Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Leviticus 20:1-5Genesis 22:1-19; Micah 6:7. In this chapter we come to a catalogue of capital crimes. Upon the whole list of cases we need not dwell; but the first has some interest as raising the question of "human sacrifices." How early the terrible practice of offering "the fruit of the body" in atonement for" the sin of the soul" arose, we can scarcely say. It has been supposed to be as early, at all events, as the time of Abraham. Some entertain the notion that the sacrifice of Isaac was primarily a temptation to imitate the custom existing in the land. But if the horrible custom existed in Abraham's day, nothing could more clearly convey that the Divine pleasure rested in other sacrifices altogether than the details of the escape of Isaac. The custom of human sacrifices was widespread, as investigations show. Here and elsewhere the Lord sets his face against them. Let us see if we can grasp the principle involved.
I. HUMAN SACRIFICE IS THE NATURAL CLIMAX OF THE SACRIFICIAL IDEA. "If no scruples," says Ewald, "held a man back from giving the dearest he had when a feeling in his heart drove him to sacrifice it to his God just as it was, then he would easily feel even the life of a beloved domestic animal not too dear to be given up at his heart's urgent demand, Nay, only in the offering up of life or soul, as the last that can be offered, did it seem to him that the highest was presented. But the logical consequence of such feelings was that human life must ultimately be looked upon as incomparably the highest and most wondrous offering, whether the life offered be that of a stranger or, as that which is dearest to one, that of one's own child, or even of one's self. Thus human sacrifice was everywhere the proper crown and completion of all these utterances of the fear of God." The case of Abraham is one in point. When God for wise purposes demanded the surrender of the only begotten and well-beloved son, Isaac, he asked the patriarch for the greatest conceivable sacrifice; and, so far as intention is concerned, Abraham made the surrender. It has been called on the patriarch's part a "magnificent and extraordinary act of romantic morals." While, therefore, it was in reality, as we shall see, a condemnation of human sacrifices as such, it illustrates their real spirit.
II. HUMAN SACRIFICE IS AT THE SAME TIME SUCH A MONSTROUS AND EXTRAVAGANT EXPRESSION OF THE SACRIFICIAL IDEA THAT NOTHING BUT A DIVINE COMMAND WOULD WARRANT THE ENTERTAINMENT OF IT. What distinguishes Abraham's case in connection with the proposed sacrifice of Isaac from that of all other sacrifices of human life is that he had a command of God to go upon, while the others followed the devices of their own hearts. So sacred should human life appear to men, that the idea of taking it away should only be entertained under the most solemn sanctions. Besides, but for the sin-distorted mind of man, it would appear that the consecration of human beings as "living sacrifices," is in itself far higher and nobler than their death (Romans 12:1). To take innocent infants and place them in the flaming arms of Molech must appear a most monstrous and exaggerated expression of the sacrificial idea. But would God, in any circumstances, command human sacrifices? As a matter of fact, men were sacrificed through capital punishment. The present chapter is full of capital crimes. Men died under the direction of God for their crimes. This, however, is not the sacrificial idea, which involves the sacrifice of the innocent in the room of the guilty. This was doubtless what led the infants to be favourite sacrifices with the heathen - the innocency of the sufferer constituted the greater appeal to the angry deity. We observe, then -
III. THAT GOD FORBADE, UNDER THE PENALTY OF DEATH, HUMAN SACRIFICES, AND IN THE ONLY CASE WHERE lie SEEMED TO DEMAND A HUMAN SACRIFICE HE HAD PROVIDED A SUBSTITUTE. He made the offering of children to Molech a capital crime. This was not aimed at the idolatry only, but at the unwarranted exaggeration of the sacrificial idea. Besides, in the ease of Isaac, just when Abraham was about to slay him, God interposed with a provided substitute. All God required in Abraham's peculiar case was the spirit of surrender. He guards, therefore, his prerogative of dealing with life, and enjoins his people only to take human life away when he directs them. They are not to presume to offer such a sacred gift as human lie upon his altar in the way of sacrifice. They may dedicate themselves and their children as living beings to his service, but their death he requires not in such a voluntary fashion at their hands.
IV. AT THE SAME TIME, WE FIND HUMAN LIFE REGULARLY SACRIFICED IN THE ORDER OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE AND AT THE CALL OF DUTY. That is to say, though we have not monstrous and unhallowed sacrifices required of God at his altars, he does make demands on men and women to surrender, like Abraham, their sons, or to surrender themselves at the call of duty. This is indeed as real a sacrifice as in the arms of Moloch, and at the same time a far nobler one. In fact, self-sacrifice seems to be a law of providence in the case of all who would be truly noble in their careers. The voluntary element, coming in along with the sweet reasonableness of the sublime necessity, vindicates the morality of the whole transaction. Men and women cheerfully lay down their lives in gradual sacrifice to duty's call, or sometimes in sudden and immediate sacrifice. And the act is moral as welt as heroic.
V. THIS LEADS TO A LAST OBSERVATION, THAT HUMAN SACRIFICE HAD ITS GREAT CULMINATION AND CLIMAX IN THAT OF JESUS CHRIST, For what God did not require from Abraham - the actual sacrifice of his son - he has required of himself. The demand for a human sacrifice made only apparently in the case of Isaac, was made really in the case of Christ. An innocent, sinless human being was once commanded by his God and Father to lay down his life and bear, in doing so, the sins of man. Hence we find him saying, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again" (John 10:17). It would seem a harsh command, a cruel necessity, were it not that the Father and Son are essentially one, and the commandment that the Son should die was virtually Divine self-sacrifice. "He who is sent is one in being with him who sends." The atonement of Christ is really the self-sacrifice of God. Hence the only human sacrifice demanded is God incarnate responding to himself. The necessity for thus atoning for human sin at the expense of self-sacrifice is in the main mysterious. But its very mystery makes it more deeply profitable to faith. How great must God's love be when it leads him to lay down his own life and die ignominiously in the interests of men! The ram which was offered in the stead of Isaac is the type of the self-sacrificing Jesus who was offered for us. - R.M.E.
I. THAT SIN SOMETIMES LEADS TO A SHOCKING DISTORTION OF THE HUMAN JUDGMENT. How, we naturally ask, could men ever come to believe in the desirableness of such inhuman rites as those here prohibited? That any Divine Being could possibly be conciliated by the infliction of a cruel death, by the offering up of little children to consuming fires, by this presentation on the part of their own parents! How revolting and incredible seem such ideas! There is no account to be given of it but that sin, as it goes on its maleficent path, not only disfigures the life and corrupts the heart, but also degrades and distorts the understanding of men. It ends in the "evil eye" and so in the "great darkness" of the soul (Matthew 6:23).
II. THAT GOD CANNOT AND WILL NOT PERMIT THE GLORY WHICH IS DUE TO HIMSELF TO BE GIVEN TO ANOTHER. "I will set my face against that man" (verse 3). God has emphatically said, "My glory will I not, give to another" (Isaiah 42:8). The "face of the Lord is against" them that withhold their homage from the Creator, and offer worship and tribute to false gods. This,
(1) not on the selfish ground that he can claim and secure something for himself which he desires, after the manner of men, but
(2) on the ground that it is in itself right and fit that men should worship the one true God, and
(3) also because idolatry is not only a guilty but a mischievous principle working every imaginable harm to those who commit it. If we are keeping back from God and giving to another or to ourselves the thought, interest, affection, regard, which is due to him, we must remember that we make the Almighty our enemy; his "face is against us."
III. THAT DELIBERATE TRANSGRESSION MAKES ALL WORSHIP UNACCEPTABLE, IF NOT SINFUL. The man who, while flagrantly violating the Law of Jehovah by "giving his seed unto Molech," presented himself, at the same time, before the tabernacle, was only "defiling the sanctuary" of the Lord and "profaning his holy Name" (verse 3) by such worthless devotion. God did not desire to see in his presence a man who was willfully and wantonly committing such a heinous sin. No man is more welcome to the throne of grace than the penitent sinner who is burdened with a sense of guilt and who craves the mercy and help of the Divine Saviour. But let not that man who is cherishing sin in his soul think that his offering is accepted of the Lord. It is hypocrisy, profanation (see Psalm 1:16; Isaiah 1:11, 12).
IV. THAT UNREPENTED SIN MUST BEAR ITS DOOM. "He shall surely be put to death," etc. (verse 2); "I will cut him off from among his people" (verse 3). There is no provision here stated of mercy for the penitent. Probably none was allowed; the exigencies of the situation demanded death under any circumstances. Under the present dispensation there is an offer of Divine mercy to the penitent, whatever their sins may be, however many, however great. But the impenitent must lay their account with the fact that they have offended One who "will by no means clear the guilty," who will "surely" punish and destroy.
V. THAT CONNIVANCE AT DEADLY SIX IS A GUILTY PARTICIPATION IN WRONG, AND MUST SHARE ITS MISERABLE DOOM. (Verses 4, 5.) There are evils at which no friendship however dear, no kinship however close, may dare to wink. We must unsparingly denounce and even determinedly expose.
VI. THAT THOSE WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CHURCH'S WELFARE MUST WARN-REPEATEDLY AGAINST THE MOST DANGEROUS SINS. Again, "Thou shalt say," etc. (verse 1). - C.
I. PRESUMPTUOUS SINS AND THEIR PENALTY.
1. Parents giving their seed to Moloch.
(1) This infernal god was the King of Tophet (Isaiah 30:33), and, in malignity, not to be distinguished from Satan. The sacrifices he demanded were human. By a refinement of cruelty he required parents to immolate their own offspring. They were offered to him in the horrible torments of fire. Nothing could be more devilish.
(2) In denouncing death as the penalty for this sin, the reason given is that it "defiled the sanctuary and profaned the holy Name" of God (verse 3). The temple and the Shechinah were in the land, and to commit this wickedness there was consequently to commit the highest crime against the most awful sacredness. Also the body of man is the temple of God, and to give that temple to Molech was, in this sense, to defile the temple of God (see 1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 10:21).
(3) The penalty is denounced in order upon the Hebrew first. Having more light, he is in a higher degree responsible, and therefore is the first named to suffer (comp. Romans 2:9). Let not Protestant Christians forget their great responsibility.
(4) But the "strangers that sojourn in Israel" are amenable to the same punishment. They must not abuse their hospitality by showing an example of wickedness. This consideration should restrain the licentiousness in foreign countries of some of our travelers.
2. Persons having dealings with necromancy.
(1) The principals in this. Those "who have familiar spirits," or demons attendant upon them and obedient to their calls. "Wizards," or wise ones, viz. to pry into the "depths of Satan "(verse 27). Such persons are accounted guilty of the highest crime, and were doomed to suffer death by stoning, without mercy.
(2) Their customers. Those who have recourse to such abandoned persons to discover things which it has not pleased God to reveal. Such pruriency into Divine mysteries is defiling (verse 6; chapter Leviticus 19:31).
(3) Those who would be sanctified by God must first sanctify themselves from these abominations. If they refuse to do this, God will sanctify himself of them by cutting them off (verses 6, 8).
3. Children who curse their parents.
(1) Those guilty of this irreverence must be woefully destitute of the fear of God (see chapter Leviticus 19:32). Our fathers according to the flesh are to us representatives of our Father in heaven.
(2) So heinous is this crime that it must be punished with death. There is no atonement for it. "His blood shall be upon him." He must be made himself the sacrifice for his sin. What an admonition to the fast youth of modern times!
4. Excesses in uncleanness.
(1) Death, in one form or another, is the penalty for the horrible crimes specified (verses 10-21). "Their blood shall be upon them;" "they shall be cut off from among their people;" "they shall bear their iniquity;" "they shall be stoned;" "they shall be burnt;" "they shall die childless."
(2) In this last the retribution must come speedily. Their cutting off out of the land of the living must be before any issue could come of their crime. It may also imply that any issue they may have already should be involved in the punishment of their sin (comp. Numbers 16:32; Joshua 7:24).
II. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF WITNESSES.
1. To withhold testimony against sin is to incur its guilt.
(1) It is here taken as complicity in the crime. He that "hides his eyes from the man" that giveth his seed to Moloch, so as to let him escape the hands of justice, is said to "commit whoredom with Moloch" (verses 4, 5). What a lesson is here to "peaceable" Christians who let swearers and other public offenders go unreproved!
(2) He that "hides his eyes," in this case, is visited with excommunication. For complicity in this gross idolatry, here described as "whoredom," God, as a jealous husband, gives his writing of divorcement. "I will set my face against that man,... and will cut him off from among his people." Not only is he expelled from the Church, but also from the nation, if not in addition doomed to suffer a violent death (comp. Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 26:17; Jeremiah 44:11-14; Ezekiel 14:7-9; Ezekiel 15:7).
(3) For this culpable want of zeal for the honour of God, the tacit accomplice in the abominations of Molech involves also his family in his punishment (verse 5). How many illustrations of this principle have we in the history of the kings! (see Exodus 20:7). Sin is a desperate evil, and requires a strong hand to deal with it.
2. The testimony against sin is a sanctification to the witness (verses 7, 8).
(1) The faithful witness thereby sanctifies himself.
(a) He clears himself of all complicity.
(b) He approves himself to God as zealous for his truth, purity, and honour.
(c) He fulfils the part of a true patriot; for nations are exalted by righteousness and ruined by crime. Public duty may cost us inconvenience, but it must not be neglected.
(2) He is sanctified by the Lord (verse 8). God will honour them that honour him.
(a) He will bring them to dwell in the land (verse 22). This possession was the earnest of the better Canaan. It was a "land flowing with milk and honey."
(b) He will watch over them as a proprietor over precious treasure. "They shall be mine" (verse 26; Exodus 19:5, 6; Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalm 135:4). "Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord." - J.A.M.
I. THE LAW OF SOCIETY RESTS ON THE HIGHER LAW OF GOD. All legislation should be thus divinely sanctioned. The Bible is not a statute-book for nations, but a book of principles - to give light to the mind and heart of man as man. We must not enforce human law on Divine grounds, but we can use Divine revelation to ascertain the most satisfactory laws.
II. PUNISHMENTS vary from age to age and country to country, but the reason of punishment remains. The honour of the Law satisfied is the way of life opened.
III. The comparison between the Law and the gospel suggested by this chapter reveals the grace of God, the progress of humanity, the ultimate destiny of the race. The gradual extinction of the sins is the extinction of the laws which provided against them. "If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the Law" (see Galatians 5, and comp. James 1, 2). The perfect law of liberty is a fulfillment of the old law, and therefore a blotting out of the handwriting of ordinances and nailing of them to the cross of Christ. - R.
Leviticus 19:31). Our thought may be directed to -
I. THE PREVALENCE OF IMPOSTURE. There has never been a time nor a land without its "familiar spirits," its "wizards," or impostors of some kind and name. Men have claimed the power of gaining extraordinary access to the spiritual world, or superhuman knowledge of the future, and they have imposed on the ungoverned curiosity of their simple neighbours. The presence of such workers in magic is almost universal. The love of power and the love of money will account for it. So must it be while there is -
II. THE CORRESPONDING PREVALENCE OF CREDULITY. The number of "the simple" is very large everywhere. Men and women are always to be found, in pitiful abundance, who will respond to any claim made upon their belief. There is hardly an absurdity too glaring, a falsehood too palpable to be discredited by all. Let the impostor only he confident and pretentious enough, and he will find a number who will listen with eagerness and believe without question or proof.
III. ITS UTTER DELUSIVENESS. The entire system is false and rotten throughout; it is a mass of trickery, delusion, and disappointment.
1. Those who practice it soon impose upon themselves; they come to believe that they are really admitted to the secrets of the other world, and they are the victims of their own roguery. Sin tests no one so hard as the sinner himself; its rebound is terrible and deadly. He who, with guilty selfishness, would deceive his fellows, will soon entangle his foot in his own net and perish in his own snare (Psalm 7:15; Psalm 9:15).
2. They also grossly deceive their neighbours. They who listen to their voice believe that they are holding intercourse with heaven, or are gaining instruction from those supernaturally endowed, when the truth is they are only dealing with men who are unusually wicked, and who should only be heard to be disregarded or denounced.
IV. ITS SINFULNESS IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. Resort to imposture is positively wrong. In this book God uttered and repeated his Divine prohibition, and he strengthened his law by attaching the heaviest penalties to disobedience: "I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off," etc. The heinousness of the practice probably lay in the fact that it was a deliberate departure from the Lord himself. There was his house, and there were his prophets to resort unto; to pass these by in order to consult pretenders and impostors was to forsake God and to go "a whoring" after other beings and other things. And thus our thought is directed to -
V. THE EXCELLENCY OF A REASONABLE FAITH. The children of Israel had such access to the spiritual world and such knowledge of the future as it was good for men to have. Was not God himself, in manifested presence and in revealing grace, in their camp? Was he not speaking to them as to the future that was before them? Was he not ready to give them prophets who would not impose on them with shameful lies, but guide them with the word of truth? We, too, have all we need without having recourse to subtle and spiritualistic arts. We have:
1. The Word of God upon our tables and in our minds.
2. The devout counsels of wise and holy men.
3. The promised guidance of the Spirit of God.
Fictitious arts are sinful and delusive. The wisdom that is from God is not only sound but sufficient. That which is more than this "cometh of evil." - C.
Leviticus 11:44; Leviticus 19:2). We have -
I. GOD'S IMPERATIVE DEMAND OF SANCTITY. "Sanctify yourselves." "Ye shall keep my statutes, and do them." The Creator of the universe, the Author of our being, the Father and Sustainer of our spirits, has sovereign right to speak to us in such decisive tones. He demands of us that we shall be "holy," i.e.,
(1) that we shall expel from heart and life all those sinful habits by which men have defiled themselves: thus shall we "be severed from other people" (verse 26), whose spirit and life are hateful; and
(2) that we shall approach him, honour him, and pay him the tribute he asks of us, and also act righteously and blamelessly toward our fellows, "keeping his statutes and doing them."
II. THE HIGH INDUCEMENT HE PRESENTS TO US. "Be ye holy: for I am the Lord your God." We may gird ourselves to good and great things, animated by different motives; of these some may be higher, others lower. God summons us to be holy for the highest reason of all, viz. because we shall thus resemble him. "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16). Other reasons abound: holiness
(1) is the best thing in itself;
(2) saves us from many and great spiritual evils;
(3) delivers us from dark and awful penalties;
(4) allies us to the noblest created beings, etc.; but the best and loftiest of all considerations is that
(5) it makes us like God, the Holy One, himself. His spirit is our spirit; his principles, our principles; his life, our life. We are "the children of our Father who is in heaven."
III. HIS PROMISED HELP. "I am the Lord which sanctify you." The action of God upon our souls has been treated, both by the foolish and by the wicked, as a reason for human impassiveness. Foolish men have said, "God is working for us and in us, therefore it would be irreverent for us to attempt to do anything; we should only interfere." Wicked men have said, "God works for us, therefore we may safely live in comfortable unconcern and guilt while we wait his time of deliverance." The "children of wisdom" have said, "God is ready to work with us, there[ore let us strive with all our energies, for, with his help, we shall not strive in vain." This is the apostle's argument: "Work out your own salvation,... for it is God which worketh in you," etc. (Philippians 2:12, 13). All our endeavours might be unavailing; we might contend against the strong current of sin and be baffled and borne along its stream, but if God himself is sanctifying us, we shall prevail. Let us go forth unto the struggle, for we shall assuredly succeed. God sanctifies us in such wise that he acts with us while he acts in us and for us. He sanctifies us by
(1) the truth of his Word (John 17:17): this we are to consult; by
(2) the privileges of the sanctuary (Ezekiel 37:28): of these we are to avail ourselves; by
(3) his providential discipline (Hebrews 12:10): to this we are to submit; by
(4) the indwelling of his Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16): for this we are earnestly to pray and expectantly to wait. - C.
Leviticus 20:9 (latter clause)his sin cannot be forgiven him. It was the blood of the animal that "made atonement for the soul" (Leviticus 17:11). It was the shed blood, therefore, that was associated, in thought, with the penalty due to sin. And when the legislator said. His Mood shall be upon him, he meant his penalty shall rest upon him - it shall not be borne and taken away by the blood of the substituted victim. In other words, "He shall bear his iniquity," or the penalty of his iniquity, himself (see Leviticus 7:18). There have always been, and there will always be, in the world "the unforgiven;" men, like Cain, who bear about them the brand of an unpardonable offense; sons and daughters who have erred and have not been taken back into parental love; criminals that have lost the place in society which they have no hope of regaining; forlorn wretches that have so sinned against their conscience that they cannot forgive themselves, and have abandoned themselves to a terrible despair. But what of the Divine forgiveness or refusal to forgive? We are taught -
I. THAT PROVISION WAS MADE IN THE LAW FOR THE PARDON OF MANY OFFENSES. This was the end of all the sin and trespass offerings, and on the Day of Atonement "all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions" were "borne away" into the uninhabited land, into the wilderness of oblivion (Leviticus 16:21, 22).
II. THAT UNDER THE LAW THERE WERE OFFENSES WHICH COULD NOT BE THUS ATONED, AND WERE NOT FORGIVEN. Those who wrought shameful acts of idolatry or immorality could bring no oblation to the altar; they could look for no mercy; no blood of atonement was availing; their "blood was upon them ;" they died before the Lord.
III. THAT, UNDER THE GOSPEL, MERCY IS OFFERED FOR THE WORST TRANSGRESSORS IF THERE BE PENITENCE AND FAITH. The one "unpardonable sin" (Mark 3:29) is either
(1) a sin which was possible in the days of the Incarnation and is absolutely beyond commission now, or
(2) consists in that hardening of the heart against the Spirit's influence which results in final impenitence. But where there is repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, there is an open gate into the kingdom of God's mercy, into eternal life. No heinousness of offense, no multiplicity of transgressions, bars the way. "By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the Law of Moses" (Acts 13:39).
IV. THAT MANY SOULS, THOUGH WALKING IN THE LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL, ARE CONTENT TO RANK AMONG THE UNFORGIVEN. In the light, in the full sunshine of privilege and opportunity, there are thousands of men who do not find, because they will not seek, the mercy and the friendship of God. They live unforgiven; "their blood is upon them." They go through life
(1) with an oppressive sense of condemnation upon them;
(2) excluding themselves from purest spiritual blessedness (Psalm 32:1, 2);
(3) voluntarily unfitted for the highest service man can render his brother.
V. THAT THE IMPENITENT PASS INTO THE FUTURE WITH UNFORGIVEN SIN UPON THEIR SOUL. How terrible to pass beyond the line which bounds the period of probation with our "blood upon us;" to pass on
(1) to condemnation and reproach at the bar of God,
(2) to exile from the heavenly city,
(3) to the retribution which the justice of God must inflict!
Go, in the day of grace, to the "Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," through whom there is "remission of sins" (Luke 24:47). - C.
Leviticus 20:23 (latter part)
I. ITS SOMEWHAT STARTLING STRENGTH. "I abhorred them." Does God positively abhor man? the Creator his creature? the Father his child? Are we to understand that the Lord, who is "gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy," feels an actual abhorrence of those beings to whom he is so nearly and intimately related, those human spirits he formed for himself, to reflect his own image and to enjoy his own immortal blessedness? The word startles us; it may well alarm us; it suggests the question, Is it possible that we also may become such that our God may be compelled to look on us with a displeasure which amounts to abhorrence? We look at -
II. THE SAD AND SOLID TRUTH WHICH IT CONTAINS. "God hates the sin and loves the sinner," we say, and truly. Yet this sentence does not cover the whole truth of the case. God does pity the sinner, and seeks to save him. But he is displeased with him also. Of anything like malignity or ill will we rejoice to know that the holy and gracious One is absolutely incapable; but we are bound to believe that he feels a sacred and holy resentment against those who violate the laws of righteousness.
1. Scripture plainly affirms that he does. "Therefore I abhorred them;" "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psalm 7:11); "the Lord hath been sore displeased with your fathers" (Zechariah 1:2); "they vexed his Holy Spirit" (Isaiah 63:10); "he looked on them with anger" (Mark 3:5); to "them that obey unrighteousness" God will render "indignation and wrath" (Romans 2:8).
2. It is impossible wholly to separate the act from the agent. An act has no moral qualities at all apart from the disposition and character of him who does it. If our indignation is aroused by any shameful deed, it is because some one has wrought that which is wrong, and our feeling must extend to the perpetrator as well as to the crime. In theory it must do so; in fact it does so. We cannot see our own children doing that which is guilty without being displeased with them as well as excited with indignation against the wrong they have done. Our feelings of holy anger, indignation, righteous grief, etc., may not be precisely, identical with those which are in the heart of God when he looks down on the sins of his human children, but they answer to them; they correspond with them; they enable us to understand how he, our Divine Father, feels toward us when we do those things which are offensive and grievous in his sight. Let us lay it well to heart that by
(1) our positive transgressions of his holy Law,
(2) our keeping back from him the love and the service which are his due,
(3) the continued rejection of his overtures of mercy and reconciliation in Christ Jesus, we are offending, displeasing, grieving God. These our sins are drawing down upon our own souls the awful anger., the high displeasure, of that Almighty God in whom we live, who has ourselves and our future in his right hand of power, whom it is our chief duty, and should be our first desire, to conciliate and please. We glance at -
III. THE WELCOME TRUTH WITH WHICH IT IS CONSISTENT. While God bates sin and is divinely displeased with the sinner, he yet pities the sinner and seeks to save him. He condemns, but he invites. "Is Ephraim my dear son?... since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still" (Jeremiah 31:20). As a human father over his lost son or erring daughter, only with immeasurably deeper love, he yearns over his wayward children, and goes out to welcome them home, when, returning to themselves, they return unto him (Luke 15:11-24). - C.
I. THE EXCELLENCY OF OUR ESTATE. "A land that floweth with milk and honey." God gave the Israelites an excellent inheritance when he led them into the land. of promise. For beauty, variety of scenery, fertility, etc., it was all that could be desired. Our present estate as citizens of time is one rich and full, a "land flowing," etc. We have:
1. The beauty and grandeur of the world.
2. Human love in its manifold forms, conjugal, parental, filial, fraternal, etc.
3. Sufficiency of all kinds of palatable food.
4. Intellectual gratifications.
5. Spiritual relationships and the sacred, enduring joys which belong to these.
II. THE TENURE UNDER WHICH WE HOLD POSSESSION. "I will give it unto you to possess it." We reckon that we "possess" many things. We call them "ours." We endeavour to secure them to ourselves by carefully drawn documents and witnesses. But what, when all has been done that can be done, is the tenure under which we hold everything? It is not the consent of man, but the will of God. God said to Israel concerning the country of the Canaanites, "Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it." He thought well to take it away from its former occupants and give it to them. There were, no doubt, the best reasons for this exchange; but Jehovah evidently assumed his perfect right to dispose as seemed well to him of his own. God always has the best grounds on which to deal with us, raising up or laying low; he never acts capriciously; but he often acts without assigning reasons to us, and in such wise that we cannot make any conjecture thereupon that is even probably true. We must recognize the fact that we hold everything at his will, and be perfectly ready to lay it down or to hand it on to another at the bidding of the Supreme. This is true of
(1) our property and position,
(2) our mental powers,
(3) our health, and
(4) our life on earth.
III. THE PAINFUL NEED TO SEPARATE OURSELVES FROM OTHERS. "I am the Lord your God, which have separated you flora other people." By their daily habits and social customs (verse 25), the Jews were cut off from intercourse with other people: intermarriages were strictly prohibited (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4); they were to maintain a studied separateness from all surrounding nations. The conscientious service of God our Saviour involves some separateness on our part.
1. We have to form ourselves into separate societies, Christian Churches. From these we are bound, in faithfulness, to exclude those who do not profess to love our Lord Jesus Christ. This will produce resentment on their part, and cause them to ascribe to pride that which is due to simple loyalty to the Master.
2. We have to separate ourselves from those persons and things whose association would be injurious to the cause of Christ; from
(1) unholy friendships,
(2) institutions and customs which have evil features or evil tendencies,
(3) the abounding spirit of worldliness and selfishness.
We are bound to make it clear and plain to all that we are "on the Lord's side," and on the side of all those righteous and holy principles which he commends to us. - C.