‘O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against Me.’
The history of God’s dealings with us is a history of benefits on His side, of ingratitude on ours. It is a history of persistent kindness and goodness from Him Who knows what our needs are and what is good for us, and of careless neglect of this goodness on our part, who know neither what we need nor what is best for us. Old Testament and New alike present this picture both of God and of man.
I. There is something very remarkable about all this.—Usually, when a man has anything to give which is worth having, people are only too ready to receive it. Usually, instead of his having to press it on them, they beset him with petitions to give it them. So much so that what is offered as a free gift is usually looked upon with suspicion, as if it could not be worth much, or it would not be offered gratis. Nay, if any one asks you very earnestly to accept anything, you almost begin to think you do him a favour in accepting it, instead of your receiving a benefit. This is the way with men. So much is this the case that the generality of people who do not think much about religion get into a mistaken way of looking at God’s action in the matter. People talk of repenting by and by, of becoming religious at some future time, of putting off the consideration of God’s message till they are more at liberty to attend to it, just as if they thought that it was they who were doing God a service, instead of God offering them an inconceivable benefit. I do not affirm that people deliberately say this to themselves, but it comes to pretty much the same thing. They never think of asking, Why does God thus plead with us? What is it that God thus offers? What will become of me if I do not attend to His message? They go on as if they thought that any time would do for listening to it; as if they thought that if God be so very anxious that they should listen to His message, He would take care that somehow or other they should not ultimately lose the good of it, and so they let the Gospel message slip by year after year, until it is to be feared that in many cases it never gets heard to any good purpose at all.
II. The devil has many ways of ruining souls, and getting them to think in this way is one of them.—Look at the facts as they stand. Why is God so urgent with us? Why is God so anxious that we should listen to His Message—that we should leave off sinning, begin at once to practise Holy Living, and close with the offers of His Grace? It is just because God knows, if we do not, that our eternal welfare depends upon it; and He wants to awaken us to see our danger. God desires our good, not His own advantage. See how earnestly any one of you that is a parent warns his children against those evil courses in youth which will lead to a manhood of disgrace, misfortune, and failure. Opportunities once lost never return. The past is past. Neither God nor man can bring it back again. And yet I imagine there is many a child who acts by its parents as some of us do by our God, and fancies that his parents’ entreaties need not be taken so very seriously, that if his parents are so very anxious for his welfare, they will somehow see that any bad consequences of his conduct will be turned aside, and that, at any rate, he need not take the matter so seriously. Now, you know what a mistake this is on your children’s part. God knows that if we do not grow good now, and get the mastery over evil now, evil will have got the mastery over us, and that in the next world it will be too late to mend. Therefore, God is so urgent with us to lose no time in beginning to grow good men betimes, since He knows its importance. God desires our good, as you desire your children’s good, and so He takes all the pains that can be taken to bring us into good ways now, that we may escape having to suffer for it then. When men fancy that if God presses our good upon us so very earnestly, He will not let us miss it in the end whatever we do, they make the saddest mistake possible. God Himself cannot bring back a lost opportunity, and God wants to prevent our losing our opportunities.
III. Then, again, God knows the evil that is in us better than we do, and He knows how blind we are to it.—We do not see our own sinfulness, any more than we see the harm it will do us. We do not know the disease of our nature. If we did we should seek its cure. But we do not. And God knows that we do not. Therefore, again He tries to awaken us to see how we really stand. This is the explanation of all those earnest calls to repentance.
IV. This shows you why Satan is so anxious to make men put off their repentance, and to make men think that if God is so anxious for their good He will somehow take care of them, even if they do not attend to Him at once.—The Devil knows what we do not know, or at least what we will not think about, namely, that this life is the time for growing out of our sins and into goodness, and that every year that he can get us to put it off is so much lost to us, and so much gained to him. God wishes our good. God desires that life should be to us one progressive growth in goodness, and a constant dying out of evil. And as this is a work of time—a progressive work—it follows that in every stage of our lives there is a special portion of this work to be done, and which, if left undone, can either never be done at all, or else becomes infinitely more difficult to do afterwards. We cannot be standing still. We must be either growing better or growing worse: either growing in goodness, and therefore more fit for God’s world beyond the grave, or growing in evil, and therefore less fit for it. It is just because it is ‘hard to be good’ that Christ our Lord died for us, and that the Holy Spirit came into the world on the Day of Pentecost, and that the word of God is given us in the Bible. But God has given us help enough if we use it, not merely to grow good, but also to rejoice in it, as He says, ‘My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’ He willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live, wherefore turn again and live ye.
‘This chapter doubtless contains a distinct address. Jehovah condescends to plead His cause against Israel, calling upon the mountains and hills of the land—its most enduring characteristics—to witness between Him and them. But the verdict had to be given by the people’s hearts.
‘Jehovah asks what evil He had done that His people had turned away from Him. He had brought them out of Egypt, and redeemed them from slavery. He had sent His chosen servants to help them. He had nullified the stratagems of Balak which he devised against their well-being. What more could He have done!’