Deu_11:26-28. 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and most important: but, as the parting address of Moses to the whole nation of Israel, when he was about to be withdrawn from them, they have a force and emphasis that can scarcely be exceeded.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,
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,
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 [Note: Deu_28:1.]. And against what is the curse denounced? not only against some particular and more flagrant transgressions [Note: Deu_27:15-25.], but against any single deviation from the law of God, however small, however inadvertent [Note: Deu_27:26.]: and all the 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 [Note: Deu_27:26.]. 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 [Note: Gal_3:10; Gal_3:13-14.].]
But this will receive additional light by considering,
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 peace-offerings 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 everypart of that covenant [Note: Deu_27:2-8.].
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 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 Israel [Note: Jos_8:30-35.].”
But wherefore were these burnt-offerings to be offered on the occasion? and how could the people “eat their peace-offerings there, and rejoice before the Lord [Note: Deu_27:7.]?” 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 [Note: 2Th_1:8.], even to that great “commandment of God, which enjoins us to believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ [Note: Joh_6:29 and 1Jn_3:23.].” 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,
Some reflections arising from it—
We cannot but notice from hence,
That ministers must faithfully execute their high office—
[It was not from a want of tenderness that Moses thus faithfully declared the whole counsel of God, but because his duly to God, and to the people also, constrained him to declare it: and there is something peculiarly instructive in the directions he gave respecting the delivery of the blessing and the curse from the two contiguous mounts. Six of the tribes were to be stationed on the one mount, and six on the other: those who were born of the free-women, were to be on Mount Gerizim; and those who were of the bond-women, together with Reuben, who had been degraded, and Zebulun, the youngest of Lean’s children, (to make the numbers equal,) were to be on Mount Ebal, from whence the curses were to proceed. The tribe of Levi then were, where we should expect to find them, on the side from whence the blessings were pronounced [Note: Deu_27:11-13.]. This shewed, that, whilst the liberty of the Gospel led to true blessedness, it was the true end and scope of the ministry to make men blessed [Note: Deu_10:8.]: that is the delightful employment of the sons of Levi: the highest character of a pious minister is, to be “a helper of your joy.” But it was ordered that some of the Levites should also be stationed on Mount Ebal to pronounce the curses [Note: Deu_27:14-15.]; because, however painful it may be to ministers to exhibit the terrors of the law, the necessities of men require it, and the duties of their office demand it. Let us not then be thought harsh, if on proper occasions we make known to you the dangers of disobedience: “a necessity is imposed upon us; and woe be to us if we decline” executing the commission we have received. We must “warn every man, as well as teach every man, if we would present every man perfect in Christ Jesus [Note: Col_1:28.].” It would be a more pleasing task to dwell only on the brighter side, and to speak to you only from Mount Gerizim; but we must occasionally stand also on Mount Ebal, and make you to hear the more awful part of the alternative which we are commissioned to propose. The message which we must deliver to every creature that is under heaven, consists of these two parts, “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not, shall be damned.”]
That faith and works are equally necessary to our salvation, though on different grounds—
[God forbid that for one moment we should attempt to lessen the importance and necessity of good works: they are indispensably necessary to our Salvation: they are as necessary under the Gospel, as under the law: the only difference is, that, according to the strict tenor of the law, they were the ground of our hope; whereas, under the Gospel, they are the fruits and evidences of our faith. To found our hopes of salvation on our obedience to the holy law of God, would, as we have before seen, cut off all possibility of salvation; because our obedience must be perfect, in order to secure the promised “blessing;” and every act of disobedience has entailed on us an everlasting “curse:” but, if we comprehend, in our views of obedience, an obedience to the Gospel; if we comprehend in it the trusting in Christ for salvation, and the free endeavours of the soul to serve and honour him; then we may adopt the words of our text, and address them confidently to every living man. But then we must not forget, that it is the atoning sacrifice of Christ that alone enables us to hear even such a proposal with any degree of comfort. We can no more yield a perfect obedience to the Gospel, than we could to the Law: our faith is imperfect, as well as our works: but, if we seek reconciliation with God through the death of his Son, we shall have peace with him, and may eat our peace-offering with confidence and joy. In our views of this subject, we need only set before our eyes that solemn transaction, to which we have referred: we shall there see, on what all the hopes of Israel were founded, namely, the sacrifice of Christ: we shall see at the same time, to what all Israel were bound, namely, a life of holy and unreserved obedience. It is precisely thus with ourselves; our obedience does not supersede the necessity of faith; nor does our faith set aside the necessity of obedience: one is the root, and the other is the fruit; one is the foundation, the other is the superstructure; one is the means of acceptance with God, the other is the means of honouring him and of adorning our holy profession.]
That happiness or misery is the fruit of our own choice—
[The very proposal of an alternative implies a choice: but this choice is yet intimated in a subsequent passage to the same effect [Note: Deu_30:15; Deu_30:19.]: nor can there be any doubt but that every man is called to make his election; and that his eternal state is fixed agreeably to the choice he makes. Not that we mean to set aside the election of God; for we know full well, that God’s people are “a remnant according to the election of grace [Note: Rom_11:5.];” and that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy [Note: Rom_9:15-16.].” Nevertheless, no man is brought to heaven against his own will. He has felt the attractive influences of divine grace, and has been “made willing in the day of God’s power [Note: Psa_110:3.].” He is drawn indeed, but it is “with the cords of a man, and with the bands of love.” On the other hand, no man is sentenced to misery, who has not first chosen the ways of sin. He perishes, not because God has “ordained him to wrath [Note: 1Th_5:9.],” but because “he will not come to Christ that he may have life [Note: Joh_5:40.].” Christ would gladly have “gathered him, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but he would not.”
It may be said perhaps, that, whilst we thus attempt to vindicate the justice of God, we countenance the workings of pride in man. But we have no fear that any one who has been drawn by the Spirit of God, will ever ascribe his conversion to the operations of his own natural will: he will readily own, that “it is God, who of his own good pleasure has given him both to will and to do [Note: Php_2:13.];” and that it is “by the grace of God he is what he is.” On the other hand, all excuse is cut off from the ungodly: they must ever take the whole blame of their condemnation to themselves, and never presume to cast the least atom of it upon God.
Make ye then your choice, beloved Brethren: we this day set before you life and death, a blessing and a curse: choose ye therefore life, that your souls may live. God has declared that “he willeth not the death of any sinner: therefore turn yourselves, and live ye [Note: Eze_18:32; Eze_33:11.].” In his sacred name I promise to the righteous, that “it shall be well with him; but I denounce a woe unto the wicked, for it shall be ill with him, and the reward of his hands shall be given to him [Note: Isa_3:10-11.].”]