He did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with all of us who are alive here today.
Genesis 15., 17.).
I. ITS RELATIONS TO THE COVENANT MADE WITH THE FATHERS, It was not a new thing absolutely. It rested on that older covenant, and on the series of revelations which sprang out of it. It could not disannul that older covenant (Galatians 3:17). It could not run counter to it (Galatians 3:21). It must, though "superadded," be in subserviency to it (Galatians 3:15-26). But that covenant made with the fathers was:
1. Of promise (Galatians 3:18).
2. Couched in absolute terms. God pledged his perfections that the promise conveyed in it would be ultimately realized (Romans 3:3).
4. While yet it bound the person received into covenant to a holy life (Genesis 17:1). The new covenant could "make void" the older one in none of these particulars.
II. ITS DISTINCTION FROM THE COVENANT MADE WITH THE FATHERS.
1. It was a national covenant, having reference primarily to national existence and prosperity.
2. It was a covenant of Law. It was
(1) connected with a promulgation of Law, and
(2) required obedience to the prescribed Law as the condition of acceptance.
Does this look like a retrograde step in the Divine procedure, a contradiction of the covenant with Abraham? Seemingly it was so, but the backward step was really a forward one, bringing to light demands of the Divine holiness which it was absolutely essential man should become acquainted with. Two points have to be noticed:
(a) that obedience was not made the ground of admission to the covenant,
or aught else than the condition of continuance in privileges freely conferred; and
(b) that the requirement of obedience did not stand alone, but was connected with provisions for the removal of the guilt contracted by transgression and shortcoming. This brings into view the peculiar feature in the covenant of Horeb - the hidden grace of it. In form and letter it was a strictly legal covenant. Obedience to the Law in all its parts, and without failure, was the technical condition of the fulfillment of promise, and of continuance in covenant privilege (cf. Matthew 19:17; Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10). The fact that atonements were provided to remove the guilt which otherwise would have broken up the covenant, is proof that such was its constitution. The same fact shows that in the structure of the covenant it was recognized that sin and shortcoming would mark the history of Israel; that, on the strictly legal basis, standing in the state of acceptance was impossible. A theoretically perfect obedience no Jew ever rendered. His standing in no case was in virtue of a perfectly fulfilled Law, but was due to forgiving mercy, which daily pardoned his shortcomings, and gave him an acceptance which these shortcomings were as constantly forfeiting. It was faith, not works, which justified him; while yet, in harmony with the unalterable law of moral life, it was his duty to aim at the realization of the ideal of righteousness which the Law presented. Just as with Abraham, the faith which justified him, and did so before a single work had issued from it (Genesis 15:6; James 2:23), was a faith which "wrought with works," and "by works was faith made perfect" (James 2:22). It follows from these peculiarities, and from the statements of Scripture, that it was:
3. A preparatory and temporary covenant. Its leading design was to develop the consciousness of sin, to awaken a feeling of the need of redemption, to evince the powerlessness of mere Law as a source of moral strength, to drive men back from legal efforts to faith, and so, finally, to prepare the way for Christ (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:23, 24, etc.). In this we discern the reason of the severe and threatening form in which it was couched, and of the terrors which attended its promulgation. It was a covenant which could not of itself save or do aught but kill (2 Corinthians 3:6-12). - J.O.
1. God is witness to every word which we utter, especially to our solemn engagements to be His servants.
The Lord heard the voice of your words.1. We may learn, from what is here said, that God notices and approves such religious professions and engagements as are in accordance with His Word, and by which we bind ourselves to do His will. "I have heard," He here says, "the voice of the words of this people." It is still true that He hears all the words that are spoken by men upon earth, that He hears them not as one by whom they are unregarded, out as one who marks them as indications of character, and to whom we must answer for what they have expressed. What need have we to pray, "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips"! But here the words which God testifies that He had heard with approval were those which spoke the resolution adopted to obey and serve Him; and will He not take special notice of such words, observe whether they have been sincerely uttered, and whether the resolutions they expressed are acted on?
2. God greatly desires that we should adhere to our religious professions and engagements. "O that there were such an heart in them!" He said of the people who avowed their intention to hear and to do all that He should speak unto them by the mouth of His servant Moses.
3. It remains to be proved whether we will act up to our professions and engagements to be the Lord's. "O that there were such an heart in them!" God said when He heard the voice of the words of the people; an heart that is corresponding to their words, a mind and will to do according to what they had spoken. How lamentable often are the inconsistencies which may be observed between the professions of men and their practice, the changes which may take place from devotional feeling to utter worldly-mindedness! What a difference between the man calmly seated at the table of the Lord, his heart opening to every solemn and soothing impression, constrained to resolve that he will live to Him who died for him and rose again, and the same man it may be in the market, engaged in the bustle, hearing the clamour, and yielding to the various incitements which may be offered to covetous desire, or angry contention, or intemperate indulgence! But when we consider these things it becomes us to be jealous over ourselves, to consider deeply what we have undertaken.
4. That with our adherence to the engagements we have undertaken to be the Lord's and to serve Him, our present and our eternal interests are connected: "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments alway, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!" Our portion of this world's good may be scanty, but, thus blessed, it will suffice for all our wants in regard to the body and the life that now is; and even ii subjected to privations, we shall be sustained under them by the assurance of a Saviour's sympathy. We may find a religious life, a life of faith in the Son of God and of obedience to His commandments, effectual to promote even our present well-being. Who so blessed as the man who fears the Lord aright, and walks with Him in truth? His views and feelings and prospects may all partake of cheerfulness; they are all brightened by the light of hope. In the benevolent and devout affections which go forth to his fellow men and rise to his Father in heaven, he has in him a well of living water springing up unto everlasting life.
(J. Henderson, D. D.)
2. Those that say they will hear and do what God commandeth say well, and He is pleased with such declarations and resolutions.
3. The great God wishes that they who make good resolutions would keep them.
4. It would be happy for the professors of religion if they would abide by their good resolutions and act consistently. It would be well with them if there were always such an heart in them as there is at those solemn seasons. The expression plainly intimates that it is never truly well with mankind till they keep God's commandments, till they keep all His commandments; yea, till they keep them always. This is what God expects. Good resolutions without a consistent, sincere obedience, will not be accepted. Our happiness will be ensured. It will, as these words intimate, entail a blessing on our children. Yea, it will be well with us forever.
They have well said all that they have spoken. O that there were such an heart in them!
1. First there is a testimony of the great love of God. The words are, very expressively, the words of love and merciful regard. They strongly testify God's fatherly concern and disposition to do good towards His people.
2. There is a more melancholy feeling of regret that the people would not be found answering to this disposition of Divine love. God does not, indeed, plainly say that the people had not "such an heart," as is described in the text — an heart to "fear Him, and to keep all His commandments always"; neither does God say that they would not have such an heart; yet the impression left by the words is, that there would be a failure on the part of men, when God had done in His vineyard all that could be done, to keep it and to bless it.
3. It declares where the fountain of obedience must be; namely, in the "heart." There is the source of duty, as so many other scriptures testify: "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. So it is said of the righteous man, The law of his God is in his heart, and his footsteps shall not slide." So, again, "Thy words have I hid within mine heart, that I should not sin against Thee."
4. It is said, not simply "My commandments," but "all My commandments." And this difference will not be lost upon reflecting hearers. It is the building of integrity upon sincerity. It reminds us of the necessity of yielding to God, not a partial and divided obedience, but an entire one.
5. The word "always" is added, to guard us against "weariness in well-doing," as the words before it are directed to guard us against an imperfect and indolent aim. How many will be good for a while, and yet not endure to the end! How many begin a fair course, and break off from it! How many precepts and warnings are given us in Scripture, specially to guard us against this very thing!
6. It testifies the providential love and care of God towards His people from generation to generation; inasmuch as, after the preceding wish, the words run, "that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" This is certainly a very striking and touching proof of Divine regard. It strongly confirms the doctrine of an eternal Providence. It also speaks powerfully towards the maintenance of an hereditary faith — a faith in the true and living God, handed down from father to son, until the purpose of God in creating man for this world shall have been fully answered, and "the fashion of this world" shall then "pass away."
(J. K. Miller.)
1. "Fear Me, and keep My commandments always." The Ten Commandments are not worn out and antiquated; they contain a moral clement, a root of right action and right principle, which not only cannot be dispensed with, but must be enlarged upon. All contain a moral principle — love to God, love to man. But, as our Lord says, Christians must not content themselves with the observance of these Ten Commandments. Perfection must be our aim. Our love for man must be modelled after God's love, deep, catholic, unbounded; and our love for God must be reciprocal to His for us, an unrestrained overflowing gratitude, an unreserved devotion, an exhaustless loyalty. To keep His commandments we must go to the root of them.
2. "O that there were such an heart in them,...that it might be well with them." Plainly, then, the keeping of God's commandments ensures welfare. If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. People talk of the burden of obeying God; it is tiresome, say they, and a thankless thing to be strict and religious. Those who do not try the pleasure of piety, of course will not understand that there can be any comfort in it. But there is more pleasure in serving God than in any other course. Ah! men may love the world, but the world will not satisfy the needs of their inner souls. But the fear of God does bring peace. There is an inward satisfaction, a consciousness of having done the right thing, which makes the heart glow with pleasure; not unfrequently, but not always, an outward blessing in earthly advantages — quite as often as in the case of the unprincipled — but, what is more than all, there is the peace of looking onwards. A step further. When the great plunge is made, and the soul finds itself in the world beyond, where silver and gold will not buy comforts, and intellect and sinews are powerless; there, in "the life which knows no ending," will those who have feared God, and believed in His Word, and kept His commandments, find to their joy that it is well with them: the treasures of that kingdom will be theirs: the honours of heaven, the pleasures of spiritual enjoyment, will be their own, when nothing else can give pleasure nor relief.
3. But mark: "Keep My commandment always. Steadfast, continuous, patient, must our obedience be; not hot and cold in the service of God; not a week of church going and a week of dissipation. Piety consists in settled habits of love to God and man: and if your breath passes away at the moment when your evil spirit" "has the upper hand, what then"?
4. Again, "O that there were such an heart in them that they would keep..." Here we have a Divine assertion of man's free will. It lies with ourselves to choose — to do, or not to do, the will of God. He does not force us to be good, nor prevent us from being good. There is something in every heart, if honest enough to look at itself, which says, "It rests with thee, with thyself, whether thou wilt serve God or not." It is perfectly true, "By grace ye are saved; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God": yet St. Peter says, "Grow in grace," that is, enjoins growth; and therefore growth, somehow, is in our own power. We talk of our uncontrollable impulses; but self-control is in our own hands, and may be acquired by practice. You stand at a high window, or on the edge of a cliff, you look down, and an unaccountable impulse prompts you to jump down, to certain death, you know. Is it not at such a moment in your power to draw back? If you let the sensation linger, it takes a decided shape; you cannot say what may happen, you may jump down. But you can draw back at once. If you play with the temptation, you will soon find it stronger than your will; but not at first, for there is a promise of a way of escape from every temptation. In other words, you can resist; the aid of God, which rises above all false notions about fate, is guaranteed to you.
(G. F. Prescott, M. A.)
1. That sinners must be consumed if they stood by themselves before God in His majesty.
2. That they need a Mediator.
3. That a Mediator once appointed must be unflinchingly obeyed. And forasmuch as God distinctly avouches His approval of that which the Israelites had uttered, we learn at once that to have a dread of His majesty, a desire for an Intercessor, and a determination to obey, make up the characteristics which the Creator searches after, and delights in, amongst His creatures. We have now to show that the three sentiments, into whose expression this speech is reducible, do virtually recognise the leading truths of religion; and there will then be no difficulty in understanding whey God should have declared — "I have heard the voice, etc. Now we suppose that the secret spring of all impiety and all irreligion is the want of a due sense of the awfulness of God. Oh! for the trumpet peal, the thunder, and the lightning which heralded and announced the presence of the living God on Sinai! Something of the like scene takes place, something of the like instrumentality is introduced, whenever the Holy Spirit effects the work of conversion. The man is made actually to feel that God is to be reverenced, feared, and dreaded; that He is, and must be, a consuming fire to His adversaries. And then, when man is brought to the discovering by the law the infinite number of his offences against God, and the distinct impossibility that anyone should be forgotten or overlooked — then, for the first time, can he be said to know rightly the awfulness of God; and then, for the first time, will he be softened in heart, and stricken in spirit, and confess from his very soul that the Almighty is terrible. But we go on to inquire what course it will be which the awakened man adopts when made thoroughly conscious that God is thus awful? It is enough if he discern but something of the spirituality of the law, of its infinite demands, of its unmitigated penalties; for he instantly perceives that it were as idle to think of grasping the sun and the stars as of obeying this law for himself, and there is at once wrought in man the persuasion that he cannot stand in his own strength and in his own merit, face to face with his Maker. He will be ready to lie down in the dust, and leave himself to be crushed beneath the weight of indignation, unless, indeed, he can find some being mighty enough and pure enough to rise as an intercessor, and plead his cause with the Most High. Add to this the third sentiment, and the illustration of our text will be complete. "Speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee, and we will hear and do it." You understand from this that the Israelites had, so far, right apprehensions of the office of the Mediator, as the expression may witness — not only to shield them from wrath, but to teach them their duty. There is no lack under the Gospel dispensation of a readiness to be delivered by Christ from the anguish which is the portion of those who die unregenerated. But unless Christ Jesus be received under all His characters, it is not possible that He should be received under any. Prophet, Priest, and King to His Church, I must submit to His teaching, and I must bow before His sceptre, if ever I look to be reconciled by His sacrifice. Those whom He washes in His blood, He instructs as a master, and reigns over as a monarch.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE TERM "HEART," AS USED IN THIS PASSAGE AND THOSE WHICH CORRESPOND WITH IT. The same mind has a great variety of acts. When it acts in one manner, we call the mind thus acting, reason; when it acts in another manner, we call it conscience. In view of its constant production of feelings and emotions, we call it the heart, or will. Thus, the term "heart" is used to denote the mind, in respect to its capacity to exercise feelings towards God, His law, His government.
1. What, then, is the character of the natural heart? This is answered by the Word of God. All the acts of the natural heart are declared to be sinful. Whatever of evil exists in an individual of the human family, is charged ultimately on his heart. All evil, in thought, word, or deed, is described as having its origin here.
2. This doctrine is confirmed by the fact that God has promised to renew the hearts of His people. If Divine energy is requisite to turn the hearts of men, and to renew them in righteousness, then their depravity is truly alarming.
3. This view is confirmed by the prayers recorded in the Scripture for the renovation of the heart.
4. This view is sustained by the representations which the Scriptures make of its renovation (Proverbs 21:1; Philippians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; Ephesians 1:1). The reclaiming of us from walking in the lusts of the flesh and of the mind, and our recovery from the control of our own hearts, and our creation in His image, are declared to be not of works, but of grace; and as new creatures the saints are declared to be His workmanship, created anew unto good works.
II. HAVE WE NO CONTROL OVER THE FEELINGS AND DESIRES OF OUR MINDS? This branch of the subject is exceedingly important. It is admitted that the mind has some indirect control over the feelings and desires. But though the turning away of the eyes and the mind from meditating evil, and the contemplation of objects which are noble and excellent, may actually make a wide difference in the external character of men, and in the internal exercise of the unholy feelings and desires, yet it is to be remembered that the human heart, under all these operations, remains the same. If, after a long period, the eyes are again suffered to behold transgression, and the mind to meditate it, there will be found in every unregenerate bosom the same unholy feelings and the same elements of iniquity. Nor is it possible for the mind, by its own resolution, to hush them into silence. Let a strong affection seize the heart, and it controls and determines the volitions, but is not determined by them. Though their exercise may be checked, yet no power but that of Him, who commanded the winds and the waves to be still, can destroy them, and produce in their place the "holiness without which no man shall see the Lord."
III. ALL BEINGS ACT FREELY. The holy beings, who stand around the throne of God, act according to the law of God, and with this the holy desires and feelings of their hearts correspond. The saints in this life act freely. Their souls are renewed. The wicked act freely. They indulge, in different degrees, the desires and feelings of their hearts. These flow forth spontaneously, and all the determinations of their minds to neglect what God has required, or to do what He has forbidden, are produced by them. Thus they sin freely. But it may here be asked, are they not equally free to be holy? To this I reply, that I know of no other hindrance except their own hearts. Ye will not come unto Me, that ye might have life."
IV. IF ANY SHALL EVENTUALLY BE SAVED IT MUST BE ASCRIBED ALTOGETHER TO THE WILL OF GOD. I know, indeed, that this doctrine is not apt to be agreeable to the mass of mankind. But why should it not be? It is a truth — it is a melancholy truth — that the race of man has ruined itself. It is a sad truth that our hearts are depraved. It is a mournful fact that we will not come to Christ. Why, then, should we not rejoice to hear that God is better to us than we are to ourselves? Why should we not forever praise Him for His unspeakable gift?
(J. Foot, D. D.)
(W. Jay.)lest they should appear to be what they are not. Baxter says, in his life of Judge Hale, "I feared he was wanting in experimental religion, as he seldom spoke of his own spiritual views and feelings. But upon better acquaintance I found out my mistake. He had heard from many so much hypocrisy and fanaticism that he was urged towards the extreme of silence." The champion of truth has defended its purity and importance, contended earnestly and as far as argument and evidence goes, wisely for the faith. He has well said all that he has spoken. But where is the spirit of truth, the meekness of wisdom, the mind of Christ? Another in the sanctuary has acknowledged in language equally beautiful and true, "We have erred and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep," etc. He has well said all that he has spoken. But where is the broken heart, the contrite spirit? How often after these confessions is the sermon founded upon them disliked, and the preacher condemned? A third has gone to his brethren in distress and justified the ways of God to man, but does he justify God's dealings with himself in time of trouble? He has well said all that he has spoken, but reminds us of Job's language, "Behold thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands. Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees. But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled." Men mistake themselves, though often sincere as they are earnest. They do not distinguish between impulse and disposition, outward excitement and inward principle.
That it might be well with them
Homilist.I. OBEDIENCE TO DIVINE LAWS IS ESSENTIAL TO THE HAPPINESS OF THE WORLD. God's laws are not arbitrary institutes; they rise out of the constitution of things; they are not made for the sake of the Sovereign, but for the sake of the subject.
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS IN MAN IS ESSENTIAL TO THIS OBEDIENCE. A right heart is a heart that both fears and loves God supremely.
III. THE GREAT DESIRE OF THE ETERNAL FATHER, IN RELATION TO HUMANITY, IS THE EXISTENCE OF THIS RIGHT-HEARTEDNESS.
(Homilist.)I. THAT MEN OFTEN MAKE WHAT OUGHT TO BE THE MOST SOLEMN TRANSACTIONS WITH THE LORD ABOUT THEIR SOUL'S CONCERNS BUT SOLEMN TRIFLING WITH HIM.
1. Show how far a man may go in engaging himself to the Lord, and yet after all he may be but trifling.
2. Shew wherein this trifling and slight work in such a weighty business doth appear.(1) It appears in persons engaging themselves to the Lord, without being at pains to prepare themselves, and bring up their hearts to the duty.(2) When people engage themselves to the service of the Lord, but do not give their hearts to Him.(3) When people have any secret reserves in their closing with Christ, as is the case when the heart is not well content to take Christ with whatsoever may follow this choice (Luke 14:26).(4) When people overlook the Mediator in their covenant of peace with God, but transact with God for peace and pardon without respect to the atoning blood of Christ.(5) This is turned into solemn trifling with God by people's not taking Christ for all, but only for making up that of which they may come short; thus endeavouring to patch up a garment of their own righteousness and of His together.(6) By persons making a covenant of works with Christ; the tenor thereof is, that if Christ will save their souls they shall serve Him as long as they live.(7) Persons lay hold on Christ with a faith of which the mighty power of God was not the forming principle (Ephesians 1:19); but is merely the product of a person's natural faculties.
3. Point out how people come to turn such solemn work into mere trifling,(1) Because they have no due consideration of the worth and preciousness of their souls, they do not suitably value the great salvation (Matthew 22:5).(2) Because they know not their own hearts and their deceits (Jeremiah 17:9).(3) Because sin has never been made bitter enough to them.(4) Because they are hasty and indeliberate in their engaging. They fall a-building ere they count the cost (Matthew 14:25); what is rashly done is but slightly done in this matter.(5) Because they have never got a sufficient discovery of their own utter weakness and insufficiency.
4. We make some application. This doctrine may help us to see the reason why so many return with the dog to his vomit. There is an error in the first concoction. That you may beware of this we would exhort you to make sure work in your transacting with the Lord. Oh, do not trifle in so important a concern! To guard you effectually against this consider the following things —(1) Consider, this is to put, so far as you can, a solemn cheat on the great God (Galatians 6:7).(2) It is to put a solemn cheat on your own souls; you thus deceive your own souls. If you trifle with God you will find at length a sad disappointment (Isaiah 50:11).(3) Consider the weight of the matter; the salvation or damnation of the soul is no small business; if you manage it right you may get your salvation sealed; if not, see Luke 14:24.(4) Consider, if you thus trifle with God in this matter, you will be discovered.(5) Consider that you have a deceitful heart.(6) If you make sure work you will find the eternal advantage of it.
II. THAT A HEART SINCERELY AND SUITABLY CORRESPONDING WITH THE PROFESSION OF A COVENANTING PEOPLE IS A MOST VALUABLE AND EXCELLENT THING.
1. We are to show what such a heart is; and on this head the particulars shall be mostly taken out of the context. We observe —(1) That it has a view of the majesty and glorious perfections of that God with whom we have to do (Deuteronomy 5:24).(2) It is filled with the fear of God.(3) It is a humble heart.(4) It is a heart full of wonder at the goodness of God, His condescension and patience towards sinners (vers. 24 and 26).(5) It is a heart convinced of the need of a Mediator, and resolved to employ Him in all causes betwixt God and them (ver. 27).(6) It is a heart taking the Lord only for their God. They professed they would have no more to do with idols, though it was not long ere their hearts turned to their old bias (Exodus 32:8).(7) It is a heart for the Lord's work (ver. 27). It is a heart which inclines the man who has taken Christ's enlisting money to fight His battles; which willingly stoops to the yoke of Christ's commandments, and is set to walk in the way of obedience. It is a heart reconciled to the law of God.(8) It is a heart that has high and honourable thoughts of God (ver. 24).(9) It is a heart which the voice of God has reached (ver. 24).(10) It is a heart which takes up with the Lord for its God, even when He appears in the glorious robes of His perfect holiness.(11) It is a heart sensible of that vast distance which sin has made betwixt God and the soul, which has got such a sight of its own sinfulness, and God's holiness, that it sees there is no transacting with God but by a Mediator (ver. 27).(12) It is a heart reconciled to the whole law of God (ver. 27). It is not every heart which is such. They only have it "who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit" (Romans 8:1).(13) It is a heart which is for taking the law only out of Christ's hand as Mediator (ver. 27). The Mediator first makes the peace between God and the sinner, then bids the man work.(14) It is a heart ready for obedience (ver. 27).
2. Show that such a heart is a most valuable thing. It must be so; for —(1) Such a heart is God's delight: "O that there were such an heart in them!" This would give content to the heart of Christ.(2) It is that heart without which the largest profession, and the most express covenanting with God, is little worth. Without this heart men do but as the Lord's enemies, they lie unto Him.(3) The want of this heart is very grievous to the Spirit of Christ.(4) God accepts of the duty, and is well pleased with the bargain, where there is such a heart: "O that there were such an heart in them!" There wants no more to complete the bargain betwixt them and Me. Then, as they call Me their God, so would I call them My people by a saving relation. But where such is not, the contract betwixt Christ and the soul is written indeed, but it is not signed.(5) Where there is such a heart God will be well pleased with the person, and accept the duty, though it have many defects; albeit He be not pleased with these defects, yet in mercy He will overlook them: "O that there were such an heart in them!" As if He had said, O if they were but honest in the main, I would not be severe on them for every escape. The Lord will use the indulgence of a father for such infirmities.(6) They will never prove steadfast in the Lord's covenant without such a heart: "O that there were such an heart in them!" They have spoke fair, but they will never keep a word they say, for they have not such a heart. "For their heart was not right with Him, neither were they steadfast in His covenant" (Psalm 78:37). The heart is the principle of actions; such a heart is the principle of perseverance; and there can be no steadfastness without a principle (Matthew 13:6).(7) Such a heart enriches the man who has it. Christ is yours; all is yours — pardon, peace, and every blessing.
III. THAT THE WORK OF COVENANTING WITH THE LORD IS SLIGHT WORK, WHEN IT IS NOT HEART WORK; OR, THAT SOLEMN COVENANTING WITH THE LORD IS BUT SOLEMN TRIFLING WITH HIM, WHEN THE WORK OF COVENANTING IS NOT HEART WORK.
1. To produce some evidences, that solemn covenanting is often nothing but solemn trifling, and not heart work. It is of importance that you may be stirred up to take heed to the deceits which we may discover in this weighty business. With this view, we observe —(1) That apostasy and defection from the good ways of the Lord, persons returning again openly to the. same courses which they pursued before. This is an evidence (2 Peter 2:19-22; Matthew 12:45).(2) When some lusts are maintained in Christ's room.(3) Persons making their covenant with the Lord a cover to their sloth and a pander to their lusts.(4) The barrenness of the lives of professors, nothing of the fruits of holiness appearing in their lives.(5) The having no communication of the life of grace from Christ to the soul (John 14:19). If the soul be truly united to Christ, it will partake of the root and sap of the vine (John 6:57).(6) The having no contentment in Christ alone.
2. Show when covenanting is not heart work, but a trifling business. It is so —(1) When the soul is not divorced from sin. The heart is naturally glued to sin, and it is impossible that the heart can at once be both for the Lord and lusts (Matthew 6:24). The first marriage must be made void before a second can be made sure.(2) When the soul is not divorced from the law (Romans 8:4).(3) When the soul comes not heartily and freely to the Lord in His covenant (Psalm 78:34-37). The Lord will not meet that soul. He cares not for persons giving the hand, when they do not give Him their hearts.(4) When the soul comes to the Lord in His covenant for peace to their consciences, but not for victory over their lusts.(5) When the soul accepts of conditional promises, but does not accept of and receive the Lord Himself in absolute promises.(6) When there is not an absolute resignation of will to God.
3. Show the danger of trifling, and not making heart work of this weighty business. This will appear if we consider —(1) That the Lord rejects the work (Malachi 1:13).(2) That it puts men more securely in Satan's grips than before. In this sense that holds true which you have in Isaiah 28:22.(3) That it exposes men to spiritual strokes (Jeremiah 48:10).(4) That however quietly people may get it carried in life, it will bring them a sad disappointment at death.
(T. Boston, D. D.)I. THAT GOD IS SERIOUSLY CONCERNED FOR THE GOOD AND HAPPINESS OF NATIONS AND KINGDOMS, AS WELL AS THAT OF PARTICULAR PERSONS; AND MORE ESPECIALLY OF THOSE NATIONS THAT PROFESS HIS TRUE RELIGION.
1. Since it appears that God sits at the helm and steers all the affairs of mankind, and that public societies are more especially the objects of His providence, methinks this consideration should be a good antidote against all those troublesome fears we are apt to disturb ourselves with about the success of public matters.
2. This doctrine ought to teach us to depend altogether upon God Almighty, and upon Him only, for the good success of our affairs, either in Church or State, whenever they are in a doubtful or dangerous condition.
II. THAT THE HAPPINESS AND PROSPERITY OF NATIONS IS TO BE ATTAINED THE SAME WAY THAT ANY PARTICULAR MAN'S HAPPINESS IS, THAT IS TO SAY, BY FEARING GOD, AND KEEPING HIS COMMANDMENTS. Name any nation that was ever remarkable for justice, for temperance, and severity of manners, for piety and religion, that did not always thrive and grow great in the world, and that did not always enjoy a plentiful portion of all those things which are accounted to make a nation happy and flourishing. And on the other side, when that nation has declined from its former virtue and grown impious or dissolute in manners, we appeal to experience whether it has not likewise always proportionably sunk in its success and good fortunes.
III. THAT VIRTUE AND PIETY DO, IN THEIR OWN NATURE, TEND TO PROMOTE THE WELFARE AND HAPPINESS OF PEOPLES AND NATIONS. As, on the other hand, all vice and irreligion is destructive of human society. And this without respect to any appointment or decree of God that things should be managed in this way; but purely in the very nature of the thing.
(Abp. John Sharp.)
I. THE SOURCE OF OBEDIENCE. This is the heart. All Christian obedience flows from the heart. And thus the Psalmist says: "When Thou shalt enlarge my heart, I will run in the way of Thy commandments." We are to love God, worship God, and obey. God from the heart. There can be neither genuine love, nor worship, nor obedience, unless our hearts are engaged: "Thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart." God's claim is, "My son, give Me thy heart." God's appeal in the Gospel is addressed to our hearts; and for this reason — that "out of the heart are the issues of life." It is the state of the heart which distinguishes the righteous from the wicked; and it is the heart which influences the conduct: it is the root which supports the tree, and makes its fruit either corrupt or good; and therefore God speaks to our hearts in the Gospel. He appeals to our gratitude. He endeavours to enlist our affections. He interests our hopes, He binds us to Himself by a sense of benefit. He provokes us to love and to good works by reminding us what great things He has done for our sakes.
II. THE NATURE AND EXTENT OF THE OBEDIENCE WHICH IS REQUIRED FROM US. We are to fear God, and to keep all His commandments always. We are to keep all God's commandments, and we are to keep them always.
1. And, first, God requires universal obedience. It is the only obedience which will be accepted by God; He will not own a partial obedience or a divided heart. It is the only obedience which will give us confidence with God. "Then," says the Psalmist, "I shall not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all Thy commandments." Our obedience must go to the length and breadth of the requirement. We must make no exceptions. What God enjoins we must do; and what He demands we must resign. To be His, we must be His wholly; and, without exception, our aim must be to keep all His commandments, and this always.
2. Our obedience must be constant, as well as universal. We can obtain no discharge from Christ's service except by apostasy; and, even then, the law is in force, though we have disowned the authority. In other services, a man may engage for a year or a day, and with the term of servitude the obligation to serve is cancelled; but nothing can release us from the Saviour's blessed service. And if we are really His, we have no wish to be discharged. We love our Master: we love His service: we are content with our wages.
III. THE REWARD. "That it may be well with thee, and with thy children forever." In keeping God's commandments there is great reward; and, to repeat the sentiment with which I began, the way to be happy is to obey God. Indeed, God has promised that it should be so; and none of God's promises can fail. You have a promise implied in the text. You have a similar one in Isaiah: "O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea" (Isaiah 48:18). Reward is a bold word for one of a sinful nature ever to use; but God has pronounced it, and we need not be afraid of what He has sanctioned. He connects obedience with reward, even in this world. And, when I look back upon life, I see written as with a sunbeam, "It shall be well for them that fear God, and keep all His commandments." It is an eternal necessity, founded on the constitution of things. "Great peace have they which love Thy law." And, just as sobriety and industry and talent and integrity will, to a certain extent, secure a man success in the affairs of this life, so obedience to God entails God's blessing. There is a promise, too, for the good man's children; and, blessed be God, it is often made good in this world. It is well with his offspring for his sake. His example had been their pattern; his name is their recommendation and passport; and his memory is bequeathed as a blessing, long after he has been gathered to his fathers, and has bid the world and all it contains an eternal adieu.
(J. Sandford, M. A.)
Preacher's Analyst.I. THE SOLICITUDE HERE MANIFESTED.
1. Prompted by His relationship.
2. Prompted by His ownership.
3. Prompted by His love.
II. THE WISH EXPRESSED. This wish certainly implies the natural evil of man's heart, an evil which is well nigh incredible. The heart is hard as stone. It is so callous that —
1. It will not be impressed by fear. Even while Moses was receiving the commandments, they went and made a molten image, and forgot the great Jehovah.
2. It refuses to be crushed by judgment. How terrible the outward judgments visited at various times on the Israelites! Plagues, wars, famines, pestilence, serpents. Yet they were not one whir the more obedient. How many the inferior judgments visited on God's people still — bereavements, sorrows, trials, disease! But they are none the more obedient.
3. It is unwilling to be propitiated by love.
III. THE REASON ASSIGNED. It is for our own sakes God desires obedience.
1. There is no happiness in opposition to God.
2. There is no happiness apart from God. Lessons:(1) If we want it "to be well with us," let us see to it that we are walking in His ways, which are ways of pleasantness.(2) And then what an encouragement we have in the text God yearns for our obedience. Then He will assist us in the difficult attainment.
(A. B. Evans, D. D.)I. A WORD OF WARNING. The fervent desire here expressed implies a sense of danger, and the probability that many would not continue in the fear and commandments of God. It is not by a single resolution, however firm, or by a single effort, however strong, that a war like this can be concluded. The man who thinks so, vastly underrates the power of his spiritual enemies, and does but build his house upon a foundation of sand, which, when the tempests of trial come, will give way beneath him. Nay, more, while this is true of all, it is especially true of young believers, who are going forth for the first time to assay their armour in the battle. Let me very briefly point out to you some sources of this especial danger.
1. There is a risk in the very vehemence of your present resolutions. Your souls are now all on fire; you stand adoring before the wondrous truths of a redeeming God, and of an endless eternity. In the fervency of that holy enthusiasm, difficulties seem to vanish, and temptations to be as nothing; and you are liable to go forth, therefore, overrating your strength, and thinking that it will always be with you as it is at the present moment.
2. Another danger arises from your inexperience; and this in two points. As to the world around you, you are but standing as yet upon its very threshold, untried by the sense of individual responsibility, and untaught by the actual cares of life. You see before you the future, with its bright points, while its trials are mercifully hidden from you. You are like a traveller, who from some hilltop looks down upon the smiling valley beneath, radiant with a thousand lights, and spread before the eye in all its grace and beauty. He sees all the blended beauties of the scene, but the dangers which lie before his path are hidden from him in the distance. So you, in your view of your natural life, see its hopes and pleasures, while the troubles, labours, and anxieties which will be blended with them are unseen by you as yet. There is, consequently, a risk lest you value it too highly in the estimate of the worth of the two worlds to which you belong. And there is the greater danger of this, because in your view of the spiritual life your inexperience has an effect exactly the reverse of what it has in your temporal. Here you see all its difficulties, its self-denials, its privations; but the deep peace it brings, the wondrous glimpses of God, which cheer the soul meanwhile, as Stephen was cheered, when, through the opened heavens, he saw the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God — these as yet you know not: these remain to be experienced, and can no more be told in words, than you can communicate to the dull canvas the gleaming radiance of a noontide sun.
3. There is a peculiar danger in the very buoyancy and animation of spirits, and that disposition to thoughtlessness, which characterise our early years. These things, if guided by grace, may indeed but give a greater constancy to zeal, and a warmer fervency to love; but unless they are carefully watched and disciplined, they may likewise lead into sore temptations, may open many a path of danger, and even seduce you unawares into sin.
II. A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT. If the text clearly implies danger, it implies with equal clearness the possibility of that danger being overcome. He who knoweth all things, and from whose omniscience is not hidden either one outward temptation or one inward thought, would never impute as a fault to the soul that which Was beyond its power. It is very needful that this, too, should be borne in mind; for with what courage shall we wage a hopeless war, or attempt to accomplish anything, if we feel, crushing our spirit all the while, the conviction that success is impossible? Here, however, all is possible, if we have but the heart to do it — if there be in us no hesitating thoughts, no doubtful purposes, no affections which cling still to the world. Observe how everything is supposed to be easy, if this one thing were but possessed — "O that there were such an heart in them!" not such as beats naturally in the breast of man, self-willed, carnal in its tastes, shrinking in unholy repugnance from God, and finding in the things that perish its choicest treasure, but such a heart as turns simply and wholly to the redeeming Saviour, a heart quickened with a heavenly life.
III. A WORD OF ADVICE.
1. If you are earnestly desirous of fighting this holy warfare, and attaining by God's help these promises, never permit yourselves to neglect the means of grace. If you are not in earnest, do not deceive yourselves with a name; but have the courage to appear to your own hearts what you really are — strangers to the promises, and aliens to the covenant of grace.
2. Let me press upon you the duty of a daily self-examination.
3. Look well to the character of those whom you choose as the friends and companions of your life.
(E. Garbett, M. A.)
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