Deu_31:6. Be strong and of a good courage; fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
THE application of passages in the Old Testament to the Church at this time is thought by many to be an unwarrantable liberty, especially if those passages referred to any particular occasion, and still more if they primarily related to any particular individual. We are far from saying that great caution is not requisite on this head; but we feel no hesitation in affirming, that passages in the Old Testament, whether general or particular in their primary import, are applicable to the Church of God in all ages, as far as the situations and circumstances of the Church resemble that in former times: nay, we go further still, and affirm, that passages, which in their primary sense related only to temporal concerns, may fitly be applied at this time in a spiritual sense, as far as there exists a just analogy between the cases. We cannot have a stronger proof of this than in the words before us. They were first addressed by Moses generally to all Israel, when they were about to invade the land of Canaan. They were then addressed particularly to Joshua in the sight of all Israel [Note: ver. 8, 23.]: and they were afterwards again addressed to Joshua by God himself [Note: Jos_1:5; Jos_1:9.]. Now it might be asked, Have we any right to apply these words to the Church at this time? and may any individual in the Church consider them as addressed personally and particularly to himself? We answer, Yes; he may; and moreover may found upon them precisely the same conclusions as Israel of old did. For this we have the authority of an inspired Apostle; who, having quoted the words in reference to the whole Christian Church, adds, “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper; and I will not fear what man shall do unto me [Note: Heb_13:5-6.].” Thus then are we warranted to address the words to you in relation to that warfare which you are to maintain against all the enemies of your salvation: and this we will proceed to do.
Brethren, we suppose you now in the state of Israel when addressed by Moses. And if, like Moses, we knew that the superintendence of your spiritual concerns was speedily to be devolved to another, and that this was the last time that we should ever address you, we could not do better than amplify and expand his ideas, contained in the words before us.
You, Brethren, are about to engage in a most arduous warfare—
[The enemies of Israel were numerous and very powerful: they were men of gigantic stature, and they “dwelt in cities walled up to heaven.” There were no less than “seven nations greater and mightier than Israel,” and all these were confederate together for the defence of Canaan. But these were weak, in comparison of the Christian’s enemies. You, Brethren, have to conflict with the world and all its vanities, the flesh and all its corruptions, the devil and all his wiles. There is not any thing you see around you, which is not armed for your destruction: nor is there any thing within you which does not watch for an opportunity to betray your soul, and to inflict on it the most deadly wounds. Yet these enemies, notwithstanding their number and power, are quite overlooked by St. Paul, and counted as nothing, in comparison of those mighty adversaries, the principalities and powers of hell [Note: Eph_6:12.]. Their inconceivable subtlety, their invisible combination, their pre-eminent strength, their inveterate malignity, together with the easiness of their access to us at all times, render them formidable beyond measure; insomuch that if you had not an Almighty Friend to espouse your cause, you might well sit down in despair.]
In the prospect of this contest you are apt to indulge desponding thoughts—
[Forty years before, the Israelites had refused to encounter their enemies, from an apprehension that they were invincible: and it is probable that they were not without their fears at this time. And what is it that at the present day deters multitudes from engaging in the spiritual warfare? is it not a fear that they shall not succeed? When we tell them that they must overcome the world, and mortify the flesh, and resist the devil, they reply, that these things are impossible; and that it is in vain to make such an impracticable attempt [Note: Jer_18:12.]. Even those who have fought well on particular occasions, are apt to faint, when their trials press upon them with more than usual weight: David himself yielded to unbelieving fears [Note: Psa_77:7-10.], and exclaimed in his haste, “All men are liars [Note: Psa_116:11 with 73:13.].” Perhaps there is not one amongst us whose “hands have not sometimes hanged down, and his knees been weary, and his heart faint;” not one who has not needed, like St. Paul himself, some peculiar manifestations of God for his support [Note: Act_23:11.].]
But there is no real cause for discouragement to any of you—
[It is alleged perhaps, that your enemies are mighty; but “your Redeemer also is mighty;” and “if he be for you, who can be against you?” If it be your own weakness that depresses you, only view it in a right light, and the most consolatory considerations will spring from it: for “when you are weak, then are you strong;” and the more sensible you are of your own insufficiency for any good thing, the more will God magnify his own power towards you, and “perfect his own strength in your weakness.” The peculiar appositeness of our text to all such cases is evident from the repeated application of it to persons under discouragement, and the blessed effects produced by it. We have already supposed the discouragement to arise from a view of duties impracticable, or of difficulties insurmountable: but, in the former case, David consoled Solomon [Note: 1Ch_28:20.], and, in the latter case, Hezekiah comforted the Jews [Note: 2Ch_32:6-8.], with the very address which we are now considering: a sure proof, that it contains a sufficient antidote against all disquieting fears, of whatever kind they be, and to whatever extent they may prevail.]
God promises to his people his presence and aid—
[If he refused to go forth with you, you might well say with Moses, “If thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence [Note: Exo_33:15.].” Even if he offered to send an angel with you, it would not be sufficient [Note: Exo_33:2.]. But he has promised to be with you himself, and to exercise all his glorious perfections in your behalf. As in the days of Joshua he sent his Son to be “the Captain of the Lord’s host [Note: Jos_5:13-14.],” so has he given him to be “a Leader and Commander unto” you [Note: Isa_55:4.]: by whom he says to you at this hour, “Lo! I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” Having then his wisdom to guide you, his arm to strengthen you, his power to protect you, what ground can you have for discouragement? “If he be for you, who can be against you [Note: Rom_8:31.]?”]
Nor will he ever fail you or forsake you—
[There may be times and seasons when he may suffer you to be assaulted with more than usual violence; but he will never give you up into the hands of your enemy, or “suffer you to be tempted above your strength:” or if for gracious purposes he see fit to withdraw himself, it shall only be “for a little moment,” that he may afterwards the more visibly shew himself in your deliverance. Respecting this he engages in the strongest manner; and refers us to the rainbow in the heavens as an infallible pledge of his faithfulness and truth [Note: Isa_54:7-10.]. Created helps may fail us; but our God never will [Note: 2Ti_4:16-17.]; and you may “be confident that, having begun a good work in you, he will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ [Note: Php_1:6.].” The manner in which the Apostle quotes the words of our text, abundantly shews how assured he was that it should be fulfilled; for he uses no less than five negatives to express the idea with the utmost possible force, and then “boldly” draws the inference for us, that we have nothing to fear from our most inveterate enemies [Note: Heb_13:5-6.].]
Let these considerations then inspire you with confidence and joy—
[Hear the animated exhortation which God himself gives you by the Prophet Isaiah; “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness [Note: Isa_41:10.].” If you reply, that there are mountains of difficulty before you, and you but as a worm to contend with them; then says God, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob; behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth; thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff; thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the Lord, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel [Note: Isa_41:14-16.].” “Who then art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and the son of man that shall be as grass, and forgettest the Lord thy Maker [Note: Isa_51:12; Isaiah 13.]?” All that you have to do is, to wait upon your God; and then, in spite of all your apprehensions of failure, or even of occasional defeats, you shall rise superior to your enemies, and be triumphant over them at last [Note: Isa_40:27-31.]. I say then to you in the words of our great Captain, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom [Note: Luk_12:32.].”]
Let the captives of Satan arise and assert their liberty—
[Behold the kingdom of heaven is before you, “that good land flowing with milk and honey:” and will ye be content that your great adversary shall rob you of it without a struggle? Know that there is armour provided for you: and that if you go forth against him clad with it, you cannot but conquer. O enlist under the banners of the Lord Jesus, and go forth in his strength! fight a good fight; quit yourselves like men; be strong; and be assured, “your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.”]
Let the timid take courage, and return to the charge—
[Think not of your own weakness, but of the Lord’s strength. Remember what he has done for his people in old time. Did not the walls of Jericho fall at the sound of rams’ horns? Was not Midian vanquished by a few lamps and broken pitchers? Did not Goliath fall by a sling and a stone? Ah! know that your enemies shall be like them, if only you will take courage. “Resist the devil, and he shall flee from you.” See what Joshua did to the five confederate kings [Note: Jos_10:24-25.]: thus shall you also do in due season; for the true Joshua has promised that “he will bruise Satan under your feet shortly [Note: Rom_16:20.].”]
Let the strong remember in whom their strength is—
[Let not any think themselves so strong, but that they still need, even as Joshua himself did, a word of exhortation and encouragement. Be not self-confident even for a moment, lest God leave you to yourselves, and you “be crushed before a moth.” Peter will remind you how weak you are, if not upheld by God; and what Satan can accomplish, if permitted to sift you as wheat. “Be not high-minded then, but fear:” yet fear not others, but yourselves only. Be weak in yourselves, and strong in the Lord; and then you may dismiss every other fear, and already begin the shout of victory.]