The LORD your God will drive out these nations before you little by little. You will not be enabled to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals would multiply around you.
The numbers, strength, and fortified security of the seven nations made the conquest of Palestine a task of difficulty, and might naturally produce a disheartening effect on the invaders.
I. A NATURAL FEAR. (Ver. 17.) Like disheartening feelings may assail ourselves in presence of the strong spiritual opposition to be encountered in seeking to win the world for Christ. Our enemies are neither weak nor few; we will do well not to underrate them. The larger part of the globe is yet unoccupied by Christianity. Heathen systems are in possession, supported by the combined influences of tradition, custom, prejudice, and superstition, and presenting an apparently impregnable front to the thin ranks of their assailants. At home, how much of the Christianity is merely nominal! and how much of it is corrupted! We live in days of intense worldliness. The skeptical spirit, likewise, is pronounced and active. Brain and pen power of the highest order is enlisted in its service. Unbelieving science, infidel philosophy, rationalism in the Church. The press is a tower of strength to anti-Christian views of life and duty. While, at the other end of the social scale, the multitudes are sunk in indifference and vice. How are all these enemies to be overcome? May we not fear that, work as we will, we cannot succeed? The fears are groundless; but they are not without their use, if they make us feel that the conquest of the world is not to be achieved without much hard fighting.
II. A GROUND OF ENCOURAGEMENT. (Vers. 18-22.) This encouragement resolves itself into the simple truth that God is for us. He is mightier than our enemies, and will work on our behalf to secure their overthrow.
1. With supernatural power. In the past he had shown "signs and wonders," and had brought forth his people with a mighty hand (vers. 18, 19). The same power would help them still. It is encouraging to recall the supernatural strength for conquest which the gospel has already displayed. Think of our own land penetrated by a faith which sprang up 1800 years ago in remote, despised Judaea, with churches for Christ's worship dotting almost every street of every city, town, village, hamlet, throughout its length and breadth! How Utopian would such a work of conquest have seemed at the beginning - a dream of insanity! And this Divine energy for conquest inheres in the gospel today as truly as it did of old.
2. With providential aids (ver. 20). "Hornets - types of secret, providential allies working under God's direction. The forces of providence are on the side of those who are working for the advancement of his kingdom. There are such secret allies in men's own hearts. We may compare to the hornets the secret thoughts and feelings - the stings of conscience, guilty fears, feelings of dissatisfaction, etc. - which, operating within, drive men out to join issue with the Spirit in his truth. God has his hornets" also for arousing his own children out of their sloth and self-indulgence and forgetfulness of duty - sharp trials, vexations, griefs, etc.
III. A METHOD OF CONQUEST. "Little by little" (ver. 22). A law of providence and grace. Little by little God gives a man conquest over the evil in self, and his nature is sanctified. Little by little the world is conquered for Christ. The reason of the law is obvious. There is no advantage in having more than can be rightly used; e.g. a man who has more money than he can turn to good account, who has a larger estate than he can manage, who reads more books than he can mentally digest. The best method is "little by little" - mastering, consolidating, using what we have, before hasting to get more. - J.O.
1. Every day a little knowledge. One fact in a day. How small is one fact! Only one. Ten years pass by. Three thousand six hundred and fifty facts are not a small thing.
The Lord thy God will put out those nations.
As you read this Scripture you will instantly remember the position occupied by the Jews at the time these words of promise were spoken to them. The forty years of wilderness wandering had run their round. The narrow stream of Jordan was all that lay between them and the land of promise, and in a few days they would cross the swollen flood, and take possession of the goodly country in the name and for the glory of that God who had given it to them for a heritage forever. In prospect of the work, the warfare they would have to carry on in their conquest of Canaan, these words of exhortation were addressed to them, teaching them a two-fold truth. First, God would be with them; God would work for them. Therefore they might cherish the utmost confidence of ultimate success. Secondly, God would be with them, but not to complete the work for them at a single stroke. He would do it surely; but He would do it slowly also. Therefore they might have quiet contentment as well as unfaltering hope. They must "rest in the Lord, arid wait patiently for Him." This was no new arrangement on the part of God; it was no new revelation to the Jewish people. The Lord had spoken to them forty years before in the self-same strain, As in the words of the text, so in those of the twenty-third chapter of Exodus, He impressed this truth upon them, that they must both labour and wait, The words then set before us: Work done at God's command, work done with God's help, work done successfully, and yet work progressing slowly towards its promised perfection; the slow progress not because of human indolence and faithlessness, but because of Divine ordinance. Why did He not do it all at once? How easily with the breath of His mouth He could have swept the land clear of the last polluting remnant of the Canaanites and their idolatries! The reason for the delay God gives. It was no use for the people to gain the country faster than they could fully occupy and properly cultivate it. This was one reason, though doubtless there were others which God has not made known to us. Let us now turn from Jewish history to our own Christian circumstances, and to our own work. This ancient story throws light on the principles and processes of Divine providence in all ages. It is one practical proof of the truth that, even in the destruction of wrong and the re-establishment of right, our God often works with what seems to us a strange slowness. In His warfare against the power of evil which is so alien to His heart, so hurtful to His creatures, so contrary to His will, the All-holy One does not annihilate it with a word, but He gradually crumbles it to fragments, and He casts it away little by little. There is the work of individual sanctification. A Christian man does not find his nature a blank sheet, on which he can at once write all manner of holy sentences. Nay, but it has already been written upon. There are unholy words, which to deface is his work, and which to entirely remove requires more than human skill. He finds that his nature is anything but an empty country, in which he has just to plant his standard of heaven, and of which he has just to take possession in the name of God. It is full of inhabitants — evil passions, thoughts, desires, habits — and they have all to be cast out, that their place may be taken by thoughts and desires and habits, pure and holy, God-pleasing and God-like. And this expulsion of the Philistines, this filling of the land with the children of God, is in every case a lifelong work. It is only done by little and little. This is one of the mysteries of our present position. The false is often so much, and the true is often so little; the wrong is often so easy, and the right is often so difficult. The evil, the worldly, and the devilish, is often just yielding to nature, just floating with the tide. The good, the heavenly, the God-like — to follow it is often to go against tide and tempest, against flesh and blood, against all manner of opposing forces. Why are we taught to see the beauty and to appreciate the blessings of hell. ness, and yet are left to wrestle so continually with sins and doubts and fears? Could not our God come, and at once sweep every defiling thing out of our heart forever? We know that our God could do this if He saw it to be wise and best; and this must be our comfort under the fact that He does not do it. He does not abstain because of His weakness. He does not abstain because of His unwillingness. He sees that the discipline of weakness and tears, and not unfrequent failures, and success only partially secured — He sees that His discipline is good for us. He knows how it will prepare us for higher service and for holier joys in heaven; and so, while we are sighing for instant redemption, He grants us only gradual deliverance.
By little and little.
The victory over our enemies, that is, over our sins, will, in general, not be sudden, but gradual. Final success is promised: the first attempt to resist is a pledge of that final success; continued resistance is a continued pledge of that result; it needs only to persevere in the struggle, and the victory is ours — ours already in prospect. We must be prepared, therefore, for a continuous warfare. Sometimes we shall prevail over the temptation of the day — then we shall be encouraged; the next day, perhaps, we shall be defeated by it, and then we shall be humbled. Sometimes we shall look back, and feel that we have advanced. At other times we shall be conscious of a loss of ground, and we shall betake ourselves afresh to humiliation and prayer. But, on the whole, there will be no doubt so long as we continue to struggle, by faith not in ourselves but in Christ, that we are making progress. Things which once seemed impossible will have become easy; things which once seemed irresistible will have been found conquerable in the name of Christ. "By little and little" our foes are giving way before us. Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and find us with His armour on, maintaining the post which He has assigned. Nor is this an arbitrary arrangement, but one calculated for our good. "Thou mayest not destroy them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee." The sudden and final discomfiture of our foes at the moment of our first onset would not, in all probability, promote but defeat our ultimate good. There is a lesson to be learned, without which virtue itself might be a curse and not a blessing. That lesson is humility. He who would see God must be a humble man; and humility is a grace of gradual attainment. It comes by difficulty, sorrow, conflict, often by defeat. Worse than any fall is that pride which precedes it — that pride which, without a fall, would never be humbled. Was there danger lest the beasts of the field should increase upon Israel, if their enemies should fall before them at once? So the heart abruptly cleared from the assaults of other sins — of ambition, and vanity, and selfishness, and lust — might fall an easy prey to the ravenings of spiritual pride; and the last end of that man would be worse than the first.
The rule of heaven, earth, and hell is — "By little and little!" Whether you look to the outward and visible, or to the inward and invisible; to the world of matter, or to the world of spirit; to the kingdom of nature, or the kingdom of grace, — you will surely find this rule to hold good. "First the blade," etc. Look at the history of yon giant oak. There is a little bird, and in his beak he bears a tiny acorn along. Away he wings his flight, over hedge and ditch, brier and brake, until, frightened by a hawk, he lets his little acorn fall in yon pasture field. Oxen are grazing there. The ox comes by, and beneath his hoof the tiny acorn is trodden deep down into the soil. The ox passes on his way. The acorn remains, uncared for and forgotten; but "by little and little" it bursts its shell; "by little and little" it takes root downwards and bears fruit upwards; "by little and little" the tender twigs peep out amid the surrounding blades of grass, and thus slowly but surely it rises higher and higher, and grows broader and broader, until at length a sturdy oak marks now the spot where years before the little acorn fell. My object, however, is to point you rather to the world of spirit than to that of nature. Just as the ancient Israelites were sure of the Promised Land as their inheritance ultimately, but still could not secure it without a struggle, or rather a series of struggles, even "by little and little"; just so with the child of God, although from the moment that he believes in Jesus, as the only Saviour of his soul, he by that very act secures to himself the right to enter heaven; nevertheless his meetness for heaven is a work which will require years of stern struggling with his spiritual enemies. Now we may rest assured that the Master's reasons for not destroying our spiritual enemies at once, but enabling us to overcome "by little and little," are both wise and all-sufficient. That we cannot overcome these enemies at once, will, I take it, be acknowledged to the full if I appeal to the experience of any Christian man or woman. Have ye never been harassed by those enemies of the Christian's peace, even by the nation of worldly cares? This nation is compared by the Master to briers and thorns, which spring up, and unless the greatest and most constant care be taken will choke the good seed. I know of none other nation, perhaps, more to be dreaded than these worldly cares, and this is especially the case in these days, when many causes, such as the great competition in trade, the high price of provisions, and an ever-increasing population, give to Satan a terrible vantage ground wherefrom to attack. Ye have tried to shake them off once and forever, as unworthy of the child of God, but they will not be shaken off at once. Still strive on, and the Lord thy God will put them out before you "by little and little." Again, the true Israelite is worried by a nation of idle and wandering thoughts. Now ye must not be discouraged at this state of things; ye must not incline to despair because unable to be rid of these vain thoughts at once. Continue to strive against them, and God will put them out before thee "by little and little." Thus might I enumerate enemy after enemy that will harass and impede us by the way. I might remind you of the sickening doubts and fears, of the lurking treachery of that poor heart, of the seducing friends and the too frail flesh. These cause you frequent and fearful pain, and ever and again break in upon your peace. Still in any moment of despair I would point you to the truths of the text, and entreat that you will not forget how that God has all-wisely willed that we should not conquer at once, not become perfect at once, but conquer one foe after another, and become perfect only "by little and little." And as this is the rule of heaven, so alas! is it also the rule of hell. In Genesis 3
, we read that "the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field," and surely in nothing has he manifested his cunning more than in the cruel way wherewith he has imitated God in dealing with men's souls. I see that in saving souls, he would seem to say, "Jehovah takes not the sinner out of his sin so as at once to transform him into a perfect saint. I see that in winning souls to glory He woos them gradually away from earth, and by little and little makes them meet to be forever with the Lord. I will go and do likewise. In seeking the eternal ruin of souls, my principle of action shall be the same. I will not try to make a man a tenant meet for hell at once, but step by step I will lead him down. I will first coax him till he gives up some one good habit; I will then tempt him till he indulges in some one sin, and again I will blunt his conscience by tempting him to repeat that sin, until by little and little I shall be able to sap the very foundations of his character, and gradually make him fit for the abode of the lost." I adjure you, then, as you value your happiness in time and in eternity, beware of the very first little tendency to sin. It is here the danger lies. This is the rule of hews attack.
2. Every day a little self-denial. The thing that is difficult to do today will be an easy thing to do three hundred and sixty days hence, if each day it shall have been repeated. What power of self-mastery shall he enjoy who, looking to God for grace, seeks every day to practise the grace he prays for!
3. Every day a little helpfulness. We live for the good of others, if our living be in any sense a true living. It is not in great deeds of kindness only that the blessing is found. In "little deeds of kindness," repeated every day, we find true happiness.
()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."
()In listening to the sound by which a clock or watch marks the passing of the diminutive portions of time, one might almost fancy that deductions so extremely small would never wear away the whole duration of a long life. But it has been by such minute lapses in never ceasing succession that the vast series of ages since the creation has passed away; it has been by this succession of instants that all our ancestors have completed their sojourn on earth, and by this it will be that we shall one day have arrived at the end of our mortal existence. Each passing moment, then, may be regarded as having a relation to the end, and everything which hints to us that moments are passing, may be a monition to us to be habitually at the great work which ought to be accomplished against the period when the last of them shall come.
()We have watched, on a summer's day, the tide coming in upon the shore. How slow and scarcely perceptible its advance! Now a strong onrush; then a temporary ebb; presently a further advance; so, inch by inch, the ground is gained. Such should be the progress of our truest "life." Steadily the tide of purer, stronger feeling, of nobler and more strenuous endeavour should ripple in, until life flows to its height, musical as the sound of many waters!The weakest living creature, by concentrating his powers on a single object, can accomplish something; the strongest, by dispersing his over many, may fail to accomplish anything. The drop, by continued falling, bores its passage through the hardest rock the hasty torrent rushes over it with a hideous uproar, and leaves no trace behind.The boundary line between legitimate aspiration and a reasonable content is sometimes hard to find. Contentment may be construed by some as lack of enterprise, and so more or less ignoble, while aspiration may, and often does, become mere restlessness and discontent. But all depends on what we aspire to and what we are content with. The man who wants to be a little better, a little wiser, a little richer than he is, whose aspiration takes the form of gradual growth by littles, will probably realise his desires. And if he refuses to fight the inevitable and the immutable limitations that are set about him, even while constantly bettering his condition, be may yet be content and happy. Great estates are built up by slow and gradual accretion running through the years. Great scholarship is the result of constant aspiration, unflagging industry, and tireless diligence. So fine character is the result of innumerable conquests over self and selfishness and ease, and evil and vicious tendency. It is built up as the coral animal builds the reefs, one act at a time, and a great many of them going to the erection of the lofty structure.
Christian Age.Young men in beginning life are apt to be impatient of the first little steps that apparently make no advance, forgetting that seeming "trifles make up the sum of life," just as in building, the little bricks, laid carefully one at a time, side by side, and securely cemented together, make at last the great, strong structure. A young man, having exhausted his patrimony in obtaining a professional education, settled himself in a town already filled with successful lawyers, to practise law. One day one of these older lawyers asked him how, under such circumstances, he expected to make a living. "I hope I may get a little practice," was the modest reply. "It will be very little," said the lawyer. "Then I will do that little well, answered the young mall decidedly. He carried out his determination. The little things well done brought larger ones, and ill time he became one of the most distinguished jurists of his State. Again, a certain old bishop, who was fond of finding odd characters in out-of-the-wayplaces, was visiting in a quiet neighbourhood. One day, in a walk with a friend, he came across a crossroads settlement of a few houses. Among them was a snug little shoe shop, kept by an old man, which showed signs of prosperity. Interested in the old cobbler, the bishop stopped for a chat. "My friend," he said, "I would not think so small a business as mending shoes would pay so well." "Ah," said the gentleman with him, "old Cato has the monopoly of shoe mending in this region. No one else gets a job." "How is that, Cato?" asked the bishop. "Just so, master," replied Cato. "It is only little patches put on with little stitches or tiny pegs. But when I takes a stitch it is a stitch, and when I drive a peg it holds. Little things well done! The good bishop used that reply as a text for many a sermon afterwards.
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