But Joshua said to the people, "You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God; He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your rebellion or your sins.
I. THE CHARACTER OF GOD, AND THE KIND OF SERVICE HENCE EXPECTED.
1. He is holy, and consequently demands abstinence from sin. There is in Him entire rectitude of attribute, both in essence and in exercise. The seraphim cry, "Holy is the Lord of Hosts." His vesture is spotless, and He expects His servants to attend Him in uniform unstained (see Leviticus 19:2). Also note the incidents of Moses at the burning bush, Nadab and Abihu consumed for offering unhallowed fire, and the men of Beth-shemesh constrained to exclaim, "Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?" The sinlessness of Jesus proclaims Him Divine, and sometimes evokes the petition, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and condemns every act that is inconsistent with the relations in which we stand to Himself, to our fellow creatures, and the material world.
2. He is jealous, and therefore exacts whole-hearted allegiance. Annexed to the second commandment was a statement of Jehovah's jealousy, which could not permit His glory to be paid to graven images. When the tables of the law were renewed it was expressly affirmed, "The Lord whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." The word means, glowing with heat, hence the Almighty is compared to a "consuming fire" that subdues every work of man. Idolatry was the sin to which Israel was prone, and every prostration at the shrine of an idol was a derogation from the honour due to God, and excited His indignation. He is not content with an inferior share of affection, He must be loved and served with all our strength. "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me." The true disciple is ready to forsake all and follow Christ. The will of the Lord is for him law, his only inquiry being, "Lord, what writ Thou have me to do?"
3. He is immutable, and requires unvarying fidelity. "If ye forsake the Lord, then He will do you hurt after that He hath done you good." He rewards every man according to his doings, and visits transgression with punishment. The Israelites were fickle, moved like water by every passing breeze. God is not the son of man that He should repent. He cannot be false to His nature, and look with pleasure on offenders. Past obedience is no answer to the charge of present guilt. Each day brings its own need of sanctification. It is not possible, in God's service, to work so hard one week as to enable us to spend the next in idleness, nor can we accumulate a store of good works to cover deficiencies in a time of sin. "It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them."
II. THE PEOPLE'S DETERMINATION TO SERVE THIS EXACTING GOD.
1. Indicates a feeling that only such a Master is worthy of men's service. Conscience testified that worship should not be offered to other than a perfect Being, and that such a Being could rightly claim these high prerogatives. The rock on which the vessel of mythology has been wrecked is the evil character assigned to its deities, proving them the offspring of human imagination in a debased state. The remembrance of the past, and hopes and fears respecting the future incited the Israelites to continue in their position as the Lord's peculiar people. And have not we experienced that to be the happiest day when we have thought most of God, and most fro. quently lifted our hearts in prayer to Him for guidance and succour? If called to renounce ease or sinful practices, have we not been amply repaid in the consciousness that we have acted rightly, and are walking in the light of God's countenance? To set upon the throne of our hearts one who would be content with meagre devotion and occasional conformity to righteousness might please for a while, but could not durably satisfy our moral aspirations.
2. Intimates a belief that God chiefly regards the sincere endeavours of His servants to please Him. The Israelites could point to Joshua's own demand in ver. 14 - "serve Him in sincerity and in truth." What is really displeasing to the Most High is wilful violation of His commandments, or hypocritical pretences of loyalty when the heart is estranged. These He visits with severest condemnation. Jehovah declared Himself in the same commandment both a "jealous" God, and one "showing mercy." And though the disciples of Christ had often exhibited a spirit of worldlinesss, of impatience and unbelief, yet their Master looking on His little company at the Last Supper could even after their unseemly dispute concerning precedence, recognise what was good in them and say, "Ye are they who have continued with Me in My temptations." He who knows all our works (Revelation 3:8), appreciates the humblest effort to keep His commandments.
3. Suggests an assurance that imperfections of service can be atoned for by confession, sacrifice, and intercession. Joshua's assertion was quite true. Neither the Israelites nor any other nation could serve the Lord perfectly. Limitations of knowledge and frailties of temper produce at least temporary deviations from the path of obedience. But the people no doubt remembered the provision made in the law for sins of ignorance, the trespass offerings, the day of atonement "to cleanse them that they might be clean from all their sins before the Lord." Nor were they unmindful of the prayers which had been heard on their behalf When Moses pleaded for them, and the gracious forgiveness that had often followed their national repentance. And what was dimly foreshadowed in the Levitical economy now blazes brightly for our instruction and comfort under the Christian dispensation. Jesus Christ hath by one offering perfected them that are sanctified. His perpetual priesthood is a guarantee for the final salvation of those who come unto God by Him. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." "Ye are complete in Him."
4. Leads us to anticipate a period of perfect service. However the goodness of God may pardon our faults and, beholding us in Christ, take note of the direction rather than of the success of our attempts, it is impossible for us to rest content with our present experience. The spirit cries out for entire emancipation from the thraldom of sin, and longs for the redemption of the body. When shall we be conformed to the image of Christ, and enjoy to the full what now we know only by brief moments of rapture and sudden hasty glimpses? This question is answered by the promise of a manifestation of the sons of God," when, in unswerving obedience to His Father's will, they shall realise truest liberty. You who so delight in Christian work as to wish you could spend all your time and energy therein, look to the years to come! "They serve Him day and night in His temple." "His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face." - A.
I. ALTHOUGH THE LORD IS FULL OF COMPASSION AND MERCY, HE IS YET A HOLY AND A JEALOUS GOD. We must beware of attributing to our God any qualities which are inconsistent with those by which He is known to be guided.
Ye cannot serve the Lord: for He is an holy God.I. THE DIFFICULTY OF SERVING GOD. "Ye cannot serve the Lord." It was a staggering admonition. It embodied what theologians have called the doctrine of "moral inability." The seat of the disorder is in the will. There is the conflict. Till that is established in the choice of holiness it will still be true, as in the case before us, that one can not serve God. "Ye cannot" should still read for many, loath to abandon practices and ideas and hopes which He condemns, "Ye will not."
II. THE CONSCIOUS ABILITY TO SERVE GOD. With much vehemence the people asserted that they would, and therefore could, be true to their promise. They realised that no more was demanded of them than was within the range of their powers to do. Their tribute to the righteousness of their Maker is the universal testimony as well. From the shrine of the most besotted savage to the latest Christian altar we see the multiplying tokens that each and all might have heeded and wrought that full measure of righteousness which their God prescribed. Everywhere, on all the recognised possibilities of a human soul, is plainly imprinted, and none can honestly exclaim against it, "This is your reasonable service."
III. THE SOLEMN PROMISE TO SERVE GOD. The transfer of estates, the giving in marriage, the parting with a child — these chief acts of our lives are trivial and ordinary compared with that in which a heart yields itself for ever unto Him who has sought it from its first conscious moment. It is serious business we transact with Him. He hears, too, each voice among the myriads as though it were the only one, and receives each uplifted spirit as though no other had come.
IV. THE ABIDING WITNESSES OF THE PLEDGE TO SERVE GOD. As our memorials and statues are eloquent of former scenes and persons, to those who will pause a little to listen, so this column in the spot of sanctuary told to children's children that their fathers were given here and for ever to the Lord. Every individual, too, that stood near any who there uttered his "credo" had stamped upon his memory his neighbour's act, to be made to glow as secret tracings when heat is applied. But are men aware of the numerous objects which have heard and may testify to their former promises to do the will of God? It was in some severe sickness, when the spectre of death seemed to draw nigh, when, begging for reprieve, you said: "If I am spared I will dedicate myself to Him." And the walls of your chamber listened, and now and then repeat it in the stillness of the night. They who watched heard it, and are wondering yet if you have forgotten. Or it was when some sudden horror of doom flashed on you, and you proffered all you had for your life, while billows or tempest or hurrying car or roadside fences heard your cry and occasionally remind you of the pledge! Or, as you sat under the moving influences of the Spirit, and you were sure the acceptable time for turning to God had come, did you not say: "When I have made my fortune, or gained this office, or reached that age, I will"? And now the fortune is yours, the office has been held, the age has been passed, but your heart is not yet in the Lord's keeping. It is easy to mortgage the future, so unknown, so full of plausible chances and opportunities. Be as fair, friend, with the Lord as with your neighbour, whom you are proud always to have satisfied, for He has waited longer, till you shall pay your vows to the full.
(De Witt S. Clark.)
The Weekly Pulpit.I. SOME OF THEIR DIFFICULTY WOULD BE FOUND ON THE SIDE OF GOD. "He is an holy God; He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins" so as to fail to punish them. "He will turn, and do you hurt, and consume you, after that He hath done you good."
1. If Jehovah is to be served at all, He must be served alone. There can be no possible rivalry between Him and any other claimants to be gods. We may think of three things that are ever pressing in our day to be gods with God — the luxury of wealth; self-seeking pleasure; mere mind knowledge.
2. If God is served at all He must be served in righteousness. God will search through and through every form of service offered to Him, and it must be sincere, it must be "clean every whit," or it cannot be acceptable to Him. The service of a holy God must be the service of intention and resolve, not of mere accident. It should be thought about, resolved upon, prayed about, made the most earnest thing in the whole life.
II. SOME OF THE DIFFICULTIES WERE FOUND ON THE SIDE OF ISRAEL. "Ye cannot." "Ye are too frail. Ye are too much exposed to the power of temptation. Ye have too serious inclinations to evil. You do not know yourselves, or you would not promise too readily. You do not fully estimate the influences of the past, or you would fear for your future." They who know themselves learn to pray, "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe, and I shall have respect unto Thy commandments."
(The Weekly Pulpit.)
II. As a necessary consequence of the holy jealousy of God towards wilful sinners THERE ARE CERTAIN CONDITIONS OF MIND IN WHICH HE WILL NOT FORGIVE your transgressions nor your sins, and in which, therefore, ye cannot serve the Lord. The impenitent, the unbelieving, the careless, the presumptuous will be excluded from the blessing. The fact is, that one thing is indispensable to your acceptable service of God; and that is, that you should be in earnest.
III. Ask yourselves the question, ARE YOU DESIROUS TO SERVE THE LORD YOUR GOD?
(E. G. Marshall, M. A.)
1. First, however, we shall seek to show that this procedure on the part of God is not so unusual. You may recollect how the band of Gideon was chosen. When the wise men from the East came seeking Christ the star seemed to desert them, and they met with disappointment and perplexity from all their inquiries in Jerusalem. When the Jews, stirred up to expect the coming Messiah, sent messengers to John, in the hope that they had found their desire, "he confessed and denied not, but confessed, I am not the Christ." We cannot forget the strange treatment of the woman of Canaan by the Lord Himself; how she cried after Him, and was not answered, and met at length what appeared a contemptuous rejection. In the same way He acted to the scribe who came to Him with such an unconditional offer of discipleship, "Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest." "This is no common pleasure-walk," was the reply; "the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head." There is another way of finding the same result in the Bible. Consider, for example, the view that is given of the character of God. He is presented to us not only as good, and ready to forgive, but as just and righteous — a God who cannot look on sin without displeasure. There are many terrible threatenings, many dreadful judgments against sin and sinners, which have all this language in them: "Ye cannot serve the Lord, for He is an holy God." When we leave Bible representations, and come to the experience of individuals, we meet with many similar illustrations. In regard to the general evidence of the divinity of the Bible, we can see that God has not constructed it on the plan of overpowering the conviction of any man at first sight. And even when a man has come to the entire conviction that the gospel is Divine, that there is "none other name given under heaven whereby we must be saved but the name of Jesus Christ," he is not assured thereby of perfect peace.
2. Having sought to show that this procedure, on the part of God, is not so unusual, we may now attempt to find some reasons for it.(1) As a first reason we may assign this, that it sifts the true from the false seeker. The gospel comes into the world to be a touchstone of human nature — to be Ithuriel's spear among men. There is enough in it to attract and convince at last every man who has a sense of spiritual need and a desire of spiritual deliverance, but it is presented in such a form as to try whether the soul really possess this, and therefore we may have obstacles of various kinds at the very entrance. It may seem a strange and unworthy thing that such an obstacle should meet a man in the very commencement of such a journey; but, after all, let it be remembered that what makes it an obstacle is the state of heart of the man himself. This further may be said, that no one will be able to complain of any real wrong from such obstacles. The false seeker is not injured, because he never sincerely sought at all. There was no sense of sin's evil, no wish to be saved from it, and till this exists nothing can be sought, and nothing found. The true seeker is not injured, for never was such an one disappointed.(2) Next, it leads the true seeker to examine himself more thoroughly. If a man is accepted, or thinks he is accepted, at once, he takes many things for granted which it would be well for him to inquire into. Very specially is this the case in regard to the nature of sin and the light in which God regards it. The easy complacency with which some talk of pardon and their assurance of it, often springs more from dulness of conscience than strength of faith. The natural result of such a defective view is, that when a man enlists with it in God's service, he does so without any distinct idea of what he is to aim at. He does not see that the gospel binds us to the service of a God of truth and purity, and that only in this way can its blessings be enjoyed.(3) Further, it binds a man to his profession by a stronger sense of consistency. There is a paper of obligations put into our hands to sign, and, when we take the pen, we are bidden read it over again and ponder it, that we may subscribe with clear consciousness of the contents. God will beguile no man into His service by false pretences.(4) Lastly, it educates us to a higher growth and greater capacity of happiness. When we see the wind shaking a young tree, and bending it to the very earth, it may seem to be retarding its rise, but it is furthering it. In the intellectual world a strong man thrives on difficulties. There is no falser method of education than to make all smooth and easy, and remove every stone before the foot touches it. God Himself has hidden the knowledge of His creation in the depths of the sky and the bosom of the earth. He has demanded toil and travail, keen and patient thought, till study has become. a weariness to the flesh, in order that man's intellect may rise to its proper stature. It would have been a strange thing if the spiritual world had been an exception. Read the manner in which such men as Paul and Luther and Pascal passed through the gate of life, not easily and complacently, but with fears within and fightings without, and you will see how God made them grow such men as they became. And, though we are far distant from that mark, very humble plants in the garden of God beside those great trees of righteousness, yet, if we are to rise to anything, it must be in the same way, not by soft indulgent nurture, but by endurance of hardship, and pressing on against repulse. If there be some who have been seeking God, as they think, in vain, and have given up the search as fruitless, what can we do but urge them to renew the application? Come, as these Israelites did, with the words, "Nay; but we will serve the Lord." I can suppose a twofold class who have ceased to seek. There are some, perhaps, with a feeling of wounded pride or petulance. They say they have done their best, and it is useless. They have gone through a course of inquiry and search and prayer, and they have found neither comfort nor hope. Would it not be worth the while of such to reconsider this part of it, and to see whether some of the blame may not lie with themselves? There may, however, be another class who have left off seeking God, from very different motives, not in petulance, but in despondency, who have not so much turned their back on search, as sat down, wearied and hopeless, in the midst of it. Let them consider that they have to do with One who will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax; that the heart of God is with them; that the darkness and death of Christ, now changed to the strength of intercession, are on their side, and all those heavenly promises which are yea and amen in Him, and which, as bright and as many as the stars in their courses, all fight for them. Let them think of Jacob's wrestling, of David's tears, of Paul's threefold prayer, of the woman of Canaan, &c.
(John Ker, D. D.)I. THE CERTAINTY OF THE TRUTH THAT UNRENEWED MEN CANNOT SERVE GOD.
1. The nature of God renders perfect service impossible to depraved men.
2. The best they could render as unrenewed men would lack heart and intent, and therefore must be unacceptable.
3. The law of God is perfect, comprehensive, spiritual, far-reaching: who can hope to fulfil it?
4. The carnal mind is inclined to self-will, self-seeking, lust, enmity, pride, and all other evils.
5. Let men try to be perfectly obedient. They will not try it. They argue for their ability, but they are loth enough to exert it.
II. THE DISCOURAGEMENT WHICH ARISES FROM THIS TRUTH.
1. It discourages men from an impossible task.
2. It discourages from a ruinous course.
3. It discourages reliance upon ceremonies or any other outward religiousness, by assuring men that these cannot suffice.
4. It discourages from every other way of self-salvation, and thus shuts men up to faith in the Lord Jesus. Nothing better can befall them (Galatians 2:22, 23).
III. THE NECESSITIES OF WHICH WE ARE REMINDED BY THIS TRUTH.
1. Unregenerate men, before you can serve God you need —
(1) (2) (3) (4) 2. If you cannot serve God as you are, yet trust Him as He manifests Himself in Christ Jesus; and do this just as you are. 3. This will enable you to serve Him on better principles. 4. This change of your nature will be effected by the Holy Spirit, who will come and dwell in you. 5. This will fit you for heaven, where "His servants shall serve Him." ( C. H. Spurgeon.) (George Bush.) (British Evangelist.) (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(2) (3) (4) 2. If you cannot serve God as you are, yet trust Him as He manifests Himself in Christ Jesus; and do this just as you are. 3. This will enable you to serve Him on better principles. 4. This change of your nature will be effected by the Holy Spirit, who will come and dwell in you. 5. This will fit you for heaven, where "His servants shall serve Him." ( C. H. Spurgeon.) (George Bush.) (British Evangelist.) (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(3) (4) 2. If you cannot serve God as you are, yet trust Him as He manifests Himself in Christ Jesus; and do this just as you are. 3. This will enable you to serve Him on better principles. 4. This change of your nature will be effected by the Holy Spirit, who will come and dwell in you. 5. This will fit you for heaven, where "His servants shall serve Him." ( C. H. Spurgeon.) (George Bush.) (British Evangelist.) (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
3. This will enable you to serve Him on better principles. 4. This change of your nature will be effected by the Holy Spirit, who will come and dwell in you. 5. This will fit you for heaven, where "His servants shall serve Him." ( C. H. Spurgeon.) (George Bush.) (British Evangelist.) (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
3. This will enable you to serve Him on better principles.
4. This change of your nature will be effected by the Holy Spirit, who will come and dwell in you.
5. This will fit you for heaven, where "His servants shall serve Him."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)Genesis 37:4) that they "could not speak peaceably unto him," so strong was their personal dislike to him. But an inability arising from this source was obviously inexcusable, on the same grounds that a drunkard's inability to master his propensity for strong drink is inexcusable. In like manner the "cannot" of the impenitent sinner, in regard to the performance of his duty, is equally inexcusable.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)