And when your son asks you in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments…
Suppose that one wholly uninstructed as to Christian faith and doctrine and practice should ask us — What mean ye? — account for yourselves; what are you doing? and why do you act as you do? — it would be pitiful to the point of unpardonableness if in the presence of such an inquiry we were dumb; our speechlessness would show that our piety is a mere superstition. It is surely, therefore, incumbent upon us to be able to give some reason or explanation for the faith and the hope that are in us. We cannot adopt a better reply than the answer suggested by Moses. No originality of answer is required. The leader of Israel gave the only reply that will stand the test of reason and the wear and tear of time. All we need is in this paragraph. Adopting this reply, what answer should we make to the kind of inquirer now supposed? We should, first of all, make the answer broadly historical. We are not called to invention, or speculation, or the recital of dreams: we do not want any man's impressions as a basis of rational and universal action; we call for history, facts, realities, points of time that can be identified, and circumstances that can be defined and have a determinate value fixed upon them. We could enlarge the answer which Israel was to give, and ennoble it. We, too, were in a house of bondage. That must be our first point. The house was dark; the life of the prison was intolerable; no morning light penetrated the dungeon; no summer beauty visited the eyes of those who were bound in fetters. Human nature had gone astray. The Christian argument starts there. All Christian doctrine is founded upon that one fact, or bears direct and vital relation to it. We, too, could add with Israel, human nature was Divinely delivered. The action began in heaven. No man's arm delivered us; no man's eye could look upon us with pity that was unstained and unenfeebled by sin. God's eye pitied; God's arm was outstretched to save. Then we could change, but their inner meaning is an eternal truth: it abides through all the ages, for every purpose of God in the miracles which were wrought was a purpose of life, growth, holiness, transformation into His own image. The purpose is in reality the miracle. That being so, the miracles never cease, for today the Gospel performs nothing less than the miracle of making the dead live, and the blind see, and the dumb speak in new and beauteous eloquence. In the next place, still following the idea laid down by Moses, we must make this answer definitely personal: — "thou shalt say unto thy son" (ver. 21). Speak about yourselves, about your own vital relation to the historical facts. The history is not something outside of you and beyond you: it is part and parcel of your own development, and your development would have been an impossibility apart from the history; let us, therefore, know what this history has done for you. The answer will be poor if it be but a recital of circumstances and occurrences and anecdotes — a vague, although partially reverent, reference to ancient history. The man who speaks must connect himself with the thing which is spoken. The answer is still incomplete. It is broadly historical, and therefore can be searched into by men who care for letters and events and ancient occurrences; the answer is definitely personal, and therefore the character of the witness has to be destroyed before any progress can be made with his particular view of the history; now the answer must, in the third place, be made vitally experimental. The twenty-fifth verse thus defines this conclusion: "And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He hath commanded us." One targum says, "it shall he our merit." The general meaning would seem to be — "it shall be accounted unto us for righteousness": the attention and the service shall not be disregarded or put down into any secondary place, but what we do in the way of attention and observance and duty and service shall be reckoned unto us as a species of righteousness. What is the meaning to us in our present state of education and our present relations to one another? The meaning is that out of the history and out of the present relations to that history there will come a quantity which is called character. God is all the while forming character. His object has been to do us "good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is at this day." Without the righteousness where is the history? Without the character what is the value of our personal testimony? We may be speaking from a wrong centre — from mental invention, from intellectual imagination, from spiritual impulse, from moral emotion; we may not be standing upon vital facts and spiritual realities. The outcome, then, is righteousness, character, moral manhood, great robustness and strength, and reality of life. The Christian man's history is to himself worthless if it be not sealed by character.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD our God hath commanded you?