As it has been said: "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as you did in the rebellion."
1 Corinthians 10:1-5 instructs us that the Hebrews were baptized unto Moses, and ate spiritual meat and drank spiritual drink, and yet many were overthrown in the wilderness. The first question is (in the Revised Version) - Who were they that did provoke at Meribah and awakened the Divine displeasure? This inquiry is answered by another. Did they not all come out of Egypt, anti while the destroying angel was abroad their families were safe; when the sea opposed their march it was dried up to give them passage, and when the enemies pursued them with rage and breathed out threatenings and slaughter, were they not redeemed? These were they who added the baseness of ingratitude to the sin of unbelief. Another inquiry follows, which is - With whom was he displeased, and was it not with those whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? It is the historic realization of a truth penned many centuries afterwards by St. James, who writes," Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." These unbelievers died under the frown of Jehovah, and left their sad experience as a beacon to warn against sins which provoked the Divine anger and laid them low in the dust of death. The inquiry advances once more, and asks - Who were they who were denied the privilege of entering upon the much-desired inheritance of Canaan? There is an awfulness in the oath which Jehovah takes, that the unbelieving Hebrews should not enter the pleasant land, with its fertile soil, its pastures, its vineyards, its brooks and streams, and the margin of the Mediterranean Sea. There is no secret in the cause of their failure, as there is no secret in the cause of Christian success. They could not enter in because of unbelief, which, while it barred their entrance into Canaan, excludes men from the "inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away." If these sad and awful punishments overtook Israel according to the flesh, then the truth which the author designed to teach is that redemption from sin, condemnation, must, to secure all the fruits and issues of the gospel, be associated with humble and persevering fidelity to our profession of faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. - B.
To-day if ye will hear His voice.I. TO-DAY: HOW RELATED TO YESTERDAY AND TO-MORROW. We are putting yesterday to its noblest use when we are using its experience to make the life of to-day better. We are preparing for the morrow in the truest way when we are striving with all our might to be faithful to the opportunity of to-day.
II. TO-DAY: ITS IMPORTANCE. To-day is the critical moment of life. Our vital concern is with to-day. Life in to-day is an impressive feature of Biblical teaching. The emphasis of both Testaments is on to-day. "We must work while it is day." To look back is, in the judgment of the Master of our life, to unfit ourselves for the work of the kingdom of God. To be loyal to the Christian idea and order of life, we must be ready to break with the old for the sake of the new. There is little need, then, to dwell on the past. It is not behind us. In a very real sense it goes with us. The new continues, it does not efface the old. There is no "dead past"; the past is living in the present. Our present character is the Divine judgment upon our past conduct. But to-day is not only a history of the past, it is also a prophecy of the future. It is by watching to-day we can tell what will be on the morrow. Foresight is truly insight. There is no violent break between yesterday and to-day. Whatever is to come out of to-day exists in to-day. The future is not a revolution but an evolution. To-day is the child and heir of yesterday; to-morrow will be the child and heir of to-day.
III. THE BLESSING AND OPPORTUNITY OF A DAY. It comes to us laden with blessing and promise, full of history and full of prophecy. It has taken many thousands of years to prepare it for us. In the very fuel that feeds its fires is the vegetation of primeval years. Every day that dawns has countless relations with things far and wide. Ancient Egypt and Israel, Greece and Rome, Scandinavia and primitive Germany, priests and philosophers, prophets and poets, discoverers and inventors, innumerable thinkers and workers, known and unknown, have helped to prepare the materials out of which to-day's opportunity has been made. We inherit the good, material and moral, wrought out through the experiences of many men and many races of men through many centuries. In the life of to-day are the results of the labour and struggle of all the yesterdays. No day is poor and commonplace. To the prepared soul every day is full of marvel and joy. Every day has its comedies and tragedies. Genius does not invent, it discovers and interprets. To find examples of heroism we need not turn to classic pages, nor search the annals of martyrdom. Heroism is as unfailing a reality as the daily dawn. Around and in each day are all the great marvels of creation, all the moral forces and splendours of life, and all the sacred realities to which the deeply moved soul has witnessed in every age. It is a familiar saying that life is but a day. It is said to express the awful and pathetic brevity of our existence upon this earth. But when we say each day is a life, we are giving expression to a truth of deeper importance and of greater practical value and use. There is nothing small. In the smallest things are the elements of the greatest. One day of life has in it the quality of the whole. In its acts and relations we see God making history, and man making his own future — making the character which creates condition and decides destiny. Are we making the most and the best of the opportunities of to-day? One of our older poets has represented the days as coming to us with their faces veiled; but when they have passed beyond our reach and call, the draped figures become radiant, and the gifts we slighted are seen to be right royal treasures. Let us make the most and the best of each day's opportunity for pure and noble enjoyment. The lesson of joy is as Divine a lesson to learn as that of obedience and sacrifice. Let us make the most and the best of each day's opportunity for thought and meditation. The inner life constantly needs deepening. The mind closed against new truth is already dying. Let us make the most and the best of the opportunity for moral and spiritual growth and beneficent service which is afforded by the daily task. It is in the sphere of every-day duties most men must win the discipline which our earthly life is meant to yield, most form the character which is the crown of life, and prepare themselves for wider usefulness. It is only by living up to the ideal and duty of making each day perfect in itself we can make life a spiritual triumph. There are only "twelve hours in a day," yet how much can be done in and with a day. If we throw away a day no miracle will bring it back to us. There is no to-morrow for the work that ought to be done to-day. The cry, "Too late," is not false. The mercy of God is infinite every way, but an opportunity lost is lost for ever. Other doors may open, but that door is for ever shut. The exhortation, "Prepare to meet thy God," is, indeed, an exhortation to prepare for life, not death. Every day we meet God; every day we need to be prepared to meet Him. We prepare for what we suppose to be great days. But every day may be a great day, a Divine day. To-day all good and great things are possible. Let us by our faith and faithfulness, by our obedience to all best visions and impulses, turn it into a day of salvation, a day of God, one of the days of the Son of Man, one of the days of heaven upon earth.
(John Hunter.)1. Let me ask those who believe the truths of the gospel, but who put off the renunciation of the sins they condemn, and the consideration of the truths themselves to a future period, have you a reliable guarantee that you will have a future in which to consider, pray over, and meditate on these things? There is no such thing. The space between life and death is quickly traversed.
2. But, in the next place, addressing those who are thus procrastinating, let me suppose that you reach the remotest horizon of human age; is it not true that every day you neglect Divine truths the probability of your ever accepting then diminishes? In this world you require time to grow in knowledge; why should you argue that what God recognises in His providence He should not recognise in grace; but that He should leave you to a lifetime of ignorance, indifference, apathy, and then should give you light enough to guide you to heaven in your last moments?
3. But there is a third argument against all such delay. It is that whilst you are delaying the salvation of the soul, your heart is not all the while remaining empty. Your heart is being coloured by all it comes into contact with in the world. Now, if your soul has for forty, fifty or sixty years been absorbed about what you shall eat, what you shall drink, wherewithal you shall be clothed; or about the world's wealth, or the world's ambition, or the world's cares, will it be very easy to disengage it from its old routine upon a dying bed? Will it be very easy to alter the currents, change the channels, and empty the springs of such a heart when its beating becomes feebler, and life's sandglass is almost run out?
4. There is another fact, let me mention, one suggested to me by conversation with a physician, and I think it is a very just one, namely, the very structure of the brain, which is the hand of the mind, adapts itself to the action of the thoughts that have constantly passed through it. Now, if your thoughts have been ceaselessly absorbed with the things of this world, your brain is just adapting itself to the things of this world, and becoming unfit for others. A blacksmith's arm would never do for the most exquisite handwriting; his arm has been accustomed to other work; and that is only a coarser illustration of what is true of the brain, that it becomes adapted and physically fitted to the trains of thought that have ceaselessly rushed through it; till, when you come to speak to a dying man who has never had Divine thoughts in his heart and head, you have to deal with the most intractable of all materials; till, almost despairing, you must cease to teach, and begin only to pray. But I take another view of the danger of such a course.
5. As people grow older, on the supposition that they live to a protracted age, the impressibility of the mind becomes less, the blood chills with age, it runs more sluggishly through the arteries and veins; the memory in old age, you know quite well, becomes less retentive. Then is not that another evidence that it must be very difficult to impress Divine truths, everlasting motives, upon memories that scarcely recollect next day what was said on this; upon hearts that Mammon has trodden into the hardness of iron, and in which passions have scorched every fair and fragrant blossom?
6. Let me notice another reason and explanation of the danger of this procrastination: you are creating and strengthen. ing every day a refuge to which you have recourse. It is a singular law in human nature, that what becomes your habit becomes almost your very nature; and as you are making to-day a refuge from conviction, a refuge from what you feel to be duty, that procrastination becomes a habit; and every time that you do so, the next time you will be abler to do so.
7. But now the final result of not hearing God's voice, and of thus procrastinating to a future, is what is here called the hardening of the heart. Love degenerates to zero; the enthusiasm of your spring is all frozen hard in the winter of old age; what once awakened you to joy, to hope, to fear, to alarm, fails to awaken you any more; and it is possible that God may say, as he said of one of old, "Let him alone; My Spirit will not strive with man any more"; like Pharaoh, He gives him up to the hardness he himself has originated, an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. Some of you will say, "But is not the Holy Spirit of God able to change any heart, however hard? Is He not able to convert a man in his last gasp?" The Holy Spirit's work is always exercised on a system that promotes holiness, that glorifies Himself, that honours His holy Word; and your acting on the pleas that I now quote for you is simply sinning because grace abounds, and making the Holy Spirit's omnipotence an excuse for your worldliness. And, in the next place, let me remind you, that while the Holy Spirit is able to do all this, He will not, and it is unreasonable to expect that He will, dishonour the means that He has instituted. But perhaps you will argue, "But we know that men have been converted on their deathbeds; very frequently we read of instances the most remarkable of deathbed conversions; and this ought to cheer us in the prospect of a deathbed conversion." First of all, are you perfectly sure that your case is parallel in all points with the cases that you read? And then, in the next place, are you quite sure that such cases are not exceptional? I admit at once grace has its trophies in every age. But if this be exceptional, not the general rule, would you act in this way in common life? Would you plunge into the roaring cataract because one man, half a century ago, did so, and escaped? And then, let me add, those remarkable cakes that you quote had not the opportunities that you have had. Now that is a very modifying element. The dying thief never heard of a Saviour till he saw Him nailed to the Cross. In none of these cases — here is the striking fact — was there a previous hardening process under the knowledge and the preaching of the truth. But some encourage themselves with this: "But you know the scenes of a deathbed are very solemn." They are very solemn indeed. "And may it not be true," you will say, "that when eternity envelops us like an ocean, that then we shall think, and pray, and believe, and be saved? " When the house is tumbling to ruins about the tenant, when life is ebbing from all the shores of the senses, when you are distracted by hopes to-day, by depression to-morrow; when cares in this world that you have left unsettled, pains and agonies within, separations, tears, sympathies, and sorrows are about you — oh! let me ask, is that an hour for thinking about the soul, of God, of the judgment-seat, a Saviour, an eternity? You may disguise it as you like, but you may depend upon it it is not. It is so easy in health to speculate what you will do; it is so difficult in a dying hour to settle what was unsettled before. The following illustration is is by an American traveller: " In my to and fro rambles in foreign lands I once met with a party of young Englishmen, one of whom had lost his passport. By one dodge and another he continued to get on without it at the stations of secondary importance, but at length he came to the frontiers: the demand to see and examine the document was stern and imperative; his lack of it, as well as the artifices by which he had heretofore concealed it, was detected, and his further progress disgracefully arrested." How many will come to the frontiers of that eternal world towards which we are all journeying without a passport? We may evade all scrutinies at the way-star, ions. We may be admitted into reputable and virtuous society. We may enter the Church. We may eat and drink in the presence of Christ. But all this does not constitute a passport into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." Only learn wisdom from the children of this world, and do not delay to get your passport till you reach the very station where it will be demanded. It will then be too late. Now is the accepted time.
(J. Cumming, D. D.)I. THE VOICE OF GOD! Ah! it is a wonderful thing that the High and Holy One should condescend to speak to a rebellious and apostate race for their good.
1. And if you ask how He utters His voice to man, I answer, in the first place, it is uttered through the medium of external nature. By those who will listen to it, the voice is heard above, below, and around them. And yet there are men in this age of science and education, who can tread upon the green carpet of the earth, bespread with fruit and flower, without any responding emotions to the Giver of them all; who appear deaf to the countless notes by which His voice is uttered, and His wisdom, power and love proclaimed, and to whom it is requisite now as of old to say, "If ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart."
2. I next observe, that the voice of God is uttered through the medium of passing events. Whatever occurrence takes place, the really wise man hears in it a message from the throne of the Eternal. When affluence and power are bestowed, he hears the voice of God declaring," Here are means and opportunities for promoting My glory and advancing the welfare of My creatures. Make a right use of them. De a wise steward over them." When, on the other hand, poverty comes, he hears the voice of God admonishing, "Learn the perishable nature of earthly wealth, and lay up for thyself treasures in heaven." When sickness and bereavement come with their desponding and painful associations, he hears the voice of God declaring, "It is good for thee to be afflicted; before thou wast afflicted thou wentest wrong; but now thou shalt learn my statutes."
3. I next observe, that the voice of God is uttered through the medium of human instruction and example. Here a believing husband seeks to impress his wife with the truths of the gospel; there a wife, whose affections are set " on things above," deplores the excessive worldliness of her husband's mind.
4. I observe, further, that the voice of God is uttered through the medium of His inspired Word.
II. THE NATURE, OR THE MANNER AND CHARACTER OF THE RESISTANCE MADE BY MAN TO THE VOICE of God. The resistance commonly offered to the Divine appeals is not that of "the fool, who saith in his heart, there is no God," nor that of the recklessly worldly or the profoundly infidel, who cry out, "What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto Him?" The resistance offered by the bulk of the impenitent, is that described by the expression, "hardening the heart as in the provocation"; a delay and a disinclination to act up to the convictions of conscience from a deep rooted love of sin, like that of the people in the wilderness, than which nothing can be more provoking to the Holy One of Israel. When men disobey what they believe to be the voice of God, they must try to find some plausible excuse for their disobedience, or they must be most uncomfortable and uneasy in their minds. The individual who is frequently employed in gathering pleas for the neglect of religion soon becomes an adept in the work of self-justification. Having engaged in a warfare with his reason, his judgment and the best affections of his nature, he has nearly gained the victory, and the consequence is that he feels less religious responsibility than before, and is become almost inaccessible to any means of conviction. Now this is precisely what the Scripture means by " hardening the heart"; and this is the very thing that is done by those in a Christian land, who refuse to become Christians indeed and in truth.
(H. Hughes, B. D.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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