Set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose.
(J. M. Campbell.)
Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.
Preacher's Monthly.! — Touching and sad is the last look of the emigrant leaving his old home and the white cliffs of his native land. Some partings have in them more than sorrow. Never again! is a mournful utterance. It has in it warning, admonition, and counsel.
1. The ways of youth are not to be trodden by us again. We are ever entering into new paths. Personality is ever changing, while individual identity remains the same.
2. The ways of possible improvement in the past cannot be trodden again. The capabilities of the organ are limited by its compass and the number of its stops. But within the necessary limits what marvellous varieties of music can be brought out of it! Our life, with measured capacities, is the instrument, and we the players. In the exercise of responsible will we can bring out heavenly harmonies, or unearthly discords. How the great player wishes the audience could come back and hear what he feels he can do now. But the chance is gone. Nothing can be done with the past.
3. If the past cannot be lived over again, it is our duty to make the best of our present. There is much to be done for ourselves and others.
I. I CANNOT DO WHAT I THEN MISSED DOING.
1. What thought I of myself?
2. Did I seek God's way or my own?
II. I CANNOT UNDO WHAT I HAVE DONE. What manner of tracks did I leave in the way?
3. Temptations to others to do wrong.
III. IN VIEW OF THIS, HOW SHOULD I WALK?
1. Confessing my past sins.
2. Repenting of, and forsaking them.
3. Exercising a cheerful faith.
4. Doing good to all men as opportunity offers.Lessons:
1. Sad and solemn things are in the past.
2. Eternal things are before us.
I. IT IS NOW A MOST SIGNIFICANT TIME FOR THE TAKING OF SPIRITUAL STOCK. Most religious people would be glad to know just where they are, and how the balance stands. It is well to have a clearing out, even if one is afraid he may be suffocated with the lifted dust.
II. THEN, AGAIN, THIS IS A GOOD TIME FOR US TO GIVE OVER LACKADAISICAL COMPLAININGS ABOUT SHORT CHANCES IN THE PAST. You will not have to take the same chances again. "Ye shall henceforth return no more by that way" of youth. But does anybody really want to do that? Victor Hugo confessed to his close friends that the most disagreeable advance in age to him had been that from thirty-nine to forty. "But," said his companion, "I should think it a great deal brighter to be forty than fifty." "Not at all," replied Hugo, gaily; "forty years is the old age of youth, while fifty is the youth of old age." Ah, just think how many fine chances yet wait for a brave heart in the beautiful future which we hope to enter on after next New Year's day!
III. IT IS BEST FOR US NOW, ALSO, TO KEEP A CLEAR LOOK OUT FOR WHAT IS STILL AHEAD. Almost all of us have some past worth looking over. But the glory of every true life is in the time to come. God has not yet exhausted Himself in apocalypses of splendid radiance to His waiting people. There certainly is, in the distance, that which "eye hath not seen nor ear heard." And wise men, while the years chime on, might well think of readiness to make the great journey and meet the revelations.
IV. ONCE MORE; BY THIS TIME WE OUGHT TO LEARN TO ESTIMATE RESULTS AND FORGET PROCESSES. We do really respect hills that we have climbed painfully over; but it awakes no emotion in others when we keep rehearsing the steps which we took, and the snows we met, and the winds that we resisted. Wiser is it always to let the dead past bury its dead out of sight. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way"; and to some the past year has been a year of conflict; and who wants to go over all that again? Please remember, moments of success are not always moments of happiness; much depends on what the success has cost. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way"; to some the past year has been one of self-discipline. How much it costs just to make a slender progress in Divine things!
V. FINALLY, THIS IS THE TIME IN WHICH TO INQUIRE AFTER WORK YET LEFT UNFINISHED. We should bring our unfulfilled resolutions to God, and ask Him to grant us time to complete them.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way," TO UNDO EVIL. It matters not how black may have been your deed, nor how terrible soever its burden, it must stand. It cannot be undone. It is man's dread prerogative to do; but he cannot undo. In the drift of a far-off period in the geological ages, long before Adam was created, we find the feet marks of gigantic fowls. The mud, once soft, hardened into rock, and became the permanent record of life and activity now extinct from the globe. The effects of human action are as unchangeable. This it is that makes sin so terrible: when it has gone forth we cannot recall it. Sin is a monument of everlasting shame. A single careless miner, by a momentary act of folly, can do what can never be undone, and in an instant fill a land with sorrow, and hundreds of homes with the tears of widows and orphans. The shocking gap in human life and relationship nothing can repair. Reparation may be effected only within narrow limits; and then the wrong done cannot in the most trivial instance be wholly undone.
II. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way," TO MAKE IMPERFECT GOOD BETTER. The merchant who has been slothful, inattentive, cannot live over again the months that are gone. The transactions and figures in his books are unalterable. He cannot transport industry into past idleness, nor introduce a single item of gain into past losses. Not a stroke of work is possible in time that is over, not a sixpence of profit can be added to the accounts which are closed. It is the same thing with the student. When his examinations are over, if his session has been indolent, unsuccessful, he cannot improve the work which has been unsatisfactorily performed. He may be grieved and ashamed that his time has been so little devoted to his vocation. But the insufficiency of the past is beyond his reach. The culture of the field and the vineyard exhibits the same law. If there has been neglect or inadequate tillage, when harvest time arrives there is no going back to re-sow or re-tend. There must be scanty crops, dwindled grain and fruit, and only half-filled ears and half-laden boughs. These laws have their fulfilment in the domain of spiritual life. In the day of reckoning you cannot number profits where there have been no gains, nor number victories, if no achievements have been won. The popular proverb says, "It is never too late to mend." True, it is never too late to mend in the present, but always too late to mend in the past. The path of time gone by is closed.
III. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way," TO USE NEGLECTED OPPORTUNITY. Christian, thou hast had thine opportunities. Perhaps, when thou wert blind — blinded by thy tears — thy opportunities were the nearest to thee. The Lord, it may be, laid Himself out with parental tenderness to purify thee by disappointment, crosses, and suffering. Yet thou sawest no bright avenues crossing the path of thy shade, and conducting to beauty and peace. Has seed been put into thy hand, and hast thou not sown it? Has fruit hung within thy reach, and hast thou not plucked it? Has blessing been committed to thy solemn trust, and hast thou not scattered it? To all neglecters, opportunity is a narrowing path, which at length vanishes in trackless wilds; to the obedient, it is an ever-expanding, ascending, and illumined career, and into it all courses run which lead to glory, honour, and immortality. Every precious opportunity of each departed year is now dead to thee, dead to thine effort and industry.
IV. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way," TO ENCOUNTER PAST TRIAL, GUILT, AND SUFFERING. Do manifold imperfection and unworthiness bow thee down? Have they cost thee tears? Are they the burden of thy prayers? Dost thou daily struggle for the mastery of self, and sin, and Satan; and yet do thy besetments discourage thee? In the years now behind thee, has the firmament of thy soul often been dull and sunless, and even louring and tempestuous? Thou wilt never tread that path any more. New ground is before thee, and every step is towards the light. Conclusion:
1. The peculiar character of the Gospel is due to the fact that we cannot undo the past. Sin remains. Moral laws are immutable in their foundations, and their penalties are irrepealable. But the Lord Jesus has effected a saving work. He stands between the sinner and the woe that pursues him. He fulfils, honours, and satisfies broken laws, and covers the defenceless head of the contrite, and turns aside the merited destruction which was sweeping towards him.
2. Since what is done cannot by you be undone, are you to sit down and weep the tears of despair? My message is salvation, but not salvation which you can effect in time that is gone. The great lesson is, Act in the present.
3. Let the sincere Christian be comforted. The Lord has borne your sins. Your holy life is watched and guarded by His sheltering love. Ponder what you have done. Throw away no lessons which it offers. Be true to your past experience and conviction. But brood not over bygone evil.
4. Let us be up and doing; for all things pure and beautiful sweep along the upward groove of progress to perfection. The movement of every world and sun and system is onward.
5. In a few more breaths thy life may close. The Lord may be saying with the most literal emphasis, "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way" — "no more" the way to business, "no more" the way to the house of thy friend, "no more" the way to the church, "no more" the way to thy family and home, "no more" the way from the grave whither thou thyself shalt have been carried.
I. I can conceive THAT TO SOME OF US THERE MAY BE RELIEF AND EVEN COMFORT IN THIS ASSURANCE. The experiences through which we have come may have been such that we cannot wish for their renewal. The path over which we have passed may have been so rough and steep and dangerous that we cannot contemplate traversing it again without a shudder. When I was in Chamounix, last summer, a friend who had crossed the glacier and come down by the "Mauvais Pas," on which the iron railing put for the safety of travellers had parted from its fastenings in his grasp, assured me that be would not go through that experience again for all that earth could give. And there may be not a few among us who feel just in the same way concerning some chapters in our last year's life. We are, perhaps, thankful to be through them, but we do not wish to repeat them. We feel regarding them as one does who has come safely out of a terrible railway accident, or who sets his foot on land after a dangerous and tempestuous voyage. We are glad that we have escaped, but, even although we should escape another time, we do not desire to be again in the same peril. Some, too, may have had such a time of labour and anxiety that they are glad to think that it is now behind them and not to be renewed. And some there are who have had such a fierce fight with temptation, and have come out of it, victorious indeed, yet with such exhaustion that they cannot but rejoice in the thought that now it is all behind them in "the irrevocable past." They are glad for the result, but they would not willingly go back into the agony of the conflict. So this text, taken as an assurance, that we cannot re-live our lives, or go again through the experiences of the past, has in it an element of comfort. It is a relief to know that some things are over and done with.
II. But there is ANOTHER SIDE TO THE SUBJECT, AND THAT IS FULL OF SOLEMNITY, NOT UNATTENDED WITH SORROW, For in the past there are many things which now we wish had been otherwise. Our afterthought has shown us much to which our forethought was blind; but we cannot alter anything now. The past is always seen more correctly after it has become the past than it was when it was present. Lost opportunities cannot be recalled, and no cement of human device can mend a broken vow. Ah! what a sad reflection have we here! You cannot recall the profane word; you cannot wipe out the impure act; you cannot undo the sins you have committed. What then? What is to be done with it? I answer, that if we cannot cancel it, we can confess the evil that is in it, and seek through Jesus Christ forgiveness for that. If we please, we can obtain, through the great atonement, acceptance with God notwithstanding our sins. The sting of our guilt may be extracted, and the past may cease to be a clog upon our spiritual progress.
III. And then, turning the thought which the words of my text express, WE MAY MAKE IT FULL OF ADMONITION TO OURSELVES FOR THE FUTURE. We are about to enter upon a path in which there will be no possibility of retracing our steps; let us be very careful, therefore, where we plant our feet. We have only once to live; therefore let us live to purpose. The day that dawned this morning will never dawn again. So let us seize every moment as it comes, and use it as we shall wish we had done when we look back upon it from eternity. Remember, the year does not come to you all at once, in twelve months at a time, nor even in twelve distinct installments of a month each; no, nor yet in three hundred and sixty-five separate portions of a day apiece: but in individual moments. Do not, therefore, lose the moments in thinking that you will secure the year; but consider that the year is to be redeemed by the consecration of each moment to the Lord Jesus. Fill every day with His service.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
He shall read therein.Matthew 22:29). We are commanded to "search the Scriptures" (John 5:39). The Greek word signifies to search as for a vein of silver. How diligently doth a child read over his father's will and testament, and a citizen peruse his charter! With the like diligence should we read God's Word, which is our Magna Charta for heaven. It is a mercy the Bible is not prohibited. Trajan, the emperor, forbade the Jews to read in the book of the law. But there is no danger of touching this tree of Holy Scriptures; if we do not eat of this tree of knowledge we shall surely die.
I. REMOVE THOSE THINGS WHICH WILL HINDER YOUR PROFITING.
1. Remove the love of every sin. The body cannot thrive in a fever; nor can the soul under the feverish heat of lust.
2. Take heed of the thorns which will choke the Word read. A covetous man is a pluralist; he hath such diversity of secular employments, that he can scarce find time to read; or if he doth, what solecisms doth he commit in reading! While his eye is upon the Bible, his heart is upon the world; it is not the writings of the apostles he is so much taken with, as the writings in his account book. Is this man likely to profit? You may as soon extract oils and syrups out of a flint, as he any real benefit out of Scripture.
3. Take heed of jesting with Scripture. This is playing with fire.
II. PREPARE YOUR HEARTS TO THE READING OF THE WORD. The heart is an instrument that needs putting in tune. This preparation to reading consists in two things —
1. In summoning our thoughts together to attend that solemn work we are going about. The thoughts are stragglers; therefore rally them together.
2. In purging out those unclean affections which do indispose us to reading. Many come rashly to the reading of the Word; and no wonder, if they come without preparation, that they go away without profit.
III. READ THE SCRIPTURE WITH REVERENCE. Think every line you read God is speaking to you. When Ehud told Eglon he had a message to him from God, he arose from his throne (Judges 3:20). The Word written is a message to us from Jehovah; with what veneration should we receive it!
IV. READ THE BOOKS OF SCRIPTURE IN ORDER. Though occurrences may sometimes divert our method, yet for a constant course it is best to observe an order in reading. Order is a help to memory: we do not begin to read a friend's letter in the middle.
V. GET A RIGHT UNDERSTANDING OF SCRIPTURE (Psalm 119:73). If the Word shoot above our head, it can never hit our heart.
VI. READ THE WORD WITH SERIOUSNESS. Well may we be serious if we consider the importance of those truths which are bound up in this sacred volume. "It is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life" (chap. Deuteronomy 32:47). If a letter were to be broken open and read, wherein a man's whole estate were concerned, how serious would he be in reading of it! In the Scripture our salvation is concerned; it treats of the love of Christ, a serious subject (Titus 3:4).
VII. LABOUR TO REMEMBER WHAT YOU READ. The memory should be like the chest in the ark, where the law was put. Some can better remember a piece of news than a line of Scripture; their memories are like those ponds where the frogs live, but the fish die.
VIII. MEDITATE UPON WHAT YOU READ. Meditation is the bellows of the affections: "While I was musing the fire burned" (Psalm 39:3). The reason we come away so cold from reading the Word is, because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.
IX. COME TO THE READING OF SCRIPTURE WITH HUMBLE HEARTS. An arrogant person disdains the counsels of the Word, and hates the reproofs; is he likely to profit? "God giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). The most eminent saints have been but of low stature in their own eyes; like the sun in the zenith, they showed least when they were at the highest.
X. GIVE CREDENCE TO THE WORD WRITTEN. Believe it to be of God; see the name of God in every line. The Romans, that they might gain credit to their laws, reported that they were inspired by the gods at Rome. Believe the Scripture to be "Divinely inspired." Whence should the Scripture come, if not from God?
1. Sinners could not be the authors of Scripture. Would they indite such holy lines? or inveigh so fiercely against those sins which they love?
2. Saints could not be the authors of Scripture. How could it stand with their sanctity to counterfeit God's name, and put "Thus saith the Lord" to a book of their own devising?
3. Angels could not be the authors of Scripture. What angel in heaven durst personate God, and say, "I am the Lord"? Believe the pedigree of Scripture to be sacred, and to come from the "Father of lights."
XI. HIGHLY PRIZE THE SCRIPTURES (Psalm 119:72). St. Gregory calls the Bible "the heart and soul of God." It is the library of the Holy Ghost. It is the compass by which the rudder of our wheel is to be steered; it is the field in which Christ, the Pearl of price, is hid; it is a rock of diamonds; it is a sacred "eye-salve"; it mends their eyes that look upon it; it is a spiritual optic-glass in which the glory of God is resplendent; it is the "universal medicine" for the soul.
XII. GET AN ARDENT LOVE TO THE WORD. Prizing relates to judgment, love to the affections. "Consider how I love Thy precepts" (Psalm 119:159; Romans 7:22). He is likely to grow rich who delights in his trade; "a lover of learning will be a scholar." St. Austin tells us, before his conversion he took no pleasure in the Scriptures, but afterwards they were his "chaste delights."
XIII. COME TO THE READING OF THE WORD WITH HONEST HEARTS.
1. Willing to know the whole counsel of God.
2. Desirous of being made better by it.
XIV. LEARN TO APPLY SCRIPTURE. Take every word as spoken to yourselves.
XV. OBSERVE THE PRECEPTIVE PART OF THE WORD, AS WELL AS THE PERMISSIVE. Such as east their eye upon the promise, with a neglect of the command, are not edified by Scripture; they look more after comfort than duty. The body may be swelled with wind as well as flesh: a man may be filled with false comfort, as well as that which is genuine and real.
XVI. LET YOUR THOUGHTS DWELL UPON THE MOST MATERIAL PASSAGES OF SCRIPTURE. The bee fastens on those flowers where she may suck most sweetness. Though the whole contexture of Scripture is excellent, yet some parts of it may have a greater emphasis, and be more quick and pungent.
XVII. COMPARE YOURSELVES WITH THE WORD. See how the Scripture and your hearts agree, how your dial goes with this sun. Are your hearts, as it were, a transcript of Scripture? Is the Word copied out into your hearts?
XVIII. TAKE SPECIAL NOTICE OF THOSE SCRIPTURES WHICH SPEAK TO YOUR PARTICULAR CASE. Were a consumptive person to read Galen or Hippocrates, he would chiefly observe what they writ about a consumption. Great regard is to be had to those paragraphs of Scripture which are most apposite to one's present case. I shall instance only in three cases —
XIX. TAKE SPECIAL NOTICE OF THE EXAMPLES IN SCRIPTURE. Make the examples of others living sermons to you.
1. Observe the examples of God's judgments upon sinners. They have been hanged up in chains in terrorem. 2. Observe the examples of God's mercy to saints. Jeremy, was preserved in the dungeon, the three children in the furnace, Daniel in the lions den. These examples are props to faith, spurs to holiness. XX. LEAVE NOT OFF READING IN THE BIBLE TILL YOU FIND YOUR HEARTS WARMED. XXI. SET UPON THE PRACTICE OF WHAT YOU READ. "I have done Thy commandments" (Psalm 119:166). A student in physic doth not satisfy himself to read over a system or body of physic, but he falls upon practising physic: the life-blood of religion lies in the practical part. So, in the text: "He shall read" in the book of the law "all the days of his life; that he may learn to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them." Christians should be walking Bibles. XXII. MAKE USE OF CHRIST'S PROPHETICAL OFFICE. He is "the Lion" of the tribe of Judah," to whom it is given "to open the book" of God, "and to loose the seven seals thereof (Revelation 5:5). Christ doth so teach as He doth quicken. XXIII. TREAD OFTEN UPON THE THRESHOLD OF THE SANCTUARY. Ministers are God's interpreters; it is their work to expound dark places of Scripture. We read of "pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers" (Judges 7:16). Ministers are "earthen" pitchers (2 Corinthians 4:7). But these pitchers have lamps within them, to light souls in the dark. XXIV. PRAY THAT GOD WILL MAKE YOU PROFIT. "I am the Lord thy God, which teacheth thee to profit" (Isaiah 48:17). Make David's prayer: "Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law" (Psalm 119:18). Pray to God to take off the veil on the Scripture, that you may understand it; and the veil on your heart, that you may believe it. Pray that God will not only give you His Word as a rule of holiness, but His grace as a principle of holiness. I shall conclude all with two corollaries — 1. Content not yourselves with the bare reading of Scripture, but labour to find some spiritual increment and profit. Get the Word transcribed into your hearts: "The law of his God is in his heart" (Psalm 37:31). Never leave till you are assimilated into the Word. Such as profit by reading of the Book of God are the best Christians alive; they answer God's cost, they credit religion, they save their souls. 2. You who have profited by reading the Holy Scriptures, adore God's distinguishing grace. (T. Watson, M. A.).
2. Observe the examples of God's mercy to saints. Jeremy, was preserved in the dungeon, the three children in the furnace, Daniel in the lions den. These examples are props to faith, spurs to holiness.
XX. LEAVE NOT OFF READING IN THE BIBLE TILL YOU FIND YOUR HEARTS WARMED.
XXI. SET UPON THE PRACTICE OF WHAT YOU READ. "I have done Thy commandments" (Psalm 119:166). A student in physic doth not satisfy himself to read over a system or body of physic, but he falls upon practising physic: the life-blood of religion lies in the practical part. So, in the text: "He shall read" in the book of the law "all the days of his life; that he may learn to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them." Christians should be walking Bibles.
XXII. MAKE USE OF CHRIST'S PROPHETICAL OFFICE. He is "the Lion" of the tribe of Judah," to whom it is given "to open the book" of God, "and to loose the seven seals thereof (Revelation 5:5). Christ doth so teach as He doth quicken.
XXIII. TREAD OFTEN UPON THE THRESHOLD OF THE SANCTUARY. Ministers are God's interpreters; it is their work to expound dark places of Scripture. We read of "pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers" (Judges 7:16). Ministers are "earthen" pitchers (2 Corinthians 4:7). But these pitchers have lamps within them, to light souls in the dark.
XXIV. PRAY THAT GOD WILL MAKE YOU PROFIT. "I am the Lord thy God, which teacheth thee to profit" (Isaiah 48:17). Make David's prayer: "Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law" (Psalm 119:18). Pray to God to take off the veil on the Scripture, that you may understand it; and the veil on your heart, that you may believe it. Pray that God will not only give you His Word as a rule of holiness, but His grace as a principle of holiness. I shall conclude all with two corollaries —
1. Content not yourselves with the bare reading of Scripture, but labour to find some spiritual increment and profit. Get the Word transcribed into your hearts: "The law of his God is in his heart" (Psalm 37:31). Never leave till you are assimilated into the Word. Such as profit by reading of the Book of God are the best Christians alive; they answer God's cost, they credit religion, they save their souls.
2. You who have profited by reading the Holy Scriptures, adore God's distinguishing grace.
(T. Watson, M. A.).