And when the LORD your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that He would give you--a land with great and splendid cities that you did not build,
I. WISE MEN INHERIT THE FRUIT OF OTHERS' LABORS. Under the leadership of God, the Hebrews inherited cities which the Canaanites had built, and vineyards which the Amorites had planted. If we knew all the facts of the case, we should admire this as an act of righteous wisdom. We do know that the iniquity of the Amorites was a cup full to the brim. The Hebrews, with all their faults, were a superior race. Similar displacements have gone on in all the lands of the world. It is an instance of the "survival of the fittest." Redeemed men are destined to be the lords of the earth. The Church shall possess and rule the world. "All things are ours." This inheritance of Canaan, with its cities and cattle and wealth, ought to have produced a deep sense of gratitude. All the Hebrews enjoyed they owed to the bountiful hand of God.
II. SUDDEN PROSPERITY IS A SEVERE STRAIN ON PIETY. The sense of daily and hourly dependence upon God for material food is an advantage; it is a constant incentive to gratitude and faith. Poor human nature cannot bear much indulgence. Poverty is more conducive to piety than wealth has ever been. Hence our Lord chose a state of poverty as most suited to his mission. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven!" So long as men continue in the flesh, they prefer a visible God to an invisible. So they say to gold, "Thou art my god." To be singular in religious belief and practice is always an arduous effort. The example of others has always been a sore temptation. Unless we can persuade them by the three of our superior faith, they are sure to bias us injuriously. Our safety lies in a stalwart and fearless piety.
III. TO FALL FROM THE FAVOR TO THE FROWN OF GOD IS IMMEASURABLE AND COMPLETE. It would have been better for their peace and their reputation not to have inherited the land, than to be ejected from it again. It is a tremendous calamity, having been lifted high, to be thrown down. The effect of disloyalty among the Hebrews would not simply be a replacement in their former state; it would be destruction from the face of the earth. In the realm of morals, we cannot descend to a station we had occupied aforetime. If there is declension, retrogression, fall, it must be to a lower level than float we formerly held. The penalties imposed by righteousness are complete and remediless. We may well "stand in awe and sin not." It is perilous in the extreme to "try" God's patience - to make experiments on the long-suffering of God. Suddenly, he "whets his glittering sword, and his hand takes hold on judgment."
IV. HOPE IS AN INSPIRATION OF STRENGTH. Although Moses has addressed to them these cautions, and pointed out these perils, he will not think so meanly of them as to forecast their fall. He will cherish in his own breast the bright hope of their loyalty. He will call into exercise their own best principles and aspirations. He confidently predicts their wise and upward course, and sketches before their eyes their future greatness and security. Herein is wise generalship. If hope kindles her lamp in the human breast, all is not lost. This is Heaven's cordial for a fainting soul. - D.
I. THAT A JUST SENSE OF THE SUPREME BEING IS THE BEST SECURITY FOR A MAN'S VIRTUE. I say a just sense, because wrong apprehensions of the Deity have generally had a very unhappy influence on the interests of virtue; as is evident to everyone who compares the religion and manners of the heathen world. This was probably the reason why Moses was so solicitous to suppress all personal representations of the Deity through his whole economy; he knew very well that the people would naturally borrow their idea of God from the representations they saw of Him, and that the idea of their God would be the measure of their morality. There are few things that have contributed more to the extent of vice than the hope of secrecy, which vanishes at the very apprehension of a Being who seeth in secret. But our idea of the Deity stops not here; we consider Him not barely as a spectator of our actions, but as a judge of them too; and he must be an insolent offender, indeed, who will dare to commit a crime in the sight of Him who he knows will judge him, who he is sure will condemn him for it. The hope of reward and fear of punishment add fresh vigour to the cause of virtue.
Cities which thou buildedst not.
Homilist.I. GOD'S RIGHT TO THE SECULAR PROPERTY OF MEN. Not merely the and, but also all productions of labour, belong to Him.
II. THE FATE OF ALL EARTHLY POSSESSIONS. The only property that we can retain, that we can carry with us, and which can bless us wherever we go, is moral — the property of a holy character.
III. THE PRINCIPLE OF ENTAIL IN GOD'S GOVERNMENT OF MAN. One man labours, and another man enters into his labours. So it has ever been, so it is now.
1. It is so politically.
IV. A TYPE OF A GOOD TIME THAT IS COMING. The Church shall take the property of the world.
V. THE PRIMARY CONDITION OF MAN'S WELL-BEING IN EVERY AGE. "Beware lest thou forget the Lord."
1. That forgetfulness of the Lord is an immense evil.
2. That worldly prosperity exposes us to this immense evil.
Beware lest thou forget the LordI. THE DANGERS OF PROSPERITY. One danger to be apprehended from prosperity is, that a man may thereby be led to forget God as the Author of his blessings, and the Sovereign Disposer of those events which have issued in success. Alienation of heart from God is the result of our fallen state. Should prosperity come upon us unexpectedly, without any previous effort on our part, there is fuel, as it were, applied to the unhallowed fire within, which causes the natural carnality of our hearts to exhibit itself with a force before unknown. Should, however, man's prosperity in this world be the result of well-directed efforts of his own, there is a temptation lest we should forget God who has given us power to succeed in our endeavours, lest we should attribute to our own strength or wisdom what is due chiefly to Him of whom we have received our all, and to whom all the praise is due. But we may notice other dangers connected with worldly prosperity. There is a security sometimes issuing out of it which is altogether inconsistent with man's frail and uncertain tenure (Psalm 30:6; Psalm 49:11; Job 29:18; Luke 12:16, 19, 21). We should not undervalue the blessing of temporal welfare; it is God's gift, and ought to be enjoyed with thankfulness in Him. It is then sweetest when it is possessed as the fruit of His goodness towards us, and when we consider ourselves as accountable to Him for the use of it. But dependence upon our worldly treasures is at once irreligion and folly. To look for happiness, as issuing out of anything in this present world independent of God, is to search for bright colours in the dark — is to mistake the end of our being, and to occupy ourselves with a fruitless toil.
II. METHODS BY WHICH THESE DANGERS MAY BE COUNTERACTED.
1. First and chiefly: God must be before our eyes. We should enshrine Him in our heart and memory, not only as our omnipotent Creator, but as our Protector — as our Governor — as "the Author and Giver of all good things" — as the Sovereign Disposer of all events — by whom the ravens are fed, and thy lilies of the field do grow and clothe themselves with beauty.
2. Another means for avoiding the danger of prosperity is this: meditation upon God. Our danger arises from thinking too much of ourselves. To overcome this danger we must meditate often upon God; upon His goodness, glory, and majesty.
3. But last of all, that we may not be overwhelmed by the dangers which threaten us from worldly prosperity, we must meditate much and deeply upon the superior glory of eternal realities. Our hearts must be imbued with the love of Christ. Our hearts must dwell on His matchless grace in dying for us. In this way we must endeavour to form some estimate of the glorious salvation which is in store for us hereafter. Against the riches, honours, and comforts of this present world we must set the riches which no moth corrupteth, the honour which cometh only from God; the consolations of His Spirit, and the happiness of the redeemed.
(H. J. Hastings, M. A.)
II. THIS SENSE OF GOD IS OFTEN MUCH EFFACED, SOMETIMES ABSOLUTELY LOST, IN A STATE OF EASE AND AFFLUENCE. The observation of Moses has its foundation in nature, is evident to experience, and confirmed by a greater than Moses, who tells us how difficult it is for those who trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God; and we find how difficult it is for those who have them not to trust in them. When we are under any immediate presence of affliction, when we are despised and deserted by men, we look upon God as a present help in trouble; but that exigence is no sooner over than we begin to see Him at a great distance. We no longer call to heaven for that satisfaction which we can now find from earth, but depend upon the second cause for that support which can never be attained but from the First. We begin to fancy ourselves established even beyond the reach of providence, or the possibility of change. There is something in the very nature of ease which is apt to enervate the mind and introduce a languid effeminacy into all its faculties. The senses, by an habitual indulgence, gain ground upon the understanding and usurp the province of reason, which must inevitably decline in proportion as the sensual affections prevail; the spirit becomes less willing as the flesh grows more weak; we sink into an indolent oblivion of our Maker, and fall amongst the number of those who are "lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God." It is obvious to observe here, that as every corruption in our principles is followed by proportionate decay in our practice, so every corruption in our practice is attended with an equal decay in our principles; from whence it appears that religion and virtue are inseparably united, they must flourish and fall together; they are lovely in their lives, and in their deaths they cannot be divided.
III. A STATE OF EASE AND AFFLUENCE, AS IT TEMPTS US STRONGLY TO LOSE, SO IT LAYS US UNDER GREATER OBLIGATIONS TO RETAIN AND IMPROVE THAT SENSE OF GOD UPON OUR MINDS. You, who inhabit great and goodly cities which you did not build, who inherit houses full of all good things which you did not fill; you, whose fortunes seem to be showered upon you directly from heaven, while others are forced by the sweat of their brows to raise them from the earth; as you are blessed with higher degrees of the bounties of God, so are you more eminently obliged to preserve a stronger sense of them. Your duty increases with the eminence of your station, and your obligations to it are multiplied by the number of your advantages.
IV. I shall now point out to you, in the last place, SOME OF THOSE MEANS WHICH SEEM MOST LIKELY TO PRESERVE AND IMPROVE THOSE CONCEPTIONS UPON OUR MINDS. And I think there can be no better than those which Moses recommends to the Israelites in vers. 6, 7. When you thus begin and end sour day, when you thus open your morning and close your evening, you cannot absolutely forget the Lord, especially if you make Him the subject of your conversation too. The next direction is, to teach the commandments of God to your children; but a man cannot well teach that to another of which he is ignorant himself. And every time you endeavour to imprint a sense of God upon the minds of your children, you must necessarily make so strong an impression of it upon your own that you can never be able to forget the Lord.
(T. Ashton, D. D.)
Christian Observer.It is remarkable how frequently in the Book of Deuteronomy, when God is giving His final summary of instructions to the Israelites, the warning is repeated, that the Jewish Church forget not God and His dealings with them in connection with their deliverance from Egypt. Such warnings strike us the more forcibly, because the people to whom they were addressed had come into the closest contact with God, and had been favoured with the clearest visible evidences of His presence. To have seen Jesus in the flesh, to have witnessed His miracles, these would have been privileges the memory of which could have never passed away. Now, all such reasonings are mere self-deception. That there is a deep fallacy involved therein is manifest from the fact that the Jewish Church, which had the most abundant ocular demonstration of God and of His power, is so repeatedly cautioned against this forgetfulness of God. With this fact impressed upon our minds it will be profitable to consider the ways in which forgetfulness of God displays itself.
1. This tendency will be perceived in respect to God Himself. We acknowledge that it is in God that we live and move and have our being; yet we rarely find a sustained recognition of God. We do not walk day by day as seeing by the eye of faith Him who is invisible. What an importance would it give to life could we attain to that deep sense of the consciousness of God's immediate presence and majesty which is implied in the brief but full description of the spiritual life of those of whom it is recorded, that they walked with God.
2. But besides this forgetfulness of God in His abstract nature and perfections, we trace this evil in a similar forgetfulness of Him in His operations. God in His glorious majesty dwelleth in the highest heavens, but in His operations and providential dealings He is ever, as it were, coming down to earth and meeting us closely and continually in the pathway of our lives. Every comfort is held out to our acceptance by the hand of God; in every trial we may trace the discipline of God. But this we over' look: human agency, second causes, personal effort, self-dependence, come in between us and God. Backsliding Israel at length reached this point, that they knew not that it was God who gave them their corn and wine and oil, and multiplied their silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal.
3. Forgetfulness of God also displays itself in respect to that covenant which He has made with us in Christ. The Jewish Church had a special warning upon this head: Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you. A covenant with man is not disregarded nor trifled with. We are less scrupulous with respect to God. Our covenant with God goes beyond that of the Jewish Church, in that it brings Christ before us in His finished work, and no longer veiled in types and shadows. All that God can give to sinful man is our covenant portion in the Son of His love, the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. Another painful feature of this infirmity is to be found in the forgetfulness of the Lord Jesus as our Saviour. It is noted as one point in the sinfulness of Israel, that they forgat God their Saviour, who had done great things in Egypt. The Passover was to be the means of maintaining a devout remembrance of this deliverance. In like manner the Lord's Supper was to be a commemorative ordinance to keep ever before the minds of His people a lively remembrance of their greater deliverance by the death and sufferings of the Redeemer. Do this, says our Lord, in remembrance of Me. The grace and condescension, the tender love and never-failing compassion of the Saviour, His sufferings, and agony, and death, fade from our recollection.
5. We may notice one other form of this forgetfulness of Divine things. In addition to those ordinary influences of the means of grace upon the soul which the believer experiences, there are some occasions of special blessing. Some striking or alarming providence of God brings us, as it were, into His immediate presence; under the preaching of the Word, or in the prayerful study of it, the mysteries of spiritual truth are opened to the mind; it is a time of bright light, of quickened affections, of holy aspirations, of heavenly communion with God. In the moment of such ecstasy we feel how good it is to be here, and imagine that we shall go forth with the holy influence of such a season abidingly with us. It is a new era in our spiritual life. We can never be again engrossed, as in times fast, with the vanities of time. Yet the memory here again betrays its trust. Forgetfulness of the heights which we have reached lowers the tone of our spiritual life; coldness creeps over the soul; and it is well if we escape the state of backsliding Israel, when she "went after her lovers, and forgot Me, saith the Lord."
6. This forgetfulness of God cannot be confined to any one period of life; it meets us everywhere. As we look back upon the sins of our youth, this rises up as one of the most overwhelming. Amidst the buoyant spirits of our early days, and the cheerfulness of home, and the freshness of our first affections, where was God? What place did He occupy in our minds and in our hearts. "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth. But as years pass on, and manhood succeeds to youth, other objects engross the thoughts to the exclusion of God. The cares and anxieties attendant upon the start in life, the turmoil of business, the engrossing and ensnaring contact with the world, — these present no atmosphere favourable to the cultivation of habitual converse with God. Nor, if we follow on our search into advanced life, do we find it otherwise. Grey hairs and decreasing strength would seem to give a sufficiently solemn warning to prepare to meet God; but it is remarkable how entirely indifference and insensibility to Divine things mark an old age which succeeds a manhood of worldliness and a youth of thoughtlessness. Thus does forgetfulness of God accompany the worldly man through every period of his earthly life; and, in the case of the believer, the danger is equally present, and forms a main element in the severe conflict of his inner life. But though sin has introduced this infirmity into our fallen nature, God has not left us without a remedy.The evil may, through grace, be counteracted and overcome; and in order to this, the following suggestions are offered to the earnest Christian.
1. Realise the danger. Understand that the memory has a tendency to betray its trust, and neglect its duty in that which relates to God. There are many circumstances in our ordinary life which never pass away. Let a man be exposed to shipwreck, or to a railway accident, the horrors of the scene would be ever before him. There are many scenes of domestic interest which never lose their freshness. But it is otherwise in our spiritual life; and we should know it and feel it. Many an Israelite probably thought that he never could forget the passage through the Red Sea, or the terrors of Mount Sinai; but they did forget them. And so we think that the strong impression and deep conviction is to abide with us. Or we think, perhaps, that though gone for a while, it is only hidden in some secret place of memory's storehouse, and when needed will be produced again. But we are mistaken; and when we sit down to recall the past dealings with God, memory retains little beyond the bare fact; all the lesser yet perhaps more striking and instructive peculiarities of the dispensation are lost.
2. With this danger realised we next observe the need of much diligence and pains to counteract it. The natural faculty of memory differs greatly in its power in different individuals; but when weak, either generally or in any particular respect, we have recourse to certain means and helps for assisting and strengthening it. A careful and systematic classification of events, or the aid of a Memoria Technica, or a well-arranged commonplace book, will go far to supply the deficiencies of memory. Men will think no pains too great which will enable them thus to master the events of history or the facts of science. But when we pass from the subjects of human learning to the record of God's dealings with the Church and our own souls, all such efforts on our part are deemed useless and superfluous. We must be careful, too, in carrying out into corresponding action any impressions which have been made upon our minds, so as to fix them in the character by habits resulting from them. And we must note any dealings of God with us in providence or in grace which seem calculated to bring us nearer to Himself, in patient dependence or in grateful love.
3. In the use of these and like helps it is necessarily implied that the soul will be seeking by earnest prayer the effectual aid of the Holy Spirit. We have viewed this forgetfulness of God as an inseparable consequence of our fallen nature, and one which no amount of outward and sensible evidence or impression can of itself obviate, as the case of the Israelites hilly proves. A similar, and even stronger, proof is presented in the case of the apostles. They had enjoyed unrestrained intercourse with our blessed Lord for several years. His conversation, His teaching, never could be forgotten. Yet the mere moral and physical effects of this teaching would be counteracted by the weak and treacherous nature of human memory; and hence our Lord promises a direct operation of the Holy Spirit to remedy this infirmity: "The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."
(Christian Observer.)I. THE TENDENCY THAT THERE IS IN US TO FORGET GOD.
1. Forgetting the presence of God.
2. Forgetfulness of God in worship.
3. Forgetting the commandments of God.
4. Forgetting God's redeeming love.
II. THE CAUSE OF FORGETFULNESS OF GOD. PROSPERITY.
III. THE DANGER OF THIS FORGETFULNESS. Now, just let me show you that the Scripture tells us that they "shall be turned into hell" who forget God. "Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver!" But the danger of living without God is the danger of dying without God; and the man that dies without God dies without hope. You will recollect that God in a special manner complains of this with reference to His ancient people. In the first chapter of Isaiah we are told that He had nourished and brought up children, but that Israel bad rebelled against Him; that the ox knew his owner, and the ass his master's crib, but Israel, God's own people, did not consider. Are there not many amongst you that do not consider? Are there not some amongst us that have forgotten God? But so strongly has the Scripture laid down the danger which awaits the forgetters of God, that we find that God in a special manner has condescended to help us that we may remember Him. For instance, let us look at the very text, and at that part of the text to which I was referring just now. "Beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. Why, what great things God has done for us to remind us of redeeming love? What a blessing it is that we have a special ordinance, which it is impossible to approach with any light in our minds, without reflecting that it represents the dying love of Jesus, and is, as it were, bidding us ask ourselves whether we have a thankful remembrance of the death of Christ! What a blessing it is that God has appointed men in a special manner to go forth and to preach that Gospel which shall remind their fellow sinners of that same redeeming level God has done everything to prevent our forgetting Him, and lead us to consider our ways, and consider our personal relationship to Him, to consider our daily dependence upon Him for the things of this life, and to consider our complete dependence upon Him for the things of the life to come.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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