Charles Simeon Commentary - Deuteronomy 31:14 - 31:14

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Deuteronomy 31:14 - 31:14

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Deu_31:14. And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die.

“TO man there is an appointed time upon earth.” But the precise measure of our days is in mercy hid from us. On some occasions, however, God has been pleased to make it known, and to declare with precision the near approach of death, that so the persons whose fate was made known might employ their remaining hours in perfecting the work which he had given them to do.

The intimation here given to Moses, we shall consider,

I.       As addressed to Moses in particular—

In this view, it comes with peculiar weight to those churches which have been long under the superintendence of an aged minister.

Moses had long watched over Israel—

[For the sake of Israel he had renounced all that the world could give him, and subjected himself to many trials, and exposed himself to many dangers: “He had refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,” and abandoned all the pleasures and honours of a court; “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; and esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt.” From a regard for them, he had braved all the wrath of Pharaoh in his most infuriated state; and had led them forth, unarmed and unprovided, in the hope of bringing them to a land flowing with milk and honey. As God’s appointed instrument, he had made known to them the Trill of God; and had shewn them, by a great variety of ordinances, the means which God had provided for their acceptance with him. He had for the space of forty years together fed them with bread from heaven and with water out of the stony rock. Times without number had he interceded for them, when if his hands had hanged down, and his heart had fainted, their ruin would inevitably have ensued. In a word, he had lived but for them. In all that space of time, not a day had occurred which he had not occupied in their service: and could he but see them happy, nothing that he could forego, nothing that he could do, nothing that he could suffer, was regarded by him as worthy of a thought; so entirely were his interests and happiness bound up in theirs.]

But now his care over them must cease—

[God had determined that he should not go over Jordan [Note: ver. 2.]. This was in part the punishment of his sin at Meribah, when, instead of sanctifying the Lord in the eyes of all Israel by a believing expectation of water from the rock in answer to his word, he struck the rock, yea, struck it twice, with an unhallowed irritation of mind [Note: See Num_20:7-12.]. But, in part, this exclusion was intended to shadow forth the nature of that dispensation; and to shew, that one violation of the law was sufficient to exclude a soul from Canaan; and that all who would obtain an entrance into the promised land, must turn from Moses to Joshua (the Lord Jesus Christ), who alone can save any child of man.

Moses was now a hundred and twenty years of age: but he was still, as far as natural strength was required, as competent as ever to watch over the people, and to discharge his duty to them. But his time was come; and he must transfer his office to another. Happily for him, and for all Israel, there was a Joshua ready to fill his place; and God had ordained him to occupy the vacant post, and to take on him the oversight of this bereaved people. And could we but see that the charge we vacate would be so supplied, verily, a summons into the eternal world would be a source of unqualified joy. The most painful thought in the separation of aged ministers from their people is, that they know not on whom the care of them shall devolve, whether on one who will watch for their souls, or on one, who, content with a mere routine of duties, will leave them to be scattered by every one that shall choose to invade the fold.

However this be, a time of separation must come: the pastor who has fed you more than forty years must be taken from you: and how soon, who can tell? It may be, yea, it is highly probable, that this year will be his last. Certain it is, that “ his days approach,” and very rapidly too, “when he must die;” and when the connexion that has subsisted between you and him must for ever cease. To God he must give account of his ministry among you; as must all of you, also, in due season, of the improvement made of it. And it is an awful thought, that your blood will be required at his hand, as will all his labours for your good be required at yours. The Lord grant, that when we shall meet around the judgment-seat of Christ, we may all “give up our account with joy, and not with grief!”]

But let us turn from the particular instance, and consider the intimation,

II.      As applicable to every child of man

It is true respecting every child of man: for we no sooner begin to breathe than we begin to die: and the life, even of the longest liver, is “but as a span long.” “Our time passeth away like a shadow:” and death, to whomsoever it may come, involves in it,

1.       A dissolution of all earthly ties—

[The husband and wife, how long soever they may have been bound together in love, and how averse soever they may be to separate, must be rent asunder; and, whilst one is taken to his long home, the other must be left to bewail his sad bereavement with unavailing sorrow. Perhaps there was a growing family, that needed their united care, and that must be deprived of innumerable blessings, which, according to the course of nature, they were entitled to expect. But the hand of death cannot be arrested by the cries of parental anxiety or of filial love: it seizes with irresistible force its destined objects; and transmits them to Him whose commission it has executed, and whose will it has fulfilled. Methinks it were well for those who stand in any one of these relations, to bear in mind how soon they may be bereaved, and how speedily what has been only committed to them as a loan, may be demanded at their hands.]

2.       A termination of all earthly labours—

[We may have many plans, either in hand or in prospect; but death, the instant it arrives, puts an end to all — — — We may have even formed purposes in relation to our souls! we may have determined that we will, ere long, abandon some evil habits in which we have lived, or fulfil some duties which we have hitherto neglected. We may have thought, that to repent us of our sins, and to seek for mercy through Christ, and to give all diligence to the concerns of our souls, was the path which true wisdom dictated; and that we would speedily commence that salutary course. But death, having once received its commission to transmit us to the presence of our God, can take no cognizance of any good intentions: it executes its office without favour to any; and, in the instant that he inflicts the stroke, his victim, whoever he may be, falls; “his breath goeth forth, and he returneth to his earth; and in that very day all his thoughts perish [Note: Psa_146:4.].”]

3.       A fixing of our eternal doom—

[Whatever be the state of our souls in the instant of death, that it will continue to all eternity: “As the tree falleth, so it must lie.” If we have lived a life of penitence and faith, and devoted ourselves truly unto God, it is well: death will be to us only like “felling asleep” in the bosom of our Lord. But, if we have neglected these great concerns, or not so far prosecuted them as to have found favour with God, death will be to us only like the opening of our prison-doors, in order to the execution of eternal vengeance on our souls. Prepared or unprepared, we must go into the presence of our God, and receive at his hands our eternal doom. Oh, fearful thought! But so it must be; and, the instant that the soul is separated from the body, it will be transmitted either to the paradise of God, or to the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. The day of judgment will make no difference, except that the body will then be made to participate the portion of the soul: and the righteousness of God, in the sentence awarded, will be displayed to the admiration of the whole assembled universe.]

Let this subject be improved by us

1.       For the humbling of our souls in reference to the past—

[We have known the uncertainty of life; and have seen, in the mortality of those around us, the approach of death: but how marvellous is it, that these sights should have produced such little effect upon our souls! Verily, if we did not know the insensibility of man under circumstances of such infinite moment, we should scarcely be able to credit what both our observation and experience so fully attest.]

2.       For the quickening of our souls in reference to the future—

[That “the day of death approaches” we are sure: at what precise distance it is, we know not. But should not this thought stimulate us to improve our every remaining hour? Yes, verily: we should turn unto God without delay; and “apply our hearts to wisdom” with all diligence: and so “ watch for the coming of our Lord, that, at whatever hour it may be, we may be found ready.” “What I say therefore to one, I say unto all, Watch.”]