Deu_9:7. Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness.
THERE is no sin more deeply rooted in the heart of man than pride: nor is there any thing which will not serve as a foundation for it to prefer its claims. Even an excess of impiety will afford to some an occasion of glorying; and a precedence in rebellion against God, give them a title to praise amongst those whom they have out-stripped in the career of wickedness. It may well be expected, then, that success in any lawful enterprise should very generally be thought to give a man a legitimate ground for self-applause. Yet, doubtless, if ever there were a people less entitled to self-admiration than others, it was the people of Israel, who were a stiff-necked people from the very first moment that God took them under his peculiar care. And, if ever there were a matter that entirely precluded all ground of glorying, surely it was the establishing of that people in the land of Canaan. Their fathers had all provoked God to destroy them in the wilderness: and they themselves were also a rebellious generation: so that they at least might be expected to acknowledge themselves indebted to the sovereign grace of God for all the blessings of the promised land. But behold, God, who knew what was in man, was constrained to caution them against the enormous evil of ascribing to their own superior goodness all the interpositions of God in their behalf: “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. 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. Remember, and forget not how thou provokedst the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness.” This was the state of mind which became them; and this is the habit that becomes us also.
To fix this admonition the more deeply on your minds, I will endeavour to shew,
What impression sin makes upon the mind of God—
It is not so light an evil as we are ready to imagine. It is most offensive to God: it is “that abominable thing which his soul hateth [Note: Jer_44:4.].” In what abhorrence he holds it, we may see,
By his own positive declarations—
[” In the day that thou eatest of the forbidden tree, thou shalt die [Note: Gen_2:17.],” was the declaration of God in Paradise: and “The soul that sinneth, it shall die [Note: Eze_18:4.],” has been his solemn warning to all mankind, even to the present hour. Yes; “the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men [Note: Rom_1:18.].” “The wicked,” saith David, “shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God [Note: Psa_9:17.].” And again: “Upon the ungodly shall God rain snares, fire and brimstone, storm and tempest: this shall be their portion to drink [Note: Psa_11:6.]:” “they shall go into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels [Note: Mat_25:41.]:” “they shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and the smoke of their torment shall ascend up for ever and ever: and they shall have no rest, day nor night [Note: Rev_14:10-11.]:” they shall be “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched [Note: Mar_9:44; Mar_9:46; Mar_9:48.];” and shall spend eternity itself in “weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth [Note: Mat_25:30.].”
Now I would ask, What can such declarations mean? or rather, What can they mean who set them all at nought, and say, “I shall have peace, though I walk after the imaginations of my own evil heart [Note: Deu_29:19.]?”]
By the actual exhibitions of his wrath—
[It is easy to say, “The Lord doth not see, neither will the Almighty regard it.” But how do his dispensations accord with these conceits? Was the sin of Adam visited with no expression of his wrath? Was there no manifestation of his anger at the deluge? None on the cities of the plain, the punishment of which was a figure of hell itself? Look at his dealings with Israel in the wilderness: Was sin unpunished there? Do we see there no marks of his displeasure, no proofs of the connexion which he has established between sin and misery? Does the destruction of that whole people in the wilderness give us no insight into this matter? When we see what was inflicted on a man for gathering sticks upon the Sabbath [Note: Num_15:33-35.], on Uzzah for a mistake [Note: 2Sa_6:6-7.], on the men of Bethshemesh for unhallowed curiosity [Note: 1Sa_6:19.], on Herod for pride [Note: Act_12:23.], on Ananias for a lie [Note: Act_5:3-10.], shall we listen to the voice that tells us, that “the Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil [Note: Zep_1:12.]?” Know ye of a truth, beloved Brethren, that “God is angry with the wicked every day [Note: Psa_7:11.];” and that “though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished [Note: Pro_11:21.].”]
From hence, then, we may see,
The impression which it should make on our minds—
Verily, as it makes a deep impression upon God’s mind, so should it also upon ours. We should remember it; and never forget so much as one sin, if it were possible; but should have the iniquity of our whole lives ever treasured up in our minds, and standing in one accumulated mass before our eyes.
This is necessary for the unpardoned sinner—
[We are not to imagine, that it is sufficient for us to acknowledge in a general way that we are sinners, or to have our minds fixed on one or two enormous transgressions, and to confess them to God. We ought to trace sin to the fountain-head, and see how totally we are by nature alienated from God, and “enemies to him in our minds by wicked works:” and at the same time we should have such views of particular transgressions, as to be constrained to come to God, saying, “Thus and thus have I done:” and without such a view of our sins we can have no repentance, no forgiveness, nor even so much as any preparation of heart for the Gospel of Christ.
Without calling our ways to remembrance, we can have no repentance. For, what is repentance, but a confession of our sins, and mourning over them before God? — — — We can have no forgiveness; for “he that covereth his sins shall not prosper: it is he only who confesseth and forsaketh them that shall find mercy [Note: Pro_28:13.]” — — — Nor can a person be prepared to receive the Gospel: for the Gospel is a remedy; for which they who are unconscious of any malady can have no desire; as our Lord has said, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance [Note: Mat_9:12-13.].” What then shall an unpardoned sinner do? If he look not back on his transgressions, to mourn over them before God, he rivets them all upon his own soul, and ensures to himself the judgments of an offended God [Note: Luk_13:3.].]
Nor is it a whit less necessary for a pardoned saint—
[In a great variety of views it is desirable for him: first, for the deepening of his humility. Superficial views of sin, though they may suffice to bring us to the Saviour, will never produce that self-lothing and self-abhorrence which are the foundation of all that is good and great in the Christian character [Note: Eze_16:63; Eze_36:31.] — — —Next, for the inflaming of his gratitude. Our gratitude will always bear proportion to our sense of sin. “The man that has been forgiven little, will love little [Note: Luk_7:47.]:” but the man who is sensible, fully sensible, what his deserts have been, will be filled with such wonder and admiration at the goodness of God towards him, as no words can adequately express [Note: 1Ti_1:13-15. “Grace exceeding abundant.”] — — —Further, these views of sin are desirable for the confirming of his principles. Let him feel the extent of his guilt, and he will not need to be told that salvation must be altogether of grace, or through faith, in Christ. He will see that a soul taken out of hell itself would not be a greater monument of grace than he: he knows himself to be “a brand plucked out of the burning [Note: Zec_3:2.];” and that if there were not an atonement provided for him, and a free salvation offered to him, Satan himself would have as good a hope of mercy as he — — — These views are yet further desirable for the augmenting of his care and watchfulness. Let a man see how he has fallen, and how, even though he may not actually have fallen, he has been tempted by sinful inclinations: he will then see what must have been his state to all eternity, if God had left him to himself; and what must yet be his state, if God should not continually uphold him — — — Lastly, they are necessary for the meetening of his soul for glory. Go up to heaven, and see the state of the saints there: see how they fall on their faces before the throne: hear with what incessant praises they ascribe salvation to God and to the Lamb [Note: Rev_5:14.]. If you were to go from one end of heaven to the other, you would not hear one self-applauding word, or witness one self-admiring thought. There is but one song throughout all the realms of bliss: and the deeper our sense of obligation to God is for the wonders of redeeming love, the better we shall be prepared to make it the one subject of our thanksgivings to all eternity.]
Before I conclude, let me Add a few words to those who are either looking to God for acceptance through their own righteousness, or imagining that they have already found mercy on such ground as that—
[Take a retrospect of your past lives, and call to remembrance the whole of your conduct in this wilderness world. Compare your lives with the requirements of God’s law; and see whether even so much as a day or an hour has ever passed, that has not given you ground for the deepest humiliation. But if you will not remember your sins, know assuredly, that God will. He says, by the Prophet Amos; “The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works [Note: Amo_8:7.].” In the day of judgment, too, will he remember them; yes, and bring them to your remembrance also: for they are all recorded in his book; and when set before you with all their aggravations, they will then appear to you, not light and venial, as they now do, but worthy of the deepest and heaviest condemnation. Stay not, then, till that day, but call them to remembrance now, and beg of God to set them all in order before your eyes. As for the pain which a sight of them will occasion, would you not wish to be pained with that which has so grieved your God? And is it not better to feel a penitential sorrow now, than to die in impenitence, and lie down under the wrath of God for ever? In recommending penitence, I am your best friend; and those who would encourage you to forget your sins are, in truth, your greatest enemies. Begin, then, to “sorrow after a godly sort [Note: 2Co_7:11.],” and go to the Lord with all your sins upon you: so shall you have them all “blotted out as a morning cloud,” and “cast by God himself into the depths of the sea.” Here is a great mystery: if you forget your sins, God will remember them: but if you remember them, God will forget them utterly, and “remember them against you no more for ever [Note: Heb_8:12.].”]