Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. NOTE GOD'S GRACIOUS ACTIVITY ON BEHALF OF HIS COVENANT PEOPLE. Ancient Israel was sadly prone to forget what God had done for them. Ingratitude is base. It injures greatly the man who is guilty of it. We lose immensely by our obliviousness of God's kindness. For the Hebrews, God had exerted his power and pity in methods unprecedented. Almost every act of his for their deliverance was a miracle. The crops of Egypt were blasted in order to rescue the sons of Abraham. The firstborn of Egypt, of man and of beast, were slain to emancipate Israel. The king, his courtiers, and Egypt's military were submerged in the sea to deliver the Hebrews. For forty years they had been miraculously led and miraculously fed. For forty years their clothes had resisted all decay, and their sandals had not yielded to wear. Without ordinary bread - without wine - they had been kept alive; yea, had become robust and irresistible. Conquest over foes was already theirs, and Canaan itself was, in part, possessed. Never before - never since - has God so set aside his ordinary methods of providing for men, and revealed himself as the personal Friend of his people.
II. THIS GRACIOUS ACTIVITY CONTAINED PREGNANT PLEDGE OF HIGHER GOOD. Wondrous as were these acts of Divine kindness, they did not terminate in themselves. They were the earnests of something more - something higher. Every gift in the desert and every conquest in Canaan contained a kernel of spiritual promise. These events through which the Hebrews passed, both prosperous events and adverse, were "temptations," or tests, by which to develop their faith and fortitude. Every carnal battle was drill and discipline for spiritual conflict. Very instructively are the miraculous deliverances here called "signs" (ver. 3). For signs and symbols they were of realities in the spirit-realm. The redemption from Egypt was the sign of a better redemption for the soul. Sinai foreshadows Calvary. The smitten rock prefigured Christ. The desert life was a type of the earthly pilgrimage. The brazen serpent symbolized the remedy for sin. By new and singular methods was the host of God's elect daily fed, and Moses plainly indicates the gracious intention of the plan, viz. that "Ye might know that I am the Lord your God." The descending manna was an object-lesson. Every meal was a revelation of God. Within the food for the body was to be found richer food for the soul.
III. WE SEE MAN'S INSENSIBILITY TO THE GRACIOUS INTENTION OF GOD. In this address of Moses we discover an apparent contradiction. "Ye have seen," he says, "all that the Lord did" (ver. 2). "Yet," he adds, "the Lord hath not given you eyes to see" (ver. 4). But the contradiction is only on the surface. They saw, and yet they did not see. They saw the external event; they did not perceive the interior meaning. They had no eye for spiritual penetration. They had not the pureness of heart by which they might have seen God. And the blame of non-possession does not rest on God. Some gifts he bestows unasked. "He sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." But the higher gifts for the soul he grants only to the meek and the prayerful. "Ask, and ye shall receive." "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." The Hebrews saw the cloud, but did not see the God within the cloud. They saw the splendid coruscations of his glory, and they entreated that the vision might not be repeated. Their mouths were filled with material food, but they had no eye to discern the love which supplied it. They remained deaf to the soft whispers of the Divine voice - the voice within the human voice. They were too carnal to perceive the illustrious vocation to which they were called, or the magnificent destiny that lay in their path. Jehovah offered to be "their God."
IV. WE SEE A FRESH OPPORTUNITY FOR COMPLETE CONSECRATION. On the threshold of the Promised Land God summoned a halt. He reviews, by the mouth of Moses, their past history, reminds them of their mistakes, reproves their obtuseness of mind, and invites them to a renewal of the sacred covenant. Another chance was given them for spiritual reformation. Here was the commencement of a new epoch. Again, as in Horeb, God bids for man's allegiance. He renews his pledge to be in Canaan what he had been in the desert - their special Friend, their God. In this compact all the resources of God were secured to Israel. His power, his glory, his life, his home, were conveyed to them. All was to be theirs; but on one condition - and that condition was a necessity - that they should be loyal and true to him. What a splendid opportunity was there for a new beginning - for a fresh departure!. So ever and anon God comes near to us, and offers to make a covenant with us - to be our Friend and God forever. On the morning of every day - on every returning Sabbath - he appeals to us afresh to make consecration of ourselves. If we will be indeed his people, he will be most truly our God. We too may "enter into his oath." - D.
I. THE PURPOSE OF CLOTHES IS TO COVER OUR NAKEDNESS, This was shown in Eden, and as Carlyle says about his alter ego (Teufelsdrockh), "The utility of clothes is altogether apparent to him; nay, perhaps he has an insight into their more recondite and almost mystic qualities, what we might call the omnipotent virtue of clothes, such as was never before vouchsafed to any man Society, which the more I think of it astonishes me the more, is founded upon cloth." And into this most proper purpose of hiding our nakedness, let us observe, the Lord entered in Eden and afterwards. Man is a spirit, but it is also evident that in this present world he was meant to wear clothes and to conform to decency thereby.
II. THERE IS NO VIRTUE IN RAGGEDNESS. In fact, one of the prophets, in order to convey impressively the worthlessness in God's sight of our self-righteousness, uses this very figure: "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Isaiah 64:6). Suppose that Israel had reached the land of promise in desperate raggedness; it would have been no credit to themselves or to their God. It would, on the other hand, have made the invasion more perilous. But when, instead of "ragged regiments," they came with unworn uniforms from the wilderness, the very freshness of the appearance of the host struck terror into their adversaries.
III. THE FACT HAD EVIDENTLY FAILED TO STRIKE THE ISRAELITES AS IT OUGHT TO HAVE DONE. "Yet the Lord," says Moses, "hath net given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day" (ver. 4). The unchanging, well-appointed host had ceased to be a marvel to itself, although it must have been a marvel to all other observers. The bright, unfading, well-kept dresses continually before their eyes failed to make adequate impression. They took God's goodness, as we are too prone to do, as a matter of course.
IV. GOD'S PROVISION FOR MAN'S BODY WAS A TYPE OF HIS PROVISION FOR MAN'S SPIRIT. The spirit of man has its hunger and thirst and nakedness, just as well as the body. And we are accustomed to see in the manna, which satisfied the hunger of the Israelites, a type of him who, as the Living Bread, came down from heaven (John 6:49, 50); in the water from the smitten rock, which satisfied their thirst, a type of the Spirit, proceeding from the Son, to refresh the souls of men (John 7:37-39). And why, we ask, should we not discern in the time-defying garments, which God so wonderfully preserved, a type of that righteousness with which he clothes our spiritual nakedness, which is unto all and upon all them that believe (Romans 3:22)? Round the human spirit, as Carlyle has put it, there lies a "garment of flesh contextured in the loom of heaven... it is sky-woven, and worthy of a God;" but around it he is pleased to place another garment, of which the unworn uniforms of Israel were types, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is sufficient to cover all our nakedness, and which stands defiantly against the powers of time. It is in this array and panoply that, as pilgrims, we shall reach the land of eternal promise. Vicissitude and change will work no havoc in this garment of God. In contrast to all man's "shoddy" and "ragged righteousness," it stands in perennial brightness, the time-defying clothing out of the commissariat of God. May we all be arrayed in none other as we approach the Jordan! - R.M.E.
I. NATURAL SIGHT WITHOUT SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT. Moses accuses the people of blindness to the facts of their own history. These facts included:
2. God's guidance of the people in the desert, which also was rife in signs and wonders (vers. 5, 6), and was a course of discipline (temptation, in sense of trial) throughout.
3. The victories over Sihon and Og (vers. 7, 8). No people ever saw so many miracles or passed through so extraordinary a curriculum as Israel did. Yet Moses says they had failed to apprehend the lessons of their history. Seeing, they saw not (Matthew 13:10-16). That generation may not have been so dull as the one which had preceded it, but even it had shown by recent rebellions (Numbers 20., 21.) how far it was from having laid earnestly to heart the lessons of God's dealings with it. A like veil lies on every unspiritual mind (2 Corinthians 3:13-18). The Bible is a book of riddles to it (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46). Christ is known only after the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). The lines of a Divine leading in the events of life are not recognized. Warnings are scorned; prosperity is misused; adversity hardens. There is outward experience of facts, but, as in Israel's case, the Word preached does not profit, not being mixed with faith in them that hear it (Hebrews 4:2).
II. SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT IS FROM GOD. Yet not arbitrarily given or withheld. It is given to those who feel their need of it, who seek it, and who act in faithfulness to the light already possessed (Psalm 25:9, 12, 14; Psalm 119:18; Matthew 13:10-16; John 7:17). From none such will God withhold the "heart to perceive, and eyes to see." On the other hand, Divine illumination is indispensable to the knowledge of spiritual truth (cf. John 6:45; 1 Corinthians 2:12-16; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:17). As the poet's eye is needed for the discernment of the poetic suggestions and analogies of nature, so is the spiritual eye needed to penetrate "the secret of the Lord." The eye in this case, as in the other, "sees only what it brings with it the power of seeing." And to gain this seeing eye, there must, as before remarked, be prayer - prayer and obedience. Without these two golden keys, no thought, no labor, no learning, no cleverness, will enable us to force the gates of the inner sanctuary of truth. God's world, God's Word, God's providence, will be alike mysterious; if spiritual instruction is offered, the reply will be "Doth he not speak parables?" (Ezekiel 20:49). - J.O.
Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 7:19.)
I. THE RELATION OF THE TERMS. "Temptations" is a wider category than "signs," and "signs" is a wider category than "miracles" or "wonders." All "wonders," however, in the kingdom of God have the moral significance of "signs;" and all "signs and wonders" are "trials" of the disposition.
II. THE APPLICATION OF THE TERMS.
1. Wonders, meaning strictly, supernatural occurrences.
2. Signs. Anything is a "sign" which indicates God's presence (Luke 11:20), which discovers a law of his working, which is a pledge of his grace, which furnishes a symbol of a spiritual reality. Miracles were "signs." Nature is a "sign" in her order, regularity, and invariableness (Genesis 1:14; Genesis 8:22; Genesis 9:13; Psalm 119:89-92; Jeremiah 33:25; Acts 14:17; Romans 1:20). Every answer to prayer, every deliverance front trouble, every indication of the Divine will in providence, every specific warning and encouragement, is a "sign."
3. Temptations, i.e. tests or trials. "Trial" is a word of wide scope, for God tries us every moment, as well by things little as by things great. Every event in providence contributes to the formation, testing, and discipline of character. Naturally, however, we give the name "trials" to the harder and more severe experiences of life - those which most throw us back on our true selves, and reveal or determine character. - J.O.
I. WAS MADE WITH THE NATION AS SUCH. National covenanting finds modern exemplifications in the Scotch covenants, and in the "Solemn League and Covenant of 1643-44. Irrespective, however, of the particular stipulations of these covenants, the propriety of such engagements must be pronounced doubtful. The case of Israel can scarcely be pleaded as a precedent. Certainly, were God to reveal himself to any nation now as he did to that chosen race, grant it a revival of religion, give it laws and judgments, and summon it by positive command to an engagement of the kind, it would, as of old, be its duty to obey. Even then: 1. The covenant would involve a remodeling of the constitution of the State. It would be meaningless save on a theocratic basis, Church and State merging in one body, and breaches of covenant obligation being regarded and punished as crimes.
2. The arrangement would require for its successful working conditions of strictest isolation - such conditions as God in his wisdom devised for Israel. The difficulties in the way of such a covenant amount now practically to impossibility. In ancient times, the units of society were families, tribes, nations, the sense of individuality being comparatively weak; now the sense of individuality is strong, and every arrangement must take large account of the individual conscience. In Israel, again, Church and State were one, but they are so no longer, Christ's kingdom refusing to identify itself with any earthly polity. The modern state, based on popular representation, and declining to take cognizance of differences of creed, is least of all favorable to the coalescence of civil with spiritual functions. Oaths are to be deprecated in any case, save where absolutely called for. They ensnare consciences, and lead to profanation by the disregard of them by the irreligious. Large sections of the community must always be left outside of such covenants, and in so solemn a transaction, the right of the majority to bind the minority, and still more to bind posterity, must be questioned. The covenants, in Scotland especially, were the source of great religious inspirations, but the good was not unmixed with evil. On the other hand, the fact of such obligations being freely undertaken by a nation must be admitted to involve it in grave responsibility, and greatly aggravates the guilt of subsequent apostasy.
II. INCLUDED ALL CLASSES, AND HAD RESPECT TO POSTERITY.
1. It included children (ver. 11). Whatever may be said of national covenants, it is undoubted that, in the spiritual sphere, parents and children stand in very close relation. The act of a parent, himself in covenant with God, in dedicating his child to God - probably naming the Name of God upon it in baptism - entails on that little one the weightiest responsibilities. It is a child of the covenant, stands within its bonds, and is pledged to love, serve, and worship the God of its fathers.
2. It bound posterity. Covenanting apart, the people that is faithful to God and zealous for his glory, abounding in fruits of righteousness, may expect his blessing to distant generations; whereas the nation that forgets him, and abounds in impiety, infidelity, and wickedness, with equal certainty provokes his indignation, brings down his scourge, and bequeaths to posterity the inheritance of a curse. - J.O.
gratitude with the Israelites, urging obedience from a sense of the great goodness of the Lord. And now he turns to the other principle of fear, which cannot be dispensed with in religion, and urges obedience out of respect for the Promised Land, since if they are disobedient it will be turned to a land accursed. The land will in such a ease become a witness to the curse of God, instead of continuing a standing evidence of his love; a beacon instead of a type; a wilderness instead of a paradise. And it is instructive to notice the exact danger Moses meets in this passage. The curses have already been pronounced; but it is just possible for some one to say that the curse is leveled at collective sin. National apostasy is contemplated, but an individual will never be noticed in his course of licentiousness. The wholesale is judged; the retail may escape. This is the idea that Moses here refutes. He shows that the individual shall be judged, and the land become accursed through the apostasy of individuals. We remark, then -
I. THE NATION APOSTATIZES THROUGH THE APOSTASY OF INDIVIDUALS. No nation as a public act apostatizes, but it gets rotten through individual action. When then a number of units, under the delusion that as units they shall escape, betake themselves to evil courses, blessing themselves in their hearts, saying, "I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst," then does rottenness enter into the state of Denmark! It is well for units not to pretend to under estimate their influence as an excuse for living as they please. The nation suffers through the deterioration of its component particles. If the individual withers, the nation withers too.
II. INDIVIDUAL WAYWARDNESS MAY WORK THE RUIN OF A LAND. When we look into the admirable work of Van Lennep, we find him ascribing the barrenness of Palestine at present to the cutting down of forests, the fall of terraces, and the consequent want of rain. A land thus lies at the mercy of individuals much more than we imagine. An individual may cut down the trees on his patch of freehold, and his neighbor follow his example, to carry on his self-indulgence with the proceeds, and the result may be the change of climate which turns a paradise into a waste. We have already seen that Palestine was peculiarly dependent upon bountiful provision in the shape of the early and latter rains; and if individuals, through the necessities begotten by their self-indulgence, outrage the arrangements of providence, the land becomes of necessity accursed.
III. AS A MATTER OF FACT, THE HOLY LAND IS NOW AN EMBODIMENT OF THE CURSE OF GOD. Travelers are struck with the brown and barren aspect of the whole land. Spots here and there, of course, burst into beauty through the gift of rain, but as a whole the land is no longer "with milk and honey blessed," but under the anathema of Heaven. How much longer this blight is to rest upon its bloom we cannot say, but the fact is patent to all observers.
IV. THE MUTE APPEAL OF A STRICKEN LAND SHOULD NOT BE LOST UPON THE OBSERVERS OF IT. When the question of slavery was being discussed, before God settled it by permitting the American civil war, attention was directed to the "waste lands" created by the slave-labor. It was shown that the iniquitous system made virgin and splendid soil in the course of years, through monotonous cropping, a wilderness, and that the spectacle of the deterioration of the earth should weigh with thinkers. And Nature is surely meant to speak to man's spirit by her deformities as well as by her beauties; by her manifest wrongs as well as by her manifold benedictions. Such a man as Ruskin, considering the question as art critics will, pleads eloquently for the natural beauty which the advancing needs of railway and of manufacture threatens with desolation. But such a wilderness as Palestine now is, such a wilderness as the slave states of America were becoming, speaks to the conscience of observers, and calls for penitence and tears. The muteness of the appeal, the golden silence, which characterizes such impressive scenes, should make each witness of the waste a penitent worshipper!
V. OBEDIENCE TO GOD WILL YET REGENERATE NATURE. We see the reverse of the disaster in Psalm 67:5, 6, "Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase." The wilderness shall yet blossom as the rose when the children of men shall learn their privilege and duty as children of God. - R.M.E.
I. WE LEARN THE ORGANIC UNITY OF THE NATION. Every individual is a member of the community - an integral part of the kingdom. "No man liveth unto himself." A citizen of an empire cannot demean himself as he please. He is bound to consider the well-being of the body politic. Hence Moses affirmed that the covenant made with the elders and officers present was a covenant also made with those not present. Whoever elected to share in the security and triumphs of the nation was bound to share in its obligations. We cannot belong to society and claim exemption from its laws. The individual is bound by the decisions of the nation.
II. WE LEARN THE GREAT USES OF EXPERIENCE. "Ye have seen their abominations." To a generation that had not seen the obscenities, impurities, and social corruptions of idolatry, it would be difficult to convey an adequate idea of the evil. It was, therefore, of the first importance that the experience of the Hebrews who had come up from Egypt should mold and inspire the convictions of the younger generation. Those who had seen the abominations of Egypt, felt its oppressions, and taken part in uprooting the corrupt races of Canaan, ought to have cherished a deep sense of the value of this covenant with God. The evil against which they solemnly leagued they knew to be a curse to men and an abhorrence to Jehovah. If only the treasures of experience were garnered and utilized, they would be worth more than mountains of silver and gold.
III. WE LEARN THE DECEPTIVE FLATTERIES OF SIN. "I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart."
1. The transgressor is intensely selfish. He plots for himself, and thinks only of his comfort. "I shall have peace."
2. The transgressor is essentially blind. He imagines that although all others may be detected, he shall escape. He sees no immediate danger. He vainly fancies that his evil course is sagacious, and will bring prompt returns of advantage.
3. The transgressor is a practical atheist. Because human magistrates or human witnesses may not discover his crime, he concludes that God will not. In fact, he leaves God out of the calculation. He lays his plans and carries them as if there were no God. The great sin of men is this, viz. that "God is not in all their thoughts." Sin seldom appears in its true color in this life. It is ashamed of its own fruits. It promises its dupes the fruits of righteousness. The creed of this world is that men "may gather grapes from thorns, and figs from thistles."
IV. WE LEARN THAT GOD'S DETECTIVES NEVER FAIL. "The Lord will not spare him." The secret conspiracy of the heart shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. If the culprit hide in the darkest den of a populous city, thence will Jehovah's arm drag him forth. "He besets us behind and before." If he be alone in his guilt, he is the more to blame, since he has no help or encouragement from others. All social influences have been deterrent from evil; but he has resisted them all with his obstinate folly. He has been singular in his sin; he shall be singular in his suffering. Against him the anger of Jehovah will burn with a white heat of justice. All the vials of righteous wrath shall be emptied on that guilty head. His name shall perish. He shall be "separated unto evil." The nation shall loathe him. The universe shall be banded together to punish him.
V. WE LEARN THAT THE EFFECT OF PUBLIC RETRIBUTION IS TO MAKE LUMINOUS GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. God delights in earth's fertility. He finds pleasure in fruits and flowers. But his delight in the fruits and flowers of the soul is so much greater, that he will blast all the beauty and fertility of earth in order to produce in men the fruits of holiness. His police force is enormous. Pestilence and earthquake, volcanic flame and electricity, human armies and microscopic insects, execute his judicial word. And the effect upon mankind is to excite inquiry. Wherefore this demolition and curse? Some solid reason must exist for this complete reversal of former blessing. The contrast is eloquent with meaning. The flames of Sodom shed a luster on the Divine righteousness. The barren hills, with mute yet mournful tongue, declare God's faithfulness. A broken covenant explains it all! The hills shall flee; the stars shall fade; but not a word from Jehovah's lips shall ever miscarry. The sleepless sword of judicial vengeance shall pursue to the death every false thing. - D.
I. INEXCUSABLE UNBELIEF. (Vers. 16-18.) The man who, turning from Jehovah, went after the gods by the nations, was doubly inexcusable.
1. The true God had been revealed to him.
2. The worthlessness of heathen idols had been demonstrated. He had the light, and could compare it with the darkness of the nations around. If not himself, a witness of God's mighty works in Egypt and in the desert, he had heard of them from his forefathers, or could read of them in his Scriptures (ver. 20). The existence of the nation was a proof that such things had been done. Unbelief is not less inexcusable in us:
1. With the Bible in our hands.
2. With so large a body of evidences of Divine truth.
3. With centuries of experience of the regenerative influence of Christianity.
4. With a wide knowledge of heathen nations, discovering to us by contrast our own advantages. Unbelief may be:
It is enough that our practice be shaped on the hypothesis of the untruth of God's Word, to constitute us unbelievers (1 Timothy 5:8).
II. GROSS SELF-DECEIT. (Ver. 19.) The act of this wicked man is very remarkable. He blesses himself in his heart, and says, "I will have peace," at the very time that God's curses are being read out to him. Yet his case is not a solitary one. He does no more than men do every day in the teeth of the threatenings of the Bible. Satan whispers, "Ye shall not surely die" (Genesis 3:4); "Be it far from thee: this shall rot be unto thee" (Matthew 16:22); and Satan, not God, is believed. We may explain this self-deceit:
1. From want of consideration (cf. Isaiah 1:3). The wicked man does not really trouble himself about the curses. They are mere words to him. The mind makes no application, scarcely even asks the meaning, of what it hears. The oracle with which the wicked man consults is in his own heart (Psalm 36:1-5), and the "oracles of God get no attention.
2. From want of faith. God's Word, even if attended to, could not compel belief in a heart already possessed by an opposite set of beliefs, and determined not to part with them.
3. From self-will. Will enters into the question of our beliefs; so long as it can twist evidence, resist unwelcome conclusions, find evasions and pretexts, it will not accept what is contrary to its ordinary bent. While, if the worst comes to the worst, it can cut the knot by a simple I won't," and obstinately refuse to believe aught but what it likes. The account of the sinner's unbelief and self-deceit is therefore this:
1. He has not liked to retain God in his knowledge.
2. Unwelcome subjects have been banished from his mind.
3. Through unfamiliarity to his thoughts, the supersensual world has become less and less a reality to him.
4. He acquires the power of ignoring it, and ends by disbelief in it.
III. UNUTTERABLE FOLLY. (Vers. 20, 21.) Unbelief, unhappily for the sinner, cannot alter the actual state of the case. God's auger smokes against him, and will certainly destroy him. His sin, agreeable as it may appear at present, will yield at last gall and wormwood. Contending with the Almighty, he rushes on his ruin. The curses written in the Book will not fail to overtake him. It is easy for sinners to "laugh now" (Luke 6:25), but there awaits them a terrible undeceiving - a day when they shall "mourn and weep." - J.O.
I. AN EVIDENCE OF THE TRUTH OF REVELATION. The sterility of Palestine has been urged in disproof of Bible representations of its former fruitfulness and plenty. It should rather be remembered that, were the Holy Land in a less desolate state than it is, Bible predictions would not have been fulfilled - revelation would have been discredited.
II. A WONDER TO THE STRANGER. "Great God! exclaims Volney, the unbeliever, from whence proceed such melancholy revolutions? For what cause is the fortune of these countries so strikingly changed? Why are so many cities destroyed? Why is not that ancient population reproduced and perpetuated?" ('Ruins,' Deuteronomy 2.)
III. A JUST RETRIBUTION FOR SIN - pointing a warning to ourselves. - J.O.
not revealed regarding Israel's future - especially the time and manner of the fulfillment of those promises and threatenings which were made contingent on their obedience or disobedience. The things which had been revealed whetted their appetite to know more (cf. Daniel 12:8; John 21:21). Moses in this verse discourages the prying of a too eager curiosity into things purposely kept secret, while directing the people to the things revealed as containing all that was necessary for the doing of their duty. The truth to be drawn from the passage is, that the Bible is primarily a Book for practical guidance, not for solution of speculative difficulties or gratification of a vain curiosity.
I. DUTY, NOT CURIOUS SPECULATION. The difficulties and mysteries inherent in the scheme of revelation are acknowledged. They may be usefully distributed into three classes.
1. Those which are not peculiar to the Bible, but inhere in all our thinking about the facts of existence. The Bible did not create, if it does not undertake to solve, the mysteries of the origin and existence of evil, of the suffering of the innocent with the guilty, of free-will and necessity, of the reconcilability of man's freedom with God's foreknowledge and foreordination. These are difficulties of all religion and philosophy, as well as of the Bible.
2. Those which are peculiar to the Bible - which emerge in connection with the scheme and process of revelation itself. Such are the doctrines of the Trinity, of the incarnation, of the atonement, of regeneration - doctrines all light and comfort to us on the practical side, and yet on the speculative side involving much that is baffling to the reason.
3. Those which arise from our imperfect apprehension of the facts revealed - from the overlaying of them with mistaken theories and false interpretations. This last class of difficulties does not concern us here. If we ask, Why should so much be left unrevealed in Scripture? the answer is:
1. There is much that cannot be revealed - would not be intelligible to us.
2. The purpose of Scripture does not require more to be revealed than suffices for our guidance.
3. The existence of unsolved difficulties acts as a moral test, and aids the development of faith - faith, viz. as a practical principle, believing and trusting in God on the strength of what is revealed, difficulties notwithstanding (John 20:29). This gives the key to our duty, in presence of these difficulties. We do not forget:
1. That things once kept secret are now revealed (Colossians 1:26).
2. That in the course of ages God is ever making his counsels clearer.
3. That it is the privilege and duty of the Church to be always making progress in the knowledge of God's will, as far as he has chosen to reveal it (Ephesians 1:17, 18; Ephesians 3:18, 19; Colossians 2:2). Nevertheless, it is the condition of earthly existence that "we know" only "in part" (1 Corinthians 13:9). Our duty, therefore, plainly is, not to neglect the light we have in vain beating against the wires of the cage that confines us; but diligently to improve that light as the likeliest means of getting more. It is more important to get a fire put out than to know exactly how it originated; more important to escape from the burning building than to know exactly the course which the flames will take after we have left. We are not to forego prayer because it is mysterious to us how God can answer prayer; to forbear fleeing to Christ because we cannot frame a theory of the atonement; to renounce activity because we cannot reconcile free-will and Divine foreordination. Revelation resolves the central difficulty, how God can be just, and yet the Justifier of the ungodly; it gives light in abundance on the character of God, the way of salvation, the requirements of holiness; it makes much certain that to the natural reason must ever have remained doubtful. What folly, then, to make duty wait on the solving of speculative difficulties, many of which will probably never be solved on earth!
II. DUTY, NOT ANXIOUS PRYING INTO THE FUTURE. The "secret things" in regard to that also belong unto the Lord. His Word teaches us in a general way the issues of particular lines of conduct, but it lies with God to determine the when, how, what, and where of the actual event. His providence is a mystery unfathomable by all but himself. This, however, need not disquiet the children of God. He is their Father, and they can confidently trust their future to his wisdom and his love (Matthew 6:26-34). Of little use is it to fret ourselves with fears and cares about what may possibly befall us. Do duty, and leave the issues to him who is above. Duty, not calculations of expediency. Those who steer by expediency rather than duty, in the hope to avoid evils, split on a worse rock than the one they shun. - J.O.
I. REVELATION IS THE ONLY SOURCE OF SAVING KNOWLEDGE FOB GUILTY MEN, Knowledge of God, his attributes, and methods of operation may be obtained from investigation of man and nature. But the special knowledge of God's merciful dispositions and purposes respecting sinners can be acquired only from the direct revelation he is pleased to make. Whether rebellious men can be reconciled to God, and by what method; how the injured nature of man is to be renovated; whether any existence, or service, or promotion is possible beyond the grave; - these and other vital questions can be answered only by the voice from heaven.
II. REVELATION IS NOT COEXTENSIVE WITH REALITY AND FACT. There is yet a realm of the unknown which God has not disclosed to men. The class of "secret things" is in God's keeping. Such confidence have we in the benignity of the Most High, that we anticipate further revelations, yea, an unending series of disclosures; but the time and method of these gradual unveilings God has wisely reserved unto himself. One thing inspires a hope of increased knowledge: we have a Divine promise that what we know not now we shall know hereafter. Compared with the unknown, the known is a speck, an atom, an alphabet only. The universe of knowledge is still beyond us, enticing our inquiry.
III. REVELATION IS A RESPONSIBLE TRUST TO ITS POSSESSOR. The "things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever." So long as this revelation is quite external to us it cannot be said to be ours. To possess it, it must fill the understanding, move the affections, quicken the desires, cheer the conscience, mold the character. Then only does it "belong to us." Thus we are to conserve it, viz. by a wise appreciation and by practical use. It is to be handed down to our children intact; i.e. not the written scroll so much as the living belief. We are so to prize and practice this revelation that our children shall see it is our precious treasure, our anchor in trouble, our pole-star in darkness, our daily chart and guide. It belongs to us; therefore as wise men we should use it, yea, extract from it all the advantage we can. For the right improvement of the written Word we shall be counted responsible. We "are stewards of the mysteries of God."
IV. REVELATION IS MEASURED OUT FOR PRACTICAL USE. It is given to us "that we may do all the words of this Law." It possesses regal authority, for it is a "Law." In giving us this Law, God deals with us as with intelligent beings, capable of understanding his will, capable of rendering him efficient service. There is no niggardliness in any of God's gifts. As soon as we have improved to the utmost our knowledge of God's will, we shall receive more. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." "Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord." Honest obedience enlarges the capacity of knowledge; it whets the appetite for higher spiritual acquisition; it awakens expectation. To know God and his Son Jesus Christ, this is life; this is an ever-expanding life - life eternal. - D.
I. THE PURPOSE OF REVELATION. It is not to gratify curiosity, but to secure obedience in the successive generations. In other words, it is not speculative, but practical.
1. The objections, urged against revelation largely consist in the disappointments of speculative curiosity. Because God did not inform man scientifically about the creation of the world; because he did not deliver an articulated theological system; because he did not compose a philosophical textbook; - therefore this popular, miscellaneous, and discursive Book cannot be Divine. But so far from such arguments being valid, they go to substantiate the Divine character of the Book. For -
2. It is an intensely practical Book, inculcating on parents and children obedience to God. It takes up man in the family, and urges him to obey God and try to get his children to obey him. It reveals God as a Father seeking the obedience and trust of his human children, and inviting them to the heaven of obedience to his commandments. It makes man understand sufficient about God to know the duty and the blessedness of obeying him. And here let us notice two important positions taken up by the revelation.
(1) It declares that we have been made in the Divine image. Let men make us out to be physically in the image of the beast, we are spiritually in the image of God. And
(2) it declares that for man's salvation God became incarnate. Mutual acquaintance and understanding are manifestly possible and practicable upon these terms. Man can reason upwards from his own nature, which, as Carlyle said, after Chrysostom, is "the true Shechinah;" and man can appreciate Godhead whet, revealed through a sinless human life. As a revelation, then, it is most reasonable.
II. THE LIMITS OF REVELATION. It leaves a realm of secrecy to God. That is, it does not profess to reveal God fully, for "he cannot, on account of his incomparable greatness and excellence, bring his plans and operations within the comprehension of his creatures." The finite cannot take in the infinite. We only know in part. But we know. To doubt the possibility of knowing God would lead us straight to universal skepticism. Agnosticism has no logical halting-ground on this side of universal doubt. Hence we venture not beyond the assigned limits of the knowable. We take all that God gives and use it reverentially. At the same time, we recognize a world beyond our ken, of essence and of purpose and of perception, which is God's alone. Our pride is broken; we are penitent before him, and we adore. - R.M.E.