THE PROPRIETY OF CONSIDERING TIMES AND CIRCUMSTANCES
1Ch_12:32. The children of Issachar were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.
THE doctrine of expediency is of difficult investigation: but it is highly deserving of our attention; Because the greater part of our conduct in every situation of life depends upon it: and it is no small honour to the tribe of Issachar, that they were distinguished above all the other tribes of Israel in practical acquaintance with this important branch of human knowledge. In the account given of the other tribes who came to David to Hebron, we are merely told, how many they brought with them to place David on the throne of Israel: but in relation to the tribe of Issachar we are informed, that they acted from a dispassionate consideration of David’s claims, as compared with those of the house of Saul, and from a full conviction, that, in supporting David, they performed an acceptable service to God himself.
From the character here given of them we shall take occasion to shew,
That our conduct must often be affected by times and circumstances—
We are in the midst of a world changing every moment, ourselves also changing with the things around us. Hence arises a necessity of attending to times and circumstances in our concerns, of whatever nature they be:—
[It is the knowing how to judge of the various occurrences that arise, and how to improve them to the good of the state, that constitutes the great science of politics: and it is to this knowledge, that the expression of “understanding the times” primarily refers [Note: See Est_1:13.]. A statesman cannot determine what will be fit to be done a year hence, because circumstances may arise which would render all his plans abortive. He may indeed display much wisdom in the exercise of foresight, and in providing for contingencies; but still he must of necessity follow events which he cannot control, and be himself controlled by existing circumstances: and he is the greatest benefactor to the state, who is enabled to judge of them most correctly, and to adapt his measures to them most wisely.]
[All of us have, as it were, a little world around us, wherein we move; and all experience the same vicissitudes as are found in larger communities. In our families, innumerable things arise from day to day, which require us to vary our line of conduct. Sometimes ease and gaiety may become us, and at other times seriousness and reserve: sometimes a yielding spirit will be proper, and sometimes it will be necessary to be firm. It is no little wisdom to know how to conduct ourselves towards persons of different dispositions and of different habits: but we should labour diligently for the attainment of this wisdom, because the happiness both of ourselves and others most essentially depends upon it.]
[It is obvious, that a very different deportment becomes us in youth and in age, in prosperity and adversity. Solomon tells us, that “there is to every thing a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven [Note: See Ecc_3:1-8.]” — — — To discern all these occasions, and to improve them aright, is the grand line of distinction between the thoughtless and considerate, the fool and the wise [Note: Ecc_2:14. Pro_22:3].]
But if our conduct must be influenced by them in temporal matters, there is still reason to inquire,
How far it may properly be affected by them in the concerns of religion—
That we may attend to times and circumstances, is certain—
[This appears both from the example of Christ and his Apostles, and from many plain directions given us in the Scripture. Our blessed Lord at one time was silent before his accusers, (“insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly,”) and at another time “witnessed a good confession before many witnesses:” at one time he hid himself from his enemies, and at another delivered himself into their hands: at one time delivered his instructions darkly in parables, and at another spoke “plainly and without a parable.” In like manner St. Paul did not deem “all things expedient that were lawful [Note: 1Co_6:12; 1Co_10:23.];” but would sometimes conform to the ceremonial law, and at other times neglect and even oppose it; at one time sanctioning circumcision, and at another withstanding it with all his might: and in his ministry he would set before his audience milk or strong meat, according as he saw occasion. So all the Apostles were to fast indeed, but not whilst the bridegroom was with them.
Such conduct is also prescribed to us. We are to recommend religion to the uttermost; but “not to set our pearls before swine:” we are to enforce the practice of it in its utmost extent; but not to put new wine into old bottles: we are to “answer a fool at one time according to his folly;” and, at another, “not according to his folly.”]
But how far we may attend to them, is not easy to determine—
[Every distinct case must be determined by the peculiar circumstances that attend it: it will be in vain therefore to descend to particulars. We may however lay down one general rule, which will be of service in determining most of the cases that can occur. The consideration of times and circumstances is never to affect our principles, but only the application of them.
Our principles must be fixed by the unerring standard of God’s word. The love of God, and the love of our fellow-creatures, a regard for truth, and honour, and integrity, with all other Christian graces, must be as fixed principles in our minds, from which we are never to swerve on any account. We must not regard life itself in comparison of these. But then the peculiar mode in which these principles are to operate, must be a matter of discretion, arising from the circumstances of the case, And herein is the difference between a novice in religion, and one who has been long walking in the ways of God: the love of the more advanced Christian has “grown in knowledge and in all judgment:” “he discerns” more clearly than others “the things that differ;” and is enabled to combine, what we should always study to unite, “the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove.”]
It being clear, then, that our conduct may be affected by them, we proceed to shew,
What there is in the times and circumstances of the present day to affect it—
There is no little resemblance between the times of which our text speaks, and of the times wherein we live [Note: Any circumstances that may have occurred, as sudden deaths, &c. might here be brought toward, as motives to exalt Jesus to the throne of Iarael.].
The elevation to the throne of Israel was typical of the elevation of Christ to an empire over the souls of men—
[Christ is the true David, to whom all the tribes of Israel must bow [Note: Hos_3:5. Isa_45:23-25.]. A long series of prophecies have foretold his reign; and have given us reason to expect that that reign shall be universal — — —]
And the circumstances of the present day loudly call upon us to install Jesus in our hearts—
[Never since the Apostolic age was there such a zeal for the Bible as at the present day. Princes and Nobles, no less than the ministers of religion themselves, are expatiating on its value, and commending to us the Saviour, as therein revealed. When all the tribes then are uniting in this blessed object, shall not we concur to the utmost of our power? True indeed the numbers belonging to Issachar bare no proportion to those of other tribes: they were only two hundred, when the others were thirty, forty, and even a hundred thousand men. But we must observe, that these two hundred were the heads and governors of that tribe; and “all the rest were at their command.” So let it be amongst us: let those who are foremost in rank, in learning, in wealth, lead the way, saying, “Come let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten:” and let all others unite with heart and hand, to seat Jesus on the throne of their hearts, and to glorify him as our Lord and our God.]
In applying to yourselves this subject, we would suggest a caution or two:
Guard against yielding to any corrupt bias—
[In consulting times and circumstances, you will be in danger of being warped by your interests or passions. But you must watch and pray against them, and beg help from God that you may not be drawn aside by them.]
Bear in mind that God will judge you in the last day according to what he knows to have been your true motives—
[We cannot deceive him — — — and should be careful not to deceive ourselves.]
Beg of God to give you the “wisdom that is profitable to direct”—
[God has promised to give wisdom, even “sound wisdom and discretion, to all who ask it of him [Note: Jam_1:5.]. And let none be discouraged, as though a want of education or abilities incapacitated them for the due discharge of their duty; for the heart, and not the head, is the seat of this wisdom; and God has promised, that “the meek he will guide in judgment, the meek he will teach his way.”]