Deuteronomy and Philippians.
John Alfred Trench.
Article 12 of 19 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 1.
(New and Enlarged Edition 1906.)
I have thought that, as the Book of Joshua finds its antitype in the application of the truth to us, in the Epistles to the Colossians and the Ephesians, where we are introduced by the death and resurrection of Christ into a state meet for, and into, present heavenly association with Him, Deuteronomy might be found to stand in somewhat the same relation to the Epistle to the Philippians, as bringing out the practical condition that flows from our hearts entering by faith upon this heavenly ground, and that alone consists with the abiding enjoyment of it. We are hence not without needed warning as to the dangers that beset the path of the heavenly man on earth.
One point may at least suggest the comparison. It is this: that as the epistle is of all others the epistle of joy, so this same blessed feature largely characterises the Book of Deuteronomy. Here first in the Pentateuch it is found to have any place. There is not any passage that I am aware of, that speaks of joy outside the scenes contemplated in this book (Lev. 23:40; Num. 10:9-10) save Exodus 18:9; whereas there are found in it seven occasions on which God enjoins joy on the people whom He loves in this blessed way to gather round Himself. First, generally, in Deut. 12, when "come to the rest and to the inheritance which Jehovah your God giveth you," which is assumed in all the cases, two things were to give character to the joy of the people. In the place which Jehovah would choose to put His name, "thither ye shall bring your burnt-offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes. … and there ye shall eat before the Lord your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households." (Ver. 7) And secondly (ver. 12), "Ye shall rejoice before Jehovah your God."
Then follow five special occasions for the joy that is given to be thus generally characteristic of their relationship with Jehovah in the land of their possession: when the tithe of all the increase of the field, the firstlings of the herd and flock, were presented before Him (Deut. 14:22-27); on the occasion of the Feast of Weeks (Deut. 16:9-12); and the Feast of Tabernacles (vers. 13-15); when the basket of firstfruits was presented. (Deut. 26); and, lastly, when on entering the land they were immediately to set up the altar which was to bear the inscription of the law, ever to remind them of obedience as the essential condition of their practical enjoyment of their possession. (Deut. 27:1-11)
It will be observed that Deuteronomy 1-11 rehearse the solemn lessons of the wilderness journey in view of the people's entering the land. From Deuteronomy 12, which looks at them in possession, God unfolds for the first time His blessed thought to have them in this holy liberty of joy before Him, as characteristic of their relationship with Him. There is the same essential condition of the joy in each of the cases. The people are assumed to be in possession — able to say, "We were Pharaoh's bondmen in Egypt … and he brought us out from thence, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which he sware unto our fathers." (Deut. 6:23) See this very strongly marked in Deuteronomy 26:1-14, when the basket of firstfruits is presented: "And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and possessest it, and dwellest therein; that thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt put it in a basket. … And thou shalt set it before the Lord thy God, and worship before the Lord thy God: and thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee."
Joy then flows from possession. The deliverance of redemption, essential as it is to joy and leading into it, does not in itself suffice for joy. In the wilderness Israel was a redeemed people brought to God, who at the opening of their path through it could sing of all that was against them being gone for ever — "sunk as lead in the mighty waters." But joy is not found in the books of the wilderness. The one exception (above referred to) makes this the more striking, for Exodus 18 carries us on in picture to the final result of the ways of God in grace towards the people; it is a millennial scene, and here, in beautiful fitness, the Gentile Jethro it is who "rejoiced for all the goodness Jehovah had done to Israel." (Cp. Deut. 32:43)
Romans 5:1-11 may seem at first sight to check the application of the principle to us, but it will be found, I think, to confirm it. For it is not the deliverance that makes the joy here, though it assumes, as joy ever must, that we are delivered, for how can we be happy with God if we are not? but we rejoice "in hope of the glory of God," and, if also in the tribulations of the way that leads there, we have the love that puts us into them shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us; and thus we are brought to joy in God Himself "through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the reconciliation." Romans 8 is the delivered condition that is needed for the joy of chapter 5, where this deeper character of experience flows from what God is being more fully brought out. "For Christ has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God."
That if really with God, our hearts will be powerfully affected by a deliverance wrought for us at such infinite cost, I need not say; but the difference of the experience connected with it is marked in the book before us, and will be observed by comparing the first great gathering of the Jewish year — that of the Passover — with the two others already referred to, as Deuteronomy 16 brings them together. The last two only had their place when the people were in possession of the land, and answer for us respectively to Pentecost, and (as far as the Feast of Tabernacles has as yet any antitype) to the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, as now come from Jesus glorified, to put the power of the glory into our hearts before the day for the manifestation of it. Both were to be scenes of joy; the Feast of Weeks, characterised by a free-will offering unto the Lord according to the measure of appreciation of the blessing, "and thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God;" the Feast of Tabernacles, by the fulness of the blessing itself, harvest and vintage over, "thou shalt rejoice in thy feast;" because of the Lord's blessing in all their increase and in all the works of their hands, "therefore thou shalt surely rejoice."
But in the feast that accompanied the Passover, which brings out specially the ground of our deliverance and all blessing, in the infinite sorrow and death of the Son of God, it is not joy that becomes us, but "the unleavened bread, even the bread of affliction," in the solemn judgment of ourselves: "Thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt. And thou shalt roast and eat it in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose: and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents."
In full keeping with what has been before us, will be found the place that joy has in the Epistle to the Philippians. Deliverance is not the subject. Neither sins nor the flesh of sin come into view to be delivered from. If religious flesh be looked at for a moment, it is only as an utterly valueless thing, long since cast aside. The full deliverance of our place as dead and risen with Christ is assumed ("we are the circumcision"), and the epistle presents the experience that flows from it, the Holy Ghost expressing it in power in the apostle. It is Christ as life in us on earth, the practical answer to being one with Him who is in heaven. This leads up our hearts there; "our citizenship is in heaven," while we are walking on the earth. It is possession, heavenly possession thus far, that brings us to the spring of joy. Not the heaven of the future, with its rest and glory come and our responsible path and conflict over; but there is the sense of present association with Christ, who is there, and thus the power of heaven as a present revealed scene possessing and forming the heart of the Christian. It is Christ, as the opened eye of faith is upon Him in glory, known as the power and joy of going on day by day for Him here, till we reach Him actually there.
Can it be wondered at, then, that if this be the experience of the Christian joy should be so largely developed in the epistle that has this experience for its main subject? Nor is it merely joy as enjoined upon us, if there be still room for earnest exhortation to it (Phil. 3:1, Phil. 4:4), but as now produced and flowing out in worship by the Spirit of God (Phil. 3:3), so as to become characteristic of the Christian.
But here the Book of Deuteronomy supplies a warning. The principle of it is this: that while deliverance will not in itself suffice for joy, but that there must be the conscious possession by faith of our heavenly place in Christ, yet this can never be safely dissociated from the deliverance that was needed to bring us into it. Possession without the sense of this, such are our poor hearts, only tends to ruin, and the richer the possession the greater the danger. There must be maintained in the soul the sense of how and from what depths we have been delivered. The light of the place we have been brought into is shed back on what we have been brought out of, and thus enhances for us the preciousness of the grace that has done it, while there is deepened the knowledge of ourselves that humbles and keeps us humble before God. It will be found in Deuteronomy 8:11-16: "Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments … lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein … then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness . … that he might humble thee, and . … prove thee." Nor was the remembrance of what they had been delivered from to be found wanting on the principal occasions of their gladness (see Deut. 26); and so it is also ordered in the Feast of Weeks: "thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt" (Deut. 16:12), and most markedly of all in the Feast of Tabernacles. During this feast, that was the fullest expression of their having come into the enjoyment of the promised blessing, they were to dwell in booths seven days, "that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt."
But the warning was unheeded by Israel. Resting in possession, they forgot the deliverance that had been wrought for them; — their hearts were lifted up, and they came under the hand of God in judgment. A subsequent page of their history, in a time of revival for a remnant restored to the land, reveals that from Joshua to Nehemiah they had not dwelt in booths in the feast of the seventh month. (Neh. 8:14-17) And are we more safe if we disregard the tears of the apostle, who weeps over the walk of those within the circle of christian profession, who are enemies of the cross of Christ? (Phil 3:18)
Not the glory of Christ is our safety against the flesh or the world, but the cross that gives us God's estimate and judgment of both. What savoured things that be of men in Peter did not rise up to resent the glory, but the cross of Christ. (Matt. 16:16-24) Its solemn sentence upon self and everything here is the only true answer to the knowledge of Christ in heavenly glory.
There was another essential condition of Israel's enjoyment of their possession, it was obedience — see Deuteronomy 6, and indeed everywhere in Deuteronomy. Similarly does the epistle urge it upon us whose is "the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus." Obedience (when there was still personal apostolic care, but much more in the absence of it) was the path in which to work out our own salvation now, from the whole power of the enemy, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Phil. 2:12-13)
But this is not all; we have seen that christian life according to the epistle is simply Christ: "To me to live is Christ." The path of this life is consequently the producing again in us by the Spirit's power of what Christ was here. (See Phil. 2:15-16) It is thus He gave us His own path, with obedience as the necessary condition of its joy, in John 15:9-11. So it is fully here, Philippians 2:5: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." And then He is presented to us in the path of His humiliation — "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Now it is the Book of Deuteronomy that furnished Him in the place He had taken in grace as man, with the suited and perfect word of God for man, by simply keeping which He baffled the whole power of the enemy. (Cp. Matt. 4:1-11 with Deut. 8:3 and Deut. 6:13-16) And the word that thus found its perfect and blessed expression in Him is now given to form and direct the life we have in Him in the same path of His obedience: "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." How different was such obedience in the principle of it to that of the law! The law supposed a will antagonistic to God, in forbidding it. Christ had none such to be forbidden; He lived by the word out of the mouth of God; it not merely guided His path, but was the spring and origin of all that found place in His inmost heart and life. And we are "sanctified to the obedience of Christ."
Another principle abidingly true for the saint, whatever the dispensation, is not without illustration in Deuteronomy and Philippians. It is this, that our walk could never be according to the level of our position if we had only this position to sustain us. We must have an object above our path to maintain it at its true height. Thus it was that Abraham "sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles . … for he looked for a city which hath foundations." (Heb. 11:9-10) So with Israel in the land, if any under the law walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, it was only as their eye was outside their position, upon the Messiah. He is presented to their expectation in Deuteronomy 18. Our epistle gives the principle its full expression as to the Christian. If the path that belongs to our position is to have the mind which was in Christ Jesus in us, to "walk as he walked," the only power to produce it is to have heart and mind above upon Christ in glory as our one object. (Phil. 3:8-16)
One more word of solemn import and warning for us will be found in Deuteronomy. It is the only other mention of joy in the book; I refer to Deuteronomy 28:47-48: "Because thou servedst not the Lord with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore thou shalt serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in the want of all things." Failing in joy, there is practical loss of the possession, that is, here in our tested path. Is there not danger for us? Not all who are Christ's may have come to know heaven as the present revealed scene, where Christ has given us our home, interests, objects and joys — now therefore to form and give its character to our christian walk on the earth. But what about those who have in any measure? May not heavenly things lose their power over our hearts? Are we not conscious of the tendency of everything around us to drag us down to the level of the world in which we walk? What need of diligent, watchful keeping of the heart against the first enfeebling of joy! For this indicates that decline has begun, and the descent is easy and rapid when once the heart begins to go. Two things then mark the state: heaven, lost in present power, is put off to the future, and the Christian, become worldly, instead of knowing the "fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death," is accredited by the world.
May the excellency of the knowledge of a glorified Christ keep us! May His presence in glory so attract our hearts there that we may practically "possess" and "dwell in" the bright scene He has opened to us! Then will our life on earth be bright, for it will be but the reflex of His — a life of heavenly joy, whatever the circumstances of the path. "The joy of the Lord is your strength." He Himself shines before us as the end of it, the one glorious object to be reached, giving earnestness in pressing on through everything here to be perfectly like Him and with Him.