RENEWAL OF THE COVENANT IN THE PLAINS OF MOAB. (Deuteronomy 29-30.)
The first verse of this chapter is placed in the Hebrew text at the end of Deuteronomy 28:1-68; but in the LXX. and Vulgate the arrangement is as in the Authorized Version, where it appears as the title of the section that follows. In that section is contained an address to the people by Moses, in which he appeals to them to enter anew into the covenant with the Lord, which had been before concluded at Horeb; denounces apostasy as what would lead certainly to their being rejected of God; assures them at the same time of God's readiness to restore them should they sincerely repent and return to him; and once more sets before them the blessing and the curse, and adjures them to choose the blessing.
Beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb. This was not a new covenant in addition to that made at Sinai, but simply a renewal and reaffirmation of that covenant. At Sinai the covenant was, properly speaking, made; sacrifices were then offered, and the people were sprinkled with the sacrificial blood, whereby the covenant was ratified (Exodus 24:1-18.; cf. Psalms 50:5); but on the occasion here referred to, no sacrifices were offered, for this was merely the recognition of the covenant formerly made as still subsisting.
Moses addresses the nation as such, and reminds them of their dullness to apprehend the manifestations of God's grace which had been so abundantly afforded in their past history, in order that he may arouse them to a better state of mind, and stimulate them to hearken to the voice of God in the future.
The Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, etc. Moses says this "not to excuse their wickedness, but partly to direct them what course to take, and to whom they must have recourse for the amending of their former errors, and for a good understanding and improvement of God's works; and partly to aggravate their sin, and to intimate that, although the hearing ear and the seeing eye and the understanding heart are the workmanship of God (Proverbs 20:12), and the effects of his special grace (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:33; Jeremiah 32:39, etc.), yet their want of this grace was their own fault and the just punishment of their former sins" (Poole). As they would not attend to God's word, as they had shut their eyes and their ears, that they might not see, or hear, or learn what God was teaching them by his conduct towards them, they had been left to themselves; and, as a necessary consequence, they had become as persons who had no eyes to see, or ears to hear, or heart to perceive what was set before them for their learning.
Having referred to the gracious dealing of God with them in the wilderness, Moses introduces Jehovah himself as speaking to them (cf. Deuteronomy 11:14). (On Deuteronomy 29:5 and Deuteronomy 29:6, see Deuteronomy 8:3, Deuteronomy 8:4; and on Deuteronomy 8:7 and Deuteronomy 8:8, see Deuteronomy 2:26, etc.; Deuteronomy 3:1, etc.)
That ye may prosper in all that ye do. The verb here used ( הִשְׂכִּיל ) means primarily to look at, to consider or attend to, hence to become intelligent, to be prudent, to act wisely, and so to have success, to prosper. It is the prosperity which comes from wise and prudent action that God commends to his people (cf. Joshua 1:7, Joshua 1:8).
Summons to enter into the covenant of the Lord with fresh ardor and cordiality.
Translate: Ye stand this day all of you before Jehovah your God, your chiefs, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, every man of Israel. The two members are parallel: the heads or chiefs are the elders and officers, the tribes are all Israel The Authorized Version follows the LXX; but against the idiom of the Hebrew. Ibn Ezra says ראשֵׁיכֵם is instead of ראֹשֵׁי, but this can hardly be.
The covenant was a national engagement, and as such included not only the adults anti existing generation, but the little ones, the strangers resident in Israel, the lowest menial servants, that is, all the elements of which the nation was composed, as well as their posterity in coming, generations. That thou shouldest enter into covenant. The expression in the Hebrew is a strong one, indicating not a mere formal engagement, but a going thoroughly into the covenant; the phrase is used of the sword going through the land (Le Deuteronomy 26:6), and of one going into the pit (Job 33:28). Into his oath. Covenants were confirmed by oath (Genesis 26:28; Hebrews 6:17); hence in Scripture the covenant of God is sometimes called his oath (Deuteronomy 29:14; 1 Chronicles 16:16; Hebrews 7:28). (On Deuteronomy 29:13, cf. Deuteronomy 28:9; Deuteronomy 27:9; Exodus 19:5, Exodus 19:6.)
The summons to renew the covenant is enforced by a fresh exposition of the evil and danger of apostasy from the Lord. This is introduced by a reference to the experience which the people already had of idolatry in Egypt, and among the nations with whom they had come in contact during their march through the wilderness, from which they must have learned the utter worthlessness of all idols, that they were no gods, but only wood and stone,
Deuteronomy 29:16, Deuteronomy 29:17
These verses are not a parenthesis, as in the Authorized Version. Deuteronomy 29:18 is connected, not with Deuteronomy 29:15, but with Deuteronomy 29:17; there should be a full stop at the end of Deuteronomy 29:15. Their idols; literally, their blocks or logs ( גִלוּלִים, from גָלַל, to roll something too heavy to be carried), a term of contempt used frequently in Scripture of idols.
Lest there should be among you; rather, See that there be not among you, etc. The part. פֵן, lest, at the beginning of a sentence, sometimes implies a prohibition or dissuasion, as Job 32:13, "say not;" Isaiah 36:18," beware of saying" (Gesenius, Noldius in voc.). Gall . The Hebrew word so rendered ( ראֹשׁ) is supposed by Gesenius to be the poppy plant, by Celsius to be the hemlock (it is so rendered, Hosea 10:4; Amos 6:12, and by AEdman to be colocynth. It is probably a general name for what is poisonous and bitter; for it is used of poison generally (Deuteronomy 32:32) and of the venom of asps (Deuteronomy 32:33; Job 20:16), as well as of poisonous roots and bitter fruits (see Kitto, 'Bibl. Cycl.,' 3.701). Coupled here with wormwood, it must be a plant that is referred to; and the union of the two affords "a striking image of the destructive fruit borne by idolatry" (Keil).
That he bless himself in his heart;—congratulate himself—saying, I shall have peace—i.e; all shall be well with me—though—rather, for—I walk in the imagination of mine heart; literally, in the firmness or hardness of my heart, ( שְׁרִירוּת, from שָׁרַר, to twist together, to be tough or firm); the word is always used in a bad sense in Hebrew, though not in Aramaic (cf. Psalms 81:13 (12); Jeremiah 3:17; Jeremiah 7:24; Jeremiah 9:13 (14); Jeremiah 11:8). To add drunkenness to thirst; a proverbial expression, of which very different explanations have been given. It is now generally admitted that the verb ( סְפוֹת ) cannot be taken here in the sense of "add," but has its proper sense of pouring out, pouring away, destroying. The word rendered "drunkenness" ( רָוֶת, from רָוָה, to be sated with moisture, to be drenched) means rather "sated, drenched, well-watered;" and the word rendered "thirst" ( צְמֵאָה, from צָמֵא, to thirst) is properly thirsty, and is used of dry land (Isaiah 44:3 ); both are adjectives, and a substantive is to be supplied. Some supply נֶפֶשׁ, soul or person; others, אֶרֶץ, land. The former render, "The full [soul] with the thirsty" (Gesenius); or, "Them that are sated with them that are thirsty," i.e. as well those who have imbibed the poison as those who thirst for it (Knobel); or "That the sated [soul] may destroy the thirsty," i.e. that the impious one, restrained by no law and, as it were, drunk with crime, may corrupt others, also prone to evil, and bring on them destruction (Maurer). Those who supply "land," render "To destroy the well-watered [land] with the dry." This last seems the preferable rendering; but the general meaning is the same in either case, viz. that the effect of such hardness of heart would be to destroy one and all. "The Orientals are fond of such bipartite forms of expressing the whole" (Knobel; cf. Deuteronomy 32:36 ).
Deuteronomy 29:20, Deuteronomy 29:21
Though the sinner fancies all is well with him, and is hardened in his iniquity, and is leading others astray by his example, the Lord will not suffer him to rest in impunity, but will send on him terrible punishments. The anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke, i.e. shall break forth in destructive fire (cf. Psalms 74:1 : Isaiah 65:5; Psalms 18:8). The Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven (cf. Deuteronomy 25:19; Exodus 17:14). The Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel,—so that, excluded from the covenant nation, and placed beyond the sphere over which rests the salvation of the Lord, they will be exposed to destruction—according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law; rather, as in the margin, is written; the participle agrees with "covenant."
Future generations and foreign visitants, seeing the calamities with which the rebels had been visited, nay, all nations, should ask, in astonishment and horror, Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger? It is evident from this that Moses contemplates, and in fact here predicts, a defection, not of individuals or families merely, but of the nation as a whole from the Lord, and the punishment which came in consequence upon the nation. The words from "when they see" (Deuteronomy 29:22) to "wrath" (Deuteronomy 29:23) are a parenthesis, in which a reason for the main thought is given in a circumstantial clause; and the "say" of Deuteronomy 29:22 is resumed by the "say" of Deuteronomy 29:24.
And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, etc.; rather, sulfur and salt, a burning the whole land thereof, it shall not be sown, etc. The words "sulfur," etc; are in apposition to the "plagues and sicknesses" of Deuteronomy 29:22, and thus so far depend on the "see." The description here is taken from the country around the Dead Sea, to which there is an express allusion in the close of the verse (cf. Genesis 19:23, etc.). As this country, which before had been as the garden of the Lord, became, when the wrath of God was poured upon it, utterly desolate and waste; so should it be with the land of Israel when the plagues and sicknesses threatened were laid on it by the Lord.
What meaneth the heat of this great anger? The reply to this question comes in what follows (Deuteronomy 29:25-28).
Gods … whom he had not given unto them (cf. Deuteronomy 4:19).
All the curses; literally, every curse, or the whole curse (cf. Daniel 9:11, etc.).
And cast them. In the Hebrew the word cast them ( יַשְׁלִכֵם ) has one of its letters, the ל, larger than the rest, and another letter, י which should be after the ל, is omitted; on which "Baal Hatturim noteth. There is a great lamed and a want of yod, to teach that there is no casting away like that of the ten tribes" (Ainsworth). According to Baxtorf, the large lamed represents the first letter of l'olam, forever, and the yod, the numeral 10, represents the ten tribes, whose perpetual omission from the nation of Israel is thus indicated.
By secret things, here, some understand "hidden sins," which are known only to God, and which he will punish (Targum Jon.); but the meaning rather is, things in God's purpose known only to himself: these things, it is affirmed, belong to him, are his affair, and may be left with him. On the other hand, the things revealed are the things made known by God to man in his Word, viz. his injunctions, threatenings, and promises; and with these men have to do. This verse is by some regarded as part of the answer given to the question of Deuteronomy 29:24; but others regard it as a general reflection added by Moses by way of admonition to his previous discourse. This latter view is the more probable, and the scribes may have had this in their mind when they distinguished the words, unto us and to our children, by placing over them extraordinary points ( עֹ נֹוֹ וֹעֹ בָנֵיֹנֹוֹ עַֹד), in order to emphasize them, though by many this is regarded as a mere critical notation, indicating a various reading.
Witnessing without seeing.
There is an instructive note on this passage in Dr. Jameson's 'Commentary.' For nearly forty years the people had been witnesses of the extraordinary care of God in watching over them, in supplying their wants, and in conducting them through the wilderness; and yet the constant succession of mercies had had no proper effect on them. They did not read the loving-kindness of God in all as they should have done. Having eyes, they saw not; having ears, they heard not. The form, however, in which Moses here throws this is remarkable. If his words are not understood, he may seem even to cast a reflection on God, for having given them such great mercies, while at the same time he withheld the one mercy which would make blessings of all the rest. Yet we cannot for a moment think that Moses intended anything of the kind. He evidently reproaches the people for their dullness. If there had been an earnest desire to understand the deep meaning of God's dealings with them, certainly the needful light and wisdom would not have been withheld. Our subject of thought arising hence is—Spiritual stolidity; or, witnessing without seeing. The following passages of Scripture should be studied in regard to this theme:—Isaiah 6:9, Isaiah 6:10; Isaiah 63:9, Isaiah 63:10, Isaiah 63:17; Jeremiah 5:21; Ezekiel 12:2; Ezekiel 14:1-23.; Matthew 11:25; Matthew 12:24; Matthew 13:14,Matthew 13:15; Matthew 15:16; Matthew 16:9; Matthew 21:27; Mark 3:5 (Greek); Mark 5:23; Mark 6:52; Mark 8:10-13, Mark 8:21; Luke 7:29-35; Luke 12:56, Luke 12:57; Luke 19:42; John 4:33; John 7:17; John 8:31, John 8:32, John 8:47; John 9:39-41; John 14:9, John 14:22; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:14, 2 Corinthians 3:15; Psalms 25:14. Observe—
I. THERE IS A MEANING, RICH AND FULL, IN THE INCIDENTS OF LIFE. Each one's life is full of incident, from morning till evening, from the beginning of the year unto the end of it. There may not have been the succession of what is startling and striking, as there was in the case of Israel, but simply common mercies coming speedily and without pause, just as they were needed; the mercies one by one, fitting exactly into place, as if a gracious care had provided all. As if—do we say? That is it. A gracious care has provided all. That is precisely our present postulate. We should as soon think that the letters in a printing office would spontaneously arrange themselves into order for a printed book, as that the constant succession of our comforts in life should come as they do without any prearrangement.
1. Life's comforts and supplies are a constant disclosure of Divine loving-kindness. They reveal God (Psalm evil. 43).
2. They are intended to help on the culture and growth of character. Even supplies which come in the physical region, when granted to moral beings, have a moral significance in them.
3. By winning us to God, his mercies are intended to lead us to repentance, and thus to open up to us a glorious goal in character and destiny.
II. THIS DIVINE MEANING IN THE MERCIES OF LIFE IS OFTEN MISSED BY THOSE ON WHOM THOSE MERCIES ARE BESTOWED. Of how many it may still he said, "Having eyes, they see not; and having ears, they hear not!" This may arise from one or more of several causes.
1. There may be some preconceived assumption or foregone conclusion which, if indulged in, will shut out all acceptance of any thought of God's loving-kindness in common life, or anywhere else. Some "high thought" may exalt itself against the knowledge of God.
2. There may be the lack of a spirit of loyalty, so that the individual is indisposed to read aright the messages of his Father's goodness.
3. There may be a misuse or non-use of the organs and faculties by which spiritual knowledge may be acquired. See 'Candid Examination of Theism,' by Physicus, which is a striking example of total failure in this respect.
4. There may be distraction of heart and soul by the whirl and rush of life, so that the spirit has no leisure therefrom to learn of God in "secret silence of the mind."
5. There may be entire indifference concerning the higher meaning of common things. Any one of these five causes will amply account for a man failing to learn of God through the experiences of life.
III. THERE IS NO ADEQUATE REASON WHICH CAN JUSTIFY SUCH A FAILURE TO LEARN LIFE'S LESSONS. For:
1. We have a revelation of God given to us in the Book, whereby we may come at the true interpretation of life. Israel had their Law, by which they might read their life. We have both the Law and the gospel. And the preciousness of human life in the eye of God is taught us in Luke 15:1-32; and in the light of such a chapter should the mystery of human life and Divine care be studied.
2. We have a distinct disclosure to us of the one condition on which religions knowledge and certitude can be acquired (John 7:17; Psalms 25:8, Psalms 25:9, Psalms 25:14).
3. There is a direct and clear promise of wisdom to those who lack it and seek it (James 1:5-7). The promises given by our Lord are also abundant.
4. There is the testimony of the experience of such as are taught of God. They can tell of his mercies, and sing aloud of his righteousness (Psalms 34:6; Psalms 66:16). And such experience is or should be an invaluable help to those who have yet to learn "the secret of the Lord." Now, with this fourfold clue, it is altogether needless for any to misunderstand life's mystery and meaning. So that it follows—
IV. THAT TO BE AND TO REMAIN WITHOUT SPIRITUAL PERCEPTION IS MATTER FOR SERIOUS REPROACH AND REBUKE. It is not against God that the words of Luke 15:4 are spoken. He would have given them eyes to see, had they desired and sought that blessing. And so he will now. Hence there is a fivefold injustice done by us if we remain without the true knowledge of the rich meaning in our mercies.
1. There is injustice to the Word of God.
2. There is injustice to the God of the Word.
3. There is injustice to ourselves.
4. There is injustice to the mystery of life.
5. There is injury to our future and eternal destiny.
Well may we adopt for ourselves, on our own behalf, as well as on that of others, the prayers of the apostle for spiritual enlightenment (Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9, Colossians 1:10; Ephesians 1:15-18). For as we understand the mystery of God in Christ will all minor ones have the light of heaven poured upon them.
Apostasy in heart a root of bitterness.
In the midst of this paragraph there is an expression of which the writer to the Hebrews makes use as a warning. It is found in the eighteenth verse: "Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood." In the Epistle to the Hebrews 12:10, the sacred writer says, "Looking diligently … lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled." The root bearing gall and wormwood which Moses deprecates is, Apostasy from God who has revealed his will through him. That which the New Testament writer dreads, and to ward off which his whole Epistle was written is, Apostasy from God who has revealed his will through his only begotten Son. The parallels between the two possibilities would furnish a most instructive theme for the preacher; so likewise would the contrasts. We propose now to suggest a line of thought which may "open up" and impress on the heart and conscience the truth that heart-apostasy is a root bearing gall and wormwood.
I. THE CHRISTIAN, LIKE ISRAEL OF OLD, IS SURROUNDED WITH INFLUENCES THAT ARE UNFAVORABLE TO FIDELITY TO ALL THAT HE BELIEVES AND HOPES. Israel was in the midst of other nations, who had a greatness and pomp with which they could not vie, who had a religious worship other than theirs, and a literature and learning which were greater than theirs; and it was not at all unnatural that now and then, at any rate, they should cast a longing look at them, and cherish a wish to rival them. And as their acquaintance with other nations increased in the course of the ages, it cannot be wondered at if they were tempted to depart from the simplicity of their monotheistic faith and worship. And now, the parallel between them and us is closer than ever it has been. Increasing research has brought to light much religious literature in the world, which pertains to varied religions, in which even fifty years ago our fathers thought there was nothing good. The great religions of the world—Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Mohammedanism—were looked on by some as almost totally bad. And now, some are so elated by the features of excellence that may be traced in one and another, and so startled by some parallels between the Christian religion and others, that they are tempted to indulge the thought that our faith is but one among many—the best, perhaps, of all the varied religions in the world, but yet differing from others rather in its superior measure of excellence, than in any features altogether and absolutely unique and incomparable. Hence—
II. THERE IS A DANGER OF APOSTASY OF HEART FROM THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, ANALOGOUS TO THE PERIL WHICH BESET ISRAEL OF OLD. The peril to which Christians are now exposed is not merely the ordinary one arising from the fickleness of the human heart, and from the subtle temptations and fiery darts of the wicked one. With the larger knowledge just referred to of whatever excellence other religions may have, a new temptation is presented to the understanding, no longer to regard our Savior as the one and only Redeemer, but as simply the Highest and Best of the Religious Teachers of the world. And so far as this temptation is yielded to, there may come a defection from the faith on any one or more—or all—of the five following points:—
1. Christ may cease to be regarded as the only begotten Son of the Father.
2. His Godhead, and therefore his incarnation, may come to be denied, or at least may cease to be held as a part of the "faith once [for all] delivered to the saints."
3. His redemption, as at once furnishing us with a gospel of deliverance and a gospel of power, may be lost sight of as the distinctive feature of his work, to which no religion in the world can furnish a parallel or point of comparison. We have many religions in the world; there is but one gospel.
4. His example may come to be regarded as simply one that towers above that of other men, and as unattended with any power of lifting the world up to his own level.
5. And with all this, the dread and august majesty with which he, as the Mediator of our race, exercises all power in heaven and on earth, may be thrown into the background, and may thus cease to sway the heart and life. No one who understands the times can fail to see the reality of these dangers, and the serious proportions they are assuming. That amid the storm, the kingdom of Christ will be shaken, we have no fear whatever, but many may depart from the faith meanwhile.
III. SUCH APOSTASY WOULD BE A ROOT OF BITTERNESS. This of itself would require an entire homily to do it justice. We can but hint in outline.
1. If thus the heart loses its hold of Christ as a Redeemer, the attainment of salvation will henceforth become impossible.
2. If once the power of Christ ceases to renew, the old self will reign, and evil passions be under no adequate control. Inferior power may curb the manifestation of passion, but only Divine power can tear up its roots.
3. Such defection from the faith will "defile" many. The evil will not stop with one. It will be infectious.
4. Such dishonor done to the Son of God will bring upon those who are guilty thereof the Divine displeasure.
5. The sure effect will be the breaking up and disbanding of the Churches which are poisoned thereby. There will be no reason why Churches should hold together, if their Divine Christ is gone, and there will be no power that can keep them together, if his Spirit is grieved and departs.
IV. HENCE AGAINST SUCH A GRIEVOUS RESULT CHURCH MEMBERS SHOULD CAREFULLY GUARD. "Looking diligently lest," etc.
1. They should watch the signs of the times, in order that, as far as in them lies, they may guard the Church to which they belong from the dangers with which the changeful currents of human thought may threaten them.
2. They should seek so to quicken the zeal and inflame the fervor of piety around them, that temptations to apostatize may have no power.
3. They should cherish a loving solicitude, and fervently pray, for each other, that mutual care and prayer may be an effectual guard against the approach of disloyalty in faith or even in thought.
4. Each one should be very jealous over his own heart. In others we can discern only fruit; in ourselves we can detect the root, of evil. Hence this watchfulness over our own spirits is doubly important, since it may be doubly effective. Even in others we may perhaps lop off the evil fruit, but in ourselves we can see that even the root is plucked up. For this, the only radical, certain, and absolute preventive of apostasy, the Spirit of God can effect, and he will, if we resign ourselves to his almighty hands. He can so renew and sanctify the heart that no "root of bitterness" can find any hold. He can make the soil so receptive of truth that any living seed of righteousness will at once germinate, and yet withal so destructive of error that any seed of evil casually dropping in will perish in its fall. Happy man, whose heart is in the effectual keeping of the Holy Ghost, and who is so sanctified that no germ of ill can find even a momentary home!
Historical witnesses to the wrath of God.
The chapter preceding this is shaded, yea, dark indeed. Nevertheless, it is an exact forecast of the state of Israel at this very day. In fact, the comparison between the state of the land of Palestine and the words of the Book, suggests two lines of instructive thought.
I. HOW MANIFESTLY, IN THE DESOLATION OF THE HOLY LAND, IS SEEN THE EFFECT OF THE WRATH OF GOD! To this even Volney bears witness. He asks, "From whence proceed such melancholy revolutions? For what cause is the fortune of these countries so strikingly changed? Why are so many cities destroyed? Why is not that ancient population reproduced and perpetuated? A mysterious God exercises his incomprehensible judgments. He has doubtless pronounced a secret curse against the land. He has struck with a curse the present race of men in revenge of past generations" (quoted by Jameson, in loc.).
II. HOW IS THE ACCURACY OF THIS PART OF THE OLD BOOK THEREBY CONFIRMED! It is now a favorite canon of scientific men, that whatever cannot be verified must be relegated to the past and forgotten. To this there can be no objection, if those who insist on this negative will insist equally on the reciprocal positive, and say that whatever can be verified must be accepted. For it would be simply a proof, either of discreditable ignorance or of perversity, if men were to deny or to spurn the repeated verifications of the words of Moses in the subsequent course of history.
And it is of no use for men to declaim against the possibility of miracles, when there is the standing miracle before our eye, of some superhuman knowledge having forecast, three thousand years ago, precisely the line along which Hebrew history would move, down till the present day. While there is also this difference between miracle in mighty works, and miracle in prophetic words: The proof of the works is most clear to those who see them at the time; it may possibly diminish with the lapse of years. That of a prophetic word is nil at the time: it awaits confirmation from the lapse of years. And as long as our present historical records stand, so long will there remain the confirmation of the precision with which Israel's lawgiver, speaking in the name of Jehovah, laid down beforehand the lines along which the Jewish nation should move for thousands of years. When we put together the land and the Book, the work and the word, and see the correspondence between them, we cannot but say, "This is the finger of God!"
"Secret things belong unto the Lord our God." So says the great lawgiver. On a not dissimilar topic, Bishop Butler says, "We do not know the whole of anything." Is it not so? Who can tell all about a stone or about a blade of grass? Who can aver that the furthest star has been yet discovered, or tell us what lies beyond it? There are secrets among the minute; there are secrets among the vast.
I. LET US MAKE A DISTINCTION AS TO THE MANNER, KIND, OR DEGREE OF SECRECY.
1. Some things are secret, awaiting fuller discovery to reveal them.
2. Some things are secret, but await the unfolding of events in God's providence.
3. Some things are secret in one sense, but not in another. We often know manifestations, but not essences; phenomena, but not nomena; facts, but not modes or reasons.
4. There are some secret things which are altogether unknowable, and must long remain so; e.g. Who can give an account of the reason why sin was permitted to enter? Who can tell whether it will always exist? Who can explain the doctrine of the Trinity? Who can descry the reason why this man had such and such suffering? etc; etc. How soon, when we come to ask questions like these, are we in "a boundless deep, where all our thoughts are drowned!"
II. LET US INQUIRE, IN WHAT RESPECT DO SECRET THINGS BELONG UNTO GOD? They belong unto him:
1. To conceive them.
2. To will them.
3. To originate them.
4. To comprehend them.
5. To overrule them.
6. To conduct them to their final issue.
III. LET US ASK, WHAT EFFECT SHOULD THE FACT THAT SECRET THINGS BELONG UNTO GOD HAVE UPON US?
1. It should humble us to find out how incompetent we are to scan the Divine works and ways.
2. It is obvious that we must leave secret things with him to whom alone they belong.
3. It is manifestly right to leave them with him.
4. It should give us no uneasiness to leave them there.
5. We should be fully content to leave them there. For we have
6. We should be adoringly thankful that God keeps in his own hands what we could not understand, and entrusts us only with what we can.
7. Thankfully leaving in God's hands what belongs to him, let us lovingly attend to that which belongs to us.
This verse is so full of meaning that it is not easy to do even approximate justice to it in one discourse. Hence we have reserved the latter part thereof for a suggested outline of a distinct homily: "Those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Law." The statement here made concerning the Law of God in particular, is true of the entire Word of God as the regulator of faith and life. Three lines of thought here naturally follow on each other.
I. WITHIN THE WORD OF GOD WE HAVE THE REVEALED MIND AND WILL OF GOD.
He made known his ways unto Moses, etc. And now he hath spoken to us in his Son. The sum and substance of the Divine message is, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
II. THE MANIFEST OBJECT OF THIS REVELATION OF AND FROM GOD IS THAT WE MAY THEREBY HAVE AN ADEQUATE GUIDE FOR FAITH AND LIFE. "That we may do all the words of this Law" is the Old Testament form of setting this. The New Testament form is, "Preaching … repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ."
III. IN THIS RESPECT THE WORD OF GOD IS, EMPHATICALLY, "OURS." "Those things which are revealed belong unto us," etc.
1. They belong to us—our treasury of wealth.
2. They belong to us—our measure of responsibility.
3. They belong to us—our rule by which we shall be finally tried (Romans 2:1-16).
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Seeing, yet not seeing.
The Israelites had seen God's mighty works (Deuteronomy 29:9), yet God had not given them a heart to perceive, nor eyes to see (Deuteronomy 29:4).
I. NATURAL SIGHT WITHOUT SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT. Moses accuses the people of blindness to the facts of their own history. These facts included:
1. God's mighty works in Egypt; here, as in Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 7:19, classified as temptations, signs, and wonders (Deuteronomy 7:2, Deuteronomy 7:3).
2. God's guidance of the people in the desert, which also was rife in signs and wonders (Deuteronomy 7:5, Deuteronomy 7:6), and was a course of discipline (temptation, in sense of trial) throughout.
3. The victories over Sihon and Og (Deuteronomy 7:7, Deuteronomy 7:8). No people ever saw so many miracles or passed through so extraordinary a curriculum as Israel did. Yet Moses says they had failed to apprehend the lessons of their history. Seeing, they saw not (Matthew 13:10-16). That generation may not have been so dull as the one which had preceded it, but even it had shown by recent rebellions (Numbers 20:1-29; Numbers 21:1-35.) how far it was from having laid earnestly to heart the lessons of God's dealings with it. A like veil lies on every unspiritual mind (2 Corinthians 3:13-18). The Bible is a book of riddles to it (Luke 24:25-27, Luke 24:44-46). Christ is known only after the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). The lines of a Divine leading in the events of life are not recognized. Warnings are scorned; prosperity is misused; adversity hardens. There is outward experience of facts, but, as in Israel's case, the Word preached does not profit, not being mixed with faith in them that hear it (Hebrews 4:2).
II. SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT IS FROM GOD. Yet not arbitrarily given or withheld. It is given to those who feel their need of it, who seek it, and who act in faithfulness to the light already possessed (Psalms 25:9, Psalms 25:12, Psalms 25:14; Psalms 119:18; Matthew 13:10-16; John 7:17). From none such will God withhold the "heart to perceive, and eyes to see." On the other hand, Divine illumination is indispensable to the knowledge of spiritual truth (cf. John 6:45; 1 Corinthians 2:12-16; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:17). As the poet's eye is needed for the discernment of the poetic suggestions and analogies of nature, so is the spiritual eye needed to penetrate "the secret of the Lord." The eye in this case, as in the other, "sees only what it brings with it the power of seeing." And to gain this seeing eye, there must, as before remarked, be prayer—prayer and obedience. Without these two golden keys, no thought, no labor, no learning, no cleverness, will enable us to force the gates of the inner sanctuary of truth. God's world, God's Word, God's providence, will be alike mysterious; if spiritual instruction is offered, the reply will be "Doth he not speak parables?" (