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[The Jews, putting a literal construction on the passage before us, wrote portions of God's word on scraps of parchment, and wore them as bracelets on their wrists, and as frontlets on their heads. But we shall more truly answer the end of this commandment by consulting the Scriptures on all occasions as our sure and only guide, and making them (N.B.) THE ONE RULE OF OUR FAITH AND PRACTICE. There are many general precepts and promises which we should have continually in view, as much as if they were fixed on our doors and gates; which also, as if fastened on our foreheads and our hands, should both direct our way, and regulate our actions.]
4. We should instruct the rising generation in the knowledge of it
[All are solicitous to teach their children some business, whereby they may provide a maintenance for their bodies: and should we not endeavour to instruct them in the things relating to their souls? Abraham was particularly commended for his care with respect to this: and the injunction in the text, confirmed by many other passages', requires that we should " diligently" perform this duty. Nor should we imagine that the mere teaching of children to repeat a catechism will suffice: we should open to them all the wonders of redemption, and endeavour to cast their minds, as it were, into the very mould of the Gospel.]
In the close of the text we are directed to bear in mind,
II. Our encouragement to fulfil this duty
This unfeigned love to the Scriptures will be productive of the greatest good:
1. It will tend greatly to our present happiness
[A peaceful enjoyment of the promised land, and of all the good things of this life, was held forth to the Jews as the reward of their obedience: but we are taught rather to look forward to the possession of a better country, that is, an heavenly. Nevertheless, "godliness has at this time also the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come" and therefore we may properly consider the present benefits arising from a due attention to the Scriptures. Suppose then that the blessed word of God were regarded by us as it ought to be, that it engaged our affections, entered into our conversation, regulated our conduct, and were instilled into the minds of the rising generation, would not much light, obscene, 1 Exod. xiii. 8, 14–16. Ps. lxxviii. 5-8. m 1 Tim. iv. 8.
k Gen. xviii. 19.
and impious discourse be suppressed? Would not sin of every kind receive a salutary check? Would not many of the diseases, the troubles, the feuds, and the miseries that result from sin, be prevented? Would not many of the judgments of God which now desolate the earth, the wars, the famines, the pestilences, be removed"? Would not, in numberless instances, knowledge be diffused, consolation administered, and virtue called forth into act and exercise? Would not our children, as they grow up, reap the benefit of such examples? Let any one judge impartially, and say, whether a due regard to the Scriptures would not greatly meliorate the state of society, and of every individual, in proportion as his life was conformed to themP?]
2. It will secure an inheritance beyond the grave
[The earthly Canaan was typical of heaven; when therefore we see the possession of that good land promised to the Jews, we must, in applying the promises to ourselves, raise our views to the Canaan that is above. Now what are the means which God has prescribed for the securing of that glorious inheritance? Certainly an attention to the Scriptures is that one mean, without which we never can attain to happiness, and in the use of which we cannot but attain it. It is by the Scriptures that God quickens us, and brings us first into his family'. It is by them that he directs our way, and keeps our feet', and sanctifies our hearts", and makes us wise unto salvation, and gives us a very "heaven upon earth."
And shall not the hope of such benefits allure us? When we have eternal life in the Scriptures, shall we not search them, yea, and meditate upon them day and night? Let then the word be sweeter to us than honey or the honey-comb", and be esteemed by us more than our necessary food b.]
If this were the subject of a Sermon for Sunday Schools, or Charity Schools, or the distribution of Bibles and religious tracts, an APPLICATION, suited to the occasion, should be added.
THE GREAT ALTERNATIVE.
Deut. xi. 26-28. Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; a blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the
Lord your God, which I command you this day; and a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God. ON whatever occasion these words had been spoken, they must have appeared most weighty, and most important: but, as the parting address of Moses to the whole nation of Israel, when he was about to be withdrawn from them, they have a force and emphasis that can scarcely be exceeded. Imagine the aged servant of Jehovah, who, forty years before, had delivered to their fathers the law written with the finger of God, and who had lived to see the utter extinction of that rebellious generation for their transgressions against it; imagine him, I say, now affectionately warning this new generation, with all the solicitude of a father, and all the fidelity of one who was about to give up an immediate account of his stewardship. In this view, the words inspire us with solemn awe, and impress us with a fearful sense of our responsibility to God. May God accompany them with a divine energy to our souls, whilst we consider,
I. The awful alternative proposed to us
As addressed to the Jews, these words may be understood as containing the terms of their national covenant, in which the blessings promised them depended on their obedience to the divine commands. But if we enter fully into the subject, we shall find it replete with instruction to us also, especially_as exhibiting to our view the Christian covenant. Let us consider,
1. The fuller explanation which Moses himself gave of this alternative
[The blessing and the curse are more fully stated in the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth chapters of this book. But to what is the blessing annexed? to an unreserved obedience to all God's commandments". And against what is the curse denounced? not only against some particular and more flagrant transgressions, but against any single deviation from the law of God, however small, however inadvertente: and all the
a Deut. xxviii. 1. b Deut. xxvii. 15-25. c Deut. xxvii. 26.
people were required to give their consent to these terms, acknowledging the justice of them, and professing their willingness to be dealt with according to them. Now, I ask, who could obtain salvation on such terms as these? who could even venture to indulge a hope of ultimate acceptance with his God? It is obvious, that according to these terms the whole human race must perish. But was this the design of God in publishing such a covenant? Did he intend to mock his creatures with offers of mercy on terms which it was impossible to perform, and then to require of them a public acknowledgment of their approbation of them? No: he intended at this very time to shew them their need of a better covenant, and, in reality, to point out that very covenant for their acceptance. He intended to shew them, that, however in their national capacity they might secure a continuance of his favour by an observance of his commands, they could never attain eternal blessedness in such a way: they must look to their Messiah for the removal of the curses, which, according to their own acknowledgment, they merited; and obtain through him those blessings, which they would in vain attempt to earn by any merits of their own.
That this is the true scope of those chapters, will appear from the light thrown upon them by St. Paul; who quotes the very words of Moses which we have been considering, and declares, that, according to them, every human being is under a curse, and is therefore necessitated to look to Christ who became a "curse" for us, and to expect a "blessing" through him alone.]
But this will receive additional light by considering, 2. The peculiar circumstances attending the publication of it
[It was particularly commanded by Moses, that as soon as that portion of the promised land on which Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim stood should be subdued, an altar of whole stones should be erected to the Lord; that it should be plastered over; that the law should be written in very large and legible characters upon it; that burnt-offerings and peaceofferings should be offered upon it; that the terms of the covenant should be recited in the hearing of all the people; that the blessings should be pronounced on Mount Gerizim, and the curses on Mount Ebal; and that all the people should give their public assent to the whole and every part of that covenant.
Now, whilst this command was a pledge to the people of their future success, it was an intimation to them, that the work of covenanting with God should take precedence of every
d Deut. xxvii. 26. e Gal. iii. 10, 13, 14. f Deut. xxvii. 2-8.
other; and that, whatever were their occupations, whatever their difficulties, they must on no account forget to serve and honour God. Accordingly, as soon as Joshua had conquered Jericho and Ai, and had obtained possession of that spot of ground, notwithstanding he was surrounded by enemies on every side, he convoked the people, and complied with the divine command in every respect: "there was not a word of all that Moses commanded, which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israels."
But wherefore were these burnt-offerings to be offered on the occasion? and how could the people "eat their peaceofferings there, and rejoice before the Lord"?" Methinks, if they were ratifying a covenant by which they could never obtain a blessing, and by which they must perish under a curse, there was little reason to "rejoice." But these burnt-offerings were to direct their attention to the great sacrifice, by which all their curses should be removed, and all the blessings of salvation be secured to them. In the view of that great sacrifice, they might hear all the curses published, and feel no cause of dread or apprehension: in the view of that sacrifice, they might contemplate the imperfections of their obedience without despondency; yea, they might "eat their peace-offerings" in token of their acceptance with God, and might "rejoice in him with joy unspeakable and glorified." By this sacrifice they were taught, not to confine their views to the Law, but to extend them to the Gospel: and, in the terms to which they assented, they were taught to include obedience to the Gospel, even to that great "commandment of God, which enjoins us to believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christk." To this we also may assent; yea, to this we must assent: and we now set before you the blessing and the curse; we now propose to you the great alternative: If ye will obey the commandments of the Lord, believing in his only dear Son as the only ground of your hopes, and, from a sense of love to him, endeavouring unreservedly to fulfil his will, we promise you, in the name of Almighty God, a fulness of all spiritual and eternal blessings: but, if ye will not thus obey his commandments, we declare to you, that the curse of God shall rest upon your souls in time and in eternity.]
Such being the alternative proposed to us, we would set before you,
II. Some reflections arising from it
We cannot but notice from hence,
g Josh. viii. 30-35.
h Deut. xxvii. 7.
k John vi. 29. and 1 John iii. 23.