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THE ONLY INTEREST IN SAFE KEEPING,
Deuteronomy xxxii. 9.
When God exhibits himself, as the portion of his people, we feel no surprise. He can be to them all they need, can gratify all their wants, and all their hopes. But what can his people be or do for him ? How can they so rise in his estimation, that he shall style them his portion, and his inheritance? The God who has built a thousand worlds, who thunders in the heavens, and holds the stars in his right hand; can he value his people above them all! And yet this precious truth is prominent in the text, and is demonstrated, by the whole course of providential events, since the creation of the world, If that is the drearest to God which cost him most, as is often the fact in our history, then indeed there is an obvious reason for the truth of the text. Worlds took being at his word, and will perish at his bidding, but he redeemed his people with the life of his Son; hence his high regard for them. And hence a reason for all he intends to do for them in futurity. He will guide them with his counsel, and afterward receive them to glory.
Hence to God's people the text contains a very precious truth. God has selected from the works of his hands, as what shall stand the highest in his estimation, his redeemed people. Not that he has alienated his right to any thing. Every world that he has built is his, and
his foes are his. But in his church he will take peculiar pleasure. He will employ all his energies, to make his people happy, and himself happy in them. This was his purpose when he built the creation, and when fully accomplished, “ The heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up."
But there is a truth implied in this text of solemn and dreadful import. It makes worthless every thing in this world, but the church of God. And what is worthless is not safe. Hence I purpose to illustrate this doctrine, There is nothing safe but the church. My intention is to look at facts ancient and modern, together with what God assures us shall transpire in future ; all going to show, that while God has always cared for his church, he never did place intrinsic value upon any thing else.
I. I notice ancient facts. When the world was built, it is believed to have exhibited to the eye of its Maker unmingled beauty; and would seem to us to have had intrinsic value. But it was only holiness that God valued. Sin entered,
“Earth felt the wound, and nature from her seat,
That all was lost.” There were then generated the thorn and the thistle, and the curse of God lighted upon every part of this creation. A holy God could set no value upon a world bereft of moral rectitude. It would not have been surprising, had he destroyed it, and built another, to be filled with beings who would obey his law, and be worthy of his kind regards. But his wisdom devised a remedy, and he set up in that apostate family a church,
whose interest has ever since then given to every thing else its price. When the church increased, the world was valuable, and when it diminished, the world became in the estimation of God comparatively a pile of stubble.
Cast one look at the antedeluvian history. The church had dwindled to a point, and became at length embosomed in a single family. To save that family no pains were spared; but all else, men and things, except what was needed to feed the floating church, and enable his people to cultivate and stock the new world, perished. Wealth and magnificence had now lost their value. If God had pleased, he could have avenged himself of his adversaries, and still have spared that vast amount of wealth, which perished in their overthrow. But why do it? The treasures of the old world had ceased to be valuable, when the church was gone. Their innumerable cities walled up to heaven, and filled with precious things, were all swept away. How wonderful, to see Jehovah restrain the deluge one hundred and twenty years, after his purpose to destroy had gone out, till the ark was prepared, his long-suffering evinced, and a happy family housed from the impending desolation! This done, he collected into that house of safety all that was valuable, his little church and what they needed to sustain them during the solitary year, their food and raiment, and the materials for reanimating the new world. He could then smile at the tempest, and stimulate the storm. O how great is God out of his holy place ! How sadly unsafe are that people, and those treasures that have no connexion with his kingdom!
There was offered another argument in support of the same truth on the plains of Sodom. A branch of the true church had been located in that dissolute valley, and was at length in danger of being swallowed up in the gulf of depravity. The population was too wealthy to be wise, had too much of the meat that perisheth, to regard that meat that endureth to everlasting life. The Watchman of Israel, as he surveyed the devoted plain, saw his whole church in a single house, and what was his he saved, but swept away the residue. The abandoned population, their palaces, their gold, their merchandize, their flocks and harvest, their gaudy apparel, and all their guilty instruments of idolatry and lust, were in God's account of no value, were no part of his inheritance. The moment Lot was gone, the guard that kept the plain was called in.
It will not be denied that God could have avenged upon that guilty community his broken law, and still have spared their riches, but these had no value when his churches had retired. If Lot or Abraham could have been more holy or more happy, God would have spared them the treasures he consumed. But he chose here to display his vindictive justice, and create them other and better comforts. All that in his estimation was valuable, he saved.
So in the land of Egypt, God collected his people into Goshen, and there spread a canopy over them, while he poured out his plagues upon their oppressors. Out of that little territory, there was nothing in all that idolatrous land, on which he seems to have placed the smallest value. Its population, having filled up the cup of their iniquity, and their monuments of grandeur, and skill, and oppression, were the merest vanity. The life or liberty of one believing child of Abraham out-priced them all. Hence over his precious fold he placed one hand, while the other he wrote Tekel upon the walls of Egypt, and spread desolation and death through its fields and its streets. The plagues I know raged under the divine control : but they might destroy any where except in Goshen.
So at the Red-sea the surest laws of nature were suspended, for the deliverance of Israel; while the pursuing enemy seems to have been as worthless, in the esteem of Israel's God, as their beasts and their chariots. When the church had reached the Arabian shore, and the rear-rank was out of danger, God suffered the raging waters to find their level. He had saved his people, and there was nothing else to save. The Egyptian army were God's enemies, and their overthrow an act of retributive justice, and while the tender heart bleeds over the grave of that ill-fated multitude; we are not forbidden in the midst of our tears, to reason on the palpable insecurity thus shown us of all but the church of God. He would open a path through the deep for his people, but would not employ his power to hold back the sea a moment longer than the safety of his church required.
So the Amorites and Moabites melted away in their contest with Israel. And the Canaanites, when the family of Abraham needed their lands, were the merest stubble, and the breath of the Lord consumed them. They cried to their gods, but they perished in the midst of their devotions: their idols could not save them. There even went out in behalf of Israel this edict, “ The kingdom and nation that will not serve thee shall perish.” Thus the world was taxed for the benefit of the church. Nations held their existence on the sole condition, that they should be found useful to Israel, and perished when God ceased to have need of them. “I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee."
Now as we travel down the tract of ages, we shall