Deuteronomy Chapter Seventeen
All sacrifices to be perfect, Idolaters must be slain. (1-7) Difficult controversies. (8-13) The choice of a king, His duties. (14-20)
Commentary on Deuteronomy 17:1-7
(Read Deuteronomy 17:1-7)
No creature which had any blemish was to be offered in sacrifice to God. We are thus called to remember the perfect, pure, and spotless sacrifice of Christ, and reminded to serve God with the best of our abilities, time, and possession, or our pretended obedience will be hateful to him. So great a punishment as death, so remarkable a death as stoning, must be inflicted on the Jewish idolater. Let all who in our day set up idols in their hearts, remember how God punished this crime in Israel.
Commentary on Deuteronomy 17:8-13
(Read Deuteronomy 17:8-13)
Courts of judgment were to be set up in every city. Though their judgment had not the Divine authority of an oracle, it was the judgment of wise, prudent, experienced men, and had the advantage of a Divine promise.
Commentary on Deuteronomy 17:14-20
(Read Deuteronomy 17:14-20)
God himself was in a particular manner Israel's King; and if they set another over them, it was necessary that he should choose the person. Accordingly, when the people desired a king, they applied to Samuel, a prophet of the Lord. In all cases, God's choice, if we can but know it, should direct, determine, and overrule ours. Laws are given for the prince that should be elected. He must carefully avoid every thing that would turn him from God and religion. Riches, honours, and pleasures, are three great hinderances of godliness, (the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life,) especially to those in high stations; against these the king is here warned. The king must carefully study the law of God, and make that his rule; and having a copy of the Scriptures of his own writing, must read therein all the days of his life. It is not enough to have Bibles, but we must use them, use them daily, as long as we live. Christ's scholars never learn above their Bibles, but will have constant occasion for them, till they come to that world where knowledge and love will be made perfect. The king's writing and reading were as nothing, if he did not practise what he wrote and read. And those who fear God and keep his commandments, will fare the better for it even in this world.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Deuteronomy》
 Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the LORD thy God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is blemish, or any evilfavouredness: for that is an abomination unto the LORD thy God.
Bullock or sheep — Either greater or smaller sacrifices, all being comprehended under the two most eminent kinds.
 If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant,
ln transressing his covenant — That is, in idolatry, as it is explained Deuteronomy 17:3, which is called a transgression of God's covenant made with Israel, both because it is a breach of their faith given to God and of that law which they covenanted to keep; and because it is a dissolution of that matrimonial covenant with God, a renouncing of God and his worship, and a chusing other Gods.
 And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded;
The host of heaven — Those glorious creatures, which are to be admired as the wonderful works of God, but not to be set up in God's stead. By condemning the most specious of all idolaters, he intimates, how absurd a thing it is to worship stocks and stones, the works of men's hands.
I have not commanded — That is, I have forbidden. Such negative expressions are emphatical.
 At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.
Witnesses — Namely, credible and competent witnesses. The Jews rejected the testimonies of children, women, servants, familiar friends or enemies, persons of dissolute lives or evil fame.
 The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you.
First upon him — God thus ordered it, for the caution of witnesses, that, if they had thro' malice or wrath accused him falsely, they might now be afraid to imbrue their hands in innocent blood; and for the security and satisfaction of the people in the execution of this punishment.
 If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the LORD thy God shall choose;
For thee — He speaks to the inferior magistrates, who were erected in several cities. If thou hast not skill to determine, between blood and blood - That is, in capital causes.
Between plea and plea — In civil causes, about words or estates.
Between stroke and stroke — In criminal causes, concerning blows, or wounds inflicted by one man upon another.
Matters of controversy — That is, such things being doubtful, and the magistrates divided in their opinions about it.
Chuse — Namely to set up his tabernacle, or temple there; because there was the abode, both of their sanhedrim, which was constituted of priests and civil magistrates, and of the high-priests, who were to consult God by Urim, in matters which could not be decided otherwise.
 And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment:
Unto the priests — That is, unto the great council, which consisted chiefly of the priests and Levites, as being the best expositors of the laws of God, by which all those controversies were to be decided. And the high-priest was commonly one of that number, understood here under the priests, whereof be was the chief.
The judge — Probably the high-priest, to whom it belonged to determine, some at least, of those controversies, and to expound the law of God. And he may be distinctly named, tho' he be one of the priests, because of his eminency, and to shew that amongst the priests, he especially was to be consulted in such cases.
The sentence of judgment — Heb. The word, or matter of judgement, that is, the true state of the cause, and what judgment or sentence ought to be given in it.
 And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the LORD shall choose shall shew thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee:
Thou — Thou shalt pass sentence: he speaks to the inferior magistrates; who were to give sentence, and came hither to be advised about it.
 According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, to the right hand, nor to the left.
Thou shalt do — In particular suits between man and man, altho' the judge be hereby confined to his rule in giving the sentence, yet it seems but fit and reasonable that people should be bound simply to acquiesce in the sentence of their last and highest judge, or else there would have been no end of strife.
 And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel.
Do presumptuously — That will proudly and obstinately oppose the sentence given against him.
The evil — The evil thing, that scandal, that pernicious example.
 And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.
When thou shalt — He only foresees and foretells what they would do, but doth not approve of it. Yea when they did this thing for this very reason, he declares his utter dislike of it, 1 Samuel 8:7.
 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.
Thy God shall chuse — Approve of, or appoint. So it was in Saul and David. God reserved to himself the nomination both of the family, and of the person.
Thy brethren — Of the same nation and religion; because such a person was most likely to maintain true religion, and to rule with righteousness, gentleness, and kindness to his subjects; and that he might be a fit type of Christ their supreme king, who was to be one of their brethren.
 But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.
He shall not multiply horses — Tho' he might have horses for his own use, yet he was not to have many horses for his officers and guard, much less for war, lest he should trust in them. The multiplying horses is also forbidden, lest it should raise too great a correspondence with Egypt which furnished Canaan with them.
The Lord hath said — The Lord hath now said to me, and I by his command declare it to you.
Ye shall no more return that way — Into Egypt, lest ye be again infected with her idolatries.
 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
Turn away — From God and his law.
 And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:
He shall write — With his own hand, as the Jews say.
Out of that — Out of the original, which was carefully kept by the priests in the sanctuary, that it might be a perfect copy, and that it might have the greater influence upon him, coming to him as from the hand and presence of God.
 And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:
All the days of his life — 'Tis not enough to have Bibles, but we must use them, yea, use them daily. Our souls must have constant meals of that manna, which if well digested, will afford them true nourishment and strength.
 That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.
If his heart be not lifted up — He intimates, that the scriptures diligently read, are a powerful means to keep him humble, because they shew him in that, tho' a king, he is subject to an higher monarch, to whom he must give an account of all his administrations, and receive from him his sentence agreeable to their quality, which is sufficient to abate the pride of the haughtiest person in the world.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Deuteronomy》
17 Chapter 17
Thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
Heathen abominations avoided
One reason to shun the practices of idolatry springs from the nature of the evils themselves.
1. They are cruel. Children “pass through the fire.” “Cruelty is one of the highest scandals to piety,” says Seeker. “The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty--homesteads of violence” (Psalms 74:20).
2. They are enticing. Divination, enchanter, and witch have their spells. Idolatry, “a shameful creed of craft and cruelty,” delights in what fills the sensuous imagination. “Who hath bewitched (fascinated) you, that ye should not obey the truths.” (Galatians 3:1.)
3. They are defiling “abominations.” Paintings and sculptures, laws and legends, reveal the awful corruptions of the heathen world.
4. They are destructive. “Because of these abominations the Lord doth drive them out.” Sin drives away from God here and from heaven hereafter. The fruit of idolatry and superstitions is death (Leviticus 20:23). (J. Wolfendale.)
That useth divination.
Magical arts and divination
1. Different names are here assigned to persons dealing in the arts of magic. “One that useth divination”; professing to gain power and knowledge more than human. “One that practiseth augury” or covert arts. “An enchanter”: the original suggesting the serpent, and implying the practice of charming serpent, yet always connected with the arts of divination. “A sorcerer”: the Hebrew word signifying one who mutters incantations, but only in the bad sense of seeking help from others than God. “A charmer”: a word which suggests binding as with the spell of enchantment. “A consulter with a familiar spirit”: the English phrase signifies spirits who stand in such a relation to the performer that they come at his call. Of course it is pretended that these spirits are other and greater than human. The original Hebrew (Ob) comes down to us in the African “Obe-man,” who still follows the same profession, by means of similar arts. “A wizard” is one who claims superhuman wisdom, the old English accurately translating the Hebrew; the distinctively wise one. The word is restricted in usage to superior wisdom gained by the arts of magic. “A necromancer”: precisely the spiritist of modern times, or rather of all time, who claims to have communion with the spirits of dead men.
2. This analysis of the original words may aid toward some just conception of the associated ideas which cluster round the magic arts of the Hebrew age. Their name and their arts are legion. Think of so many classes--professions--of men and women naturally shrewd, sharp, cunning; practising upon the superstitions and fears of the million; working upon their imagination, haunting them with the dread of unknown powers, bringing up to them ghosts from the invisible world, claiming to give auguries of the future, playing in every way upon their fears and hopes, to extort their money or to make sport of their fears or to gratify their own or others’ malice. A system so near akin in spirit and influence to idolatry, which so thoroughly displaces God from the hopes and fears of men, and which seeks so successfully to install these horrible superstitions in His place--a system, which perverts the powers of the world to come to subserve ungodliness, and which practically rules out the blessed God from the sphere of men’s homage, fears, and hopes--this system has always been worked by wicked and never by good men, has always subserved all, iniquity, but piety and morality never--this has been a master-stroke of Satan’s policy, and one of the most palpable fields of his triumph through all the ages. (H. Cowles, D. D.)
The Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.--
The deterring power of Divine grace
It is recognised as a principle amongst legislators and magistrates, that the great end of punishment is the prevention of crime. And there is no doubt that, up to a certain point, this object is gained. The public execution will strike terror into many, though numbers, again, more hardened in wickedness, will depart from the spectacle, and perhaps commit the very crime for which they have just seen a fellow creature die. It is not, however, that they actually set at nought the punishment; it is rather that there are always so many chances of escape, the men transgress in the hope that they shall elude detection, The fearfulness of a threatening, even though combined with the certainty of execution, will not always, nor even commonly, deter men from violating the commandments of God. There is no need for having recourse to imagination for the destruction of a people on account of their wickedness, and their inheritance passing into the possession of others. This is only what actually occurred in the instance of the land of Canaan, whose inhabitants were exterminated because of their crimes, and it was then handed over to a new population. There was here what might strictly be called a public execution. There was no giving a secret commission to the angel of death to move through the doomed ranks, and lay them low; which might perhaps have left it doubtful whether or not there had been any judicial interference; but the Israelites were put visibly into the place of public executioners, being charged with the terrible commission--“Thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them.” They were sent expressly to punish a guilty and condemned population. And the first memorable thing, if you examine the Scriptural record, is that God Himself placed no dependence on the influence and effect of the public execution; for His Word is full of warning to the Israelites, that they would fall under the like condemnation if they imitated the practices of those whom they destroyed. So far from its being reckoned on as an insupposable or even an improbable thing, that they who had been commissioned to slay multitudes on account of their sin would themselves practise the sin so fearfully and openly visited, there is the frequent repetition of energetic denunciations of that sin; and Moses is directed to urge the Israelites, with all earnestness and affection, to take heed that they provoke not the Lord by following the example of their predecessors in the land. You must be further aware, that so far from having been unnecessary, the warning actually failed in deterring the Israelites from the accursed practices; so that it was not against improbable danger that Moses directed his parting admonitions. For when the Israelites had destroyed the Canaanites, and taken possession of their land, they quickly gave in to the very abominations which had been visited with all the fearfulness of a public execution. You read of them in the earliest period of their settlement--“They forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth.” And their whole history, up to the time when God was provoked to let loose against them the power of the Assyrian, is a record of rebellion under those special and flagrant forms which had marked the guilty career of the tribes which had perished by their sword. Where, then, was the supposed influence of a public execution? What ground is there for the imagination, that even were the Almighty visibly to interfere, and in His character of moral Governor of the universe to anticipate in certain cases those judgments which shall hereafter be poured out on the impenitent, there would be wrought any permanent effect on the great mass of men?--as though the thing wanted in order to repress the actings of unrighteousness were only a more open and express demonstration that punishment is to follow upon sin. And now you may be disposed to ask with what view we have endeavoured to show, that even what might be called a public execution, the present visible descent of the vengeance of God on the perpetrators of certain sins, would probably be ineffectual in deterring others from the practice of those sins--ineffectual even in regard of such persons as had the best means of knowing that the infliction was the direct and judicial consequence of the crime. We have but one object; not that of merely presenting a severe and repulsive picture of the depravity of our nature, but that of shutting you up to the conviction of the necessity, the indispensableness of the Divine grace, in order to your being withheld from the commission of sin. We would withdraw you, if we could, from all reliance on anything but the immediate workings of the Spirit of God, when the matter in question is the being able to resist this or that temptation, or to keep oneself undefiled by this or that wickedness. We would teach you, however harsh the teaching may sound, that there is no wickedness of which you are not capable, and that if you think yourselves secure against a sin just because the sin may be held in abhorrence, or because you may be thoroughly aware of God’s purpose of visiting it with extraordinary vengeance, you display a confidence in your own resolution and strength which, as savouring of pride, can only be expected to issue in defeat. This is virtually the doctrine of our text. For you will perceive that God ascribes it wholly to Himself that the Israelites were preserved from the abominations of the heathen. “These nations hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners; but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.” They would have been just as bad had they been left to themselves; but God had not suffered them to fall into such flagrant transgression. He had so acted upon them by His grace as to preserve them from sins, of which they had the seeds in their hearts, just as much as others, in whom those seeds were allowed to bring forth their fruits. And though the text speaks only of the past, making mention of preventing grace as having hitherto wrought upon the Israelites, it is clearly implied in the fact of a remonstrance against any future imitation of the heathen, that there would be no security for them except in their being still withheld by the influences of God’s Spirit. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.
Touching and sad is the last look of the emigrant leaving his old home and the white cliffs of his native land. Some partings have in them more than sorrow. Never again! is a mournful utterance. It has in it warning, admonition, and counsel.
1. The ways of youth are not to be trodden by us again. We are ever entering into new paths. Personality is ever changing, while individual identity remains the same.
2. The ways of possible improvement in the past cannot be trodden again. The capabilities of the organ are limited by its compass and the number of its stops. But within the necessary limits what marvellous varieties of music can be brought out of it! Our life, with measured capacities, is the instrument, and we the players. In the exercise of responsible will we can bring out heavenly harmonies, or unearthly discords. How the great player wishes the audience could come back and hear what he feels he can do now. But the chance is gone. Nothing can be done with the past.
3. If the past cannot be lived over again, it is our duty to make the best of our present. There is much to be done for ourselves and others. (Preacher’s Monthly.)
Once for all
If I can pass this way no more, then--
I. I cannot do what I then missed doing.
1. What thought I of myself?
2. Did I seek God’s way or my own?
II. I cannot undo what I have done. What manner of tracks did I leave in the way?
3. Temptations to others to do wrong.
III. In view of this, how should i walk?
1. Confessing my past sins.
2. Repenting of, and forsaking them.
3. Exercising a cheerful faith.
4. Doing good to all men as opportunity offers.
1. Sad and solemn things are in the past.
2. Eternal things are before us. (B. Knepper.)
Never this way again
We are told that at one of those splendid pageants in Berlin, not long ago, the wife of the English ambassador unfortunately unfastened the necklace she was wearing, and lost a costly pearl somewhere in the roadway. Perhaps it might have been regained if a serious search had been in order at such a time. But the grand procession must hurry along, and a lost place in the rank was of more account than a lost pearl. They did not return by the same way. We may be in equal peril if an accident should occur in this ceaseless rush of our years. An admonition in it for the close of the year.
I. It is now a most significant time for the taking of spiritual stock. Most religious people would be glad to know just where they are, and how the balance stands. It is well to have a clearing out, even if one is afraid he may be suffocated with the lifted dust.
II. Then, again, this is a good time for us to give over lackadaisical complainings about short chances in the past. You will not have to take the same chances again. “Ye shall henceforth return no more by that way” of youth. But does anybody really want to do that? Victor Hugo confessed to his close friends that the most disagreeable advance in age to him had been that from thirty-nine to forty. “But,” said his companion, “I should think it a great deal brighter to be forty than fifty.” “Not at all,” replied Hugo, gaily; “forty years is the old age of youth, while fifty is the youth of old age.” Ah, just think how many fine chances yet wait for a brave heart in the beautiful future which we hope to enter on after next New Year’s day!
III. It is best for us now, also, to keep a clear look out for what is still ahead. Almost all of us have some past worth looking over. But the glory of every true life is in the time to come. God has not yet exhausted Himself in apocalypses of splendid radiance to His waiting people. There certainly is, in the distance, that which “eye hath not seen nor ear heard.” And wise men, while the years chime on, might well think of readiness to make the great journey and meet the revelations.
IV. Once more; by this time we ought to learn to estimate results and forget processes. We do really respect hills that we have climbed painfully over; but it awakes no emotion in others when we keep rehearsing the steps which we took, and the snows we met, and the winds that we resisted. Wiser is it always to let the dead past bury its dead out of sight. “Ye shall henceforth return no more that way”; and to some the past year has been a year of conflict; and who wants to go over all that again? Please remember, moments of success are not always moments of happiness; much depends on what the success has cost. “Ye shall henceforth return no more that way”; to some the past year has been one of self-discipline. How much it costs just to make a slender progress in Divine things!
V. Finally, this is the time in which to inquire after work yet left unfinished. We should bring our unfulfilled resolutions to God, and ask Him to grant us time to complete them. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The irrevocable past; or, no going back
I. “Ye shall henceforth return no more that way,” to undo evil. It matters not how black may have been your deed, nor how terrible soever its burden, it must stand. It cannot be undone. It is man’s dread prerogative to do; but he cannot undo. In the drift of a far-off period in the geological ages, long before Adam was created, we find the feet marks of gigantic fowls. The mud, once soft, hardened into rock, and became the permanent record of life and activity now extinct from the globe. The effects of human action are as unchangeable. This it is that makes sin so terrible: when it has gone forth we cannot recall it. Sin is a monument of everlasting shame. A single careless miner, by a momentary act of folly, can do what can never be undone, and in an instant fill a land with sorrow, and hundreds of homes with the tears of widows and orphans. The shocking gap in human life and relationship nothing can repair. Reparation may be effected only within narrow limits; and then the wrong done cannot in the most trivial instance be wholly undone.
II. “Ye shall henceforth return no more that way,” to make imperfect good better. The merchant who has been slothful, inattentive, cannot live over again the months that are gone. The transactions and figures in his books are unalterable. He cannot transport industry into past idleness, nor introduce a single item of gain into past losses. Not a stroke of work is possible in time that is over, not a sixpence of profit can be added to the accounts which are closed. It is the same thing with the student. When his examinations are over, if his session has been indolent, unsuccessful, he cannot improve the work which has been unsatisfactorily performed. He may be grieved and ashamed that his time has been so little devoted to his vocation. But the insufficiency of the past is beyond his reach. The culture of the field and the vineyard exhibits the same law. If there has been neglect or inadequate tillage, when harvest time arrives there is no going back to re-sow or re-tend. There must be scanty crops, dwindled grain and fruit, and only half-filled ears and half-laden boughs. These laws have their fulfilment in the domain of spiritual life. In the day of reckoning you cannot number profits where there have been no gains, nor number victories, if no achievements have been won. The popular proverb says, “It is never too late to mend.” True, it is never too late to mend in the present, but always too late to mend in the past. The path of time gone by is closed.
III. “Ye shall henceforth return no more that way,” to use neglected opportunity. Christian, thou hast had thine opportunities. Perhaps, when thou wert blind--blinded by thy tears--thy opportunities were the nearest to thee. The Lord, it may be, laid Himself out with parental tenderness to purify thee by disappointment, crosses, and suffering. Yet thou sawest no bright avenues crossing the path of thy shade, and conducting to beauty and peace. Has seed been put into thy hand, and hast thou not sown it? Has fruit hung within thy reach, and hast thou not plucked it? Has blessing been committed to thy solemn trust, and hast thou not scattered it? To all neglecters, opportunity is a narrowing path, which at length vanishes in trackless wilds; to the obedient, it is an ever-expanding, ascending, and illumined career, and into it all courses run which lead to glory, honour, and immortality. Every precious opportunity of each departed year is now dead to thee, dead to thine effort and industry.
IV. “Ye shall henceforth return no more that way,” to encounter past trial, guilt, and suffering. Do manifold imperfection and unworthiness bow thee down? Have they cost thee tears? Are they the burden of thy prayers? Dost thou daily struggle for the mastery of self, and sin, and Satan; and yet do thy besetments discourage thee? In the years now behind thee, has the firmament of thy soul often been dull and sunless, and even louring and tempestuous? Thou wilt never tread that path any more. New ground is before thee, and every step is towards the light. Conclusion:
1. The peculiar character of the Gospel is due to the fact that we cannot undo the past. Sin remains. Moral laws are immutable in their foundations, and their penalties are irrepealable. But the Lord Jesus has effected a saving work. He stands between the sinner and the woe that pursues him. He fulfils, honours, and satisfies broken laws, and covers the defenceless head of the contrite, and turns aside the merited destruction which was sweeping towards him.
2. Since what is done cannot by you be undone, are you to sit down and weep the tears of despair? My message is salvation, but not salvation which you can effect in time that is gone. The great lesson is, Act in the present.
3. Let the sincere Christian be comforted. The Lord has borne your sins. Your holy life is watched and guarded by His sheltering love. Ponder what you have done. Throw away no lessons which it offers. Be true to your past experience and conviction. But brood not over bygone evil.
4. Let us be up and doing; for all things pure and beautiful sweep along the upward groove of progress to perfection. The movement of every world and sun and system is onward.
5. In a few more breaths thy life may close. The Lord may be saying with the most literal emphasis, “Ye shall henceforth return no more that way”--“no more” the way to business, “no more” the way to the house of thy friend, “no more” the way to the church, “no more” the way to thy family and home, “no more” the way from the grave whither thou thyself shalt have been carried. (H. Batchelor.)
The past irrevocable
I. I can conceive that to some of us there may be relief and even comfort in this assurance. The experiences through which we have come may have been such that we cannot wish for their renewal. The path over which we have passed may have been so rough and steep and dangerous that we cannot contemplate traversing it again without a shudder. When I was in Chamounix, last summer, a friend who had crossed the glacier and come down by the “Mauvais Pas,” on which the iron railing put for the safety of travellers had parted from its fastenings in his grasp, assured me that be would not go through that experience again for all that earth could give. And there may be not a few among us who feel just in the same way concerning some chapters in our last year’s life. We are, perhaps, thankful to be through them, but we do not wish to repeat them. We feel regarding them as one does who has come safely out of a terrible railway accident, or who sets his foot on land after a dangerous and tempestuous voyage. We are glad that we have escaped, but, even although we should escape another time, we do not desire to be again in the same peril. Some, too, may have had such a time of labour and anxiety that they are glad to think that it is now behind them and not to be renewed. And some there are who have had such a fierce fight with temptation, and have come out of it, victorious indeed, yet with such exhaustion that they cannot but rejoice in the thought that now it is all behind them in “the irrevocable past.” They are glad for the result, but they would not willingly go back into the agony of the conflict. So this text, taken as an assurance, that we cannot re-live our lives, or go again through the experiences of the past, has in it an element of comfort. It is a relief to know that some things are over and done with.
II. But there is another side to the subject, and that is full of solemnity, not unattended with sorrow, For in the past there are many things which now we wish had been otherwise. Our afterthought has shown us much to which our forethought was blind; but we cannot alter anything now. The past is always seen more correctly after it has become the past than it was when it was present. Lost opportunities cannot be recalled, and no cement of human device can mend a broken vow. Ah! what a sad reflection have we here! You cannot recall the profane word; you cannot wipe out the impure act; you cannot undo the sins you have committed. What then? What is to be done with it? I answer, that if we cannot cancel it, we can confess the evil that is in it, and seek through Jesus Christ forgiveness for that. If we please, we can obtain, through the great atonement, acceptance with God notwithstanding our sins. The sting of our guilt may be extracted, and the past may cease to be a clog upon our spiritual progress.
III. And then, turning the thought which the words of my text express, we may make it full of admonition to ourselves for the future. We are about to enter upon a path in which there will be no possibility of retracing our steps; let us be very careful, therefore, where we plant our feet. We have only once to live; therefore let us live to purpose. The day that dawned this morning will never dawn again. So let us seize every moment as it comes, and use it as we shall wish we had done when we look back upon it from eternity. Remember, the year does not come to you all at once, in twelve months at a time, nor even in twelve distinct installments of a month each; no, nor yet in three hundred and sixty-five separate portions of a day apiece: but in individual moments. Do not, therefore, lose the moments in thinking that you will secure the year; but consider that the year is to be redeemed by the consecration of each moment to the Lord Jesus. Fill every day with His service. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
He shall read therein.
How we may read the Scriptures with most spiritual profit
The Holy Scripture is, as Austin saith, a golden epistle sent to us from God. This is to be read diligently. “Ignorance” of Scripture is “the mother of” error, not “devotion.” “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures” (Matthew 22:29). We are commanded to “search the Scriptures” (John 5:39). The Greek word signifies to search as for a vein of silver. How diligently doth a child read over his father’s will and testament, and a citizen peruse his charter! With the like diligence should we read God’s Word, which is our Magna Charta for heaven. It is a mercy the Bible is not prohibited. Trajan, the emperor, forbade the Jews to read in the book of the law. But there is no danger of touching this tree of Holy Scriptures; if we do not eat of this tree of knowledge we shall surely die.
I. Remove those things which will hinder your profiting.
1. Remove the love of every sin. The body cannot thrive in a fever; nor can the soul under the feverish heat of lust.
2. Take heed of the thorns which will choke the Word read. A covetous man is a pluralist; he hath such diversity of secular employments, that he can scarce find time to read; or if he doth, what solecisms doth he commit in reading! While his eye is upon the Bible, his heart is upon the world; it is not the writings of the apostles he is so much taken with, as the writings in his account book. Is this man likely to profit? You may as soon extract oils and syrups out of a flint, as he any real benefit out of Scripture.
3. Take heed of jesting with Scripture. This is playing with fire.
II. Prepare your hearts to the reading of the Word. The heart is an instrument that needs putting in tune. This preparation to reading consists in two things--
1. In summoning our thoughts together to attend that solemn work we are going about. The thoughts are stragglers; therefore rally them together.
2. In purging out those unclean affections which do indispose us to reading. Many come rashly to the reading of the Word; and no wonder, if they come without preparation, that they go away without profit.
III. Read the scripture with reverence. Think every line you read God is speaking to you. When Ehud told Eglon he had a message to him from God, he arose from his throne (Judges 3:20). The Word written is a message to us from Jehovah; with what veneration should we receive it!
IV. Read the books of scripture in order. Though occurrences may sometimes divert our method, yet for a constant course it is best to observe an order in reading. Order is a help to memory: we do not begin to read a friend’s letter in the middle.
V. Get a right understanding of Scripture (Psalms 119:73). If the Word shoot above our head, it can never hit our heart.
VI. Read the Word with seriousness. Well may we be serious if we consider the importance of those truths which are bound up in this sacred volume. “It is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life” (chap. 32:47). If a letter were to be broken open and read, wherein a man’s whole estate were concerned, how serious would he be in reading of it! In the Scripture our salvation is concerned; it treats of the love of Christ, a serious subject (Titus 3:4).
VII. Labour to remember what you read. The memory should be like the chest in the ark, where the law was put. Some can better remember a piece of news than a line of Scripture; their memories are like those ponds where the frogs live, but the fish die.
VIII. Meditate upon what you read. Meditation is the bellows of the affections: “While I was musing the fire burned” (Psalms 39:3). The reason we come away so cold from reading the Word is, because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.
IX. Come to the reading of Scripture with humble hearts. An arrogant person disdains the counsels of the Word, and hates the reproofs; is he likely to profit? “God giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6). The most eminent saints have been but of low stature in their own eyes; like the sun in the zenith, they showed least when they were at the highest.
X. Give credence to the Word written. Believe it to be of God; see the name of God in every line. The Romans, that they might gain credit to their laws, reported that they were inspired by the gods at Rome. Believe the Scripture to be “Divinely inspired.” Whence should the Scripture come, if not from God?
1. Sinners could not be the authors of Scripture. Would they indite such holy lines? or inveigh so fiercely against those sins which they love?
2. Saints could not be the authors of Scripture. How could it stand with their sanctity to counterfeit God’s name, and put “Thus saith the Lord” to a book of their own devising?
3. Angels could not be the authors of Scripture. What angel in heaven durst personate God, and say, “I am the Lord”? Believe the pedigree of Scripture to be sacred, and to come from the “Father of lights.”
XI. Highly prize the Scriptures (Psalms 119:72). St. Gregory calls the Bible “the heart and soul of God.” It is the library of the Holy Ghost. It is the compass by which the rudder of our wheel is to be steered; it is the field in which Christ, the Pearl of price, is hid; it is a rock of diamonds; it is a sacred “eye-salve”; it mends their eyes that look upon it; it is a spiritual optic-glass in which the glory of God is resplendent; it is the “universal medicine” for the soul.
XII. Get an ardent love to the word. Prizing relates to judgment, love to the affections. “Consider how I love Thy precepts” (Psalms 119:159; Romans 7:22). He is likely to grow rich who delights in his trade; “a lover of learning will be a scholar.” St. Austin tells us, before his conversion he took no pleasure in the Scriptures, but afterwards they were his “chaste delights.”
XIII. Come to the reading of the Word with honest hearts.
1. Willing to know the whole counsel of God.
2. Desirous of being made better by it.
XIV. Learn to apply scripture. Take every word as spoken to yourselves.
XV. Observe the preceptive part of the Word, as well as the permissive. Such as east their eye upon the promise, with a neglect of the command, are not edified by Scripture; they look more after comfort than duty. The body may be swelled with wind as well as flesh: a man may be filled with false comfort, as well as that which is genuine and real.
XVI. Let your thoughts dwell upon the most material passages of Scripture. The bee fastens on those flowers where she may suck most sweetness. Though the whole contexture of Scripture is excellent, yet some parts of it may have a greater emphasis, and be more quick and pungent.
XVII. Compare yourselves with the word. See how the Scripture and your hearts agree, how your dial goes with this sun. Are your hearts, as it were, a transcript of Scripture? Is the Word copied out into your hearts?
XVIII. Take special notice of those scriptures which speak to your particular case. Were a consumptive person to read Galen or Hippocrates, he would chiefly observe what they writ about a consumption. Great regard is to be had to those paragraphs of Scripture which are most apposite to one’s present case. I shall instance only in three cases--
XIX. Take special notice of the examples in scripture. Make the examples of others living sermons to you.
1. Observe the examples of God’s judgments upon sinners. They have been hanged up in chains in terrorem.
2. Observe the examples of God’s mercy to saints. Jeremy, was preserved in the dungeon, the three children in the furnace, Daniel in the lions den. These examples are props to faith, spurs to holiness.
XX. Leave not off reading in the bible till you find your hearts warmed.
XXI. Set upon the practice of what you read. “I have done Thy commandments” (Psalms 119:166). A student in physic doth not satisfy himself to read over a system or body of physic, but he falls upon practising physic: the life-blood of religion lies in the practical part. So, in the text: “He shall read” in the book of the law “all the days of his life; that he may learn to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them.” Christians should be walking Bibles.
XXII. Make use of Christ’s prophetical office. He is “the Lion” of the tribe of Judah,” to whom it is given “to open the book” of God, “and to loose the seven seals thereof (Revelation 5:5). Christ doth so teach as He doth quicken.
XXIII. Tread often upon the threshold of the sanctuary. Ministers are God’s interpreters; it is their work to expound dark places of Scripture. We read of “pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers” (Judges 7:16). Ministers are “earthen” pitchers (2 Corinthians 4:7). But these pitchers have lamps within them, to light souls in the dark.
XXIV. Pray that God will make you profit. “I am the Lord thy God, which teacheth thee to profit” (Isaiah 48:17). Make David’s prayer: “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law” (Psalms 119:18). Pray to God to take off the veil on the Scripture, that you may understand it; and the veil on your heart, that you may believe it. Pray that God will not only give you His Word as a rule of holiness, but His grace as a principle of holiness. I shall conclude all with two corollaries--
1. Content not yourselves with the bare reading of Scripture, but labour to find some spiritual increment and profit. Get the Word transcribed into your hearts: “The law of his God is in his heart” (Psalms 37:31). Never leave till you are assimilated into the Word. Such as profit by reading of the Book of God are the best Christians alive; they answer God’s cost, they credit religion, they save their souls.
2. You who have profited by reading the Holy Scriptures, adore God’s distinguishing grace. (T. Watson, M. A.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》