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Growing Great Ideas

Deuteronomy 7:9

How to begin to teach the supreme ideas of time and space, and God and heaven, and eternity; that is the subject. We are familiar with these great words, so familiar indeed with them that we think nothing about them. We thus ruin ourselves by reading religious books and going to religious services. Nothing so ruinous as going to church, if we do not go in the right spirit and with adequate intelligence of the meaning of the act. I know nothing so really bad for the soul as religion, if not rightly comprehended and understood.

I. For instance, how to introduce the great word Heaven in its spiritual and ideal sense. It is introduced, therefore, first of all in its material sense. The Lord makes a great canopy oh, so azure blue, and so written over with cloud parables and He says, We will call that heaven. It is no heaven, but that would do as a toy-word, and that would be an excellent beginning in object-teaching. Said the Lord God Almighty in effect, This great space with all its great poem of light we will call heaven. It was not heaven as we understand the word now, but it would not have done to have introduced the truly spiritual heaven all at once. The Lord is a wise Father-Mother, so He begins with nouns and objects and shining lights and glittering points that want to show their bigness, but distance will not allow them.

There is a lesson to us poor preachers. We begin by thrusting eternity upon the attention of the people all at once. We should promise them something less but something typical, something that carries a parable in its heart and whose lips are warm with a poem. But we expect to get the people to understand the Trinity in one morning sermon.

II. How difficult it was for God to get the idea of philanthropy into the minds of the people! Philanthropy means love of man, love of human nature because it is human nature, and being human nature is allied to the Divine and all-redeeming personality of God. Did the Lord begin by telling the people to love everybody? He did not, He ignored 'everybody,' and fixed the attention of the people upon themselves and their wives and families and their tribes and their nation; and then the Lord dropped a word about another section of humanity. He said, You will now and then come upon the 'stranger'. That is a new word; we know ourselves and our households and the tribe to which we belong, but if we see a stranger we will slay him. Thus the Lord created an opportunity for Himself: He said, If you see a stranger, invite him into your house; he may be tired on his journey, let him sit down at least outside your door; the stranger may happen to come to you at sundown, at the preparation before the Sabbath; you will not think of allowing the poor wayfarer to go out on the Sabbath Day, you will therefore have a stranger within your gates and you must treat him as if he were one of the family. What a subtle method of proceeding; how remote the point of approach, yet how direct and sure! Thus the great Christianizing, which is also the great fraternizing, policy proceeded and expanded until it does seem now and then with sad and terrible exceptions, which I trust are only momentary as if the angel song would become the true song of the nations 'Peace on earth; goodwill toward men,' goodwilling about one another, speeches in the parliament of man about benevolence and mutual trust.

III. Now we come to the third point of starting, which is the point of the text 'a thousand generations'. What is the Lord intending to teach now? He has taught what the people can receive about a generation; in fact they have lived through a generation, they know that word very well, it is quite a simple word in their vernacular; a generation may be thirty years or thirty centuries, or whatever it is or whatever it was, it was a unit which could be in some sense realized by the people to whom the words were addressed. But God means more than this, and how can He begin to say what He means? If He said 'immortality' nobody would understand what He was talking about at that time of the world's history and at that period of spiritual vision. So the Lord met the people where they could meet Him; He stooped to their infancy, He spake their one-syllabled language. Having got the people to say that they knew the meaning of a generation, He proceeded thus; then two generations, then three generations, and the children smiled incredulously; four generations, then reason began to totter. There is a wonderful division of the generations; they now come before us in groups fourteen generations, and fourteen generations, and fourteen generations what is this? Thus the Lord introduced the notion of immortality, for ever and ever and ever; and at length the grand revelation was made that Christ brought life and immortality to light in the Gospel; so we do not talk about a generation in heaven but about God's for ever in the skies. We take the wrong way of reaching people; we begin with immortality, and nobody understands the word. That is a word into the full meaning of which we must grow.

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. IV. p. 78.

Does God Have Fair Play?

Deuteronomy 7:9

It is the declaration of the Scriptures from beginning to end that the Lord our God is a faithful God. Has God been faithful to us; and if so, are we justified in assuming that the same faithfulness is the experience of others?

I. Christ does not pledge the Divine faithfulness to our desires it is pledged to our needs. The purpose of God in us is character, and once we have it, established in Divine grace and ensphered in the human will of a sufficient number of us, we shall soon make our new and better world. Without this character we may hope for nothing. With it we need despair of nothing. To say that there are experiences in the lives of individuals, and even of communities, which we cannot explain, is no proof that the universe is immoral.

II. Remember there are some things God cannot do for us and yet leave us men. He cannot make a better world without the consent of our individual obedience and the cooperation of our will. Instead of asking, how can God be God and permit wrong to be in the world, let us face the truth that wrong is in the world for this reason that we permit it. God is faithful: therefore good must be possible. Evil is, as it were, embedded in our nature; and for that we are not accountable. It is the greatness of the Christian religion that it not only tells us what it were good to do, but it offers to us the power to do it.

III. We have to find out that we cannot serve two masters. However we fall short in practice, the intention must be all for God, or it will be none. Goodness is possible; and not to achieve it is to defeat the purpose for which we were born into this world. The lesson for us to learn is to labour and to wait; to give God and ourselves space to work in. Let us trust the faithful God, and we shall be taught to regard the troubles that test, and the limitations that perplex us, as the agents of His Providence through the courses of time.

Ambrose Shepherd, Men in the Making, p. 245.

References. VII. 9, 10. R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 21. VII. 12, 13. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 375. VII. 20. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. p. 673. VII. 21. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. vi. p. 145. VII. 22. C. Vince, The Unchanging Saviour, p. 292. VII. 22-26. F. D. Maurice, The Patriarchs and Lawgivers of the Old Testament.

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