And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,…
cf. Romans 12:2. The next element in the morality required of the Lord's people is non-conformity to this world. We are such imitative creatures that we are prone to do as our neighbours do, without questioning the propriety of their conduct. Whenever we adopt the ordinary standard of life, without inquiring how it is related to the Divine standard, we are conforming to the worldly spirit. The worldly conduct may be much higher in one age than in another, and in one country than in another; but the essence of worldliness is unquestioning conformity to the standard of our neighbours. In the present chapter we have a fearful picture of the morality, or rather immorality, of Canaan. It may be read in connection with Romans 1:18-32, as showing the depth to which unrestrained desire may descend. Not only do the Canaanites appear to have indulged in the most reckless licentiousness with nearest relatives, but also to have indulged in sodomy, and even to have descended to carnal intercourse with beasts. That is to say, they gave up their high vantage-ground as intellectual and moral beings, and descended to the level of brute beasts (cf. 2 Peter 2:12). We would require to go to the dark places of heathenism, which are still "full of the habitations of cruelty" (Psalm 74:20), to find an exact parallel at present for Canaan. The progress of civilization has smoothed the surface of society, however little it may have touched its heart. But what we must notice is that the principle of worldly conformity may be just as active in our boasted civilization, as in the darkest haunts of heathenism.
I. THE HIGHEST CIVILIZATION IS NO SUFFICIENT REASON FOR A CERTAIN LINE OF CONDUCT. The Israelites had been developed in Egypt, which was then at the head of civilization. It would be a very great temptation, therefore, to these liberated bondmen to walk according to the customs and ordinances of Egypt. They would be tempted to do many things on no higher ground than that they had seen them done in Egypt. No wonder, therefore, that the Lord admonishes them in these terms: "After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do" (verse 3). And yet is not this exactly the position taken up by many at this hour? They do many things "on the very highest authority." The reason of the course, its moral value, is never thought of, but simply the precedent which can be produced for it. This spirit of" simian imitation" is worldliness pure and simple. The highest civilization is not necessarily moral, much less religious: why should I conform to the demands of a capricious code of laws, which may have no valid moral principle within them at all? God surely has not given us reflection and conscience to be ignored in such a way as this.
II. PREVAILING CUSTOM IS NO SUFFICIENT REASON EITHER FOR A CERTAIN LINE OF CONDUCT. The Israelites, in coming into Canaan, would find the inhabitants the freest and easiest possible in the matter of morals. No restraint appears to have been put upon their passions. They did whatever was right in their own eyes. Their lusts were their law. Now, were the Israelites to go into the land in the "jolly-good-fellow" style, they would be popular at once. The entrance into Canaan would in such a case have been an easy and triumphal march. Conformity to prevailing custom would have made the immigration a God-send to the beastly inhabitants. It would have given novelty to their desires. Hence God warns his people in the words, "And after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances" (verse 3). The snare of popularity prevails at present as powerfully as it did when Israel was about to enter Canaan. There is a great disposition with professedly religious people, "when at Rome, not to quarrel with the pope." Conformity to prevailing custom is a popular role to play. It costs nothing, except indeed the sacrifice of principle, and it gains in the worldly sense much. But no thinking mind imagines it is a rule of human conduct which will stand a moment's consideration. Why should I yield to what may be a senseless and even an immoral custom, simply because it is a custom? I have not been endowed with reason for such an irrational result as this.
III. WHEN MEN SACRIFICE THEIR MANHOOD TO WORLDLY CONFORMITY, THEY FIND EVENTUALLY THAT THEY HAVE TAKEN A SUICIDAL COURSE. The course of the Canaanites was a suicidal one. The land was spuing them out (verse 28). The selfish, lustful lives they led, the brutalities they practiced, became their scourge, and they were fading away. The same result is found among the heathen nations. The sacrifice of manhood to bestiality must pay the penalty of eventual extinction. And though at first sight the operation of the principle may be retarded by the higher morale of civilization, there can be no doubt that the suicidal character of worldly conformity is a real experience. An individual loses mental as well as moral power, who conforms without question to the worldly customs of his time, and thus sacrifices his manhood. The easy-going, popular individual, who does this, that, and the other, for fear of being thought singular, is found to have very little strength of mind to begin with, and less every day he lives. In fact, nature is constructed upon the principle that the despised talent of manhood is forfeited when not employed, and there is a clear descent in the scale of being.
IV. GOD HAS GIVEN US SUFFICIENTLY PLAIN STATUTES AND LAWS TO BE-INFORCE US IN OUR COMBAT WITH THE WORLD. "Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments; which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord "(verses 4, 5). "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). Transformation, "transfiguration" (μεταμορφοῦσθε; cf. Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2) as we might call it, that is, a bringing of ourselves into conformity to a Divine ideal; this is what unworldliness consists in. We do not cease to be worldly when we surrender half a dozen suspicious pleasures. We cease to be "worldly" only when we refuse to accept of the prevailing worldly standard as our law of life, and seek earnestly to know "what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." And to help us to this God has not only given us a book so plain and practical upon matters of daily life that he that runs may read; but he has also embodied his ideal in the perfect manhood of his Son. We have simply to ask the question, "What would Christ, were he in our circumstances, do?" and instantly we are enabled to decide on an appropriate and an unworldly course of action. It is this manly rule of life to which we are called. To bow down to the customs of even the best society or the highest civilization without inquiring how these customs stand towards the Divine Law, is to sacrifice our birthright of manliness for a mess of the rudest pottage. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,