"I pray thee, let me go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon." (Deuteronomy 3:25)
These were the words of Moses, as most of you know, addressed to the children of Israel and to his servant Joshua, who was to be the leader of God's people into the Promised Land. And he said (ver. 23) "And I besought the Lord at that time, saying, O Lord God, thou hast begun to show thy servant thy greatness and thy mighty hand: for what God is there in heaven or in earth that can do according to thy works and according to thy might?" He acknowledged God's greatness, His goodness, and His might towards the children of Israel, and His wrath against their enemies; and then he put in this request: "I pray thee, let me go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon. But the Lord was with me, for your sakes, and would not hear me." This may appear strange to us, and it does sometimes seem so, that the Lord does not answer us. Why did He not grant the request of Moses? Few lived nearer the Lord than Moses did, yet the Lord denied him his request. "And the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter. Get thee up into the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it with thine eyes: for thou shalt not go over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him: for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which thou shalt see. So we abode in the valley over against Beth-peor." (Deut. 3:26-29) Moses was no doubt perfectly satisfied, though the Lord would not let him go over; and he went to the top of the hill; the Lord showed him all the land, and then the Lord gently laid him to rest; resting in the embrace of his loving and faithful God; and his God buried him. So if he did not enter into the earthly land of rest, he entered upon the Canaan of eternal heavenly rest, and hundreds of years after he was seen by the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration with Christ, to show that he was still alive and with the Lord.
Let us contemplate for a little while this morning this man's request. "I pray thee, let me go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon." Thus he made his request; and the Lord's people make many prayers to the Lord that He does not see good to answer. Not only was Moses as a man unable to enter the promised land; but as a law-giver he could not cross the Jordan. Neither can the law give us rest. We try to keep God's holy law, we strive to live as holy as we can, but that will never admit us to the land of rest, there is no salvation there. But Joshua, a type of the Lord Jesus Christ (and the word Joshua is the same as Jesus,) was to lead them into the promised land, and Jesus only can lead us to glory, for Moses cannot. Christ has magnified the law and made it honourable; (Isa. 42:21) He is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth; (Rom. 10:4) and the man, woman, or child that has been enabled by Divine grace to commit his or her soul unto the Lord need not fear, because He has engaged to lead them home to the promised rest. I often think that the whole tenor of the Gospel is very simple. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." (John 14:6) Then that is the way. Are you seeking and hoping to get to heaven in this way? If so, you are among those who believe in Jesus; if you are trusting only in Him, when you die and pass away, you will be safe in Him.
We would like to notice:
First. The people mentioned in this chapter; the people of God.
Secondly. The Jordan, and what it means.
Thirdly. The passage of Jordan.
Lastly. The other side, the good land that is beyond Jordan; "that goodly mountain and Lebanon" to which all the Lord's people are led in God's good time.
We say this because we believe our friend is there now at rest, and another old friend whom we trust is at rest, and Mr. John Knight too is gone home, and it is well for us to consider our end, for we must soon go; prepared or unprepared.
The hymns sung this morning (6 and 258) were chosen by our departed friend Mr. Joseph Martin, that they might be sung after he was gone, and we can say:
"The path was rugged to my feet,
Yet still I followed Thee;
Went often to Thy mercy seat.
With 'God, remember me!'"
Beautifully expressive of the Christian's pathway and trials.
First. We notice the people, the Lord's people. They had long traveled in the wilderness in the way of God's appointment, and they had but five days to complete their forty years of wandering. Most of those who came out of Egypt were dead, but their children entered into Canaan; our old nature must die, but we have another principle; the new man of grace, that will triumph for evermore.
People of God! what a sweet mercy that we have God's holy word for our guide-Israel had the law written on tables of stone--we have the sacred Scriptures--and I should think that every body must feel it is their duty to read them daily. Do we read them as our Father's will; as the will of our loving Saviour; as His own word of promise sealed with His own blood? But we are at present in the wilderness, where Israel had to wander so many years, and it was nice for them before they died to tell their children of the Lord's faithfulness and truth; how He brought them, fed them, and provided for them. "The fathers to the children shall make known thy truth." (Isa. 38:19) That is our privilege; some of us the Lord has kept walking in His holy fear for the last sixty years; surely we have had some experience of His goodness towards us; and we would tell the young of the Lord's faithfulness and mercy, as Israel did. But while they were in the wilderness they were called to war; and you will find that in the early part of their journeyings, the Lord led them in the wilderness so that they might not come into conflict with their enemies, but when they got nearer to Canaan, then they were often engaged in war. Did we not think years ago that religion was so beautiful, that we should walk in peace without war? But conflict comes on as we get nearer the journey's end, fightings within and without, and it proves to me that we are getting near the end of our journey; the Lord make us faithful to the end.
Secondly. The Jordan and what it means:
I do not know who it was that first said the river Jordan resembles death, because it was between the camp of the Israelites, and the promised land. Dr. Watts said:--
"Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
Stand dressed in living green;
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between."
Then it sets forth death. Do you know anything of the next verse?
"But timorous mortals start, and shrink
To cross this narrow sea;
And linger, shivering on the brink,
And fear to launch away.
"O could we make our doubts remove
Those gloomy doubts that rise;
And see the Canaan that we love,
With unbeclouded eyes.
"Could we but climb where Moses stood,
And view the landscape o'er;
Not Jordan stream, nor death's cold flood,
Should fright us from the shore."
Have you been sometimes favored with a view of that promised land? Jordan rolling there seemed an obstacle to the children of Israel--there is no way to the promised land but through faith, we must all pass that way. The river Jordan from its source down to the Dead Sea is about one hundred miles, but in reality, with its windings and turnings, one hundred and sixty miles, but you cannot get into the promised land without going through it. Death stares us in the face everywhere. We should like to go into heaven without the pain of dying, but I think many of God's people do pass through death without knowing it; it is like falling asleep. If you tell your little child to go to sleep it is very likely it will object, but it does go to sleep, without knowing it; and next morning remembers very little about it. So it is with many of God's people.
Jordan is called the river of Judgment. In death we shall appear as we are, and not what we seem to be. O that we may appear with the people of God; that when we are judged there, we may find the Lord is there; and that what we were so troubled about, is no trouble at all.
Thirdly. The passage of Jordan.
When Israel encamped near the river Jordan, it overflowed all its banks, for it was the time of harvest. They might have said, "Suppose we are commanded to pass over now, we shall all be drowned! This is like our carnal reasoning. How can I die! how shall I pass away." But this is not the Lord's way; their passage through Jordan was very wonderful, it was very beautiful (Joshua 3:14) and it came to pass when the people removed from their tents to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) that the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon a heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan, and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea failed, and were cut off, and the people passed over right against Jericho. And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.
What a miracle! not only for them, but for all God's people; that they may believe that the Jordan of death will not drown them; that it will not carry them down to the Dead Sea. Sometimes we think of death as of a little stream; sometimes we think of it as a great river; but there was no river, there was no stream. There is no death for the believer, for Jesus died! He passed through death. Certainly the body must go to sleep. What a miracle! Jordan's waters heaped up for miles at God's command. The priests stood there with the ark till the people had passed over; there was no noise, no confusion. O! the quiet when the godly die! I was at the deathbed of an old friend not very far from this place, and it appeared to me as if the God of Peace was there, and that He had given him such peace and quiet as only God can give; yet he was one who for years had hoped, and feared, and trembled. Then his deathbed was as peaceful as God could make it. And was he a timid one? Yes. Why so quiet now? Because the Great High Priest was there with the ark of the covenant, and he passed over quietly into the promised land without fear.
A few hours ago the waters of Jordan were rushing down in their course; now there is no water at all. The sting of death is gone. How many sweet lessons we may learn from the Old Testament. The child of God will die in peace at Jordan, the river of judgment. How about the little ones--they were carried by their fathers and mothers, I daresay, and the Lord has promised to be with us if we are members of His righteous nation.
But we would like to say a few words about the goodly land: the other side.
Sometimes it is very painful to us when we reflect on the many friends that are gone. Where are the voices that used to minister to the people here? They have passed over Jordan to the goodly land, the other side. Where are the many members of this Church? gone to the good land, the promised land, that goodly mountain and Lebanon; that good land where saints assemble. Most of the members of this congregation that were about forty years of age when I first came amongst you; that were active in the cause of truth, are now gone; but the union is not dissolved, we love them as much now as when they were here. Here we talked together of Jesus; of our sorrows and trials, and of the goodly land beyond Jordan; and I am left. Yet a little while, and He that shall come, will come, and will not tarry. O that the Lord may take away all doubt and fear from the mind today; that you may know that as you trust and love the Lord now, you will be with Him by-and-by.
Then you will remember Joshua commanded them to take twelve stones out of Jordan, and to set them up as a testimony of the Lord's goodness to them. "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." This is giving a testimony to the faithfulness of the Lord before we pass over to the other side.
"There is a Land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign;
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain."
Our friends are there now; their bodies are sleeping in the grave, their souls are safe with the Lord.
Our old friend Mr. Jenner I knew but little about, but he was one who loved the Lord, and as long as he could get here, he attended.
Our friend Mr. Joseph Martin I knew for nearly forty years--he was always a kind, loving friend. A few weeks ago he came into the vestry, as he would sometimes, to talk of the goodness of the Lord, and he said, "My time here is getting short." I said, "Yes, and so is mine, but there is peace up there!" The morning he died he said, "I do not think I shall live long, but I am not afraid." If he had lived until May he would have been twenty years a member of the Church. A friend said today, it could be seen by his manner here on last Sunday that the Word of God was precious to him. O, may the Lord make it precious to us today. It would of course seem desirable to us that the should have died at home, but it was the Lord's way, it was very gentle, very quiet, and I should say very painless, the way he was taken home, though it was very painful to his friends. He was a lover of the truth, a lover of good men, a lover of the Saviour, a lover of God's people. We pray that the Lord may sustain and comfort his family. O may each be prepared for that goodly mountain and Lebanon. O what a joyful meeting then. Members of the Church of God from all parts of the world as they pass through the river with the stone of help upon the shoulder. "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." What a change from this poor world! What a goodly land! We often forget that. The Lord has engaged to be with us in the passage through death; there will be no water there, it will be dry ground, for the sting of death is taken, it is gone; and soon the Saviour will bid us turn aside and die and go to rest.
Am I addressing any this morning that are not acquainted with the Saviour, that do not know Him, that never seek His face? O how sad! May we be prepared, as our friends that are gone were prepared; that when death comes to us, there may be no confusion; but in quiet and in peace may we place ourselves in His hands, and so pass over to the other side to appear with Him in glory, to mingle our voices with saints gone before, till the notes of everlasting joy sound higher and higher, clearer and clearer; till the notes of praise thrill through the soul, as we soar away in glory to see Him, to adore and bless Him, and crown Him Lord of All.
"How blest the righteous when he dies!
When sinks a weary soul to rest,
How mildly beam the closing eyes,
How gently heaves the expiring breast.
"So fades a summer cloud away,
So sinks the gale when storms are o'er;
So gently shuts the eye of day,
So dies a wave along the shore.
"A holy quiet reigns around,
A calm which life nor death destroys;
Nothing disturbs that peace profound,
Which his unfettered soul enjoys.
"Farewell, conflicting hopes and fears,
Where lights and shades alternate dwell;
How bright the unchanging morn appears,
Farewell, inconstant world, farewell!
"Life's labour done, as sinks the clay,
Light from its load the spirit flies;
While heaven and earth combine to say,
How blest the righteous when he dies!"