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PROSPERITY AND ADVERSITY.
Lessons for the day, Deuteronomy IV. and V.
Preached at Lincoln's Inn, on the Third Sunday after Easter, May 11, 1851,
Deur. V. 33.
Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord
your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess. HERE are certain popular maxims and phrases
respecting the difference between the Old and New Testament which we accept, as if they were parts of holy Scripture, and which affect all our judgments of it. The rewards of the Jewish dispensation, we are told, were temporal; those of the Christian, eternal.
The Israelite was taught to respect blessings in the world that is; we are bidden to set our minds upon the world that is to come; prosperity was the sign of God's favour to the chosen nation; adversity is one of the seals of adoption in the Church. If these sayings really expressed the deepest thoughts of those who use them and repeat them, if divines were not compelled again and again to forget them when they are dealing with the facts of the Scriptures, or applying them to the consciences of men, if humble way
farers when they are in want of a guide for their lives, or help in their sorrows, did not continually set them at nought, I should consider it a perilous and rash enterprise to dispute their authority. For though they cannot, so far as I know, allege decrees of any church in their favour, and though on the face of them they look as if they interfered with some by which we profess to be bound, there is, no doubt, a sanctity in customary notions which should not be rudely violated. Their
Their currency is evidence that they carry a truth within them, and that truth, however we may think it has been perverted by the elements with which it is surrounded into a cause of error and unbelief, should be diligently sought out, and reverently acknowledged, before we dare to reject the opinion in which it is enshrined.
I have chosen a passage from the lesson for this afternoon which seems to afford a strong justification for the view which is ordinarily taken of the Jewish economy; it is a passage the importance of which can scarcely be overrated; it may help us, I think, to understand better the whole book from which it is taken. The words which close my text, 'That ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess,' are likely
' to fix your attention first as bearing most directly upon this subject. I have no desire to avoid the most literal interpretation of them; any other I should hold to be entirely unsuitable to the context, and to the character of the person who spoke
them. But I must defer the consideration of them till I have examined those which precede them, without which they are unintelligible upon any hypothesis, ' Ye shall walk in the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you.” '
I. One of these clauses is commonly said to enjoin a duty, the other to promise the blessings which those might confidently look for who performed it. Whatever worth there may be in this division, it cannot be considered a satisfactory one by any thoughtful reader of the book of Deuteronomy. Let me recal to you two or three passages from the chapters which we have read to-day. Take for instance this: "For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is, in all things that we call upon Him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?' And this again : But the Lord hath taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto Him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day. Once more: Ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of Heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God assayed to go and take Him a nation from the midst of another nation,
by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretchedout arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes ? Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the Lord He is God; there is none else beside Him.'
Now what is the effect of all these passages ? (and there are hundreds like them; they embody the very spirit of the book); do they not declare in the most plain and direct manner that the main, characteristic, fundamental blessing of the Israelite, consisted in this, that God took him into covenant with Himself, that He delivered him out of the hand of human oppressors, that He brought him under His own government, that He revealed to him what manner of Being He was? Would not your natural conclusion be on the first perusal of these passages --would it not be strengthened by all subsequent reflection upon them, by comparison of one with the other, 'Whatever other advantages the Israelite may have enjoyed, I am taught here that his relation to God, his national position which is grounded upon that, the fact that he was placed under a divine law and made acquainted with its nature, were his great gifts and privileges, to which all others were subordinate ?'
Is there anytħing new or surprising in such statements ? Could you have doubted, after reading the Books of Genesis, and Exodus, and Numbers, that the highest mercy God could confer upon men was to make them conscious of His presence and of His order; that
want of belief in that Presence, want of submis. sion to that order, were the curses of human beings, from which all slavery to men and to natural things, all division, all suffering, proceeded ?
We fall then, I conceive, into a very inaccurate method of speech, when we say that the prize which God proposes to His people is set forth in one of these clauses ; the duty, or performance by which they are to earn that prize, in the other, Moses teaches his countrymen that God has conferred upon them the highest prize which man can conceive, freely and without any merit on their part. When they were bondsmen of Pharaoh, He claimed them as His servants; when they trembled before the powers of the visible world, He shewed them that these powers were His instruments, and that He used them for their good; when they fancied that the Ruler of the world was indifferent to them, or hated them, He proved that He was watching over them and caring for them, even in their meanest condition, though they were not thinking at all of him ; when they supposed that He was capricious, He proved to them the evenness, regularity, equity of His government; when they fancied that He was unmerciful, He declared Himself as the Lord God, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin. Was this knowledge of the living and unseen God nothing in itself, but only valuable in virtue of some results that were to come of it? Moses tells his countrymen that it was everything. This knowledge was the good thing which they had received from the