Now if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you will be My treasured possession out of all the nations--for the whole earth is Mine.
e.g., greatly misconceive its nature, if, looking only to the tender, almost caressing words of this text, we did not also take into account the manifestations of terror amidst which the law was given from Sinai (verses 16-20), with such other facts as the planting of the stones on Mount Ebal (Deuteronomy 27:1-9; Joshua 8:30-35), and the recital of the blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 27:11-26). But we should do the covenant equal injustice if we looked only to the latter class of facts, and did not observe the former. That Israel's standing under the law was modified by grace is shown:
1. From the fact of grace preceding law;
2. From the employment of a mediator;
3. From the "blood of sprinkling" at the ratification of the covenant (ch. 24.);
4. From the propitiatory arrangements subsequently introduced;
5. From the revealed scope and design of the economy;
6. From the actual facts of Israel's history. Keeping in view this double aspect of the covenant of Sinai - that on its inner side it was one of grace, on its outer side one of law - we have to consider its relations to the covenant of the Gospel.
I. THE COVENANTS ARE, IN CERTAIN OBVIOUS RESPECTS, STRIKINGLY CONTRASTED. The contrasts in question arise from the particularistic character, the defective spirituality, and the paedagogic design, of the older covenant. That which has succeeded it is more inward and spiritual in its nature; is universal in its scope; and is made primarily with individuals. Special contrasts are these:
1. The older covenant is more preceptive in its character than the later one. "Tutors and governors" (Galatians 4:2).
2. It is more concerned with outward rites and ceremonies (Hebrews 9:10).
3. It relies more on penalty and reward as motives.
4. The blessings promised are largely temporal. In the new covenant, temporal promises hold a very subordinate place. They are overshadowed by spiritual ones.
II. THERE ARE ELEMENTS OF CONTRAST EVEN IN THE RESEMBLANCES BETWEEN THE TWO COVENANTS. The covenants of the law and of the Gospel are alike -
1. In requiring that the people of God shall be "an holy people." But the holiness of Israel was made to consist largely in the observance of outward distinctions. It was largely ceremonial. The holiness of the new covenant is purely spiritual.
2. In requiring obedience as the condition of fulfilment of promise. But
(1) under the law, life and blessing were attached to obedience in the way of legal reward. The rubric was: "Do this, and thou shalt live" (Romans 10:5). Under the Gospel, this element is wholly eliminated. The law having done its work in showing that "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in (God's) sight" (Romans 3:20), the bestowal of reward is taken from this ground, and placed explicitly on that of grace. All we receive is for the sake of Christ - a fruit of his righteousness.
(2) The law, while requiring obedience, did not raise the point of man's ability to render that obedience. But power to render obedience is itself one of the blessings of the new covenant, which thus goes deeper, and includes vastly more than the older one.
(3) In general, the Gospel, while agreeing with the law in aiming at forming a people unto righteousness, takes up the individual at a riper stage in his religious development. It assumes that the taw has done its work in him - has convinced him of sin, and of his inability to attain to life through legal efforts. It supposes him to he aware of his guilt and danger as a sinner. In this condition - broken and humbled by the action of the law upon his conscience - it meets him with the tidings of redemption, and of life and blessing (including spiritual renewal) coming to him on the ground of "the righteousness of faith" (cf. Acts 13:38, 39);
3. The privileges of the older covenant foreshadowed those of the new (1 Peter 2:9). But the contrast is great here also. See above.
III. THESE CONTRASTS ALL DEPEND UPON A FUNDAMENTAL CONTRAST. The deepest contrast between the two covenants is to be sought for in the view which each takes of the direction in which the individual (formerly the nation) is to look for acceptance and happiness - for "life."
1. The law. The law appears in the covenant with Sinai in its original, unqualified severity, as, on the one hand, awarding life to the obedient, and on the other, denouncing penalties against the breakers of even the least of its commandments (Galatians 3:10-13). Doubtless, but for daily pardon of daily offences, the Israelite, under so strict a constitution, would have been totally unable to maintain his footing. These offences, however, appear as so many breaches of the covenant bond, which, in strictness, was the keeping of the whole law. A right apprehension of God's design in placing Israel under this constitution will do away with any appearance of harshness in the arrangement, as if God were purposely mocking the weakness of the people by setting them to work out a problem - the attainment of righteousness - in that way incapable of solution. The moral task given to Israel among the nations was, indeed, to aim at the realisation of righteousness, of righteousness as prescribed by the law. But God's design in this was not, certainly, to make the salvation of any Israelite depend on the fulfilment of impossible conditions, but, primarily, to conduct the seeker after righteousness by the path of honest moral endeavour, to a consciousness of his inability to keep the law, and so to awaken in him the feeling of the need of a better righteousness than the law could give him - to drive him back, in short, from law to faith, from a state of satisfaction with himself to a feeling of his need of redemption - of redemption at once from the guilt of past transgressions, and from the discord in his own nature. The law had thus an end beyond itself. It was a schoolmaster to lead to Christ. The later Jews totally misconceived its nature when they clung to it with unbending tenacity as the sole instrument of justification (Romans 10:1-4).
2. The Gospel. In this is revealed "the righteousness of faith" - the righteousness which is "unto all and upon all them that believe." This is the only righteousness which can make the sinner truly just before God" (Romans 3:21-27). But the law is not thereby made void. It remains, as before, the standard of duty - the norm of holy practice. The design of the Gospel is not to abolish it, but to establish it more firmly than ever (Romans 3:31). Faith includes the obedient will. The end of redemption is holiness.
IV. THE ISRAELITE, WHILE BOUND TO GOD BY A COVENANT OF LAW, YET ENJOYED MANY BENEFITS OF THE STATE OF GRACE. The better part of the Israelites were perfectly aware that had God been strict to mark iniquities, they could not stand before him (Psalm 130:3); that their own law would have condemned them. But they knew, too, that there was forgiveness with God, that he might be feared (ver. 4). Piously availing himself of the expiatory rites provided for the covering of his sin, the godly Jew had confidence towards God. Many in the nation grasped the truth that an obedient will is, in God's sight, the matter of chief importance, and that, where this is found, much else will be forgiven - that he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him (Acts 10:35), notwithstanding the special imperfections which may mark his daily life. This was practically to rise from the standpoint of the law, to that of the righteousness of faith. It enabled those who had attained to it, though under the law, to cherish a delight in spiritual righteousness, and even to find joy in the law itself, as the outward expression of that righteousness. It was not, however, the complete joy of salvation. The law still hovered above the consciousness of the Israelite with its unfulfilled demand; and he had not the means of perfectly pacifying his conscience in relation to it. While in those in whom the law had wrought its work most effectually, there was a deep feeling of sin, a painful conscious-hess of frustration in efforts after the highest goodness, which day by day wrung from them such cries as that of St. Paul - "O wretched man," etc. (Romans 7:24). Here, again, the Gospel reveals itself as the termination of the law of Moses (Romans 10:4). - J.O.
1. In covenant-making or lawgiving from God there is need of some mediator to be with God.
A peculiar treasure unto Me.
Homiletic Review.1. A treasure is something searched for. The Holy Spirit is ever diligently seeking after Christians.
2. A treasure when found is carefully guarded. As the apple of His eye God protects those who trust Him.
3. The finding of a treasure is the occasion of rejoicing. "There is joy in heaven," etc.
4. To obtain a treasure we will make great sacrifices. "God gave His only begotten Son," etc.
1. The revelation of the new name of God, "Jehovah," the Eternal, the unchangeable, the self-same.
2. The revelation of the ideal or standard, which the nation is to keep steadily before mind and conscience, as the thing to be aimed at and striven after. This revelation is given most explicitly and clearly in the words of our text: "A kingdom of priests, and an holy nation."
3. The actual legislation which is founded upon these two revelations: — of which legislation the law of the Ten Commandments is the eternal and indestructible substructure — as strong and durable now as when it was first uttered by the voice of God to Israel — as much the foundation of all legislation now as of the distinctively Mosaic legislation then. It was under the operation of these three forces that Israel became and continued to be a nation. It is under the operation of the same or analogous forces that any nation becomes and continues to be a nation. When such forces cease to operate upon a nation, it dies.To prove and illustrate this point must form the remainder of our subject.
1. It is impossible for any of us to overlook the importance of the words which introduce the Ten Commandments. "I am the Lord." — that is, the Eternal — "thy God." They are not an ornamental flourish or accidental prefix. They are the living root of all that follows. Again and again, in the course of the subsequent legislation, the words recur; even in those parts of the legislation which are most minute and temporary, sanitary or ceremonial. The new name, upon which the nation is to be built, is the name "Jehovah," the Eternal; to which is added the old name, "thy God," as a name to be cherished and dear as ever. Now, in this name Jehovah is involved the notion of permanence, unchangeableness; and this notion lies at the root of law, whether laws of man, or laws of nature, or laws of God. But to this tremendous, this oppressive, notion of unchangeableness, there is added the tender grace of the old name, "Thy God" — One with whom every Israelite and every human being may plead, as the Psalmist does, "O God, Thou art my God." It is the blending of the two together; it is the intertwining of the two subtle and mighty spiritual forces, implied in the two names, that made the revelation so potent for its great purpose — the creation of a nation, that should be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. And just in proportion as the hold of those names upon heart and conscience relaxed, the nation decayed and died. For, indeed, it is everlastingly true, as one of our own poets has said, that "by the soul only the nations can be great and free." Any one can see, that a really free people must be a loyal or law-abiding people; and that laws, which are to receive the willing obedience of such a people, must be founded on the immutable principles of truth and justice and morality. Nor can any one doubt that the Mosaic legislation is founded on such principles.
2. But now I wish to speak to you about the second of those three spiritual forces, in the strength of which Israel was to be moulded into a nation. I have already described it as the revelation of the ideal which the nation was to keep steadily before mind and conscience, as the thing to be aimed at and striven after. Our text words it thus: "Now, therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant." The destiny — the calling and election — of the nation of Israel was higher and holier than the destiny of any other nation. It was chosen to bear witness to the kingdom of God and His righteousness, before all the nations of the earth; a kingdom of priests, a royal and priestly race, each member of it uniting in his own person the attributes of a king and a priest: a king, to rule right loyally over his own lower and baser nature; a priest, to offer himself up in willing sacrifice to God. This pattern of righteousness the most choice and elect members of the nation did exhibit. You have only to think over the long list of truly kingly and priestly characters — from Moses to John the Baptist — to be satisfied of this. The fact that the election of Israel was what it was, does not deprive all other nations of an election of their own. On the contrary, the very words of our text, which affirm most strongly the election of Israel, do at least suggest the thought of a corresponding, though inferior, election of all other nations. At this distance of time we have not the data for determining the special calling of Egypt, for example, or of Assyria. But we can discern with very tolerable clearness the election, the manifest destiny, of Greece and of Rome; the call of Greece to catch the inspiration of beauty, and to be the nurse of freedom; the call of Rome to be the schoolmaster of the nations, with its iron rod of law and order. We can discern, also, with perfect clearness, the vast inferiority, even of such a calling and election as this, to the calling of Israel; and can therefore fully justify the language of our text: "Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people." But if this principle of a calling and election of nations holds true of the whole ancient world, why should it not hold true of the whole modern world also? So long as national distinctions and national characteristics exist at all, there must exist along with them corresponding national duties and national responsibilities. What is it, then, for England and for us? It may be said, that it is the manifest destiny of England to colonize and subdue the earth — to girdle it with rails of iron and steel, and lines of telegraph wire. It is in words like these, Duty and Justice-in the response which they awaken in our hearts — that we English people find the revelation of our national calling and election of God. As a nation, we are called, in a special sense, to be just and dutiful. And if our children are to go out into distant lands, and among subject peoples, to be models of duty and justice there, they must be nursed and trained in those principles first at home. A "kingdom of priests": — yes — and that title belongs also to us, as well as to Israel; though to us, not as Englishmen, but as Christians. For is it not written: "Unto Him who loveth us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father: to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." I need not say that there is no discrepancy whatever between our special calling as Englishmen, and our more general calling as disciples of Christ. On the contrary, the latter must and does sustain and verify the former. Just in proportion as we learn to rule, as kings, over our lower, baser, selfish nature; and to offer ourselves up as priests, living, reasonable, and spiritual sacrifices, in the power and virtue of the one perfect Sacrifice, to God; just in this proportion shall we be enabled to do justice and judgment, and to walk dutifully and uprightly, and so to uphold the true glory of the English name, in whatever circumstances we may be placed — whether at home, or amongst strangers and foreigners in some far distant land. It was so with the heroes of England in the past.
(D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)
2. God's call alone can qualify or authorize a mediator between Him and sinners.
3. It is incumbent on the mediator to declare fully God's mind unto His people.
4. A due recognition of God's gracious acts for souls against enemies is a good preparation to receive His law.
5. God's securing providence as well as selecting a people to Himself prepare them to hear His covenant (ver. 4).
6. God's covenanted people are His peculiar treasure in the world.
7. It is God's free grace who owneth all nations on earth to make one His peculiar above another (ver. 5).
8. Royalty, near communion with God, and sanctity are the privileges of God's peculiar ones. Kings, priests, and saints.
9. The words of duty and privilege must be spoken and made known unto the Church (ver. 6).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
II. III. (T. Mortimer.) 1. Nations. 2. Lands. 3. The animal and vegetable kingdoms. II. GOD'S ASSERTION EXCLUDES EVERY OTHER BEING FROM UNIVERSAL POSSESSION. 1. It is not man's earth. 2. It is not the devil's. 3. It does not belong to any created intelligence. III. GOD'S ASSERTION SHOULD AWAKEN CONFIDENCE IN HIS SAINTS AND TERROR IN SINNERS. 1. All forces are under His control. 2. Everything that is not of Him must fail. 3. His possession of the earth will be fully manifest in the end. (J. S. Exell, M. A.) (J. Parker, D. D.) (W. Seaton.) (J. M. Gibson, D. D.) (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
III. (T. Mortimer.) 1. Nations. 2. Lands. 3. The animal and vegetable kingdoms. II. GOD'S ASSERTION EXCLUDES EVERY OTHER BEING FROM UNIVERSAL POSSESSION. 1. It is not man's earth. 2. It is not the devil's. 3. It does not belong to any created intelligence. III. GOD'S ASSERTION SHOULD AWAKEN CONFIDENCE IN HIS SAINTS AND TERROR IN SINNERS. 1. All forces are under His control. 2. Everything that is not of Him must fail. 3. His possession of the earth will be fully manifest in the end. (J. S. Exell, M. A.) (J. Parker, D. D.) (W. Seaton.) (J. M. Gibson, D. D.) (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
(T. Mortimer.)I. GOD'S ASSERTION OF UNIVERSAL POSSESSION IN THE EARTH
3. The animal and vegetable kingdoms.
II. GOD'S ASSERTION EXCLUDES EVERY OTHER BEING FROM UNIVERSAL POSSESSION.
1. It is not man's earth.
2. It is not the devil's.
3. It does not belong to any created intelligence.
III. GOD'S ASSERTION SHOULD AWAKEN CONFIDENCE IN HIS SAINTS AND TERROR IN SINNERS.
1. All forces are under His control.
2. Everything that is not of Him must fail.
3. His possession of the earth will be fully manifest in the end.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(W. Seaton.)1 Peter 2:9).
(J. M. Gibson, D. D.)
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)