Joshua, he shall go over before them.
(Isaac Williams, B. D.)
Be strong and of a good courage
1. Such courage is preeminently the courage of a rational faith. In every struggle, physical, political, moral, whatever it may be, a man needs good footing. The moral athlete who makes a successful stand against the difficulties of life must have a good standing ground. Faith gives us footing. Scepticism is a sapper and miner. It takes the ground from under our feet. In any difficulty or danger the mind must be in a positive attitude of confidence. There is nothing but moral imbecility in perpetual distrust or doubt. An over-sceptical habit of mind involves moral paralysis. Faith is vantage ground for the battle. A man may find a certain standing ground in himself. Well, God has put strength into manhood, and He gives men ample opportunity to test it, and a man ought to be able to believe in himself. To distrust one's self in a pinch is to invite defeat. It is not safe to suspend one's self in the uncertainty of self-distrust. One must trust other men also. No one can stand alone. We are obliged to believe in our fellowmen. A surrender of faith in God and providence would leave the world in the imbecility of despair. And I question if there be not in all rational faith in personal manhood, in fellow men, and in the world in which we live a certain latent or implicit confidence in a higher power and in a moral order that has a rational and moral beginning and goal. Certain it is that when men begin to think ethically and rationally they are obliged to postulate the reality of God as a basis of confidence in the ultimate victory of life. This courage of faith in God is the old Hebrew courage. The same stress is put upon faith in the ethics of the Christian life. And this is no insignificant thing as related to the moral conflict of life. Faith is a fundamental virtue in the battle of life, because it is only unto faith that we shall add a manly courage. It is the God of redemption that is committed to us and will see us through the struggle of life.
2. It is the courage of rational moral conviction. Conviction involves the action of truth in the conscience. It gets lodged there in the way of moral conquest. Moral truth is well intrenched only when it is intrenched in an intelligent conscience, and the only valiant soldier in its army is the man who carries it about with him in his moral conviction as a man carries his life and force in the blood of his heart. The man who is morally mastered by the truth is himself masterful. Moral realities do not get very deep root in the soft of the mind alone. Convince and persuade a man, and he may not remain convinced or persuaded. The truth must get below the mind and below emotion, that only transiently dominates the will. But it has won a great victory when it gets hold of the conscience and wins men to its intelligent service. When a man invests with moral sacredness what he holds for truth he will maintain it against all comers and will advance with it in the face of all opposition. Men do not sacrifice much for nor stand by what they hold indifferently. But the quality of correctness is not enough. Living things hold by the root, and they need good soil. Rational moral soil is the only soil that is fit for the truth one holds with tenacity and defends with courage. The passive virtue of humility is indeed a Christian virtue, but it is a humility that should be matched by the most heroic and aggressive boldness. That was a brave Church, that Apostolic Church. They did not stop to balance dangers against duties. They spoke and acted and took the consequences, and they won a victory unmatched in human history. It was not temporising, it was not political trimming, it was not partisan cowardice, that founded Christianity. Strength is what this world is looking for, and what it is sure to respect. Not too bold, not shallow audacity; the sober courage of strong moral conviction — this is Christian courage, and this is what the world needs today.
3. A rational devotion also lies at the foundation of strong and courageous character. Devotion implies an object to be attained, upon which one concentrates his energies. There is a goal to be reached. It lies beyond all intervening obstacle, difficulty, or danger, and to reach it one concentrates effort upon it. Any sort of devotion, even the commonest, involves a rallying of one's personal forces about a central and commanding purpose to reach the desired object at all hazard and despite all difficulty. And here is the rallying ground of courage. In fact, what is courage but devotion to a desired object in the face of all obstacles? Now, all concentrated and persistent effort in the work of life must rally about this central purpose, and this purpose will successfully meet all difficulty that lies scattered along the entire life path. Such a life must be a strong and courageous life. It is the life of one who puts the object of his striving far over and beyond the farthest mountain peak of earthly difficulty, and who has an inclusive and commanding purpose to go over, mastering every barrier till he compass the object of his life. This mighty purpose to reach the goal of life is a species of devotion. The moral life of the world is dependent on personal relations. Some form of piety is necessary to morality. It is preeminently true in the higher domain of religion. The constraint of Christ's love is the heart of Christian devotion. And what is Christian courage but the soul's trusting and loving self-preservation for the tasks of life, in face of all difficulty and obstacle and danger, out of a sentiment and principle of gratitude to Him who is of right the Lord and Master of life?
4. To a rational faith, conviction, and devotion there should be added a rational hope as the crown and completion of a strong and courageous Christian life. What we strive for must be attainable in some measure and form at least, or strength and courage fail. If hope should fail the battle of life would end. All over the field men would drop and rise no more. The powers of manhood would fail, and the end would be a universal wail of despair. Therefore you hope, and therefore you have courage for the battle of life. And there is always an abundant stock of hope on hand for the world at large. All over the world we see its conquests. The heart of man in a struggling life is demonstration that, good lies behind and before. It is God's witness. That it is possible amid life's mountain barriers is intimation that good is the law of life and good its final goal. What a world it is, and what a life is this human life! If this small fragment of it were the end it sometimes seems as if no power of last defeat could crush the energies of this strange struggling creature, man. It is clear enough that the world was built for conquest by him, even material conquest. But it was built, too, for moral conquest, and what we need is hope for moral conquest. To conquer the world is not to conquer the untrained forces of the soul, nor to conquer sin, nor to conquer death. We are conquering the material world in this nation of ours, but materialism and animalism and sordid selfishness are conquering us. But not all men are conquering in the battle of material life. The notes of discontent all about us are bodeful. They may portend the desolation of a coming tempest. Many give up the struggle. What shall we do with the baffled? After all, is it not the larger number with whom the world goes ill? And there is a little joyous section of this struggling world, weighted with the common sorrows, but joyful still, that for almost nineteen centuries has been singing the song of hope to keep the weary brotherhood and sisterhood in heart. The literature of hope is very rich. And it suggests how much the song of hope is needed in the bafflings of life. The true goal of life is "where beyond these voices there is peace." We need a Divine hand to tear away the darkness of life and disclose the crown that glitters for the conqueror amid the glories of the perfected kingdom of redemption. The song of the redemption hope is a new song for earth. It is this hope of eternal redemption that holds the soul to its heavenly inheritance. Courage for the moral conflict of life, courage to meet the power of sin and of the last great enemy, is the courage of Christian hope.
(L. O. Brascow, D. D.)
The Lord, He it is that doth go before thee.I. "THE LORD." Lordship, kingship, governorship — call it what you may, the central authority of any order of government embodies a truth which is universally desired, a power which can hold in control other powers, and round which they can centre. I can see along the untrodden path terrible threatening, defying, resisting foes within and without. Sorrow, suffering, sin, and temptation; a prosperity when we may forsake Him, an adversity when we may forget Him. Is there anyone who can lord it over all these? It is in the finding of that lordship that the happiness, the safety of the year is ensured. Keep that word, "The Lord," before you all through the year; take orders from Him for the daily march; report yourself to Him each night. The Lord reigneth!
II. "HE IT IS THAT DOTH GO BEFORE." You have a year before you. You cannot live without thinking of the future. The error lies in thinking of tomorrow without thinking of tomorrow's God. God has gone before you.
III. "HE WILL BE WITH THEE." Out of providence grows the desire of fellowship — companionship. I do not doubt that God finds some pleasure in being with us; but surely the greater pleasure should be in our being with Him. He knows that, and He meets our wishes for fellowship.
IV. "HE WILL NOT FAIL THEE." How little do we believe in the omnipotence of God, which backs all His love! We cannot exhaust His resources. In no possible position can we be placed where He cannot assist us.
V. "NEITHER FORSAKE THEE." Then fear not, neither be dismayed!
(A. D. Spong.)
Fear not, neither be dismayed
Homilist.Glorious words of encouragement to a people going forth to meet opposing forces, terrible foes, and unknown dangers.
I. THE ASSURER. "The Lord." The very word implies kingship, governorship, authority, power.
II. THE ASSURANCE. Three promises.
1. Prevision. "Go before."
2. Fellowship. "Be with" thee."
3. Constancy. "Will not fail."
III. THE INFERENCE. Our Father never sleeps, never tires; and if He is all that He promises, how can we fear?
Thou shalt read this law.
1. To be read at "the feast of tabernacles," the greatest of all their festivals, when, harvest and vintage being completed, they had most leisure to attend to it. This feast was celebrated in "the year of release," the most proper time that could be chosen for reading the law; for then the people were freed from debts, troubles, and cares of a worldly nature, and at liberty to attend to it without distraction.
2. The law was to be read by Joshua, chief governor, and by others who had the charge of instructing the people. Thus Joshua himself read to the congregation (Joshua 8:34, 35); Josiah and Ezra (2 Chronicles 34:30; Nehemiah 8:2). But Jehoshaphat employed priests and Levites (2 Chronicles 17:9). This public reading was in part the duty of the king, the Jews say, who began it, and that afterwards it was taken up by the priests.
3. The law was to be read in the hearing of all Israel (ver. 11).(1) Pious Jews who had copies doubtless read in their own houses.(2) Some portion was read in the synagogue every Sabbath day (Acts 15:21).(3) In Jehoshaphat's time it was read by his command in the different cities of Judah, and the people were instructed out of it by the priests and Levites, but at every year of release the law was read, not only publicly to all the people, but throughout, and read from an original copy, which served as a standard by which all other copies were tried.
4. The whole congregation must assemble to hear the law.Hence learn —
1. That when our debts are remitted, and we are brought into the liberty of God's children, we shall then delight to hear and obey our delivering Lord in every call of duty.
2. The Word of God, being our only rule, should be read and known of all; how cruel the attempt, and how contrary to the Divine will, to keep it locked up from the people in an unknown tongue, and to establish ignorance by law!
3. Nothing should engage us more solicitously than the early instruction of our children in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, which alone can make them wise unto salvation.
That their children...may hear, and learn to fear the Lord.I. GODLINESS IN CHILDREN IS ACCOUNTED BY CHRISTIANS GENERALLY TO BE EXTRAORDINARY, OR AT LEAST UNCOMMON; AND PERHAPS THERE ARE BUT FEW GODLY CHILDREN. Compared with the number of children who are blessed with godly parentage, and taught in Christian schools, who are present when the public ordinances of Christ's Church are administered, the children who manifest true piety are certainly not many. If our observation be accurate, Christian parents and teachers and pastors do not, with sufficient confidence, look for, or expect to find, godliness in children. If we employ those means which are divinely ordained for the conversion of human beings in our efforts On behalf of children, why should we not expect immediate and early results?
II. IT IS TRUE THAT THE SIGHS OF A CHILD ARE NOT HEAVY; THEY ARE NOT, AS IN THE SOUL OF MANHOOD AND WOMANHOOD, OCEAN WAVES, BUT THEY ARE RATHER LIKE THE RIPPLE UPON THE WATERS OF SOME SHELTERED LAKE. It is true that the emotions of a child are not the hardy blossoms of a sturdy fruit tree, but the tender and delicate bloom of a tree that has as yet yielded little more than promise of fruit. Nevertheless, that blossom, which winds will tear and shake, is the outflowing of life; that ripple on the lake shows susceptibility in the water towards its sister element, air; and those dewdrop tears show that earth and heaven, man and God, are working upon the child's nature. If the understanding of a child be less enlightened, the soul is more sensitive; if the judgment be less formed, the conscience is more tender; if there be but little strength of purpose, the heart is less hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
III. If decided piety be within reach of a child, HOW IS IT THAT THE ABSENCE OF GODLINESS FROM CHILDREN DOES NOT MORE DISTRESS US, AND THAT PIETY IN CHILDREN IS NOT MORE OUR AIM AND HOPE, AND THAT IT IS NOT MORE FREQUENTLY THE BURDEN OF OUR PRAYER? Why, as some, always suspect a child who professes to be godly? Godly children are God's workmanship, created by Jesus Christ, and if we would be the means of leading children into true godliness, we must bid them look to our Saviour Jesus. I say to Him, not at Him. There is a vast difference between these things. The child looks at the King when he goes to see him proceed in state to open the Parliament; but he looks to his mother when he relies on her for the supply of his daily wants.
(S. Martin, D. D.)
(W. A. Gray.)
Thy days approach that thou must die.I. THOSE WHO LIVE CHIEFLY FOR THIS WORLD TRY NOT TO THINK OF DEATH, BECAUSE THEY WOULD LIKE NOTHING BETTER THAN TO LIVE ON HERE FOREVER. But the shutting of our eyes to the approach of death does not make him turn away from us, and therefore our wisest and safest course is to prepare for his coming, whether it be near or far off.
II. DEATH DOES NOT OCCUPY THAT PLACE IN THE WORD OF GOD WHICH IT DOES OCCUPY IN THAT RELIGION OF OURS WHICH PROFESSES TO BE DERIVED FROM THE WORD OF GOD. In the New Testament death is simply treated as an abolished thing. The second coming of Christ is always, in the exhortations of the New Testament, substituted for death. Death, in the eye of faith, is not the end, but the beginning, of all; it is the commencement of the "life that knows no ending."
III. IF CHRIST HAS ROBBED DEATH OF ITS STING, IT DOES NOT BEHOVE US TO LOOK AT DEATH AS IF HE HAD NOT DONE SO. Let us view the approach of death as something which He means should bring us nearer to Him. We must pray Him, since the days approach in which we must die, that death may not find us unprepared. And as we look forward to the future we must commit our way and ourselves into His keeping.
(F. E. Paget.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Moses therefore wrote this song.
1. The first most noticeable characteristic of this song is that it is intensely theological. The keyword is GOD — in His majesty, in His compassion, in His righteousness, in His tears — God is a species of incarnation thousands of years before the event of Bethlehem.
2. Another characteristic of the song is its broad human history. Read the thirty-second chapter from end to end, and you will find it a record of historical events. Facts are the pedestals on which we set sculptured music. We must know our own history if we would know the highest religious arguments, and apply with unquestionable and beneficent skill great Christian appeals. The witness must be in ourselves: we must know, and taste, and feel, and handle of the Word of Life, and live upon it, returning to it as hunger returns to bread and thirst flies swiftly to sparkling fountains. When you are doubtful as to religious mysteries, read your own personal record: when metaphysics are too high or too deep, peruse facts, put the pieces of your lives together, see how they become a shape — a house not made with hands, a temple fashioned in heaven. The days are not to be detached from one another, they are to be linked on and held in all the symbolism and reality of their unity.
3. Hence, another characteristic of the song is its record of providence. God found Jacob "in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; He led him about," etc.; and then comes all the detail of providential care and love, and all the sublime appeal arising out of the undisputed goodness of God. We do not need providence to be proved by wordy argument, for we ourselves are living illustrations of God's nearness, and greatness, and love. We must never give up this arm of our panoply; this weapon is a weapon strong and keen; we must in the use of it testify what we have seen and known, and we must magnify God by facts that have occurred within the limits of our own observation and experience. Every Christian man is a miracle; every Christian life is a Bible; every devout experience is a proof of the possibility of inspiration.
4. The song is also accusatory: "Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked; thou art waxen fat," etc. When a song accuses, how terrific is the indictment! Who expects a song to double back upon the singer and accuse him of ingratitude, presumption, or forgetfulness? Our hymns are witnesses for us and against us; our very music has some plain things to tell us; even in song we do not escape justice. The songs of the Bible are not mere sentiments melodised and turned into a species of aesthetic luxury: Bible songs are Bible theology, Bible statutes, Bible precepts, Divine interventions and providences.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Deuteronomy 32:3-6. The faithfulness of Jehovah, the God of truth, the Rock of salvation, and the unfaithfulness of His fickle and foolish people — such are clearly to be the main ideas of the song. In the after developments there are three things very powerfully set forth.
I. WHAT ISRAEL OWES TO GOD (vers. 7-14). Here the great things which God had done for them are brought out in a few bold delineations, mingling strength and pathos in a marvellous degree. He shows how from the beginning God had set His regardful eyes upon them, how He had guided the history of all other nations in a manner subservient to their welfare, making them and their development the historic centre of the ancient world; how He had found them poor, helpless wanderers in the wilderness, and formed them into a people there — His own people, whom He had fed and led and trained as a tender mother might — and at last brought into the goodly land He had promised them, exalting them high among the nations of the earth, and giving them richly all things to enjoy.
II. HOW WILL ISRAEL PAY THE DEBT? To this question the prophetic song gives a sad answer. Israel will pay her debt of gratitude to God by base ingratitude, beginning with self-indulgence, and going on to neglect of Jehovah and the worship of strange gods. Such is the sad prophetic picture in verses 15-18. Thus Israel requites God.
III. HOW WILL GOD REQUITE ISRAEL? Almost all that remains of the song is taken up with the fearful answer to this question, setting forth how God takes notice of it first, and is filled with indignation; how He hides His face and leaves His people to themselves and to the bitter fruits of their ingratitude; how He takes their precious privileges from them, and gives them to those who till then had been "no people"; how, finally, He lets loose on them all the fury of His vengeance, and utterly destroys their place and nation. All this we find realised in history. The entire history of the founding of the Christian Church, especially in the light in which it is put by the great apostle, who again and again quotes the words of this song in connection with the calling of the Gentiles, is a fulfilment of these warning words of Moses. All this is very dark; but it is dark only to those who "forsake God, and lightly esteem the Rock of their salvation" (ver. 15). The very faithfulness of God to His most terrible threatenings is an additional reason why those who believe in Him should exercise most unshaken confidence in Him. Then, too, if you examine the song throughout, you will find it full of evidence of the goodness and long-suffering of the Lord. Though there is inflexible justice, both in the prophecy itself and in its fulfilment, yet throughout all it is evident that He speaks and acts, "who delighteth not in the death of him that dieth"; who "willeth not that any should perish, but that all should turn unto him and live We have looked at this song as a witness against Israel. This was doubtless its original design; but its scope is far wider. This song was written for a witness against all who enjoy Israel's privileges and follow Israel's sins. Even among the Gentiles, though all are alike welcome, and exclusive privileges are now done away entirely in Christ Jesus, there have been and are those who are far in advance of others in respect to the advantages they enjoy. First came the Greek and Latin races, united in the mighty Roman Empire. To them first, among the Gentiles, the Gospel was preached; and by them first, as a nation and race, was the Gospel received. Three hundred years had not passed away from the death of "Jesus of Nazareth" till the faith of "that same Jesus" was the established religion of the Roman Empire; and not long thereafter the privileges of the Gospel were within reach of almost the whole of that vast population. What a change from the martyr days, the days of hiding in the catacombs! Was it not as true of the Christians of the Roman Empire as it was of ancient Israel, that God had "found them in a desert land," had "led them about," had "kept them as the apple of His eye," and had at last "made them ride upon the high places of the earth," and given them to "eat the increase of the fields"? Well, how did the favoured people then pay their debt of gratitude? Was it not the old story over again? "Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked." They "waxed fat, grew thick, were covered with fatness; then they forsook God, and lightly esteemed the Rock of their salvation." They became self-indulgent, "earthly, sensual, devilish." Corruption of manners and corruption of doctrine set in "like a flood;" they turned to "strange gods"; they worshipped saints and relics, and bowed down to images; they adored the consecrated wafer. The very light that was in them became darkness, and "how great was that darkness!" And as, before, the heritage of truth and blessing had passed from the Jew to the Gentile, so now it passed from the Roman to the Teuton. These Teutonic races of the north had been "no people" in the eyes of the empire of Rome. They had been known only as barbarians, both in the Greek and Latin tongues. Yet these "no people," these "barbarians," who had fallen one by one before the all-conquering might of Rome, became the very people who fell heirs to the legacy of Divine truth, and the great blessings which accompany its possession. For, though the first reformation seemed for a time to work among the Latin races also, it was only for a time; the hold of corruption was too firm for it to last, and they all relapsed into the darkness from which at first they had seemed ready to emerge, while among the Germanic races the light of truth continued to shine and to diffuse itself over a widening area. And now it is the Teutonic races who are in the position of Israel of old, and principally those who speak the English language. Who can tell what we who speak the English tongue owe to Jehovah, "the Rock of our salvation"? Where did He "find" us? Was it not "in a desert land" indeed — a very howling wilderness? See what the early Britons were when first they heard Jehovah's name. And how has the Lord "led" them since then! How tenderly did He "bear" our fathers on, teaching them by degrees the use of that liberty which has grown with Britain's growth, and strengthened with her strength. And how has He now "made us to ride upon the high places of the earth," and given "us the increase of the fields"! For is it not a patent fact that the destinies of the world are at this moment, under God, swayed by those who speak our mother tongue, while the great mass of the world's wealth is ill their hands? And all this we owe to Him who is "Head over all things." Not only our rich spiritual privileges, but even our temporal greatness, our and position and power and wealth in the world, we owe to Jehovah, God of Israel, "the Rock of our salvation." Well, how do we "requite the Lord"? Is it not very much in the old way? Is not wealth breeding self-indulgence and luxury; and are not these leading us, as a people, to forget God, and "lightly to esteem the Rock of our salvation"? Are there not many "strange gods" among us: Mammon, Fashion, Pleasure? And what of this sad revival of Middle-Age superstition? Has not the sign of Rome been written with a pen of iron and the point of a diamond? And why this haste to be partakers again of her sin and of her plagues? Oh, is not this song a witness against us too? God is long-suffering indeed, and it is well that He is, or where should we English-speaking people be today? But His long-suffering has a limit, as is evident from the past.
(J. M. Gibson, D. D.)
Thy stiff neck.