The Biblical Illustrator
The children of Gad, and the children of Reuben, came and spake unto Moses.
The selfish request of the Reubenites and Gadites
I. Mean selfishness. In the competitions of business and of professional and social life there is often very much of mean selfishness, and that even amongst persons who are avowedly Christians. But selfishness is utterly opposed to the spirit of Jesus Christ.
II. Predominant worldliness. In this day there are many, who regard themselves as Christians, who resemble the Reubenites and Gadites--many who are chiefly influenced by temporal and worldly considerations in--
1. The selection and conduct of their business.
2. The formation of matrimonial alliances; and
3. The determination of their residence.
Temporal gain, social surroundings, salubrity of atmosphere, and similar things are often deeply considered, while sacred and spiritual things are well-nigh overlooked.
III. Disregard of the interests and bights of their brethren.
IV. Disparagement of their Divine calling and destiny. What vast numbers practically despise their exalted spiritual calling in the Gospel for the passing and perishing things of this world!
V. Want of faith in the Divine promise. It is not improbable that they had their doubts as to their taking the good land beyond Jordan, and therefore sought to secure for themselves what the nation had already conquered. Such unbelief is a grievous dishonour to God. Conclusion: Mark the folly of this request of the Reubenites and Gadites. The country which they desired had very grave disadvantages. A selfish policy is generally a self-defeating policy. (W. Jones.)
Reuben and Gad
This is too often the prayer of prosperous men. They find upon the earth what they regard as heaven enough. If they could but double their income, they would sigh for no bluer heaven; if they could but have health without increasing the income--simply increase of physical energy--they would desire no better paradise than they can find on earth. Who likes to cross the Jordan that lies before every man? There is a point at which it becomes very difficult to say to God, “We are still ready to go on; whatever next may come--great wilderness or cold river, or high stony mountain--we are still ready to go on; Thy will be done, and Thy way be carried out to its last inch.” Yet, until we reach the resignation which becomes triumph and the triumph which expresses itself, not in loud sentiment but in quiet and deep obedience, we have not begun to realise the meaning of the kingdom of heaven. What was the answer of Moses? “Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?” (Numbers 32:6). What suggestion there is in the colour of every tone! What sublime mockery! What a hint of cowardice! What an infliction of judgment upon meanness! Sometimes the only way in which we can put a rational rebuke is in the form of an inquiry. But there was more to be considered. “And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord hath given them?” (Numbers 32:7). Take the word “discourage” in any sense, and it is full of meaning. Perhaps a stronger word might have been inserted here--a word amounting to aversion and utter dislike to the idea of going forward. Our actions have social effects. There are no literal individualities now; we are not separate and independent pillars; we are parts of a sum-total; we are members one of another. Then Moses utilised history (Numbers 32:8-13). The past speaks in the present. Our fathers come up in a kind of resurrection in our own thinking and our own propositions. Meanness of soul is handed down; disobedience is not buried in the grave with the man who disobeyed. This is a broad law; were it rightly understood and applied, many a man’s conduct would be explained which to-day appears to be quite inexplicable. Appetites descend from generation to generation; diseases may sleep through one generation, and arise in the next with aggravated violence. Men should take care what they do. Then Reuben and Gad said they would fight; they would build sheepfolds for their cattle, and cities for their little ones: but they themselves would go ready armed before the children of Israel, until they had brought them unto their place, and then their little ones should dwell in the fenced cities because of the inhabitants of the land. Moses said, in effect, “So be it: if you complete the battle you shall locate yourselves here; but you must complete the battle, and when the conquest is won, you may return and enjoy what you can here of green things and flowing water; but, let me tell you, ‘if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the Lord’; this is not a covenant between you and me--between man and man; but your sin will be against the Lord, ‘and be sure your sin will find you out.’” The matter was not easily arranged; Heaven was invoked, tones of judgment were employed, a covenant was entered into which bore the seal eternal. That law still continues. Supposing there to be no Bible, no altar, no invisible judgment-seat, no white throne--as has been conceived by sacred poetry--there is still, somehow, at work, in this mysterious scheme of things, a law of a constabulary kind which arrests the evil-doer, which makes the glutton sick, which makes the voluptuary weak, which stings the plotter in the very time which he had planned for his special joy. There is, account for it as we may, a ghostliness that looks upon us through the cloud, so that we feel the blood receding from the face, or feel it returning in violent torrents, making the face red with shame. But there is the law, give it what name we may, shuffle out of religious definitions as we like: the wrong-doer lays his head on a hard pillow; the bad man stores his property in unsafe places. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?
And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel?
The expostulation of Moses
1. He shows them what he apprehended to be evil in this motion; that it would discourage the heart of their brethren (Numbers 32:6-7). What, saith he, with a holy indignation at their selfishness, “shall your brethren go to war, and expose themselves to all the hardships of the field, and shall ye sit here at your ease? No, do not mistake yourselves; you shall never be indulged by me in this sloth and cowardice.” It ill becomes any of God’s Israel to sit down unconcerned in the difficult concernments of their brethren, whether public or personal.
2. He minds them of the fatal consequences of the unbelief and faint-heartedness of their fathers when they were, as these here, just ready to enter Canaan. He recites the story very particularly (Numbers 32:8-13). “Thus did your fathers,” whose punishment should be a warning to you to take heed of sinning after the similitude of their transgression.
3. He gives them fair warning of the mischief that would be likely to follow upon this separation they were about to make from the camp of Israel; they would be in danger of bringing wrath upon the whole congregation, and hurrying them all back again into the wilderness (Numbers 32:14-15). “Ye are risen up in your father’s stead” to despise the pleasant land, and reject it as they did, when we hoped you were risen up in their stead to possess it. It was an encouragement to Moses to see what an increase of men they were, but a discouragement to see that they were withal an increase of sinful men, treading in the steps of their fathers’ impiety. It is sad to see the rising generations in families and countries seldom better, and often worse, than that which went before it. And what comes of it? why, it augments the fierce anger of the Lord; not only continues that fire, but increaseth it, and fills the measure often, till it overflow in a deluge of desolation. Note, if men did consider as they ought what would be in the end of sin, they would be afraid of the beginnings of it. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
The faithful rebuke of Moses
I. The injustice of their proposal. Why should they have as their inheritance that country which all had assisted to conquer, and leave their brethren to conquer other possessions for themselves without their aid?
II. The tendency of their proposal to dishearten their brethren. Because the granting of this request would be likely to--
1. Reduce their numbers.
2. Engender dissatisfaction.
III. The wickedness of their proposal.
1. Unbelief of God’s word.
2. Depreciation of God’s goodness.
IV. The tendency of their proposal to call down the wrath of God.
1. The cause of His anger (Numbers 32:14).
2. The expression of His anger (Numbers 32:15).
3. The subjects of His anger. “All this people.”
V. The solemn example by which Moses enforced his rebuke (Numbers 32:8-13). (W. Jones.)
The sin of discouraging our brethren
The children of God are very prone to be discouraged. The truth is, that their path through the wilderness is not an easy one. The danger of discouragement being so very great, it is the duty of Christians to encourage each other, to exhort one another in words of kindness, cheerfulness, and love, to hold on their way. How beautiful is the example of Jesus, in the tenderness of the sympathy wherewith lie encouraged the weak. But Christians are too often unlike their Master, wanting in that gentle and encouraging sympathy. It may be well to note more carefully some of the ways in which Christians most frequently discourage each other’s hearts.
1. First, then, we may mention an inconsistent life. There is nothing so beautiful on earth as a consistent life, a life entirely consecrated to God--devoted to one great object, and guided by one great principle. Such a life makes people feel that there is something from God in true religion; and it greatly encourages those who are seeking Christ. On the contrary, the inconsistent lives of Christians are the greatest possible hindrance to the world, and to those who are weak in faith. There was great apparent inconsistency in the request of the Reubenites. They ought to have valued God’s promise, and have wished to settle within the limits of the Promised Land; but the rich pastures of the territories already won, and situated without its boundaries, were a temptation to them. And Moses saw at once the effect that this example would have upon the hearts of their brethren. It would discourage them. It is just so with those who ought to live for heaven, who profess to be looking for it, and yet set their affections on things below--on the creature, or the world, or on money. This contrariety between the profession and the life cannot be otherwise than a stumbling block to the world, and a great discouragement to those who are weak in faith. Some it hardens in their unbelief; others are led by it into painful doubt and perplexity. It is no small sin to discourage our brethren.
2. But again, the natural heart is very prone to think that religion is a gloomy thing, a system of sacrifices; and this we cannot wonder at, as it only sees what must be given up, but cannot perceive what is gained. It cannot understand that excellency of the knowledge of Christ which makes sacrifices easy and delightful, and renders things impossible to flesh and blood altogether possible. Now, when Christians are gloomy and desponding, when their look is melancholy and their language dissatisfied, it tends to confirm the notion that true religion does not make the heart happy, does not give it rest; and so the wanderer, discouraged at the outset, seeks cheerfulness and pleasure elsewhere, and not in Christ. Now, why should Christians ever give such an impression of religion? Surely it must be of all things the most blessed to be reconciled to God, to have the forgiveness of all sins. It is true that the Christian has many trials which are unknown to the world, fightings within, as well as fears without. But his fightings are not hopeless struggles. They are the precursors of victory; for, says St. Paul, we are made more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
3. Another way of discouraging our brethren is by showing want of sympathy in their difficulties. Hardness and want of sympathy have much to do with making the world as full of misery as it is.
4. Another case of discouragement to others is our shrinking, or appearing to shrink, from difficulties. Moses evidently thought that this was the motive of the request of the Reubenites. They wished to settle down in a land already won, instead of sharing the danger of war with their brethren. “Shall your brethren go to war, and ye sit here?” The event proved that happily this was not the case. Moses was mistaken in his suspicions. But it is quite clear, that had this been the case scarcely anything could have discouraged the rest of the Israelites more completely. Now this, we fear, is not a very uncommon cause of discouragements. There are too many Christians who shrink from difficulties. They prefer some smooth and easy course, the pastures of Jazer and Gilead to the warfare and conflicts of Canaan. If some easy work is proposed to them, which is accompanied by no great difficulties, and which involves no real self-denial, they may be ready for it. But they do not like to take up the cross, and especially a daily cross--one that lasts long. We ought not to shrink from difficulties in doing the will of God. It is usually God’s way to surround His own work with difficulties, and often with such difficulties as His own hand alone can remove. And this He does to try His people’s faith, not to discourage them. Viewed at a distance, like the wall of some great fortress, they appear very formidable, but when grappled with in faith, one after another they fall away. There are beautiful promises to encourage us under difficulties (Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 41:16; Zechariah 4:7). Let us then settle it well in our hearts that we must have difficulties in doing the work of God; but let not these dismay our hearts or lead us to discourage our brethren. (G. Wagner.)
We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones.
But we ourselves will go ready armed.
The amended proposal of the Reubenites and Gadites
I. The amended proposal made.
1. That they should province at once for the safe settlement of their families and their flocks and herds.
2. That they would assist their brethren in the conquest of Canaan.
3. That they would not leave their brethren until that conquest was completely effected.
4. That they would not seek for any inheritance with their brethren on the other side of the Jordan.
II. The amended proposal accepted.
1. Moses re-affirms the chief terms of their proposal.
2. He accepts their proposal as righteous.
3. He warns them that if they fail to faithfully fulfil its terms punishment will overtake them.
III. The amended proposal confirmed. Lessons:
1. The duty of manifesting a practical regard for the rights and interests of others.
2. The importance of faithfully fulfilling the engagements into which we enter.
3. The delusiveness of the notion that any one can sin and escape the punishment of sin. (W. Jones.)
Conflict the condition of attainment, and suffering the consequence of sin
I. A truth to be confirmed--that those who would share in the inheritance must engage in the conflict.
II. A warning to be applied--that sin brings punishment; and that those who think to sin with impunity, under a dispensation of mercy, will find themselves fearfully disappointed.
III. A personal application to be made. (Samuel Thodey.)
Necessity for conflict in the open field
A skilful botanist, an exile in a foreign land, was thankful to accept the position of an under-gardener in the service of a man of wealth. While filling this humble office, his attention was attracted by a rare plant which had been sent to the owner of the garden, and which had been placed in the hot-house under the impression that it was a native of the tropics. So far from thriving, it had begun so evidently to wither and decay that the unskilful gardener was about to remove it to a still warmer place, when the observant eye of the botanist discovered it to be a production of the Arctic regions, and insisted that it should be exposed to the icy breath of winter. Forthwith it revived, and began to flourish. In like manner, if Christians will shut themselves up in the confined and heated atmosphere of worldliness and sin, they can neither hope for growth nor fruitfulness. Heroic conflict in the open field with the enemies of our salvation, the overcoming of temptation in the way of daily duty, constant communication with the Holy Spirit of God in the use of the appointed means of grace--these are the only safeguards for the soul. (Christian Age.)
Be sure your sin will find you out.
The great sin of doing nothing
I. What was this sin? A learned divine has delivered a sermon upon the sin of murder from this text, another upon theft, another upon falsehood. If you take the text as it stands, there is nothing in it about murder, or theft, or anything of the kind. In fact, it is not about what men do, but it is about what men do not do. The iniquity of doing nothing is a sin which is not so often spoken of as it should be. A sin of omission is clearly aimed at in this warning--“If ye will not do so, be sure your sin will find you out.”
1. It was the sin of idleness and of self-indulgence. “We have cattle: here is a land that yields much pasture: let us have this for our cattle, and we will build folds for our sheep with the abundant stones that lie about, and we will repair these cities of the Amorites, and we will dwell in them. They are nearly ready for us, and there shall our little ones dwell in comfort. We do not care about fighting: we have seen enough of it already in the wars with Sihon and Og. Reuben would rather abide by the sheepfolds. Gad has more delight in the bleating of the sheep and in the folding of the lambs in his bosom than in going forth to battle.” Alas, the tribe of Reuben is not dead, and the tribe of Gad has not passed away! Many who are of the household of faith are equally indisposed to exertion, equally fond of ease.
2. This sin may be viewed under another aspect, as selfishness and unbrotherliness. Gad and Reuben ask to have their inheritance at once, and to make themselves comfortable in Bashan, on this side Jordan. What about Judah, Levi, Simeon, Benjamin, and all the rest of the tribes? How are they to get their inheritance? They do not care, but it is evident that Bashan is suitable for themselves with their multitude of cattle. Some of them reply, “You see, they must look to themselves, as the proverb hath it, ‘Every man for himself, and God for us all.’” Did I not hear some one in the company say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Soul-murder can be wrought without an act or even a will; it is constantly accomplished by neglect. Yonder perishing heathen--does not the Lord inquire, “Who slew all these?” The millions of this city unevangelised--who is guilty of their blood? Are not idle Christians starving the multitude by refusing to hand out the bread of life? Is not this a grievous sin? “But oh,” says another, “they can conquer the land themselves. God is with them, and He can do His own work, and therefore I do not see that I need trouble myself about other people.” That is selfishness; and selfishness is never worse than when it puts on the garb of religion.
3. But with this there was mingled ingratitude of a very dark order. These children of Gad and Reuben would appropriate to themselves lands for which all the Israelites had laboured. God had led them forth to battle, and they had conquered Sihon and Og, and now these men would take possession of what others have struggled for, but they are not to fight themselves. This is vile ingratitude; and I fear it is common among us at this very day. How come we to be Christians at all? Instrumentally, it is through those holy missionaries who won our fathers from the cruel worship of the Druids, and afterwards from the fierce dominion of Woden and Thor. Are we to receive all, and then give out nothing at all? Are we to be like candles burning under bushels? Are we to waste our life by much receiving and little distributing? This will never do. This will not be life, but death. Remember the Dead Sea, and tremble lest thou be like it, a pool accursed and cursing all around thee l The text, when spiritually interpreted, says concerning our personal service in the conquest of the world for Christ--“if ye do not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out.”
4. Again, we may view this from another point of view. It is the sin of untruthfulness. These people pledged themselves that they would go forth with the other tribes, and that they would not return to their own homes until the whole of the campaign was ended. Now, if after that they did not go to the war, and did not fight to the close of it, then they would be guilty of a barefaced lie. It is a wretched thing for a man to be a covenant-breaker. It is sacrilege for any man to lie, not only unto man, but unto God. I would speak very tenderly, but if any man has been converted from the error of his ways, by that very conversion he is bound to serve the Lord. Now, if he lives only to make money and hoard it, and he does nothing for God’s Church and for poor sinners, is not his baptism a lie? Once more, and I will have done with this painful subject. What would their sin be?
5. According to Moses it would be a grave injury to others. Do you not notice how he put it to them? “Moses said unto the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?” What an example to set! If one Christian man is right in never joining a Christian Church, then all other Christian men would be right in not doing so, and there would be no visible Christian Church. Do you not see, you non-professing believers, that your example is destructive to all Church life?
6. Moses goes on to remark that if these people did not go forth to war, they would discourage all the rest. “Wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord hath given them? “It is no slight sin to discourage holy zeal and perseverance in others. May we never be guilty of killing holy desires even in children! How often has a burning desire in a boy’s heart been quenched by his own father, who has thought him too impulsive, or too ardent! How frequently the conversation of a friend, so called, has dried up the springs of holy desire in the person with whom he has conversed! Let it not be so. Yet without cold words our chill neglects may freeze. We cannot neglect our own gardens without injuring our neighbours. One mechanic coming late among a set of workmen may throw the whole company out of order for the day. One railway truck off the rails may block the entire system. Depend upon it, if we are not serving the Lord our God, we are committing the sin of discouraging our fellow-men. They are more likely to imitate our lethargy than our energy. Why should we wish to hinder others from being earnest? How dare we rob God of the services of others by our own neglect?
II. Notice what was the chief sin in this sin? Of course, if the Reubenites did not keep their solemn agreement to go over Jordan, and help their brethren, they would sin against their brethren; but this is not the offence which rises first to the mind of Moses. Moses overlooks the lesser, because he knows it to be comprehended in the greater; and he says, “Behold, ye have sinned against the Lord.”
1. It is disobedience against the Lord not to be preaching His truth if we are able to do so. The hearer of the gospel is bound to be a repeater of the gospel.
2. We are certainly guilty of ingratitude, if, as I have already said, we owe so much to other men, and yet do not seek to bless mankind; but chiefly we owe everything to the grace of God, and, if God has given us grace in our own hearts, and saved us with the precious blood of the Only-Begotten, how can we sit still, and allow others to perish?
3. There would be sin against God in the conduct of these people, if they did not aid in the conquest of Canaan, for they would be dividing God’s Israel. Shall the Lord’s heritage be rent in twain? God meant them all to keep together. Can it be that any of us are dividing the Church of God; that is, dividing it into drones and workers? This would be a terrible division: and I fear that it exists already. It is apparent to those who are able to observe; and it is mourned over by those who are jealous for the God of Israel. Half the schisms in Churches arise out of the real division which exists between idlers and workers. Mind this. Be not sowers of division by being busy-bodies, working not at all.
III. We have now reached the last point, and the point that is most serious: what will come of this sin of doing nothing? What will come of it? “Be sure your sin will find you out.”
1. It would find them out thus: they would be ill at ease. One of these days their sin would leap upon their consciences as a lion on its prey.
2. When conscience was thus aroused, they would also feel themselves to be mean and despicable. Their manhood would be held cheap by the other tribes.
3. They would be enfeebled by their own inaction. How much of sacred education we miss when we turn away from the service of God!
4. Their sin would also have found them out, had they fallen into it, because they would have been divided from the rest of God’s Israel. Those who are nonworkers lose much by not keeping pace with those who are running the heavenly race. The active are happy: the haled of the diligent maketh rich in a spiritual sense. There is that withholdeth more than is meet, and it tendeth to poverty: I am sure it is so in a spiritual sense.
5. To come more practically home, if you and I are not serving the Lord, our sin will find us out.
Sin will come to light
I. God certainly shows His purpose to punish sin by the way He causes woe to come on some sinners here. The drunkard, the glutton, and the cheat, the liar and the lewd, are nut the only examples. Most frauds are exposed. Nearly all murders are brought to light. Men may plot very secretly, and think their crimes are hid. But Providence calls on stones and beams of timber, on tracks and pieces of paper, to be witnesses of the crime. Then all that class of sins which are not punishable by human laws, God often punishes with a loss of respect, esteem, or confidence.
II. Men might be sure that their sin will find them out by the sore judgments which God sometimes sends on men for their sins. On this matter we should exercise candour, caution, and charity, and not call that an angry judgment which is but a dark doing of love. Still there are on earth sore and marked judgments. Look at the history of Achan, of Korah, &c. Of thirty Roman emperors, proconsuls, and high officials, who distinguished themselves by their zeal and rage against the early Christians, it is recorded that one became speedily deranged after an act of great cruelty; one was slain by his own son; one became blind; the eyes of one started out of his head; one was drowned; one was strangled; one died in a miserable captivity; one fell dead in a manner that will not bear to be told; one died of so loathsome a disease that several of his physicians were put to death, because they could not abide the stench that filled his room; two committed suicide; a third attempted it, but had to call for help to finish the bloody work; five were assassinated by their own servants or people; five others died the most horrible deaths, having many and strange diseases; and eight were killed in battle, or after being taken prisoners. Men have more to do with sin than to commit it.
III. One may escape detection and strange judgments, and still his sins may find him out in the fears, and clamours, and remorse of conscience. Remorse is remorseless. Like fire, it burns all around it. No man can protect himself against his sins flashing him in the face at any moment. The Bible, preaching, singing, praying, a marriage, a trial in court, the sight of the man he has injured, or one that looks like him, or anything may arouse his conscience into fury at the most inconvenient time.
IV. But even if one escape all these things, yet if he dies unpardoned his sins will find him out in the next world (Luke 12:2; 1 Timothy 5:24; Ecclesiastes 10:20). Why do not men admit the force of these truths, and act accordingly? The reasons are very clear.
1. Some think their sins will not find them out because God has not yet called them to account (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Such men forget that with the Lord one day is “as a thousand years,” &c. (2 Peter 3:8-10).
2. In this world sinners often forget their sins, and think God has also forgotten them (Psalms 10:11). But God forgets nothing.
3. Some think their sin will not find them out because they doubt whether God is holy and just, and whether He takes notice of human actions (Psalms 94:5-7). But that is practical atheism (Proverbs 15:3; Ecclesiastes 12:14).
4. Some think their sin will not find them out because God is merciful. But mercy rejected can save no man. All the cooling fountains can do no good to him who does not drink of them. Oh, sinner, “be sure your sin will find you out.” You may now live in ease and in error. You may now harden your heart in pride. But you must meet your sins at God’s tribunal. Remember that. Oh! be wise--be wise unto salvation. (W. S. Plumer, D. D.)
Avoiding the mischief of wrongdoing
I. Our sin will certainly find us out. Some men indeed are so hardened in wickedness, so totally lost to conscience and reflection, that they are long able to hide themselves, as it were, from sin. Such persons may live long before their sin finds them out. It must wait for opportunities-a time of sickness or a time of distress, when a man’s wickedness has drawn some heavy calamity upon him. Then his sin will be sure to find him out. It will hold up a frightful mirror before him, and show him that himself has been the cause of all he suffers.
II. Sin being thus represented as a merciless creditor, of an unforgiving temper, demanding debts with the utmost rigour, let us see how we may best avoid the mischief it threatens.
1. As we are assured in the text that our sin will certainly find us out it is the part of wisdom to be beforehand with it and find it out first. Sin can never find us out but at some great disadvantage--when it is strong and we are weak ; when habits of wickedness have been formed, and we have suffered some mischief from them; or when our spirits are low, and we feel the world sinking under us. But on the other hand, if we take the active part, and endeavour to find out sin first, we prevent this bad effect. It is in this case as in others of the same kind. If we are in debt, our debts, that is, our creditors, will find us out. But when we are beforehand, and find out our debts ourselves, and take methods to pay them, we avoid all the bad consequences we should otherwise incur. He who can number a few figures may count his debts. They are, or may be, plain before him. But the deceit and treachery of the heart lie deep; and it is often a difficult matter to come at our sins. The case is this: we not only suffer our passions and appetites to lead us into sin, but we use our reason, which God has given us for better purposes, to excuse our wickedness. Repentance is the grand condition of the gospel; and the first act of repentance is to find out our sins. When we think of Zaccheus, let us remember the happy fruits of finding out our sin. When we think of Judas Iscariot, let us tremble at the dreadful consequences of suffering it to find us out.
2. Being thus convinced of the necessity of finding out our sin, the next great step to be taken is to endeavour to obtain pardon for it. Whatever difficulty there may be amidst the many corruptions and doublings of our hearts in finding out our sins, the method of obtaining pardon lies plain before us.
3. Since, then, God Almighty hath thus put the means of our salvation, in a manner, in our own power, by leaving us at option whether we will accept or not the terms He hath offered; let us not be so lost to ourselves as to go on in any sinful course till at length our sin find us out, but let us manfully endeavour to find it out first. Infidelity, where proper means of obtaining evidence has been neglected, is certainly a high offence. (W. Gilpin, M. A.)
The sinner detected
I. That you have sinned against the Lord.
1. This is abundantly evident from innumerable passages of Scripture.
2. From observation of the conduct of mankind, it is evident that they have sinned against the Lord.
3. From the many dreadful threatenings which are written in the Word of God.
4. This is evident from all the judgments which God hath brought upon the children of men from the beginning of the world until now.
5. From the consent of all nations, it is evident that we have sinned against the Lord.
II. How your sin will find you out. It will find you out for your conviction and conversion, or for your condemnation and destruction.
1. Your sin will find you out at the bar of conscience, under the dispensation of the gospel of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Under afflictive dispensations of Divine Providence.
3. At the approach of the king of terrors.
4. Your sins, if you die impenitent, will find you out at the tribunal of Christ, in the judgment of the great day.
5. The sins of the impenitent will find them out in hell, to all the ages of eternity.
III. The absolute certainty that sooner or later your sins will find you out.
1. That men’s sins shall find them out is absolutely certain, because the nature and perfections of God require it.
2. The Word of God asserts it.
3. Conscience forebodes it.
4. God’s moral government attests it.
5. Those who have gone before, in every past age of the world and period of the Church, in their experience have found it.
1. Be sure to find out sin.
2. Find out your sin, so as to get a soul-humbling and a heart-breaking view of it.
3. Endeavour to find out your sins in such a manner as shall influence you to make a free confession of them unto the Lord.
4. Be so stirred up by finding out y our sins as to implore forgiveness from God through the merit and intercession of His Son Jesus Christ.
5. Be excited to wash in the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
6. Endeavour to find out your sin, and to be so affected with the sight of it as to forsake it and flee from it in time to come. (John Jardine.)
What the text teaches is not merely that harm done to others will recoil on the head of the wrong-doer, but that help withheld will do the same. It assumes that our brethren have a right to positive assistance at our hands. And it solemnly warns us that if we deny them that assistance, our sin will find us out.
I. Take the case of a parent who neglects the Christian nurture of his children. He allows them, suppose, to grow up uneducated, sending them to work when they should be at school, and preferring the petty earnings they bring him to their mental and moral well-being. Or he allows them to take up with dangerous companions, without making any effort to restrain them. Or, though not unheedful of their physical comfort and intellectual culture, he neglects to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. What is the almost certain issue? Does this negligent parent receive from his children honour, love, obedience, cheerful help? Or if he does obtain some measure of deference while they are of tender years, and dwell under his roof, what happens when they become grown men and women, and he an old man in need of sympathy and aid? Alas! the cold indifference with which they then regard him, the grudging parsimony with which, if he is poor, they contribute to his scanty maintenance, the shame and sorrow which they bring on his grey hairs by their ingratitude and wickedness--these things but too surely prove that his sin has entailed an answerable punishment.
II. Take the case of those rich members of a community who neglect to provide instruction for the untaught children of the poor. In the cost of the crimes which those unheeded ones begin in youth, and perpetrate with aggravations in riper years, their sin is finding them out. In the cost of police and prisons and heavy poor-rates, it is finding them out. In the organised and protracted strikes, which reveal the crass ignorance and pitiable credulity of their dupes, and threaten to palsy the industrial enterprise of the country, it is finding them out. And should a season of wild political excitement or of widespread commercial stagnation arrive, with its provocations to turbulence and lawlessness, it may find them out in a way yet more terribly retributive.
III. Take the case of a corporation or a community which declines or delays to adopt measures cf sanitary improvement. It is sad to think that the majority of men are without a conscience as regards the violation of physical laws, though that is as truly a sin against God as their violation of moral laws. But whether men arc alive to their guilt in this respect or not, certain it is that their sin is in hot pursuit of them, and will ere long seize and rend them with its deadly fangs. The prosperous inhabitants of a town cannot suffer their poorer neighbours to dwell in overcrowded and unwholesome tenements, without having themselves to smart for such selfish neglect. If the poor are tempted, amid their physical discomforts, to resort to the deceitful solace of intemperance, it must fall to the rest of the community to pay for the pauperism and crime which intemperance begets. If the poor are ruined in health and made reckless in habits by the scenes of filth and vice which environ them, it must fall to those in better circumstances to sustain the burdens and hazards which an idle and turbulent populace never fail to create. And when fever or pestilence breaks out in the squalid hovel, who shall guarantee the health of the sumptuous mansion?
IV. Take the case of a Christian Church which neglects to adopt aggressive measures for the reclamation of the irreligious multitudes around it. Every successive year adds to the numbers who never enter a house of prayer. And now, instead of the grand moral spectacle which our working-men once presented--men humble in station, but high in moral excellence; scant of secular lore, but mighty in the Scriptures--we behold throngs of workmen who are not only indifferent about religion, but positively profane and sceptical. Bespeaks not this a lack of aggressive effort on the part of our churches and congregations? Could there be now such a vast outlying mass of irreligion, had each of our churches, in place of abiding within its own pasturage, gone over the river to help those neglected ones in their combat with evil? And shall not this sin find the churches out? It is finding them out. Already are there thousands upon thousands in our land who hate every Christian Church with a perfect hatred, and who would shout with diabolic triumph over their destruction. (J. M. McCulloch, D. D.)
Our sins finding us out
1. First, our sins find us out when there is a direct connection of cause and effect between the sin and the punishment, and in the most literal sense of the word, we eat the fruit of our own doings. The delirium tremens which overtakes the drunkard, the premature decrepitude or forlorn old age of him who has laid waste his youth by sensual excesses, the rags with which the sluggard is clothed, the shameful fall which so often the proud prepares for himself, what are all these but men’s sins finding them out, the sin having all along been big with the punishment, and in due season bringing it forth--according to our own proverb, “Old sin, new shame,” old and new being linked with one another by indissoluble bonds, and sooner or later making this relation between them to appear?
2. But not in this way only do men’s sins find them out. Oftentimes there is no such connection of cause and effect; but there is that conformity between the sin and the punishment, that unmistakable resemblance between them, which it is impossible to ascribe to blind chance. Scripture, and not Scripture only, is full of examples in this kited. It is measured to men exactly as they have measured to others; the very cup they have held to the lips of others being by and by held to their own. The deceiver is deceived; the violator of the sanctities of another man’s home beholds his own trampled on and violated in turn. The wicked king, that slew the prophets and left their very bodies unburied, is himself slain and east forth with the burial of an ass. So marvellous is the conformity between the sin and the suffering, that there is wrung from the sufferer, sometimes in the hearing of all the world, but oh t how much oftener in the secret of his soul, a confession of the same: “As I have done, so God hath requited me” ( 1:7; Revelation 16:6). Others may miss the connection, may not so much as guess that there is one; but he knows only too well whose hand it was that smote him; from what wing the arrow which pierced him has been drawn.
3. Then, too, men’s sins often find them out, though no visible sign or token may betray this fact to the world. All may outwardly stand fair; there may be no breach in the worldly prosperity, nay, this may be ampler, more strongly established than ever; while yet there may be that within which forbids to rejoice, which takes all the joy and the gladness out of life--the memory of that old sin which was as nothing when committed, but which now darkens all, the deadly arrow poisoning the springs of life, which will not drop from the side, which no force, no art of man’s device, can withdraw. Is there not here one whose sin has found him out? Neither let us assume that it is only the wicked whose sins thus come round to them again. God is faithful, and will not allow His own children to escape altogether, any more than the children of this present world. The cup of suffering may be filled more fully for some than for others; but it shall come round in due time to all.
4. What shall we say to all this? If earlier or later, first or last, our sins do thus so often overtake us even here, shall we not put far from us so evil a thing and one which has such a fatal power of thus coming back on him that wrought it? It may be that it is too late for this ; but there is still something which we can do. We can, so to speak, take the initiative; turn the table on our sins, and instead of waiting for them to find us out, we, earnestly seeking, by aid of that candle which the Lord has lighted in us, may find out them; and then we have the sure word of promise that, if we will judge ourselves, we shall not be judged of the Lord. (Archbp. Trench.)
Sin its own punishment
The consequences of a man’s sin are often, and for a length of time, felt by others rather than himself. The anxious husband has to bear the burden laid on him by the thriftless wife; the widowed mother that which is imposed by the extravagance of the thoughtless son. The sin, so to speak, born into life, leaves its proper parent, travels sometimes far away, finds out the innocent, and afflicts them; but nevertheless, in due time, it will come home to the sinner himself.
I. Here was the sin of selfishness. “Bring us not over Jordan.” A deliberate proposal, involving schism in the body, separation, isolation, to carry out mean and selfish ends. Suppose this request had been granted; though things might have gone well with them for a time, yet in the end, cut off by their own act from sympathy and aid, exposed to the attack of numerous foes, they would have reaped the bitter fruit of what they had sown: and so throughout life, no one more fails of his end, no one more certainly brings on himself what he seeks to avoid, than the selfish man.
II. The sin of cowardice, too, was probably here. Timorousness provoked insult, and invites attack.
III. Here was the sin of indolence. Nothing more certainly than indolence cuts itself off from the ease and enjoyment it seeks. Its grows, too, so strong by yielding to it, that at length freedom from toil ends in bitterest bondage.
IV. Here was that in which all other sins may be summed up: disobedience to God. (J. W. Lance.)
The unfailing detective
The sinner and his sin change places after he has committed it. Before its commission he pursues sin; after its perpetration sin pursues him, and is sure to find him.
1. Because of the absolute perfectness of God’s law, which covers every detail of a human being’s life, and threatens a penalty for every dereliction.
2. Because of the perfect administration of that law, which notes every offence and secures the punishment of every offender.
1. Sometimes in this life, by civil law, by general censure, and by reproaches of conscience.
2. Sometimes at death, when the hallucination of the world is removed, and conscience asserts its authority.
3. Always at the judgment, when Satan no longer can deceive, when the standard of duty is applied, and the sinner’s record is unfolded. In the Hades of the lost, where the sinner shall reap in kind, in degree, and in quantity what he has sown. (Hom. Monthly.)
The certainty of sin finding us out
I. What is meant by our sin finding us out?
1. By the expression “Our sin,” we may in the first place understand any particular sin of which we may have been guilty; any gross and single act of injustice, profaneness, licentiousness, falsehood, or the like, which at any time may have been committed by us. But we must not confine the expression to this meaning; for it more properly signifies all the collective sin of which we have been guilty; the sin, as it were, of our whole lives.
2. Now, in what sense is it said that this our sin will find us out? To understand the force of this expression, we must remember that sin necessarily brings certain evil consequences. It entails them on the sinner. Now these consequences are three: fear, shame, and death. Sin necessarily brings these evils with it in its train. “Evil pursues sinners”; and whatever they may think or feel, their sin will one day find them out.
II. The certainty that our sin will find us out.
1. In the first place, the perfections of God absolutely forbid that sin should go unpunished. Omnipresent: Omniscient: Holy: Just. True and faithful to His word.
2. In the second place, the many remarkable instances of sin being detected and punished in this world, strongly confirm the truth under consideration. Achan: Gehazi: Ananias and Sapphira. Has it not sometimes happened, that a man has even become his own accuser? Unable to bear the clamours and stings of conscience, he has confessed his own guilt, and has given himself up to punishment. Now what do these things prove, but that God will certainly bring to light the hidden things of darkness? We see how easily He can do it. He thus directs sin to find out some sinners here, to convince us that it will find out every sinner hereafter.
3. But, in the third place, should a doubt yet remain on our minds, the appointment of a day of final retribution may and must entirely remove it. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
1. Does not common sense tell us, that if God made this world, and governs it by righteous and God-like laws, this must be a world in which evil doing cannot thrive? God made the world better than that, surely! He would be a bad law-giver who made such laws, that it was as well to break them as to keep them. The world works by God’s laws, and it inclines towards good and not towards evil; and he who sins, even in the least, acts contrary to the rule and constitution of the world, and will surely find that God’s laws will go on in spite of him, and grind him to powder. God has no need to go out of His way to punish our evil deeds. Let them alone, and they will punish themselves. Is it not so in everything? If a tradesman trades badly, or a farmer farms badly, there is no need of lawyers to punish him; he will punish himself.
2. Next, to speak of Scripture. I might quote texts innumerable to prove that what I say Scripture says also.
3. You know that your sins will find you out. Look boldly and honestly into your own hearts. Look through the history of your past lives, and confess to God, at least, that the far greater number of your sorrows have been your own fault; that there is hardly a day’s misery which you ever endured in your life of which you might not say, “If I had listened to the voice of God in my conscience--if I had earnestly considered what my duty was--if I had prayed to God to determine my judgment right, I should have been spared this sorrow now!” Am I not right? Think again of your past lives, and answer in God’s sight, how many wrong things have you ever done which have succeeded--that is, how many sins which you would not be right glad were undone if you could but put back the wheels of Time? They may have succeeded outwardly; meanness will succeed so--lies--oppression--theft--godlessness--they are all pleasant enough while they last, I suppose: and a man may reap what he calls substantial benefits from them in money, and such-like, and keep that safe enough; but has his sin succeeded? Has it not found him out? found him out never to lose him again? Is he the happier for it?
4. And lastly, you who, without running into any especial sins, as those which the world calls sins, still live careless about religion, without loyalty to Christ the Lord, without any honest attempt, or even wish, to serve the God above you, or to rejoice in remembering that you are His children, working for Him, and under Him--be sure your sin will find you out. When affliction, or sickness, or disappointment come, as come they will if God has not cast you off; when the dark day dawns, and your fool’s paradise of worldly prosperity is cut away from under your feet, then you will find out your folly; you will find that you have insulted the only friend who can bring you out of affliction. Then, I say, the sin of your godlessness will find you out; if you do not intend to fall, soured and sickened merely by God’s chastisements, either into stupid despair or peevish discontent, you will have to go back to God and cry, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son.” Go back at once, before it be too late. Find out your sins and mend them--before they find you out, and break your hearts. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
The warning against sin
One thing which has much to do with leading people to commit sin, is the thought that they can do it in secret, and not be found out. Many a boy is tempted to play truant, instead of going to school, because he thinks that his father and mother will never know anything about it. Many a robber breaks into a house at night, and steals what he wants, because he thinks that no one sees him, and so his sin will never be found out. But here in our text, we have a warning against sin because it is sure to be found out.
I. And the first thing which must make it sure that sin will be found out, is--the presence. Of God.
II. The second thing which makes it sure that sin will be found out, is--the power of God.
III. And the third thing, which makes it sure that sin will be found out is--the purpose of God (Ecclesiastes 12:14). (R. Newton, D. D.)
Murder will out
I. The common fault. In every human being there are two sides, one seen by the world, and the other known only to himself and God. We perform before our fellow men; but to ourselves and God, one’s true character is revealed. Few men and women commit great crimes. But people who commit great crimes first begin with the little faults, such as “white lies,” or “white dishonesty,” or “white speculation,” with other people’s money. You know how hard it is sometimes to heat anything in your oven or on your fire; but when you obtain the first degree of heat, it is much more easy to get the second, the third, and the fourth. So it is hard at first to prevail upon yourself to do wrong, but after the first step has been taken it is very easy to go on with the second and the third. Dalliance with sin is a common fault.
II. The sure result--“Be sure your sin will find you out.” When sin has found you out, you often resolve to give it up, yet you go to it again. Many people forsake sin as a man who goes to his work forsakes his house, but comes to it again after a season. And your sin finds you out in that you keep on doing the wrong, each year consenting to neglect something good, and more pleased to do something evil. Your sin finds you oat because as rust destroys your iron tools and vessels, so sin rusts your inward character. A splendid oak tree is blown down in a great gale of wind. But was it the wind that ruined the monarch of the forest? No; the wind merely completed the ruin. The cause of the destruction began years ago, when a drop of water settled itself in a crevice of the oak tree and gradually worked its way within until ultimately the rain and the outside air got into the heart of the wood, and it became diseased, corrupt, anal hollow. So when we see a man fall, we know it is a cankering and corrupting sin which has been surely finding him out. Sin will surely find you out because it is opposed to God’s eternal law of right.
III. Thank God, there is a cure for sin; but no outward salve can heal its wounds. No external restraint, no prison, no muzzle of human device will keep you from it; the only cure is a new creation in your heart; and this God promises to every human heart that asks it. God cures us of our sin-disease, not only effectually but with tenderness. (W. Birch.)
The entail of evil
I. Notice the fact that this appeal, in regard to a great spiritual truth, is not made in the first instance to individuals, but to two tribes in their national capacity. The life of a tribe, or of a people, is a reality. A tribe, a nation, a Church, a people, cannot commit a wrong act or follow a wrong course, without, as a tribe, or nation, or Church, or people, suffering the consequences of its act. The sin which a nation commits is found out in the long-run. It brings forth its own natural fruits. One generation is to the next generation as spring is to autumn, and as boyhood is to manhood. And just as a man suffers for his carelessness, his folly, his dissipation, in youth, so does a generation suffer for its predecessors.
II. We may make the subject one of wider and more general application, and find that this saying is universally true.
1. By the very constitution of man’s being, the sin of the individual who commits a wrong reappears in his own mind and character. Not only every act, but every thought or purpose or desire which passes through the mind, gives a tinge to the mind itself. In the attitude and character of the mind itself, every man’s individual sins, even the most secret, will find him out.
2. There may be some who will be more influenced by another consideration, and that is, that his secret sins wilt grow and gather, until in some way or other they will discover themselves in act, and find him out. (A. Watson, D. D.)
The sinner found out by his sin
Both the unconverted who resist not evil, and the converted who resist it but imperfectly, not aiming at the total renewal of their nature, offer a parallel case of guilt to that of the unbelieving Israelites. And we are now to examine how the warning of the text appears to each class--“Be sure your sin will find you out.”! Now we suppose that the delusion which chiefly hardens the sinner in the commission of the crimes he so daringly perpetrates, is the hope that he may commit them in secrecy and with impunity. There can be no doubt that it detection followed immediately on the commission of crime--night throwing no mantle of darkness round the culprit, and accomplices unable to screen him from public scorn--those monstrous forms of wickedness would not so often appear which disfigure the annals of our race. But such a speedy retribution would go counter to the whole tone and texture of the revealed plan of salvation. Sins punished as soon as committed cannot be repented of, and therefore cannot be pardoned. If then, long-suffering is to be shown, if remission of human guilt is to be proclaimed through the interposition of a Mediator,. judgment must not follow so speedily upon crime. And it is this delay, rendered necessary for the display of mercy, that men interpret as if it meant indifference. We must, therefore, fling open the mysterious portals that enclose the future world, and reveal to the gaze of the sinner the destinies of the lost, ere we can hope successfully to urge him to commence the great business of religion. Who among you is deluding himself by the hope either of secrecy or impunity? “Be sure your sin will find you out!” You are pursued by the sin which yourselves have committed! That which before had no being, has received an individual, a personal existence by your own act, and is afterwards mysteriously connected with you, following your footsteps and tracking you in all your journeyings. Nay more, each sin which ye commit may be said to swell the numbers of the throng of pursuers that are behind, making it less possible for you to escape. Noiselessly they follow you. And ye yourselves have witnessed some of the results that follow on the sinner being overtaken by his sins. For what is it but sin finding the sensualist out, when he sinks beneath the ravages of premature decay, a virtual suicide? What is it but sin finding the gambler out, when with tottering reason and broken fortunes he finds a dishonourable grave, bequeathing nothing but an unhonoured name to those who once called him husband and father? And what is it but sin finding the dishonest trader out when, though he once stood high in public estimation, his reputation and his gains are proved to have been alike unfairly won, and he is sent an exile from scenes where he once moved a king? Happy for him if these temporal calamities, which are but heralds of others more fearful, would drive him to take refuge beneath the Saviour’s Cross, while yet the avenger has not fastened on his soul. If the sinner passes through life with his future tormentors always on his track, how can he, if found among the impenitent, hope to escape? But the text contains indirect notices of the future life which need a fuller examination. I gather that there will be an exact adaptation between the crime and its punishment--the punishment being nothing else than the crime itself re-appearing in another state of being to take vengeance on him who committed it.
II. But we must now proceed to the second point we proposed to examine, how the text may be applied to the case of one who is truly a child of God. The believer who stands at God’s bar, having squared his conduct when on earth, according to God’s commandment, for Christ’s sake, shall not come under any measure of condemnation. If pronounced righteous then, his justification will be complete. But is he never impeded in his Christian course by the habits he had formed while living “without God in the world”? Those habits are gradually being overcome by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The roots of that sin, not yet eradicated, send up their bitter fruit, even when the sin itself has long disappeared. And thus his former sin, though pardoned, finds the believer out. Nor is this all. Sin will mark the believer’s course all through, and greater infirmities will appear in one than in another. There may be spiritual indolence--a desire to pass lightly over some infirmity, as if it did no great violence to God’s law--a fixing of the heart on something which forthwith becomes an idol, excluding Jehovah from His proper place. And then this sin finds the believer out. The child, or the husband, or the friend, who was too much loved, is taken away, that nothing may interfere with the total surrender of the soul to God. Or the uninterrupted prosperity which caused a forgetfulness that “all things come of God,” is brought suddenly to an end, and the storm sweeps over the stream of life which before flowed calmly along, that God’s voice may be heard bidding the tempest subside. Oh! the believer should never feel the rod, without searching for the sin that brings the chastening. I am sure that God keeps a stricter reckoning, in this world, with the righteous, than with the ungodly. (J. P. Waldo, M. A.)
Our sin finding us out
Audley was an old English usurer, who used to lend money to the thoughtless young men of his day, at ruinous rates of interest. He counted out the pounds for them, with many well-affected remonstrances on their extravagance, but his pity never led him away so far as to make him forget his securities. As long as he knew a debt to be safe, he was quite indifferent as to delay of payment, and many an unsuspecting victim was lulled into false security by the old usurer’s apparent unconcern; and they were only awakened, on some dark and unfortunate day, by the terrible discovery that interest and principa1 had swallowed up all their estates. Such is the ruinous percentage which thousands will be called on to pay to the great Enemy of Souls, for what are commonly described as “the pleasures of sin.” There is a presumption on the part of such as wilfully disobey God, which, sooner or later, will receive its due recompense. The most dangerous and deadly quality of sin is its deceitfulness: so deceitful, indeed, that it can conceal itself even from conscience. But nothing can be hidden from God. Hundreds of well-authenticated facts have occurred in all ages, enforcing the declaration that sin will be sure to find out the guilty. Even if sin be undiscovered in this life, the appointment of the great day of retribution, at the last, puts the matter of final exposure beyond the possibility of doubt. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
Sin’s detection and punishment
I. Let us notice the emphatic expression, “Your sin.” There are shades of moral character, and some sins are of deeper dye than others. There are sins peculiarly characteristic of some people. It is important that we should inquire what is our sin--the sin that is more especially peculiar to any of us. Your sin is that which is most agreeable in its commission to your circumstances and constitutional temperament--that sin which you can commit with the greatest facility, and against which you have the least power of offering resistance--that sin for which you study to find out the most plausible excuses. What is the cause of your carelessness as regards your spiritual and eternal condition? That cause, whatever it may be, is your sin.
II. Let us now consider the certain detection and punishment of sin. It has often been remarked that “murder will out.” Blood has a voice which will make itself heard sooner or later. The blood of the first victim of violence cried from the ground on which it was shed, and it appealed to the God of justice in heaven for vengeance. Let us watch and pray, lest we eater into temptation. The young are especially exposed to danger from pride and vanity: let them guard against the beginnings of sin. (S. Walker.)
Concealment of sin no security to the sinner
I. That men generally, if not always, proceed to the commission of sin, upon a secret confidence of concealment or impunity.
1. That no man is induced to sin, considered in itself, as a thing absolutely or merely evil, but as it bears some resemblance or appearance of good in the apprehensions of him who commits it.
2. The other assertion to be laid down is, that God has annexed two great evils to every sin, in opposition to the pleasure and profit of it; to wit, shame and pain. He has, by an eternal and most righteous decree, made these two the inseparable effects and consequents of sin. They are the wages assigned it by the laws of Heaven; so that whosoever commits it, ought to account shame and punishment to belong to him as his rightful inheritance.
II. The grounds and reasons upon which men take up such a confidence. And, no doubt, weak and shallow enough we shall find them all; and such as could never persuade any man to sin, did not his own love to sin persuade him much more forcibly than all such considerations; some of which are these that follow. As--
1. Men consider the success which they have actually had in the commission of many sins; and this proves an encouraging argument to them to commit the same for the future; as naturally suggesting this to their thoughts, that what they have done so often, without either discovery or punishment, may be so done by them again.
2. A second ground, upon which men are apt to persuade themselves that they shall escape the stroke of Divine justice for their sins, is their observation of the great and flourishing condition of some of the topping sinners of the world.
3. As we have shown holy mightily men are heartened on to their sins, by the successful examples of others as had as themselves or perhaps worse; so the next ground upon which such are wont to promise themselves security, both from the discovery and punishment of their sins, is the opinion which they have of their own singular art and cunning to conceal them from the knowledge, or, at least, of their power to rescue them from the jurisdiction of any earthly judge.
4. The fourth and last ground which I shall mention of men’s promising themselves security from the punishment of their sins, is a strong presumption that they shall be able to repent, and make their peace with God when they please; and this, they fully reckon, will keep them safe, and effectually shut the door against their utmost fears, as being a reach beyond them all.
III. To show the vanity of this confidence, by declaring those several ways by which, in the issue, it comes certainly to he defeated; and that both with reference to this world and the next.
1. For this world; there are various ways by which it comes to be disappointed here: as
The consequences of sin
The text leads us to consider the consequences of a single sin, such as a breach of their engagement would have been to the Reubenites and Gadites.
I. It is natural to reflect on the probable influence upon us of sins committed in our childhood and even infancy, which we never realised or have altogether forgotten. Children’s minds are impressible in a very singular way, such as is not common afterwards. The passing occurrences which meet them rest upon their imagination as if they had duration, and days or hours, having to them the semblance, may do the work, of years.
II. What is true in infancy and childhood is in its degree true in after-life. At particular moments in our later life, when the mind is excited, thrown out of its ordinary state, as if into the original unformed state when it was more free to choose good or evil, then, in like manner, it takes impressions, and those indelible ones, after the manner of childhood. This is one reason why a time of trial is often such a crisis in a man’s spiritual history.
III. To these single or forgotten sins are not improbably to be traced the strange inconsistencies of character which we often witness in our experience of life.
IV. Single sins indulged or neglected are often the cause of other defects of character, which seem to have no connection with them, but which, after all, are rather symptomatic of the former than themselves at the bottom of the mischief.
V. A man may be very religious in all but one infirmity, and this one indulged infirmity may produce most disastrous effects on his spiritual state, without his ever being aware of it. His religious excellences are of no avail against wilful sin. The word of Scripture assures us that such sin shuts us out from God’s presence and obstructs the channels by which He gives us grace. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
The sins of sinners finding them out
I. Sinners are in their hearts utterly averse to be found out by their sins, and they have many shifts for that vain purpose.
1. They will excuse and justify their sins as if there were no evil in them.
2. They will carry the matter so quietly as that it shall be hid from the eyes of the world, while in the meantime God’s watchful eye is still upon them, though they do not regard it.
3. They will deny it when charged upon them, and so cover one sin with another. “They wipe their mouth and say we have done no wickedness.” Oh what pains do many take to ruin their own souls. Credit before the world is bought at prodigious rates of soul, and consciences, lies, and perjury.
4. They will keep out of the way, where their sin is most likely to find them out. They live strangers to themselves, dare not examine themselves impartially.
II. To show in what respects sin shall find out the sinner.
1. By discovering and bringing to light their works of darkness.
2. By presenting sin in its native colours to their awakened consciences.
3. By giving them the due reward of their works.
III. Snow whence it is that sin certainly will find out the sinner. How can it be otherwise, if we consider--
1. That none can sin without witnesses, who will surely at length discover the sin. Let sinners choose the most secret place for their works of darkness, they have always two witnesses present with them.
2. God has said it.
3. There is a watchful eye of Providence over the world that never closes, but takes notice of all men’s actions at all times and in every place. Use
1. Of information. This lets us see--
2. Of warning,
I. The general kinds of sin, which the Lord makes to find out the sinner. As for open sins confessed by the sinner, I need not speak of these, the sinner meets with them every day. But--
1. Sins which men will not own to be sins, the Lord makes to find out the sinner. Crucifixion of Christ.
2. Secret sins to which no man is witness, the Lord makes them find out the sinner.
II. The time in which the Lord makes sin to find out the sinner. Times and seasons are in the Lord’s hand, and the time fixed by His providence is always the best time, and whoso considereth circumstances will be obliged to own it. The best time for his own honour, and for the conviction of the sinner in mercy or in wrath.
III. The place, where sin finds out the sinner. Many times there is much of God seen in this, and God reserves the discovery always to the fittest place. And He can make the sinner’s own feet carry him to the place of this heavy meeting, while he has no mind of any such thing.
1. God can make sin find out the sinner sometimes, where he can have least support under the awful meeting with his sin. Joseph’s brethren.
2. Where they may have least help to shift, their sins finding them out. Companions in sin are ofttimes farthest to seek when their help is most needed, and some time or other they will all prove physicians of no value.
3. Where it will confound the sinner most and pierce his heart most keenly. God makes secret sins, which no eye has seen committed, find out the sinner publicly before many witnesses, and in the face of the sun.
IV. The means by which the Lord makes sin find out the sinner. There is much of God seen in this also. He never wants means to discover the most secret sins, which He wishes to bring to light. Sometimes this is done--
1. By the natural product of the sin, by which the sin is made to discover itself.
2. By some act of indiscretion and folly in the sinner himself.
3. By some unforeseen accident which the sinner by his own utmost diligence could not prevent. Man’s capacity is but narrow, there are many things which he cannot foresee. When he goes out of the way of God, he may, ere he be aware, be caught fast in such a snare as will hold him till his sin finds him out.
V. The way and manner of sin’s finding out the sinner. This many a time is such as must needs make men to say, “This is the finger of God.” Providence appoints the meeting, and wonderfully brings matters about for the keeping of it.
1. Ofttimes sin finds the sinner unexpectedly and surprisingly when they are not looking for it.
2. Often does the way which sinners take to hide their sin prove the way of its finding them out.
3. Sin always finds out the sinner securely, that there is none escaping, no getting beyond it, but the sinner is hedged in on every side.
4. God’s writing the sin upon the punishment, so that the sinner shall be forced to say, “As I have done, so God hath requited me.” Thus God makes men’s sins so to find them out, that they cannot fail to see that He remembers such a sin against them. Sometimes the punishment is the same in kind with the sin: as in the case of Adoni-bezek. Sometimes there is a visible likeness between the sin and the punishment. The Sodomites burned with lust, and God sends fire and brimstone on them to burn them to ashes. Sometimes there is a certain relationship betwixt the sin and the punishment. Jeroboam’s hand withering, the belly of the adulteress swelling, and her thigh rotting. Finally, sometimes there is a direct contrariety betwixt the sin and the punishment. Thus God threatened the Israelites: “Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies, which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things; and tie shall put a yoke of iron on thy neck, until He have destroyed thee.” Adam would be like God, and he became like the beast that perisheth. I shall now confirm the doctrine.
1. That no man can sin without witnesses. This has been already illustrated under the third head.
2. Consider that God both can and will make sin find out the sinner. How then can the sinner escape? Many a time atrocious crimes escape among men, because such as would cannot find them out, and such as can will not do it. But there is neither cannot nor will not with God in this case.
Sin finding the sinner out
I. Inquire what it is to be found out by sin. The expression is singular as well as striking, and means to be overtaken by convictions; to be alarmed, and brought under a sense of condemnation and danger, on account of sin. A man may be said to be thus found out when he feels the awful consequences of sin in his conscience, when his peace is disturbed by the recollection of his iniquities, when he feels the fatal sting of them in his soul. When a man’s sins find him out, convictions fasten as a worm upon his mind; and conscience, though before unheeded, or perhaps silenced and kept down by numberless worldly cares and pleasures, rises up, as it were, with renewed vigour and tormenting energy, and at length forces the sinner, with wretched Ahab, to exclaim, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” The sinner is made alive to the evil of sin. The effects of sin, as they frequently overtake the sinner in this world, are generally serious and painful; but, considered in a more extended view, as reaching through eternity, and as having to do with our everlasting doom in the world of spirits, they must be unutterably awful. They are not only ruinous to a man’s present peace, and injurious to the body, but pernicious, fearfully pernicious, to the soul. Oh, let us think of our sins while we are privileged to hear the sound of a Redeemer’s name! Let us implore forgiveness while mercy exhibits to our view the atoning blood of the Cross!
II. The certainty of this finding out.
III. To illustrate the text, by adverting to the times and occasions when men are usually found out by sin.
1. Sin is sometimes made suddenly to overtake and find out the sinner by an unexpected stroke of Providence. One circumstance often calls up another to remembrance, or discovers events with which it is connected, involving crimes and guilt which have been long buried in concealment, and long time escaped detection. How singular and striking the case of the brethren of Joseph!
2. Sin finds men out at the time of conversion.
3. That sin fails not to find out the sinner, if not sooner, at least in the day of adversity, sickness, and death. (J. Jacques, B. A.)
The punishments of the wicked
Experience proves that the punishments visited upon an iniquity are often greater than the advantages or pleasures which that iniquity could possibly have secured. A man gains £50 by forgery, and his whole life becomes an utter wreck. A youth rejoices for a moment in the indulgence of his appetites, and consequences of a lifelong duration are entailed on him. Sometimes, also, the punishments are delayed until long after the actions occasioning them are forgotten. This is not infrequently the case. Years roll away, and the transgressor settles down quietly and respectably in life. The calm joys of home, the lapse of time, the eagerness for new pursuits, have obliterated from his memory the recollection of the long-gone, sin, when suddenly up rises, from the dark background and abysm of the past, the grim spectre of an unavoidable retribution. A doctor once asked a man dying of cancer, whether he could recollect ever having done an injury to the breast in which the cancer had formed. “Yes,” he replied; “some thirty years ago I had a heavy fall, which sorely bruised this breast.” “That fall of thirty years ago,” said the doctor, “is the occasioning cause of your cancer now.” So is it with the cancerous consequences caused by sin. They repose silently for many years, and then, long after the occasioning iniquity is forgotten, they break forth in fatal, calamitous, irrepressible malignity. Terrible, slow, subtle, long-delayed, are the punishments accorded to sin in this present life; and no transgressor can ever be quite sure that the remote, perhaps forgotten, iniquity of long ago will not, ere life is over, be punished by exposure, shame, and ruin. And these long-delayed punishments often come, not by degrees and after many warnings, but suddenly and with violence. At the meridian of the brightest summer day the avalanches come down irresistibly, overwhelmingly. Moreover, it is not active and heinous misdoings alone whose footsteps are thus dogged by the pursuing Nemesis. Extravagance, rashness, folly, negligence, procrastination, are often attended by terrible consequences. Most people have their opportunity in life, and every man his day. But if the day is unused, it cannot be recalled. And daily experience teaches that there is a certain bound and limit to imprudence and misbehaviour and negligence which, being transgressed, there remains no place of repentance in the natural course of things. Every life, like every year, has its cycle of seasons, and when the season is passed it is for ever and irrecoverably gone. Moreover (and the consideration is of serious moment), the punishment for neglecting opportunity or for committing iniquity is final. Considered in their temporal duration, the punishments visited upon vice and negligence are everlasting. Nor does it make the smallest difference to the fact and the certainty of these consequences whether we believe in them or not. Men may ignore consequences, but consequences come all the same. Considerations such as these appear to shed some light upon the vexed question of punishments after death. By thoughtfully reflecting upon the method of God’s dealings here and now, men may fairly conjecture what will be the method of God’s dealings with them hereafter, seeing that the same Unchangeable God presides over the destinies both of the embodied and the disembodied man. And, in this present world, we find that mere folly, wilfulness, feebleness of will, want of exertion, entail consequences almost as pernicious as those which attend upon actual transgression. We find, moreover, that the plea of ignorance or inexperience does not avert the retributions which await the transgressor. So, to this extent at least, the misdoings and the negligences of man’s mortal state may be punished everlastingly, in that eternity may prove too short for the full undoing of the ravages inflicted on the soul, by wrongs committed or duties omitted, during the temporary period of its habitation in the body. And if this be so--if the same principles which permeate natural punishments in this world extend to the punishments of the world to come--then it follows not only that the disbelieving or the ignoring of these punishments will neither moderate nor avert them, but also that habits of disbelief may induce practical neglect of laws, resulting in heavy retribution. Pain and suffering are facts which doubters may discuss or condemn, but can neither prevent nor divert. The belief in future punishments has an evident and direct tendency to diminish those punishments, and even to lead to an escape from them altogether, inasmuch as it assists in prevailing upon men to avoid the causes of evil upon which the tread of punishment follows ; whereas doubt of, or disbelief in, future punishment tends toward a recklessness of living calculated to make hell in life here, even if hereafter there were no life in hell. (J. W. Diggle, M. A.)
Sin never forgotten
Let a man try to forget any dreadful thing of which he hates the remembrance, and the more he tries to forget it, the more surely he remembers it, the more he bodies it forth, and every thrust he makes at it causes it to glare up anew, reveals some new horror in it. Doubtless, this peculiarity in our mental constitution is destined to play a most terrific part in the punishment of men’s sins in eternity; for there can be nothing so dreadful as the remembrance of sin, and nothing which men will strive with more intense earnestness to hide from and forget, than the recollection of their sins; and yet every effort they make at such forgetfulness only gives to such sins a more terrible reality, and makes them blaze up in a more lurid light to the conscience. Oh, if they could but be forgotten! But the more intense is the earnestness of this wish, the more impossible becomes the forgetfulness, the more terribly the dreaded evil stands out. There are cases, even in this life, in which men would give ten thousand worlds, if they possessed them, could they only forget; but how much more in eternity! The man that has committed a secret midnight murder, how often, think you, though perhaps not a human being suspects it, would he give the riches of the material universe, if he bad them at command, could he but forget that one moment’s crime! But it is linked to his very constitution; and every time he tries to cut the chain, he does but rattle and rouse the crime out of its grave into a new existence. (G. B. Cheever, D. D.)
We sleep, but the loom of life never stops; and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up to-morrow. He who is false to present duty breaks a thread in the loom, and will find the flaw when he may have forgotten its cause. (H. W. Beecher.)
Their names being changed
Changes of name
Many persons live in names.
This is fatal to the grasp of complete truth and relation. The poet asks, “What’s in a name?” The name of a friend may be necessary to his identification, but the name is not the man. Character is to be studied, motive is to be understood, purpose is to be appreciated, then whatever changes may take place in the mere name, love and confidence will be undiminished. The change of names, both in the Old Testament and the New, deserves careful study. The name of Abram was changed, so was the name of Jacob, so was the name of Saul of Tarsus. Those changes of name symbolise changes of trust and vocation in life. The name should enlarge with the character, but the character should be always more highly valued than the name. The solemn application of this text is to the matter of great evangelical truths and doctrines. For want of attention to this matter, bigotry has been encouraged, and men have been separated from one another. Some persons do not know the gospel itself, except under a certain set of names, words, and stereotyped phrases. This is not Christianity, it is mere literalism; it is, in fact, idolatry, for there is an idolatry of phrase as well as of images. The truth is not in the letters which print it, the letters but stand to express the inexpressible. All life is symbolic. God has spoken in little else than parables. Revelation addresses the imagination, when imagination is used in its highest senses. It is not the faculty of mere cloud-making, but the faculty of insight into the largest meanings and the innermost relations of things. The letter in which you endeavour to express your love, is a poor substitute for the living voice and the living touch; it is indeed invaluable in the absence of the living personality; but what letter was ever written that quite satisfied the writer when love was the subject and devotedness the intention? There is a change of names that inspires the soul with hope. God is to give His servants a new name in the upper world; their name is to be in their foreheads; but in the changing of the name there is no changing in the burning love and the rapturous adoration. (J. Parker, D. D.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 32". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24