The Irrevocable Past; Or, no Going Back
Deuteronomy 17:16
But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses…

I. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way," TO UNDO EVIL. It matters not how black may have been your deed, nor how terrible soever its burden, it must stand. It cannot be undone. It is man's dread prerogative to do; but he cannot undo. In the drift of a far-off period in the geological ages, long before Adam was created, we find the feet marks of gigantic fowls. The mud, once soft, hardened into rock, and became the permanent record of life and activity now extinct from the globe. The effects of human action are as unchangeable. This it is that makes sin so terrible: when it has gone forth we cannot recall it. Sin is a monument of everlasting shame. A single careless miner, by a momentary act of folly, can do what can never be undone, and in an instant fill a land with sorrow, and hundreds of homes with the tears of widows and orphans. The shocking gap in human life and relationship nothing can repair. Reparation may be effected only within narrow limits; and then the wrong done cannot in the most trivial instance be wholly undone.

II. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way," TO MAKE IMPERFECT GOOD BETTER. The merchant who has been slothful, inattentive, cannot live over again the months that are gone. The transactions and figures in his books are unalterable. He cannot transport industry into past idleness, nor introduce a single item of gain into past losses. Not a stroke of work is possible in time that is over, not a sixpence of profit can be added to the accounts which are closed. It is the same thing with the student. When his examinations are over, if his session has been indolent, unsuccessful, he cannot improve the work which has been unsatisfactorily performed. He may be grieved and ashamed that his time has been so little devoted to his vocation. But the insufficiency of the past is beyond his reach. The culture of the field and the vineyard exhibits the same law. If there has been neglect or inadequate tillage, when harvest time arrives there is no going back to re-sow or re-tend. There must be scanty crops, dwindled grain and fruit, and only half-filled ears and half-laden boughs. These laws have their fulfilment in the domain of spiritual life. In the day of reckoning you cannot number profits where there have been no gains, nor number victories, if no achievements have been won. The popular proverb says, "It is never too late to mend." True, it is never too late to mend in the present, but always too late to mend in the past. The path of time gone by is closed.

III. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way," TO USE NEGLECTED OPPORTUNITY. Christian, thou hast had thine opportunities. Perhaps, when thou wert blind — blinded by thy tears — thy opportunities were the nearest to thee. The Lord, it may be, laid Himself out with parental tenderness to purify thee by disappointment, crosses, and suffering. Yet thou sawest no bright avenues crossing the path of thy shade, and conducting to beauty and peace. Has seed been put into thy hand, and hast thou not sown it? Has fruit hung within thy reach, and hast thou not plucked it? Has blessing been committed to thy solemn trust, and hast thou not scattered it? To all neglecters, opportunity is a narrowing path, which at length vanishes in trackless wilds; to the obedient, it is an ever-expanding, ascending, and illumined career, and into it all courses run which lead to glory, honour, and immortality. Every precious opportunity of each departed year is now dead to thee, dead to thine effort and industry.

IV. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way," TO ENCOUNTER PAST TRIAL, GUILT, AND SUFFERING. Do manifold imperfection and unworthiness bow thee down? Have they cost thee tears? Are they the burden of thy prayers? Dost thou daily struggle for the mastery of self, and sin, and Satan; and yet do thy besetments discourage thee? In the years now behind thee, has the firmament of thy soul often been dull and sunless, and even louring and tempestuous? Thou wilt never tread that path any more. New ground is before thee, and every step is towards the light. Conclusion:

1. The peculiar character of the Gospel is due to the fact that we cannot undo the past. Sin remains. Moral laws are immutable in their foundations, and their penalties are irrepealable. But the Lord Jesus has effected a saving work. He stands between the sinner and the woe that pursues him. He fulfils, honours, and satisfies broken laws, and covers the defenceless head of the contrite, and turns aside the merited destruction which was sweeping towards him.

2. Since what is done cannot by you be undone, are you to sit down and weep the tears of despair? My message is salvation, but not salvation which you can effect in time that is gone. The great lesson is, Act in the present.

3. Let the sincere Christian be comforted. The Lord has borne your sins. Your holy life is watched and guarded by His sheltering love. Ponder what you have done. Throw away no lessons which it offers. Be true to your past experience and conviction. But brood not over bygone evil.

4. Let us be up and doing; for all things pure and beautiful sweep along the upward groove of progress to perfection. The movement of every world and sun and system is onward.

5. In a few more breaths thy life may close. The Lord may be saying with the most literal emphasis, "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way" — "no more" the way to business, "no more" the way to the house of thy friend, "no more" the way to the church, "no more" the way to thy family and home, "no more" the way from the grave whither thou thyself shalt have been carried.

(H. Batchelor.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.

WEB: Only he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he may multiply horses; because Yahweh has said to you, "You shall not go back that way again."

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