Deu_29:4. The Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.
THERE is nothing more comforting to a minister, than to see “the word of the Lord running and glorified” amongst the people of his charge. On the other hand, it is extremely painful to him to find that his labours have been in a great measure in vain. Yet such are the reflections which many a faithful minister is led to make, after an attentive survey of his ministrations. The Prophet Isaiah felt occasion to lament this, in his day; saying, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed [Note: Isa_53:1.]?” Our blessed Lord had but too much reason to make a similar complaint respecting the issue of his labours also [Note: Joh_12:37-38.]. Thus we find Moses, after the most indefatigable exertions for the space of forty years, constrained to adopt towards the Jewish people the language of my text; “The Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.” Would to God that there were not grounds, also, for similar complaint amongst you, my Brethren! But Christian fidelity compels me to declare, that to a most lamentable extent these words are verified in this place: and, of course, I must open to you the complaint,
As uttered by Moses against the people of his charge—
They had “seen” with their bodily eyes all the wonders that had been wrought for them in Egypt and the wilderness — — — But they had no spiritual perception of them. They understood not,
The true character of that dispensation—
[They viewed the various occurrences as so many separate and detached events; and had no idea of their figurative import, no conception of them as shadows of good things to come. They saw not that more wonderful redemption which was typically exhibited to their view. The paschal lamb led them not to the contemplation of their Messiah, and of the deliverance which he should effect through the shedding, and the sprinkling, of his most precious blood. Their subsistence by manna, and by water from the rock, served not to shew them what it was to live by faith on the Son of God, or to experience in their souls the refreshing communications of the Spirit of God. And though they had already seen a portion given to three of their tribes, yet did they not contemplate the issue of a believer’s warfare in the possession of the heavenly Canaan. As for the Law that had been given them, whether the moral or ceremonial law, they knew not the true intent of either: they had no idea of the one as shutting them up to the only possible way of salvation through faith in their Messiah, or of the other as shadowing forth that Messiah in all his offices. In fact, they had no spiritual discernment of any of these things, but were uninstructed and unedified by all that they had seen and heard [Note: All these hints admit of profitable enlargement.].]
The obligations which it entailed upon them—
[The very first and most obvious effect of all these wonders should have been, to bring them to the knowledge of Jehovah as the only true God, and to make them his faithful worshippers and adherents to the latest hour of their lives. Yet, behold! they had not been delivered from Egypt three months, before they made and worshipped the golden calf: yea, and all the way through the wilderness they “took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of their god Remphan, figures which they made as objects of their worship [Note: Act_7:41-43.],” in preference to Jehovah, whom thus they provoked to jealousy, till he was constrained to pour forth his wrath upon them to their destruction. It might well be expected, too, that they would yield up themselves to God in a willing obedience to his Law, and live altogether devoted to his service. But they were “a rebellious and stiff-necked people,” from first to last. The mercies of God could not win them to obedience, nor his judgments deter them from disobedience. The present and future gratification of their senses was all that they desired: and, if only they had their enjoyments, they cared not whether God were glorified or not.
We say not that this was the character of all that people: but when we recollect, that of that whole nation two only, of all the men that came out of Egypt, were suffered to enter into Canaan, we cannot but fear that the exceptions were very few, and the great mass of the people were of the very description represented in our text.]
Humiliating as this complaint is, we must also consider it,
As applicable to ourselves at this day—
Infinitely greater have our advantages been than those enjoyed by the Jewish people. They had the shadow only, but we the substance. The whole of redemption has been set before us: yet we, for the most part, have but a very faint and inadequate conception of it. By the great mass of nominal Christians,
The nature of the Gospel is very indistinctly seen—
[A mere general notion of salvation by Christ may be entertained: but of the grace of the Gospel, its freeness, its fulness, its suitableness, how little is seen! and how far are we from “comprehending the length and breadth, and depth and height of the love of Christ” contained in it! How few amongst us have any just views of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” and of all the divine perfections, as united, and harmonizing, and glorified, in this stupendous mystery! The various offices of the sacred Three, all sustained and executed for us, how little of them is known! Indeed, indeed, the generality of those who call themselves Christians are as dark with respect to the excellency and glory of the Gospel, as the Jews themselves were of the scope and character of their Law.]
The effects of it are very partially experienced—
[What might we expect from those who have been redeemed by the blood of God’s only dear Son, and renewed in their souls by the operation of his blessed Spirit? Should we not be full of admiring and adoring thoughts of God? Should we not be wrapt, even to the third heaven, in love to Christ? Should we not be “yielding up both our bodies and our souls to God, as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to him as our reasonable service?” And to what an extent should we not be sanctified, in all our tempers, dispositions, and actions, if we were duly influenced by the principles of the Gospel! In a word, if we felt as we ought, methinks our every feeling would be love, and our every word be praise.
But look at the great majority of those to whom the Gospel has been ministered, and say whether any measure of these effects be visible upon them? Alas! it is as true of us as of the Jews, that “God has not given us an heart to perceive, or eyes to see, or ears to hear, unto this day.”]
Let me then address myself,
To those who are altogether blind—
[Perhaps you will be disposed to say, “If God has not given me this discernment, the fault is not mine.” But this is a fetal error: for the fault is altogether yours. Had you sought of God the illuminating influences of his Spirit, he would have opened your blind eyes, and unstopped your deaf ears, and renewed you in the spirit of your mind: no earthly parent would so readily bestow bread on his famished child, as God would have given to you his Holy Spirit in answer to your prayers. If, then, you “perish for lack of knowledge,” it must be ascribed to your own obstinate neglect of those means which God has appointed for the attainment of spiritual instruction.]
To those who think they see—
[Multitudes, like the Pharisees of old, are ready to ask with confidence, “Are we blind also?” To these we reply, Let your lives declare: let the fruit determine the quality of the tree. Yes, brethren, “if you were indeed blind, you would comparatively have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth [Note: Joh_9:40-41.].” Your conceit and self-sufficiency render your blindness tenfold more odious, more incurable, and more fetal — — —]
To those whose eyes God has opened—
[Verily, the mercy vouchsafed to you is beyond measure or conception great. You doubtless feel what a blessing the gift of reason is, which so elevates you above the beasts: but fax richer is the gift of spiritual discernment, which enables you to see “the things of the Spirit,” and elevates you above your fellow-men, even above the wisest and greatest of the human race. Compare the Apostles with the philosophers of Greece and Rome; mark, not merely their intellectual powers, but their moral habits and their spiritual attainments ; then will you have some conception of the mercies vouchsafed to you, and will appreciate, in some poor measure, the obligations conferred upon you.]