So they gave the Israelites a bad report about the land they had spied out: "The land we explored devours its inhabitants, and all the people we saw there are great in stature.
temporary effacement, as it were, of Moses. It is Caleb who here takes the lead. Moses is nothing save as the mouth-piece of God, and the time is not quite ripe for God to speak. But Caleb, who, here as afterwards, shows himself a courageous man, prompt and ready, has formed his opinion, and at once expresses it; to be immediately followed by opinions just as decided in the opposite direction. We need not here so much to consider who was right and who wrong; God himself brings all out presently into the clearest of light. The great matter to be noticed is that the people were now exposed to conflicting counsels.
I. THESE CONFLICTING COUNSELS WERE THE CONSEQUENCE OF BACKSLIDING FROM GOD. The people had turned away from their true Guide, and the consequence of being in a wrong path very soon appears. God is one, and in his infinite wisdom and power can make all things work together for good to them that love him, and are called according to his purpose. But men are many and diverse, and if those who are called according to his purpose fad from the obedience which shows their love, how shall they make things work together for good? To God the scheme of human affairs is as a machine, complicated and intricate indeed, but well under control, and producing large results. To men it is, more or less, a maze of motions. They understand it a little in parts, but are hopelessly divided as to the meaning and service of the whole.
II. THE PREPONDERANCE IN THESE CONFLICTING COUNSELS WAS AGAINST THE COURSE WHICH GOD HAD ALREADY LAID OUT. God had promised the land, kept it before the people, and brought them to the very verge; yet ten out of twelve men - responsible men in the tribes, men who had journeyed through the land for forty days - declared that it was beyond the strength of Israel to obtain. What a satire on vox populi vox Dei! What a humbling revelation of the motives that work most powerfully in unregenerate human nature I How easy it is to exaggerate difficulties when one's heart is not in a work; to see, not everything that is to be seen, but only what the eye wants to see, and to see in a particular way! It is a part of spiritual prudence to reckon that, whatever strength there may be in mere numbers, in brute force and material appliances, they cannot be counted on in advancing the kingdom of God. With all these resources heaped up around them, craven spirits will still cry out that there is a lion in the way.
III. IT IS EVERYTHING TO RECOLLECT THAT THERE WERE CONFLICTING COUNSELS. Cowardice, carnality, and backsliding did not altogether get their own way. Things were bad enough, but after all Caleb and Joshua counted for a great deal on the other side. We must not only count men, but weigh them. There are times when it is no credit to men, when it says but little for their piety or their humanity, that they are found among majorities. It is the glory of God's cause on earth that it never loses its hold on at least a few. There is always a Caleb to fling to the wind considerations of base expediency. - Y.
1. In these wicked reporters see how Moses, that worthy governor, was deceived, for thinking there had been a good choice made of faithful men, the greater part was naught, even ten of the twelve that were sent. So may good men be abused when they mean well, and must not be censured for that which falleth out against their wills. Again, so is the proverb verified "All is not gold that glittereth." The Lord is to be prayed unto to direct our choices; for weak is the wisdom of man, unless the wisdom of our all-seeing God go before and direct.
I. In the first place, THE UNGODLY WORLD ARE NOT TO BE EXCUSED for that which must, nevertheless, be admitted to be a very natural matter, namely, that INSTEAD OF INVESTIGATING RELIGION FOR THEMSELVES, THEY USUALLY TRUST TO THE REPRESENTATION OF OTHERS.
They brought up an evil report.I. GOD'S PROMISES WILL ALWAYS BEAR INVESTIGATION. It is true that none of us has entered heaven; but Jesus, who has gone on in advance to take possession of it in His people's name, has sent back an Eshcol cluster of its vintage, that we may know something of what we should expect. He has given us "the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." The believer already has everlasting life; for the regeneration which he has here experienced needs but to be expanded and elevated and sublimated, to become the life of heaven. It is a confirmation of Jehovah's word to him; it is the seal of God Himself to the truthfulness of His promise that he shall yet enter into heaven's own rest.
II. THERE ARE ANAKIM TO BE ENCOUNTERED IN THE CONQUEST OF EVERY PROMISED LAND. Christ has said, "If any man will come after Me," &c., and has urged us to count the cost before we commence to raise our tower. So He would prepare us for self-denial, hardship, and long-continued struggle; but we must not suppose that in all this the gospel is an exception to the general law. No Canaan of success, in any pursuit, can be gained save by the conquest of the Anakim. He who would rise to a position of eminence in the department of literature, for example, must learn to "scorn delights, and live laborious days." He must deny himself many pleasures in which others allow themselves to indulge, and must keep himself, in a sense, secluded from the world, living in his library and at his desk. The man of business who would climb the steep that leads to wealth, must pursue a similar course. He cannot leave his place; he keeps himself chained to the oar; he knows that nothing will avail but work — hard and continuous work; for so only can he conquer those influences that stand in the way of his attainment of his object. It is the same with the artist; and, on a lower platform, with the athlete. All of them have to go into training; and, in every pursuit, a campaign, with its perils and fatigues, comes before a victory. We cannot complain, there-tore, if the same law holds in the spiritual life. The giants with whom we have to contend are mainly in ourselves, in the shape of evil principles and sins that most easily beset us; and it is only through self-conquest that we can pass to any external victory. We cannot vault by one spasmodic leap up to the height of holiness, any more than the Israelites could all at once obtain possession of the Land of Promise. "By little and little" it has to be done. It needs prayer, and watchfulness, and .constancy; and if we decline to enter upon the conflict, we shall fall short of the inheritance.
III. THE TRUE BELIEVER IS ALWAYS ABLE TO CONQUER HIS SPIRITUAL ADVERSARIES WITH THE HELP OF GOD. It is not a question of feebleness, but of faith. Whether the work we set before us be our own sanctification, or the evangelisation of the city, or the conversion of the world, the principle is still the same. We can do all things through Christ strengthening us; and if we attempt great things, trusting in Him, we may expect to do great things, not otherwise.
IV. THERE IS A POINT BEYOND WHICH IT IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE TO REPAIR THE FOLLIES OF THE PAST. They who will not when they may, shall not when they will. You see this in every department and pursuit of life. Up to a certain limit it seems to be in a man's power, if he choose, to make up for the past; but beyond that limit it is no longer possible, whether he choose or not.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
1. The worldly man looks at a Christian to see whether his religion be joyful. "By this," says he, "shall I know whether there is that in religion which will make a man glad. If I see the professor of it with a joyous countenance, then I will believe it to be a good thing." But hark, sir! hast thou any right to put it to that test? Is not God to be counted true, even before we have proved Him?
2. Again, you say you will test the holiness of Christ's religion by the holiness of Christ's people. You have no right, I reply, to put the question to any such test as that. The proper test that you ought to use is to try it yourselves — to "taste and see that the Lord is good." By tasting and seeing you will prove His goodness, and by the same process you must prove the holiness of His gospel. It will be in vain for you to say at the day of judgment, "Such and such a man was inconsistent, therefore I despised religion." Your excuse will then be discovered to be idle, for you shall have to confess that in other respects you did not take another man's opinion. In business, in the cares of this life, you were independent enough; in your political opinions you did not pin your faith to any man's coat; and, therefore, it shall be said of you at last, you had enough independence of mind to steer your own course, even against the example of others, in business, in politics, and such like things; you certainly had enough of mental vigour, if you had chosen to have done so, to have stood out against the inconsistency of professors, and to have searched for yourselves.
II. With that, by way of guard, I shall now bring forth THE BAD SPIES. I wish that the men mentioned in the text had been the only spies who have brought an evil report; it would have been a great mercy if the plague that killed them had killed all the rest of the same sort. Remember, these spies are to be judged, not by what they say, but by what they do; for to a worldling words are nothing — acts are everything. The reports that we bring of our religion are not the reports of the pulpit, not the reports that we utter with our lips, but the report of our daffy life, speaking in our own houses, and the every-day business of life.
1. Welt, first, I produce a man who brings up an evil report of the land, and you will see at once that he does so, for he is a dull and heavy spirit. If he preaches he takes this text Through much tribulation we must inherit the kingdom." Somehow or other he never mentions God's people without calling them God's tried children. As for joy in the Lord, he looks upon it with suspicion. "Lord, what a wretched land is this!" is the very height of poetry to him. He is always in the valley where the mists are hovering; he never climbs the mountain brow, to stand above the tempests of this life. He was gloomy before he made a profession of religion — since then he has become more gloomy still.
2. But there is another class of professors who bring up a bad report of the land. And this I am afraid will affect us all; in some measure we must all plead guilty to it. The Christian man, although he endeavours uniformly to walk according to the law of Christ, finds still another law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and consequently there are times when his witness is not consistent. Sometimes this witness is, "The gospel is holy," for he is holy himself. But, alas! with the very best of men there are times when our witness contradicts our faith. When you see an angry Christian, and when you meet with a Christian who is proud, when you catch a Christian overtaken in a fault, as you may sometimes do, then his testimony is not consistent. He contradicts then what he has at other times declared by his acts.
III. Thus I have brought forth the evil spies who bring up a bad report; and now we have some GOOD SPIES too. But we will let them speak. Come, Joshua and Caleb, we want your testimony; though you are dead and gone you have left: children behind you; and they, still grieved as you were at the evil report, rend their clothes, but they boldly stand to it that the land they have passed through is an exceeding good land. One of the best spies I have ever met with is an aged Christian. I remember to have heard him stand up and tell what he thought of religion. He was a blind old man, who for twenty years had not seen the light of the sun. His grey locks hung from his brow and floated over his shoulders. He stood up at the table of the Lord, and thus addressed us: — "Brethren and sisters, I shall soon be taken from you; in a few more months I shall gather up my feet upon my bed, and sleep with my fathers. I have not the tongue of the learned, nor the mind of the eloquent, but I desire, before I go, to bear one public testimony to God. Fifty and six years have I served Him, and I have never found Him once unfaithful. I can say, 'Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life, and not one good thing hath failed of all the Lord God has promised.'"
IV. And now I want to press with all my might upon every professing Christian here THE GREAT NECESSITY OF BRINGING OUT A UNIFORMLY GOOD TESTIMONY CONCERNING RELIGION. One of Napoleon's officers loved him so well that when a cannonball was likely to smite the emperor he threw himself in the way, in order that he might die as a sacrifice for his master. Oh, Christian, you would do the same, I think. If Christ were here you would run between Him and insult — yea, between Him and death. Well, then, I am sure you would not wantonly expose Christ; bug remember, every unguarded word you use, every inconsistent act, puts a slur on Christ. The world, you know, does not find fault with you — they lay it all to your Master. If you make a slip to-morrow, they will not say, "That is John Smith's human nature"; they will say, "That is John Smith's religion." They know better, but they will be sure to say it. Do not allow Christ to bear the blame — do not suffer His escutcheon to be tarnished — do not permit His banner to be trampled in the dust. Then there is another consideration. You must remember, if you do wrong, the world will be quite sure to notice you. They never think of looking at the virtues of holy men; all the courage of martyrs, and all the fidelity of confessors, and all the holiness of saints, but our iniquities are ever before them. Please to recollect that wherever you are, as a Christian, the eyes of the world are upon you; the Argus eyes of an evil generation follow you everywhere. If a Church is blind the world is not. And remember, too, that the world always wears magnifying glasses to look at Christians' faults.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
2. In that they confess it was land that flowed with milk and honey, observe the rich blessings God bestoweth upon men, and make such use in your own particular as he did that said, "O Lord, thou givest to me all things fat and fair, I give to Thee all things lean and foul." Again, since the country was so good, and the inhabitants so wicked, let it make you remember the religious houses, planted most usually in places that flowed with milk and honey, and yet the possessors so idolatrous, and every way evil, as the world now taketh notice they were. Happy men are they that consider the Lord's superabounding goodness to them, and make it an argument to press them daily to thankfulness, love, and all obedience to Him both in soul and body.
3. Note the manner of their praising of the land. It is with a "but"; surely say they, it floweth with milk and honey; "but," but what? "But the people be too strong, and we are not able to go up to possess it." Thus do slanderers ever set out their praises. Such an one is a good man, "but." Such a woman is a good woman and a good neighbour, "but." The preacher to-day made a good sermon, "but." No man hath a better servant, "but." So ever with one "but" or other they abate their praise, and sting the party or matter praised in the minds of them they speak unto. The Lord of lords and Judge of judges well seeth this their dealing, yea, the world noteth it, and even they, to whom they, howsoever they hold their peace, secretly in their hearts abhor such smoothing calumniation. The end of it with God may appear by this example as fearful a one as may be read in any history. Which you may see was this, that six hundred thousand of them died in the wilderness, and never entered into the Land of Promise, and the infamy of these "butting" reporters abide chronicled to this day in the Book of God, the chronicle to be feared above all chronicles. In county and country, with great and small, these "buts" towards our brethren and good matters are used. God in mercy work the remove of them.
1. While science has revealed law, it has also revealed marvellous manipulation of law to special uses, viz., telegraph, telephone, phonograph. Now, if man can so use law to special ends without breaking law, cannot God use His own laws, so that they shall come to focus in blessing on my head, and without breaking them?
2. The most capacious mind is most attentive to details. The infinite mind does not find details burdensome. Therefore God can care for me, and help me.
3. The revelation of the Divine Fatherhood; and fatherhood always means care, love, help, particular attention.
II. There is the Anak EXPERIMENTAL. He takes such shapes as these — I cannot believe, it is hard to serve God; I cannot make myself love; I have no assurance, &c., &c. If we will only confront this son of Anak by a determined doing of precisely what Christ tells us, we shall soon discover that he cannot stand before us and prevent entrance into the Canaan of forgiveness and of peace.
III. There is the Anak VOLITIONAL. And he is the main Anak that really prevents us. Two sailors going to their boat past midnight, and getting into it that they might row themselves to their ship yonder, with brains fuddled by a spree on shore, laid hold of the oars and tugged and tugged; and when the morning broke found they had not moved an inch. And with clearer brains and in the advancing light they discovered the reason — they had not lifted the anchor. Ah, how often an unlifted anchor of some known sin is the real Anak keeping back and holding back!
(W. Hoyt, D. D.)
I. INTELLECTUAL. Schoolboy finds pathway beset with difficulties. They grow, rather than diminish. Nothing will tell its own mystery: how far we shall proceed will depend upon an unconquerable will and intensest application. As answers, we have illiteracy, scholarship, genius.
II. SOCIAL Problems of life and government complex and infinite. A few lead; the multitude follow.
III. INDUSTRIAL. We seek and find our own work. Just what is in us will come out.
IV. RELIGIOUS. Here, too, difficulties will not remove themselves. Just how we approach them will reveal the infidel, athiest, or Christian. Conclusion: Life, in all its departments, is of one piece and like texture; and its difficulties are for trial, discipline, and mastery.
(L. O. Thompson.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(G. Howard James.).
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