Deuteronomy 10:12-16 - Renewed Exhortations To Obedience.
Israel's duty summed up and touchingly enforced.
The rehearsal and review of Israel's waywardness, in which the great lawgiver had been reminding the people how much God had had to bear with from them, must have been extremely painful to him, as it was reproachful for them. That part of the review closes with the eleventh verse. And then follows thereon one of the most tender and touching appeals to which the old man could give vent. The two first words of the twelfth verse," And now," convey a world of meaning. We think we see the lips of Moses quiver, we hear his voice falter, we note the tear standing in his eye, as, with intensely deep pathos and loving solicitude, he shows Israel how past waywardness on their part, and forbearance and forgiveness on God's part, gave them an urgent reason why they should seek henceforth to love, not in word only, but in deed and of a truth. There are two lines of thought suggested by this paragraph.
I. HERE IS THE SUM OF ISRAEL 'S LIFE - DUTY NEWLY ENJOINED . This may be set under six heads, which will be but enumerated here.
1. They must cease their rebellious spirit: "be no more stiffnecked."
2. They must fear the Lord their God.
3. With fear they must blend love.
4. To love and fear they must add loyalty of action, by walking in God's ways.
5. They must observe alike the commandments or moral precepts, and the statutes or several appointments.
6. And finally, they must guard against all merely surface work: "Circumcise the foreskin of your heart." Though there were many more rites in Judaism than there are under Christianity, yet a merely ritual service was no more acceptable then than now. This summing up of life's duty should be compared with that in Micah 6:8 .
II. THERE IS A GREAT REASON FOR DISCHARGING THAT DUTY ENFORCED BY TENDER APPEAL . In this appeal, as we venture to call it, there are but few words. But how full of meaning they are! The word "now"— nunc , at this time; and as put here it may suggest six queries, each of which contains a most tender reason for future loyalty, which the preacher may well urge with all possible force. We will name the queries one by one.
1. And now , Israel , have you not been thus wayward long enough? Is it not time that you reconsidered the position in which you stand with reference to Jehovah? Look! See where you are! Think how long you have been trying God's patience and long-suffering!
2. And now , Israel , since God has continued to spare you, since he has forgiven you and not cast you off, since he has consented to bear with you still,—will you not renew your vows, with less, indeed, of self-confidence, but with more of penitential loyalty?
3. And now , Israel , think again, "what doth the Lord thy God require of thee?" Is it more than what is reasonable and right? Could he ask less consistently with his righteousness and honor? Are not all his commands wise and right? Is it not an easy yoke to love a God so kind, to fear a God so holy, to obey a God so faithful and true?
4. And now , Israel , look at the fact that all God's commands are for your good ( Micah 6:13 )! A perfect obedience would ensure perfect content. All the while you have been rebellious against the Lord, you have been fighting against your own highest interests. God's honor and your happiness require precisely the same course of life.
5. And now , Israel , do remember this, for consider how great is the Divine condescension in caring for you at all ( Micah 6:14 ): "Lo! the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord's thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is." And what, what but infinite love should lead him thus to stoop from his high throne to care for you? It is not for your righteousness, for you are a stiffnecked people. No account can be given of why God should care for you so, save that he loves to do it. Then surely the reason is overwhelmingly strong for your gratitude, loyalty, and love.
6. And now , Israel , seeing these things are so, could you do less for such a God than he asks of you, even if he did not ask it? So rich should be your joy in him, so reverent your fear, so devout your love, that you would with ready mind give God all, even if he did not require all. What he is to you should lead you to be to him all that he would have you be. Such seems to us to be a true expansion of the pathetic plea which this passage contains, which the connection in which it stands necessarily suggests. How much stronger every one of the six points may be made from the evangelic standpoint, the Christian preacher will in a moment see. By as much as the love of God in the great redemption in Christ Jesus is a grander disclosure than his love as revealed in the deliverance from Egypt, by so much should each argument be the more tender and strong. When we read, "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," what can the proper response for our hearts be but this, "We love him, because he first loved us"? Such love should constrain us to obey, even if we had no written Law by which obedience was required.
God no respecter of persons.
Having reminded the people of their duty towards God, the aged lawgiver next shows the people what their God is to them, and draws from thence a new argument for obedience and love towards him. In doing this, however, while there is much which we treat of in other Homilies, there is one special sentence, peculiar to this passage, which is yet made so much use of in the teachings of other parts of the Word of God, that we feel called on to note it as the center point of this paragraph, to show what the truth is which is indicated therein, and the bearing of that truth on the various phases of life and duty. We have in the Word of God no fewer than ten or twelve quotations or uses of this text, each one setting it in some special aspect as a point of doctrine, or drawing therefrom some special inference on a matter of duty. These several allusions, direct or indirect, will suggest the plan of this Homily. The verse thus frequently referred to is the seventeenth. "For the Lord your God regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward."
I. WHAT DO SUCH WORDS MEAN , AS A STATEMENT OF TRUTH ? We might not have seen much in them, if the Holy Ghost had not inspired the sacred writers to quote them so frequently in new and varied lights. Being thus quoted, however, we ought to show by reference to the several quotations, the varied phases of their meaning.
1. God knows no distinctions in his moral government of the nations . This is suggested by the words in this passage. Moses says, in effect, to Israel, "You have been chosen, out of all the nations, to receive a special revelation, and to be made the bearers of a special mission to the world; but do not think that because of that you are at liberty to trifle with the rules of the Divine Law: God will not tolerate sin in you any more than he will in other nations. Think not that he frowns on iniquity on Canaan and regards it more mildly with you. 'He regardeth not persons.' And only as you are loyal to him, and faithful in doing the right, will he smile upon you."
2. God makes no distinction in the basis on which men are accepted in his sight . The Apostle Peter throws quite an unexpected (and we fear to a large extent as unperceived) light on these words in Acts 10:34 . He is preaching to Cornelius; he is opening the kingdom of heaven to the Gentile. To induce him to do this, he needed the vision of the great sheet let down from heaven. That gave him a new revelation. God's grace was larger than he had thought for. He had never seen till then the deep meaning of the words in his old legislator's code. He saw them then , and they shone with glory—"Of a truth … but in every nation ." As if he had said, "I used to think that because our nation was favored with more light, therefore it stood on another basis fur acceptance and safety. And now I find that the great plan of God's grace so covers the globe, that in every nation , he who fears God and follows the light is accepted with him!" Men are saved, not according to the measure of light they have received, but according to the use they have made of the light which God has given them.
3. God is exercising over every man a present judgment according to perfect impartiality . The truth just now referred to made so deep an impression upon the Apostle Peter, that he refers to it again in 1 Peter 1:17 , and would have the thought of the absolute impartiality of God act as a perpetual influence on believers, generating and maintaining a holy fear. There is no favoritism with God. He regards not the person, but the deed; "judging according to every man's work ."
4. God revealed this attribute of his in the Lord Jesus Christ . For this side-light on the truth, we are indebted to a scribe, an uninspired man, who, possibly indeed in flattery, but we rather think otherwise, intimates that this attribute of impartial equity, which his lawgiver attributed to the Divine Being, was manifest conspicuously in the Lord Jesus Christ. However he may have meant it, he certainly uttered a profound and glorious truth. For who, on earth, ever so clearly showed himself no respecter of persons, as our Divine Lord and Master?
5. Precisely the same feature of God ' s government will mark the final judgment. ( Romans 2:11 , Romans 2:16 ) There will be one rule of righteousness, which will be inflexibly adhered to then, and which not even the glorious grace manifested in the gospel will deflect or obscure. Not from the most hidden souls, nor from the most prominent, will any impeachment of the Divine righteousness ever rise up. The great system of mediatorial administration may then reveal a plan of larger grace than ever entered into the heart of man to conceive, but most assuredly there will be no flaw in its equitable impartiality, for "there is no respect of persons with God." That very impartiality will bring about many startling changes, for "many that are first shall be last, and the last first."
II. TO WHOM ARE THESE WORDS APPLIED IN SCRIPTURE , AS A DIRECTORY OF DUTY ?
1. They are applied to the querulous . This absolute righteousness being revealed as an attribute of God, should teach men to be cautious, who are too ready to pass judgment on the ways of God when they are past finding out. Such is the use to which Elihu applies the doctrine. He did not understand Job's case, perhaps, any better than Eliphaz, Bildad, or Zophar; but in this point he is undoubtedly correct. We know God is righteous, therefore we must not impeach what he does .
2. They are applied to magistrates and judges (see 2 Chronicles 19:6 , 2 Chronicles 19:7 ). The like equity to that which marks the Supreme Judge should characterize all who have to administer justice in any nation.
3. They are applied by Paul as a guide in religious controversy ( Galatians 2:6 ). "God accepteth no man's person, therefore," says Paul, "neither might I. Truth with me must be supreme, and even if James, Cephas, or John, who seemed to be pillars, were to utter aught inconsistent with the gospel or grace of God, whosoever they are, it matters not." The truth, not the person, commands our homage. Well would it have been if in all ages this had been a guiding principle in the controversies of the Church. Well would it be, if it were men's guide now.
4. The words are applied to individual treatment and judgment of others in the varied relations of private life ( Colossians 3:25 ). A man, however lordly, or however lowly, will receive from God a reward or penalty according to what he hath done , and not according to his station in life. And we, like God, must apply like moral rules all round, and never justify a bad act because done by a rich man, nor depreciate a good act because done by a poor one.
5. They are applied to masters with regard to their treatment of servants ( Ephesians 6:9 ). We must not forget that the "servants" here referred to were "slaves." Neither Jesus Christ nor his apostles, any more than Moses had done, made any open attack on slavery. But by teaching this principle of the equality of men in God's sight, they dropped a truth which, when it had time to grow, would cause slavery to fall, by uplifting the people to so high a standard of moral virtue that it would no longer be tolerated by them. And even now there is need for the continued reiteration of the same truth, that masters on the one hand may feel their responsibility to God for dealing justly with their servants, and that servants may feel their responsibility for doing justice to their masters.
6. They are applied to Church members , in reference to their treatment of the poorer members (see James 2:1-9 ). Church life is social life gathered round the cross. "Life's poor distinctions vanish here." "The rich and the poor meet together, and the Lord is the Maker of them all." Each one is at liberty to form his own private circle of friendship, according to taste, culture, etc. But in Church life, work, and worship, all ranks meet on one common platform, acknowledging "one Lord, one-faith, one baptism," and recounting in song one common salvation. The artificial distinctions set up by men are nothing in the eye of God. To reproduce them in the Church is an offence in his sight. If here we have respect of persons, we commit sin, and are convicted of the Law as transgressors.
7. The principle implied in the words is taught by the evangelist in its most impressive form in the cross of Christ . Such, surely, is the conclusion to be drawn from the weighty words of the Apostle Paul, "Wherefore, henceforth know we no man after the flesh" ( 2 Corinthians 5:16 ). "Wherefore;" because Christ died for all . "Henceforth;" from the time that we understand the world-embracing purpose of his death, do we know no man after the flesh. The little distinctions men make so much of here, all vanish in the light of the cross. We ask not whether men are rich or poor; we ask not their name, nationality, or rank. "Christ died for all." That stamps on every man's brow the inscription, "Dear to Christ." Wherefore he will be dear to us for Christ's sake, the wide world over, whatever his caste, country, color, or clime. If Christ died for all, we preach to all. So that the very principle which under the old covenant is enforced by Law, is under the new created by love. That selfsame impartiality disclosed from Horeb in the methods of Law, is again revealed from Calvary in the methods of God's grace. And thus, through Old and New Testaments the appeal is the same, though made first through thunder, and afterwards through tears. "Be ye imitators of God." Plant your feet firmly on the revealed doctrine of the impartial equity of God. Accepting that, acquiesce with loving submission in the mysteries of his ways, even when they are in the deep waters, and when his footsteps are not known. Then seek in your sphere to follow God in his. Let the judge and magistrate in his decisions, the disputant in his arguments, the private individual in his home sphere, the master in ruling, the servant in obeying, the Church member in his worship and fellowship with his brethren, the evangelist in evangelizing,—all remember that as there is no respect of persons with God, there must be none with them. And let all strive to be like God, who in his Law encircles all men with one bond of duty, while in his gospel he holds them all under one dispensation of grace!
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
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