You shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes.
"Ye are not as yet come to your rest." The present is a temporary and provisional state of things. Such is the reason (ver. 9) assigned by the great lawgiver of the Jews for the nonobservance of many, and the imperfect observance of nearly all the statutes and ordinances which he was delivering to them. We are all, he says, to blame. Your leader is no more exempt from human infirmities than yourselves. He is as fond of having his own way, of doing what is right in his own eyes, as any of you. We have all done amiss, and we must all try to do better; and so prepare ourselves for that entirely altered state of circumstances which awaits us as soon as we have crossed the narrow dividing stream; you of Jordan, I of death. In applying these words to the objects of Christian instruction, observe —
I. THE UNIFORMITY OF HUMAN CHARACTER. What describes the natural man in one age or country will suit him equally well at all times and in all countries. What were the Israelites doing in the wilderness? "Every man whatsoever was right in his own eyes." This is human nature. We like to have our own way. Restraint is irksome to us. We seek to be independent in our circumstances, in order that we may be so in our actions, and have no one's wishes or feelings to consult but our own. But if human wilfulness shows itself in one direction more than another, it is in our relations to God. Here we meet with no such checks as hem us in on every other side. Here the freedom of our will is not interfered with by the claims of family or the obligations of society. The world looks on, but never thinks of interfering. A man's religion, it holds, is something entirely between God and his conscience. In the concerns of the soul it is commonly said that every man ought to do whatever is right in his own eyes, without any regard to the opinions or feelings of others. What is most agreeable to our feelings, we easily persuade ourselves, is most profitable to our souls; and where we are most profited, where we "get most good," as it is called, there we feel sure it is God's will that we should go. So we "wrap it up" (Micah 7:3). We settle the matter nominally between God and our consciences, but really between ourselves and our own wayward and corrupt wills.
II. THE IMPROPRIETY OF THIS PRINCIPLE of doing "every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes." No day passes without some matters arising which involve the question of not what is right in our own eyes, but what is right in itself, and what is right in the sight of God and man. We are reasonable and accountable creatures. There is a sense of right and wrong implanted in us by nature. We cannot act contrary to it without violating our conscience, and causing a sensible disturbance to our peace of mind. Besides moral, there is also such a thing as positive right, arising out of the declared will of God; and this is just as binding upon our consciences as the other. When it pleased God to promulgate the Fourth Commandment, by that very act He made it a right thing to keep holy the seventh day, and a wrong thing to do our ordinary work thereon, in the eyes of every man who believes in the existence and attributes of the Creator of the world. Unhappily, moral disorder is not attended with the same inconveniences as civil. Men may be "lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents," and many other things equally offensive to piety and virtue, without any particular shock to the peaceful and prosperous course of this world. Still, "these things ought not so to be." Wrong can never be right. There is one Lawgiver, and one holy and righteous and perfect law. To do as we like is to violate the fundamental law of our being. "For none of us liveth to himself," etc. To do that which is right in our own eyes is too often to do that which is abominable in the sight of God.
III. THE NECESSARY IMPERFECTION OF OUR PRESENT STATE OF BEING. Perfect order and perfect happiness are not to be found on earth, but are reserved for that eternal existence to which this world is but a passage.
1. This thought will reconcile us, in a great degree, to the troubles of life.
2. It will encourage us under our moral failings and imperfections. It may be a poor consolation, but a consolation it certainly is, when we have done amiss, to know that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God"; and that so long as man is man he will do "whatsoever is right in his own eyes." Hereafter it will be otherwise. In another world "we shall not do after all the things that we do here this day."
3. It will make us tolerant and indulgent to the failings of others. We must take the world as we find it. We must deal with things as they are, not as they ought to be. To bear and to forbear is no small part of our trial. And we cannot be required to show greater forbearance towards others than God is continually exercising towards us.
IV. THERE IS NO SENTIMENT SO JUST AS NOT TO BE LIABLE TO PERVERSION AND ABUSE. The necessary imperfection of our present state might be urged as an excuse for those evils and disorders which need not exist, and therefore are inexcusable. But this must not be allowed. Sin must always be protested against. Our nature is corrupt; but that is a reason for striving against it, not for giving way to it. We live in a wicked world; but that should put us on our guard against an unreserved association with the world, or an undue compliance with its ways. Is this all that is required of us — to contend against the evil of our own hearts, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world? Not so. A Christian has a higher vocation: to make the world better; to season it with the salt of a pure and uncorrupt conversation; to set an example of that self-denying, self-sacrificing spirit which leads to conduct the very opposite of that described in the text. The Christian must be continually reminding both himself and others that what we are all doing here this day may be excused by considerations arising out of the frailty of human nature, but can never be justified. Let us take every opportunity of mortifying those deeds of the body, those sinful desires and depraved inclinations which, if they do not actually deprive us of "the rest and the inheritance which the Lord our God giveth us," cannot but make us less fit for it. Let us learn the pleasure of giving up our wills, instead of indulging them; of looking "not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others"; of doing, not "every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes," but every man whatsoever is right for him to do — what religion teaches, what conscience justifies, and what God approves.
V. LET US LEARN FROM THIS SUBJECT TO UNDERSTAND MORE PERFECTLY, AND TO APPRECIATE MORE JUSTLY, THE GOSPEL METHOD OF SALVATION. Moses, we are told, "was faithful in all his house"; as the mediator of that former covenant, he performed his part on the whole faithfully and well; but that was all. He was no redeemer; he could not "save his people from their sins." He was a sinner like themselves: the things which, by reason of their frailty, they did there that day, he also did. Christ alone could say, "Ye shall not do after all the things which ye do here this day"; ye, not we, — excluding Himself from the number of those who do "every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes." Of Himself He says, "I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father which sent Me." "I do always those things that please Him." On this principle of seeking God's glory, not His own — He acted through life, and also "became obedient unto death." Without this act we should never have come to that rest, never have attained to that inheritance at all. We should have continued all our lives, as many do to this day, doing "every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes"; because we should have had no motive or inducement to do otherwise. If we have learnt better things, it is only because we have learnt Christ; learnt Him as "the way, the truth, and the life"; "heard Him, and been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus." It remains that we should turn our lessons into practice, by "putting off the old man," etc. So shall we leave off by degrees to "do after all the things which we do here this day"; and under the renewing and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit we shall become daily more and more "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light," and ripe for that "rest which remaineth for the people of God."
(Frederick Field, LL. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.