Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister…
Here is a great promise with a sharp limitation: "Every place is yours — but every place only as you tread upon it, occupy, subdue, possess it." A most instructive parallel might be drawn between the subjugation of Palestine by Israel and the settlement of America by the English. In both cases tyranny at home had much to do with the movement, for the Stuarts of England and the Pharaohs of Egypt held essentially the same views of royal prerogative, In both cases the country was already occupied by aborigines, and the free, wild life of the Jebusites and the Amorites was not unlike that of the Iroquois and Sioux Indians. In both cases the land was parcelled out before it was actually possessed. In both cases possession was achieved only through long and obstinate struggle with an enemy continually defeated, but stubbornly refusing to submit. According to the royal grants, Massachusetts and Virginia reached through to the Pacific Ocean. It required five minutes to draw the long parallels on the royal map; it needed two centuries actually to push civilisation across the continent, and the work is not yet finished. Ownership comes before possession, and is useless without it. The Divine giving is always done along this line. In dealing with the fields and the forests, God pours out sunshine and rain unasked, and the earth can only lie helpless, now flooded and now parched with heat. But in dealing with men made in His image, God's giving is a far finer and more subtle process. There is in it a wondrous delicacy that seems to fear refusal, that is busied chiefly with finding a place in which the gift is wanted. He gives us the title-deed, the motive-power, the strength, the gladness, and then says, "Enter and possess." We are all familiar with this in the intellectual realm. You put into your son's hand a Virgil or a Shakespeare. "Now," you say, "he has the works of Shakespeare, or Virgil." Has them? — he has the possibility, the opportunity! It is a great thing to have that; thousands have remained ignorant for want of that. But when you possess an author, the book in the hand will be only a subordinate affair. You will know the man himself; lines will flash out upon you at your toil, great sweet thoughts will recur in dreams, passages will intertwine with all your daily task, and when you possess Shakespeare, he will possess you. You give your son teachers and schools — there your power stops. You seat your daughter at the piano, but for musical power, culture, achievement — she must enter into and possess these, or she will for ever stand outside. You buy a home. The papers are signed, the deed is recorded; instantaneously the house is yours. But then comes the process of moving into it. Every season you move a little further in; through days of birth and bridal when the joy bells ring, through days of grief when all the bells are muffled, you are growing into that house, and when men ask, "Why don't you move up town?" you say, "My heart is here; this place I love." So Jesus Christ comes to a man at the entrance of Christian life, and puts him into ownership. "To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God." He bestows upon us the title-deeds unencumbered. He spreads before us a great territory, and says, "That is yours." Forgiveness for sins that are past, an inner quietness which naught can ruffle, a balm for life's hurts and bruises, a daily strength for daily needs, a courage that rises with obstacles and never knows defeat, all this is ours — if we will make it ours. Ours to possess, to enjoy, to experience. There is an old-fashioned phrase that had a deal of truth in it "experiencing religion." A man has just as much religion as he has experienced; only when talking of our experience let us not go back twenty years — let us review the last twenty-four hours. How was it with me last evening? Was God last night in my soul, was I filled with serenity and courage and devotion to other souls, not twenty years ago, but last night? Our Bible is no larger than our reading of the Bible. Some men have a Bible consisting of a few Psalms and half a dozen chapters in the Gospels. Others have a Bible that is a patchwork of half-remembered texts, put together in childhood and now badly faded. A man with a rich, deep Christian experience cannot be content with a few threadbare chapters, he is ever reaching into new territory. So it is with the various great truths of the Christian religion — all are ours, but ours only as we possess them. The true use of a creed is not to set forth what men must believe, but to record what men do believe. And the man who is growing will find his creed growing too, growing indeed more simple, but growing stronger, and deeper, and broader. A grown man with a child's religion is like a man trying to content himself with nursery toys — he is soon disgusted with his attempt. But when a man is constantly moving onward, then one truth after another will reveal its inner meaning to his soul. We cannot expect that all truths will be equally precious in any one day. There is a rotation of crops in the spiritual life, and everything is "beautiful in his time." There is always one truth that shines brightest, as there is always one star on the meridian. Other stars will follow and culminate in their season. I think often with a strange awe of the first settlers of the Atlantic States, as they came across the sea, bearing the maps which gave them rights extending to the Pacific. This is just the conditions of some of us to-day. The boundless possibilities of Christianity lie before us Jesus Christ comes to us saying, "It is all yours — a Christian life, a Christian death, a Christian heaven, it is yours if you will take it." And if we do not by voluntary act enter into what He offers, then the offer is to us absolutely worthless. The truth heard Sunday after Sunday is then only a genuine damage, making the heart each week less sensitive, less responsive — "it hardens all within and petrifies the feeling." But let us return to the text again. "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon" — surely there is a hint here of the slow and toilsome process of spiritual acquisition. I do not hold out before any man a Christian life that is free from effort. Christianity at sight is always a delusion. At sight of Jesus we are indeed ushered into new relation and position. But then comes the path, sometimes winding through the shadow, sometimes leading straight uphill, always leading heavenward and always bright with an unseen Friend. So it is with the entire advance of the Church of Jesus Christ. Sometimes when we are impatient and fretful let us remember that here, too, walking is the normal movement. Why God doesn't convert India to-day is to us a mystery. That great movements should pace so slowly, and the advance be so measured and unequal, seems to us incomprehensible. One other suggestion is here — a hint that the farther a man travels the richer he becomes. Mountain range or lowly valley, forest or verdant meadow, whatsoever experience of God's love and grace we pass through, that is ours for ever. We learn more of man's weakness but more of God's power, and the more we truly know the gladder shall we really be. New experiences are to be ours, and the best is yet to come.
(W. H. P. Faunce.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying,