SERMON IX. THE LOVE OF GOD ITS OWN REWARD
DEUT. xxx. 19, 20.
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life that both thou and thy seed may live; that thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest cleave unto him, for he is thy life and the length of thy days, that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord God sware unto thy fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give them.
I spoke to you last Sunday on this text. But there is something more in it, which I had not time to speak of then.
Moses here tells the Israelites what will happen to them if they keep God's law.
They will love God. That was to be their reward. They were to have other rewards beside. Beside loving God, it would be well with them and their children, and they would live long in the land which God had given them. But their first reward, their great reward, would be that they would love God.
If they obeyed God, they would have reason to love him.
Now we commonly put this differently.
We say, If you love God, you will obey him; which is quite true. But what Moses says is truer still, and deeper still. Moses says, If you obey God, you will love him.
Again we say, If you love God, God will reward you; which is true; though not always true in this life. But Moses says a truer and deeper thing. Moses says that loving God is our reward; that the greatest reward, the greatest blessing which a man can have, is this- -that the man should love God. Now does this seem strange? It is not strange, nevertheless.
For there are two sorts of faith; and one must always, I sometimes think, come before the other.
The first is implicit faith--blind faith--the sort of faith a child has in what its parents tell it. A child, we know, believes its parents blindly, even though it does not understand what they tell it. It takes for granted that they are right.
The second is experimental faith--the faith which comes from experience and reason, when a man looks back upon his life, and on God's dealings with him; and then sees from experience what reason he has for trusting and loving God, who has helped him onward through so many chances and changes for so many years.
Now some people cry out against blind implicit faith, as if it was childish and unreasonable. But I cannot. I think every one learns to love his neighbour, very much as Moses told the Jews they would learn to love God; namely, by trusting them somewhat blindly at first.
Is it not so? Is it not so always with young people, when they begin to be fond of each other? They trust each other, they do not know why, or how. Before they are married, they have little or no experience of each other; of each other's tempers and characters: and yet they trust each other, and say in their hearts, 'He can never be false to me;' and are ready to put their honour and fortunes into each other's hands, to live together for better for worse, till death them part. It is a blind faith in each other, that, and those who will may laugh at it, and call it the folly and rashness of youth. I do not believe that God laughs at it: that God calls it folly and rashness. It surely comes from God.
For there is something in each of them worth trusting, worth loving. True, they may be disappointed in each other; but they need not be. If they are true to themselves; if they will listen to the better voice within, and be true to their own better feelings, all will be well, and they will find after marriage that they did not do a rash and a foolish thing, when they gave up themselves to each other, and cast in their lot together blindly to live and die.
And then, after that first blind faith and love in each other which they had before marriage, will come, as the years roll by, a deeper, sounder faith and love from experience.--An experience of which I shall not talk here; for those who have not felt it for themselves would not know what I mean; and those who have felt it need no clumsy words of mine to describe it to them.
Now, my dear friends, this is one of the things by which marriage is consecrated to an excellent mystery, as the Prayer-book says. This is one of the things in which marriage is a pattern and picture of the spiritual union which is between Christ and his Church.
First, as I said, comes blind faith. A young person, setting out in life, has little experience of God's love; he has little to make him sure that the way of life, and honour, and peace, is to obey God's laws. But he is told so. His Bible tells him so. Wiser and older people than he tell him so, and God himself tells him so. God himself makes up in the young person's heart a desire after goodness.
Then he takes it for granted blindly. He says to himself, I can but try. They tell me to taste and see whether the Lord is gracious. I will taste. They tell me that the way of his commandments is the way to make life worth loving, and to see good days. I will try. And so the years go by. The young person has grown middle-aged, old. He or she has been through many trials, many disappointments; perhaps more than one bitter loss. But if they have held fast by God; if they have tried, however clumsily, to keep God's law, and walk in God's way, then there will have grown up in them a trust in God, and a love for God, deeper and broader far than any which they had in youth; a love grounded on experience. They can point back to so many blessings which the Lord gave them unexpectedly; to so many sorrows which the Lord gave them strength to bear, though they seemed at first sight past bearing; to so many disappointments which seemed ill luck at the time, and yet which turned out good for them in the end. And so comes a deep, reasonable love to their Heavenly Father. Now they have TASTED that the Lord is gracious. Now they can say, with the Samaritans, 'Now we believe, not because of thy saying, but because we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.' And when sadness and affliction come on them, as it must come, they can look back, and so get strength to look forward. They can say with David, 'I will go on in the strength of the Lord God. I will make mention only of his righteousness. Oh my God, thou hast taught me from my youth up until now; hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also, when I am old and grey-headed, oh Lord, forsake me not, till I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to those whom I leave behind me.'
And so, by remembering what God HAS been to them, they can face what is coming. 'They will not be afraid of evil tidings,' as David says; 'for their heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.'
And when old age comes, and brings weakness and sickness, and low spirits, still they have comfort. They can say with David again, 'I have been young, and now am old, but never saw I the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread.'
Oh my dear friends, young people especially--there are many things which you may long for which you cannot have: much happiness which is NOT within your reach. But THIS you can have, if you will but long for it: this happiness IS within your reach, if you will but put out your hand and take it.--The everlasting unfailing comfort of loving God, and of knowing that God loves you. Oh choose that now at once. Choose God's ways which are pleasantness, and God's paths which are peace; and then in your old age, whether you become rich or poor, whether you are left alone, or go down to your grave in peace with children and grandchildren to close your eyes, you will still have the one great reward, the true reward, the everlasting reward which Moses promised the old Israelites. You will have reason to love God, who has carried you safe through life, and will carry you safe through death, and to say with all his saints and martyrs, 'Many things I know not; and many things I have lost: but this I know.--I know in whom I have believed; and this I cannot lose; even God himself, whose name is faithful and true.'
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