Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; cast aside the gods your fathers served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
I. AN APPEAL FOR HEARTY RE-DEDICATION TO THE SERVICE OF GOD.
(1) Its necessity arises from the proneness of man to settle down upon his lees, neglecting the watchfulness observed on his first profession of religion. Enthusiasm cools; men sleep and tares are sown among the wheat; the Christian athlete rests content with the laurels already gained; the warrior, having defeated the enemy, allows him time to gather his forces for another battle. The temple was beautifully cleansed, but inattention has allowed it to grow filthy, and it needs a thorough renovation.
(2) Its leading motive is gratitude for Divine goodness in the past. How skilfully Joshua, in the name of Jehovah, enumerates the chief national events wherein His mercy had been conspicuous. Brethren, review the past! Your mercies have been numberless, like the drops of the river flowing by your side. If you can tell the stars, then may you catalogue the blessings you have received. The retrospect teaches the character of your God, and may inspire you with hope for the future. Reverence the Almighty, and your highest expectations will not be disappointed but far surpassed.
(3) Its method prescribes severance from idolatry and a sincere determination to follow the Lord fully. Self examination will reveal many sins still cherished in the heart, like the gods which Israel had allowed to remain in the camp. It were well for us, like David, to go in and sit before the Lord (2 Samuel 7:18). In the presence of Him who has leaded us with benefits temporal and spiritual, our vision will be clarified, and we shall be filled with an earnest desire to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit." All avowals of a change of heart are to be distrusted which axe unaccompanied by evident renunciation of evil habits. The outward act not only affords an index of the inward feeling, but also materially contributes to its strength.
II. AN ALTERNATIVE PRESENTED. Notwithstanding all that had been done for the Israelites, some of them might deem it "evil," unpleasant, irksome, laborious to serve the Lord. Hence the option of forsaking Him, and bowing before the gods whom their fancy should select. The alternative suggests that, in the opinion of the speaker,
(1) some kind of service is inevitable. Without acknowledging some superior powers, the Israelites could not remain. Absolutely free and independent man cannot be, though his idol may assume any form or character. In every breast there is some predominating principle or passion, be it piety, morality, intellectualism, aestheticism, or love of selfish pleasure.
(2) The freedom of the will is seen in the power of choice. Choose man must; but he can choose what seems best to him. God has a right to demand our homage; but He is content to let us decide for ourselves the equity of His claims. He appeals to the judgment and the conscience. He makes His people "willing in the day of His power," not by enchaining their wills and constraining obedience, but by appropriate motives and inducements, leading them to consider it their glory to lay themselves at His feet "Who then is willing to consecrate this service this day unto the Lord?" (1 Chronicles 29:5). Freedom of choice is too frequently a beautiful and dangerous gift, which, like a sword in the hands of a child, injures its possessor. Yet we are unable to divest ourselves of the responsibility that attaches to free agency. Some plan of life is ruling us, even if it be a resolve to live aimlessly. We may deliberately weigh our decision, bringing to bear upon our comparison of conflicting claims all the strength of our moral nature and power of discernment, or we may refuse to face the points at issue, and let our judgment go by default, imagining that we shall thus escape the onus of a formal determination; but in the latter case, no less than in the former, we have made our choice, and are serving some master, though we recognise it not. The alternative indicates
(3) that neutrality and compromise are each impossible. If God be not the object of adoration, then any occupant of the throne must be considered as God's enemy. Multitudes think that if they are not found openly opposing religion there is naught to be complained of in their attitude and conduct. Herein they are terribly at fault. "He that is not with Me is against Me." Those who advance not to the help of the Lord are treated as His foes (cf. Judges 21:8 and 1 Samuel 11:7). Nor will God accept a divided allegiance. Dagon must fall from his pedestal when the ark of God's presence enters the chamber of the heart. How could the Israelites be true at once to Jehovah and to idols? "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Religion modifies the character of every action, transforming it into an offering laid upon the altar to the glory of God. All that we have and are we send to the Royal Mint, and receive it back, stamped with the Sovereign's image, and fashioned according to His desire.
III. A FIXED RESOLVE. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua set a noble example, which powerfully affected his followers. The expressed determination of a pastor, a teacher, a parent may produce widespread beneficial results upon those under their charge. Joshua showed himself fit to lead men. He did not wait to see what the majority of the people would approve before he committed himself to a particular course of action; but boldly stated his intention to cleave with full purpose of heart unto the Lord. The Ephraimites, slow to come to the rescue in the hour of danger, but swift to claim a place of honour when a victory has been won (Judges 12:1, 2), have found many imitators in every age. Men who wait to see in which direction the current of popular feeling is setting ere they risk their reputation or their safety by taking a decided step. We may dislike isolation, but are not alone if the Father is with us. Joshua's resolve was never regretted. What man has ever been sorry that he became a follower of Christ? Even backsliders confess that they were never happier than when they attended to the commandments of the Lord. True religion furnishes its votaries with self-evidential proofs of its Divine authority in the peace of mind and satisfaction of conscience which they experience. To enjoy the favour of God is felt to be worth more than any earthly friendship or worldly gain.
CONCLUSION. This theme is suitable for the beginning of a year, when untrodden paths invite you to choose a method of travel. Or perhaps some crisis is occurring in your life, when you are entering upon a fresh sphere of employment. Use it as a time to commence a period of devotion to God's service. Young people, decide which is the more honourable, to serve God or the world. Do not spend the finest of your days in a manner which will hereafter pierce you with remorse. - A.
Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him.
Sermons by the Monday Club.I. THE REASONABLENESS OF SERVING GOD (vers. 14, 15). To serve God, to obey Him, to love Him, to submit heart and life to His control, is only a seemly and adequate acknowledgment of claims felt to be just. God's character, His mercy, His grace in the gospel, His promises of pardon, the gift of eternal life through His Son, create an obligation which, if it be disregarded, makes our attitude towards God not only sinful, but unreasonable. It is inconsistent with all in us that is true and noble and manly. This is the paradox of sin: it makes one conscious of placing an inferior good above the superior, of seeking for dross and refusing the gold, of plucking a bauble and rejecting the crown.
II. THE STATE OF MIND REQUIRED FOR THE SERVICE OF GOD (vers. 19, 20.) The service of God must be born of something more than impulse. It must be the result of choice; it must be the determined purpose of the whole being to enter and continue in a life of obedience. To every one God is saying, "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve." Many desire to be Christians, they wish they were the servants of God, but they are unwilling to "choose" to become such. If for a time they set their faces heavenward, they soon turn back. When they sink in the Slough of Despond, they struggle to be free on the side nearest the City of Destruction. Such need to remember that, when the service of God is entered, the will is to be unalterably set towards Him.
III. THE RIGHT ATTITUDE FOR THOSE WHO PROPOSE TO SERVE GOD. "Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God," &c. Joshua well understood the benefit arising from such a formal enactment.
1. It would be a test of the strength of their purpose. Often the way to disclose the feebleness of one's Christian aims is to bring them to the test of an open declaration — to ask, "Are you willing that others should know, that all should know, that you commit yourself unqualifiedly to be the Lord's?"
2. It would be helpful by bringing to their aid the motive of consistency. Most men desire to act in harmony with their past record.
IV. THE VALUE OF A SINGLE LIFE DEVOTED TO THE SERVICE OF GOD. Joshua's days are now ended. His work is done, and he is ready for his reward. Few men have lived so worthily. Men are needed everywhere of like decision, and who are ready to thus openly declare for God. Will you be one?
(Sermons by the Monday Club.)
I. ZEAL FOR THE SERVICE OF GOD IS BORN OF VIEWS WHICH ARE TAKEN OF GOD. This plainly was the case with Joshua; this was the case with the people also, and universally this must be true. We are asked to view God as creation presents Him (Psalm 19.). This has, at least, the merit of being poetry of the highest school; it is a thousand pities if it is not true. Oh, does not this vast fabric suggest a God? Perhaps not; but we have got the suggestion somehow, and to our anxious inquiries of her all nature seems to give back a ready affirmative response. We are asked to view God as He is presented to us in the phenomena of mind. One observes that these mental phenomena taper away downwards to the tiniest forms of sentient life. One feels that somehow it must and does, in a corresponding manner, expand in its upward way, and when we have reached the loftiest heights of the finite we seem to come in sight of the lowest rays of light from the throne of the Infinite mind. Then if the Lord our God is one Lord, there will be a concentration of thought on Him; our love will be undivided, rising to suitable proportions to its Infinite object. We are asked to see God in His providence. This is a name we give to a constantly-observed work resulting from an unseen Presence. We notice the perpetual operation of certain great forces in nature, which say nothing so distinctly as they say that they are only the expressions of an all-comprehending and sufficient Power behind them. Can we connect this governing power with that all-pervading mind, and with the creating power of which we have spoken? Yes, I am sure of it. There are unattached threads in all. They evidently find their complements in one another. Then if this is the "God of my life, throughout my days my grateful powers shall sound His praise, my song shall wake with opening light, and cheer the dark and silent night." But all these are summed up and expressed by the Incarnation. You are asked to view God in Christ. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son hath declared Him." It is when we view God thus that our zeal for His service will rise and abound; will flow forth and overflow. "Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so Divine," demands a house of prayer, a noble service, Christian toil, more than we can give, or think to give.
II. ZEAL FOR GOD'S SERVICE IS NOURISHED BY THE VIEWS WHICH WE CHERISH CONCERNING THE CHARACTER OF THAT SERVICE. Our experience and our observation are faithful witnesses hereto. Joshua presents a severe but accurate view of God's holiness, and then urges a service that shall perfectly accord with it — a service that was pure, and sincere, and true, and grateful. "Serve the Lord," said he, "in sincerity and truth." "It must," he meant to say, "be service of the heart rather than of the hands." A service which demands the heart nourishes the zeal born of right conceptions of Jehovah. This is living bread, this is water of life. Our God searcheth the heart, but we are not afraid, we are the more confident. The sacrifices He desires are the broken heart, the contrite spirit (Isaiah 66:1-5). But outwardly and visibly it must be pure, as inwardly it was sincere and true. The oldest forms of God's service were wealthy in sacrifice, and prayers, and Divine blessing. David, the Homer, the Virgil, the Milton of the Hebrews, enriched that service by adding psalmody and music. Later times added the stated reading of the Scriptures, and later still we have the sacraments and the proclamation of the gospel. Of our Christian ritual, then, we boldly say that it supplies us with the green pastures and still waters of God's Word. It has the spread table of heaven's bounties, if not dainties. It anoints the devout worshipper with a holy oil, and gives him an overflowing cup. It is the expression of the goodness and mercy which follow every step of the pilgrim, making him glad to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
III. JOSHUA'S ENTHUSIASM WAS PERFECTED BY HIS CONVICTION OF THE INFLUENCE WHICH THE WORSHIP OF GOD EXERTS ON MEN. To tell the history of its influence on individuals is to tell the story of every worthy instance of personal piety. You may seek for them and you will find them among all ranks and kindreds. You may scan the calendar of your own history, and its red-letter days are those you have spent in the service of God. To tell its influence on families would be to write the history of the best of earth's households and homes from tent to palace. To these God has kept covenant and showed mercy to the fourth generation. What a heritage of mercy! Let us in our families see to it that the legacy never runs out. Let the men of the fourth generation in this descent remember what they ought to do. But how shall we tell its historic influence on the nation? It has supplied the place of navies; invincible armadas have been scattered as forest leaves before it. It has been better than armies, than revenue, than police.
In sincerity and in truth.
I. If we would know whether we serve God in sincerity, LET US LOOK WITH AN ATTENTIVE EYE INTO OUR HEARTS, in order to trace the true springs or principles of our actions.
II. Another evidence of our serving God in sincerity is, WHEN WE ARE AS CAREFUL TO PRESERVE A GOOD CONSCIENCE AS TO SAVE APPEARANCES, and act with the same integrity in secret, where God is the sole spectator of our actions, as when they lie open to the view and observation of the world.
III. Another evidence of our serving God in sincerity and in truth is, WHEN WE PAY AN EQUAL REGARD TO THE WHOLE LAW, and mean not, by selecting some favourite duties, to compensate for the habitual violation or neglect of others that happen not to fall in with our taste and inclination.
IV. Another evidence of our serving God in sincerity is, WHEN WE RESIST AND OVERCOME TEMPTATIONS; for to serve God in those instances only where we are not tempted to disobey is a very defective test of our integrity. The decisive proof is, when we are faithful to our duty in opposition to seducements, and reject every solicitation that offers to corrupt us.
V. The last evidence I shall mention of our serving God in sincerity is, IF, IN CASES WHERE WE ARE DOUBTFUL OF THE OBLIGATION OR LAWFULNESS OF AN ACTION, WE ALWAYS INCLINE TO DO WHAT APPEARS MOST CONFORMABLE TO DUTY, what will best answer the ends of piety, and be most conducive to the honour of religion.
(G. Cart, B. A.)
Put away the gods which your fathers served.
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