Charles Simeon Commentary - Deuteronomy 26:3 - 26:6

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Deuteronomy 26:3 - 26:6

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Deu_26:3-6. And thou shalt go unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him, I profess this day unto the Lord thy God, that I am come unto the country which the Lord sware unto your fathers for to give us. And the priest shall take the basket out of thine hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord thy God. And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father.

The ceremonial law is considered in general as a system of burthensome rites, that had in themselves no intrinsic value, and were useful only as prefiguring the mysteries of the Gospel. But though this view of it is in a measure just, yet we may disparage that law too much; because there was in many of its ordinances a proper tendency to generate divine affections. In the law before us, certain professions were required to be made at the same time that the first-fruits were presented: and the words that were put into the mouths of the offerers, reminded them of the obligations which they owed to God, and, consequently, were suited to excite, as well as to express, their gratitude to God. As far as respected the deliverance of that people from Egypt, there is no further occasion for the law; and therefore it is superseded with the rest of the Jewish ritual: but as an intimation of the high value which God sets on grateful recollections, it is worthy of our highest regard.

We shall take occasion from it,

I.       To point out our duty in reference to the mercies we have received—

We surely ought not to receive them like the brute beasts, which have no understanding: it is our duty to act as intelligent creatures; and to make the mercies of our God an occasion of augmented benefit to our souls. For this purpose we ought,

1.       To review them frequently—

[Even national mercies ought not to be overlooked by us. It was to them in a peculiar manner that the ordinance before us had respect. The Jews were required not only to look back to the deliverance of their nation from Egypt, but to trace back their origin to Jacob their father, whose mother was a Syrian, who himself married two Syrian women, and himself lived in Syria for twenty years; whose children also, with the exception of Benjamin, were all born in Syria, and were the heads and progenitors of all the Jewish tribes. He on many occasions was near perishing: when he fled from the face of Esau, when he was followed by Laban his father-in-law, and when he was met again by Esau at the head of four hundred men, he was in danger of being destroyed: in which case his children would either never have existed, or would all have been destroyed with him. But God had preserved him from every danger, and brought his posterity to Canaan agreeably to his promise: and they in grateful remembrance of this were to profess it openly from year to year; “A Syrian ready to perish was our father.”

Perhaps it rarely occurs to our minds that we have quite as much reason for gratitude on a national account as even the Jews themselves: but, if we call to mind the state of our forefathers, who were as ignorant of God as the most savage Indians, and remember, that we ourselves should have been bowing down to stocks and stones just like them, if the light of the Gospel had not been sent to dispel our darkness, we shall see that we may well adopt the language of our text and say, “A Syrian ready to perish was our father.”

But we should be careful also to review our personal mercies. Let us look back to the weakness of infancy, the thoughtlessness of childhood, the folly of youth, and see now marvellously God has preserved us to the present hour, whilst millions have been cut off by a premature death, or left to protract a miserable existence in pain, or infamy, or want. The means by which we have been rescued from danger, and even the minutest occurrences that have contributed to our deliverance, are worthy of our most attentive survey, and must be distinctly viewed, if ever we would “understand aright the loving-kindness of the Lord.” We must not however dwell solely, or even chiefly, on temporal mercies, but must raise our thoughts to those which are spiritual. What matter for reflection will these afford! If we consider the former blindness and ignorance of our minds, the hardness and depravity of our hearts, the indifference which we manifested towards the concerns of eternity, and the awful danger in which we stood, what reason have we to bless our God that he did not take us away in such a state! And, if we can say, as in our text, that “we are come unto the country which the Lord sware unto our fathers for to give us,” and are “partakers of his promise in Christ Jesus,” then have we indeed cause for thankfulness, even such cause, as we may well reflect upon to the latest hour of our lives — — — On these then we should “muse till the fire burn, and we be constrained to speak of them with our tongues.” In the ordinance before us a particular season was appointed for this exercise: and it is well to have seasons fixed upon in our own minds for a more solemn commemoration of the mercies received by us. If the commencement of the new year, for instance, or our birth-day, were regularly dedicated to this service, it could not be better spent. But, if our minds be duly impressed with a sense of God’s goodness to us, we shall not be satisfied with allotting one particular period to the contemplation of it, but shall be glad to think and speak of it every day we live.]

2.       To requite them gratefully—

[The Israelites were appointed to offer the first-fruits of the earth to God, in token that they acknowledged him as the Proprietor and Giver of all that they possessed. Now it is not necessary that we should present the same specific offerings as they; but we must dedicate to God the first-fruits of our time, and the first-fruits of our property. We should fear the Lord in our youth, and not think it sufficient to give him the gleanings and the dregs of life — — — and we should “honour him with our substance, and with the first-fruits of all our increase;” “giving liberally, if we have much, and, if we have but little, doing our diligence gladly to give of that little.” But chiefly should we consecrate ourselves to God: for we ourselves are, as the Apostle calls us, “a kind of first-fruits of God’s creatures [Note: Jam_1:18.].” Our bodies and our souls, together with all their faculties and powers, are his: “We are not our own; we are bought with a price; and to honour him is our bounden duty.” This is the very intent of God’s mercies to us; nor do we ever requite them as we ought, till we “present ourselves to God as living sacrifices,” and “glorify him with our bodies and our spirits which are his.” This surrender of ourselves to him should be most solemn and devout. The image in our text admirably illustrates it: The priest took the basket that contained the first-fruits, and “set it down before the altar of the Lord his God.” Thus should we go into the very presence of our God, and dedicate ourselves to him, as his peculiar people. Rather, if we may so speak, we should put ourselves into the hands of our great High-Priest, that he may “present us holy and unblamable, and unreprovable in his sight.”]

Such is obviously our duty. We proceed now,

II.      To recommend it to your attention—

Persons in general are ready to defer the performance of this duty under an idea that it pertains not to them, at least not at present, and that an attention to it would deprive them of much happiness: but we must press upon your consciences the observance of it; for it is,

1.       An universal duty—

[Who is there that has not received innumerable mercies for which he has reason to be thankful? Verily, marvellous as are the displays of God’s goodness recorded in the Scriptures, there is no man who might not find as wonderful records of it in his own life, if he could trace all the dispensations of Providence towards him, as clearly and minutely as they are marked in the inspired volume towards God’s people of old — — —

But there is one point wherein all mankind are upon a level: we may all look back to the state of Adam after he had fallen, and had reduced himself and all his posterity to ruin. How awful our condition then! Truly we should have been for ever like the fallen angels, destitute of all help or hope, if God had not marvellously interposed to rescue us from death and hell by the sacrifice of his only dear Son. With what emphasis then may every one of us say, “A Syrian ready to perish was our father!” Here all the wonders of redeeming love unfold themselves to our view — — — and he who has no heart to adore God for them, has no evidence, no hope, of any interest in them — — —]

2.       A reasonable duty—

[If we have conferred favours on any person for years together, do we not expect our kindness to be acknowledged and requited as opportunities shall occur? Do we not look with abhorrence upon a man that is insensible to all the obligations that can be heaped upon him? But what are the kindnesses which we can shew to a fellow-creature in comparison of those which we have received from God? — — — Shall we then expect a tribute of gratitude from him, and think ourselves at liberty to withhold it from our Heavenly Benefactor? — — — Let the world ridicule devotion, if they will, and call the love of God enthusiasm: but we will maintain it, that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and that an entire surrender of ourselves to him is “a reasonable service” — — — Do we inquire, whence it is that ungodly men regard the sublimer exercises of religion as unnecessary and absurd? We answer, They have never considered what obligations they owe to God. Only let them once become acquainted with “the height and depth and length and breadth of the love of Christ,” and they will see, that reason, no less than revelation, demands of us this tribute; and that every enlightened mind must of necessity accord with that of the Psalmist, “What shall I render to the Lord for all the benefits he has done unto me?” “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name!”]

3.       A delightful duty—

[In the passage before us it is associated with joy [Note: ver. 11.]: and indeed, what is such a service but a foretaste of heaven itself? Did any one ever engage in it, and not find his soul elevated by it to a joy which nothing else could afford? Let any one ruminate on earthly things, and his meditations will only augment his cares, or at best inspire him with a very transient joy. Let him dwell upon his own corruptions, and, though they are a proper subject of occasional meditation, they will only weigh down his spirits, and perhaps lead him to desponding fears. But let the goodness of God, and the wonders of redeeming love, be contemplated by him, and he will soon have his mind raised above earthly things, and fired with a holy ambition to honour and to resemble God. See how the Psalmist expresses his thoughts on such occasions [Note: Psa_145:1-7.]: what glorious language! how sublime must have been the feelings of his soul, when uttering it before God! Know ye then that this is the state to which we would invite you, and that the daily experience of it is the best preparative for the joys above.]