Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Deuteronomy 31.), David (1 Kings 2.), Paul (2 Timothy 4:1-8), and Peter (2 Peter 1:12-15). As Jesus Christ looked to the future (John 14-17.; Acts 1:3), so did His type Joshua. He was determined that the people should be bound to the service of the true God, if solemn meetings and declarations could bring it about. Nothing should be wanting on his part, at any rate. The gathering of the Israelites may remind us of the purposes for which we assemble every Lord's day. We come -
I. TO MAKE SPECIAL PRESENTATION OF OURSELVES BEFORE GOD. Always in the presence of the Almighty, yet do we on such occasions "draw nigh" to Him. The world, with its cares and temptations, is for a season excluded. We leave it to hold more immediate intercourse with our heavenly Father. We approach to pay the homage that is His due from us. Surely those who plead that they can worship in the woods and fields as well as in God's house, in solitude as in society, forget that the honour of Jehovah demands regular, public, united recognition. We have to consider His glory, not only our individual satisfaction. "I will give Thee thanks in the great congregation." It is our privilege also to proffer our requests, to implore the blessings essential to our welfare.
II. TO LISTEN TO THE WORD OF GOD. We have the "lively oracles," the revelation of God to man. It behoves us to give reverent attention thereto. In business or at home other matters may distract our attention; here we can give ourselves wholly to the "still small voice." It may instruct, inspire, rebuke, and comfort. The utterance of God's messenger claims a hearing as the message from God to our souls. "Thus saith the Lord" (ver. 2). The speaker may
(1) recall the past to our remembrance. Joshua reviewed God's dealings with His people, speaking of their call (ver. 2), deliverance from bondage (ver. 5), guidance (ver. 7), succour in battle (vers. 9-11), and possession of a goodly land (ver. 13). Such a narrative is fruitful in suggestions; provocative of gratitude, self abasement, and trust.
(2) State clearly the present position. Acquainted with God and the rival heathen deities, it was for the Israelites to make deliberate choice of the banner under which they would henceforth enrol themselves. In God's house Christians are taught to regard themselves as "strangers and pilgrims," as "seeking a better country," as those who are "on the Lord's side." If they will they may turn back and desert the Master whom hitherto they have followed. There must be "great searchings of heart."
(3) Briefly sketch the future. Religion does not confine itself to the narrow region of present circumstances; it looks far ahead, desires no man to take a leap in the dark, but rather to weigh calmly the respective issues dependent upon the actions of today. None who have experienced the tendency of earthly occupations to absorb, to engross the interest, will deny the advantage accruing from the quiet contemplations of the sanctuary, where it is possible to calculate correctly afar from the bustle of the city, where on wings of the spirit we rise to an altitude that dwarfs the loftiest objects of worldly ambition, and brings heaven and its glories nearer to our view.
III. TO RECONSECRATE OURSELVES TO GOD'S SERVICE. We remain the same persons and yet are continually changing. Like the particles of the body, so our opinions, affections, etc., are in unceasing flux. To dedicate ourselves afresh is no vain employment. It brightens the inscription, "holiness unto the Lord," which time tends to efface. Are not some idols still in our dwellings? some evil propensities indulged, which an exhortation may lead us to check? To keep the feast we cast out the old leaven. Man is the better for coming into contact with a holy Being. The contrast reveals his imperfections and quickens his good desires.
CONCLUSION. If inclined to say with the men of Beth-shemesh, "Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?" (1 Samuel 7:20) let us think of Christ, who has entered as our Forerunner into the Holiest of all. In His name we may venture boldly to the throne of grace. Some dislike the services of the sanctuary because they speak of the need of cleansing in order to appear before the Almighty. Men would prefer to put aside gloomy thoughts and to stifle the consciousness that all is not right within. But does not prudence counsel us to make our peace with God now, to "seek Him while He may be found," clothed in the attribute of mercy, instead of waiting for the dread day when we must all appear before the judgment seat, when it will be useless to implore rocks and mountains to hide us from the presence of Him that sits upon the throne? Behold Him now not as a Judge desirous to condemn, but as a Father who hath devised means whereby His banished ones may be recalled, who waits for the return of the prodigal - yea, will discern Him afar off, and hasten to meet him in love. - A.
(1) Let us observe, first, that the piety of the fathers does not suffice for the sons, and that while it is a great blessing to have pious parents, and gives the children a strong vantage ground for the spiritual warfare, it does not do away with the necessity that they should for themselves ratify the holy resolves of their progenitors. God made a covenant with Abraham, but, nevertheless, both Isaac and Jacob renewed that holy covenant for themselves. And it needed, as we see, to be ratified again by their descendants when at length they entered into possession of the promised land. So is it with ourselves. Though we had in our veins the blood of the most glorious saints, their holiness would not make us the less culpable if we did not yield our own selves a living sacrifice unto God. What avails it to be children of Abraham according to the flesh, since God is able of the stones to raise up children unto Abraham? (Matthew 3:7.) These principles find a special application in the gospel economy, in which everything is made to depend upon the birth. Not only should the covenant with God be concluded by each new generation of Christians, but it needs to be ratified by every individual for himself apart.
(2) "They presented themselves before God," it is said, on this solemn day. It is before Him and in His sight that the great pledge is to be taken which marks our entrance into His covenant of grace. We have not to do with His representatives, the ministers of His Church, nor even with the Church itself, but with Him. Let us rise above all that is human, and let us come into the very presence of God when we yield ourselves to Him and to his service.
(3) In this solemn meeting between Israel and Israel's God, to renew their covenant, it is God who leads the way by recalling to His people the glorious manifestations of His love in choosing them, delivering them from the bondage of Egypt, bringing them through the desert, and making them victorious over the nations of Canaan. All is of His mercy; His free grace is the basis of reconciliation. It is the offended one who makes the first advance. "He first loved us," says St. John (1 John 4:18).
(4) Preventing grace does not nullify human freedom. God proposes, invites, beseeches, and in His very entreaty there is a virtue which enables us to respond to Him. But we must respond, we must decide for ourselves, it must be our free act. The question is put in the most categorical form to the people of Israel: "If it seem evil to you to serve the Lord, choose ye this day whom ye will serve" (ver. 15). "The people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods." "And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves, that ye have chosen you the Lord to serve Him. And they said, We are witnesses" (ver. 22). This decisive dialogue ought to pass between every individual soul and God. Its form may differ, but in substance it is always the same. "Lovest thou Me?" says Christ to Peter, on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias. "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee" (John 21:15). It is the interchange of this question and answer which seals the covenant between the soul and Christ. Woe to those who forsake the good way after having once chosen it! "If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment" (Hebrews 10:26, 27). - E. DE P.
I. IT IS WELL TO REVIEW THE PAST.
(1) The life which is wholly occupied with the present is necessarily superficial. Recollection and anticipation broaden and deepen life. They are essential to the consciousness of personal identity. Memory retains possession of the past and thus enriches life. The past is not wholly gone; it lives in memory; it lives in its effects; it will be called up for judgment.
(2) A review of the past should make us
(a) grateful for the goofiness of God,
(b) humble in the consciousness of our own failings,
(c) wise from the lessons of experience, and
(d) diligent to redeem the time which yet remains.
II. NO REVIEW OF THE PAST IS COMPLETE WHICH DOES NOT RECOGNISE THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE. The chief value of biblical history is in the fact that it clearly indicates the action of God in human affairs.
(1) The highest historical study is that which searches for "God in history." To do this is to trace events to their first cause, to see the connecting ideas of unity which bind all things together, and to follow out the course of all changing movements towards their destined end.
(2) We may see indications of the active presence of God in history and in private life by noting
(a) material and spiritual good things enjoyed;
(b) providential deliverances in trouble;
(c) solemn acts of judgment;
(d) good thoughts and deeds which all have their origin in God, the source of all good, and
(e) the general onward and upward movement of mankind.
(3) Let us practically apply the duty of noting God's action in human affairs to national history, church history, and private experience.
III. A RIGHT REVIEW OF GOD'S ACTION IN THE PAST WILL SHOW THAT THIS IS CHARACTERISED BY GOODNESS AND MERCY. We single out striking calamities for difficulties to the doctrine of Providence. We should remember that these are striking just because they are exceptional. We are often tempted to fix upon the troubles and neglect the mercies of the past. A fair review of the whole will show that the blessings infinitely outnumber the distresses.
(1) Such a review should stimulate gratitude. It is most ungrateful to be receiving innumerable blessings every day of our lives and rarely to recognise the Hand from which they come, while we complain that others are not added, or murmur if any cease.
(2) Such a review should increase our confidence and hope. God is changeless. As He has been He will be. "Hitherto the Lord hath helped us." Threatening clouds have burst in beneficent showers. Deliverance has come when all seemed hopeless. Let us believe that the same will be in the future, and press forward to dark and uncertain days with more assurance of faith.
IV. THE GOODNESS OF GOD IN HISTORY WILL BE CHIEFLY SEEN IN THE PROMOTION OF THE HIGHEST HUMAN PROGRESS. History in the main is the story of the progress of mankind. This was the case with Joshua's review of Jewish history. It showed progress from idolatry to the worship of the true God, from slavery to liberty, from poverty to a great possession, from homeless wandering to a happy, peaceful, settled life. Thus God is always leading us upwards from darkness to light, from bondage to liberty, from ignorance, superstition, sin, and misery to the golden age of the future (Romans 8:19-23). - W.F.A.
I. THE FACT THAT ABRAHAM WAS ORIGINALLY A HEATHEN. He was not merely born and bred an idolater, as we might have gathered from the story of Bachel's teraphim, but was a pagan in exactly the same condition of belief as many in India or in China are today. Some, in later times especially, and indeed in all times, worshipped the true God, but employed an idol to assist their imagination of Him; that is, they simply sought ritualistic and sensuous aids to religious thought and feeling. But Abraham began life far lower down in the religious scale. His fathers served other gods; the deified powers of nature representing little more than the forces and tendencies of life. Primitive tradition had lost any brightness it ever had. The religious sentiment had lost that reverence and habit of attention which soon begins to perceive God and to feel that the God constantly appealing to it is one and the same. The worship of several deities is always a mark of a superstitious ingredient blending with faith. Terah's family were in this condition. They were not only idolaters but polytheists - without Bible or sacrament, promise, or law. Abraham was precisely in the same sort of spiritual circumstances, and had been taught the same sort of religious ideas, and trained in the same superstitions, as are found in all pagan lands today. Yet with advantages so slight, he became the spiritual father of the religious nation of antiquity - type of all saintliness, of everything bright in faith and unquestioning in obedience. There is some reason to suppose that a god of vengeance was one of those deities most reverently regarded by his people; and yet he finds and worships a God of love! He, like all of us, had Christ, the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He, unlike most of us, followed the Christ light within him. Following the Divine light, it grew ever clearer, and his vision became stronger to perceive and his heart to follow it. Amongst a multitude of silent deities, One spoke to him through his conscience, with more and more of frequency, and, in the devotee in which He was obeyed, with more and more of clearness, both in the comforts He whispered and the commands He enjoined, till gradually he felt there was but one great God, who governed all, and should receive the homage of all; who was the friendly refuge as well as the omnipotent Creator of men. Gradually his life began to revolve around this unseen Centre, and the outward aspect and inward purpose of his life stood out in palpable difference from that of his fellows. Doubtless he preached his deep conviction, gathered about him some kindred spirits; perhaps had to endure persecution; till at last he got a strong impression borne in upon his conscience that his path of duty and of spiritual wisdom was to leave his native land and seek a new home for what was a new faith amongst men. His coming to Ur of the Chaldees, and then to Canaan, may be compared with the expedition of the Pilgrim fathers. Like them he sought "freedom to worship God," and like them founded a great nation in doing so. In any view of his character, his decision, his devotion, the clearness of his faith, the promptness of his obedience, are marvellous. But they become much more so when we mark the fact that Joshua here brings out, that Abraham began his career in heathen darkness - that the father of the faithful began life as a mere pagan. Observe -
II. SOME LESSONS OF THIS FACT. For evidently it has many. We can only suggest them.
(1) A little grace and a little light go a long way when well used. How little had Abraham to begin with! But, using what he had, it grew more, and was enough to do more for him than light a thousand times as clear does for some of us today. A man who has light upon his next step of duty has really an "abundance of revelation." Do not go in for being omniscient, postponing all obedience until you get light on all truth. Use your little light well whatever it is, and so you will get more.
(2) Obedience is the mode of self enlightenment. "If any man will do God's will, he shall know God's doctrine." So says Christ. Doing duty is the way of discovering truth. Since the creation of the world there has been no other. Take this.
(3) All the sacraments are means of grace, not conditions of salvation. The Church has always been tempted to exaggerate the helpful into the essential, until it says, "Extra ecclesiam, nulia salus." Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, arguing with those who held the sacrament of circumcision essential to salvation, quotes Abraham as reaching all his spirituality and acceptance with God, "not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision," i.e, not by sacraments, but without them altogether. Sacraments are aids. The mercy that gave them to be such will, in the absence of them through error or inadvertence, use some other way of enriching and enlightening the obedient heart.
(4) However sunk in superstition the heathen may be, they are capable of religion. The difference between the Christian and the heathen in the matter of spiritual advantages is not a difference between having all and having nothing, but between having more and having less. They have the Christian inward light - movings of God's spirit, lessons of God's providence. God speaks to them, and "wakes their ear in the morning." They lack the testimony of God's saints, their examples, the revelation of God's highest law, a clear light on immortality; above all, the light which comes from the life and death of the Son of God - "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." This fuller light would multiply vastly the number of the devout amongst them, and give a higher character to their devotion. But they may be saved, as we are taught explicitly both by Peter and by Paul, by a Saviour they feel and follow, though they do not know the story of His love.
(5) The heathen being thus capable of religion, and our higher advantages being influential to produce it, we ought to extend to them the full light of the Saviour's glory. Our neglect of Christian missions grows from our despair of heathen men. We ought to think of the millions in heathen darkness as Abraham's brethren, and capable of appreciating and responding to all that is true and gracious. If we rightly reverence them, we should not eat our morsel of the bread of life alone, but should share it with them. Let us seek to extend the knowledge of the gospel of Christ, and we shall yet behold many an Abraham rising up in heathen lands. - G.
I. AN APPEAL FOR HEARTY RE-DEDICATION TO THE SERVICE OF GOD.
(1) Its necessity arises from the proneness of man to settle down upon his lees, neglecting the watchfulness observed on his first profession of religion. Enthusiasm cools; men sleep and tares are sown among the wheat; the Christian athlete rests content with the laurels already gained; the warrior, having defeated the enemy, allows him time to gather his forces for another battle. The temple was beautifully cleansed, but inattention has allowed it to grow filthy, and it needs a thorough renovation.
(2) Its leading motive is gratitude for Divine goodness in the past. How skilfully Joshua, in the name of Jehovah, enumerates the chief national events wherein His mercy had been conspicuous. Brethren, review the past! Your mercies have been numberless, like the drops of the river flowing by your side. If you can tell the stars, then may you catalogue the blessings you have received. The retrospect teaches the character of your God, and may inspire you with hope for the future. Reverence the Almighty, and your highest expectations will not be disappointed but far surpassed.
(3) Its method prescribes severance from idolatry and a sincere determination to follow the Lord fully. Self examination will reveal many sins still cherished in the heart, like the gods which Israel had allowed to remain in the camp. It were well for us, like David, to go in and sit before the Lord (2 Samuel 7:18). In the presence of Him who has leaded us with benefits temporal and spiritual, our vision will be clarified, and we shall be filled with an earnest desire to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit." All avowals of a change of heart are to be distrusted which axe unaccompanied by evident renunciation of evil habits. The outward act not only affords an index of the inward feeling, but also materially contributes to its strength.
II. AN ALTERNATIVE PRESENTED. Notwithstanding all that had been done for the Israelites, some of them might deem it "evil," unpleasant, irksome, laborious to serve the Lord. Hence the option of forsaking Him, and bowing before the gods whom their fancy should select. The alternative suggests that, in the opinion of the speaker,
(1) some kind of service is inevitable. Without acknowledging some superior powers, the Israelites could not remain. Absolutely free and independent man cannot be, though his idol may assume any form or character. In every breast there is some predominating principle or passion, be it piety, morality, intellectualism, aestheticism, or love of selfish pleasure.
(2) The freedom of the will is seen in the power of choice. Choose man must; but he can choose what seems best to him. God has a right to demand our homage; but He is content to let us decide for ourselves the equity of His claims. He appeals to the judgment and the conscience. He makes His people "willing in the day of His power," not by enchaining their wills and constraining obedience, but by appropriate motives and inducements, leading them to consider it their glory to lay themselves at His feet "Who then is willing to consecrate this service this day unto the Lord?" (1 Chronicles 29:5). Freedom of choice is too frequently a beautiful and dangerous gift, which, like a sword in the hands of a child, injures its possessor. Yet we are unable to divest ourselves of the responsibility that attaches to free agency. Some plan of life is ruling us, even if it be a resolve to live aimlessly. We may deliberately weigh our decision, bringing to bear upon our comparison of conflicting claims all the strength of our moral nature and power of discernment, or we may refuse to face the points at issue, and let our judgment go by default, imagining that we shall thus escape the onus of a formal determination; but in the latter case, no less than in the former, we have made our choice, and are serving some master, though we recognise it not. The alternative indicates
(3) that neutrality and compromise are each impossible. If God be not the object of adoration, then any occupant of the throne must be considered as God's enemy. Multitudes think that if they are not found openly opposing religion there is naught to be complained of in their attitude and conduct. Herein they are terribly at fault. "He that is not with Me is against Me." Those who advance not to the help of the Lord are treated as His foes (cf. Judges 21:8 and 1 Samuel 11:7). Nor will God accept a divided allegiance. Dagon must fall from his pedestal when the ark of God's presence enters the chamber of the heart. How could the Israelites be true at once to Jehovah and to idols? "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Religion modifies the character of every action, transforming it into an offering laid upon the altar to the glory of God. All that we have and are we send to the Royal Mint, and receive it back, stamped with the Sovereign's image, and fashioned according to His desire.
III. A FIXED RESOLVE. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua set a noble example, which powerfully affected his followers. The expressed determination of a pastor, a teacher, a parent may produce widespread beneficial results upon those under their charge. Joshua showed himself fit to lead men. He did not wait to see what the majority of the people would approve before he committed himself to a particular course of action; but boldly stated his intention to cleave with full purpose of heart unto the Lord. The Ephraimites, slow to come to the rescue in the hour of danger, but swift to claim a place of honour when a victory has been won (Judges 12:1, 2), have found many imitators in every age. Men who wait to see in which direction the current of popular feeling is setting ere they risk their reputation or their safety by taking a decided step. We may dislike isolation, but are not alone if the Father is with us. Joshua's resolve was never regretted. What man has ever been sorry that he became a follower of Christ? Even backsliders confess that they were never happier than when they attended to the commandments of the Lord. True religion furnishes its votaries with self-evidential proofs of its Divine authority in the peace of mind and satisfaction of conscience which they experience. To enjoy the favour of God is felt to be worth more than any earthly friendship or worldly gain.
CONCLUSION. This theme is suitable for the beginning of a year, when untrodden paths invite you to choose a method of travel. Or perhaps some crisis is occurring in your life, when you are entering upon a fresh sphere of employment. Use it as a time to commence a period of devotion to God's service. Young people, decide which is the more honourable, to serve God or the world. Do not spend the finest of your days in a manner which will hereafter pierce you with remorse. - A.
I. THE CALL.
(1) It is a direct appeal. Religion is practical, and preaching must be practical. We must not be satisfied with the exposition of truth. We must aim at persuasion such as shall affect the conduct of men. For this purpose there is room for direct exhortation. Men are ready to admit the truth of propositions which lie outside the sphere of their own experience. The difficult matter is to translate these into principles of conduct and to apply them to individual lives. The Bible is sent for this ultimate purpose. As a message from God the Word of God is not merely a revelation of truth; it is supremely a call from the Father to His children. God is now calling directly to us by the undying voice of Scripture, by providence, by His Spirit in our consciences (Revelation 22:17).
(2) The call is based on a review of past experience. After this review Joshua says, "Now, therefore, fear the Lord," etc. God's goodness to us in the past is a great motive to incline us to serve Him
(a) because it lays us under a great obligation to Him (1 Corinthians 6:20), and
(b) because it reveals His character as that of a Master worthy of devotion and delightful to serve.
(3) The call is urged with the last words of dying man. Joshua is old and about to die. At such a time an address would naturally be characterised by supreme earnestness. What is then urged would be felt by the speaker to be of first importance. Mere conventionalism, objects of passing political expediency, trifles and crotchets sink out of view. The dying message of the old leader must concern the highest welfare of the people. With all the force of these circumstances Joshua selects the need to fear and serve God for His one urgent exhortation. Surely this fact should lead us all to put it before ourselves as a question of first importance, taking precedence of all considerations of worldly pleasure and interest.
II. THE OBJECT OF THE CALL.
(1) The end to be aimed at is to "fear and serve the Lord." The fear characterises the spirit of internal devotion, the service covers the obedience of active work. The fear precedes the service; because we cannot rightly serve God with our hands till we are devoted to Him in our hearts. The fear of God here required is not the abject terror which the slave feels for the tyrant, but reverence, awe, worship, the dread of displeasing, and the humble submission of our souls. This must be found in all true devotion. Yet it is most prominent in the stern Hebrew faith (Psalm 2:11). For the Christian, love is the leading motive, though this love must be an awed and reverent affection. After the fear, then, must follow the service; for God will not be satisfied with passive veneration, He requires active obedience.
(2) The essential characteristic of the fear and service here noted is sincerity. There is always danger of worship becoming unconsciously formal even when it is not knowingly hypocritical; because pure worship involves the highest effort of spirituality, great abstraction from sense, and a purity of thought which is very foreign to the habits of sinful beings (2 Timothy 3:5). Yet God abhors unreal devotion (Isaiah 29:13), and can only be worshipped at all when He is served spiritually (John 4:24).
(3) The necessary condition of this fear and service is a departure from all things inconsistent with it. The people must give up all lingering habits of idolatry. We must repent and forsake our old sins. We cannot retain devotion to the world and to sin whilst we devote ourselves to God. No man can serve two masters. Therefore choose. - W.F.A.
I. SOME PLAN OF LIFE SHOULD BE SOBERLY THOUGHT OUT AND FOLLOWED WITH DECISION. Our "miscellaneous impulses" always prove a poor guide. There can be neither progress, peace, strength, nor usefulness if life is desultory. We cannot employ anything to good advantage, much less life, unless we know its nature, what it is made for, what can be done with it, its resources and its proper ends. The first question of the 'Shorter Catechism,' "What is the chief end of man?" stands as the first question of the catechism of life. Until we form some aim and keep to it, tomorrow will be always moving in a different direction from today, will lose what today has won. An aim permits life to be cumulative, always gathering richer force, fuller joys - always completing and rounding off its conquests. Joshua here assumes that a plan of life is essential to the proper pursuit of it, and on this assumption his appeal is based. Take note of this, for a planless is a powerless life. Observe -
II. HE CLAIMS THEIR LIFE FOR GOD. "Now, therefore, serve Him." He does not timorously present any alternative. There is no reasonable alternative to this. One plan, and only one, of life should be entertained by a serious nature. The only wise and only rational plan of life is the service of God. A multitude of reasons concur to commend it.
(1) Conscience requires it, as the only right course. Serving God, every law will be kept, every duty done, every claim met, every wrong avoided. Conscience points like a compass needle to the throne of God, and its every suggestion is in one form or other a suggestion to do His bidding. It is a solemn fact that the holiest and the deepest instinct of our nature bids us serve God.
(2) Gratitude requires it. God had delivered them, led them, helped them, enriched them; given them liberty, victory, home. In addition to these national blessings, He had to each individual given life, faculty, joys, home loves, duties that dignified, comforts that gladdened life. The instinct of gratitude is to ask, What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits? We have still larger benefits - a Saviour, a home above. Gratitude should constrain us to serve God.
(3) Wisdom should constrain us to serve Him. Serve self - and server and served are both ruined. Serve God - and God is pleased, and we are safe. Service of God developes all our higher faculties; is the only state in which we are safe; is the course in which we are useful. Growth, safety, usefulness, what can compare with them? Pitiable is the state of those who do not serve. They do not live in any proper sense of the word. Therefore Joshua urges on them to serve their redeeming God. And the grounds which suited them 4,000 years ago are all intensely valid today. Consider this claim, and if disposed to dispute it, consider next -
II. THE CHALLENGE HE GIVES TO THOSE UNWILLING TO SERVE GOD. "If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose ye whom ye will serve; the gods whom your fathers served, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land ye dwell." Thus he presents them with the discredited deities around them, and bids them choose. Will they choose the gods that Abraham forsook - forsook because power. less to help, degrading in their influence? by forsaking whom he found all his grandeur, all his blessedness, all his reward? or will they take the gods of the Amorites whose powerlessness to protect their servants had been just witnessed, who betrayed those who trusted in them? With what force does the mere form in which he urges his challenge deter men from it! Would that all who reject the Saviour would realise what they are about! If it seems not good to you to serve Christ, whom will ye serve? The gods your fathers left? The gods whose powerlessness to bless men is manifest around you? Such a goddess as Pleasure, which fools think the best to worship, which fritters away all strength of soul, destroys conscience, and heart, and intellect, and body alike - would you choose that? or Money, coyest of all deities? whom he that seeketh rarely findeth, and he that findeth never finds so rich as he had hoped? who seems to be a god that can give everything, but it is found to be unable to give any one of the things most desired by us? Or Power, the deity sought by the ambitious, who never permits any one to say, "He is mine" in anything like the degree he had hoped, and even when possessed is found to be insipid as the insignificance from which men fled? Is it Indulgence? the deity that degrades men? or Self will, the deity that destroys them? Choose which. There ought to be no trifling. We must serve some God. Who is to be the source of all you hope for if you put away the Saviour of Calvary? To use the experience of others is the part of a wise man; to buy experience dearly for yourself is the part of a foolish man. There is none amongst all the deities that clamour for your service which the wise and the good have not forsaken, or the foolish and the worldly have not repented of cleaving to. Betake not yourself to such, but serve the Lord. - G.
I. THE SERVICE OF GOD IS A MATTER OF FREE PERSONAL CHOICE, "Choose you this day," de. The simple alternative they were called on to decide was, either the service of the Lord Jehovah, or the service of the false gods of Egypt and of the Amorites. No middle course was open to them. There could be no compromise. It must be one thing or the other - let them choose. And substantially the same alternative is before every man in every age. There is something to which he pays supreme homage, and it is either to the great invisible King, the only living and true God, or else to the idols, more or less base, of his own self will or of the vain world around him.
(1) It is the glory of our nature that we can make such a choice. God has so constituted us that this self determining power is one of our most essential prerogatives. And in His dealings with us he always respects the nature He has given. He never violates the law of its freedom. That were to destroy it. No man is compelled to serve Him, nor yet forbidden by any imperious necessity of his being or life to do so. Human nature knows nothing either of necessary evil or irresistible grace.
(2) This freedom of choice gives worth to every religious act. There would be no moral worth in anything we do without it. The basis of all personal responsibility, it is also the condition of all moral goodness and acceptable service. God would have nothing at our hands that is not voluntarily rendered. If we would serve Him at all, His service must be our free unfettered choice.
II. IT IS A CHOICE DETERMINED BY RATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS. "If it seem evil," etc. Joshua sets the alternative with perfect fairness before them that they may weigh the conflicting claims and judge accordingly. If these gods of the heathen are really nobler, better, more worthy of their gratitude and trust than the Lord Jehovah, then by all means let them follow them! But if the Lord be indeed God, if they owe to Him all that gives sanctity to their national character, and glory to their national history, then let them put these "strange gods" utterly and forever from them, and cleave to Him with an undivided heart. It is a deliberate judgment between contrary and wholly irreconcilable paths to which they are called. Religion is our "reasonable service" (Romans 7:1). It is no blind act of self surrender. It involves the consent of all our powers - the mind embracing divinely discovered truth, the heart yielding to gracious heavenly influence, the conscience recognising a supreme obligation, the will bowing to that higher will which is "holy and just and good." No man is called to declare for God without sufficient reason.
III. IT IS A CHOICE WHICH CERTAIN CRITICAL OCCASIONS MAKE TO BE SPECIALLY IMPERATIVE. "Choose you this day," etc. "This day" above all other days - because the motives to it are stronger today than ever; because the matter is one that it is neither right nor safe to defer to another day. While self consecration to the service of God is a perpetual obligation, there are seasons of life in which it is peculiarly urgent, when many voices combine with unwonted emphasis to say, "now is the accepted time," etc.
(2) times of adversity,
(3) times of special religious privilege or awakening,
(4) times when new social relations are being formed, and new paths of life are opening.
IV. IT IS A CHOICE ENCOURAGED BY NOBLE PERSONAL EXAMPLES. "As for me and my house," etc. Here is an example
(1) of manly resolution,
(2) of the strength that can dare to stand alone,
(3) of family piety directed by paternal authority and influence.
Such an example has an inspiring effect above that of mere persuasive words. It quickens and strengthens every germ of better thought and feeling in the breasts of men. There is no stronger incentive to religious life than the observation of the exemplary forms it assumes in others (1 Corinthians 4:15, 16; Philippians 3:17).
V. IT IS A CHOICE THAT MUST LEAD TO APPROPRIATE PRACTICAL CONCLUSIONS. "Now therefore put away," etc. (ver. 23). The honesty of their purpose, the reality of their decision, could be shown in no other way. They only have living faith in God who are "careful to maintain good works" (Titus 3:8; James 2:18). - W.
I. THE CALL TO CHOOSE.
(1) We are free to choose. Joshua is the leader of the people, yet he does not command submission to God, and forcibly compel it. He exhorts, but he leaves the choice open. God has left our wills free to choose or to reject Him. This liberty is essential to voluntary service - the only service which is true and spiritual. God would not value forced devotion. The worth of devotion depends on its free willingness. Yet the freedom God accords is not release from obligation, but only exemption from compulsion. Is is still our duty to serve God.
(2) We cannot serve God without voluntarily choosing Him for our Master. This is a consequence of our liberty. We shall never come to be truly Christian by accident, or by the unconscious influence of a Christian atmosphere. Religion depends on a decisive action of the will. This need not be so sudden and pronounced as to take the dramatic form it assumes in the narrative before us, and in some cases of sudden conversion. But the fact must be proved by a consequent decisive course of life.
(3) Indecision is a fatal error. We may not choose the evil, yet we practically abandon ourselves to it while we refrain from choosing the good. In ordinary life indecision is a sure cause of failure; so it is in religion. Though we may doubt many points of doctrine, if only we know enough for choice we must not hesitate in the region of practice.
(4) There is no reason for delay. Joshua called for immediate decision. This is most safe, most easy, and secures the longest life of service (Hebrews 3:7).
II. THE ALTERNATIVES OF CHOICE.
(1) Joshua anticipated the position of those to whom it might "seem evil to serve the Lord." This might arise
(a) from misunderstanding the character of God's service,
(b) from fear of the inevitable sacrifices and toils which it involves, or
(c) from lingering affection for the evil things which must be abandoned on entering upon it.
(2) Joshua challenged the people to choose whom they would serve if they rejected the Lord. It is well not only to defend the truth, but to show the difficulties which must be faced if this is rejected. We should look at our prospect all round. It is not fair to object to the difficulties of Christianity until we have weighed well the consequence of any other course of life. We must have some God. Israel must choose - if not for Jehovah, then for the gods of their fathers or the gods of their neighbours. There is irony in Joshua's way of setting out the alternatives. Either the people must go back to the past, deliverance from which they are now rejoicing at, or they must accept the worship of those gods whom they have defied and defeated in the overthrow of their enemies. If we have not God we must follow the world, Satan - our evil past, or the worst foes of our present welfare.
III. THE EXAMPLE OF DECISION FOR GOD. Joshua chooses independently of the popular choice. He is not swayed by the opinion of the multitude. Rather he would guide it by example. It is weak to refuse to choose till we see how the world will choose. Truth and right are not affected by numbers. Every man must make the great choice for himself.
(1) Joshua first chose for himself. We must be decided before we can influence others aright. Yet let us beware lest in saving others we ourselves become castaways (1 Corinthians 9:27).
(2) Joshua also chose for his house. We should seek to bring strangers to the right way, but our first duty is with our own household. It is a good sign when a man is able to speak for the decision of his house. - W.F.A.
I. HE WHO LEADS MEN RIGHTLY WILL NEVER LACK FOLLOWERS, Some say, Go, and men go not. But when they say, "Come with us," they find men responsive. Advice that costs nothing is futile, but example that costs much constrains. Joshua leads grandly, because he moves before the people. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." It is strange the contagiousness of faith and goodness; the force of unconscious influence. The courage of another wakes courage; the honour of another wakes honour. The faith of others is itself "evidence of the things unseen." A man like Joshua is a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, that "marshals men the way that they were going." However arduous the calling to which you summon men, if you can say, "As for me, I will serve," you will always be answered by some, "We will serve the Lord." Despair not of holy and saving influences. Every one marching on the Divine way of duty, mercy, faith will have more followers than he dared to hope for. It is the grandest illustration of the influence of man on man that we can guide men even to heaven itself by the constraint of a good example. Note this, the good leader has always good followers. [See a beautiful treatment of this subject in Horace Bushnell's sermon on 'Unconscious Influence.'] Secondly observe -
II. A GREAT DECISION SHOULD BE SOLEMNLY AND FORMALLY MADE. He leads them to make a formal covenant with God. He constrains them at once to give up their idols, and in the spot where Jacob had buried the idols which his family had brought with them from Padanaram he buries them; and he sets up a pillar as a memorial. These several things all tend to fortify and consolidate the resolution to which they had come. Sometimes we make a great decision, but fail to keep it through some neglect to fortify it with special solemnities. One great object of the sacraments ordained by the Saviour, unquestionably, was to give to religious decisions this solemn and formal character. They were meant to bring vague feelings to a point; to detach utterly from the world; to attach strongly to the Saviour. If we mean to serve Christ, the idols should be brought out and buried, and the covenant rites of God entered into. There should be openness, for without confession we remain constantly amid entanglements. There should be thoroughness, for a great change is often more easily made than a gradual one. There should be the sacramental covenant and vows that we may have at once the strength and the constraint which come with the feeling that we belong to God. As here the determination was avowed - carried out thoroughly - solemnised in a covenant - so ours should be. Men do not know what they lose by a secret and uncovenanted sanctity. When we are secret disciples there is a perpetual danger of the secresy destroying the discipleship. We lose the protection of a definite position, the power that lies in fellowship, and much of the usefulness which our goodness might carry if it were not counteracted by our reserve. If you are deciding to serve God, let your decision be thorough, open, sacramental. Observe lastly -
III. THE GRAND RESULTS OF THIS GREAT DECISION. Sometimes good resolves are badly kept. They are like "grass on the house tops, which withereth afore it groweth up." Whether they are well kept or not depends largely on whether they are well made. Generally it will be found where they are broken that there was some defective part: sin not wholly left; the surrender to God not absolutely made. Here the great decision is worthily and thoroughly made, and the grandest results flow from it.
(1) They keep the covenant they enter into with God. From the 31st verse we might conclude what from Judges 2:7, 10 we learnt explicitly, that all that generation which made the covenant kept it. We are called to resolve on what seem impossibilities: to deny self; to walk with God; to follow the Saviour's leading. But when the great resolve is well made, the very making of it ensures the keeping of it. "Well begun is half done." Each step well taken developes strength to take the next. Each good deed done imparts the power to do one still better. God supplies the grace on which men depend. His smile heartens; His providence helps them. Be not afraid to enter into covenant with God. Perhaps none ever finally fall away from a great decision, thoroughly and religiously made.
(2) They have a period of freedom from assault in which to complete their occupation of the land. This period has been computed to be thirty-two years (Smith's 'Dict. Bible,' art. Chronology). Godliness is not detrimental, but profitable for all things. A nation devout is a nation sober, united, strong; one left unattacked, or easily resisting an attack. It was of great moment that they should settle down, become accustomed to possession, multiply in strength, secure whatever of the inheritance was still in the enemy's hands. And, following God,. they enjoy the favour of God, and find just the period of rest which they require. Is there not something here to which the experiences of individual men finish many a parallel? Your earthly welfare will not be wrecked by your Christian action. Your honesty will promote, it will not prevent success. No lie and no dishonour is necessary for getting on in life, only the weak and foolish think so. It is not the grasping that inherit the earth, but the meek. It is wisdom, not greed, that has "in her right hand length of days and in her left hand riches and honour." It is one of God's "open secrets" that the shortest way to the enjoyment of anything we desire is simply deserving it. Enter into covenant with God, and keep His covenant, and "thou shalt dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed." - G.
I. THE CHARACTER OF GOD, AND THE KIND OF SERVICE HENCE EXPECTED.
1. He is holy, and consequently demands abstinence from sin. There is in Him entire rectitude of attribute, both in essence and in exercise. The seraphim cry, "Holy is the Lord of Hosts." His vesture is spotless, and He expects His servants to attend Him in uniform unstained (see Leviticus 19:2). Also note the incidents of Moses at the burning bush, Nadab and Abihu consumed for offering unhallowed fire, and the men of Beth-shemesh constrained to exclaim, "Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?" The sinlessness of Jesus proclaims Him Divine, and sometimes evokes the petition, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and condemns every act that is inconsistent with the relations in which we stand to Himself, to our fellow creatures, and the material world.
2. He is jealous, and therefore exacts whole-hearted allegiance. Annexed to the second commandment was a statement of Jehovah's jealousy, which could not permit His glory to be paid to graven images. When the tables of the law were renewed it was expressly affirmed, "The Lord whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." The word means, glowing with heat, hence the Almighty is compared to a "consuming fire" that subdues every work of man. Idolatry was the sin to which Israel was prone, and every prostration at the shrine of an idol was a derogation from the honour due to God, and excited His indignation. He is not content with an inferior share of affection, He must be loved and served with all our strength. "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me." The true disciple is ready to forsake all and follow Christ. The will of the Lord is for him law, his only inquiry being, "Lord, what writ Thou have me to do?"
3. He is immutable, and requires unvarying fidelity. "If ye forsake the Lord, then He will do you hurt after that He hath done you good." He rewards every man according to his doings, and visits transgression with punishment. The Israelites were fickle, moved like water by every passing breeze. God is not the son of man that He should repent. He cannot be false to His nature, and look with pleasure on offenders. Past obedience is no answer to the charge of present guilt. Each day brings its own need of sanctification. It is not possible, in God's service, to work so hard one week as to enable us to spend the next in idleness, nor can we accumulate a store of good works to cover deficiencies in a time of sin. "It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them."
II. THE PEOPLE'S DETERMINATION TO SERVE THIS EXACTING GOD.
1. Indicates a feeling that only such a Master is worthy of men's service. Conscience testified that worship should not be offered to other than a perfect Being, and that such a Being could rightly claim these high prerogatives. The rock on which the vessel of mythology has been wrecked is the evil character assigned to its deities, proving them the offspring of human imagination in a debased state. The remembrance of the past, and hopes and fears respecting the future incited the Israelites to continue in their position as the Lord's peculiar people. And have not we experienced that to be the happiest day when we have thought most of God, and most fro. quently lifted our hearts in prayer to Him for guidance and succour? If called to renounce ease or sinful practices, have we not been amply repaid in the consciousness that we have acted rightly, and are walking in the light of God's countenance? To set upon the throne of our hearts one who would be content with meagre devotion and occasional conformity to righteousness might please for a while, but could not durably satisfy our moral aspirations.
2. Intimates a belief that God chiefly regards the sincere endeavours of His servants to please Him. The Israelites could point to Joshua's own demand in ver. 14 - "serve Him in sincerity and in truth." What is really displeasing to the Most High is wilful violation of His commandments, or hypocritical pretences of loyalty when the heart is estranged. These He visits with severest condemnation. Jehovah declared Himself in the same commandment both a "jealous" God, and one "showing mercy." And though the disciples of Christ had often exhibited a spirit of worldlinesss, of impatience and unbelief, yet their Master looking on His little company at the Last Supper could even after their unseemly dispute concerning precedence, recognise what was good in them and say, "Ye are they who have continued with Me in My temptations." He who knows all our works (Revelation 3:8), appreciates the humblest effort to keep His commandments.
3. Suggests an assurance that imperfections of service can be atoned for by confession, sacrifice, and intercession. Joshua's assertion was quite true. Neither the Israelites nor any other nation could serve the Lord perfectly. Limitations of knowledge and frailties of temper produce at least temporary deviations from the path of obedience. But the people no doubt remembered the provision made in the law for sins of ignorance, the trespass offerings, the day of atonement "to cleanse them that they might be clean from all their sins before the Lord." Nor were they unmindful of the prayers which had been heard on their behalf When Moses pleaded for them, and the gracious forgiveness that had often followed their national repentance. And what was dimly foreshadowed in the Levitical economy now blazes brightly for our instruction and comfort under the Christian dispensation. Jesus Christ hath by one offering perfected them that are sanctified. His perpetual priesthood is a guarantee for the final salvation of those who come unto God by Him. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." "Ye are complete in Him."
4. Leads us to anticipate a period of perfect service. However the goodness of God may pardon our faults and, beholding us in Christ, take note of the direction rather than of the success of our attempts, it is impossible for us to rest content with our present experience. The spirit cries out for entire emancipation from the thraldom of sin, and longs for the redemption of the body. When shall we be conformed to the image of Christ, and enjoy to the full what now we know only by brief moments of rapture and sudden hasty glimpses? This question is answered by the promise of a manifestation of the sons of God," when, in unswerving obedience to His Father's will, they shall realise truest liberty. You who so delight in Christian work as to wish you could spend all your time and energy therein, look to the years to come! "They serve Him day and night in His temple." "His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face." - A.
I. THERE ARE DIFFICULTIES IN THE SERVICE OF GOD. All are freely invited to serve God; all may find ready access to God; there is no need for delay, all may come at once and without waiting to be worthy of Him; after coming through Christ, the yoke is easy and the burden light. Yet there are difficulties. Sin and self and the world must be sacrificed; God cannot be served with a divided heart, hence complete devotion must be attained; the service itself involves spiritual endeavours and tasks and battles, before which the strongest fail. It is impossible to serve God in our own strength. We can only serve Him aright because what is impossible with men is possible with God; i.e, we can only serve Him in His strength and through the inspiration of His Spirit.
II. THE DIFFICULTIES IN THE SERVICE OF GOD ARISE FROM THE DISAGREEMENT BETWEEN OUR CHARACTER AND HIS. God does not willingly make His service hard; it would not be hard if we were not sinful. It is difficult while we have evil habits and affections lingering about us, and it is impossible so long as we cling to these voluntarily.
(1) God is holy, therefore He cannot accept service which is tainted with cherished sin (we must distinguish between cherished sin which makes acceptable service impossible, and resisted sin which hinders, but does not utterly prevent, such service).
(2) God is jealous, therefore He will not accept divided service. Israel must choose either the service of the Lord or the worship of the heathen gods. Both cannot be embraced. We must choose. So long as we give one-half of our heart to the world or to sin God will not accept the other half.
(3) God is, in some respects, unforgiving. He forgives the worst sins of the worst men on repentance; but whilst the least sin is cherished God cannot forgive it. No time will soften His resentment. Hence if we come to His service with evil knowingly in our hearts, He cannot overlook it and accept us.
III. IT IS WELL TO CONSIDER THE DIFFICULTIES IN THE SERVICE OF GOD. Israel was too ready hastily to accept God's service without considering all that it involved. If difficulties exist they must be faced. It is best to count the cost before making choice (Luke 14:28). Those representations of the gospel which are confined to invitations and promises, and ignore the call to repentance and to sacrifice for Christ, are false and unjust. Christ would have the new disciple face the cross (Luke 14:27). Such considerations should not deter us from the choice of God's service. They should make us
(1) careful to compare both sides of the question till we see how immensely the obligations and advantages of religion outweigh the difficulties,
(2) humble and free from boasting and presumption, and
(3) wholly dependent on the help of Christ to make us worthy of His service, to give us strength to serve, and to make our service acceptable (Philippians 4:18). - W.F.A.
I. THE TERMS OF THE COVENANT. It was to bind the people to their promise to renounce the old life of sin and idolatry, and to enter upon and remain in the true service of God. Nations are proud of protecting treaties, constitutional pledges, charters of liberty, etc. No nation ever took a more important covenant than this. The chief question for all of us is whether we will live for the world or for God. The gospel brings to us a new covenant. The promises are greater, the terms are more light. Yet we must choose and resolve and yield ourselves in submission to it if we would enjoy the advantages its offers. This covenant has two sides. God pledges His blessings, but we must pledge our devotion. His is the infinitely greater part. Yet if we fail in ours God's promises of blessing no longer apply.
II. THE OBJECTS OF THE COVENANT,
(1) It was to preserve the memory of the pledge. Men make resolutions in moments of exaltation which they are apt to forget when the feelings which gave rise to them have subsided. Yet it is just then that they are most necessary. They are not needed when they are freely made, because the impulse to resolve would carry out the action without the resolution. Their real value is for those seasons of trial and service when the lack of a strong spontaneous impulse makes it necessary to fall back on some fixed principle.
(2) It was to secure the execution of the pledge. It is easy to promise. The difficulty lies in the performance. God is only mocked with the devotion of the sanctuary which is not followed by the service of the daily life. Hence we need to preserve and carry the high impulses of worship into the work of the world. Many men live two lives, and the life of the Sunday has no bearing on that of the week day. We should use all means to bring religion into life.
III. THE FORM OF THE COVENANT.
(1) There was an appeal to memory. The people were to be witnesses against themselves. We should treasure in the memory and often call to mind the thoughts of our seasons of spiritual elevation.
(2) There was a written record. Writing remains unchanged with the varying moods of men. It may he well to write our higher thoughts and deeper resolves for our own subsequent private meditation. The New Testament is a written covenant.
(3) There was a memorial stone. This would be always visible. So the covenant would be often called to mind. We often need to have our memories refreshed and our thoughts called back to the great practical truths of Christianity. Hence the utility of preaching not only new ideas, but truths that all of us know, and yet that all need to be reminded of, and to have often brought before us for practical application. The stone would not lose its value as it became old and familiar. Truth does not grow feeble with age, nor is it the less important because it is the more familiar. - W.F.A.
superior in numbers. Fourth, he united true love for his nation, manifested on repeated occasions, with holy severity when there was just ground for rebuke. Fifth, he was absolutely disinterested in all his service. He never dreamed of handing down his power to his children; his one thought was to do the will of God and to finish His work. When his task was done, he spoke words of solemn warning to his people, and then was gathered to his fathers, or rather to his God. A saintly and noble life truly, and one which teaches us the secret of success in the righteous war with evil. To obey, to be wholly consecrated to God, to believe in the fulfilment of the Divine promises, to fight fearlessly with eye fixed upon the Captain of our salvation, whose strength is perfected in weakness - this is the unfailing secret of success for the Church. Joshua well deserves, not only by his name, but by his faithfulness and devotion to the cause of God, to be the type of our great Leader, "the Author and Finisher of our faith;" the true Joshua, who has conquered for us "a better country, that is an heavenly." - E. DE P.
I. JOSHUA IS AS EXAMPLE FOR US.
(1) His character is an example of
He is the type of the soldier of God, the pattern of active and masculine excellence.
(2) His mission is an example. Christians are called to possess an inheritance, to conquer the earth for Christ, to fight against and overcome the evils and temptations of the world.
(3) His career is an example. We see how Joshua was true to his character and fulfilled his mission. He served through a long life. There are some whose devotion is like morning dew. There are others who are roused for great deeds at critical moments, but are negligent in the longer intervals which are left for quiet service. It is a great thing to be long and continuously faithful. It is selfish to desire an early death. Rather, if it is God's will, should we welcome the opportunity of long service.
(4) His end is an example. Joshua was faithful to death, and faithful in death. His last act was to bind the people to the service of God with a solemn covenant, and pledge his own devotion and that of his house. The Christian's death bed should be a blessing to others.
II. JOSHUA IS A TYPE OF CHRIST. Jesus is our Joshua, with marks of resemblance and of contrast to the Hebrew leader.
(1) Jesus Christ exemplifies in perfection all those good characteristics for which Joshua is famous. Though mild and gentle, our Lord was not weak and effeminate. Fidelity, firmness, courage, energy, are seen in Him to perfection. As the perfect man, he combined and harmonised the excellences of all good types of character.
(2) Jesus Christ, like Joshua, lived a life of warfare. Joshua was a warrior. Christ is a captain of salvation. He met constant opposition from men; He was opposed by the powers of Satan, and he conquered. Yet
(a) Joshua fought enemies of flesh and blood, Christ fought spiritual foes; and
(b) Joshua used the sword, Christ conquered by submission and suffering and sacrifice.
(3) Jesus Christ, like Joshua, is a Saviour.
(a) He delivers from real present enemies. He saves not only from the future consequences of evil, but from our present sins and troubles.
(b) He saves those who trust Him, follow Him, and fight with Him, as Joshua not only fought himself, but led the people to battle.
(4) Jesus Christ, like Joshua, leads His people to an inheritance, but in this there are no Canaanites remaining; it is "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us" (1 Peter 1:4).
(5) Jesus Christ, unlike Joshua, "ever liveth." Joshua lived to old age and died in honour, and was buried, and ceased to. serve his nation. Jesus Christ was cut off in early life and crucified in shame, but rose from the dead, and is now with tits people, and will remain till all have entered into their inheritance (Matthew 28:20). - W.F.A.
I. EVERY LIFE AT LAST FINDS A GRAVE. However strong the frame and long the conflict, at last the priest must lay down the censer, the statesman resign command, the warrior retire from fields of strife. Immortality is not for earthly surroundings, nor for the imperfect spirit and body we have here. If we are to live forever it must be somewhere where character is perfect, and a frame suited for a perfect spirit is enjoyed. It is well that an existence so faulty is so brief. Out of Eden it is better that we should be out of reach of any tree of life that can give earthly immortality. The average life is long enough for the average power of enjoying it. And it is well that it should be "rounded off by sleep." This destiny is too much overlooked. It may be so contemplated as only to injure us. When we anticipate it with dread, without the light of God's smile upon it or of His home beyond it, when it only shrivels up the warmth and energy of life, then its influence is harmful. But it need not have any such influence. If we remember that God is love and death a Divine institution, we shall feel that there must be some service rendered by even death; and this feeling destroying the dread of it, we shall then be in a condition to profit by its helpful influence. Amongst many wholesome influences these may be noted:
(1) It should correct the folly that wastes life. Some make two mistakes. They treat time as if it were eternity, and eternity as if it were time. And this mistake produces a purposeless existence that turns life to no account. The thought of death should wake those wasteful of life. It reminds us that the day of life has its task, that there is a serious account to be rendered of how we spent it. It says, "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead." It bids us live while we live, and work while it is called day.
(2) It comforts the heavy laden. Life has many burdens. Duty is often a heavy load. Regrets, cares, sorrows make between them a burden of huge dimensions. God's saints, though they take more peacefully what is sent them, are not insensible to its troubles. On the contrary, "many are the afflictions of the righteous." Death comes when the burden is too heavy, and whispers, "It is not for long." "The light affliction is but for a moment." The glory is eternal.
"Brief life is here our portion, "Kind umpire of men's miseries, (3) it gives zest to every activity of life. How vapid would life become if death were not the lot of men! How dull the activity which had eternity for its work! How poor the low delight would become if anything fixed forever the conditions which for the moment are sufficient to produce it. But a brief life, ever changing, with no time to waste, gives keenness and zest and joy to all our existence. And lastly, it makes us look for immortality. It raises the eye above. The other world is lighted by those who, dying, enter it. The thought of our own impending death makes us desire some "everlasting habitation" when the stewardship here is ended. So mortality protects immortality, keeps it from being forgotten, undervalued, or endangered. And, like some schoolmaster whose harshness yet helps the learning of some lesson, so death is the great instructor and preparer for the life beyond. Lament not Joshua, or Joseph, or Eleazer. Death is mercy to all such. It is not a calamity, it is the sleep God gives His beloved. If it is well to remember that all life comes to a grave, it is still more important to remember - II. THAT NEITHER LIFE NOR USEFULNESS END THERE. (1) Life does not end there. Who could imagine that that grave at Timnath-serah was the end of Joshua? When ripest and fittest for high employment, to what purpose would have been "the waste of such ointment"? "God gathers up fragments that nothing may be lost;" would He waste such a splendid aggregate of saintly forces? Men could not believe it. Jacob spoke of his approaching death as a being "gathered to his people," as if his great ancestors were all above waiting to welcome him. What nature has whispered to the hearts of all men the Saviour has revealed more clearly. He has "abolished death." And now we rejoice to believe life does not end, but only takes a new departure from the grave. Death in the ease of all God's saints is only the fulfilment of the Saviours promise, "I will come again and receive you unto Myself." If life does not end with the grave, observe (2) usefulness does not end with it. There is something touching in these earliest graves of Israel - Machpelah, Shechem, Timnath, Mount Ephraim. Such graves were thrones, on each of which a great spirit sat and ruled, teaching spirituality, truth, courage, communion with God. The very graves consecrated the land. As of the great cathedral of Florence the poet sang: "In Santa Croce's holy precincts lie So we feel these graves were a leavening consecration which made Palestine indeed a holy land. England is rich in graves. Its soil is rich with the dust of the great and good. "Half the soil has trod the rest
"Kind umpire of men's miseries, (3) it gives zest to every activity of life. How vapid would life become if death were not the lot of men! How dull the activity which had eternity for its work! How poor the low delight would become if anything fixed forever the conditions which for the moment are sufficient to produce it. But a brief life, ever changing, with no time to waste, gives keenness and zest and joy to all our existence. And lastly, it makes us look for immortality. It raises the eye above. The other world is lighted by those who, dying, enter it. The thought of our own impending death makes us desire some "everlasting habitation" when the stewardship here is ended. So mortality protects immortality, keeps it from being forgotten, undervalued, or endangered. And, like some schoolmaster whose harshness yet helps the learning of some lesson, so death is the great instructor and preparer for the life beyond. Lament not Joshua, or Joseph, or Eleazer. Death is mercy to all such. It is not a calamity, it is the sleep God gives His beloved. If it is well to remember that all life comes to a grave, it is still more important to remember - II. THAT NEITHER LIFE NOR USEFULNESS END THERE. (1) Life does not end there. Who could imagine that that grave at Timnath-serah was the end of Joshua? When ripest and fittest for high employment, to what purpose would have been "the waste of such ointment"? "God gathers up fragments that nothing may be lost;" would He waste such a splendid aggregate of saintly forces? Men could not believe it. Jacob spoke of his approaching death as a being "gathered to his people," as if his great ancestors were all above waiting to welcome him. What nature has whispered to the hearts of all men the Saviour has revealed more clearly. He has "abolished death." And now we rejoice to believe life does not end, but only takes a new departure from the grave. Death in the ease of all God's saints is only the fulfilment of the Saviours promise, "I will come again and receive you unto Myself." If life does not end with the grave, observe (2) usefulness does not end with it. There is something touching in these earliest graves of Israel - Machpelah, Shechem, Timnath, Mount Ephraim. Such graves were thrones, on each of which a great spirit sat and ruled, teaching spirituality, truth, courage, communion with God. The very graves consecrated the land. As of the great cathedral of Florence the poet sang: "In Santa Croce's holy precincts lie So we feel these graves were a leavening consecration which made Palestine indeed a holy land. England is rich in graves. Its soil is rich with the dust of the great and good. "Half the soil has trod the rest
(3) it gives zest to every activity of life. How vapid would life become if death were not the lot of men! How dull the activity which had eternity for its work! How poor the low delight would become if anything fixed forever the conditions which for the moment are sufficient to produce it. But a brief life, ever changing, with no time to waste, gives keenness and zest and joy to all our existence. And lastly, it makes us look for immortality. It raises the eye above. The other world is lighted by those who, dying, enter it. The thought of our own impending death makes us desire some "everlasting habitation" when the stewardship here is ended. So mortality protects immortality, keeps it from being forgotten, undervalued, or endangered. And, like some schoolmaster whose harshness yet helps the learning of some lesson, so death is the great instructor and preparer for the life beyond. Lament not Joshua, or Joseph, or Eleazer. Death is mercy to all such. It is not a calamity, it is the sleep God gives His beloved. If it is well to remember that all life comes to a grave, it is still more important to remember -
II. THAT NEITHER LIFE NOR USEFULNESS END THERE.
(1) Life does not end there. Who could imagine that that grave at Timnath-serah was the end of Joshua? When ripest and fittest for high employment, to what purpose would have been "the waste of such ointment"? "God gathers up fragments that nothing may be lost;" would He waste such a splendid aggregate of saintly forces? Men could not believe it. Jacob spoke of his approaching death as a being "gathered to his people," as if his great ancestors were all above waiting to welcome him. What nature has whispered to the hearts of all men the Saviour has revealed more clearly. He has "abolished death." And now we rejoice to believe life does not end, but only takes a new departure from the grave. Death in the ease of all God's saints is only the fulfilment of the Saviours promise, "I will come again and receive you unto Myself." If life does not end with the grave, observe
(2) usefulness does not end with it. There is something touching in these earliest graves of Israel - Machpelah, Shechem, Timnath, Mount Ephraim. Such graves were thrones, on each of which a great spirit sat and ruled, teaching spirituality, truth, courage, communion with God. The very graves consecrated the land. As of the great cathedral of Florence the poet sang:
"In Santa Croce's holy precincts lie So we feel these graves were a leavening consecration which made Palestine indeed a holy land. England is rich in graves. Its soil is rich with the dust of the great and good. "Half the soil has trod the rest
I. THE BURIAL OF JOSEPH'S BONES WAS A JUSTIFICATION OF HIS FAITH. Joseph had been so sure that God would give the promised land to Israel that he had made his brethren swear to bring up his bones with them (Genesis 50:25).
(1) True faith will lead to decisive action. It is vain to profess to believe in our heavenly inheritance unless we behave consistently with our belief.
(2) Faith is concerned with the unseen and the future. If we could see all there would be no room for faith.
(3) Faith is justified on earth by providence. It waits its full justification in heaven. As Joseph's faith was justified in the entrance into Canaan, so the old Messianic faith was justified in the advent of Christ, and the Christian faith will be justified at the "consummation of all things."
II. THE BURIAL OF JOSEPH'S BONES WAS AN EXAMPLE OF DEFERENCE TO THE WISHES OF THE DEAD. It is well that children should respect the wishes of departed parents. Much good may be learnt by considering the thoughts and purposes of our ancestors. The people which has no respect for its past is wanting in reverence and in depth of national life. Yet there must be a limit to the influence of antiquity. The ancients lived in the childhood of our race; wisdom should grow with enlarged historical experience. At best they were fallible men, and cannot claim to extinguish the reason and responsibility of their descendants. New circumstances often render the rules and precedents of antiquity entirely obsolete.
III. THE BURIAL OF JOSEPH'S BONES WAS AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE ONENESS OF MANKIND. Ages had passed since the death of Joseph. Yet his bones were preserved and buried in the very "parcel of ground which Jacob had bought." There is a family unity, a national unity, a church unity, a human solidarity. The past lives on in the present. Men are insensibly linked and welded together. We are members one of another. Therefore we should consider the good of each other, and of the whole community, and should take note of past experience and future requirements.
IV. THE BURIAL OF JOSEPH'S BONES REMINDS US OF THE DELAY WHICH PRECEDES THE ENJOYMENT OF THE HIGHEST BLESSINGS. There were centuries of delay between the promise and the possession of Canaan. Many ages passed after the first prophecy of redemption and before the coming of Christ. The second advent of Christ has often been anticipated by the Church and longed for by His people, but it is not yet accomplished. The Christian must wait on earth during years of service before receiving his heavenly inheritance. This is occasioned
(1) by our unbelief - as the unbelief of Israel deferred possession of Canaan;
(2) by the need of fitness - the people needed to be trained in the wilderness; the world needed preparing for Christ, who came in the "fulness of time;" Christians must be made "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light;" the world, must be prepared for the full and perfect reign of Christ." Yet, note, the promise is not violated because the fulfilment is delayed. Finally, the Christian inheritance will not be the unconscious possession of a grave in the promised land, but the enjoyment of heaven with the faculties of an eternal life. - W.F.A.