Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Deuteronomy 31:19, 21). A song is:
2. Easily handed down from mouth to mouth.
3. Of singular power to awaken sympathetic feeling (cf. influence of ballads, of Jacobite songs, of the 'Marseillaise,' of popular hymns). The action of song is not violent, but gentle and persuasive. It steals about the heart like rippling water or like sunlight, trickles into its pores, works as if by spirit-influence on its seats of laughter and tears, explores its innermost labyrinths of feeling. Here compared (ver. 2) to the gently distilling dew and rain.
I. THE DEW AND RAIN AS EMBLEMS OF THE TEACHING MOST LIKELY TO PROVE EFFECTIVE. Their action is:
(4) kindly; yet:
1. Invigorative. They revive, refresh, stimulate.
2. Powerful Rocks shattered by drops of water in their pores and crevices.
3. Deep-reaching. They act on plants by watering their roots. Take a lesson from them. It is not the best kind of teaching which is loud and violent, which tries to force men's convictions. Convictions must have time to grow. Teaching must be loving. The earthquake, the whirlwind, the fire, have their own place, but "the still small voice" is needed to succeed them. The Lord is peculiarly in that. Angry scolding, petulant rebuke, biting censure, clever satire, seldom do much good. Love alone wins the day.
II. THE DEW AND RAIN AS EMBLEMS OF THE TEACHING MOST SUITABLE IN THE INSTRUCTIONS OF RELIGION. Moses employed it here. Christ employed it. "He shall not strive nor cry," etc. (Matthew 12:19). Paul commends "truthing it in love" (Ephesians 4:15). "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves" (2 Timothy 2:24, 25). This kind of teaching harmonizes best:
1. With the subject of religion - "the Name of the Lord" (ver. 3). God had revealed his Name to Moses (Exodus 34:6, 7), and the attributes of mercy preponderate.
2. With the end of religion - the ascription of greatness to God (ver. 3). Religious teaching fails if it does not inspire men with such convictions of God's greatness as will lead them to fear, honor, worship, praise, and serve him.
3. With the special theme of the gospel - peace, love, good will to men. This song of Moses has to deal with stern truths, but even in its sternest passages it breathes the pathos of tender and sorrowful affection. It dwells largely on God's kindnesses and the people's ingratitude, and ends with loving promises. The song has numerous echoes in Isaiah. - J.O.
I. FERTILIZING DOCTRINE. Divine doctrine, even in its severest forms, has a gracious and fertilizing influence like rain or dew. It comes down upon the wilderness of human nature, and makes it a fruitful field. It comes down upon the tender herb of implanted graces, upon the grass of humble and useful piety, and makes all to grow more luxuriantly. Nothing is so important as "good doctrine."
II. THE ROCK-STABILITY OF GOD. This is the first inquiry. Can God be trusted as truly stable? The answer is that he is a Rock, and that upon his veracity and justice and helpfulness we can constantly rely. Moses and the Israelites had experienced this; as they wandered amid the rocky fastnesses of the desert, they had found him as firm and as reliable as the rocks. Up to this time, the figure had not been applied to God. The Israelites have, indeed, from the hard and flinty rock, had refreshing streams; the rock was to them a fountain of waters; and doubtless when here the figure is for the first time applied to God, they would find it delightful to associate refreshment and shelter with him. Then in course of time it became a favorite figure, as the Psalms in many passages show (cf. Psalm 28:1; Psalm 31:2, 3; Psalm 42:9; Psalm 62:2, 7; Psalm 78:20, 35; Psalm 95:1, etc.). And we rejoice to call our Redeemer "Rock of Ages," in the clefts of which, according to Toplady's idea, taken from Exodus 33:22, we can take shelter and feel safe.
III. PATERNAL APPEAL. Although God is so worthy of trust, the Israelites have corrupted themselves; they are unwilling to have upon them the mark or spot of the children of God, but the mark of some other tribe; and so as a Father he appeals to them because of their ingratitude. Has he not made them, bought them, and established them, and, in consequence, earned a right to different treatment from this? Fatherhood has rights by reason of service which no grateful child can overlook.
IV. PATERNAL FORESIGHT. He speaks next of the days of old, of the years of many generations, which the fathers and elders could testify about, during which time the Father was but evolving his glorious plan, separating and scattering the sons of Adam according to the interests and number of the children of Israel. At Babel and the subsequent migrations of men, "God so distributed the earth among the several peoples that were therein, as to reserve, or in his sovereign counsel to appoint, such a part for the Israelites, though they were then unborn, as might prove a commodious settlement and habitation for them." Noble foresight, worthy of an everlasting and infinite Father.
V. PATERNAL INSTRUCTION. One element in fatherhood is a sense of possession in the children. The father rejoices that the children are his, and will not part readily with his portion. So with God. "The Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance." Out of this sense of property comes the improvement of the children by faithful instruction. Hence Israel were led into the wilderness, and their Father found them there, and led them about, instructing them, and keeping them as "the apple of the eye." It was the Father educating them through his own companionship, and leading them onwards in safety towards their home.
VI. PARENTAL DISCIPLINE. The song introduces (ver. 11) the figure of the eagle, and the motherly discipline to which she subjects her brood. "Naturalists tell us that when her young are old enough to fly, the eagle breaks her nest in pieces, in order to compel them to use their powers of flight; fluttering over them, that by imitation they may learn how to employ their wings, but, when unwilling to fly, spreading abroad her wings, she bears them upwards in the air, and then shaking them off, compels them to use their own exertions." From this Mr. Hull deduces the truth that "the Divine discipline of life is designed to awaken man to the development of his own powers." We see thus the kindness of the parental discipline, and that it takes motherhood as well as fatherhood to illustrate the Divine relation (cf. Isaiah 49:15).
VII. PARENTAL BLESSING. Having exercised such parental care over the people, the result was abundant temporal success and blessing. This is beautifully brought out as a "riding upon the high places of the earth." And then the whole panorama of agricultural prosperity is presented, "the increase of the fields" providing bread, the rocks affording shelter for the bees which extracted abundant honey from the flowers, the olives clinging to the flinty rocks and affording abundance of oil, while the kine in the fat pastures gave butter, and the sheep milk, and the lambs were choice food, and the rams of the breed of Bashan, while the finest wheat and the purest wine made the lot of Israel princely. It was a land of promise surely which supplied their wants in such a fashion. God's goodness was exceeding great. The "fatherhood of God" had thus its grand exemplification in the history of Israel. A Father who was firm as the rocky fastnesses around them and as reliable; who provided for his children long before they were born; who instructed and disciplined them, and brought them eventually to a splendid inheritance, - might well look for their trust and obedience. The Lord shows a similar fatherly care still to all men, even those who do not return a filial spirit; and if, in his grace, they yield at length to his paternal appeals, then he comes and gives them a fellowship such as they never dreamed of. "He that loveth me," saith Jesus, "shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21). - R.M.E.
I. OBSERVE THE POET'S AUDITORY. He summons heaven and earth to hear. We read in ancient story that when Orpheus made music with his lyre, the wild beasts listened, and the trees and rocks of Olympus followed him about. This may serve as a just reproof to some men, who, having ears, act as if they had them not.
1. Heaven and earth may denote both angels and men. For even "the principalities of heaven learn from the Church the manifold wisdom of God."
2. Heaven and earth may denote all classes of the people, high and low. Frequently in Scripture great men are represented as the stars of heaven. The man of ambition is said to lift his head to the stars. The righteous are to shine as the brightness of the firmament.
3. Heaven and earth may denote the intelligent and the material creation. On account of man's sin, "the whole creation groaneth;" and the effect of man's obedience will be felt beneficially on the material globe. It will increase its fertility, its beauty, its fragrance, its music. "Truth" shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look "down from heaven." "Then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice."
II. THE POET'S BENEFICENT INFLUENCE. "My doctrine shall drop as the rain," etc. (ver. 2). This imagery teaches us:
1. The silent, unobtrusive power of truth. It finds it way, quietly and unobserved, to the roots of human judgment and feeling.
2. It is refreshing. What a draught of clear water is to a thirsty man, truth is to a healthy, active soul.
3. It is fertilizing. It nourishes all good affections, and strengthens every virtue.
4. It is most suitable. No fitness can be more manifest than dew for tender grass. Poetic truth is suited to every grade of human understanding.
III. THE POET'S LOFTY THEME. His theme is God; but God is only known as he reveals himself in his Name.
1. He descants upon his majesty, his supreme power, and the splendors of his state.
2. He touches upon his eternal stability. What the unchanging rock is amid the shifting sands, God is - unalterably the same.
3. He dwells upon the perfections of his character ("just and right is he"); upon the perfection of his works, which are incapable of any improvement; upon the perfection of his government ("all his ways are judgment"); and upon the perfection of his speech. He is "a God of truth." He alters nothing, retracts nothing.
IV. THE POET'S MORAL PURPOSE. To restore harmony between man and God.
1. He proclaims man's fallen state: "they have corrupted themselves." Human nature is not as it was when it came from the hands of God. Man holds this tremendous power of ruining his own nature.
2. The mark of sonship has disappeared. "Their spot is not the spot of his children." Childlike docility and submissiveness form the family lineament.
3. This depravity has spread like the virus of disease. The whole race is infected. "They are a perverse and crooked generation."
4. Such conduct is suicidal folly. It is most antagonistic to self-interest. No madman could have acted worse.
5. Such conduct is the basest ingratitude. "Do ye thus requite the Lord?" Consider his claims. Did he not create thee? Has he not been a Father to thee? Has he not redeemed thee? Tender expostulation with the conscience is the poet's mission. For this vocation he has been specially inspired by God. A heavenly spirit breathes through his every word. No higher honor can man attain on earth. - D.
rock-hewn ruin of Petra. They had traversed the defiles of the terrible and precipitous Arabah. When David was hunted in the wilderness, he, too, was often led to think of God, his Rock (Psalm 18:2; Psalm 61:2; Psalm 62:2, 7, etc.). It is wilderness experience which still makes the name so precious.
I. ROCK A NATURAL IMAGE OF DIVINE ATTRIBUTES. The image is not an arbitrary one. Nature abounds in shadows of the spiritual. It is what the mind puts into the objects of its survey which makes them what they are. "The Alps and Andes are but millions of atoms till thought combines them, and stamps on them the conception of the everlasting hills. Niagara is a gush of water-drops till the soul puts into it that sweep of resistless power which the beholder feels. The ocean, wave behind wave, is only great when the spirit has breathed into it the idea of immensity. If we analyze our feelings, we shall find that thought meets us wherever we turn. The real grandeur of the world is in the soul which looks on it, which sees some conception of its own reflected from the mirror around it; for mind is not only living, but life-giving, and has received from its Maker a portion of his own creative power" (Dr. John Ker). Rock is thus more than rock - its awfulness, grandeur, immovability, everlastingness, strength, are born of spiritual conceptions. These attributes do not in reality belong to it. Rock is not everlasting, moveless, abiding, etc. Old rocks are being worn away, new rocks are being formed; the whole system had a beginning and will have an end (Psalm 90:2). It is not that these attributes belong to rock, and are thence by metaphor attributed to God; but these attributes of God, being dimly present in the mind, are by metaphor attributed to rock. We clothe the natural object with shadowy attributes of Deity. God is the true Rock, the other is the image. God is rock, in virtue of:
1. The eternity of his existence (Psalm 90:2).
2. The omnipotence of his might (Daniel 4:35).
3. The wisdom of his counsel (Isaiah 40:13).
5. The faithfulness of his Word (Psalm 119:89, 90).
6. The rectitude of his government (Psalm 145:17). Whence:
7. The perfection of his work. Christ is like the Father, eternal (Revelation 1:11), unchangeable (Hebrews 13:8), all-powerful (Matthew 28:18), faithful (John 13:1; John 14:18-20), righteous (Revelation 19:11), wise (Isaiah 9:6).
II. ROCK A NATURAL IMAGE OF WHAT, IN VIRTUE OF HIS ATTRIBUTES, GOD IS TO HIS PEOPLE.
1. A shelter (Psalm 61:3).
3. A dwelling-place (Psalm 90:1).
4. A shadow from the heat (cf. Isaiah 32:2).
5. A move-less standing-ground (Psalm 40:2).
6. A foundation (cf. Matthew 7:24). The rock smitten in the wilderness furnishes the additional idea of:
7. A source of spiritual refreshment.
Apply throughout to Christ, the Rock on which his Church is built (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 2:11), the smitten Savior (1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 John 5:6), the spiritual Refuge and Salvation of his people (Romans 8:1, 34-39). Toplady's hymn, "Rock of Ages." - J.O.
I. GOD'S FAVOR TO ISRAEL. God's dealings with Israel had been marked by:
1. Rectitude (ver. 4). He had done everything that was just and right to them. His ways had been equal. He had given them just statutes. His covenant-keeping faithfulness had been signally manifested. There was not the shadow of a pretence for accusing God of injustice or of infidelity to his engagements.
2. Love. Love and grace had been more conspicuous in his treatment of them than even justice. It was shown in their election, in the deliverance from Egypt, in the guidance of the desert, in pardon of offences, in the many and undeserved favors which had been heaped upon them (cf. vers. 9-14). Rectitude and love have reached their fullest manifestation in the gospel. The cross displays both. It harmonizes their apparently conflicting claims, and exhibits them in new glories. God's character, revealed in Christ, is the condemnation of an unbelieving world.
II. ISRAEL'S REQUITAL OF GOD'S KINDNESS. (Vers. 5, 6.) Their requital was an incredibly base one. They corrupted themselves. They wantonly departed from the ways of right. They behaved ungratefully. Instead of imitating God in the example of rectitude he had set them, and walking before him "as dear children," they flung to the winds the remembrance of his mercies, and brought disgrace upon his Name. He was their Father (ver. 6), but instead of reflecting the features of his image, they dishonored and discredited it (cf. Isaiah 1:2-4, which appears to be based on this passage). Their sin was:
1. Self-caused. There was nothing which they had seen in their God to cause it, to account for it, or to excuse it.
2. Irrational. Their powers, given by God, ought willingly to have been devoted in his service. Obedience is the normal condition. Heaven and earth, undeviatingly obeying the law of their existence, condemn man's apostasy (ver. 1). The very brute creation testifies against him (Isaiah 1:3).
3. Ungrateful. God had bought them for himself, had made a nation of them, and established them in Canaan. Yet, without compunction, they cast off his yoke.
4. Foolish; for the way they chose was the way of death, whereas in God's favor was life (ver. 47), with every blessing that heart could wish for. The same remarks apply to sinners - despising the gracious overtures which God makes to them, with all the favors, temporal and spiritual, he has actually shown them, and careering on to their eternal ruin. "O foolish people and unwise!" - J.O.
I. WE NOTE A SPECIAL HABITATION PREPARED BY GOD.
1. Our earth has for untold ages been undergoing preparation as a suitable dwelling-place for man. Rocks have been formed for man's use, treasures of coal and metals have been stored up for his advantage. The soil has been pulverized to receive his seed. A marvelous and painstaking preparation has been made.
2. Equally conspicuous is God's wisdom in selecting special territory for special nations. Amidst all the hurly-burly of war, the unseen hand of God has "divided to the nations their inheritance." Oceans and rivers, mountains and deserts, have been God's walls of partition.
3. All these selections have been subordinate to Israel's welfare. All the lines of God's government met here. To Israel's good everything was to bead.
4. The reason of this is declared. "The Lord's portion is his people." Some location on earth was to be reserved for Jehovah. He too had chosen a dwelling-place, an inheritance. And his habitation was in the hearts of his people Israel. "For to that man will I look, and with him dwell, who is of an humble and contrite spirit." "Jacob is the lot of his inheritance."
II. SPECIAL TRAINING BY GOD.
1. Apart from God, earth would be a barren desert. Man's environment, where God is not, would be discordant, unsuitable, painful. The flowers and fruits of life are divinely provided.
2. Inscrutable are the methods of God's training. "He led him about." A masterly hand is in the matter, and we are very incompetent critics. Those marches and counter-marches in the wilderness were all needful to nourish robust courage and simple faith in the Hebrews. In God's arrangements no waste is permitted.
3. Tenderest kindness is here expressed. "He kept him as the apple of his eye." We count the eye among our most precious endowments. It is protected by the most clever contrivances. No part of the body is so delicate or so susceptible of pain. So God regards his chosen people. As a man guards from harm his eye, so God guards his own.
4. Consummate skill was expended to develop the best qualities of Israel. This is set forth by a piece of impressive imagery. As the eagle knows the perils of indolence, and is anxious to train her young brood to early self-exertion, she breaks up the nest, takes the eaglets on her strong pinions, bears them heavenward, shakes them free, then, as they sink, darts beneath them, bears them up again, and encourages them to seek the sun; so, by a thousand kind devices, God taught his people "to seek the things which are above." So precious an end is worthy of the largest expenditure of means.
III. DOMINION OVER NATURE AND OVER MAN ACCORDED BY GOD. In proportion as man has loyally served his God, man has gained earthly dominion. To Adam was accorded sovereignty over all living things in air, or earth, or sea; and of the second Adam we read, "Thou hast put all things under his feet."
1. Victory over enemies is secured. "He made him ride on the high places of the earth." Every mountain fortress was, one by one, possessed. To ride is significant of military conquest. The triumphs of Israel were swift, signal, and complete.
2. The peaceful conquest of nature followed. To the arts of industry, the earth yielded in sevenfold profusion. The olives on the rugged hills filled their presses with oil. Wild bees toiled early and late to lay up stores of honey. Their cattle, plentifully fed, yielded butter and milk in abundance. Under the curse of civil strife and petty feuds of the Canaanites, crops had been devastated, and flocks had been destroyed. Now, peace reigned in every valley, and the very trees blossomed with ruddy gladness. Hill and plain poured their unceasing tributes at the feet of lordly man.
3. The sole Author of this splendid inheritance was God. "The Lord alone did lead him." The deities of the Amorites (if they had any power at all) had bestowed on their votaries an inheritance of lust and war and ruin. In whatever respect Israel's inheritance was a contrast, it was due to the beneficence of Jehovah. He had blessed them with an ungrudging hand. 'Twas the indulgence of his native instinct to give and to make glad. No sane man among them could reach any other conclusion than that Jehovah was the royal Giver of all. And with one voice they should have made the clear welkin ring with hearty hallelujahs: "The Lord hath done great things for us." The gift was unique. It was conspicuously a deed of grace. - D.
The government of the world conducted with a view to the interests of the Church.
I. A TRUTH FREQUENTLY TAUGHT IN SCRIPTURE. Both by facts of history, and by express statement. Israel's position brought it into contact, not only with petty neighboring states, but with the mightiest empires of East and West. These appear in Scripture only as they affect the chosen race, but it is then made manifest how entirely their movements are directed and controlled by Divine providence. And the center of God's purposes is always Israel. "For your sake," says God, "I have sent to Babylonia, and have brought down all their nobles, and the Chaldeans, whose cry is in the ships" (Isaiah 43:14; cf. vers. 3, 4). Is Egypt visited with famines - with scarce years and good years? The design is the working out of a certain plan in the chain of God's appointments for Israel. Is a Cyrus raised up in Persia? God saith of him, "He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure," etc. (Isaiah 44:28). So is it throughout. Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome, appear in all their relations with Israel as ministers of the Divine will, as simple executors of the Divine purposes, and their power is strictly limited by their commission. In harmony with this prophetic teaching are the express testimonies of the Epistles (e.g. Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:20-23; Ephesians 3:9-11).
(2) history, are ruled for the benefit Of the Church.
II. A TRUTH IN ITSELF REASONABLE. Once admit the goal of history to be the establishment on earth of a universal spiritual kingdom - a gathering together in one of all things with Christ as Head (Ephesians 1:10), and it is certain that herein must lie the key to all historical developments, the explanation of all arrangements and movements of Divine providence. The center of interest must always be that portion of the race with which for the time being the kingdom of God is identified. "Just as, in tracing the course of a stream, not the huge morasses nor the vast stagnant pools on either side would delay us: we should not, because of their extent, count them the river, but recognize that as such, though it were the slenderest thread, in which an onward movement might be discerned; so is it here. Egypt and Assyria and Babylon were but the vast stagnant morasses on either side of the river; the Man in whose seed the whole earth should be blessed, he and his family were the little stream in which the life and onward movement of the world were to be traced They belong not to history, least of all to sacred history, those Babels, those cities of confusion, those huge pens into which by force and fraud the early hunters of men, the Nimrods and Sesostrises, drove and compelled their fellows... where no faith existed but in the blind powers of nature and the brute forces of the natural man" (Archbishop Trench).
III. A TRUTH FRAUGHT TO THE CHURCH WITH COMFORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT.
1. When the powers of the world are threatening.
2. In times of internal decay.
3. Under long-continued trials. - J.O.
I. WHERE GOD FOUND HIM. (Ver. 10.) Partly metaphorical - the state of Israel in Egypt being likened to that of a man perishing in the desert; partly literal - it being in the desert that God found the people when he took them into covenant. An image of the helpless and hopeless condition of the sinner. Cut off from life, without shelter, provision, resting-place, or final home.
II. HOW GOD DEALT WITH HIM. (Vers. 10, 11.) That Israel was kept in the wilderness so long was his own fault. But grace overruled the discipline for good. The long sojourn in the desert made Israel's case, also, a better type of our own. There are ends to be served by this sojourn (John 17:15). God showed himself:
1. Condescending to Israel's feebleness (Hosea 11:3, 4).
2. Mindful of his ignorance. "Instructed him."
3. Watchful of his safety. "Kept him."
4. Careful of his training (ver. 11).
The love and solicitude implied in such phrases as, "kept him as the apple of his eye" (ver. 10), and "as an eagle stirreth up," etc. (ver. 11), specially deserve notice. The apple of the eye is a sensitive part, which we protect with the utmost care, and from the slightest injuries. (On the eagle, see below.)
III. WHITHER GOD CONDUCTED HIM. (Vers. 13, 14.) To a land of plenty and rest. Made his defense the munitions of rocks. Provided him with all that heart could desire. So does God bring the believer to a large and wealthy place - a place of "fullness of joy," of richest satisfactions, of most perfect delights. Spiritually, even here, where the most unpropitious circumstances yield him unexpected blessings. Eternally and in perfected form hereafter. Note: God alone did all this for Israel. (ver. 12). - J.O.
I. HER AIM. She aims at teaching them self-reliance. It is not God's wish that his children should go in leading-strings. They must be trained to prompt, fearless, self-reliant action. This was an aim of the discipline of the wilderness. Our action is to be in a spirit of dependence, but it is to be active, not passive dependence.
II. HER METHOD. She stirs up her nest. She does not leave her brood to the ignoble ease they would perhaps prefer. So God rouses his people to action by making their place uneasy for them. By placing them in trying situations, by removing comforts, by the stimulus of necessity, by the sharp provocation of afflictions, he goads them to think, act, and put forth the powers that are in them. It is not for the good of Christians that they should have too much comfort.
III. HER CASE. The experiment is not carried to the point of allowing the young to hurt themselves. She hovers over them, supports them on the tip of her wings, etc. God tries us, but not beyond our strength. - J.O.
I. A GOOD NAME BELIED. Jeshurun, equivalent to righteous. An honorable name, but sadly falsified by the conduct described. How many Jeshuruns have thus forsaken the God of their early vows! Notice, a good name is of no account without the good character. Balaam praised Israel's righteousness, and wished to "die the death of the righteous" (Numbers 23:10, 21); but it is the being righteous, not the being called so, which makes the happy deathbed.
II. As EVIL EFFECT OF PROSPERITY. "Waxed fat - kicked." How common! The effect foretold or warned against in earlier chapters (Deuteronomy 8:12-18, etc.). Prosperity, then pride, then stubborn self-willedness. The self willed heart refuses to submit to God's government; throws off the memory of past obligations, and treats God with ill-concealed indifference and dislike; turns from the true God to gods of its own choosing. Two steps in the great apostasy - forsaking the fountain of living waters, and hewing out broken cisterns, etc. (Jeremiah 2:13). Such conduct is
(4) fatal (vers. 22-25).
III. RESULT OF AS ITCH FOR NOVELTY. (Ver. 17.) The newness of the gods was a chief attraction. The worship of them was a change, a novelty. It pleased them by variety.
2. When God has been abandoned, novelty is greedily accepted as a substitute for truth, in theories, in creeds, in styles of worship, in religious nostrums.
3. Apostasy from God means transference of the affections to that which is degrading. In this case to "destroyers," so the word means; devils, malignant deities. But we worship devils, or the devil (Matthew 4:9), when we bow in spirit to the world's modes and shows; when we serve gold, or fashion, or the opinion of society; when we are slaves to lust of power; when we bow to a false ghosts, etc. - J.O.
I. IT IS WELL TO CONSIDER THE DANGER OF WORLDLY SUCCESS. Many a man was more religious when poor than after he became rich. Increase of riches needs increase of grace; and, if men are not watchful, riches only minister to backsliding. It is undesirable independence which proves independence of God. Better to trust God in the absence of wealth than to defy him or ignore him with it. Many a successful worldling would have had more success in a poor station, through increase of faith and of heart. The success was at the price of leanness being sent into his soul.
II. THOSE WHO WILL NOT SACRIFICE TO GOD ARE ALWAYS FOUND SACRIFICING TO THEIR FEARS. The credulity of unbelief is one of the most curious questions of the time. When men deny God his due reverence and ignore his existence, their fancy haunts them with new gods, and powers whom they must propitiate - the luck and chance that they advance to the throne. The man alone is free from vain fears who trusts in the living God; all others sooner or later prove adepts at new religions, and are devotees at fancy shrines.
III. THE DIVINE JEALOUSY IS JUSTLY PROVOKED BY SUCH FORGETFULLNESS. Jealousy is the anger of ill-requited love. It is what has been called, as already observed, "love-pain," and is eminently worthy of him who is love itself. God cannot but feel he deserves man's love; he cannot but desire it; he longs for it more intensely than ever love-sick one among the children of men has longed; and when he sees the love he deserves made over to another, when he sees his life of love and death of love ignored, - is it not eminently reasonable that he should be jealous and have his holy anger stirred? Herein lies the danger, then, of success. It may decoy the unguarded soul to mean fears and fancy shrines, and lead at length to the encountering of that jealousy which a God of love most justly entertains. Hence the prayer of souls should be that with success may come watchfulness; that with fatness may come faith; that out of goodness may come repentance. Then success may help and not hinder. Successful saints become a blessing to their kind, and make success a stewardship. "It takes a steady hand to carry a full cup;" so says the proverb. Blessed be God, amid many shaky hands, unequal to the task, there is a select few that carry their success in a cool, conscientious fashion! - R.M.E.
I. WE HAVE A CASE OF AGGRAVATED SIN.
1. It was a wanton abuse of special cloudiness. The splendid gifts of providence, which ought to have bound them by golden ties of obligation to God, were erected into barriers to shut out God from them. An inner principle of selfish perverseness turned all food into poison. Instead of gratitude, there was scoffing; instead of loyalty, there was insolence. So it often happens that earthly wealth is an injury instead of a benefit. It detains a man's faith and delight on itself. He exalts his riches into a god. Entering a man's heart, as his professed friends, riches become his secret foes: they sap the foundations of his piety; they degrade and stultify the man.
2. The flagrancy of sin is seen in the perversion of privilege. The Hebrews had been chosen by God to a place of peculiar honor. They had been admitted to a nearer access to his friendship than any other nation. God had called them his sons and daughters. Nothing of good had God withheld from them. For these privileged persons to turn their backs on God, and act as traitors to their Lord, was sin of more than ordinary flagrancy. If such fall from their allegiance, how great must be their fall!
3. The course of sin proceeds by perceptible stages. Sin often begins by culpable omissions. There is first negative good, then positive offence. The people began their downward course by being "unmindful" of their Maker. Their sense of dependence on God declined. Then they quite forgot the God who had so often rescued them. The next stage was openly to forsake God. They avoided his presence, neglected his worship. Soon they "lightly esteemed" their Deliverer. If they thought of him at all, it was only to look down on him - yea, to despise him. Yet in a condition of atheism they could not long remain. Their nature demanded that they should worship somewhat. So they set up strange deities; they sacrificed unto demons. They provoked to jealousy, and to just indignation, the God of Israel. Beyond this it was impossible for human rebellion to proceed.
4. Sin leads to a terrible alternative, viz. the worship and service of devils. There is no middle place at which a man can halt. He either grows up into the image of God or into the image of Satan.
II. WE HAVE A CASE OF EQUITABLE PUNISHMENT.
1. It was the reversal of former good. He who aforetime had promised them prolific plenty now threatens to "consume the earth with her increase." Instead of the sunlight of his favor, he was about to "hide his face from them." The wheels of providence were to be reversed, and the effect would be to overthrow and to crush them.
2. God's judgments are tardy. He did not smite at once. His first strokes were comparatively light, and then he patiently waited what the effect might prove. "I will see what their end shall be." The long-suffering of God is an immeasurable store. He "is slow to anger." Attentively he listens, if so be he may catch some sigh of penitence. "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself."
3. We may observe here the equity of God's procedure. By making his punishments, in great measure, like the sins, the Hebrews would the readier detect their folly and guilt. They had forsaken God: therefore God will "hide his face from them." They had "lightly esteemed" God: therefore he wilt abhor them. They had "excited his jealousy," by choosing another object of worship: he will excite their jealousy by choosing another nation to fill their place. They had provoked his anger by their choice of vanities: he will provoke their anger by supplanting them with a "foolish nation." The emotions which exist in man have their correspondences in the nature of God. Thus, by stupendous condescension, God accommodates his messages to human understanding - employs a thousand comparisons by which to impress our hearts.
4. God's agents to execute his behests are numerous and terrible. A few only are mentioned here, but these may serve as samples of others. Material forces are pressed into service. The atmosphere will be a conveyer of pestilence. Fire is a well-known minister of God. Earthquake and volcano have often been commissioned to fulfill Jehovah's will. As a skilled warrior aims well his deadly arrows upon his foes, so God sends his lightnings abroad out of his quiver. Famine is decreed: "they shall be burnt with hunger." Sickness and fever shall follow: they shall be "devoured with burning heat." Pestiferous insects shall assail them, and wild beasts shall overrun the land. The sword of the invader shall fall with ruthless violence upon young and old - upon babe and veteran. They who escape from one peril shall fall under another. From the hand of God release is impossible. - D.
I. THE REALITY OF WRATH IN GOD. Let it not be minimized or explained away. "Instead of being shocked at the thought that God is wrathful, we should rather ask, With whom? and For what? A God without wrath, and a God who is wrathful on other accounts than for sin, is not a God, but an idol" (Hengstenberg). It is only, as this writer observes, when "man himself is not displeased with sin, when it assumes to him the appearance of a bagatelle," that he no longer perceives why God should feel wrath at it. But man, we may observe, is by no means disposed to treat lightly sins against himself. He never feels that he does not "do well to be angry" on account of these or against the person who does them. A very slight wound to his honor makes him clamor for satisfaction. A God who is incapable of moral indignation would be equally incapable of moral love, and could not, with truth, be spoken of as dispensing mercy. Wrath and love are opposite poles of one affection. Where there is no offence, there needs no forgiveness.
II. WRATH IN GOD, WHEN IT BURNS AGAINST MEN, IS TERRIBLE IN ITS EFFECTS. Two aspects of its operation:
1. Leaving men to themselves (ver. 20). When God hides his face from them, there need be little doubt what the "end" will be. Yet can the sinner complain if he is at length permitted to eat the fruit of the devices which nothing will persuade him to give up?
2. Heaping on them positive inflictions (vers. 22-25). It is a fire, burning to destroy them. It is noteworthy that the conflagration of the Divine wrath is represented as not only taking in sheol, but as widening till it embraces the whole earth (ver. 22). This, in connection with the glimpse at the calling of the Gentiles in ver. 21, points to the future universal extension of the outward dispensation of grace. The extension of the kingdom of God brings all nations within the range of the Messianic judgment (Matthew 25:31). The wrath of God is not represented in less terrible colors in the New Testament than it is in the Old. The individualized description of these verses (vers. 24, 25) figures out terrors of a future life too painful to allow the mind to dwell upon them.
III. WRATH IN GOD IS, IN THIS LIFE, NOT DIVORCED FROM MERCY. Not at least so long as hope of recovery remains. He would fain make punishment subservient to conversion. This is the thought in ver. 21. Israel is not cast off forever. God is seeking to provoke it to jealousy by a transference of his regard to the Gentiles. His retaliation has a merciful as well as a wrathful design. Mercy waits on every sinner, courting his repentance.
IV. THE MANIFESTATION OF WRATH IN GOD IS LIMITED BY REGARD TO HIS HONOR. (Vers. 26, 27.) God is jealous of his honor. He will take from his adversaries the power of boasting against him, by marvelously restoring those who, had they received their full deserts, would have been utterly destroyed. This stays his hand from expending his wrath against them to the uttermost. We may read this otherwise, and say that zeal for his honor leads God to spare them, that he may glorify his Name by causing mercy to rejoice over judgment. There is more honor to God in saving men than in destroying them. And what provokes this wrath in God? Sin - sin only. Most especially the sins of his own people.
1. "No faith" - want of fidelity to vows.
2. "Frowardness" persistence in sin (ver. 20).
Those who have stood in nearest relations to him, who have enjoyed most favors, are those who will be most severely punished (Amos 3:2). - J.O.
Romans 3:5, 6). Vengeance is recognized, therefore, as belonging to God's justice, which shall be called into play as vengeance through the ingratitude and folly of many of mankind. Let us briefly indicate the course of the Divine vengeance as presented in the remainder of this song.
I. GOD PROPOSES TO MOVE HIS UNGRATEFUL PEOPLE BY INTRODUCING GENTILES TO THEIR PRIVILEGES. This is the first experiment of the holy jealousy, to see what effect the ingathering of the Gentiles will have. And to a Jewish mind there must be something striking and convincing in the history of Christianity. Surely the elevation and civilization of the heathen world must be due in large measure to that Divine favor which, as Jews, they despised and forfeited. Such a spectacle is calculated to lead them to earnest thought and deep contrition. Were their hearts not dull and gross, they would humble themselves before God, and acknowledge that they deserve other heirs to be put into their room.
II. THE ACTUALITIES OF THE DIVINE VENGEANCE HAVE BEEN TERRIBLE. The Lord represents his anger as burning to the lowest hell (שְׁאול תַּחְתִּית), reaching manifestly to that "under world," as Kahle would call it, where the spirits of the faithless are confined. But in the present life there is a foretaste given of the vengeance which embraces the life to come, which may be summed up, as given in these verses (vers. 23-25), in the terms hunger, pestilence, wild beasts, and war. The faithless nation experienced all these, as an earnest of the Divine vengeance which justly burns even to the lowest hell. The only limit to it is lest the enemies employed to execute part of the vengeance should say, "Our hand is high, and the Lord hath not done all this" (vers. 26, 27). The Lord will modify and limit his vengeance, lest his instruments should regard it as their work and not his.
III. THE REGRET ABOUT POSSIBILITIES THROWN AWAY WILL FORM PART OF THE DIVINE VENGEANCE. Very pathetically is this put in this song (vers. 29-31). The Israelites, though in a vast minority sometimes, had been carried by their most faithful Father and God to victory, and this would have still characterized them had they remained faithful to him. They would have proved his "invincibles." And no effort of faithless souls can keep regret at bay. We see Milton very properly putting it into the mouth of the archangel when he says -
"Farewell, happy fields, "Rise! if the past detains you, Sad or bright, she is lifeless ever; IV. APPARENT PROSPERITY WILL PROVE REAL DISASTER. Just as the osher plant, which flourishes best near the site of Sodom and Gomorrha, presents apparently most luscious and attractive fruit, which yet prove but bags of air and ashes, so the apparent prosperity of the faithless souls proves emptiness and bitter disappointment at last. All the investments, so to speak, which seem so fortunate turn into splendid mistakes and miseries. Upon the whole life, opposed as it is to God, there broods a curse. V. THE PROGRAM OF VENGEANCE IS CAREFULLY PREPARED. This is the spirit of the remaining verses (vers. 35-43). God makes his calculations calmly and deliberately. The foot of his enemies shall slide in due time, and his work of vengeance, like all his other work, prove perfect. As God refuses to exercise "unprincipled mercy," so will he refuse to execute random wrath. The great Jonathan Edwards has a remarkable sermon on ver. 35, entitled 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,' which may be distasteful to some easy-going theologians, but is nevertheless weighty with doctrinal and convincing truth. The idea should surely be got rid of that there is any difference in principle between the Old Testament and the New. The prerogative of vengeance so powerfully asserted in this song of the Lord, put into the mouth of Moses, has not been renounced nor laid down for an instant. The Lord still claims it, as Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30, and other passages show. VI. THE POLICY OF THE LORD SHALL HAVE A SPLENDID CONSUMMATION. After the cycle is complete, Jews and Gentiles, as ver. 43 distinctly indicates, shall be found rejoicing in concert before the Lord, who has shown himself merciful to his land and his people. We need not in this Homily enter upon the discussion of the great difference between the Hebrew of ver. 43 and the LXX. It does not affect the truth we draw from the remarkable passage. However the individuals may suffer through the Divine vengeance, it will not be lost as a lesson upon the race. Jew and Gentile shall alike recognize its justice and the compensating mercy which always lay for men in the tender hands of God. The vengeance is forced upon him - the judgment is his strange work; but he delighteth in mercy. VII. MOSES SUMS UP THE LESSON OF THE SONG BY URGING OBEDIENCE UPON THE PEOPLE AS THEIR LIFE. And when we remember that God is the source of life; that spiritual life lies in his favor and fellowship; then it is clear that the Israelites had but one duty to discharge - to obey God and live. All the energy of Moses and all the urgency of God are devoted to secure this obedience. The remembrance of God's love, the recognition of his vengeance and deserved wrath, and the consummate wisdom manifested in the whole policy pursued, should move our hearts to love and obey. Let us accept of the mercy, and not force the Lord to judgment! - R.M.E.
"Rise! if the past detains you, Sad or bright, she is lifeless ever; IV. APPARENT PROSPERITY WILL PROVE REAL DISASTER. Just as the osher plant, which flourishes best near the site of Sodom and Gomorrha, presents apparently most luscious and attractive fruit, which yet prove but bags of air and ashes, so the apparent prosperity of the faithless souls proves emptiness and bitter disappointment at last. All the investments, so to speak, which seem so fortunate turn into splendid mistakes and miseries. Upon the whole life, opposed as it is to God, there broods a curse. V. THE PROGRAM OF VENGEANCE IS CAREFULLY PREPARED. This is the spirit of the remaining verses (vers. 35-43). God makes his calculations calmly and deliberately. The foot of his enemies shall slide in due time, and his work of vengeance, like all his other work, prove perfect. As God refuses to exercise "unprincipled mercy," so will he refuse to execute random wrath. The great Jonathan Edwards has a remarkable sermon on ver. 35, entitled 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,' which may be distasteful to some easy-going theologians, but is nevertheless weighty with doctrinal and convincing truth. The idea should surely be got rid of that there is any difference in principle between the Old Testament and the New. The prerogative of vengeance so powerfully asserted in this song of the Lord, put into the mouth of Moses, has not been renounced nor laid down for an instant. The Lord still claims it, as Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30, and other passages show. VI. THE POLICY OF THE LORD SHALL HAVE A SPLENDID CONSUMMATION. After the cycle is complete, Jews and Gentiles, as ver. 43 distinctly indicates, shall be found rejoicing in concert before the Lord, who has shown himself merciful to his land and his people. We need not in this Homily enter upon the discussion of the great difference between the Hebrew of ver. 43 and the LXX. It does not affect the truth we draw from the remarkable passage. However the individuals may suffer through the Divine vengeance, it will not be lost as a lesson upon the race. Jew and Gentile shall alike recognize its justice and the compensating mercy which always lay for men in the tender hands of God. The vengeance is forced upon him - the judgment is his strange work; but he delighteth in mercy. VII. MOSES SUMS UP THE LESSON OF THE SONG BY URGING OBEDIENCE UPON THE PEOPLE AS THEIR LIFE. And when we remember that God is the source of life; that spiritual life lies in his favor and fellowship; then it is clear that the Israelites had but one duty to discharge - to obey God and live. All the energy of Moses and all the urgency of God are devoted to secure this obedience. The remembrance of God's love, the recognition of his vengeance and deserved wrath, and the consummate wisdom manifested in the whole policy pursued, should move our hearts to love and obey. Let us accept of the mercy, and not force the Lord to judgment! - R.M.E.
Sad or bright, she is lifeless ever; IV. APPARENT PROSPERITY WILL PROVE REAL DISASTER. Just as the osher plant, which flourishes best near the site of Sodom and Gomorrha, presents apparently most luscious and attractive fruit, which yet prove but bags of air and ashes, so the apparent prosperity of the faithless souls proves emptiness and bitter disappointment at last. All the investments, so to speak, which seem so fortunate turn into splendid mistakes and miseries. Upon the whole life, opposed as it is to God, there broods a curse. V. THE PROGRAM OF VENGEANCE IS CAREFULLY PREPARED. This is the spirit of the remaining verses (vers. 35-43). God makes his calculations calmly and deliberately. The foot of his enemies shall slide in due time, and his work of vengeance, like all his other work, prove perfect. As God refuses to exercise "unprincipled mercy," so will he refuse to execute random wrath. The great Jonathan Edwards has a remarkable sermon on ver. 35, entitled 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,' which may be distasteful to some easy-going theologians, but is nevertheless weighty with doctrinal and convincing truth. The idea should surely be got rid of that there is any difference in principle between the Old Testament and the New. The prerogative of vengeance so powerfully asserted in this song of the Lord, put into the mouth of Moses, has not been renounced nor laid down for an instant. The Lord still claims it, as Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30, and other passages show. VI. THE POLICY OF THE LORD SHALL HAVE A SPLENDID CONSUMMATION. After the cycle is complete, Jews and Gentiles, as ver. 43 distinctly indicates, shall be found rejoicing in concert before the Lord, who has shown himself merciful to his land and his people. We need not in this Homily enter upon the discussion of the great difference between the Hebrew of ver. 43 and the LXX. It does not affect the truth we draw from the remarkable passage. However the individuals may suffer through the Divine vengeance, it will not be lost as a lesson upon the race. Jew and Gentile shall alike recognize its justice and the compensating mercy which always lay for men in the tender hands of God. The vengeance is forced upon him - the judgment is his strange work; but he delighteth in mercy. VII. MOSES SUMS UP THE LESSON OF THE SONG BY URGING OBEDIENCE UPON THE PEOPLE AS THEIR LIFE. And when we remember that God is the source of life; that spiritual life lies in his favor and fellowship; then it is clear that the Israelites had but one duty to discharge - to obey God and live. All the energy of Moses and all the urgency of God are devoted to secure this obedience. The remembrance of God's love, the recognition of his vengeance and deserved wrath, and the consummate wisdom manifested in the whole policy pursued, should move our hearts to love and obey. Let us accept of the mercy, and not force the Lord to judgment! - R.M.E.
I. GOD'S ESTIMATE OF HUMAN DESERT. Were guilty men alone to be considered, no penalty would be too severe as the award for their high-handed offences. Every vestige of merit has disappeared. The consensus of all righteous beings requires unreserved condemnation. Nor can the condemned offender himself escape this conclusion. When his conscience awakes to ponder his guilt, he joins in his own condemnation; he confesses the justice of his sentence. If the demerit of the sinner were the only question to be solved, the answer would be at once forthcoming; the verdict would be complete destruction.
II. WE SEE GOD'S FORESIGHT EMBRACING WIDER INTERESTS.
1. The advantage of other races is, by God, taken into the account. What effect upon other nations will the condign punishment of Israel have? Will it make them self-confident, arrogant, defiant? The true king has at heart the well-being of all his subjects.
2. The honor of God himself must be taken into account. The public reputation of God is indissolubly bound up with the well-being of his intelligent creatures. His honor is dear to him; for his honor is nothing more than his native excellence illustrated and made known.
3. How graciously the Most High accommodates his speech to suit the conceptions of men! As a man may fear the wrath of his foes, so God (to bring his doings within the compass of the human understanding) speaks of himself as the subject of fear. In our present state, we cannot rise to the comprehension of God as he is; our knowledge of him is conditioned by our limitations of mind.
III. GOD'S GRIEF FOR HUMAN FOLLY. The tender affection of God in pleading with men to avoid sin is very impressive; but more impressive still are his exclamations of grief when the final step has been taken, and when, for many, recovery is impossible. Thus when Jesus looked down from Olivet upon the guilty metropolis, and knew that the die was cast, he nevertheless wept and said, "How often would I have gathered your children, as a hen her brood; but ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate!" So too in the Psalms God thus speaks, "Oh that my people had hearkened unto me! that Israel had walked in my ways!" The measure of God's love transcends all known limits; its forms are infinite in their variety! When every remedial measure has been tried in vain, love can only weep. - D.
I. IN WHAT WISDOM CONSISTS.
1. The choice of right ends.
2. Of right means to secure these ends.
3. In harmony with a just and proportioned view of all the circumstances of our situation.
When essential circumstances are omitted in the calculation, when the horizon is unduly narrowed, when all-important factors of the situation are left wholly out of account, - it is vain to speak of wisdom. Absolutely, and as regards our standing as moral beings, wisdom embraces:
1. The choice of a true end, i.e. the choice, as our end in life, of that end for which we were created.
2. The practical sharing of conduct with a view to that end, and in the way best calculated to attain it. And this:
3. In view of all the circumstances of the case, i.e. with right apprehensions of God, of the issues of moral conduct, of eternity. What wisdom is more to be desired than this? What efforts ought to be put forth to attain it! What incalculable value ought to be set upon it!
II. SIN IS THE ABSOLUTE UNWISDOM.
1. For the true end of life it substitutes a false one. The end for which we were made was holiness - the service of God with all our powers of soul, body, and spirit. In this consists our life, our happiness, our well-being. In pursuit of this end, our nature works harmoniously with itself, and With the general constitution of the world. But sin substitutes for this an end which violates, disturbs, perverts the harmony of every sphere of our existence. It asserts a false independence of the creature. It bids us use our powers for self, and not for God. It holds up as an end a shadowy good which is never realized. It cheats with insincere promises. By perverting the nature, it gives to fleshly lusts a tyrannical predominance, and degrades the spirit to the position of a bondservant. For unity there is thus established anarchy - each lust, as its own master, seeking an independent gratification. Life in this way falls asunder - it has a proper end no longer - and the strife continues till a new equilibrium is established by one lust or passion usurping the mastery over the rest.
2. For the true conduct of life it substitutes a course of conduct resting on false bases. The false end yields its natural fruit in false principles of life. The sinner's whole career, whatever he may think of it himself, is one tissue of errors and illogicalities. If measured by the end he ought to set before him, it is seen to be a course leading him wildly and hopelessly astray. The more skillfully and assiduously he applies himself to his ends, only the more conspicuously does he convict himself of folly.
3. Instead of taking all the factors of the case into account, it usually leaves God and eternity out of it. This is that which most convincingly brands the sinner's course as folly. If God exist, and if he have the power to bless or blast our schemes, and if in the end we have to meet him as our Judge, - it surely cannot be wisdom to leave this fact unnoticed. So, if we are beings made for eternity, destined to exist forever, he must be a fool who makes preparations for everything but for eternity. If, again, the issues of obedience and sin are on the one hand life, and on the other death, he must be insane who deliberately makes a preference of the latter. Even if the choice is not deliberately made, but the eyes are kept closed to the issues, this does not alter the unwisdom of the choice itself. We can see, therefore, how a man may be most wise as regards this world, and yet the veriest fool as regards the whole scope of his existence. He may be gifted, talented, energetic, a shrewd man of the world, sagacious in pursuit of earthly ends, yet totally blind to his eternal interests. He may be neglecting the "one thing needful," making no preparation for a hereafter, missing the end of his existence, treasuring up wrath and sorrow for himself at the end. "Thou fool!" was the stern word of Heaven to a man who, in earthly respects, was probably deemed very wise (Luke 12:20). Men are fools who neglect the voice of religion. - J.O.
I. AS THERE HAS BEEN A BEGINNING OF THE PRESENT LIFE, SO THERE WILL COME AN END.
II. THE END OF PROBATIONARY LIFE DEMANDS OUR SERIOUS CONSIDERATION.
III. THE HIGHEST WISDOM FORECASTS THE WHOLE REACH OF LIFE, BOTH PRESENT AND FUTURE. - D.
I. EVERY MAN CRAVES FOR SOME GROUND OF CONFIDENCE, EXTERNAL TO HIMSELF. To the men of the East, this external foundation of trust was best described as a rock. What the solid rock is amid the loose alluvial soil of Egypt, or amid the shifting sand of the desert, that God is designed to be unto every man. Complete independence is impossible to created man. He can never be self-contained nor self-nourished. Pure atheism has never been a permanent resting-place for the human heart. When the invisible God is forsaken, the human mind swings toward idolatry. The carnal mind finds delight in a ground of confidence that is visible and tangible. Some god we must have, if it be only the shadowy deity named Fate, or Law, or Chance.
II. COMPLETE CONTRAST EXISTS BETWEEN THE OBJECTS OF HUMAN TRUST. The only point of similarity is the name. The devil borrows this, so as the better to throw dust in the eyes of his followers. Our God is a Rock; the world also has its counterfeit rock. By the judgments and verdict of worldly men, our Rock differs in tote from theirs. Their rock, they acknowledge, is unstable and unreliable. They trust it simply because they know not a better. It is misnamed a rock. Their rock ofttimes deserts them in the hour of greatest need. Ah! fortune, say they, is fickle. Very tyrannical and self-willed is fate. But our God is a Rock in very deed. He never forsakes his liege disciples. In the darkest hour he is nearest - the "shadow of a great rock in a weary land." Their misnamed rock encourages them to enter the battle-field, and then forsakes them. They are "sold to the enemy."
III. NOTWITHSTANDING THE CONTRAST IN THESE OBJECTS OF TRUST, THE FALSE IS A CLEVER IMITATION OF THE TRUE. All through life, we find that the false counterfeits the true. The thief puts on the pretence of honesty. The villain trains himself to use fair speech. The adulterer wears the garb of virtue. Beauty is the robe of God, but the devil fabricates meretricious tinsel. He, too, has his "Promised Land," but it is a fool's paradise. He has his vine, but his vine is the vine of Sodom, which generates drunkenness and unchastity. He also has his fields, but they are fields of Gomorrah. The fruits are pleasant to the eye, but they turn to ashes in the mouth. There is the appearance of grapes, but lo! the juice is gall - the clusters are bitterness itself. And not only is the experience disappointing, it is even disastrous and deadly. This pretended wine is only poison, it is a gilded pill. Cruel deceit has provided this counterfeit banquet. Beneath the glamour of a fair exterior, there is the "serpent's venom." Thus fares it with all who leave their God. They find out the bitter mistake at last. So sang Byron in his last days -
"The worm, the canker, and the grief IV. SUCH HUMAN EXPERIENCES OF THE FALSE, GOD USES IN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD. "Is not this laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures?" God knew well what the effects of an idolatrous course would be, what bitter vexation and disaster would come at last. But he foresaw that it was better for men that they should pass through this experience than that he should remove the possibility of it. He might have prevented, by exercise of power, the stratagems of the tempter. He might have curtailed Satan's freedom, and put on him chains of darkness from the first. But his infinite wisdom has decided otherwise. He foresees more glorious results from this method, so he patiently waits; he calmly watches the stages of the process. "Their foot," says he, "shall slide in due time." "The day of their calamity is at hand." Now, it is difficult to discern between a grain of living seed and a grain of dead sand; but put both into the furrowed field, and give them time, so when the day of harvest comes, the man who sowed the sand will be covered with shame, while he who sowed good seed will bear gladly his sheaves into the heavenly garner. Our business now is to discriminate between God's corn and the devil's chaff. "The day will declare it." - D.
IV. SUCH HUMAN EXPERIENCES OF THE FALSE, GOD USES IN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD. "Is not this laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures?" God knew well what the effects of an idolatrous course would be, what bitter vexation and disaster would come at last. But he foresaw that it was better for men that they should pass through this experience than that he should remove the possibility of it. He might have prevented, by exercise of power, the stratagems of the tempter. He might have curtailed Satan's freedom, and put on him chains of darkness from the first. But his infinite wisdom has decided otherwise. He foresees more glorious results from this method, so he patiently waits; he calmly watches the stages of the process. "Their foot," says he, "shall slide in due time." "The day of their calamity is at hand." Now, it is difficult to discern between a grain of living seed and a grain of dead sand; but put both into the furrowed field, and give them time, so when the day of harvest comes, the man who sowed the sand will be covered with shame, while he who sowed good seed will bear gladly his sheaves into the heavenly garner. Our business now is to discriminate between God's corn and the devil's chaff. "The day will declare it." - D.
Obadiah 1:3, 4). Even then their trust is in acquired power and riches, which is a "rock" to them, though their confidence often proves delusive (Haman, Nebuchadnezzar, Wolsey). When men have lost faith in religion, they frequently take refuge in the "rock" of philosophy. The "rock" of the heathen is their idols and the arts of the soothsayer. Men tend to make a "rock" of those superior to them in power and wisdom. The "rock of nations is too often their military and naval defenses, with arts of diplomacy, and alliances with stronger powers (Isaiah 30.). The believer's Rock, which is the best of all, is God.
I. THE SUPERIORITY OF THE BELIEVER'S ROCK EVINCED.
1. From the nature of this Rock. Grant that God is, a Being, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable wise in his counsel, omnipotent in his power, faithful in his promises, righteous in his actions, infinitely gracious and merciful to those who put their trust in him, a strong Rock," "an House of defense" to save them (Psalm 32:7), a "Hiding-place" to preserve them from trouble (Psalm 32:7), - and the superiority of this Rock to every other needs no further demonstration. It is self-evidently impossible to have a surer or a better. What can man ask more than that the "eternal God" should be his "Refuge," and that underneath him should be the "everlasting arms"? (Deuteronomy 33:27).
2. From the advantages derived from this Rock. These are such as no other can pretend to give. The believer's life being hid with God (Colossians 3:3) and guaranteed by the life of Christ in heaven (John 14:19), and his inheritance lying beyond death (1 Peter 1:4), no hostility of man can reach either. No other "rock" can give the same security, the same peace, joy, shelter, strength, comfort, and refreshment, as the believer's. To which considerations add the following: -
1. Many of these so-called "rocks" are nonentities. The idols of the heathen are of this description. So with the arts and charms of sorcery, prayers to the Virgin, etc.
2. The surest of these "rocks" are not to be depended on. "Wisdom is better than strength" (Ecclesiastes 9:16); but wisdom, strength, riches, rank, powerful friend, long-consolidated might, - all sometimes fail those who put their trust in them.
3. Not one of these "rocks" can stand when God wills its overthrow. God's help, on the other hand, is real, always to be relied on, and invincible against opposition.
II. THE SUPERIORITY OF THE BELIEVER'S ROCK CONFESSED. It is often confessed, even by the enemy. How often, e.g. have ungodly men expressed themselves envious of the religious trust and peace of the believer! How often have they admitted its superiority to anything possessed by themselves! How often, again, have they owned to their own "rocks" failing them in time of need! How often, even, when it came to the end, have they lamented that they had not sought the Rock of the believer] Philosophy is admitted, even by those who take refuge in it, to be but a sorry substitute for religion. Passages could be culled from current literature showing very distinctly this need of the believer's rock - the almost agonizing expression of a wish that belief were possible - the confession that in the surrender of Christian beliefs a large part of life's hopefulness and joy has gone forever (see in Mallock's "Is Life worth Living?"). - J.O.
1. In proofs of supernatural origin.
2. In moral and spiritual power.
3. In the privileges it offers.
4. In the prospects it holds out.
Admissions and concessions on each of these points could be gathered from the writings of many of the most noted unbelievers. - J.O.
3. Ending in disappointment and disgust. - J.O.
I. VENGEANCE A PREROGATIVE OF DEITY. As just Judge of the earth, God must avenge transgression. Vengeance is to be distinguished from personal vindictiveness. Of that God is incapable. But Scripture, supported by reason and conscience, attributes to him a holy and inflexible determination to punish sin - to visit on the wrong-doer the consequences of his transgression. The rule for individuals is, "Avenge not yourselves," etc.; but the reason for this is not that vengeance is unnecessary, but that God will avenge (Romans 12:18). Magistrates, however, bear from God a certain delegated power to punish public offences - to "avenge" evil (Romans 13:4). He who "takes away vengeance from God, at the same time takes it from God's servant, the magistracy, which carries the sword of vengeance over evil-doers" (Hengstenberg). God has his own time, as well as his own way, of avenging sin, and it is not for man to anticipate this.
II. VENGEANCE ASSUREDLY IN STORE FOR GOD'S ENEMIES. However delayed by forbearance. Because judgment is not executed speedily, sinners take confidence (Ecclesiastes 8:11; 2 Peter 3:9, 10). But the sleepless eye of God is all the while upon them, and the stroke falls when they are least expecting it. Sooner or later, every transgression and disobedience will meet with its due recompense of reward. Note:
1. "Judgment begins at the house of God" (vers. 35, 36; 1 Peter 4:17).
2. It will ultimately extend to all who are God's enemies (vers. 41, 42). We are taught that the Messianic kingdom will be established on earth amidst mighty displays of judgment (Revelation 19:11-21). There will follow the general judgment of quick and dead - "that day of wrath, that dreadful day" - which will complete the work. God's vengeance is:
1. Assured. "As I live," etc. (ver. 40).
2. Terrible. "My glittering sword;" "arrows drunk with blood," etc.
3. No escape from it (ver. 39).
III. JUDGMENTS EMPLOYED TO CONVINCE BACKSLIDERS OF THEIR SINS. They tend:
1. To break up false confidences (vers. 37, 38).
2. To create a feeling of the need of God's help (ver. 39).
3. To convince of the folly of past conduct.
God compassionates even while he punishes (ver. 36). He would fain, through judgment, break a way for mercy. Illustrate this use of judgments from Israel in time of the judges, or from case of Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:11-14). This one use of the present exile. May we hope that the day of God's "repenting himself" toward Israel is drawing near!
IV. THE RECOVERY OF ISRAEL THE INAUGURATION OF A TIME OF BLESSING TO THE WORLD. The nations are to share in the joy (ver. 43). God is to be merciful to his land and people. The latter-day glory includes the conversion of the Gentiles (Romans 11.). - J.O.
I. HUMAN EXPERIENCE WILL ULTIMATELY CONFIRM THE VANITY AND FUTILITY OF IDOLATRY. Men will accept, at the close of a changeful and bitter experience, what they would not accept at the outset of their course, viz. that there is one God - invisible, supreme, eternal. In the conscious pride of self-will, men will sound all the possible problems of life. They will not at first accept, with the docility of a child-like nature, the ipse dixit even of God himself. But when all trust in self and in created power has proved a failure; when all power is gone, and we lie on the battlefield, wounded and helpless; - then we begin to give heed to the heavenly voice. Then the gentle message of God comes, with the charm of evening music, upon the ear - yea, as an anodyne and a balm upon the bleeding heart. In a mood of self-despair, we clutch the hope of the gospel, viz. God manifest to man. God invites us to earnest and profound inquiry. He asks us to give a mature deliverance touching the power and helpfulness of the God whom we have long trusted; and the final experience of men, in all lands and ages, is uniform. "The gods who have not created the heavens and the earth shall perish!"
II. HUMAN EXPERIENCE ATTESTS THE SUPREMACY AND TRIUMPH OF JEHOVAH. "See now, that I, even I am he, and there is no god with me." The eye of man can clearly discern the fact - the foundation-fact of all religion - so soon as the veil of prejudice and sin is removed. The revelation is clear enough, if only the organ of mental vision be in healthful vigor. Without question, God is the sole Arbiter of life and death. No other deity has ever assumed an act of creation. The powers of evil have flourished the wand of a necromancer, and have pretended to effect sudden changes in the conditions of nature; but not one has ever pretended to create a star or to produce a single human life. God is still left upon the throne, as sole and undisputed Monarch. Eternal existence is another prerogative of Jehovah. Where are now the gods of the heathen? Who now worships Jupiter, or Dagon, or Isis, or Moloch? Their names are historic only. They had a passing popularity, but it has long since vanished. But with solemn form of adjuration, the Most High lifts his hand and swears, "I live forever!" As in a court of justice men accept the testimony of a fellow-man, when that testimony is given under the sanction of a religious oath; so, in self-consistency, are we bound to accept the asseveration of the eternal God. In pity for his creatures, he also takes the form of oath, and since "he can swear by none greater, he swears by himself."
III. THE ROYAL SUPREMACY OF JEHOVAH IS A GROUND FOR HUMAN JOY. Every perfection of God is suitable material for grateful praise. His power is a security for good men. All our interests are safe, being under the protection of such a Friend. His holiness also affords distinct ground for gladness. Because he is holy, we can cherish a confident hope that we shall be holy too. Hence we "give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness." We rejoice to know that the scepter of the universe is in the hands of a God who is absolutely and incorruptibly just. We know that "the right" will not long be trodden underfoot of the oppressor. We are assured that the malice and craft of Satan shall not triumph. We heartily rejoice that Jehovah is King of all the earth; for "all things must now work together for good to them that love him."
"Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again;
I. THE OBJECTS ABOUT WHICH RELIGION TREATS ARE REAL, NOT SHADOWY. "It is not a vain thing." The eye of man cannot embrace God's universe. The material kingdoms are not all. God's creation extends above and beyond the reach of mortal sense. With respect to much that God has made, "eye hath not seen, nor car heard, nor mind conceived." Science deals with one class of objects, religion with another class. The subject-matter of religion is the most excellent, substantial, and enduring. It treats of God, heaven, eternity, the soul of man - its sins and sorrows, the way to holiness, the hope of everlasting life. These things come not under the cognizance of our sensuous organs; they are more substantial than the granite rocks - more real than jewels.
II. THE TRUTHS CONCERNING RELIGION ARE AUTHENTIC, NOT ILLUSORY. They come to us supported by abundant evidence, both internal and external. They come with's better title to belief than any books of equal antiquity. If we reject Moses and Isaiah, we are bound, in self-consistency, to reject Thucydides and Herodotos, Bode and Gibbon. But to every Christian, the most conclusive evidence is experimental. He has the "witness in himself." The truth, admitted to his mind, has elevated his tastes, enlarged his views, purified his affections, ennobled and beautified his whole nature. As light suits the eye and music the ear, so the truth of Scripture exquisitely suits the needs and aspirations of the soul. It meets a real want.
III. THE HUMAN INTERESTS, WHICH RELIGION PROMOTES, ARE REAL AND PRECIOUS, NOT VAPID OR FANCIFUL. These interests are internal and external; they reach to the family and to the utmost limits of human society; they embrace the present and the unbounded future. Reconciliation with God, the removal of sin, the development of man's best nature, the heritage of inward tranquility, the conquest of care, the extraction of blessing out of sorrow, a hope that conquers death, - these are among the advantages obtained by religion. It makes men better husbands, better masters, better servants, better citizens, nobler, truer, wiser. It imparts a meetness for the society and the service of heaven. It brings advantage to every relationship and circumstance of human life. "It is not a vain thing;" it is life and health and joy. - D.
Romans 6:23). Eternity is a factor to be taken into account here, as well as in the case of "life." Death, indeed, is not nonexistence, but it is the loss of all that makes existence a boon; the extinction in the soul of holiness, happiness, and love. Whatever the final state of the lost may be, whether one of active torment or not, it will be true death. The man loses his "soul" - his "life" - "himself" (Matthew 16:26; Luke 9:25). Oh that men were wise, that they understood these things, and acted on their choice as wise men should! - J.O.
I. IT IS SURELY REMARKABLE THAT, WHEN SAVED THROUGH THE MERCY OF GOD IN CHRIST, WE DO NOT BECOME IMMORTAL. Salvation seizes on the spirit, it becomes life through the righteousness of Jesus, but the body is still dead (or mortal) because of sin (Romans 8:10). Why does salvation take our personality in installments? Save spirit first, and leave the body to the repairs of a resurrection? Can the procedure be vindicated? We think it can. For -
II. IF WE BECAME PHYSICALLY IMMORTAL THROUGH THE RECEPTION OF SALVATION, A MERCENARY ELEMENT WOULD BE INTRODUCED INTO OUR MOTIVES, AND MEN WOULD SEEK SALVATION TO ESCAPE THE PAIN OF DYING. Under the present arrangement, saint as well as sinner has to pass the dark portal. Dying is made the general lot of man, and, if salvation is desired, it is for spiritual purposes. Just as God does not promise immediate success to our efforts or our prayers, lest we should be tempted to live by sight and not by faith.
III. IT IS NOT DESIRABLE THAT, WITH PARDON, WE SHOULD ESCAPE ALL SUFFERING FOR OUR SIN. It is a wise arrangement on God's part, even when forgiving sinners, to take vengeance on our inventions (Psalm 99:8). For suppose that, in praying for pardon, we escaped all physical consequences of our sin, the result would be that pardon would be used as a great physical agent and factor, and the physical escape would be more thought upon than the spiritual. It is better, therefore, that things should take their course so far as the body is concerned, and that, meanwhile, the spirit should be the chief recipient of the benefit. God does not take the seeds of mortality, therefore, out of our bodies: he leaves them there as sin's own work; and he gives us the earnest of complete redemption in the resurrection and emancipation of our spirits.
IV. IT IS A SPLENDID TEST OF OUR FAITH IN GOD TO BE ASKED TO DIE. For up to the hour of death, we have found persons and things to lean upon in a measure; we have not as yet been left to lean on God alone. But when death comes, we are forced to lean on God only, if we are to have any support at all. God says, "Can you trust me, even when I take away your physical life?" "Though he slay me," said Job, "yet will I trust in him." Death brings us all to this test, and happy are we if we reach the same assurance.
"The real is but the half of life; it needs "Then let us, passing o'er life's fragile arch,
"Then let us, passing o'er life's fragile arch,
I. THE GODLY MAN DIES AT GOD'S COMMAND. In this respect, Moses was a type of Christ, and has left us an example deserving our imitation. It should be enough for us to know that God requires it. It is no accident - no unforeseen event. Every circumstance touching the believer's death is wisely arranged by God. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." Our Elder Brother has passed the dark valley before us, and his presence lights up the once gloomy way. "I will fear no evil, for thou art with me." At the girdle of our Captain hang "the keys of death and of Hades." "He opens, and no man shuts." To the genuine disciple death is no terror. "It is my Father's voice I hear. I see his beckoning hand. I feel his sustaining arm." "Death is swallowed up in victory."
II. THE GODLY MAN'S DEATH IS PARTLY JUDICIAL, PARTLY MERCIFUL. To the full-grown and ripe Christian, earth has little attraction. Its joys pall upon the taste. We aspire after nobler and better things. "I would not live always." A time comes in the good man's history when he wishes the probation to close, and the real life to begin. The heir longs for his majority and for the ancestral heritage. The believer dies because death is the most convenient portal by which he can enter heaven. Yet judgment is mingled with the mercy. Moses was on the tiptoe of earthly expectancy - on the threshold of a great success, when God required him to relinquish all for heaven. To him it was revealed, in clearest form, that earlier sin required this late correction. For Israel's sake, for the world's sake, and for Moses' sake, his trespass must bear fruitage in loss and sorrow. In the very nature of things, it is impossible that men can sin without privation of some kind. We may flatter ourselves, at times, that God has winked at our folly, and that no ill consequence has ensued. But judge not prematurely. Possibly, in our last hours of life, the remembrance of that sin will rob us of our peace, will impose some serious loss. In the moral realm, "whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap."
III. THE GODLY MAN DEPARTS THIS LIFE FROM THE MOUNTAIN-PEAKS OF PERSONAL ATTAINMENT. There were solid reasons in the Divine mind (partly hidden and partly revealed) why Moses should die upon the mount. He might have viewed the magnificent prospects, and then have descended to die. But mountains have often been selected by God as the scene of grand events. On the summit of a mountain we are inspired with a sense of awe. We take in the sense of the infinite. We are constrained to worship. Thence we are already half disposed to mount and soar to heaven. This is suggestive. When through much active energy of faith we have climbed the heights of practical holiness, we feel that the work of life is done. We have finished our course. There has been steady advancement thus far, and now, what next? We feel that the world is beneath our feet; and from this pinnacle of moral elevation we wait the revelation of the future, we prepare for the strange transition. From such an elevation of faith, too, we clearly discern the scene of the Church's future conquests. The past is a light which irradiates the prospective triumphs of truth and holiness. "Much land remains to be possessed;" but the assurance of success is absolute. Already the foes of God are at our feet. "He must reign."
IV. THE GODLY MAN'S DEPARTURE IS NOT TO SOLITUDE, BUT TO SOCIETY. "Thou shalt be gathered unto thy people." Whatever thoughts, or hopes, or fears this language of God suggested to Moses' mind, it suggests to our minds one of the charms of heaven. We love to think of it as a home. Next to the ecstasy which God's presence shall inspire, is the rapture of reunion with departed friends. "In my Father's house are many mansions." No question need distress us touching mutual recognition. Moses and Elijah were recognized as such when they came down in glorified state, and conversed with Jesus on the mount. Not a faculty shall be wanting there which we possessed here. "Then shall we know, even as also we are known." If men from distant climes shall "sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God," one main element of honor and of joy would be missed unless these illustrious patriarchs were known. - D.