You were shown these things so that you would know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides Him.
I. THE WONDERFULLNESS OF REVELATION AT ALL. (Ver. 33.) It may be argued with great propriety that man needs a revelation; that if there is a God, it is probable he will give one; that the absence of all special revelation would be a greater wonder than the fact of a revelation being given. Yet, when the mind dwells on it, the sense of wonder grows at the thought of the Eternal thus stooping to hold converse with finite, sinful, dying men on earth. Whatever enhances our conceptions of God's greatness, intensifies in the same measure our wonder at the condescension, grace, and love implied in special revelation (Psalm 8.).
II. THE WONDERFULLNESS OF GOD'S REVELATION OF HIMSELF IN ISRAEL'S HISTORY. (Vers. 34-39.) God revealed himself to Israel; but, inasmuch as the calling, deliverance, and whole history of the nation was full of the supernatural, he was revealed also in Israel - in its history. The miraculous element in the history of Israel is urged as a reason for rejecting it. But remark:
1. It claims to stand out as something absolutely unique in time. This is no case of the vulgar supernatural, begotten of a childish, miracle-loving age. Moses is as conscious of the marvel, of the exceptional character of the occurrences he narrates, as any of his critics; probably more so. He rises to the grandeur of the subject he speaks of, and puts it on the express ground that nothing like it was ever known, or rumored, in history.
2. An adequate reason existed for these wonders. The interposition of God, as narrated in these verses, the whole revelation, with its terrors, its signs and wonders, its fire, its lawgiving, - is abundantly worthy of the Being who is said to have revealed himself, and of the ends for which that discovery of himself was made. On the other hand, it rises high above what man would naturally have imagined God to do, had he set himself to invent a story of the kind.
3. The wonders are well attested. Moses appealed to a generation, the older part of which had witnessed them. Critics dispute the Mosaic authorship of the address; but apart from this, it is to be said that the whole after-history of the nation rests on their reality. There is, however, an inherent sublimity, fitness, vividness, sense of reality in the narratives, and in this appeal to eye-witnesses, which speaks of itself for the truthfulness of the history. When narratives of the same kind, presenting the same marvelous characteristics, can be produced from other literatures, and laid alongside of these, we will be able to believe in their legendary or invented character.
4. These wonders established a unique claim on Israel for obedience and fidelity (vers. 39, 40).
III. THE WONDERFULNESS OF GOD'S REVELATION OF HIMSELF IN ISRAEL IS SURPASSED BY HIS REVELATION OF HIMSELF IN CHRIST. These wonders in Israel were but the earlier acts in a great drama, of which the later belong to the dispensation of the gospel. While Moses appeals to the limited character of the former revelation as enhancing its wonder (ver. 34), it is the greater marvel of the revelation in Christ, that it is universal in its scope, and brings in a redemption which all can share. We think here of the incarnation, the miracles of Christ, the resurrection, the outpouring of the Spirit, the miraculous spread of the gospel, subsequent reformations and revivals, conversions, the supernatural power exhibited in the renewal and sanctification of souls, the successes of missions, etc. (cf. Hebrews 2:1-5). The appeals of Moses, and his exhortations to wonder and obey, come down to ourselves, accordingly, with enormously enhanced force. - J.O.
I. IN HIS NAME. Is it answered, "That is only a word"? But what are words? People do not forge and utter words as they please. They cannot be made or unmade by votes of assemblies or edicts of kings. They are chronic. They come into existence by a law of nature. They are carved out of unstable air by a supernatural power. To call God's Word or name "priest craft" is itself cant. A set of priests could no more have created it than they could an ocean or a mountain range. Matthew Arnold says, "God means the Brilliant in the sky." But what makes it to shine, and to wear the blue firmament for a robe? There could have been no name if no Lord, — as no names for plant, beast, earth, sea, but that these things were, and to do aught in His name is to do it by His strength and for His honour. Caesar may be a myth, and Eve in the garden a tale, but no appellations can overrate the Eternal.
Unto thee it was shewed.I. THAT WHILE ALL NATIONS AND ALL PEOPLE ARE BOUND TO SERVE THE LORD, and are accountable to Him for so doing or not, according to the opportunities they possess and the privileges with which they are favoured for knowing His character and learning His truth and will, SOME NATIONS AND PEOPLE ARE MORE PECULIARLY ENGAGED THUS TO SERVE HIM, AND ARE UNDER A CORRESPONDENT DEGREE OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR DOING SO OR NOT; because some nations and people are more highly favoured than others in all these respects, and are distinguished by greater privileges and opportunities for knowing and doing the Divine will than many others, who are, notwithstanding, all accountable unto God. Now, in order to place this truth in its proper light, let us suppose a case whose propriety and certainty few, we expect, will be disposed to dispute. And, to begin with —
1. Individuals, let us suppose the case of one man, born and bred a pure heathen; another, brought up with some degree of opportunity for gaining the true knowledge of God, etc., in civilised life; and a third, in the same condition, in full possession of the Word of truth and salvation. The great law of man's universal responsibility, amidst all this variety of condition, equally applies to them all. But the advantages which the one possesses over the other bind the one in a more powerful manner to the duty enforced. And when you arrive at the greatest measure of privilege, do you not behold its accompanying claims rising to the same point, and bearing an even requisition with the highest elevation?
2. Nations. Nations are nothing more than vast numbers of individuals, located in various parts of the earth, and cemented by certain laws and regulations in orderly and social compact. The same truths, therefore, which apply to one person will surely extend to ten thousand, or to as many millions, of the human family thus connected together.
3. Whether the doctrine we inculcate is founded upon, and stands in agreement with, the pure Word of God. Did not the very mercies and privileges which the Lord bestowed upon Israel lay them under peculiar obligations, and bind them in an especial manner to love and serve Him?
II. WHERE DOES THE TRUTH THUS PROPOUNDED AND ESTABLISHED FALL IN ITS FULL WEIGHT; AND TO WHOM DOES IT MORE PECULIARLY APPLY IN ALL ITS AUTHORITY AND AGGRAVATION? The inquiry evidently regards the past and the present time.
1. The past time. Where, in the ages that are passed, are we to look for such a nation or people? Must we not at once fix our attention upon Israel of old, and say, Thou art that nation, and thou art that people? What wonders did God work on their behalf! What large and unmerited mercies did He bestow on them! What astonishing deliverances did He vouchsafe to them! But must our inquiries terminate here?
2. The present time. Many nations are presented to our view. Some great and strong; others weak and debased. Some altogether enshrouded in heathen blindness; others groaning under Mohammedan tyranny and delusion. Some rent with internal convulsions; others sitting down in comparative quiet. Some, once mighty and renowned, merged in the general streams of rival powers, and known no more as separate kingdoms, except in the records of their ancient exploits and fame. But amidst all this national and political chaos presented to our view can we fix on no spot which in a more especial manner is more highly favoured than any other? Yes, we can. Like some tall majestic oak amidst the under wood of the forest, or like the cloud-capped mountain contrasted with the hillocks of the plain, or like the stately man-of-war amidst the wharfage of the port, there is one nation amidst all the diversified tribes of man which stands thus conspicuous in the view, and thus crowned with privileges and blessings! Oh England, my beloved place and nation, thou wearest this crown! thou standest on this elevation! Not only in common with all others, but above and beyond all others, hast thou been blessed and crowned with loving kindness and tender mercies! What hath not the Lord done for thee?(1) As a nation. Hath He not raised thee from small beginnings to unexampled greatness? Hath He not brought thee from a poor degraded state of heathen misery, in which thy forefathers were sunk, to be at once the mistress, the envy, and the glory of the world? And in the course of thy experience, from thy low original to thy present greatness, hath not the Lord often wrought for thee by a mighty hand and by a stretched-out arm? And art thou not bound, in proportion to what He hath done for thee? Oh! beware lest thou stand as conspicuous in ingratitude and guilt as thou art in privilege and blessing! But are national distinctions and advantages all that the Lord hath done for thee? Are not thy privileges —
2. As a church, as great as thy mercies as a nation? He hath not left thee without witness; not merely, as He testified to the heathen, "giving rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, and filling our hearts with food and gladness"; but as He deals with His own inheritance, sending to thee the truths of His Word and the messages of His salvation. Do we, as a nation, church, or people, live up to these privileges, and bring forth the fruit which God so justly requires at our hands? Are the mercies we possess prized as they ought to be? Are they improved as they ought to be? Is God honoured and glorified as tie ought to be? Is the Gospel of peace valued as it ought to be? Is the Word of life received as it ought to be? Do we walk in the statutes and ordinances of God as we ought to do?
II. IN HIS WORK: what He does shows what He is. All the phrases which sceptics think so lightly of are but the labels of His wonders. "But all the Bibles," says the denier, are human compositions written in time: show me the sacred books that not affirm a God out of us. What is out of us is not so easy to say. The whole creation is somehow in our thought. I have a feeling that fetches down from Orion. My imagination girdles the Pleiades. God is not less to me because He exists not externally but in the consciousness of my own bosom, and I cannot dismiss my guest. If no characters by Him were ever entered on a paper leaf, stone tablet from Sinai, or Egyptian column, do we not find His engraving in living organisms and on the vast layers of the globe? "Providence" is one of these obstinate, indestructible words in the daily discourse of mankind. A great, forthreaching, unbaffled, and unending plan, a purpose through the ages, one must be worse than colour blind not to see, with a steady accomplishment, — style it fitness, adjustment, design, as you will. Not a nook of nature but is His workshop, not an event without His procedure.
III. IN HIS NATURE OR IMAGE. Had He left no sign manual of His authorship in our frame all else were to us a dumb show. Why do beasts and insects not perceive the drift of the plot on this broad external stage? Because, even in their innocence, they cannot yet come to themselves, and in themselves find their Father. But what features of His face are unveiled to us?
1. First, of sincerity, the open look. Why can we not be free from this candid bond, but that the Divinity reveals within us His essence of truth, as a claim beyond convenience or uses of the hour, so infinite that no liar can be content till he has confessed? After what long and stubborn perjury, from at last being convinced by some co-conspirator that falsehood is kindest and best, a quickened conscience forces the wretched deceiver, man or woman, in mutual crime, to own at last even the forswearing, and throw off the disguise that hinders peace with God!
2. Next, the line of rectitude in this countenance we pray God to lift upon us, and which He never quite withdraws. Truth is right speech, and righteousness is true conduct. If your neighbour will not rest in any wrong you do him, you will be the last to be satisfied with your own unfairness, because Deity is equity in your vital parts.
3. There is one more lineament in that face whose glance we cannot escape: it is goodness. But the goodness must be more than doting on one person, however winsome and dear. I know an earnest love; but God save me from an exclusive one, and keep me from wishing or enduring the monopoly of a human heart! We may be partial to one person, like the sun flattering some mountain top or blazing back from some windowed tower as he rises or sets; but be we also impartial as the sun, making the whole earth his reflection and flinging his radiance through the sky.
IV. IN THE HEALTHFUL EXERCISE OF OUR POWERS. We find God in innocent pleasures as in solemn forms, as parents are as much pleased with their children's gambols as with their deferential requests. The little orthodox boy, repeating his prayers so punctually in his country cot, said one morning, "Good-bye, God: I am going to Boston to stay a fortnight"; he not having been taught how that sublime Presence would smile on him amid all the sights of the city, as when the soul was commended to Him in sleep. The small girl was pious in a more rational way who, going home from her first dance, ere she put off her pretty dress, fell on her knees to thank God for the pleasure He had given her at the children's ball. God is the problem whose last and clearest solution is in the corollary of duty, which, as Kant says, is the practical reason piecing out the ladder to climb to Him, where the speculative ends. In this transparency of conscience all the vexing riddles conclude. With a dogged satisfaction, in dire extremity, it helps us to stand at our post and do our office, as the old Cumberland still fired her guns when sinking to her gunwale. There was something in those sailors, as in all faithful unto death, not going down!
(C. A. Bartol, D. D.)
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