Take good heed therefore to yourselves, that you love the LORD your God.
Whilst the words of the youthful sometimes claim our attention, none can forbear to give earnest heed to the advice of him whoso head is whitened with the snows of many winters. Respect is due to the aged, and never more so than when lessons taught them by a long and varied experience drop from their venerable lips. Let us bend our ears to listen to the counsel of Joshua, "old and stricken in age." The period at which it was delivered was one of peculiar interest. The honoured leader of the Israelites felt the time to be drawing near when he must pass away from the people whom he regarded as a father does his children. Knowing how soon they would be deprived of his presence and control, he assembled the people, as Moses had previously done, and like Samuel and David afterwards, and addressed them in words of solemn exhortation, which may be summarised in the language of the text, "Take good heed," etc. The purpose of most addresses is to strike a note of warning, to put men on the alert to guard against some danger. Our sleepy senses get so steeped in forgetfulness that there is constant need of the pealing alarm, "Take heed!"
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CAUTION.
(1) It directs attention to the centre and substance of religion. Our Saviour endorsed "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God" as "the first and great commandment." His condemnation of the Jews was expressed," I know you that ye have not the love of God in you." The first sin consisted in a turning away from God in consequence of the tempter's insinuation that want of love was the motive of the seemingly harsh prohibition. Hence the incarnation and crucifixion were the stupendous exhibition of Divine love intended to regain the love of man. Affection alone can secure ready and earnest and constant obedience "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." Love becomes "the fulfilling of the law." It is the mainspring of a godly life, the fountain whence flow streams of holy activity. Striking is it to observe how love is demanded and insisted on even under the old dispensation. The law giver knew that the sternest threats and severest penalties could not ensure compliance with the commands of the Almighty, unless love were enthroned in the heart as the ruling passion of the life. All the attributes of God require correspending recognition on the part of His creatures; and love as His chief, all-embracing excellence challenges our love in response, and we are guilty if we withhold it.
(2) It is highly necessary on account of man's nature and surroundings. He is engrossed by the senses and their gratifications, and is averse to what is spiritual. To worship God requires an effort of the mind, an abstraction from things carnal. The spirituality of the Divine nature was a source of difficulty to the Israelites. Even though they had seen the cloud, the fire, the Shechinah, they wanted to set up idols, visible images ever present. And as many of the miraculous elements had disappeared, there was the greater tendency to forgetfulness of Jehovah. Today men urge, "How can we love a Being whom we have never seen?" His laws appear in many instances stringent, and to obey is painful. Evidences of thoughtful, loving design seem rebutted by contrary appearances of disharmony and wrath. It is acknowledged to be difficult to hush the voice of passion, and to hear the "still small voice" that betokens the presence of God. The difficulty is increased by our surroundings. If Israel had been alone upon the earth, it might have maintained intact the worship of the true God. But, encircled by idolatrous tribes and abominable practices, there was constant liability to mix with the evil and catch its infection (see vers. 7, 8). Our position is strictly analogous. We are "in the world," and daily brought into contact with those who make self their aim and treat pure religion with contempt. Easily may the contagion spread. The smoke of the city obscures the heavens, and amidst its din the tones of the angels fall but faintly on the ear. If this applies to believers who know and serve God, how mighty the barriers that interpose between Him and His "prodigal" sons! What dire need of sounding aloud the caution that they may speedily "come to themselves," and return to their Father!
(3) History confirms the necessity of attending to the caution. Joshua well knew how frequently the Israelites had already become estranged from God. Many were the mementos of rebellion left in the wilderness, many the stones which bore the traces of their stumbling. Thus reasoning had its conclusions verified by experience. And which of us has not memorials of folly? If a pillar marked each scene where was displayed absence of regard for our Maker, how thronged with such tokens would be the route by which we have travelled. Call up the remembrance of the acts of childhood and youth and manhood. Each sin was a step upon the path of enmity against God, for it evinced a liking for that which is displeasing to Him. His mercy checked us from utter aberration. The warning of Joshua was proved necessary by the actual event. Standing on the mountain top, he thence surveyed both the past and the future. In spite of the special covenant recorded in the following chapter, the Israelites ceased to love the Lord, and lapsed into idolatry and licentiousness. Would that no similar case could be pointed to amongst those who have been professing Christians! Of how many may it be said, "Ye did run well"? Let history shed its beacon light athwart the waves, reminding us of the rocks, and bidding us remain in the calm open sea of the love of God.
(4) Consider the risk incurred in neglecting the advice of the text. Folly is in proportion to the hazard which neglect involves. Scripture wisely employs every legitimate motive to urge men to adopt its plans. Threats are mentioned as well as promises, and punishments as well as rewards. Joshua declared that the spurning of his counsel would result in the withdrawal of God's aid in battle (ver. 13), and in their visitation with all manner of evil until destruction ensued (vers. 15, 16). Who shall estimate the peril of encountering the wrath of God? Even with His smile resting upon us the trials of life are hard to bear, but what if we have departed from Him and trials partake of the nature of judgments? True, believers are "kept by the power of God." Nevertheless, declension may cause the serious inquiry whether we have been really classed with believers. Hence the hypothetical statements and warnings of Holy Writ. It is not wise to swim on the verge of a whirlpool. Nor need we try how close to the edge of the cliff we can walk, lest we fall and there be no overhanging bough of Providence to arrest our awful descent.
II. PRACTICAL METHODS OF CULTIVATING THE HOLY AFFECTION ENJOINED. A preliminary objection may be raised respecting the inoperativeness of a command relating to the affections. Give an order with regard to the physical powers and it can be obeyed; the intellect will answer a call; but love is a spontaneous product, of internal not external origin, and cannot rise at will. Such an objection overlooks the fact that affection can be influenced, if not absolutely forced, by fixing its attention upon an object, by noting the qualities in it deserving of esteem and regard. Point one man to another whom he sees casually, and no emotion is excited. But describe the man, picture him as a loving friend, generous, noble, and true, and there will be created a desire to know more of him, and acquaintance will ripen curiosity into love. Accordingly we recommend
(1) Frequent meditation upon the character of God. He is the embodiment of every perfection. He is life, light, and love. If, when we observe traits of goodness in our fellow creatures, our hearts go out to them in loving sympathy, what must be the fervency of affection produced by contemplating the fount of goodness as it resides in the Almighty. In men it is but a shallow stream, often dry when most we need it, subject to widest fluctuations and to all changes of temperature, but in God it is an exhaustless perennial flood of all-powerful holiness and benevolence. We cannot let our minds dwell too much on the measureless perfections of the Deity. Let us stand upon the mount with Moses while God passes by, revealing His glory in His excellent name. To shut out the world for a season, and ascend in contemplation to the glorious temple, "where dwells eternal love," will be like exchanging the murky atmosphere of the city for the pure, bracing, inspiring Alpine mountains. We shall return strengthened for work and warfare, less enchanted by the world's allurements. And yet does the Almighty seem far removed from our ken, and do we need an assurance that He is one whom doubting finite minds can think of with delight? He has provided us with a clear portrait of Himself, His only-begotten son, "the brightness of His glory," the lustre of Deity shaded, that our weak eyes may gaze uninjured, living amongst men, and displaying all the qualities that can command our highest, deepest reverence and love.
(2) A constant passing in review of favours bestowed. Joshua reminded the people that every promise had been fulfilled (vers. 14, 15). The Lord had vanquished the enemy (ver. 3), the land was partitioned, each tribe was enjoying its inheritance. If they adhered to God, memory would be prophetic. Surely gratitude would constrain them to yield loving service unto Him who had done and would do great things for them. And each has but to survey his present position, to let the eye light on many a proof of love Divine. Temporal prosperity, true-hearted friends, the delights of honest labour and rest, health and strength, knowledge and taste, for some of these or a hundred other blessings has every one to thank the author of "every good and perfect gift." Be it noted that mercies augment love, since they teach us plainly the goodness of the Giver. They are to us the revelation of His character, and it must needs be that when we are brought into personal contact with Him, made personally the recipients of His bounty, then we understand Him better, appreciate more the warmth of heavenly rays than when we hear the testimony of others, or behold the sunlight flashing upon them from the throne of God. But what shall we say of God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ as the Father of our spirits, the forgiving God, who by His spirit hath quickened us from the death of sin, and is fitting us for the enjoyment of His immediate presence? And when we call to mind His providential care exercised over us, and the seasons in which He prevented the billows from overwhelming us in despair, and the fires of temptation from scorching us, what joy must it be to comply with the precepts of the text, to "arise and seek Him whom the soul loveth."
(3) Watchfulness against sin. The "expulsive power of a new affection "is a two-edged sword that fights both for good and for evil. The tendency of sin is to blind the judgment, pervert the imagination, and to deaden spiritual emotion. If it were one and uniform we should know how to attack it, but it is insidious and wraps itself in disguises, and encroaches on every side, hence we must be ready to act on the defensive. Joshua cautioned the Israelites against mingling with the degraded inhabitants of the land (vers. 12, 13). This is an entanglement to many a youthful Christian. First, on speaking terms, then follows familiarity, and lastly, participation in the very practices condemned. Not all at once did he rush into flagrant transgression, but gradually walked into the snare, until the love of God was stifled in his breast. Bodily sight depends on the state of the health, and the eye of the soul is dimmed through the indulgence of fleshly lusts. A traitor is admitted into the camp, and the true friend is ousted from his seat of honour. Guard, then, against sin; say not, "it is a little one;" cherish not a viper in your bosom, it will mar your peace, pollute your dwelling, and leave a sting which no palliative shall be able to soothe. But if you are now repenting of sin, be assured of God's willingness to pardon, "believe in Him that raised up Jesus from the dead; who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification." Then say, "I love Him because He first loved me." - A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the LORD your God.