With whom was He grieved.
Now where he saith, "With whom He was angry forty years," we have here to learn what is the long-suffering of the Lord, who doth not straight punish the sinner, but as He endured the manners of the people of Israel forty years, so He beareth with us in all our transgressions. If thus we consider this example and such like, we are no idle hearers, but profitably exercise ourselves in His judgments; and as we ought to give Him this praise, that He is long-suffering, so let us know what duty we ought again to render unto God for all His goodness; for a great many of us cry with loud voices, the Lord is merciful, but we be dumb and deaf, and have no hearts, when we should learn what His mercy requireth of us. For, tell me, what wouldst thou think of such a child, who, because his father is loving and kind, would therefore be rebellious and riotous? What wouldst thou think of a servant, that because his master is gentle and courteous, would therefore be careless in his work, and not regard him? What subject, think we, were he, that because his prince is good and favourable, would therefore be traitorous and conspire against him? Would we not give speedy sentence against such monstrous and unnatural men? And what hearts then have we that be here this day, if we will confess this great goodness of God, our King and Father, and yet walk in our sins before Him? Thus let us answer the long-suffering of our God: and howsoever He be angry with many, as with the Israelites in the wilderness, He will be pleased with us, as with Caleb, or Moses, and we shall enter into His rest. How can we have a better rule than to see in the Word how God is said to be angry with His people. He is angry here because they refused wisdom and embraced folly, because they forsook the word of truth and followed vain devices, because they would not enter into the rest promised them, but had more desire to return to the heavy labour and bondage of Egypt. This madness of the people the Lord is angry with, as a loving Father that had care over them. So, if we will have holy anger, let it be free from all hatred and revenge, and arise only for the profit and well-doing of our brethren (Mark 3:5
; 2 Timothy 4:4
; Jude 1:23
GOD IS NOT DISPLEASED WITH ANYTHING IS HIS PEOPLE BUT SIN; OR, SIN IS THE ONLY PROPER OBJECT OF GOD'S DISPLEASURE, AND THE SINNER FOR SIN'S SAKE.
II. PUBLIC SINS, SINS IN SOCIETIES, ARE GREAT PROVOCATIONS OF GOD.
III. GOD SOMETIMES WILL MAKE MEN WHO HAVE BEEN WICKEDLY EXEMPLARY IN SIN, RIGHTEOUSLY EXEMPLARY IN THEIR PUNISHMENT. "They sinned," saith the apostle, "and provoked God, and their carcases fell in the wilderness." To what end is this reported? It is that we might take heed, that we fall not after the same example of unbelief (Hebrews 4:11).
1. The first use hereof is that which Hannah proposeth (1 Samuel 2:3). Let men take heed how they arrogantly boast themselves in their sin and wickedness, which is too common with provoking sinners; for God is a (hod of knowledge and judgment.
2. Let us learn to glorify God because of His righteous judgments. The saints in heaven go before us in this work and duty (Revelation 11:15-18; Revelation 15:3, 4; Revelation 19:1, 2). Not that we should rejoice in the misery of men, but we should do so in the vindication of the glory of God, which is infinitely to be preferred before the impunity of profligate sinners.
IV. GREAT DESTRUCTIONS IN A WAY OF JUDGMENT AND VENGEANCE, ARE INSTITUTED REPRESENTATIONS OF THE JUDGMENT AND VENGEANCE TO COME (see Isaiah 34:1-5; Daniel 7:9-11; Matthew 24:29; Hebrews 10:26, 27; 2 Peter 3:5-7; Revelation 6:13-17).
It cannot, indeed, be contended that the wicked are openly, in this world, rendered invariable victims of Divine wrath; nor does subjection to misfortune prove previous subjection to vice. Providential visitations do not necessarily presuppose extraordinary impiety; and must not, therefore, be continually identified with judicial strokes. On the other hand, worldly prosperity is not an unfailing accompaniment to holiness — frequently very far otherwise. It is true, that in times of persecution, those will suffer who avow that they are "not ashamed of the gospel of Christ"; but still, at other periods, and even then, it will not be needful that they should be visited with such woes as are sent to correct the rebelliousness of the ungodly. If, therefore, we were called upon to point out a mode whereby man might ofttimes mitigate the rigours of his earthly pilgrimage, we would not hesitate to recommend to him the practice of holiness. Never forgetting that his first object in endeavouring to conform to the Divine will must, of course, be God's glory, in conjunction with his own salvation, we find, at the same time, ample reason to conclude, that his" peace on earth," no less than his bliss in heaven, will be advanced by his steadfast adherence to the ways of righteousness. You may have been accustomed to consider, that it is solely in reference to your spiritual concerns that your faith can be made available; but, surely, if the want of faith is liable, as in the instance referred to in the text, to become an occasion of temporal disappointment and failure, it may fairly be expected that its presence, which we know to be well-pleasing in the sight of God, will lead, in unnumbered cases, to results of a precisely opposite character. Our Almighty Father displays far more readiness to recognise the faith and love, than to punish the distrust and alienation, of His children. Though the murmuring Israelites were doomed for weary years to wander through the wilderness, and were even destined never to behold the fair and fertile land which lay beyond its bleak and barren regions, yet would it, think you, have been God's determination to exclude them from the country which they so desired to reach, had they firmly relied on His power and constantly respected His precepts? Already had He furnished them with evidences in abundance of His anxiety to promote their well-being. But no: they counted as nothing all previous demonstrations of His affection and His power; their sensibilities were unawakened, and their minds unconvinced, by any reasonable appreciation of the evidence which foregoing occurrences had supplied; and their tongues were as ready to murmur, and their hearts to faint, at every obstacle met with in their path, at every inconvenience experienced throughout their journey, as though no practical assurances had been given of God's readiness still to act as their Protector and Guide; as though no stupendous wonders had been wrought, and no providential kindness had been displayed. We marvel greatly at their obstinacy and blindness; but I question much whether, after all, we recognise, generally speaking, that principle in the Divine procedure with our race which was exemplified in the retributive treatment with which they met. They were losers, in a temporal point of view, through their unbelief. Had they trusted in God in seasons of apparent danger or real distress, they would speedily, doubtless, have been enabled to surmount all the difficulties of their pilgrimage, and have been happily and safely located in the land of promise. The world at large may ridicule the idea that a man's spiritual standing can have the remotest connection with the success or failure which may attend his pursuit of any temporal objects: and we are far enough from alleging that the maintenance of religious principle will necessarily ensure the prosperous issue of every enterprise; but its absence may, at any time, throw obstacles in the way which might not, under other circumstances, require to be encountered; and when we find that unbelief, and nothing else, was the cause of the exclusion of so many of the Israelitish wanderers from the choice and productive land of Canaan, we seem to read, in characters so plain that only wilful error can mistake their meaning, the great truth, that the earthly prospects of all may be materially and even vitally affected by the possession or the want of faith. We do not say that brilliancy of renown, that stores of earthly treasures, that high and commanding influence will belong to those who consistently repose faith in the wisdom and continual workings of the providence of God: these appertain but to few, nor can they fairly be ranked amongst such acquisitions as are intrinsically adapted to produce felicity. But we say that when a man conducts each of his undertakings, from its commencement to its conclusion, with express reference to the will and watchfulness of the Almighty Governor; looking to Him as the Source of aid in all his difficulties, and regarding Him as the Author of all his success; we say that the man lives in the habitual exercise of such faith as will remove the most formidable obstacles out of his path; and that thus, while he is journeying towards a happier land, brighter sunshine, and unclouded skies, he is also engaged in the promotion of his own welfare meanwhile here below — in procuring, to a large extent, an increase to his happiness, even ere he is released from the infirmities of the earthly tabernacle.
Because of unbelief.
Why did they not enter into rest? Because they believed not. He does not single out the sin of making and worshipping the golden calf; he does not bring before us the flagrant transgressions into which they fell at Baal-peor. Many much more striking and to our mind more fearful sins could have been pointed out; but God thinks the one sin greater than all is unbelief. We are saved by faith; we are lost through unbelief. The heart is purified by faith; the heart is hardened by unbelief. Faith brings us nigh to God, unbelief is departure from God. Does it seem strange? By faith we draw near and worship God; by faith we receive God's love; through faith the Holy Ghost is given unto us; by faith we obey and follow Christ. Yet it is so natural and so like the goodness of God that all should be by faith. For the Lord is our God; He is all. He is willing to be, to give, to do all; to be God for us, to us, in us. By grace are we saved through faith, and even this trust is the gift of His blessed Spirit (Ephesians it.). Unbelief prevented Israel's entering into the promised land. Then it follows that faith enters into rest. If we trust in God, then the wilderness will be converted into the garden of the Lord. See the true Israel, Jesus our Lord, who was tested in the wilderness. He entered into rest, He enjoyed peace with God; and there was given Him power to tread upon the lion and adder, and to trample the dragon under His feet. Worshipping the Father He conquered; and the angels of God refreshed and gladdened His heart with their heavenly converse. Such is to be your life. Only believe, only worship, only harden not your heart, when in the Scripture and in the Spirit's teaching and in God's daily dealings you hear God's voice, and though wild beasts, hunger and privation, weakness and temptation beset you, you are safe, you are blessed. God is with you, who can be against you?
The words of our text are now perpetually being fulfilled in people who have missed their aim, who have not reached success. They belong to a crisis, a turning-point in the ancient history of God's people, and they suit the present modern condition of the world. They refer to those who were marching onward to a distinct end, but could not enter in because of unbelief. Thus they may fit us and our ways. This generation is enterprising and ambitious. It looks down every road, and tries every gate. Multitudes are seeking to go forward in divers ways. And the success of their advance depends upon their belief. I mean trust in the living power of righteousness, truth, and love, which is God's. No one can really enter into and enjoy any new work, state, or position; no one can really advance without reliance upon this. Look at education. What an impulse it has lately received! But what might be, what often is, the bar to its wholesome effect — to its success? Not merely the omission of the Scriptural or religious lesson from the time-table, but a misbelief in the great aims of education itself. Without an inculcation of righteousness, without trust in the great principles of law and order, and without an appeal to the spiritual capacities of the scholar, education may result in the scraping together of the worst ancient and modern moral mud into the cesspool of his mind, and in his alliance or union with that which is most actively mischievous in the world. We might see, moreover, how the law of our text governs many other movements. It specially rules such as are akin to that which originally called it forth. It was first spoken of those who migrated from Egypt to Canaan, but could not enter into the Promised Land because of unbelief. This makes us think of another great movement of these days — emigration. The overflow of crowded Europe is filling North America, and other great half-empty regions of the world. It is true that some of the conditions attending this transfer did not exist in any previous settlement of a new land. But one condition holds — for ever. The emigrant is sure to fail if he goes frivolously, if he fails to realise the severe conditions of migration, if he does not go with a steadfast heart, trusting — though he may not always define this process to himself — in the great eternal and Divine laws of life and growth, which always govern victory. The genuine spirit of enterprise and energy begets success. It is a possession which increases to the holder, while the half-hearted loses the little that he holds. It slips from his feeble hand. Unquestionably, a successful act of migration demands much energy and perseverance on the part of those who move. We may be sure that the great laws of God overrule all adventure; and that the keeping of a good courage, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel, and the like Divine gifts, really lead to victory. These ever have entrance and dominion. I have said that the note of our text is in good tune ,with many of the greatest movements of our day. No true progress is made in anything except in accordance with the great laws of God. Moreover, it holds, not only in the advances which are being made into the freshly opened regions of the earth, but in the revision of ancient home institutions, and the promotion of any social or political progress. Take, for instance, the giving of larger power in the State to the peasantry in our land. This is exercising both the legislature and society. And we are specially reminded of it by that period in the history of the Hebrews to which our text belongs. We are there told of a race which for hundreds of years had been in bondage along with their flocks and herds. We hear of the partial probation these people had gone through, of the education which they had received since they left the place of subjection. When they crossed the border into their new land they faced new conditions of life, they incurred greater responsibilities. They had to exercise more of that political power which belongs to a civilised country. In the pastoral desert, where these people had been sojourning, their chief concern had been to supplement God's gifts of food with such produce of nature as they could raise or gather from the soil or the flock. While thus living they were under such Divine or religious instruction as they had not received before. It is especially notable that they had to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Ten Commandments; learning thus their duty toward God and towards their neighbour. In the keeping of the great moral laws of God may be seen the assurance of national success. None can enter into or enjoy the real blessings of civilised society without a belief in these. This truth touches each, and as we are all members one of another, we do not merely watch spectacles of enfranchisement and the like, but by our loyal keeping of the great principle of righteousness shown in commonplace uprightness of life rising out of behest Christian faith, we welcome and assist any new-comers into the fuller rights of the national family, however little we may be brought into personal contact with them. Every Christian life is an active centre of goodness and influence reaching far beyond our sight. These words, "beyond our sight," might lead us to the thought of that unseen rest into which we cannot enter without belief. The true rest of the Land of Promise is not that craved by the sole of the foot, the sinew, and the brain; it is rather a sense of spiritual repose along with, or after, any work done as before God; though human results may not be seen to follow it. It marks a shelter from the strain of life which may be felt even in the whirl and pressure of its business. We all sometimes feel or yearn for this. It remains for the people of God — for such as put their trust in Him. It is occasionally, but most certainly, touched by them, even in this life. It survives disappointment, and arrives even in confusion. But we do not enter into it without belief. Let those who stand outside be invited and helped by the thought that the belief which leads to salvation is not begun by an assent to a current or formulated creed, but in the receiving of the influence of the living God who is revealed to us, and to whom we are joined by our Lord Jesus Christ. This living faith gives life and meaning to the creed.
A man in prison, with a signed and sealed permission to leave it and walk at liberty lying on the table beside him, untouched, unopened, yet bemoaning himself and unhappy in his cell, is just the image of us believers who have even a fragment of unhappiness about us. I think I can trace every scrap of sorrow in my own life to this simple unbelief. How could I be anything but quite happy if I believed always that all the past is forgiven and all the present furnished with power, and all the future bright with hope, because of the same abiding facts, which don't change with my mood, do not crumble, because I totter and stagger at the promise through unbelief, but stand firm and clear with their peaks of pearl cleaving the air of eternity, and the bases of their hills rooted unfathomably in the rock of God.
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Unbelief among sins," says an old writer, "is as the plague among diseases, the most dangerous; but when it riseth to despair, then it is as the plague with the tokens appearing that bring the certain message of death with them. Unbelief is despair in the bud; despair is unbelief at its full growth."
When, a few years ago, a steamer was burned on Long Island Sound, and the hulk of the vessel was afterwards beached, it was said that the bell of that steamer kept tolling through the day and through the night for weeks, solemnly and impressively, to those who passed by on the waters. And I have to tell you that God has so arranged it that right over the place where the soul goes down, or there is a moral shipwreck or awful spiritual catastrophe — that right over it there is a warning that rings through the day, and through the night, and through the years, saying, "Beware! beware!"
Oh, that we could make that use of their disaster that Walden, the French merchant (father and founder of the Waldenses), did of that sad sight that befell him. For walking in the streets, and seeing one fall suddenly dead, he went home and repented of his Popish errors and profane courses.