.
2. Consider the infinite variety of the way, the many rich elements and influences which it combines to educate your life. A dead and dreary monotony is no part of the plan of God in the education of His sons. If you want to see vast monotones, broad sand tracks, boundless plains, go to Asia and Africa, the continents of slaves and tyrants. If you want to see rich variety, hill and valley, tableland and plain, lakes, rivers, inland seas, and broken coastlines, come to Europe, the home of civilisation, the continent of freeborn and free-living men. And manifold in beauty, in variety, in alternations of scenes and experiences, is this wilderness way by which God is leading His sons. The valley, remember, is part of the mountain. If you will have the height of the one with its exhilaration, you must have the depth of the other with its depression. It is the memory of the depths that makes the heights so grand and inspiring.
II. Thou shalt consider the beauty of the way. I believe the wilderness to have been only less beautiful than Canaan. In many points, if not more beautiful, more striking and grand. It was a bright contrast to the dismal monotony and fatness of Egypt. And through the forty years’ journey that people had spread round them all the pomp and splendour of Nature, her grandest aspects, her most winning, witching smiles: “And thou shalt consider all the way by which the Lord thy God hath led thee.” Lift up thine eyes and take in all the beauty and goodness of the world. “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works, how beautiful; in wisdom and in goodness hast Thou made them all.” We none of us take half joy enough, the joy we have a right to take, in the goodly world which our God hath built. Poor we may be and struggling, and all the higher interests and joys of life, art, literature, music, may be tasted but rarely, and in drops. But the Great Artist has taken thought for the poor. He wills that their joys shall not be Song of Solomon. The beauty, the glory, which art at its highest faintly adumbrates, is theirs in profusion Thou shalt consider the good world through which the Lord thy God hath led thee.
III. Thou shalt consider the bread of the wilderness (Exodus 16:11-15). This miracle of the manna is a very wonderful miracle, repeated every day before our eyes. The God who made the manna their food makes bread of corn your food. It is good sometimes to get behind all the apparatus of laws which hide the hand of the living God from us, and take our daily bread, our daily breath, as the sparrows and the lilies take their food and their beauty, direct from the hand of our Father in heaven.
IV. Thou shalt remember the perils of the wilderness. It is distinctly by a perilous path God leads us, that we may see as well as dimly guess at our dependence, and ascribe our deliverances to the hand from which they spring. Life is one long peril. Physiologists say that if we could but see the delicate tissues which are strained almost to bursting by every motion, every breath, we should be afraid to stir a step or draw a breath lest we should rupture the frail vessels and perish. “Strange that a harp of thousand strings should keep in tune so long.” But it does keep in tune; it is in full tune this day. Remember the perils of the way. Remember the moments of sickness and agony, when death seemed to stand over you. There are deadlier perils than death around us each moment, perils which threaten the second death. Temptations of no common strain. Some of you, by a wonderful chain of providential agencies, have been delivered from positions which you felt to be full of peril, in which, had you continued, you must have fallen; but the net was broken and you have escaped. Thou shalt remember the sins of the wilderness.
VI. Thou shalt remember the chastisements of the way, and consider “that as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.”
VII. Thou shalt remember the Elims of the way, the sunny spots, the living verdure, the murmuring fountains, the rustling, shadowing palms, where not seldom you have been permitted to lie down and rest. The wilderness had nooks as fertile, as beautiful as Canaan. Earth has joys, though rare, pure and deep as the joys of heaven. We are ever moaning over our sorrows. We take our mercies as a thing of course. “The people came down to Elim, where were springs and palms.” I do not catch the notes of a song of praise. Remember the way and count the Elims by which it has been gladdened, the moments of rapture in which the full heart, swollen almost to bursting, has murmured out its thanksgiving, and realised that “it is a blessed thing to be.”
VIII. Thou shalt consider the end of the way. Forget that, and it is all a mystery. “Be patient, brethren, and see the end of the Lord” (7-11). “The Lord doth bring thee in.” Every sorrow, toil, pain, chastisement He sends is to bring thee in with joy, with glory; to make thee rich for eternity. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
The face which the sculptor chisels or the artist paints as looking backwards is usually expressive of the extreme of sadness. Yet the recollection of the past which such a countenance suggests need not be full of gloom. There is a retrospect which only adds to the keenness of enjoyment. A few years ago a party crossed the backbone of Europe by one of the most picturesque of the passes that cleave the Alps. It was a steep pathway. Reflected by the rocky walls, the sun flung into his glances a heat like a tropic day. But at last they reached the summit. Before descending the other side they stopped and looked back upon the way they had already climbed. Winding far below, the difficult road was mapped out upon the shaggy slope. There were the cliffs they had scaled, the precipices along the edge of which their path had led, the dizzy chasms spanned by bridges seemingly as fragile as that the spider builds. And to stand upon that breezy elevation, to look back on such a pathway, and to know that over such obstacles they had triumphantly gained the very summit, was to drink the wine-cup of mental exhilaration. So do men generally look back from the summit of success. Such a retrospect is the ripest sheaf in the harvest of life. (Bishop Cheney.)
Memory a scribe
Aristotle calls it the scribe of the soul. (T. Watson.)
However quiet your life may have been, I am sure there, has been much in it that has tenderly illustrated the Lord’s providence, the Lord’s deliverance, the Lord’s upholding and sustaining you. You have been, perhaps, in poverty, and just when the barrel of meal was empty, then were you supplied. You have gone, perhaps, through fire and water, but in it all God’s help has been very wonderful. Perhaps you are like the Welsh woman, who said that the Ebenezers which she had set up at the places where God had helped her were so thick that they made a wall from the very spot she began with Christ to that she had then reached. Is it so with you? Then tell how God has led you, fed you, and brought you out of all your troubles. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
To humble thee and to prove thee.
The stages of probation
I. There has ever been a struggle between good and evil proceeding in the world--a struggle in which some have arrayed themselves on one side, some on another.
II. Again, the world grows in experience, increases its stores of knowledge, and its power over matter.
III. But now to come to a more definite illustration of the truth, that the individual is but the species in miniature. Ever since the creation of man, God has been proving His rational creatures by various dispensations.
1. Man, when ejected from Paradise, had a certain limited degree of light and help.
2. Man was next put under the restraints of human law--the warrant for the whole compass of human law being contained in that sentence, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” This was a new help, a new light. Did man recover himself under it from the ruins of the fall? Alas, no! Consider that one saying to Abraham, “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” It shows that mighty nations had sprung up upon the earth’s surface who were forgetful of God, and among whom stalked oppression and lust, such as called down vengeance from heaven.
3. So a law was henceforth to be revealed from heaven, and to be made plain upon tables of stone, so that he who ran might read it. Surely when it was so explicit, when it had so manifestly the attestation of heaven, man’s evil propensities would not dare to break through its restraints. But the third dispensation failed, as the two preceding ones had done.
4. Subsequently the precepts of the law were expanded and spiritualised by the prophets, those inspired preachers raised up in orderly succession to bear their testimony for God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. Still, man was unreclaimed: walked, as ever, in the way of his heart, and in the sight of his eyes. The servants who were sent to receive of the fruits of the vineyard were sent away empty, beaten, stoned, slain.
5. A pause, during which the voice of prophecy was hushed, and then full of augury and hope, the new dispensation, with its covenant of pardoning mercy and sanctifying grace, broke upon a world, which had as yet been stricken down and foiled in its every conflict with evil. A revealed Saviour, joining, in His mysterious Person, man with God--this was the new Light. A revealed forgiveness through His blood, of every transgression--this was the new encouragement. A revealed Sanctifier, who should take up His abode in the abyss of the human will, and there meet evil in its earliest germ--this was the new strength. In the long-suffering of God this dispensation is still running its course. (Dean Goulburn.)
Divine providence a moral discipline
I. Let us regard the text as indicating an enlarged experiment upon human nature, and illustrating the morality of Divine providence. The moral ends of providence are manifested--
1. In overruling the curse pronounced at the fall of man. Affliction, pain, and all the various ills that flesh is heir to are the means of bringing men to their right mind, of showing them the vanity of earthly things, and of maturing moral virtues and Christian graces. How few would regard their spiritual destitution but for this discipline! Even death itself is made a moral blessing. Its terrors lead men to seek Christ and a preparation for heaven; its uncertainty induces watchfulness.
2. There is a moral lesson in the present usual consequences of vice and virtue. The vices which are most injurious to society being poverty and shame, the virtues which are most conducive to the welfare of society are most favourable to the temporal welfare of individuals. Filthiness of the flesh usually has its fit punishment in the diseases of the flesh; filthiness of the spirit, its appropriate penal visitation in the disappointments and vexations of the spirit. The largest amount of temporal misery may be traced to idleness, indecision, improvidence, and transgression. And neglects from inconsiderateness, not looking about us to see what we have to do, are often attended with consequences altogether as dreadful, as from any active misbehaviour from the most extravagant passion. The consequences tread upon the heels of the fault; and indeed, vice generally becomes its own punishment.
3. Observe, also, the encouragements which providence furnishes to seek pardon at the hand of God. We are sinners, and have forfeited every blessing and enjoyment but such things as are essential to us as accountable beings--necessary to endow us with that responsibility in which the law of God contemplates us. Nevertheless, God continues to us innumerable forfeited blessings; and the continued bestowment, notwithstanding that they are abused, and converted into occasions of unthankfulness, or weapons of rebellion, marks a forbearance admirably calculated to “lead men to repentance.”
II. The particular ends of God’s providential dispensations towards the Church.
1. Since humility is the proper counter working of the fall, the first design named by Moses is “to humble thee.”
2. A second great object of the discipline of providence over the Church is here specified: “To prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments or no.” Not that the principles and fluctuating feelings of the heart are not fully known to God, but that we know not our own hearts. It belongs essentially to probation that we should be proved. Something must ever be left as a test of the loyalty of the heart. Every day offers a test to some part of our character. Some duty is required which is painful or disadvantageous to our temporal interests; or we are placed in such circumstances that our precise duty is involved in considerable obscurity, and requires patient thought and a conscientious balancing of reasons and scrutiny of motives. Thus God proves what value we set on acts of disobedience as such, and shows us that our virtue is to be estimated by the amount of temptation and the difficulties of obedience. (F. A. West.)
The blessing of temptation
It is the privilege of God’s people “that all things work together for their good.” St. Paul, when speaking of this, speaks of it as a certain and well-known truth. He does not say, “We know that all things are good”; but, “that all things work together for good.” Pain and sickness, poverty, contempt, provocations, wrongs and injustice, these are evils to the believer as much as to the unbeliever. But though evil in themselves, they work together for his good; like the storms and tempests, the cold frosts and piercing winds--they are often as necessary and useful to the harvest as the warm dews and gentle sunshine. It was so with God’s Israel of old. The words of the text show us this. It may seem strange to the carnal ear to affirm that temptation may be a great blessing; and even the believer, when hardly tried, may scarcely think it can be so; yet it is certainly true that temptation is a source of blessing to the real Christian. And thus, through the goodness and mercy of Almighty God, even Satan himself is made an instrument of good to His believing people.
1. We will consider how God proves us, and what we are to understand by this part of our subject. We at once see that by proving us the Lord must mean, not the finding out what we are, but the showing it. Man’s heart is not like a boxed mainspring of a watch, all but wound up from God’s sight, as it is from ours, and of which only a part of the chain, a few links now and then, may be seen moving across and over it, as the chain works round; but there is no covering over the mainspring of our hearts to God’s eye: glass is transparent, and hearts are glass to God. When God is said to have led His people “forty years in the wilderness, to prove them and know what was in their heart,” it was to show them and others what was in their heart, and not to know and find out for Himself. During these forty years He suffered them to pass through a variety of trials and temptations, all calculated to prove and show which among them would keep His commandments and which would not. So is it still with the professing Church of Christ. We must be proved as Israel was; for only they that are proved shall enter the heavenly rest. And temptations alone can prove us. Our honesty is proved when we were tempted to be dishonest, and through God’s grace resisted the temptation. Our truth is proved when we might have gained by untruth, and yet were enabled to overcome the temptation. Our chastity is proved when the allurements to sinful lusts were thrown in our way, and we shrank from the snare. Our trust in God is proved when we were in want or difficulties. But further, “They also help to make known what is in our hearts.” When God’s grace first comes into the Christian’s soul it is as when the windows of some old ruined house, long shut up in dust and neglect, are opened, the light is let in upon the rooms. It is as when those who have undertaken thoroughly to repair it, take up the floor, and take down the skirtings, and examine the timbers, and lay bare the drains. No one could have thought, even from the outward appearance, that such a mass of rotten timber, such a heap of dust and filth, and so many vermin, could have got together. And it is not till the work of repairing begins in our hearts that we begin to know anything of their real condition. While there is no light of God’s Spirit shining in us, we know nothing of our inward corruptions. We are like persons long used to the close, foul, and unhealthy air of some sick room; it, is not till we have left it, and felt the freshness and sweetness of the air of heaven, that we know what the other was. We cannot know what our heart is till we know what is in our heart; and we cannot know what is in our heart till that which is in is drawn out; and temptation alone can draw it out. It is temptation which shows us what is in our hearts--that brings out in various ways the miserable pride and self-conceit, the hypocrisy and dissimulation, the vain self-confidence, the impurity and uncleanness, the fear of man’s shame and love of man’s praise, the envy and jealousy, and all those other evil tempers and dispositions which are in every soul of man by nature, but which man only learns to know and feel by grace; and the great object of all the various trials and circumstances through which the believer is made to pass, as Israel through the wilderness, is “to show him what is in his heart.”
II. The effect of all this is “to humble him.” The self-righteous sinner is always a proud man: he has, indeed, nothing to be proud of, and everything to be ashamed of; but because he is blind to his sins and faults, blind to the real character of his heart, and ignorant of himself, he is proud, Now, no proud man ever came to Christ--no man that thinks himself righteous ever came to Christ. He may call himself a miserable sinner; but he does not feel or really believe what he says. The Christian wishes to be humble; but he is not what he wishes to be. He wishes “to learn of Him who is meek and lowly of heart,” and he is a learner in Christ’s school; but he is often humbled for his want of humility. Still, the growing experience of his heart is humbling him: he is becoming daily better acquainted with himself, and likes himself every day less and less. He once thought that, excepting a few faults (and those very few and very excusable and natural), there dwelt in him many good things. Now he can say, even from what he already knows, “that in him” (that is, in his flesh) “there dwelleth no good thing.” (W. W. Champneys, M. A.)
The moral discipline of man
I. It is a humbling work. To bring the soul down from all its proud conceits, vain imaginations, and ambitious aims, and to inspire it with the profoundest sense of its own moral unworthiness.
II. It is a self revealing work. “The evil principle sleeps in the spirit as the evil monster in the placid waters of the Nile; and it is only the hot sun, or the sweep of the fierce tempest, that can draw or drive it forth in its malignant manifestations.”
III. It is a divine work God alone is the true moral schoolmaster; He alone can effectually discipline the soul.
1. By the dispensation of events.
2. By the realities of the Gospel.
3. By His influence on conscience.
IV. It is a slow work. Goodness is not an impression, an act, or even a habit; it is a character, and characters are of slow growth. It is a growth, and requires cultivation--planting, nourishing, and seasonal changes. (Homilist.)
God “proves” His children
The suffering you see around you hurts God more than it hurts you, or the man upon whom it fails. But He hates things that most men think little of, and will send any suffering upon them rather than have men continue indifferent to them. Men may say, “We don’t want suffering: we don’t want to be good.” But God says, “I know My own obligations, and you shall not be contemptible wretches if there be any resource in the Godhead.” The God who strikes is the God whose Son wept over Jerusalem. (George Macdonald.)
The discipline of life
A touching story was told of a young man whose mother and father died, leaving him in the care of a guardian. He was put to work at a trade, and worked faithfully for years. When he was eighteen a companion said to him, “Why do you work so hard? Your father was rich, worth $500,000 and your guardian is keeping the money.” The young man then began to entertain hard feelings towards his guardian, and stopped calling upon him. But he kept on working. The day before he was twenty-one he was invited to take tea with his guardian and his wife. Just before supper his guardian called him aside and said to him, “Before your father died he asked me to be your guardian, and to withhold from you a knowledge of his circumstances. He wished you to learn a trade and to earn your own subsistence. I was only to assist you when you were in real need. He wished you to acquire industrious habits.” The young man was broken down. He wanted to explain. But the guardian would not permit it; no explanation or forgiveness was needed. So we are to pass through the discipline of life patiently, faithfully, industriously, until we enter into the inheritance above.
That He might humble thee.--
Afflictive dispensations of providence
I. The afflictive dispensations of providence are intended to humble believers by teaching them absolute and constant dependence on God for everything that they enjoy.
II. The afflictive dispensations of providence are intended to prove the sincerity and to increase the strength of religion in the heart of the godly. ‘Tis the battle that tries the soldier, and the storm the pilot. How would it appear that Christians can be not only patient, but cheerful in poverty, in disgrace, and temptations, and persecutions, if it were not often their lot to meet with these? He that formed the heart knows it to be deceitful, and He that gives grace knows the weakness and strength of it exactly. The Word of God speaks to men; therefore it speaks the language of men. “Now,” said the Lord to Abraham, “I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me.” In the wisdom of God, believers are thus put in possession of an undeniable evidence of their own sincerity, and which goes further to assure them of their final salvation than a thousand inward feelings, which are often the effect of imagination alone. It is of importance, besides, to observe that every such trial is a means not only of proving the reality of their religious principles, but of confirming and increasing them. It is with the mind as with the body. Exercise and exertion increase its vigour and strength.
III. Consider the ultimate desire and effect of all these dispensations. “To do thee good at thy latter end.” When entered into heaven, their knowledge will be enlarged and perfected; and what is at present concealed from them will burst on their view as a necessary part of the discipline of grace in conducting and completing their everlasting salvation. They will then perceive that by poverty they were guarded from the dangers to which wealth would have exposed them, or that the meanness of their station preserved them from the snares of ambition, or that sickness was the means of correcting their tendency to the pursuit of sensual pleasures and worldly joys. Penetrating into the counsels of the Lord, they will see the mercy even of His heaviest judgments, and the wisdom of His most unsearchable ways. At present they may be in heaviness through many tribulations, but the trial of their faith being much more precious than that of gold which perisheth, though it be tried with fire, shall be found to praise and honour and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (D. Dickinson, D. D.)
The design of affliction
There is a two-fold design of chastening. The first is self-revelation, “to know what was in thine heart.” Some things can only be got at by fire. There are depths in our consciousness that nothing can sound but pain, anguish, bitterness, sorrow. And these are not all bad; sometimes pain works its way down to our better nature, touches into gracious activity our noblest impulses, and evokes from our heretofore dumb lips the noblest prayer. Sometimes we see further through our tears than through our laughter. Many a man owes all that he knows about himself, in its reality and in its best suggestiveness, not to prosperity, but to adversity; not to light, but to darkness. The angel of trouble has spoken to him, in whispers that have found their way into the inmost hearing of the heart. The next design of affliction given in this quotation is “whether thou wouldest keep His commandments or no.” Obedience is the purpose which God has in view. There can be no grand life until we have learned to obey. It is good for a man to have to obey. It is a continual lesson, a daily discipline. He gathers from it a true consciousness of his own capacity and his own strength, and he begins to ask questions of the most serious intent. From the beginning God’s purpose was that we should obey. You cannot obey in any good and useful sense the spirit of evil. You only get good from the exercise of obedience when that exercise goes against your own will and chastens it into gracious submission. Self-revelation and filial obedience--these are part of God’s design in sending afflictions upon us. Take another explanation: “I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day. Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?” Sometimes God’s withdrawments evolve from the heart, conscious of His absence the most poignant and eager prayers. He says, “I will go away that they may miss Me.” He says, “I will withdraw and cause the walls of their security to tremble and the roof of their defence to let the storm pour down through it, in order that they may begin to ask great questions.” He will not have us fretting the mind with little inquiries and petty interrogations. He will force us to vital questionings: “Are not these things come upon us because our God is not among us?” Why deal with symptoms and not with real diseases? Take another answer: “They shall bear the punishment of their iniquity . . . that the house of Israel may no more go astray from Me.” Punishment--meant to bring men home again. That is God’s weapon, and you cannot steal it. You do wrong, and the scorpion stings you. You cannot bribe the scorpion, or tame it, or please it. Do what you will, it is a scorpion still. You say you will eat and drink abundantly, and grow your joys in your body, and the blood saith, “No!” And every bone says, “No!” And the head and the heart say, “No! we are God’s, and not in us shall you grow any joy that is not of the nature of His own purpose and will.” The bones, the joints, the sinews, the nerves, the whole scheme of the physical constitution of man, all fight for God. What is God’s purpose in this? To bring you home again, and nothing else. Take another statement of the cause and purpose of God in this matter of afflicting men: “I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant,. . .there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.” There, again, is the internal mystery. It is not the heart that needs must be revealed. You cannot argue with a man who is running down to hell with the consent of all his powers. Argue with him! Your argument and eloquence would be thrown away upon him. You must so show the evil of his doings as to work in the man self-loathing. You may show him pictures of evil, and he will gaze upon them--nay, he will buy them and hang them up in his rooms at home and point them out to his friends as works of vigour and power and wondrous artistic skill. He will not regard them as mirrors reflecting his own image. The work must be done in his soul He must so see evil as to hate himself--self-disgust is the beginning of penitence and amendment. We all have affliction. Yours seems to be greater than mine; mine may seem to be greater than yours. But let us know that there cannot be any affliction in our life without its being under God’s control, and He will not suffer us to be tried above that we are able to bear, and with every trial He will make a way of escape. He does not willingly grieve the children of men. He is pruning us, cutting us, nursing us, purifying us by divers processes to the end that He may set us in His heavens--princes that shall go out no more forever. Let us next consider how variously, as to spirit and interpretation, affliction may be received at the hands of God. By “affliction” do not narrowly understand mere bodily, suffering, but trial of every kind, yea, the whole burden and discipline of life. We must go to history for our illustration, and, turning to history for my first illustration, I find that the discipline of life may be received impenitently. Hear these words in solemn and decisive proof: “If ye will not be reformed by Me by these things, but will walk contrary unto Me, then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.” I warn you, God will not give way--God cannot give way. The one thing God can do is to multiply your affliction seven times, and to cover up the arch of the sky with a night denser than has yet blackened the firmament. Turning to history again, I find that affliction may be received self-approvingly or self-excusingly, and so may fail of its benign purpose. The proof is in these words: “In vain have I smitten your children; they received no correction Thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely His anger shall turn from me.” The correction has been administered, but has not been received. It has been misunderstood. It has been taken in hardness. It has been resented as an injustice. It has been treated as if it came from an enemy, and not from a friend. The deadly sophism of your innocence must be rooted out before you can be cured. The Pharisee must be destroyed before the man can be saved. Will you understand that? Turning again to history for illustration and argument, I find that affliction may be received self-deceivingly. The proof is in these words: “They have not cried unto Me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds.” Heart crying is one thing, and mere howling is another. Men come to us with sad stories of distress, and they make long moans about pain and fear, about poverty and uselessness. They use the words which penitents might use, but not in a contrite spirit. It is the flesh that complains; it is not the spirit that repents. When a bad man complains of his head, is he complaining of his sin? Is he not only waiting till he can gather himself together again that he may renew the contest against heaven, and endeavour to find on earth a root that was never planted there? One more point there is which I dare scarcely touch. How few know that the passage is in the Bible. It is a passage that proves that affliction may be received, in the fourth place, despairingly. Are there in any poems made by men such words as these? Tell me if any poet dare write such words: “They gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds.” “My soul, come not thou into their secret.” Some man wrote these words who had seen hell. Do not trifle with the idea of future punishment. Whatever it be, it is the last answer of Omnipotence to rebellious man. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” This is not a question to be argued. When logician and speculist have accomplished their task there remains the unexplained word--hell! How are we receiving our afflictions? “Come now, let us reason together.” Ephraim of old was described as a “bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.” In some countries the bullock is used for ploughing and for drawing vehicles. The poor ox is yoked, and, being unaccustomed to the yoke, it chafes under it. Its great shoulders protest against the violation of liberty. By and by the bullock becomes accustomed to the treatment, and submits itself to the service to losses. It is not natural that we should do so; but, seeing that we have incurred them, we must receive them at God’s hand, and become accustomed to the discipline, and eventually submit ourselves to the service of God, which is the true liberty. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Development and discipline
The point of comparison brought to view in the text is between God’s treatment of the Israelites in the wilderness and His treatment of His peculiar people--or, if you please, of all mankind--in this world of probation.
I. We have here God’s providential treatment of men in this world set forth as a process of discovery. “God led them forty years in the wilderness, to prove them, and to know what was in their heart.” Under God’s providential economy earthly and practical life is but practical development. Man’s business on this sublunary platform is to work out his hidden character in the face of the universe--to make manifest his secret thoughts even in forms of materialism. The fashion of the man’s garments, the furniture of his dwelling, the pictures he hangs upon his walls, the volumes he places in his library, the places of his favourite recreation, the style of men with whom be delights to associate; yea, his very bearing as he mingles with men and walks in the market place--are all but the visible expression of the quality of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And this practical manifestation of character in life is with a great Divine purpose. In the case of the Israelites it was to show who, of the wanderers in the Exodus, were proper men to go over to Canaan; and in our case it is to show who, of these dwellers upon earth, are becoming meet for the heavenly inheritance. Not that God needs to learn this, but that He would have His universe know that He is just when He judges and clear when He condemns. And this, this is life! The development in actual forms of the hidden things of the spirit! This making known to a universe what there is in the heart! Oh, then, how awfully solemn a thing it is to live--just to live!
II. And it brings us to consider this other providential design--a process of discipline. “The Lord God led them forty years in the wilderness to humble them.’ Here, by a common scriptural figure, the great grace of humility is put metonymically for all the distinguishing graces of Christian character. And the meaning is, that God led them about in the wilderness as in a state of pupilage and preparation for the civil and ecclesiastical immunities of Canaan. And in illustrating this thought we only ask you to observe how earthly trials and affliction are the finest means of sanctification. You perceive at once, in the case of the Israelites, that if God had allowed them to pitch a permanent encampment in some fair oasis of the desert, then, instead of becoming more humble, they would have waxed worse and worse in arrogance and carnality. And it needed the burning sun, and the hot sand, and the fiery serpents, and the constant assaults of the fierce men of Amalek and Moab to humble them before God, and make them meet for a citizenship in the theocracy of Canaan. And so of Christians on earth--a moment’s consideration will show you how afflictions are, after all, the finest discipline of sanctification. Yes, yes, it is thus God sanctifies--He takes away the earthly, that the heart may rise to the heavenly; He tears the bark from its mortal moorings, that it may launch forth toward the eternal haven; He stirs up the nest of the slumberous eagle, that, with exulting pinion, it may soar to the sun! (C. Wadsworth.)
God’s training of men
This is the lesson of our lives. This is God’s training, not only for the Jews, but for us. We read these verses to teach us that God’s ways with man do not change; that His fatherly hand is over us, as well as over the people of Israel; that their blessings are our blessings, their dangers are our dangers; that, as St. Paul says, all these things are written for our example.
I. “He humbled thee and suffered thee to hunger.” How true to life that is! How often there comes to a man, at his setting out in life, a time which humbles him, when his fine plans fail him, and he has to go through a time of want and struggle! His very want and struggles and anxiety may be God’s help to him. If he be earnest and honest, patient and God-fearing, he prospers--God brings him through; God holds him up, strengthens and refreshes him, and so the man learns that man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
II. There is another danger which awaits us, as it awaited those old Jews--the danger of prosperity in old age. It is easy for a man who has fought the battle with the world, and conquered more or less, to say in his heart, as Moses feared that those old Jews would say, “My might and the power of my wit hath gotten me this wealth,” and to forget the Lord his God, who guided him and trained him through all the struggles and storms of early life, and so to become vainly confident, worldly and hard-hearted, undevoted and ungodly, even though he may keep himself respectable enough, and fall into no open sin.
III. Old age itself is a most wholesome and blessed medicine for the soul of man. Anything is good which humbles us, makes us feel our own ignorance, weakness, nothingness, and cast ourselves on that God in whom we live, and move, and have our being, and on the mercy of that Saviour who died for us on the Cross, and on that Spirit of God from whose holy inspiration alone all good desires and good actions come. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna.
The pilgrims’ grateful recollections
I. Let us pass in review the favours of the lord, taking what He did for Israel as being typical of what He has done for us.
1. The first blessing mentioned is that of humbling: “And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger.” Not very highly esteemed among men will this favour be; and at first, perhaps, it may be regarded by ourselves as being rather a judgment, one of the terrible things in righteousness, than a great favour from the Most High. But rightly judged, this is one of the most admirable proofs of the Lord’s loving kindness, that He does not leave His people in their natural pride and obstinacy, but by acts of grace brings them to their right minds. Note in the text, that the humbling was produce by hunger. What makes a man so humble as to be thoroughly in want? Oh, happy season when He stripped me of what I thought my glory, but which were filthy rags!
2. Notice, in the second place, the Divine feeding. We shall now see ourselves mirrored in the case of Israel as in a glass. “He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee.” How sweetly that follows: “suffered thee to hunger and fed thee”; the light close on the heels of the darkness. “Blessed are ye that do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for ye shall be filled.” That “and” in the text is like a diamond rivet, none can ever take it out or break it. “He suffered thee to hunger and fed thee.” He who suffers thee to hunger will be sure to feed thee yet upon the bountiful provisions of His grace. Be of good cheer, poor mourning soul.
3. The third favour mentioned is the remarkable raiment. “Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee.” Though subject to the ordinary wear and tear incidental to travelling, their garments still continued to be as good at the end of forty years as they were when first they left the land of Egypt. I believe that to be what the text means. Anyhow, spiritually, it is the case with us. You cannot point me to a stale promise in all God’s book, neither can you find me a worn-out doctrine. In the way of perseverance we have been maintained and preserved. Personally I admire the grace which has kept me in my course, though assailed by many fierce temptations and exposed to great perils in my position.
4. The next blessing for which we ought to be grateful is that sustained personal strength. Our spiritual vigour has still. Your foot has not swelled in the way of perseverance. Neither have you been lamed in the way of service. Perhaps you have been called to do much work for Christ, yet you have not grown tired of it, though sometimes tired in it; still, you have kept to your labour, and found help in it. So, too, your foot has not swollen in the way of faith. Such little faith you bad at first that you might well have thought it would all die out by now. But it has not been so. God has not quenched the smoking flax, nor broken the bruised reed. In addition to all this, your foot has not swollen in the way of fellowship. You have walked with God, and you have not grown weary of the holy intercourse. Moreover, your foot has not swollen in the way of joy. You were happy young men in Christ Jesus, and you are happy fathers now. The novelty has not worn off, or rather one novelty has been succeeded by another, fresh discoveries have broken out upon you, and Jesus is still to you the dew of youth. He who walks with God shall never weary, though through all eternity he continues the hallowed march. For all this we give to God our thanks yet again.
5. Notice the memorable blessing of chastisement. “Thou shalt also consider in thine heart.” That unswollen foot, and that unworn garment, you need not so much value as this, for this you are specially bidden to consider, your deepest thoughts are to be given to it, and, consequently, your highest praises. “Consider in thine heart, that as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.” I am sure I have derived more real benefit and permanent strength and growth in grace, and every precious thing, from the furnace of affliction, than I have ever derived from prosperity.
II. The inference from all this. All this humbling, feeding, clothing, strengthening, chastening, what of it all? Why this--“therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, and to fear Him.” Take the model of the text.
1. Let your obedience be universal. Keep the commandments of the Lord, walk in His ways.
2. Let your obedience be entire. In nothing be rebellious.
3. Let that obedience be careful. Doth not the text say, “Keep the commandments,” and doth not the first verse say, “Ye shall observe to do”? Keep it as though you kept a treasure, carefully putting your heart as a garrison round it. Observe it as they do who have some difficult art, and who watch each order of the teacher, and trace each different part of the process with observant eye, lest they fail in their art by missing any one little thing. Keep and observe. Be careful in your life. Be scrupulous. You serve a jealous God, be jealous of yourself.
4. Let your obedience be practical. The text says, “Walk in His ways.” Carry your service of God into your daily life, into all the minutiae and details of it. Whereas others walk up and down in the name of their God, and boast themselves in the idols wherein they trust, walk you in the name of Jehovah, and glory always to avow that you are a disciple of Jesus.
5. Let your obedience spring from principle, for the text says, “Walk in His ways, and fear Him.” Seek to have a sense of His presence, such as holy spirits have in heaven who view Him face to face. Remember He is everywhere; you are never absent from that eye. Tremble, therefore, before Him with that sacred trembling which is consistent with holy faith. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Man doth not live by bread only.
What is the life for which we seek and hope? Mere existence? No. But conscious happiness--a large preponderance of success over disappointment, and joy over sorrow. This is what all desire; but they seek it in different ways. Our text suggests two theories of life;--the one, the living by bread alone; the other, by obedience, duty, and love, by angels food, by the manna that comes down from heaven.
I. Man doth not live by bread only. Yet multitudes think thus to live--by things outward and earthly, by the accumulation of material, perishable objects of enjoyment, or of wealth, which can represent and command them all. Can wealth sustain or comfort the bereaved husband or father? When the strong ties of natural affection are sundered, is it a solace to know that they had been gilded and jewelled? If they were not strengthened and sanctified by Christian communion, by the fellowship of heaven-seeking souls--if the only common interests have been sordid, then has the prosperity enjoyed together left the survivor only the heavier burden of remembrances not again to be realised, and of joys forever fled.
II. What, then, are the elements of this higher life? Since man, spiritually speaking, cannot live by bread only, by what is he to live?
1. First by faith--faith in an all-seeing Father, whose sceptre ruleth over all, and who, if our hearts are His, will cause all things outward to work together for our good--faith in a Redeemer, who has loved us and given Himself for us as our Saviour from sin, and our Guide to duty and heaven.
2. Again, man, by the appointment of God, is to live by hope--by the hope of heaven, which alone can anchor the soul amidst the fitful fortunes of our earthly pilgrimage.
3. By God’s appointment, we are also to nourish our souls by charity, by sympathy with our brethren, by bearing their burdens and helping their joys. There can be no life worth living without brotherly love--without a ready heart and hand for the needy, the suffering, and the erring.
4. Finally our true life must he connected with, and flow from, the testimony of a good conscience, which, if merited, no outward condition can suppress or pervert.
III. Such are the heaven-appointed means of life and growth within the reach of all of us. It is these that our Saviour proffers to us. They were His peace and joy. They are the fountain still flowing at the foot of His Cross. Other streams there are, sparkling, attractive, rolling over golden sands and beneath a brilliant sky; yet there is a voice in their murmur, ever saying,--“He that drinks of us shall thirst again, and thirst as often as he comes to draw.” But from the mountain of the beatitudes, and again from the olive shade of Gethsemane, and from the darkness and agony of Calvary, I hear the voice,--“If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink, and the water that I will give him shall be in him a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.” (A. P. Peabody.)
The food of man
If this be true, what a strange comment on it is the world around us at this hour! Turn to what class of our countrymen you like, and in every variety of expression upon their countenance you will see written deep their conviction, in every changeful accent of their voices you will hear uttered their practical belief, that they can live by bread alone. It is for bread--using “bread” in the largest sense as meaning all material things--that men toil, and exhaust their finest energies. And as statesmen, and philosophers, and priests behold these things, each comes forward with his gospel for mankind.
I. First, we have the “gospel of education.” Let us take care that each child learns the elementary principles of knowledge, and we may hope that the coming generation shall have a higher idea of national and of social life. Well, certainly the very last persons in England to depreciate the blessings of secular instruction are the clergy. But let not educational enthusiasts think because they have provided partially against material deterioration that they have discovered a moral cure. It may change the form of crime; it will not touch the root from which it springs.
II. We have then from others the message of the philosophers. “Let us eat of this tree, and live forever.” Now, while we gladly acknowledge all the past successes of science and of philosophy, and while we thankfully receive every new discovery as a further revelation of the wisdom and the love of the Creator, we say this is not the bread of life for sorrowing, sinning humanity. This is no gospel for all mankind. Clad in the purple of her pride, and the white linen of her fine-spun theories, philosophy’s few cultured friends may fare sumptuously every day in her high hall of state; but humanity, like Lazarus, with hunger in its soul, and its body covered with festering sores of sin, lies helpless at her gate.
III. The more experience I have, the more deeply I am persuaded that the power to accomplish it is the preaching of a personal crucified christ. That--the incarnate Word of God--is still and ever the bread by which nations and men must live. It was not a new science, it was not an advanced thought, it was not an improved philosophy, it was not a merely exalted morality, it was not the idyllic life of a Galilean peasant, that men preached in the early days, in the purple dawn of Christianity, and by the preaching of it shook the Empire and revolutionised the world. And it is not by any such means, or by anything which appeals exclusively to the intellect; nay, not even by a vague “accommodating theology” with no doctrinal articulation--which, polype-like, floats on the tides of human thought, rising as they rise, falling as they fall--that men and nations can be saved now. It is as of old--by the preaching of the Word, Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. “I am the Bread of Life,” said Christ. (T. T. Shore, M. A.)
The staff of life
I. We are to consider what our peril is. In one word, it is the peril of an over-mastering materialism. Look on England today, the England that speaks to us through Liverpool and Manchester, through Cabinet and Parliament, her stout hand not upon her heart but upon her pocket, cold towards us, sneeringly indifferent to the triumph of law, order, and right, anxious only about the cargoes of cotton, which are to feed her whirling spindles. Tell us, ye British statesmen, tell us, ye sordid sons of heroic sires, are Constitutions only parchment? Are nations only herds of farmers, artisans, and traders? Is chartered freedom only sounding rhetoric? Is duty only a name? Is honour dead? And is there nothing for us, in this nineteenth century, but to delve and spin and trade, to clutch and hoard, to eat and drink, and bloat and rot and die, and make no sign?
II. What our deliverance must be. Deliverance is what we want; not mere respite, lifting the agony from our spirits to lay it over upon our children; deliverance, complete and final. What avails it in a raging fever, rapidly nearing its crisis, that we comfort ourselves with cooling drinks, while the disease is striking boldly at our vitals? It is written in God’s Word, and written in all the history of the race: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Such is the Divine regimen for the nations. They live, if they live at all, by no felicity of position, soil, or climate, by no abundance of material good, but by the living word of the living God. Work we must, and shall, and should. And work will bring us wealth. And wealth will bring us power. What then? Need wealth be idolised, or spent upon our lusts? Need power he vaunted and abused? If so, we perish, as Tyre and Sidon perished; perish, as Carthage perished; perish, as, according to the Indian legend, the last of our gigantic mastodons perished, smitten down by the thunderbolt of the Great Spirit. Thank God, it need not be so. Nor is it our task to lay our feeble, ineffectual finger upon this vast revolving wheel, which carries the whole machinery of our earthly life, and bid it pause. It is not our task to slay this giant of our material prosperity, and stretch his huge corpse out across the continent. Ours is the far grander task of teaching the giant wisdom, and subduing his earth-born energies to Him who has told us that “Man shall not live by bread alone.” How, then, shall men and nations live? “By every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”; so reads our text. The Hebrews in the desert had no need of bread; they were fed with manna from the skies. But our Lord proved that there was no need even of manna. It was enough for Him, as the Son of Man, that He had faith in God. On this He feasted, while He fasted, the forty days. It was God’s commandment, which He obeyed in fasting, and this commandment, thus obeyed in faith, was the bread He ate. The commandments of God, then, are the bread of life for the nations. If a Christian people, then we must be loyal to our calling, baptising our unexampled material prosperity into the name of Christ, and dedicating our wealth, with a wise and eager generosity, to Christian uses. (R. D. Hitchcock, D. D.)
Bread for the hungry
I. Let us, that we may get the meaning of this text with regard to providence, reflect upon the children of Israel in the wilderness. God has proved by miracle, that although He chooses to act usually according to certain rules, and nourish the body with bread and with meat, yet He is not tied to rules, but is absolute King and Master, and can do as He wills; and even in the subtle processes by which food is digested and assimilated to the flesh and blood, and bone and sinew, He can work without the means of ordinary chemistries. He can dissolve without alembics, and fuse without crucibles. But you say, “Ah! but that cannot concern us, for He never works miracles now.” Ay, but I reply, it is most marvellous for God to be able to do a miraculous thing without a miracle. I have seen many miracles, which were not miracles, but yet all the more miraculous. The poor have lacked bread; stones were not turned into bread for them, but they had their bread as much by miracle as if rocks had crumbled into food. We have seen the poor merchant reduced to distress, and he said, “Now I cannot see any hope for me. God must rend His heavens, and put His hand through the very windows to deliver me.” No heavens were rent, but the deliverance came. Now, the Lord can this day without a miracle work such a miracle that we shall have all our wants supplied, for “man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” You have heard the story of the martyr who was condemned to die. The judge said railingly: “You will be in prison. I shall make you no allowance for food, and what can your God do for you? How can He feed you?” “Why,” said the poor prisoner, “if He wills it, He can feed me from your table”: and it was so, though unknown to his cruel judge; for until his day of burning came, the wife of the judge, touched with sympathy, always secreted food and fed him abundantly even from the persecutor’s board.
II. The spiritual bearing of the text. Man shall not live by bread alone; that does but nourish the mere coarse fabric of clay; he lives by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God--that nourishes the immortal spirit; that sustains the heavenly flame which God has put there by the work of regeneration and conversion.
1. The text speaks of a hunger and of its consequences. Very many of you understand what this hunger means. There was a time when the world suited us well enough. But suddenly God put a new life into us; we knew not how. The first evidence we had of that life was that we began to hunger; we were not satisfied; we were unhappy. The soul was conscious of sin, and hungered for pardon; conscious of guilt, and hungered for purity; conscious of absence from God, and hungered and thirsted after His presence.
2. Notice, the heavenly bread and its surprising excellency. This bread, you see, is the Word of God. Now, the Word is given to us first here in the Bible, as it is written; it is given to us, secondly, from the lips of God’s own chosen and appointed ambassadors. He that despises either of these two, will soon find himself growing lean in spirit. But now, why is it that we need this food at all? I answer first, we need it to sustain the life which we have received. As life spiritual depends upon God to give it, so upon God to sustain it. Only He who makes us Christians can keep us so. We need this Divine food not only to keep us barely alive, but to make us grow. Besides, this food is necessary to strengthen us when we have grown up. How can we wonder that a man is weak if he does not eat? It is no wonder if Christians find themselves weak in prayer, weak in suffering, weak in action, weak in faith, and weak in love, if they neglect to feed upon the Word of God. Moreover, we need to have spiritual food also for our joy as well as for our strength. How often do you see a man sad and troubled, who, if he had sufficient sustenance, would soon have sparkling eyes and a shining face! Many Christians, I do not doubt, are very low and miserable because they do not feed upon the Word. Are you starving your souls? If so, there is no wonder that your joys are dead, and hang their heads like withered things. I trust many of us know what it is to feed to the full upon the Word of God. And do you not bear me witness that it is rich food?
3. A great privilege involving a consequent duty. We have been made to eat manna, as angels’ food which we did not know. It was far above our carnal judgments, yet they who feared the Lord said it was like wafers made with honey. Israel found it to be very sweet, and indeed it is said by the Rabbis that the manna had such a peculiarity about it, that it was always the flavour that a man wished it to be, and I think it is very much so with Gospel preaching; if a man chooses it to be disagreeable to him, it will be; but if he desires it to be sweet to him, it will be; he will be sure to be fed if he wants to be fed. For so is it with the precious Book; very much of its flavour is in our own mouths, and when our mouths are out of taste, we think the Bible has lost its savour. It is often your ears that are to blame, not the preacher; do not be so quick to blame him, but be a little more rapid in examining yourself. “Neither did our fathers know.” By nature, however much we may respect them, they are no better than ourselves, and they knew nothing about this subtle, mysterious, munificent way by which God supplies the needs of the souls of His people. Well now, if God has given us such food as this, I think the least thing we can do is to go and gather it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The true life of man
This passage is composed of two propositions, a negative and an affirmative. The verb is the same in both, and therefore can only have one and the same meaning in both propositions. The first taken literally is an obvious truism. The second, taken literally, is unintelligible. That man cannot live by bread alone is patent to all. At least two more substances are needful for existence, namely, air and water. Nor can air, water, and bread alone suffice for human life. Man must undergo some exertion in order to derive nourishment from the air, water, and bread, and he needs likewise to sleep and to have shelter or else he will die. As man rises in the scale of being, many more things become necessary to life which a primitive savage never thought of. The second proposition, “Man doth live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth o the Lord,” taken literally, is manifestly unintelligible. We can understand that bread eaten and assimilated is one of the many things required to support human life, but in no sense can we understand the process of eating and assimilating to be applied to any words human or Divine. The second proposition is therefore so manifestly figurative that the literal interpretation must be abandoned. And if the second proposition be figurative, so likewise must be the first; for the verb which gives meaning to the second is the same in both. The key to the meaning of the passage lies in the sense given to the verb “live” and to the phrase “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.” The author used this term “live” in a very exalted sense. It was much more than mere existence. We all know what kind of torpid, stupid life we mean to describe by the term “to vegetate”; a life of motionless, passionless inactivity--mere existence without exertion, without animation. A higher life than this belongs in common to all animals; but a mere animal life was not, I think, what the author intended when he said “man cannot live by bread alone.” Just as we use the term “vegetate” to express inactivity, so we use the term “animalism” to express a brutish kind of life of which selfish indulgence is the alpha and omega. The life of man is something higher than the life of the beast, and cannot be sustained by the mere supply of animal wants. Taking the word “bread” to embrace typically every possible object needful for animal sustenance, vigour, and enjoyment, man wants for his life much more than bread. Man cannot live by bread alone. If he lives by bread alone, he has either never been a man at all or has ceased to be a man, he is only an animal. And , I venture to say, is one lesson that has to be re-learnt in our own times. Whether things were worse or better in times that are gone, one thing is most obvious now. Many men and women are steeped in the notion that it is only by bread that man can live and by nothing else--that is to say that their whole lives depend upon the constant and adequate supply of those things which go to furnish animal health, animal strength, animal spirits, and general animal enjoyment; that this earthly bread is all they ever want, or all that they need ever seek; that when these things are provided, the rest of everything can go to the wall, and the kingdom of God along with it. Too often parents by precept or example instill this animalism into the minds of their children, impressing it upon them by word and deed that their first and last duty in life is to get all they can; or else they tacitly acquiesce in their children’s downward tendency and take no pains to eradicate their selfishness or to cultivate within them higher pursuits. It takes little from the sadness of this outlook to know that in a very large measure the state of society in which we live is very much to blame for much of this concentration on earthly good. On the one hand competition and the struggle for existence has made it very hard for some people to live at all, and on the other hand luxurious habits have not only grown in number but have gradually taken their place in the category of the necessaries of life. The wisdom of the Stoic which commended the restraint of desire as a means of conferring happiness is now all but forgotten; and parents and children together seem to act as if the attainment of desired objects was the whole secret of happiness, and the multiplication of gratified wishes led only to satisfaction. It is a wonder they do not see that the more we have the more we want; it is feeding the disease of longing to gratify wish after wish; and I must add it is cruelty to the young to let them grow up with the idea that the true happiness of mail’s life consists in getting all we want and having our own way. If the course of Divine Providence with Israel be any guide to parents in the training of their children--and I think it is entitled to that place by those words, “Thou shalt remember in thine heart that as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee”--we may well lay to heart that to deny our children some longed for pleasure, to submit them to mild privations and to disappoint them in the execution of their will is to be following a Divine example which seeks the truer, higher, and more enduring happiness of His children by the temporary infliction of some needful chastisement. But no parent can do this with judgment or moderation, or can conduct the process of disappointing his children’s wishes properly unless he has learnt for himself the lesson, “Man cannot live by bread alone,” unless he knows by experience that his life in its truest sense “does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesseth,” but that his troubles and cares have been part of his most valuable treasure, and that his life has been enriched more often by what he has lost than by what he has gained. And this brings us to consider what is meant by the assertion of the text that “man doth live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.” This phrase becomes intelligible to us the moment we understand what is meant by the term “live.” The truest and highest life of man is not mere existence, nor the fullest enjoyment of his physical nature, but the highest exercise of his noblest functions as a moral and spiritual being, as a member of the great brotherhood of mankind, as a child of God. From such an elevation, the wants and cares of this lower life lose much of their overwhelming importance. Gains and losses are less felt as changes in the atmospheric pressure upon the soul. Daily bread is no longer regarded as the sum total of aspiration, as the sustenance of a heaven-born spirit. In the devout language of Job, “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” Now to live such a life we must not be content with bread, or with the most ample supply of all our physical wants, but we can only live it by the word of God, i.e. by following the higher law of our being, by seeking for and finding all possible truth, by acting in harmony with the known laws of Nature and with the known laws of human nature which are moral and spiritual as well as physical. If we but endeavour to have God in all our thoughts, to set God always before us, then our life will be a human life, and not the life of the vegetable or the life of the beast that perisheth. Why, even for the perfection of our lower life--the purely physical--we must attain to the knowledge of God’s good laws, and follow them faithfully, or else the bread of life will fail to nourish us; all its thousand embellishments will destroy and not promote our happiness. How much more, then, must we seek, in active obedience to His good laws, that perfection of moral and spiritual health in which alone the highest life of man consists! It still holds good that “he that seeketh his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life the same shall find it.” Paradoxical as it may sound, the law of self-denial for the well-being and comfort of others is the only condition in which our own well-being and comfort are attainable, or when attained can be made enduring. (C. Voysey, M. A.)
A few years ago died, at one of the missionary stations of India, a native called Brindelbund. He had spent sixty or seventy years in the service of Satan. Talking to his Hindoo brethren, he would say, “And whom do you need but Him whom I have found?” He would take his wallet of books, and travel two or three hundred miles to distribute them; and this he did for fourteen or fifteen years. Mrs. Chamberlain, in his last days, would go to his, bedside, and say, “Brindelbund, shall I get you some tea? Can you eat bread?” He would lay his hand on the New Testament: “Sister, this is my tea--this is my bread; man was not made to live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” How valuable the Gospel, which can thus give happiness to a man who had spent the greater part of his life in the slavery of idolatry!
Feeding on the Word
In her autobiography the late Frances Ridley Havergal says that after giving up her soul to the Saviour, “For the first time my Bible was sweet to me, and the first passage which I distinctly remember reading in a new and glad light was the fourteenth and following chapters of St. John’s Gospel. I read them feeling how wondrously loving and tender they were, and that now I too might share in their beauty and comfort.” In this statement we have the secret of that lady’s symmetrical piety and eminent usefulness. As she began her spiritual life by feeding it on the Divine Word, so she continued. She made it her daily bread. By reading it constantly, by meditating upon it, by implicitly believing it, by praying for light upon it, and by claiming its promises as her own, she learned to see and to know God, and to possess in very large measure that “eternal life” which consists in knowing Him. Hers was, therefore, a Scriptural piety. Her faith pushed its roots deep into God’s Word. And whoever wishes to be truly and actively pious, must, like her, nourish his heart with Scripture truth, since no Christian ever did, or ever can, attain deep piety who does not learn to sip sweetness from God’s words as bees suck honey from the flowers of the field.
In a town in Japan I once wanted to hold a meeting in the hotel, but only two fishermen came. I entered into conversation about Christ and His salvation with them instead of preaching. I told them that all men were descended from one pair, the present difference in the appearance of the people in separate countries being caused by the climate, food, and water. One of the men replied, “I understand it is just the same with fish; if they feed on green seaweed they become green themselves.” It is the same with Christians, if they read and meditate upon the Word of God, they will become like God. If they follow the world and feed upon its pleasures, then they will become like the world, and no one will see the difference between them and those who, without disguise, are on the way to perdition. (R. Davison.)
Living by bread alone
What is it, therefore, to live by bread alone? Let us contemplate the present age. Behold a workman of the fields always looking down upon his plough, and who never gives himself time to look up towards the heaven whence fertility descends; behold a workman of the town for whom all days are alike, and who quits his trade only for pleasure, or what he believes to be such; behold a man who has dividends, and who lulls himself to sleep in a selfish indolence, whence he awakes only twice a year to receive them; behold an employe, that is to say a man who during his life gives six days to writings of which he is weary and the seventh to amusements of which he will become weary also; behold a wealthy man, and when one asks what is his occupation, he has only one, that of administering his fortune, and, if possible, augmenting it; and those savants who deal only in science, searching unceasingly into the truth of facts, and forgetting the voice which said: “I am the truth”; and those artists who pursue the beautiful whilst forgetting the supreme beauty; and those literary men, who seek the sublime, whilst forgetting that religion is the chief sublime; and those magistrates, who only judge or administer; and those potentates of the earth, who only skim and rule . . . All those men are, perhaps, good and honourable, incapable of staining their reputation, of dishonouring themselves . . . But they live by bread only; the earthly life rules them, carries them away, preoccupies them, to the point of leading them to egotism and indifference; they are so mindful of themselves that they forget God; of the world, that they forget heaven; of life, that they forget death and immortality; they take so much care of themselves that they take none of their neighbour; and as to their family, they dream of its advancement. They live in a manner most honourable, doubtless; but they live by bread only . . . only, and this is their folly and transgression. (Athanase Coquerel.)
As a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.--
The afflictions of god’s people
I. The afflictions of God’s people--however complicated, however prolonged, of whatever materials they may be made--proceed from the purest benignity of our Heavenly Father. Suffering does not come from God at all. I know that He overrules it, and that He makes up, if I may so speak, of the briars and thorns which so plentifully grow in this wilderness a hedge by which His children are kept in and restrained. But He did not cause your sufferings. If man had continued in his primeval state of innocence, there would have been no aching heart. But suffering is to be considered as destructive or as corrective. Now, where it is destructive, it is an expression of displeasure. We know that punishment ultimately inflicted will be destructive; but, remember, afflictions may be considered also as corrective. Then they issue from love. Following up the beautiful idea of the text--that of parental discipline--I say they proceed from a solicitude to improve the child, to correct many vices, to form the character of the child as perfectly as it can be formed. Now, remember, that the love of your Heavenly Father regulates all this.
II. Your afflictions are brought about by Divine wisdom--no chance, no accident. God cannot explain Himself to you, but before Him everything is arranged in the most exquisite order, in the most luminous combination. Not an atom floats without His permission; the hairs of your head are all numbered.
III. All afflictions will issue in your highest good. Yon must take God’s word; “All things work together for good to them that love God.” This is the secret--“to them that love God.” God loves you--you love God; what is the consequence? God is employing His attributes for you; God is taking care that there shall be nothing hostile, however inexplicable may be the circumstances of your life. They shall work for your good--perhaps not for your gratification. The physician’s prescriptions do not work for the pleasure of the party; the probing instrument of the surgeon gives the patient pain, but it is all for good. God is not absent from you; He is present. This is a consolatory thought: your Father never leaves you for a moment; He is educating you for Himself. (T. Lessey.)
On the purposes of God in chastening man
I. The way in which God tried the Israelites in the wilderness was this: he was perpetually exposing them to difficulties and dangers, which were calculated to try the strength of their faith and trust in Him.
II. What, then, were the designs which God had in view in thus bringing the Israelites into these difficulties, and in thus correcting them?
1. The first was that they might know themselves, to know their hearts, whether they would keep His commandments or no.
2. But the second point, in which it was the intention of God to instruct the Israelites, and in them all mankind, was their absolute dependence upon Himself. He fed them with manna, which neither they nor their fathers had known, in order that He might make them know that men do not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord do men live. More important knowledge than this of the providence of God cannot be learned by men. While we thus practically know the power and presence of God, we shall feel the dispositions which that knowledge ought to inspire; we shall watch over our conduct with a filial dread of offending Him; we shall place an unbounded confidence in His wisdom to direct, His power to strengthen, His providence to defend, His goodness to bless us.
III. Having thus taken a view of the purposes of God toward the Israelites in the desert, it remains that we consider for whose instruction these designs were accomplished.
1. In the first place, He makes use of afflictions and trials to prove you, as He did the Israelites of old. These trials you have doubtless felt, but have you seen the hand of God in them?
2. What, then, is His aim? It is to teach thee to know thyself and Him. To know thyself. You will tell me, perhaps, you do not know yourself sufficiently; you will acknowledge you are a weak, sinful Creature. To say this from theory only is a very different thing from saying it from experience. Self-knowledge is not soon taught. You cannot acquire it merely by reading books, or by meditating on it in your study; it must be the result of long and painful observation of your own heart.
3. But God designs also to teach you to know Him. You are amazed at the stupidity of the Israelites; they had so many proofs of the presence of God! And have not you as many? (J. Venn, M. A.)
Divine correction may be considered--
I. As the means of religious improvement.
1. Affliction is a restraint from evil, without which we should frequently fall the victim of our folly and impetuosity.
2. Affliction is an excitement to duty.
3. Affliction is a needful ordeal.
4. Affliction is a seasonable monitor.
II. As the discipline of paternal regard. A father corrects his children--
1. With reluctance. Tries everything else first.
2. With wisdom.
3. With tenderness.
4. With design. For our good.
III. As the subject of filial attention. How awful is it when affliction is useless, when correction hardens, when medicine poisons! Beware of this--“Consider in thine heart,” etc.
1. Acknowledge His hand. Trace your afflictions to their proper cause.
2. Submit to His authority. Submission is the perfection of Christianity--the submission not of apathy, but sensibility. Shall a scholar murmur against the discipline of wisdom and goodness?
3. Improve His design. This must be known to be improved. You cannot know each particular design, but you may the grand and ultimate one. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Design of God’s chastisements
This is the manner of God’s proceedings--to send good after evil, as He made light after darkness; to turn justice into mercy, as tie turned water into wine; for as the beasts must be killed before they could be sacrificed, so men must be killed before they can be sacrificed--that is, the knife of correction must prune and dress them, and lop off their rotten twigs before they can bring forth fruit; these are the cords which bind the ram unto the altar, lest when he is brought thither he should run from thence again; this is the chariot which carrieth our thoughts to heaven, as it did Nebuchadnezzar’s. This is the hammer which squareth the rough stones till they be plain and smooth and fit for the temple. (H. Smith.)
A bystander in the market place of a country town saw a group of boys quarrelling and fighting. In a few moments he observed a man from a side street cross the place, enter the group, bring out one boy, and severely rebuke him. The bystander pondered, his thoughts shaping themselves thus: That is a father, selecting his own boy, plucking him from the evil out of fatherly love, and dealing with him in such a manner as to make him fear a repetition of the conduct. “We are chastened of the Lord that we should not be condemned with the world.” This is the paternal motive. (Mrs. Umpleby.)
Chastisement a proof of love
I had a teacher, when I was a boy, who used to love me and let me off easy in my lessons, and I thought he was splendid. I had another teacher who, out of school and out of doors, was almost like a brother and a father to me, but who was very rigid with me in the mathematical room--and with me especially; and when I once complained to him that he did not treat any other boy as he did me, he said, “No, I do not, for I do not love any other boy as much as I do you.” He brought the screw down on me tremendously, but it was the only thing that carried me through mathematics. At last he developed in me an energy and an enterprise in that direction that led to results that I never should have achieved under any other culture than that. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth . . . But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons,” saith the Word of the Lord. (H. W. Beecher.)
God the best Ruler
Man would have God go according to his mind in chastening and afflicting him. He would have God correct him only in such a kind, in such a manner and measure as he would choose. He saith in his heart: “If God would correct me in this or that, I could bear it, but I do not like to be corrected in the present way.” One saith: “If God would smite me in my estate, I could bear it, but not in my body”; another saith: “If God would smite me with sickness, I could bear it, but not my children”; or, “If God would afflict me only in such a degree, I could submit, but my heart can hardly submit to so great a measure of affliction.” Thus we would have it according to our minds as to the measure of the continuance of our afflictions. We would be corrected for so many days, but months and years of trouble are not according to our mind. Man would have God govern not only himself, but the whole world, according to his mind; man hath much of this in him. Luther wrote to Melanchthon when he was so exceedingly troubled at the providence of God in this world: “Our brother Philip is to be admonished that he would forbear governing the world.” We can hardly let God alone to rule that world which Himself alone hath made. (J. Caryl.)
Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God.--
Incitements to the Divine service
Time and again Israel was called to remember that God’s goodness to them was designed to lead to more faithful service. They were to beware lest forgetfulness of this and a life of self-indulgence should lead to their undoing. In chap. 28, the terrible results of ingratitude and disobedience were set before them. See, especially in verses 63, 64 of that chapter, a graphic picture in general outline of the state of the Jewish race for the past eighteen hundred years. For those who have no time or inclination to study the history of the race, the graphic description of their position in Scott’s Ivanhoe and the historical notes appended to that work, will give a clear conception of their miserable condition. The passage teaches us that when men have received blessing from God it is fitting for them to render Him a willing service, and that ingratitude here means destruction.
I. The reasonableness of rendering a grateful service to God.
1. This was clearly evident in the case of Israel. God rightly demands as the Creator obedience and service from all men. Surely, then, from a people so highly favoured as Israel! Delivered from slavery; given a noble system of laws; brought under the direct rule of Jehovah in the theocracy; and given in promise “a land flowing with milk and honey.” They were highly favoured, and in gratitude should have consecrated themselves to the Divine service.
2. If they had reasons for thankfulness, etc., we have greater reasons. Contrast the state of our native land since the time when Columba, Cuthbert, Austin of Canterbury, etc., began their apostolic labours among its tribes with our present preeminence among the nations.
3. As individual subjects of this empire we have great reason to offer to God a grateful service. How blessed our lot compared with that of many peoples whose manner of life and customs have been portrayed by a Livingstone, Stanley, J.G. Paten, and others! Contrast the state of less highly favoured peoples with our own individual lives,” under righteous government, religious liberty, even-handed justice, etc. There are many reasons why we should render to God gratitude, praise, and willing, joyful service.
II. The folly of the sin of ingratitude toward God.
1. What we are to beware of is the danger that whilst we enjoy the gifts, the gracious Giver should be forgotten--of spending all our time and energy on the acquisition of God’s gifts to be used for our own pleasure rather than in seeking the Divine glory.
2. Into this sin the Israelites fell once and again in the course of their history. Even after the stern lesson of the Babylonian exile they fell into this sin (Haggai 1:1-15, etc.). In our Lord’s time this sin was aggravated by hypocrisy. The formal religionists drew near to God with outward devotion, but their hearts were far from Him. The self-pleasing, worldly agriculturist of the parable was, it may be surmised, a typical figure (Luke 12:15-21).
3. There is too much of this spirit in our own time. Among all classes there is a feverish grasping after riches and pleasure; there is a striving after wealth, not that those who strive may become better men and women, and be better enabled to serve God, but that they may have more of ease, of passing pleasures. Possessions gained and received without thankful gratitude to God and more earnest effort in His service turn to dust and ashes in the using.
4. This results from the failure of men to desire first and receive God’s best gifts in Jesus Christ.
III. The effect of either spirit on national and individual life.
1. When a nation rests on God in its government and institutions, and shows grateful loyalty to Him, that nation will grow in righteousness and strengths, and become a power for good in the world.
2. To the individual who serves Him in grateful love He will give His richest blessings. Material gifts may sometimes be withheld as not for their good; but joyful assurance of His presence will be given to them, and of the certainty of His promises.
3. Far otherwise will it be with those who forget God. Israel’s history tells how the curse has fallen (Isaiah 1:8). God-forgetfulness led to hardness of heart, spiritual pride, and the invocation on themselves of the awful sentence, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
4. Are there not many among us who fall into the same error--who reap luxuriant fields, who amass enormous gains without any thought of gratitude to God, or any effort in His service? Such love of money--of the possessions of this life--“is a root of all evil,” leading to the hardening of the heart and the materialising of the life.
5. The Divine rule is the only safe one: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, etc. “Through Israel’s failure to render God a grateful service they failed to carry out the Divine commission confided to them as a nation, i.e. to make God’s name, etc., known (Psalms 67:1-7.). Does our thankful gratitude to God lead us to do so? (Wm. Frank Scott.)
The Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land.
The land of promise
We will first take the central picture which is presented to us, and we shall then notice the neighbouring thoughts held up to us. “The Lord bringeth thee into a good land.” These words were uttered, as you know, to a number of people who had never seen anything but the wilderness. They had not an actual knowledge, but they had only heard by description, by their fathers’ memory lingering upon what they had once enjoyed, and talking of them to their children. And their children had grown up in the desert and wondered what those nations could be of which they had heard their fathers speak. These words would seem to be a description which was intended to convey a contrast between Egypt and the land of promise. The feeling that lingered still upon their minds as to what Egypt was would render the contrast stronger still in their own minds. “The land whither thou goest in to possess it is not as the land of Egypt from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed and wateredst it with thy foot. But the land whither ye go to possess it is a land of hills and valleys, and is watered by the rain from heaven.” Some think this is a figure of speech intended to represent human labour, that the country had to be watered by labour, physical exertion; others seem to think it may be literal, and intended to apply to the way either in which by mechanism or by the use of the foot the water was raised to an elevation; or as, perhaps, very likely, afterwards it was spread abroad over the land in little streams; a man could just walk from place to place and with his foot let it out into different streams. In the land of promise, instead of there being any process of human labour, or any contrivances of the kind--“The land to which ye go,” said the prophet, “shall be watered by the rain from heaven.” It shall come down upon it like a gift from God. For in Egypt there was no rain--and in the wilderness nothing but sand, nothing but desert. There is also the suggestion, you know, of green hills. Egypt was very flat, but this was a land of hills and valleys, of valleys and hills. “A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees”--the staff of life, all that is necessary for support. And what is given for enjoyment--luxury? “A land of oil olive, and honey. A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness.” They had been living on manna, and their souls loathed this light bread. They were to have bread without scarcity--“Thou shalt not lack anything in it. A land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.” This was a fine picture set before these people--setting forth the love of God to them, His Divine purposes, His Fatherly protection, and exciting them to devotion to His will. The surrounding words also suggest a grand idea. The idea is that of obedience, at all times and under all circumstances. In the desert, in the city, whatever be your circumstances or your needs, God’s law is to be recognised. He is lord over all. God hath made the earth, and placed man upon it, and hath given him everything richly to enjoy. And so he presents a picture of discipline with the enjoyment of abundance. There is the suggestion of preparatory discipline, in order that a man may be fitted for the right appreciation and right use of these sources of physical enjoyment. God gives you all things richly to enjoy, and you may enjoy them; but there can be nothing in the present world and in the present condition of our nature--there can be nothing without peril and moral danger. There is danger in the desert surrounded by sterility and want; and there is danger in abundance, surrounded with wheat and barley and vines and olives, and all these luxuries. God had led them through scenes of preparatory discipline; He had given them a taste of sorrow; He had disciplined their souls by labour and by want; He had tested them that it might be seen what was in their hearts. There was moral danger and peril. The great truth which the whole discipline was intended to impress upon their souls was this, that man does not live by bread alone. Of far more importance is the attainment of the higher and diviner life than to attend merely to the physical life. It is better to die through absolute starvation and want than to supply those wants by anything which would be a violation of the Divine law. And there is set forth the warning--warning them of the danger and the peril which they had to encounter--“Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping His commandments and His statutes, which I command thee this day,” under the circumstances in which thou art placed, surrounded by abundance, “Lest when thou hast eaten and art full,” etc. How prone is man to forget God, and then to sink into worldliness! Oh, what a fall is there! The Great Being excluded from his thoughts, and the poor inflated heart filled with its own image, and the man thinking about himself. Forgetting God, who had done everything in him and for him, then looking upon God’s gifts and their very magnitude and number, hiding God, concealing the Giver, and man tempted to say, “My own power and my skill have gotten me all this.” In a certain sense you exercise skill, but God gave you the power. It is through Him everything is done. Thus our religion in all things takes us from ourselves and throws us back upon God. Then comes the last thought of all, which is the prophetic denunciation, “It shall be if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.” God loved your fathers, and loves you, and He selected you for a great mission, has told you what to do in the world, He sets before you the course you are to pursue; but if the heart be not with Him, if you forget Him and disobey Him, ye shall likewise perish, in spite of God’s love to your fathers and His love to you and your children--ye shall utterly perish; He will find others to do the work, that will not stand still. I merely throw out these few thoughts to guide you. There are principles embodied here of a general and universal application to individuals and nations. In the reading of the Bible you have the law of Divine government set forth. You not only hear God saying to an individual or to a nation, “At a particular time so and so shall be,” but in consequence of having the whole, history of the other nations spread out before you, you can see the actual workings out of the law in history, and character, and fortunes of the individual or nation. Now, if you read the Bible so, then I take it there are great moral principles in this chapter, which it would be very easy to dwell upon in relation to individuals and nations; it is God’s way in the education of most of us. Men sometimes have a great deal to bear in their youth. We have seen men go through very severe self-denial, hard work and little enjoyment, harsh words and disappointment. Oh, the youthful heart, and the heart of early manhood--how very often does God school it, and set it a tremendously hard lesson! It is to discipline it. And how very often do we see this very process succeeding, producing submission, peace, industry, integrity--these are the virtues which spring out of discipline and suffering, and they have their reward. Then there comes the fruit of the reward: in the middle life of the man you may see, in consequence of the preparatory discipline, the fruit of it springing up--the man surrounded with riches and affluence and possessions, and you see him in the land, which is not like the land of Egypt, the land of his youth, where he had to labour and suffer; no, he has his wheat and his barley and vines and olive oil and pomegranates, and all things about him like the good land. Then comes the rest. Then we shall see what is in the man. Ay, and how very often do we see that man forget the rock out of which he was hewn, and the pit from which he was digged--the discipline and the ways through which God led him, ay, and the lesson, the very lesson which he learned. When he was little in his own eyes, and had little of the appliances of luxury about him, he had his mind filled with what was Divine. And now he has fallen upon the lap of earth, and it is very pleasant to the flesh to lie down and enjoy; the wings of his spirit are clipped, and he has fallen down into the mire; the man becomes sensual and worldly, his heavenly aspirations have departed, he has forgotten God, and is filled with worldliness. Sometimes God comes down upon such a man and blasts him. He was like a bay tree, and in a moment he is not. We look, and behold he cannot be found. Or he may live on and on, but he shall not be what he was; he is doing nothing for God or man; all his Divine aspirations are dead, and he dies, and his name is forgotten. Nobody has anything to remember of him, but perhaps the few to whom his property comes, which comes with a curse rather than a blessing. But in the other case, where the individual remembers the discipline, the lesson, and the hard history through which he passed when he was rising up and struggling nobly with circumstances, and then when his position changes the man’s inward and better life keeps up, and all things are kept in their proper subordination, and used for God. When men hear of his prosperity they bless and thank God; his righteousness endureth forever, and his name is held in everlasting remembrance; he has the blessings in relation to this world and that which is to come, and he dies amid the benedictions of his children and the blessings of society. These principles have to do with you. Are there young men here who sometimes think their lot is hard, and perhaps it is; their lot may be very hard; they may be placed in circumstances and pressed by duties that may be hard to bear; but still, it may be and it is God, it is God teaching you, it is God disciplining yon, and if you will accept this teaching Chat is the great secret--accept it, take it lovingly, and then half the difficulty is gone. If affliction or toil through God’s providence should come upon you, accept it cheerfully, and then only half the burden falls upon you. It is only half what it was as soon as you lovingly accept it and say, “I take it, and will make the best of it; I will by Thy strength, bear it like a man.” And so now, if there are many young men here who have to endure a great many hardships, look up to your Father and bear it bravely; seek for God’s strength, and depend upon it that this very hardness and the discipline through which you are passing now is a sort of wilderness, a desert which will lead you to the good land. Only, take care to remember the lesson that you are learning now; in whatever circumstances you may hereafter be placed do not forget God. (T. Binney.)
When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God.
Prosperity a test
These words occur in Moses’ farewell charge to the Israelites. Moses had long stood to his people in the relation of father as well as general, and, like a father, has at the end a good many last words to speak. This whole Book of Deuteronomy is made up of last words; his last will and testament to the Hebrew people. He wanted to clinch the instruction that had been given them already. His anxiety outran his responsibility. He had been their saviour in the past, and now would like to take out a policy of insurance in their behalf for the time to come. And they needed everything in the shape of counsel and insurance that could be given them. They had hardly earned the confidence of their leader. He did not much believe in the Israelites. He did not expect with any confidence that they would bless the Lord when they had eaten and were full. They had hardly been a match for adversity, still less could they be expected to be for prosperity. He had carried them forty years, and been one of them a hundred and twenty. He understood their composition and drift. They were a nation of backsliders. Their history was full of ebb tides. They were not to be trusted. God had kept them worn down into manageableness simply by force of disaster; had always driven them with a curb and a check. Liberty they regularly corrupted into license. The point is reached now, however, where a new experiment is to be tried with them. There are some elements in the case that warrant at least a hope that the experiment will succeed. The wilderness and the manna are now put behind them; in front is the Jordan, and across the Jordan cities and well-watered plains--a land flowing with milk and honey. How will they bear the longer, laxer tether of plenty and prosperity? It, lay in Moses’ thought as a question. It is important to understand that it is God’s desire for His people to load them as heavily with luxuries and gladnesses as they can bear. Evil and suffering are all around us, but it is a part of our faith in the Fatherliness of God to believe that “He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men”; and to say with the Psalmist. “I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.” The universe is in the interests of comfort and happiness and joy. It is God’s desire that we should eat and be full. Everything looks to a good time coming. Everything is contrived to bend toward a blessing; God started man in Paradise--as good a Paradise as he could bear, and a good deal better; and all that lies after Paradise is preparation for a Paradise improved. There is no sorrow that has not lodged in it the possible seed kernel of fruition. Faith in the Fatherliness of God involves all this. When we experience vexation and tribulation we must always bethink ourselves of the issue to which in our Christian faith we are sure it is divinely designed to conduct. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him.” The mountain sermon begins with the promise of blessing. A whole octave of blessedness ushers in the Gospel. This is a wholesome reflection for our mind to rest in. That there is sin in the world and suffering we can get along with as soon as we learn to interpret them instrumentally. Suffering is a means of grace, and is education toward a better holiness. It is a singular thing, however, that although gladness is the soul’s destination, and a destination that God is concerned to have us reach, yet the fact of the matter with us is that gladness is itself very apt to impair our capacity for gladness, and to hinder our attainment of it. We are in this respect like a sick man who requires nourishment, but has not the power to digest it, and so is harmed by the very thing he needs. Recognising, as we do, that every good gift is from God, it would certainly seem as though everything we obtained from Him would be a fresh reminder of Him and a new bond to bind us to Him. But we know how it works with children sometimes, whose parents, the more they do for their children the less are they regarded and loved by their children. This was the point of Moses anxiety in our text. This fact of the corrupting power of prosperity is a practical and a serious one. Prosperity is dangerous, dangerous for a man, a family, a country; it makes men indifferent, infidel, atheistic, if not in their creed, at least in their life. The more God gives us, the less, as a rule, we have of God. It is not easy to escape being injured by mercies. It is easy to be ruined by success, success is very often failure, and failure success. To our eye God gets eclipsed by His own bestowments. We bless God when we want anything, and congratulate ourselves when we get it. “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God.” It takes considerably more piety to make a man thankful to God for what He has done than prayerfully dependent upon God for what we would like to have Him do. It is for that reason that thanksgiving forms so small an element in our prayers; and one reason, most likely, why our petitions bring us so little that is new, is that our thanksgivings so scantily recognise what is old. It is the tendency of the heart to forget God, and the more sunshiny things are, the more likely is that tendency to become realised. Our thoughts and regards are continually slipping away from Him. Our eyes drop from God to some representation of Him, and we become idolaters; from God to some theories of Him, and we become philosophers; from God to the gifts He confers, and in our fulness we fondle the gift and ignore the Giver. Sunshine is not the only parent of the harvest. Men fell in Paradise. Angels fell in heaven. I do not know that there is any good thing that cannot be given in so great measure as to alienate the recipient from the Giver. The fruits of the Holy Ghost can be produced in us so profusely as to work disaster. You remember how when the Seventy returned from their evangelistic tour they commenced to parade the fact of the submissiveness of the devils unto their word. And the Lord rebuked them, and bade them rejoice rather that their names were written in heaven. We sometimes think it is well and possible for us to have all the grace we are willing to receive. I am not sure of that. I have met people that I thought had more grace given them than they had grace to bear; people that were really so holy as to be conscious of it, Men get puffed up oven by their heavenly enrichments. Any possession or power we may happen to have stimulates self-consciousness, and that alienates us from God. I once heard a professor in one of our popular classical schools make this petition at evening prayers: “O Lord, Thou to whom the darkness is as the light, we commit ourselves unto Thee for the night, praying that Thou wilt care for us in those hours when we cannot so well take care of ourselves. It is so easy to think that we can almost get along alone, and should hardly need to put our trust in God were it not for dark nights, and days that are stormy. It is such facts as these that explain why it is that our lives have sometimes to be made desolate and vacant. Read the entire Book of Judges, and you will find it the continuous repetition of the same sequence of events. When the Israelites had gone across Jordan and tasted the milk and the honey and were full, they stopped blessing God, just as Moses told them not to do, but as he feared all the while they would do. Then the Lord sent in upon them an invasion of Philistines, or of Hivites, or Jebusites, or Moabites, or Midianites, or Ammonites, who ground them, and trampled upon them, and devoured them till they were willing to cry unto the Lord and acknowledge Him again. This gives to us the philosophy of disasters in national life, and explains to us as well the impoverishments and emptinesses that have to be wrought in our individual lives. Men are quite uniformly disposed to be devout when they get into difficult places. Men are like certain kinds of vegetation, which do best in poor soil. I have somewhere met with this illustration: “The Alpine flower does not bear transplanting, and can only thrive, perhaps like some souls, amidst wind and tempest, with only brief summer sunshine and heat.” I do not believe there is any man but what prays when there is nothing else left that he can do. It is a large part of the philosophy of distress that it makes us look up. We ask when we are hungry. When we are empty we are devout. “When He slew them, then they sought Him,” said the Psalmist. “In their affliction they will seek Me early,” wrote Hosea. The prodigal went back to his father when he got down as low as the husks. The bruised flower yields the sweetest perfume, and the finest poetry of the Church has been inspired in seasons of persecution. Horace Bushnell once said: “I have learned more of experimental religion since my little boy died than in all my life before.” It was he also who wrote: “Deserts and stone pillows prepare for an open heaven and an angel-crowded ladder.” St. John did not receive his revelations till he was shut up in a little sea-girt Patmos. St. Paul’s most jubilant epistle was written in gaol; as birds sometimes have their cage darkened in order to teach them to sing. I trust that if we have eaten and are filled with the pleasant outward gifts of the Lord, we are able still to live in distinct and hourly recognition of Him from whom they flow, and to walk with Him in relations of reverent but friendly intimacy. We often pray that God would enable us to bear adversity; there is quite as much need of His grace to keep us from falling in seasons of prosperity. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
Thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land.
Possession and praise
Now that there is no longer need for strenuous effort, Moses fears that, like other conquerors, they will become lax in their morality and luxurious in their habits: that they will forget the help they have received from God, and act as though their own strength or cleverness had secured these blessings.
I. The novelty of new possessions quickly passes away. Persons who suffer misfortune often think they must be happy who escape it. They rejoice at the first removal of such misfortune, but soon become so accustomed to their new freedom as to scarcely give it a thought. The pleasure we derive from new joys seldom lasts longer than the novelty. On the other hand, troubles are ever new.
II. Possessions that cost little personal effort are but lightly valued. It is proverbial that receivers of gifts seldom estimate them at sufficient value; also, that those who have not experienced the toil and self-denial needful in acquiring wealth, squander that for which their fathers laboured long years. There is danger that the greatness of God’s gifts shall be a cause of ingratitude.
III. Prosperity is a severer test of faithfulness than poverty. Then will be the time to see if they can cling to the Lord. Many a man serves God well so long as he is afflicted, but forgets Him when the affliction is removed. There was a saying of the heathen that altars rarely smoke on account of new joys. Solomon found the possession of wealth his greatest trial. Temptations could be resisted in days of strenuous effort and toil which were yielded to in days of ease and prosperity.
IV. God appreciates man’s gratitude. To “bless” is really to praise in worship. Yet the thought underlying the conception is that man can render to God that which will add to His joy. Though He is the ever-blessed God, He cares for the love of His children. His nature is love, and therefore He both gives us blessing and craves our hearts in return. (R. C. Ford, M. A.)
Beware that thou forget not the Lord.
Here we have Moses’ answer to the first great question in politics--What makes a nation prosperous? To that wise men have already answered, as Moses answered, “Good government; government according to the laws of God.” But the multitude, who are not wise men, give a different answer. They say, “What makes a nation prosperous is its wealth. If Britain be only rich, then she must be safe and right.”
I. Moses does not deny that wealth is a good thing. He takes for granted that they will grow rich; but he warns them that their riches, like all other earthly things, may be a curse or a blessing to them. Nay, that they are not good in themselves, but mere tools which may be used for good or for evil.
II. And herein he shows his knowledge of the human heart; for it is a certain fact that whenever any nation has prospered, then they have, as Moses warned the Jews, forgotten the Lord their God, and said, “My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth.” And it is true, also, that whenever any nation has begun to say that, they have fallen into confusion and misery, and sometimes into utter ruin, till they repented and remembered the Lord their God, and found out that the strength of a nation did not consist in riches, but in virtue. For it is He that giveth the power to get wealth. He gives it in two ways. First, God gives the raw material; secondly, He gives the wit to use it. This, then, was what Moses commanded--to remember that they owed all to God. What they had, they had of God’s free gift. What they were, they were by God’s free grace. Therefore they were not to boast of themselves, their numbers, their wealth, their armies, their fair and fertile land. They were to make their boast of God and of God’s goodness. This they were to remember, because it was true. And this we are to remember, because it is more or less true of us. God has made of us a great nation; God has discovered to us the immense riches of this land. It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves.
III. You will see that Moses warns them that if they forgot God the lord, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, they would go after other gods. He cannot part the two things. If they forget that God brought them out of Egypt, they will turn to idolatry, and so end in ruin. And so shall we. If we forget that God is the living God, who brought our forefathers into this land, who has revealed to us the wealth of it step by step as we needed it, who is helping and blessing us now, every day, and all the year round--then we shall begin worshipping other gods, worshipping the so-called laws of nature, instead of God who made the laws, and so honouring the creature above the Creator; or else we shall worship the pomps and vanities of this world--pride and power, money and pleasure--and say in our hearts, “These are our only gods which can help us, these must we obey.” Which if we do, this land of England will come to ruin and shame, as surely as did the land of Israel in old time. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
Forgetful of God
“Forget not.” God hates forgetfulness of His blessings--
1. Because He has commanded that we should not forget them (Deuteronomy 4:9).
2. Because forgetfulness is a sign of contempt.
3. It is the peculiarity of singular carelessness.
4. It springs from unbelief.
5. It is the greatest mark of ingratitude. (Thos. le Blanc.)
Danger of riches
Mr. Cecil had a hearer who, when a young man, had solicited his advice, but who had not for some time had an interview with him. Mr. C--one day went to his house on horseback, being unable to walk, and after his usual salutations, addressed him thus: “I understand you are very dangerously situated.” Here he paused, and his friend replied, “I am not aware of it, sir.” “I thought it was probable you were not, and therefore I have called on you. I hear you are getting rich; take care, for it is the road by which the devil leads thousands to destruction!” This was spoken with such solemnity and earnestness, that it made a deep and lasting impression.
Prosperity and spiritual ruin
A friend recently told me of a beautiful elm in his garden that for centuries had withstood the fury of winter’s storms. On one still summer’s morning, however, he was startled by a crash, followed by the rustling fall of a huge limb. The thing was unaccountable, for not a breath of air was stirring, and the broken branch was perfectly sound. At length the gardener gave the explanation. It was the calm itself that had wrought or occasioned the mischief. All through the tranquil night copious dews had fallen, and every leaf had caught and held as in a closed chalice the copious deposit, whose countless drops bore with an oppressive weight upon the branches until the one in question could no longer endure the strain, Had the slightest breath of air been stirring, so as to disturb the leaves and empty their tiny reservoirs, they would have rained their riches of moisture upon the soil beneath, and the elm would have continued to flourish in unmutilated majesty. Prosperity often accomplishes the spiritual ruin that adversity failed to effect. (J. Halsey.)
A Glasgow minister was sitting on a coach beside the driver on a lonely Highland road, and saw in the distance an old woman, who looked wistfully towards the coach. As it came near her face showed by turns anxiety, hope, and fear, and as the coach passed, the driver, with downcast eyes and sad expression, shook his head, and she returned disappointed to her cottage. Being much affected by what he saw, the minister asked an explanation of the driver. The driver said that for several years she had watched daily for the coach, expecting either to see her son or to receive a letter from him. The son had gone to one of our great cities, and had forgotten the mother who loved him so dearly. But the mother went every day to meet the coach, trusting that one day her son would return to her. Such a tale makes our heart bleed for the parent who was cruelly forsaken, but many forget how badly they are treating their heavenly Father when they forsake Him and refuse to return to Him.
Forgetfulness of God
Among the legends of Hindostan is this:--Rawana, a Brahmin, was offered by his god anything that lie might name. Rawana prayed his god to bestow upon him the government of the world. His god immediately granted his wish. Then he prayed for ten heads with which to see and rule the world. After Rawana had well fortified himself, and was surrounded by riches, honours, and praise, he forgot his god Ixora, and bade all the people worship him, an act which greatly angered the god Ixora, and he destroyed Rawana. How true to human nature was the course of Rawana! and how many we find today that have forgotten the God that gave them all they possess! (J. Bibb.)
Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness.
The Christian aspect and use of politics
It is a common saying in these days that politics, as the phrase is, “run high,” and are likely to continue to run high for some years to come. And this is perfectly true, so far as the present is concerned, and is likely to prove true in the future also. Great issues have to be fought out. The area, too, over which the interest in politics is felt has been, widened by the spread of education and the extension of political rights. Men’s convictions and affections and prejudices and passions are deeply engaged in the questions of the day. They feel and speak warmly on one side and on the other. And the result is what we see, and perhaps, to a certain extent, suffer from. The Christian ministry would stand self-condemned if it had not a word in season to say at a time like the present. To bring the whole subject to the purest light, which is the light of Christ; to lift our thoughts to the highest point of view; to connect present trials and difficulties with our life as men, and as Christian men, so that they may become no longer injurious to us, but a wholesome discipline--this is the object of the present discourse.
1. A time of political stir and agitation, when great questions are being discussed and settled, is in many ways much better than a time of apathy and stagnation. If it calls out some of the fiercer passions of our nature, it calls out also the nobler qualities. It helps to make the political atmosphere, if more stormy, yet less liable to become venal, corrupt, and impure. A recent traveller in America, an observer of much acuteness, has remarked upon the gravity, the seriousness, the seeming melancholy of the American character. Can it be matter of surprise that it should be so? Could a nation pass through a tremendous crisis like that of the still recent civil war without bearing the mark of it upon its brow for many a long year afterwards? Is it the dream of a visionary or of an enthusiast to hope that the critical times through which our own beloved country is passing may leave a permanent impress for good upon the national character?
2. But this view of the gain which may accrue to all true manliness of character, through the demand at present made upon it, requires to be extended and modified by an additional consideration. We must not forget that what we want is not a heathen, but a Christian manliness. And this involves higher qualities, such as gentleness, considerateness, courtesy, sympathy, as well as the sterner stuff of truth and courage and endurance. England’s great need at the present day is of wise counsels and of gentle hands, to heal the wounds of society, to interpret the various sections and classes to each other, and to unite them together, so that all may seek the common good and feel that they are all members of one commonwealth. Those wounds of society are deep and many. Pauperism, drunkenness, crime, ignorance, vice, misery; who can reflect on these giant evils, these horrible sores, of our social state, without feeling that the triumph of a party is not worth a moment’s thought compared with the removal of such evils and the cure of such diseases?
3. If I were to look for a motto, which I might take it upon me to recommend to all those who are in any way engaged or interested in politics, I should select that noble Christian rule which St. Peter gives us, “Honour all men.” No three words that I know of cut more decisively at the root, whether of the false Toryism which delights in patronising and domineering, or of the false Liberalism which hates all that is above itself and longs to pull it down to its own level, but has no wish to raise what is below, and whose ruling spring is not a genuine human sympathy, but pure selfishness and scorn. Yes, “honour all men”; not the few only who are above us, but the many who are below us. The grounds of this noble Christian motto lie deep in the Gospel of Christ. That common human nature, which Christ Himself, the Son of God, has condescended to wear, cannot but be a sacred thing in the eyes of all His followers. But more than this, it stands in such close fundamental connection with Him, and He with it, that in honouring it we are in fact honouring Him.
4. In sober truth and earnest, the responsibility which attaches to every citizen, even the humblest, of our common country at a time like this, is a heavy one, and might well avail to call out all the dignity, honour, and manliness that are in each, though too often, it may be, latent there. Each contributes something by word, by influence, by sympathy, to present tendencies. Each contributes some drop, as it were, to the mighty tide, which is bearing us onwards into the future. Each is therefore helping now to determine what that future shall be; our own future, our children’s future, our country’s future. Act neither from fear nor favour. Act as in the sight of God, looking to Him to purify our motives, to inspire us with wisdom and courage, to make us tolerant, too, and conciliatory, as well as steadfast and resolute. Then we shall be blessed ourselves, and our country will be blessed also.
5. Lastly, let it never be forgotten by us that, come what may, God’s kingdom is over all. (Canon D. J. Vaughan.)
The journey towards the promised land
These words were addressed by Moses to the Israelites when, having at length reached the end of their protracted wanderings through the wilderness, they were on the point of taking possession of the promised land. The veteran leader exhorts his companions in toil and suffering to cast a retrospective glance on the memorable period of their existence which is now drawing to its close, and to consider it as a time of humiliation, of trial, of providential education, necessary to fit them for the possession of Canaan after the thraldom of Egypt. The application of this text is simple: Israel is the people of God. Egypt, that house of bondage, is sin; the slavery of the prince of darkness. Canaan, that promised land, is heaven. The wilderness, the great and howling wilderness through which God leads us, is the world of sin and suffering, in which He leaves us yet awhile. Let us consider these words in relation to our past, present, and future, and endeavour to understand the solemn significance and sublime end of our earthly pilgrimage.
I. The past. The time which immediately followed the rescue of Israel from Egypt was undoubtedly one of the grandest epochs in the history of that people. With one voice they sang that magnificent song, the most ancient and one of the finest monuments of that noblest of all poetry--Hebrew poetry (Exodus 15:1-27). But alas! how short-lived was this enthusiasm! Deliverance was followed by protracted trial. Instead of the gates of Canaan open to receive them, the Israelites found only a great and terrible wilderness through which God led them, against their will, towards the ultimate good He had in view for them. Is not this an image of ourselves? Who is there that has not felt similar emotions to those experienced by the Israelites on the morrow of the passage of the Red Sea? On the high road to the promised land, with the foretaste of eternal life in our hearts, in the fervour of our first love, in the outburst of our gratitude, we gladly exclaim with Simeon: “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” And it is from the very depths of our heart that, as we take our first step towards the fatherland, we renew the engagement of the Israelites of old, and promise that, “All the Lord hath spoken we will do.” But the descent from these sublime heights soon commences. To what may our experience at such times be compared? You have seen, after a dark night, the sun begin its daily course in more than ordinary radiance, the sky is a glowing canopy of gold and purple, the earth revels in floods of light;. . .then, by degrees, this brightness dims; clouds, at first almost imperceptible, thicken and condense in the atmosphere; the sky becomes overcast, and the horizon is dull and cold; the rain begins to fall, thin, uninterrupted, penetrating, and the heart grows heavy and chill. Such, in most cases, is the long day of human life after the transient dawn which announces or precedes conversion, and from the depths of your soul do you not call this a great and terrible wilderness? Have you never murmured or asked yourself the question: “Wherefore this long journey through this barren land?”
II. The present. “The Lord thy God hath led thee.” What memories were these words calculated to awaken in the mind of the Israelites? If God ever manifested the providence of Omnipotence in a striking manner upon earth, it certainly was during the wanderings of His people through the desert. And though the Divine providence that leads us on in our turn be not miraculous, as during the journey of the Hebrews, it is, however, none the less real and marvellous. That which the people of God witnessed by the eye of the body may yet be manifest to the eye of faith. The mercies of former days are pledges of those we are permitted to expect in the present. But wherefore this wilderness? Why not immediate peace, triumph, and glory? Hear the answer of Him whose every act tends to an excellent end: “That He might humble thee, to prove thee.” The purpose of the Lord was to bring the will of His people into subjection, to train them to obedience, to sanctify them in the highest and noblest sense of the word. And everything down to the minutest details was chosen, ordained, calculated with a view to the ultimate result. Thus it is with us. We are placed, here below, in presence of a maturity to be attained; and no fruit can ripen unless it has felt the burning rays of the sun. We are being educated, and there can be no thorough education without stern discipline. We are going towards a promised land, but the path to it lies through a valley of tears. Between this conception, which is that of faith and a blind fatalism, the very thought of which is bewildering, there is no middle course. It is good for us to be tried. If we knew naught of “the sufferings of this present time,” should we know “the weight of glory which shall be revealed to usward” which they are meant to bring forth? Let us beware, however, lest by our folly we add to our measure of affliction, and thus constrain the Lord to humble and chasten us beyond His own purpose.
III. The future. “To do thee good at thy latter end.” The constant end of God is good. Faith reveals to us and the Scriptures declare that “all things work together for good,” etc. Even upon earth, whoever remembers all the way which the Lord his God hath led him, finds at the end of each trial a mature fruit, “the peaceable fruit of righteousness,” to be received ultimately. And what shall it be when the fashion of this world hath passed away, and all the ends of the Lord with a view to the final good of His saints shall be manifested? These forty years of pilgrimage through the wilderness were a sore trial for Israel. But how glorious was the day when at length they reached the end, and obtained the reward of so much toil and suffering! Who, then, remembered the weariness of the road save to praise Jehovah, who had led them to so goodly an inheritance? For us also there shall be a crossing of Jordan and an entrance into the heavenly Canaan, of which the earthly was but a feeble type. We, too, shall have our day of triumph, a day when the sun, which marks the stages of our journey, shall set amid the shadows of a last eventide, to rise again for us radiant and cloudless for evermore. God’s purpose is to do us good at our latter end! Forward, then, in peace and hope! Soon all things shall become new! Faith today; sight tomorrow! Weariness now; rest by and by! Here the desert; beyond the promised land! Forward! Excelsior! (Frank Coulin, D. D.)
Our subject is the scorpion--a dreadful insect which is as full of lessons as it is of venom. The scorpion is in reality a terrible kind of spider, and has the venom claw at the end of its body, not in its jaw. Scorpions do not look unlike lobsters, as we see them collected in a basket on their way to the market. These uncomfortable creatures, the scorpions, manage in some way to secrete themselves in hidden nooks and corners, and one experienced in travelling in the East--where scorpions abound--will be careful where he takes his seat until he has discovered whether there are any scorpions or venomous spiders hidden under the rocks near where he may happen to be. The scorpion has a peculiar venom, some of the larger scorpions being able to make a man very ill, and even to kill him if he should be one subject to inflammation. The scorpions were so much feared by the early Christians and the apostles of our Lord, that we find tie promised them safety from their stings, and the bite of poisonous reptiles. So much, then, for the scorpion. Let us now learn the lessons which this venomous creature teaches us.
I. First of all, we learn from the scorpion--the lesson of the hidden power of venom. Venomous thoughts are thoughts of malice, and spite, and malignity; that is why we always want to kill a viper, or a snake, or a black spider, because we know that it is filled with venom, or poison, or some noxious material, which will give us pain or perhaps cause our death. A venomous writer is one who is malignant and mischievous. A venomous neighbour is one who is spiteful, and has evil designs upon us. We don’t know how it is that we have this evil within us; but it is very evident that in some way venom is within us, just as truly as it is within the poisonous scorpion. Let us beware of this hidden power of venom within us, for the poison as “of asps” is indeed under our lips.
II. The second lesson we learn from the scorpion is--the lesson of the poisoning power of sin. The following illustrates what we mean. In the chemical laboratories of our colleges there are many experiments made which show us the wonderful power of a single drop of poison. A great bottle of colourless water will become a thick and clouded white in an instant by the addition of a single drop of the prepared chemical; and one drop of poison, such as strychnia, will paralyse in an instant a living being, such as the goldfish, turtles, and tadpoles which we see in a vase of water. But none of these poisons is so powerful as the poison of sin (James 1:15). I was reading, some time ago, a story which shows us the poisoning power of sin. A man who wished to buy a handsome ring went into a jeweller’s in Paris. The jeweller showed him a very ancient gold ring, remarkably fine, and curious on this account, that on the inside of it were two little lion’s claws. The buyer, while looking at the others, was playing with this. At last he purchased another, and went away. But he had scarcely reached home, when first his hand, then his side, then his whole body became numb and without feeling, as if he had a stroke of palsy; and it grew worse and worse, till the physician, who came in haste, thought him dying. “You must have somehow taken poison,” he said. The sick man protested that he had not. At length someone remembered this ring; and it was then discovered to be what used to be called a death ring, and which was often employed in those wicked Italian States three or four hundred years ago. If a man hated another, and desired to murder him, he would present him with one of them. In the inside was a drop of deadly poison, and a very small hole out of which it would not make its way except when squeezed. When the poor man was wearing it, the murderer would come and shake his hand violently, the lion’s claw would give his finger a little scratch, and in a few hours he was a dead man.
III. The third, and last, lesson that we learn from the scorpion is--the lesson of the misery of spitefulness. There is nothing in life so miserable and contemptible as the spirit of spitefulness; that is, the spirit of envy at another’s success. There is something spiteful and venomous about the bite of an insect or reptile: a bite from a mosquito, a spider, or a snake will always make us think of the spitefulness of the creature that has bitten us. (R. Newton, D. D.)
Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna.--
The manna which humbled Israel
What was there in God’s gift of manna to humble Israel? We should rather think it placed them in a high and distinguished rank among nations. Whom else did God feed thus? It did exalt Israel; it did point him out and distinguish him far above the Hittites or Jebusites, or even the voluptuous and powerful Egyptians; and yet it humbled him. To humble is not to humiliate; humility is not humiliation. When shall humility be at its height? When tears and sighs and sickness and poverty have brought you down to the very grave? No such thing. When death has paralysed every power of body, and perhaps shaken the mind itself into a wreck? No such thing. When the world sneers and contemns your piety, and calls you the filth and offscouring of all things? No such thing. But look onward! look upward! Who are they falling down before Him that sitteth upon the throne, and casting their crowns at His feet? They are redeemed, and crowned, and glorified spirits; they are the most humble of our race; humility is made perfect, not in sorrows and scoffs, but there, midst harps and crowns and palms and songs. And since the Lord will thus perfect your humility by crowning you and receiving you to heaven, it is no hard matter to suppose that God might give Israel manna “to humble” them. The fact, then, is certain; but how is it brought about? by what process did the manna humble Israel? First of all it did so by the mystery of its dispensation; and thus Moses distinctly calls it “manna which thy fathers knew not.” Neither Abraham nor Isaac nor Jacob had seen such a thing; the oldest Israelite had never eaten such food; it was “manna which thy fathers knew not.” And the Israelites then alive were equally ignorant of its nature; with the manna actually before them it was still a mystery to them. They could not tell how it came, or whence it came, they simply could say they gathered it. And then there was the gathering, equally unaccountable. It was gathered in the morning, yet if any man should grudge his daily labour of collecting it, and his daily recognition of Him who gave it--if any man should try to make one morning’s collection do for two days’ food, behold on the morrow his pot of manna is a pot of corruption, and instead of food he finds worms. And then if any Israelite should dare to forget or to outrage the Sabbath by not collecting a double portion on the sixth day, he finds the ground all bare; the wilderness is arid and fruitless as ever; for bread he finds stones. But how did all this mystery humble them Why, it taught them, and made them feel their own ignorance. Let the Jew take up that “small round thing as small as the hoar frost on the ground,” and let him tell me how it is made or whence it came. Not all the subtle learning of Egypt, which some of them doubtlessly possessed, could teach them this lesson; that grain of food is a puzzle for 603,000 men besides the Levites; the manna tended to humble them. And so with you. True, you have no food sent and gathered in a most incomprehensible manner; but every mercy you have which you do not understand takes its place side by side with the manna, and on the self-same principle ought to humble you. How, Christian, wast thou born again?, “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” etc. And what is every step in the believer’s career but a mystery of love--a mystery of grace? “Great is the mystery of godliness” great in the work of redemption by Christ--great in the application of that work by His Spirit--all, all, a great mystery from first to last. And shall we, standing as we do amidst the crowd of deep and awful truths--shall we, feeling in our own hearts that love “which passeth knowledge,” and that power which like a hidden magnet draws us to holiness and God--shall we, surrounded by the “deep things of God”--shall we be aught else than nothing in our own sight? But, again, the gift of manna tended to produce this humbling effect by its greatness. I am not disposed to elevate the importance of the meat which perisheth, or to prove the vastness of God’s gift to Israel by the fact that myriads of lives depended on the regular supply of this food. Neither will I dwell on the abundance in which manna strewed the spot of Israel’s encampment; there was no lack in any tent of Jacob; the patriarch of a large family fared as well as though he had been childless and alone. Want was unknown in that mighty camp; all was plenty. Now this abundance alone would prove the greatness of God’s gift; but we may rest our proof on higher grounds, and assert that whatever the nature of the manna, and whether sparingly or profusely given, the simple fact that God gave it makes it at once a great and unspeakable gift. A present from a great man is esteemed great from the very greatness of the donor. If the King were to give you some token of his regard, let it be trifling as it will--a mere bauble--yet how highly would you prize it! a case of gold is not too precious a casket for it. What, then, must be a gift from God! The greatness therefore of Him who gave Israel manna, and the love which the provision displayed, made it a great gift. But how did its magnitude tend to humble Israel? Why, by calling to Israel’s continual remembrance their own unworthiness, and God’s matchless and free mercy. And, surely the bounty of your Lord affects you in the same way; it must teach you your unworthiness. “The goodness of God leadeth you to repentance;” and thus Paul entreats the Romans, “I beseech you by the mercies of God.” It must be a callous and a dead heart which does not feel its baseness whilst filling itself with new and full supplies of Divine goodness. The son may be hardened by rebuke or by punishment; he may be callous to recollections of past affection and care; but often as he holds out his hand to receive some gift of his pardoning father, that seared conscience speaks, that hard heart breaks, that rebellious arm trembles, and he who could dare a father’s curse shrinks and quails before a father’s gift, his unworthiness pressing on him with a weight he never felt before, and mercy accusing him more powerfully than all the reproaches which lips could utter. And in spirituals you will find there is nothing which impresses the soul with so deep a sense of guilt as a sense of Divine mercy. I may reckon up a long catalogue of your sins; I may tell you of all the guilty deeds you have done since childhood; but if I can, by the grace and power of the Spirit, put into your heart one evidence of Christ’s love for sinners, I have done more towards your conviction of guilt than if I had opened the two tables of law, and tried your every act by the light of judgment. Sins will strike a man low, but God’s mercies will gently lay him lower still. The penitent often sinks deeply and more deeply in the slough of despond; but there is a place where his position is lower still--it is the Cross of Christ; and when we need to learn or teach a lesson of self-renunciation, you may depend upon it the best subject for study is not the magnitude and the multitude of your sins alone, but the magnitude and the multitude of the Lord’s mercies. (D. F. Jarman, M. A.)
Remember the Lord thy God, for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.
To remember God is the way to get wealth
1. The duty enjoined. Thou shalt remember the Lord, etc.
1. In point of contemplation to remember Him, that is, to think of Him, and to have Him often in our minds. There’s no man that forgets his treasure; wherever that is, there will be also his heart, as our Saviour tells us. We need not call upon worldly men to remember their gold and silver and riches, they will think upon these of their own accord, and all because such things as these are dear with them. In like manner will it be with us to God; if He be our treasure, we shall remember and daily think of Him, as it is fitting for us to do.
2. As in point of contemplation, so also in point of affection. We are said to remember anyone, not when barely we think upon him, but when we think upon him with respect, when he is not only in our thoughts but in our hearts. And thus likewise are we said to remember God.
3. In point of obedience to remember God is to be subject to Him, and to do that which He requires. Those that Walk in ways of opposition and contrariety to God, they are said to forget Him. Consider this ye that forget God (Psalms 50:22).
4. In point of address and seeking to Him, and reliance and dependence upon Him. When anything is to be done by us, or for us, that we be sure to call upon God Himself for the prospering of it to us (Proverbs 3:5-6).
5. In point of thankfulness and acknowledgment we are then said to remember God, when we own Him in all the mercies which we enjoy from Him. This is the proper drift of this present Scripture, as we may see by the context, in Deuteronomy 8:10-11, etc., of this chapter. When thou hast eaten and art full, thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which He hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping His commandments and His judgments, etc. Because, indeed, it is that which we are naturally and commonly too prone and subject unto.
II. The reason annexed. For it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth, which passage may be considered two ways. First, in its absolute consideration; and, secondly, in its connexion. We will look upon it first of all in the former consideration, as it is absolute, and by way of proposition.
1. Emphatically. When it is said here He gives power, this power, it may be said, laid forth according to sundry explications.
2. Exclusively. When it is said here that He gives this power, this is to be taken not only emphatically, but exclusively; and so there are these intimations in it.
The theology of money
What a blow this text strikes at one of the most popular and mischievous fallacies in common life, namely, that man is the maker of his own money! Men who can see God in the creation of worlds cannot see Him suggesting an idea in business, smiling on the plough, guiding the merchant’s pen, and bringing summer into a brain long winter-bound and barren. Lebanon and Bashan are not more certainly Divine creations than are the wool and flax which cover the nakedness of man. To the religious contemplation, the sanctified and adoring mind, the whole world is one sky-domed church, and there is nothing common or unclean. God wishes this fact to be kept in mind by His people. In this instance, as in many others, God makes His appeal to recollection: “Thou shalt remember.” The fact is to be ever present to the memory; it is to be as a star by which our course upon troubled waters is to be regulated; it is to be a mystic cloud in the daytime, a guiding fire in the night season. The rich memory should create a rich life. An empty memory is a continual temptation. Mark the happy consequences of this grateful recollection. First of all, God and wealth are ever to be thought of together. “The silver and the gold are Mine.” There is but one absolute proprietor. We hold our treasures on loan; we occupy a stewardship. Consequent upon this is a natural and most beautiful humility. “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” When the trader sits down in the evening to count his day’s gains, he is to remember that the Lord his God gave him power to get wealth. When the workman throws down the instrument of his labour that he may receive the reward of his toil, he is to remember that the Lord his God gave him power to get wealth. When the young man receives the first payment of his industry, he is to remember that the Lord his God gave him power to get wealth. Thus the getting of money becomes a sacred act. This, then, is the fundamental principle upon which Christians are to proceed, namely, that God giveth man power to get wealth, and consequently that God sustains an immediate relation to the property of the world. Take the case of a young man just entering business. If his heart is uneducated and unwatched, he will regard business as a species of gambling; if his heart be set upon right principles, lie will esteem business as a moral service, as the practical side of his prayers, a public representation of his best desires and convictions. In course of time the young man realises money on his own account. Looking at his gold and silver, he says, “I made that.” There is a glow of honest pride on his cheek. He looks upon the reward of his industry, and his eyes kindle with joy. Whilst he looks upon his first-earned gold, the Bible says to him gently and persuasively, “Thou shalt remember the Lord thy God; for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.” Instantly his view of property is elevated, enlarged, sanctified. He was just about to say that his own arm had gotten him the victory, and to forget that, through the image, is Caesar’s yet the gold is God’s. What, then, is the natural line of thought through which the successful man would run under such circumstances? It would lie in some such direction as this: What can be the meaning of this word “remember”? Does it not call me to gratitude? Is it not intended to turn my heart and my eye heavenward? As God has given me “power to get wealth,” am I not bound to return some recognition of His goodness and mercy? “Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits, of all thine increase.” Supposing this to be done, what is the result which is promised to accrue? That result is stated in terms that are severely logical: “So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.” The text has called us to an act of remembrance, and in doing so has suggested the inquiry whether there is any such act of remembrance on the part of God Himself? The Scripture is abundant in its replies to this inquiry: “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed towards His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” Jesus Christ Himself has laid down the same encouragement with even minuter allusion: “Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
The philosophy of worldly success
1. How worldly success is to be obtained. By strict obedience to God’s laws; by this only. Work is what He demands, and work is the only condition under which the prize may be won.
2. The nature of the profit we are to look for. Not merely worldly profit. No life so dreary, so deadly as that of the mere millionaire. The joys of the true man’s life he cannot taste; the holy fellowships of spiritual being he cannot enter,: God stamps him reprobate. There is a vast wealth of faculty in him, “fusting” from want of use. And power unused soon gets acrid, and mordant, and gnaws and wears within.
3. Why we should remember the Lord God. Because--
When Speaker Crooke was presented to Queen Elizabeth in the House of Lords on the occasion of his election, he said that England had been defended against the Spaniards and their Armada by Her Majesty’s mighty arm. The Queen interrupted him and from her throne, said: “No; but by the mighty hand of God, Mr. Speaker.”
God the original source of wealth
He that would thus critically examine his estate upon interrogatories, put every part of it upon the rack and torture to confess without any disguise from whence it came, whether down the ladder from heaven, or up out of the deep--for there it seems by the poets Plutus or riches hath a residence also--by what means it was conveyed, by whose directions it travelled into that coast, and what the end of its coming is, and so learn the genealogy as it were of all his wealth, would certainly acknowledge that he were fallen upon a most profitable inquiry. For beside that he would find out all the ill-gotten treasure, that gold of Toulouse that is so sure to help melt all the rest, that which is gotten by sacrilege, by oppression, by extortion, and so take timely advice to purge his lawful inheritance from such noisome unwholesome acquisitions, and thrive the better forever after the taking so necessary a purgation--he will, I say, over and above see the original of all his wealth, all that is worthy to be called such, either immediately or mediately from God, immediately without any cooperation of ours, as that which is left to us by inheritance from honest parents--our fortunes and our Christianity together, mediately as that which our lawful labour, our planting and watering hath brought down upon us, wholly from God’s prospering or giving of increase.
If thou do at all forget the Lord.
Forgetfulness of God, destruction to the Soul
I. What is that forgetfulness of god of which the present effects on our moral and religious character are so highly injurious, and of which the future consequences in regard to our eternal prospects are so dreadfully fatal.
1. If any persons can rise up and lie down, go out and come in, day after day, and week after week, with scarcely a transient thought of Him whose hand has sustained them, whose long-suffering has borne with them, and whose bountiful goodness has supplied their various wants, those persons are clearly chargeable with forgetfulness of the Lord their God.
2. The same guilt must also lie at our door, if we are habitually unmindful of the attributes of God; and, particularly, of His omnipresence.
3. The same may justly be said of him who allows himself to think of his Creator under a different character from that in which He has revealed Himself to mankind in His holy Word.
II. The fearful doom which is denounced in the words of the text against those who are guilty of the sins there forbidden. The expression, “to perish,” when used in the Scriptures in a judicial sense, to describe the punishment of sin, does not mean the suffering of temporal death only--it further signifies the spiritual death of man’s immortal part. (C. Townsend, M. A.)
A caution against forgetfulness of God
I. Men are liable to forget god.
1. We infer our liability to forget God, from the mysteriousness of His nature.
2. We infer our liability to forget God, from the moral dislike we have to Him.
3. We infer our liability to forget God, from the facts that fall under our notice.
II. Forgetfulness of god is an evil against which we should be peculiarly on our guard. This is the intimation in the text, and the reasons on which it is founded are--
1. They who forget God must necessarily remain ignorant of Him.
2. They who forget God must necessarily disobey Him.
3. They who forget God must necessarily prove ungrateful to Him.
III. Means should be used for the avoidance of this heinous crime. This is the object of the charge: “Beware that thou forget not,” etc.
1. Serious consideration should be exercised on all the things that belong unto our peace.
2. Fervent and unremitting prayer should be offered up to God for a change of heart.
3. We should constantly avoid those things which tend to exclude God from our thoughts.
4. Let us use all the means which tend to turn our thoughts towards God. Let us associate with the pious--frequent religious ordinances--read God’s most holy Word--contemplate death, judgment, and eternity. In conclusion--
Gratitude and ingratitude toward God
Such a passage belongs to the prophetico-historical order. The warnings are repeated with added force in chap. 28. The experience of Israel brings this general lesson, that the thought of the Divine goodness should lead men to show thankful gratitude to God, and to offer Him a willing service. Notice--
I. The reasonableness of rendering a grateful service to god.
1. In the case of Israel the propriety for such a grateful service is clearly seen. All men owe obedience to God; but we should expect a highly favoured people like Israel to render it in a high degree. Israel had been brought from slavery to freedom, and were promised and received as their inheritance a land most highly favoured.
2. Above all, the system of moral law and social order, and the Divine rule of the theocracy elevated them far above surrounding nations. In view of it all, there was reason that the people should yield to God a grateful service.
3. If the Israelites had reason for this, much more we. What was Britain when Imperial Rome held sway? What is it now, when Rome and many another proud dominion are but names? Do we not owe our higher light and liberty to the truth and freedom of the Gospel? As a nation we owe our God thankful gratitude and service.
4. As individual members of a great Christian people we owe gratitude to God. Contrast our condition with the savage tribes discovered by a Livingstone or Stanley; with the higher yet still idolatrous and superstitious Hindu; with a cannibal of the race so graphically described by a John G. Paten or the semi-barbarous Chinaman with his history reaching far into the past ages before our own began, but who yet has not risen above the grossest superstition and a most materialistic idea of existence. Contrast our blessings alike bestowed on cottage and palace, with the darkness that prevails among the peoples, and reason will be found for the exercise of grateful service.
II. The sin of ingratitude.
1. The passage warns us against the danger of receiving and enjoying the gifts at the risk of forgetting the Divine Giver; all thought and energy are not to be applied to the acquisition of more and more of the gifts of this life to use them for our own use, etc.
2. Into this sin Israel fell. They became practical materialists. Even after the return from Babylon their enthusiasm for God’s work soon faded (Haggai 1:1-15). So was it in our Lord’s day; and the ingratitude was then heightened by hypocrisy (Matthew 21:33-46; Matthew 23:26-39). Self and their own ease and glory were to them in reality, first; loving service toward God shown in works of love to their fellow men was far from them.
3. Is not this the spirit of too many in our time? There is a perpetual striving after the gains and pleasures of time, not that they may better serve God and become better men and women, but that they may have more of ease, more of the passing fleeting joys of this brief existence. This feature is seen in every class of the community. The socialistic schemes of the toiling millions are simply attempts to gain the kingdom of the material. But material possessions gained and received without due thankfulness to God and endeavours in His service, turn to dust and ashes in the using. Whereas if received with thankful hearts and used in His service, they may be transmuted and transformed into spiritual treasures, eternally enduring.
III. The effect of cultivating the spirit of gratitude or its opposite on material and individual life.
1. When a nation, in its government and institutions, publicly acknowledges its indebtedness to God, and makes public profession of loyalty to Him, God shall add to its blessings. Examples are not wanting.
2. So with individuals. God may not send material wealth, etc. But He will give them reasons for the joyful assurance that He is with them, and of the certainty of His promises. Hope for time, and assured hope for eternity. The effect will be closer communion and more consecrated service.
3. Far other is the effect of forgetting God whilst receiving His gifts. Remember how it was with Israel (Isaiah 1:3; Matthew 23:38-39). Hardness of heart, material living, God-forgetfulness, idolatry--these were the steps of descent. Nothing so tends to harden the heart and quench the spiritual life than God-forgetfulness and ingratitude in using the Divine gifts. There are still too many who reap luxuriant fields without due gratitude to Him who sent sunshine and rain, etc., who attribute their success, wealth, etc., to their own skill and industry, who add possession to possession without one thought of using them beyond the narrow circle of their own lives.
4. The Divine rule is the only safe one: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” etc. (Matthew 6:33). Let the soul be right with God through forgiveness, etc., in Christ, then we shall be guided to seek and enabled to find what is best for our mortal life, and will best avail us in thankfully doing our Heavenly Master’s work. (Wm. Frank Scott.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》