Charles Simeon Commentary - Deuteronomy 9:4 - 9:6

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Deuteronomy 9:4 - 9:6

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Deu_9:4-6. Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the Lord thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord doth drive them out from before thee. Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand, therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people.

MAN is a dependent creature: he has nothing of his own: he can do nothing: he can control no event whatever; he is altogether in the hands of God, who supports him in life, and accomplishes both in him and by him his own sovereign will and pleasure. Yet he affects wisdom, though “he is born like a wild ass’s colt;” and strength, though he is “crushed before the moth:” nay, so extraordinary is his blindness, that he arrogates righteousness to himself, though he is so corrupt, that he has “not so much as one imagination of the thoughts of his heart which is not evil continually.” If there ever were a people that might be expected to be free from self-complacent thoughts, it must be the Israelites who were brought out of Egypt; for no people ever had such opportunities of discovering the evil of their hearts as they had. No persons ever received such signal mercies, as they; nor ever betrayed such perverseness of mind, as they. Yet did Moses judge it necessary to caution even them, not to ascribe to any merits of their own the interpositions of God in their behalf, but to trace them to their proper source—the determination of God to display in and by them his own glorious perfections.

The words which I have read to you, will furnish me with a fit occasion to shew,

I.       How prone we are to self-complacent thoughts—

There are many things which men would not utter with their lips, which yet they will “speak in their hearts.” “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” But no rational man would be such a fool as to say it with his lips. So, one can scarcely conceive any man absurd enough to impute in express terms to himself, his successes, either in temporal or spiritual matters: yet, “in the spirit of our minds,” we are prone to do it in reference to both.

1.       In reference to temporal matters—

[In the event of our succeeding in trade, in husbandry, in war, how apt are we to ascribe to ourselves what really has proceeded from God alone. We may have shewn wisdom in our use of means: but who has rendered those means effectual? Can the merchant command the seas, or the husbandman the clouds, or the warrior the events of war? Yet we take the glory to ourselves, as if we had reaped nothing but the fruits, the necessary fruits, of our own superior skill. Now what should we have thought of the disciples, if, when they had “toiled all the night in fishing, and had taken nothing,” and afterwards, in obedience to their Lord’s directions, had “launched out into the deep again, and taken at one draught so many fishes that both their ships began to sink”—what, I say, should we hare thought of them, if they had ascribed this success to their own wisdom and skill [Note: Luk_5:4-7 and again Joh_21:3-6.]? Yet this is the very thing which we do, in reference to our successes in any matter; “we sacrifice to our own net, and burn incense unto our own drag [Note: Hab_1:16.].”]

2.       In reference to spiritual matters—

[In relation to things of a spiritual nature, we should suppose that no man would think of indulging this propensity; because in the natural man there is not so much as one good desire. But, strange as it may seem, we are more tenacious of our supposed self-sufficiency in reference to these things than to any others. There is not any one who does not hope to conciliate the divine favour by something that he shall do; and that does not imagine himself capable of doing it by his own inherent strength, whensoever he shall be pleased to undertake the work. To self-righteousness, in particular, men cleave with an obstinacy that nothing but Omnipotence can overcome. This was the real cause of the rejection of the Jews, that they would persist in labouring to establish a righteousness of their own by the works of the Law, when they should have embraced the righteousness which is of God by faith [Note: Rom_9:31-32.]. And this is the principle which we have to combat in all our ministrations, and which is the very last that yields to the Gospel of Christ. Men think to get to heaven by their own righteousness; and hope, like the Israelites in Canaan, to make the very mercy of God himself a pedestal for their own fame. “Stiff-necked” as Israel were, they would arrogate to themselves this glory: and vile as we are, we fondly cherish this vain conceit. To renounce wholly our own righteousness, and to submit cordially to the righteousness of Christ, is the last sacrifice we can be brought to make, and the crown and glory of converting grace.]

That I may, as God shall enable me, beat down all self-complacent conceits, I will proceed to shew,

II.      How erroneous they are—

To the self-righteous Israelites, Moses said, “Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Now here Moses has informed us what it is that God consults in all his dispensations, even the glory of his own perfections:

1.       Of his justice and holiness—

[God determined to shew his indignation against sin: and therefore, when the iniquity of the Canaanites was full, and they were ripe for vengeance, he drove them forth from their land, and utterly destroyed them. The Israelites he used merely as his instruments, whom he had raised up to fulfil his will: and in them he made known his power to execute what his justice had decreed.

Look now at the redemption which he has vouchsafed to us, and you shall find it altogether ordained to display the very same perfections of the Deity. Look at the atonement made for sin: go to Calvary, and behold the Lamb of God expiating, by his own blood, the guilt of a ruined world! There read the holiness of God, in his hatred of sin, and his justice in punishing it. Or go to the Gospel, which proclaims this deliverance; and declares, that none shall ever be saved who do not plead this atonement as their only hope; and none shall ever perish who truly and unfeignedly rely upon it. Go, follow the self-complacent Pharisee to the regions of misery, or the believing penitent to the realms of bliss, and you shall see in both an equal display of these very perfections: in the one, the punishment of sin in his own person; in the other, the reward of righteousness, wrought out for him by our Lord Jesus Christ.]

2.       Of his faithfulness and truth—

[To Abraham, God had promised the possession of the land of Canaan; yet not to Abraham personally, but in his descendants. The fulfilment of this promise was delayed four hundred and thirty years: but it was not forgotten. When the time for its accomplishment was fully come, it was fulfilled; and in fulfilling it, God shewed himself faithful to his promises. And if any one of us should ever arrive at the heavenly Canaan, it will be in consequence of the covenant made with Christ; wherein the Father stipulated, that “if his Son would make his soul an offering for sin, he should see a seed who should prolong their days, and the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in his hands [Note: Isa_53:10.].” Whence is it that any one of us is led to Christ? Whence is it that we are carried in safety through this dreary wilderness, and brought at last to the possession of the heavenly land? Was it for our righteousness that we were chosen? No: “God loved us simply because he would love us [Note: Deu_7:7-8.].” Was it for our righteousness that we were preserved? No: we were “a stiff-necked people” from first to last. Was it for our righteousness that we were crowned with ultimate success? No: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he will have saved us [Note: Tit_3:4.],” “according to the good pleasure of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his own grace [Note: Eph_1:4-6.].”

It is worthy of observation, that no less than three times in the short space of our text does God declare that his people were not thus favoured on account of their own righteousness: and amongst all the hosts of heaven there will not be found so much as one, who does not ascribe his salvation altogether to God and to the Lamb; that is, to the electing love of the Father, and to the redeeming love of Christ.]

In order still more forcibly to counteract self-righteous thoughts, I proceed yet further to shew,

III.     The importance of utterly discarding them from our own minds—

Observe the energy with which this hateful propensity is assailed: “Understand, therefore,” says Moses, “that the Lord giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people.” How much more, then, may I say this to you, in reference to the heavenly land! “Understand it,” then, and consider it well: for to dream of any righteousness of your own, is to be guilty,

1.       Of the grossest injustice—

[Did the self-applauding Israelites rob God of his glory? How much more do ye! What becomes of all his stupendous love, in giving his only Son to die for you? What becomes of his sovereign grace, in choosing you at first, and in giving you to his Son? What becomes of all his mercy in pardoning, his power in sanctifying, his faithfulness in keeping you to the end? By this one act of self-righteousness you rob God of it all; and take the crown from the Saviour’s head, to put it on your own. What construction would you put on similar conduct shewn towards yourselves? If you had taken the most helpless and worthless of the human race from a dunghill, and had with vast cost and trouble educated him for your heir, and had actually made over to him all that you possess; would you think he offered you no indignity, if he denied his obligations to your unmerited love, and ascribed all the glory of his exaltation to his own superior merit, which left you no option, but claimed it all at your hands? How base, then, must ye be, if ye so requite the love of Almighty God! Know, that” His is the kingdom,” to which you have been called: and “His is the power,” by which you have been kept: and “His must be the glory” for ever and ever.]

2.       Of the extremest folly—

[What can provoke God, if this does not? Or, what can ye expect, but that, as the recompence of your conceit and arrogance, he should say to you, ‘Go on without my help. You have done thus much for yourselves: carry on now the good work within you. You have overcome Satan: overcome him still. You have merited my favour: continue still to merit it. You have paid a price for heaven: complete your purchase. Bring with you your works to my judgment-seat; and I will deal with you according to them.’ Ah, Beloved! what would become of us, if God were thus to give us up to our proud delusions, and our vain conceits? It would soon appear what we are, and what measure of sufficiency we possess for any thing that is good. If, then, you would not provoke God to give you up altogether to yourselves, discard from your minds these “lofty imaginations, and let every thought of your hearts be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”]

Having thus directed my attention, throughout the whole subject, to the self-sufficient, I will conclude with an address to,

1.       The desponding sinner—

[You are ready to say, God will not have mercy upon me, because I have no righteousness whereby to recommend myself to him. But you need none for this end. It was not the righteous, but sinners, whom he came to save. You are to go to Christ guilty, that you may be forgiven; vile, that you may be made holy; and weak, that his strength may be perfected in your weakness. “Understand” this; and your conscious unworthiness, so far from appearing any longer a bar to your acceptance with him, will be a motive for coming to him, and an encouragement to trust in him: for “where sin has abounded, there, you have reason to hope, shall his grace much more abound.”]

2.       The joyful saint—

[Let not the freedom of God’s grace ever prove a snare to you. Though God will never save you for your righteousness, he will never save you in an unrighteous state. Though he requires no righteousness of yours as the ground of your acceptance with him, he requires the utmost attainments in righteousness as your meetness for heaven; yes, and as the means whereby he may be glorified. Take heed, therefore, that you “understand” this: for “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” At the same time, you must cultivate a spirit directly opposite to that of the self-applauding Pharisee—a spirit of humiliation and self-abasement before God. This was the state of mind which he required of those whom he conducted into Canaan; and this is the spirit which he expects to find in us. Hear his own words to them, and to us in them: “Ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to your fathers. And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall lothe yourselves in your own eight for all the evils that ye have committed. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have wrought with you for my name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt dealings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord God [Note: Eze_20:42-44; Eze_36:22; Eze_36:32.].” Here, I say, you see the spirit that becomes you. To your latest hour, and in your highest attainments, be ye abased, and let God be glorified as “all in all!”]