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[It is but too common to express our fears and jealousies to others, and to conceal them from the person who is the subject of them. But Moses abhorred any such concealment: he felt the importance of suggesting all his fears to those who were most interested in being made acquainted with them; and he accordingly addressed himself to the people themselves.
He set before them the pernicious tendency of their example, which was calculated to discourage all the children of Israel : he also reminded them of the similar conduct of their fathers, which had involved them all in one common ruin; and assured them, that they would bring a similar destruction on the present generation, if they persisted in such unreasonable desires
Thus he acted like a true friend, and a faithful servant of the Lord. It was thus that St. Paul also acted towards Peter, when by a temporizing and timid policy he was endangering the liberty of the Christian Church: and thus also are we to act, agreeably to that precept, “ Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and shalt not suffer sin upon him."]
From them it called forth a satisfactory explanation
[They did not, on the one hand, either acknowledge, or deny, the fault imputed to them; nor on the other hand, did they take the slightest offence at it. But for the satisfaction of Moses they voluntarily engaged to accompany their brethren in arms, and even to go before them to the battle; and to continue with them till the whole land should be subdued, and every tribe should be in possession of its destined inheritance. This was fair and equitable : and Moses readily acquiesced in the proposal. He warned them however, that, if they should ever recede from their purpose, and violate their engagement, “ their sin should surely find them out,” and be visited upon them.
Thus were matters settled to the satisfaction of all parties : the jealousy of Moses evinced his concern for their welfare ; and, if it did not give birth to the proposal which was made, it certainly confirmed the people in their determination to execute it with boldness and fidelity. A similar instance of jealousy towards these very tribes occurred, when they were returning to their families after the conquest of Canaan. On that occasion indeed they were evidently blameless, notwithstanding the appearances were, as in the present case, very much against them. But the issue in both was happy: and we learn from both to admonish with candour, and to receive admonitions with humble gratitude; being more intent on satisfying the minds of those who are offended, than on lowering our accusers by any recriminations.]
This subject will naturally furnish us with some im
portant HINTS : 1. Maintain on all occasions a jealousy over yourselves
[The heart is justly said to be “deceitful above all things:” and "Satan can easily transform himself into an angel of light.” Even the Apostles themselves on some occasions“ knew not what spirit they were of;" they supposed themselves actuated by pure and holy zeal, when they were influenced by nothing but pride and revenge. It is highly probable that these two tribes took credit to themselves for far more disinterestedness than they possessed; and that Moses saw more of their real disposition, than they themselves were aware of. This appears from the solemn charge which Moses gave them, even after he . had acceded to their proposal. And we are sure that this is frequently the case amongst ourselves: under the idea of a prudential regard for our families and our property, we are very apt to indulge a worldly and selfish spirit; and to be unconscious of evils which are but too visible to others. Let us remember this: we see it in others; let us guard against it in ourselves -]
2. Be ready to assign the reasons of your conduct to others
[It may easily happen that our conduct may appear to others in a more unfavourable light than it ought; and if they knew our real views, they would form a different judgment respecting it. Now then we should not be angry with them because they express their doubts respecting any particular action ; but should be ready to satisfy their minds, precisely as we would, if they inquired into the grounds of our faith'. The Apostle Peter, when called to an account by all the other Apostles for “going to uncircumcised Gentiles and eating with them," thought it no degradation to assign his reasons to them, but was glad of an opportunity of removing their misapprehensions. Though they seemed to have been somewhat hasty in condemning him, he was not angry with them: he knew the purity of their motives, and felt a pleasure in declaring to them the designs of God towards the Gentile world. Happy would it be for us, if there were in all of us such a mind as this. But, alas! the quick sensibility which is manifested by us when any fault is pointed out; our extreme backwardness to acknowledge it, and our proneness to condemn our monitors rather than ourselves, render the duty of admonishing one another extremely difficult. Let us however cultivate
f 1 Pet. iii. 15.
8 Acts xi. 2-4.
a better spirit, and "esteem it a kindness, if the righteous smite and reprove us :" let us receive their admonitions" excellent oil, which shall not break our head "," but rather heal the wounds which our own misconduct may have occasioned.]
3. Endeavour so to walk, that your actions may carry their own evidence along with them
[In some circumstances our actions must of necessity be open to misconstruction. St. Paul in circumcising Timothy and not Titus, and in “ becoming all things to all men," must appear to many to be guilty of inconsistency. But his general spirit would bear such ample testimony to the integrity of his mind, that all candid persons must at least withhold their censures, even when they could not discern the exact propriety of his conduct. Where there was real danger of his laying a stumbling-block before others, he invariably leaned to the safer side, and would deny himself in things that were most innocent, rather than by indulgence ensnare the consciences of othersi. Thus should we endeavour to act. We should “ abstain from all appearance of evil." We should be careful that our "good may not be evil spoken of k.” In a word, we should “ be circum
ect in all things;" and " so make our light to shine before men, that all who behold it may be constrained to glorify our Father which is in heaven."]
h Ps. cxli. 5. i 1 Cor. vii. 13. k Rom. xiv. 16.
CLXXXIII. THE CERTAINTY THAT SIN WILL FIND US OUT. Numb. xxxii. 23. Behold, ye have sinned against the Lord :
and be sure your sin will find you out. THE fear of punishment, if not the best, is certainly the most common preservative from sin. Under the Mosaic dispensation it was the principal motive with which the divine commands were enforced. Nor did St. Paul, though so well acquainted with the liberal spirit of the Gospel, think it wrong to “persuade men by the terrors of the Lord.” The words before us therefore may, not improperly, be addressed to us.
a The tribes of Reuben and Gad had solicited permission to have the land of Jazer and of Gilead for their portion, instead of any inheritance in the land of Canaan. Upon their promising to fight in conjunction with the other tribes until the whole of Canaan should be subdued, Moses acceded to their proposal ; but warned them withal, that, if they receded from their engagement, they should assuredly meet with a due recompence from God.
We may take occasion from them to consider, I. In what manner we have sinned against the Lord
It would be endless to attempt an enumeration of all the sins we have committed. We shall confine ourselves to that view of them which the context suggests
[The sin against which Moses cautioned the two tribes was, unfaithfulness to their engagements, and a preferring of their present ease to the executing of the work which God had assigned them. Now we promised at our baptism to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devilb. These promises then made for us, we have renewed at our confirmation and at the Lord's table: but how have we kept the covenant which we have thus solemnly entered into? Have we not maintained that friendship with the world which is enmity with God? Have we not rather sought to please than to mortify our carnal appetites d? Has not the god of this world led us captive at his wille? And is not such a life one continued violation of our baptismal engagements?]
But the sin referred to in the text, will scarcely bear any comparison with ours
[The Israelites were to maintain a warfare with men; we, with the devill. They were to fight for an earthly portion; we, an heavenlys. They might have urged that their aid was unnecessary, when God was engaged; and that, after all, the prize was an inadequate reward for such fatigue and danger. But, can we hope to conquer without exerting our powers? Do we suppose that God will subdue our enemies without our concurrence? Or can we say that the prize held forth to us is not worth the contest? If our engagements be more solemn, our work more noble, and our reward more glorious than theirs, our sin in disregarding all must be proportionably greater: yet who amongst us must not confess that he has forgotten all his vows? Behold then, we may say to all, “ Ye have sinned against the Lord."]
Nor are we to suppose that our sin will always pass unnoticedII. What assurance we have that our sin shall find
us outSin may be said to find us out when it brings down the divine judgments upon us
b See the Church Catechism. c James iv. 4. d Tit. iii. 3.
e Eph. ii. 2. 2 Tim. ii. 26. | Eph. vi. 12.
6 I Cor. ix. 25.
[Conscience, stupified or seared, often forgets to execute its office; nor speaks, till God, by his providence or grace, awaken it. Sometimes years elapse before it reproves our iniquitiesh: sometimes it testifies to our face as soon as our sin is committed'. Whenever it thus condemns us, our sins may be said to find us out. But the expression in the text imports rather the visitation of God for sin. There is a punishment annexed to every violation of God's lawk; and sin then finds us out effectually when it brings that punishment upon us.]
That it will find us out, we have the fullest possible assurance
[The perfections of God's nature absolutely preclude all hope of impunity. If he be omnipresent, he must see; if omniscient, remember; if holy, hate; and if just, punish the violations of his law. If he be possessed of veracity and power, he must execute the judgments he has denounced.
The declarations of his Word abundantly confirm this awful truth'. Sin leaves a track which can never be effaced; and evil, however slow-paced, will surely overtake itm. However scoffers may exult in their security, their ruin is fast approaching
The remarkable instances of sin being detected and punished in this world afford a strong additional testimony. David and Gehazi, though so studious to conceal their guilt, had their iniquity marked in the punishment inflicted for it. When, according to human calculations, it was above two millions to one that Achan would escape, the lot fell on him by an infallible direction P. How much more then shall the most hidden things be brought to light hereafter!
The appointment of a day of final retribution puts the matter beyond a possibility of doubt. For what end can there be such a period fixed, but that the actions of men may be judged? And for what end can they be judged, but that every man may receive according to his deeds? We may then emphatically say to every sinner,
“ Be sure your sin,” &c.] INFER,
1. How earnest should we be in searching out our
[We think little of evils which have been committed by us
h Gen. xlii. 21, 22. i Matt. xxvi. 74, 75. and xxvii. 3, 4. k Ezek. xviii. 4. * Isai. iii. 11. Rom. ï. 9. Ps. xxi. 8. Prov. xi. 21. m Prov. xiii. 21. Ps. cxl. 11. 1 2 Pet. i. 3. and iii. 4, 9. and Deut. xxix. 19, 20. 0 2 Sam. xii. 9—12. 2 Kings v. 26, 27. p Josh. vii. 14—18.
9 Eccl. xii. 14.