And the LORD your God will put out those nations before you by little and little: you may not consume them at once…
My text is representing the gradual process by which God will exterminate the Canaanites and give the land into the possession of the Israelites. It will not be by one fell blow, or instantaneously, but "by little and little." Indeed, that is God's usual way. Gradually the world was peopled. Gradually the rocks wear away. Gradually great changes occur. The world ages in being built. The world ages in being redeemed. Eternity is the lifetime of God. We hasten and worry and die, but God waits, and His stupendous projects go on gradually, slowly, inch by inch, "by little and little." This theory of graduality has its illustration in the achievement of spiritual knowledge and character and the driving out of Canaanitish ignorance and Canaanitish sin from the heart. The most accomplished rhetorician or poet who has filled a whole shelf with admirable books of his own began by learning the alphabet. The mightiest mental toil in which we ever engaged was the learning of our a-b-c's. The swiftest reportorial pen failed once in attempting to make a perpendicular stroke on the boy's copy book. The printer, whose fingers move with electric speed, once pulled out from the "case" slowly, cautiously, studiously, type by type. The boy, who bounds over the playground with so much celerity that he does not seem to touch it, once poised himself cautiously against the wall, and could not be tempted to cross the floor until he saw his mother's arms out ready to catch him if he fell. So in all spiritual knowledge, it is by little and little that we advance. We went on from one attainment to another. Each of the attainments, perhaps, seemed to be very small indeed, but they came on — now a resolution added to a resolution, hope added to hope, experience added to experience, joy to joy, struggle to struggle, victory to victory. They did not come up on this great mount of Christian excellency by one great athletic stride, but inch by inch, step by step, "by little and little." Paul came to his great attainments in piety gradually. He had to take a course of mobs, of shipwrecks, of scourgings, of imprisonments, of execrations before he came to the rounding out of his character, and every Christian now must come through ups and downs, and losses, and slights, and blunders, and abuse, and struggles to that rounding out of his character. A merchant tailor takes down the goods, he unrolls them, he makes the line of chalk mark, with his scissors he follows the chalk mark until the garment is cut out, and though there may be many pieces, the whole garment is made out of one cloth. But it is not so in the putting together of a Christian character. It is a little of this to make the robe of character, and a little of that, a little of the bright coloured prosperity, and a little of the dark-shadowed calamity. It is a sort of patchwork. Little by little. Conversion is an instantaneous work. Believing is becoming a Christian. But there is a great difference between conversion and sanctification. Conversion is turning around from the wrong direction and starting in the right direction; but sanctification is keeping on in the right direction after you have started. After conversion, oh! how much work. And your greatest battles with the world, the flesh, and the devil will be after you have declared against them. Men think after they are converted the work is done. They suppose that in some way there will be heaved up in their souls a grand Christian character as an earthquake heaves up a beautiful island in the midst of the sea. No. No. "By little and little." Troubles will help you. There is no such thing as "wrought iron" without passing through the fire. The seniors in Christ's college, of course, know more than the freshmen. But be accumulative every day. A handful of acorns will make a forest of oaks. "By little and little." Again, this theory of graduality has its illustration in the formation of bad habits. Look at that habit of falsifying. The man began with what is called a "white lie," or a "fib." He can stand in his store, behind his counter, and unblushingly, deliberately, calmly say that which he knows to be false, and which you know to be false. There are hundreds of men in this house today who would confess that the habit is injurious to them, but somehow they cannot stop. How, my brother, did you get this bondage on you? In one day? In one hour? No. "By little and little." Again, this theory of gradually is illustrated in the right kind of domestic discipline, and the driving out of Canaanitish evil from the child's heart. Family government is by fits and starts, but it is worth less than nothing unless it be calm, deliberate, continuous all through boyhood and girlhood. Your children by this process are making character noble or degraded. "By little and little." To the nursery story and the picture book of the first four years must be added the influence of a Christian fireside, proper improvement of anniversaries, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little there a smile, there a look, here a frown, here a walk, here a ride, here a flower plucking, here this, here that. "By little and little." Once more, this theory of graduality has its illustration in the conquest of the world for God and the extermination of the Canaanites forever. Would it not be pleasant if in one day all the race could be evangelised, and the Atlantic cable could thrill with the news that Europe, Asia, and Africa are converted? Because it is not done rapidly, Christian people get discouraged. They say: "Nineteen centuries since Christ came, and yet the world not saved." O, you cavillers; you do not realise the way God does things. God is not in a hurry. Many generations are to have joy in this work; you shall not monopolise it. Your children and your children's children and their successors innumerable, shall help to draw on this Gospel chariot. Let God control the great affairs of the universe. Let us each one do his own little work. The hands that made the curtains in the ancient tabernacle did their work. And you will favour the work in one way, and I will favour the work in another way. Each one doing his own work, in his own way, according to his own capacity. "By little and little." Then God will at the last gather up all these fragments of work, and in the great day of eternity we shall see it, and under arches of light and in bowers of beauty, and amid the battle flags of God's great host of the redeemed, and amid the blast of all heaven's trumpets, we shall see the consummation. Amid that "great multitude that no man can number," God will not be ashamed to announce that all this grandeur and glory and triumph were achieved "by little and little."
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little: thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee.