Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth…
This was a great event, and we ought to know the secret of its causes. It was, we see, this old man Joshua's burning, quenchless zeal for the service of the Lord, kindled full five and sixty years before. It led to results worthy to rank with the revival under Ezra, with the Pentecost at Jerusalem and at Caesarea, with the conversion of Roman emperors and British islanders to Christianity, with the Reformation and the triumphs of Wesley and Whitfield.
I. ZEAL FOR THE SERVICE OF GOD IS BORN OF VIEWS WHICH ARE TAKEN OF GOD. This plainly was the case with Joshua; this was the case with the people also, and universally this must be true. We are asked to view God as creation presents Him (Psalm 19.). This has, at least, the merit of being poetry of the highest school; it is a thousand pities if it is not true. Oh, does not this vast fabric suggest a God? Perhaps not; but we have got the suggestion somehow, and to our anxious inquiries of her all nature seems to give back a ready affirmative response. We are asked to view God as He is presented to us in the phenomena of mind. One observes that these mental phenomena taper away downwards to the tiniest forms of sentient life. One feels that somehow it must and does, in a corresponding manner, expand in its upward way, and when we have reached the loftiest heights of the finite we seem to come in sight of the lowest rays of light from the throne of the Infinite mind. Then if the Lord our God is one Lord, there will be a concentration of thought on Him; our love will be undivided, rising to suitable proportions to its Infinite object. We are asked to see God in His providence. This is a name we give to a constantly-observed work resulting from an unseen Presence. We notice the perpetual operation of certain great forces in nature, which say nothing so distinctly as they say that they are only the expressions of an all-comprehending and sufficient Power behind them. Can we connect this governing power with that all-pervading mind, and with the creating power of which we have spoken? Yes, I am sure of it. There are unattached threads in all. They evidently find their complements in one another. Then if this is the "God of my life, throughout my days my grateful powers shall sound His praise, my song shall wake with opening light, and cheer the dark and silent night." But all these are summed up and expressed by the Incarnation. You are asked to view God in Christ. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son hath declared Him." It is when we view God thus that our zeal for His service will rise and abound; will flow forth and overflow. "Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so Divine," demands a house of prayer, a noble service, Christian toil, more than we can give, or think to give.
II. ZEAL FOR GOD'S SERVICE IS NOURISHED BY THE VIEWS WHICH WE CHERISH CONCERNING THE CHARACTER OF THAT SERVICE. Our experience and our observation are faithful witnesses hereto. Joshua presents a severe but accurate view of God's holiness, and then urges a service that shall perfectly accord with it — a service that was pure, and sincere, and true, and grateful. "Serve the Lord," said he, "in sincerity and truth." "It must," he meant to say, "be service of the heart rather than of the hands." A service which demands the heart nourishes the zeal born of right conceptions of Jehovah. This is living bread, this is water of life. Our God searcheth the heart, but we are not afraid, we are the more confident. The sacrifices He desires are the broken heart, the contrite spirit (Isaiah 66:1-5). But outwardly and visibly it must be pure, as inwardly it was sincere and true. The oldest forms of God's service were wealthy in sacrifice, and prayers, and Divine blessing. David, the Homer, the Virgil, the Milton of the Hebrews, enriched that service by adding psalmody and music. Later times added the stated reading of the Scriptures, and later still we have the sacraments and the proclamation of the gospel. Of our Christian ritual, then, we boldly say that it supplies us with the green pastures and still waters of God's Word. It has the spread table of heaven's bounties, if not dainties. It anoints the devout worshipper with a holy oil, and gives him an overflowing cup. It is the expression of the goodness and mercy which follow every step of the pilgrim, making him glad to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
III. JOSHUA'S ENTHUSIASM WAS PERFECTED BY HIS CONVICTION OF THE INFLUENCE WHICH THE WORSHIP OF GOD EXERTS ON MEN. To tell the history of its influence on individuals is to tell the story of every worthy instance of personal piety. You may seek for them and you will find them among all ranks and kindreds. You may scan the calendar of your own history, and its red-letter days are those you have spent in the service of God. To tell its influence on families would be to write the history of the best of earth's households and homes from tent to palace. To these God has kept covenant and showed mercy to the fourth generation. What a heritage of mercy! Let us in our families see to it that the legacy never runs out. Let the men of the fourth generation in this descent remember what they ought to do. But how shall we tell its historic influence on the nation? It has supplied the place of navies; invincible armadas have been scattered as forest leaves before it. It has been better than armies, than revenue, than police.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.