The Past

Deuteronomy 4:32.---' Ask now of the days that are past.'

Deuteronomy is not a law book in the ordinary sense of the term. The voice that speaks to us in chapter after chapter is not so much the voice of law-giver formulating a code of rules as it is the voice of a prophet or preacher.

Whoever the author of the book may have been, one thing is clear---he was a man of deep feeling, who possessed a in a remarkable degree the special prophetic gift of foresight based upon insight. The book is full of warnings and threatenings addressed to the people of Israel. But these warnings and threatenings are not like the utterances of modern party journalists, who solemnly tell us that the country is going toward ruin because certain political measures are either being pushed on or postponed. The author of Deuteronomy was one who had thought deeply on that most serious of questions, What really makes for the permanent good of the people? and he was keenly alive and to the evils of his own time. Every warning that he gave came fresh from his own mind and heart, and was charged with the burden of his own personal experience either of joy or of sorrow. And if there was one conviction that was dearer to him than others, it was that no people and no commonwealth can be in a state of well-being unless it is grounded on a great moral belief; and that the most effective of all moral beliefs is the belief in a Righteous God, the actual King and Ruler of men. This belief, when realized in act, ensures that the laws, the institutions, the matter of life of those who hold it, shall be righteous in aim and in principle.

A great English judge and lawyer has said, "the government of a great country can never be carried on as it should be without reference more or less direct and frequent to moral and religious considerations. All the problems of government and of law revolve round the questions that lie at the root of religion---the being and character of God, and His will towards us. The lawyer who is not a mere tradesmen needs a religious creed as much as the priest." What is this but another way of saying that the groundwork of all obedience to human laws is knowledge of the fact, dwelt upon so emphatically all through this book, that God, in placing men under a Divine law, and making them conscious of His invisible guidance, has bestowed upon them the greatest possible good? To know this, the prophet urged, was everything. To hold it fast was the chiefest of blessings, to lose it or to forget it was to sink back into the servile condition out of which the people of Israel had been mercifully raised.

That is why we are reminded all through this book of the uninterrupted continuity between what God is doing now and what He had done in the days of old. For those who are blind to that are certain to be blind to a good deal else that most nearly concerns them. They are in danger of losing their reverence for the past, and of despising the patrimony of knowledge and belief bequeathed to them by their fathers. Therefore in Deuteronomy the cord of memory struck again and again. The fathers of Israel are solemn charged to teach their children the things that God had done for them in the past ages; and at the same time to impress upon them that He will be the present and living guide of a each successive generation as truly as in the days old. This is one of the great features of the Book of Deuteronomy which make it so valuable a lesson-book for our own times---its appeal to history. We can never apprehend God's dealings with the nation's and families in the present unless we study them in the light shed on them by the accumulated experience of the past. If we want to know man, and what causes make for his welfare or for his ruin, we must study man in history. We must ask of the ages that have gone before, and be guided by their verdict.

Further, we must do this in a religious spirit, with our minds prepossessed with the belief in a righteous God who has discovered Himself to man, whose children and whose subjects we all are. History reveals that the world is a scene of order. The Bible brings us to the source and center of that order. We do not find it in ourselves, but when it is shown to us we are compelled to pay homage to it, for it brings light were all before was chaos and darkness. Apart from the illiminating idea of an orderly movement in human affairs, and of God as presiding over that movement, the whole past becomes a bewildering dream.

On the other hand, when we surveyed the past in a believing spirit, it bears unmistakable witness to a Divine purpose working in and through the sundry and manifold changes of the world. We learn from the Bible that history, viewed as a whole, is not a record of chances and accidents, and blind movements that have no preordained goal. Rather it is a record of moral progress, a record of the gradual triumph of spiritual over material forces, of reason and conscience and the sense of moral obligation over mere animal instinct and the desire of every man to be a law to himself. And in all this, to those who have eyes to see, the finger of God is traceable. For progress is the law prefixed to life by God Himself. In the unreasoning movements of the world a wiser Spirit is at work for us.

Thus history is the study which shows a man the whole of which he is a part, and throws a clear light on the great process of which his own life is but a brief moment. We learn from it how, in the past, men have grown from barbarism to civilization, out of separate warring tribes into a sense of national unity. We learn how the life of nations has expressed itself, in what customs, symbols, and characteristic actions. We learn what causes have fostered or hindered the well-being of communities, how men have struggled and suffered for truth and righteousness, what mistakes they made in doing so, how they were punished for them and bequeathed the lesson to others.

History is thus a part of the great disclosure which all arts, all sciences and literature that is seeking truth are gradually making. It is helping us day by day to see things as they are, to rise to a higher point of view, to find in the past the key to the meaning of the present, and, in a word, to see order and law where the unstructured see only a dull and bewildering confusion.

Having looked on the past let us turn to the future. Let us remember that the things behind us are for the sake of the things in front. What human imagination would have dared to predict that out of the original chaos could come such a world as we see? And if all that is behind, what is there before? Are we not to hope something out of such a record? To the Apostle the past, with all its wonder, was as nothing to the future. Let us share that certitude. It is well founded. 'Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.' Now we have the sense and feeling of God deep in our hearts. It is a germ, but one, be sure, that will have full fruition. All science, all history, all religion bid us stretch on to the things that are before.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha