Thou art old and stricken in years
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D.D.)
There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed. —I. REVEALED TRUTH YET TO BE LEARNED. We have not yet secured all the sacred knowledge which God has made possible, and which it would be profitable for us to acquire. Here is this book set out before us, the great region of revealed religion. May we not say that "there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed"? Who among us is familiar with all its histories, is acquainted with all its facts, knows all its truths, has seen all its beauties, or learned all its lessons? Some of you have been through the pass of Llanberis — perhaps twenty times. Did you ever see it twice alike? Always the same thing; and yet a different appearance, because seen under different circumstances. If you were to go through it twenty times twenty times, it would never appear twice alike. The light would be falling on it at different angles, and thus make a difference. On a cloudy day you would see something you did not see on a bright day, and on a rainy day you would see something you did not see on a fine day. It is thus with this book. You say that you read the Bible through last year, and you ask, "What is to be gained by reading it through again this year?" Have you the same hopes? the same joys? the same sorrows? the same aspirations? the same motives? and the same experiences? I care not how often you have read it, you have never read it as you feel now, with your present experience and in your present circumstances.
II. A HOLY CHARACTER TO BE ACQUIRED. There remaineth much of that to be possessed. Men in ancient times had not a Divine standard to measure themselves by, or a Divine pattern to contrast themselves with, and learn how deficient they were and full of blemishes. We have had a perfect pattern set before us. In the life of our Lord Jesus Christ we have the map of the good land; see it in its length and breadth, and realise how true it is that there are glorious portions of it over which our flag has not floated, provinces which we have not made our own.
III. CHRISTIAN USEFULNESS. I am not going to slander the Christian Church, and tell you that former times were better than these. There is nothing gained by telling lies for God. If you want to quicken God's people you must not talk as if the Church were more sleepy now than it ever was before. I do not believe it. As I read ecclesiastical history, I cannot find many periods when the Church, as a whole, was more vigorous and devoted than now. Let us not ignore what God has done for us, and enabled us to do. "Not unto us, but unto Him be the praise and glory." But when we take into account all that has been done and all that has been attempted against the world's ignorance, vice, and ungodliness, may we not still say, "There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed"? It is not the season for slothfulness, selfishness, or prayerlessness; the call is urgent and great. "There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed." Why did God keep His people to that struggle? He gave the people the land, and then they had to fight for it. They crossed the Jordan with the best title-deeds man ever possessed; they came from heaven, they were given by Him to whom all the earth belongs. The title-deed of the people said, "The land is yours"; and after God had given it to them they had to buckle on the sword, sharpen the spear, and go and win every acre of it. This is God's way — He gives it to you, and yet He says, "Get it; work it out with fear and trembling." Why does He treat us so? I cannot tell; but this I know, that if we cease to work the powers of evil never will.
I. CANAAN, AS THE ISRAELITES FOUND IT, REPRESENTS THE STATE OF MAN'S HEART WHEN THE GRACE OF GOD ENTERS IT. Think of a soul like thine, made at first in the image of God; a being such as thou art, once occupying a rank in creation next to and but a little lower than that of angels; a heart like thine which, though blighted by sin, still retains some traces of departed glory, alienated from the true God, held captive of the devil, ruled by unholy passions, full of corruptions as difficult to root out as were these sons of Anak who, in Goliath and his giant race, disturbed the peace of Israel and defied the armies of the living God many long years after the land was, in a sense, both conquered and possessed. The Hebrews did not enter Canaan to find an empty land, which they had nothing to do but to occupy; nor does Jesus, when He enters our heart by His Spirit and saving grace. It is in possession of His enemies. They are there to dispute His rights, and resist His entrance — sons of Anak, indeed; more formidable still; for giant sins are less easily conquered than giant men.
II. THE BLESSINGS OF THE KINGDOM OF GRACE, LIKE THOSE OF CANAAN, HAVE TO BE FOUGHT FOR. Bring out every sin before the Lord, and let it be condemned to death; pass the sword of the Spirit through and through it, till it has breathed out its cursed life, and has no more dominion over you. As the apostle says, "Let him that nameth the name of Christ depart from alliniquity." Beware how you leave innate corruption and old sinful habits to draw down on you the anger of a holy God and the afflictions threatened on Israel (Numbers 33:55).
III. THE MOST ADVANCED CHRISTIAN HAS MUCH TO DO IN THE WAY OF SANCTIFICATION. How truly may it be said to the most experienced, aged, honoured Christian, as the Lord said to Joshua, "Thou art old and well stricken in years, and yet there is much land to be possessed. Sin still has more or less power over you, and it should have none; your corruptions are wounded, dying of mortal wounds, but they are not yet dead; your affections are set on heaven, yet how much are they still entangled with earthly things; your heart, like the needle of a sailor's compass to its pole, points to Christ, but how easily is it disturbed, how tremblingly and unsteadily does it often point to Him; your spirit has wings, but how short are its flights, and how often, like a half-fledged eaglet, has it to seek the nest, and come back to rest on the Rock of Ages; your soul is a garden in which, when north and south winds blow to call out its spices, Christ delights to walk, but with many a beautiful flower, how many vile weeds are there — ready to spring up, and ill to keep down; requiring constant care and watching." Indeed, so many impurities and imperfections cleave to the best of us, that it seems to me a change must take place at death only second to what took place at conversion. How that is done is a mystery which we cannot fathom; but it would seem as if grace, like that species of cereus which opens its gorgeous flower only at midnight burst out into fullest beauty amid the darkness of a dying hour.
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. Columbus was not content to pick up a few shells on the beach of the new world — he explored the continent; alas! we are too soon satisfied with coasting for a little on that great continent of the Divine nature.
II. THE STUDY OF THE BIBLE. Christians are too prone to keep to the beaten tracks; they do not make excursions into less familiar paths; some pages well thumbed, others clean and uncut.
III. CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. Canaan was occupied by seven nations of ugly names; but our hearts and lives are cursed by still uglier things. We must not be content until all these are brought under obedience to Christ.
IV. THE HEATHEN WORLD.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
I. Yes, Christians, THERE REMAINETH YET VERY MUCH LAND TO BE POSSESSED — many cities and strongholds, many fine plains, and "springs of water," many beautiful valleys, and very "fruitful hills" — or, to speak less in figure, much of your religion is unattained, unoccupied, unenjoyed; you are far from its boundaries. Very little of it indeed do some of you possess; you command only a small, inconsiderable corner, scarcely affording you a subsistence.
1. Consider your knowledge. After so many years of hearing, what additions have you made to your stores? Are you filled with holy prudence to ponder "the path of your feet," to "look well to your goings," and to discern snares where there is no appearance-of danger? Do you "walk circumspectly; not as fools, but as wise"?
2. Observe your holiness. For the knowledge of persons may surpass their experience; and a growth in gifts is very distinguishable from a growth in grace. Review, then, your sanctification; and suffer me to ask, Have you no remaining corruptions to subdue? Is your obedience universal, unvarying, cheerful? Have you fully imbibed the tempers of your religion? Are there no deficiencies perceivable in every grace, in every duty?
3. Think of your privileges. It is the privilege of Christians to be "careful for nothing." It is the privilege of Christians to "enter into rest." It is the privilege of Christians to "have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." It is the privilege of Christians to "count it all joy when they fall into divers temptations; and to glory in tribulation also." And all this has been exemplified. Men have "received the gospel in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: they have taken pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake"; they have "taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods"; they have approached the flames with rapture; they have loved and longed for "His appearing" — but where are you? Always in darkness and alarms, &c. Do you belong to the same company?
II. Whence is this? Why will you suffer all this remaining religion to be unpossessed? How shall I awaken you from your negligence, and convince you of the PROPRIETY AND NECESSITY OF MAKING FRESH AND CONTINUAL ADVANCES?
1. I place before you the commands of God. You are forbidden to draw back; you are forbidden to be stationary. Something more is necessary than languid, partial, occasional, temporary progression. You are required to be "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord"; to "add to your faith, virtue," &c.
2. I surround you with all the images employed by the sacred writers when they would describe the nature of a religious life. For which of them does not imply progress, and remind us of the importance of undiminished ardour and increasing exertion? Light. Growing grain. Mustard seed. Leaven.
3. I call forth examples in your presence; they teach you the same truth. Who said, "I beseech thee, show me Thy glory "? A man who had "seen God face to face." Who prayed, "Teach me Thy statutes: open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law"? A man who had "more understanding than all his teachers," a man who "understood more than the ancients."
4. I hold up to view the advantages of progressive religion.(1) A Christian should be concerned for the honour of God. He is under infinite obligations to "show forth the praises of Him, who hath called us," &c.; but "herein is" our "Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit."(2) A Christian should be concerned for the welfare of his fellow-creatures. He should be a blessing to his family, to his country.(3) A Christian should be concerned for his own prosperity. And has he to learn wherein it consists? Need he be told that adding grace to grace is adding "strength to strength," dignity to dignity, beauty to beauty, joy to joy? It is an awful proof that you have no real religion if you are satisfied with what you have. A degree of experience, however small, would stimulate; the relish would provoke the appetite; and having "tasted that the Lord is gracious," your language would be, "evermore give us this bread."
III. SOME ADMONITIONS WITH REGARD TO YOUR FUTURE EFFORTS.
1. Shake off indolence. Nothing is more injurious to our progress; and, alas! nothing is more common. Man loves indulgence; he needs a stimulus, to make him arise from the bed of sloth, to exert his faculties, and to employ the means of which he is possessed. And one would naturally conclude that in religion he would find it. As he sits at ease revelation draws back the veil, and shows him the most astonishing realities — an eternal world; whatever can sting with motive; whatever can alarm with fear; whatever can animate with hope. What a Being to please, on whom it depends to save or to destroy! What a state of misery is there to escape! What an infinite happiness to secure!
2. Beware of diversion. Discharge yourself as much as possible from superfluous cares. Distinguish between diligence in lawful business and "entangling yourselves in the affairs of this life." There are not only diversions from religion, but diversions in it; and of these also you are to beware. Here, finding you are unsuspicious of danger, the enemy often succeeds; for his end is frequently answered by things good in themselves. He is satisfied if he can draw off your attention from great things, and engross it with little ones; if he can make you prefer opinions to practice, and controversy to devotion.
3. Guard against despondency. There are indeed many things which, when viewed alone, have a tendency to discourage the mind. We know your weakness, and we know the difficulties and dangers to which you are exposed. But you have the promise of a faithful God.
4. Be afraid of presumption. Our dependence upon God is absolute and universal. "In Him we live, and move, and have our being." His agency is more indispensable in spiritual things than in natural; sin has rendered us peculiarly weak, helpless, and disaffected.
5. It would be profitable for you to "call to remembrance the former days," and especially to review the beginning of your religious course.
6. It will not be less profitable for you to look forward, and survey the close of all. Christians! "it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now is your salvation nearer." Would you slumber on the verge of heaven? The stream increases as it approximates the sea; motion accelerates as it approaches the centre.
"Ne plus ultra" — nothing beyond. But afterwards, when Columbus had discovered America, Spain struck out the negative and left the inscription, "Plus ultra" — more beyond.