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Only Be Thou Strong And Very Courageous
By Charles Spurgeon
"Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest."
— Joshua 1:7
JOSHUA was very highly favored in the matter of promises. The promises
given him by God were broadly comprehensive and exceedingly
encouraging. But Joshua was not therefore to say within himself, "These
covenant engagements will surely be fulfilled, and I may therefore sit still
and do nothing."
On the contrary, because God had decreed that the land
should be conquered, Joshua was to be diligent to lead the people onward
to battle. He was not to use the promise as a couch upon which his
indolence might luxuriate, but as a girdle wherewith to gird up his loins for
As a spur to energy, let us always regard the gracious promises of our God. We should sin against Him most ungratefully and detestably were we to say within ourselves, "God will not desert His people; therefore let us venture into sin"; and we are almost equally wicked if we whisper in our minds, "God will assuredly fulfill His own decrees, and give the souls of His redeemed as a reward to His Son Jesus, therefore let us do nothing, and refrain altogether from zealous Christian service."
This is not proper language for true children. This is the talk of the indolently ignorant, or of mere pretenders who do but mock God while they pretend to reverence His decrees. By the oath, by the promise, by the covenant, and by the blood which sealeth it, we are exhorted continually to be at work for Christ, since we are saved in order that we may serve Him, in the power of the Holy Ghost, with heart, and soul, and strength.
Joshua was especially exhorted to continue in the path of obedience. He was the captain, but there was a great Commander-in-Chief who gave him his marching orders. Joshua was not left to his own fallible judgment, or fickle fancy, but he was to do according to all that was written in the book of the law. So is it with us who are believers. We are not under the law, but under grace; yet still there is a gospel rule which we are bound to follow, and the law in the hand of Christ is a delightful rule of life to the believer.
"Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses My servant commanded thee." You supposed when you heard the words, "Only be thou strong and very courageous," that some great exploit was to be performed, and the
supposition was correct, for all exploits are comprehended in that one
declaration, "That thou mayest observe to do according to all the law,
which Moses My servant commanded thee."
The highest exploit of the
Christian life is to obey Christ. This is such an exploit as shall never be
performed by any man, except he has learned the rule of faith, has been led
to rest upon Christ, and to advance upon the path of obedience in a
strength which is not his own, but which he has received from the work of
the indwelling Holy Ghost.
The world counts obedience to be a mean-spirited thing, and speaks of rebellion as freedom. We have heard men say, "I will be my own master; I shall follow my own will." To be a free-thinker and a free-liver seems to be the worldling's glory, and yet if the world could but have sense enough to convict itself of folly, upon indisputable proof being afforded it, it were not difficult to prove that a reveler of the obedient is a fool. Take the world's own martial rule. Who is accounted to be the boldest and the best soldier but the man who is most thoroughly obedient to the captain's command?
There is a story told of the old French wars which has been repeated hundreds of times. A sentinel is set to keep a certain position, and at nightfall, as he is pacing to and fro, the emperor himself comes by. He does not know the pass-word. Straightway the soldier stops him. "You cannot pass," says he. "But I must pass," says the emperor. "No," replies the man, "if you were the little corporal in gray himself you should not go by," by which, of course, he meant the emperor. Thus the autocrat himself was held in check by order. The vigilant soldier was afterwards handsomely rewarded, and all the world said that he was a brave fellow.
Now, from that instance, and there are hundreds of such which are always; told with approbation, we learn that obedience to superior commands, carried out at all hazards, is one of the highest proofs of courage that a man can possibly give; to this the world itself gives its assent. Then surely it is not a mean and sneaking thing for a man to be obedient to Him who is the Commander-in-chief of the universe, the King of kings, and Lord Of lords. He who would do the right and the true thing in cold blood in the teeth of ridicule, is a bolder man than he who flings himself before the cannon's mouth for fame; ay, and let me add, to persist in scrupulous obedience throughout life may need more courage than even the martyr evinces when once for all he gives himself to burn at the stake.
In Joshua's case, full obedience to the divine common involved innumerable difficulties. The command to him was, that he should conquer the whole of the land for the favored tribes, and to the best of his ability he did it; but he had to besiege cities which were walled up to heaven, and to fight with monarchs whose warriors came to battle in chariots of iron, armed with scythes. The first conflicts were something terrible. If he had not been a bold and able soldier, he would have put up his sword and desisted from the strife; but the spirit of obedience sustained him. Though you and I have no Hivites and Jebusites to kill, no cities to pull down, no chariots of iron to encounter, yet we shall find it no easy thing to keep to the path of Christian consistency.
Moreover, Joshua had not only difficulties to meet with, but he made a great many enemies through his obedience. This was naturally so. As soon as it was known that Jericho had been taken, that Ai had been carried by assault, then we read of first one confederation of kings, and then of another, their object being to, destroy the power of Joshua, since these kings well knew that he would crush them if they did not crush him. Now, the Christian man is in a like plight. He will be sure to make enemies. It will be one of his objects to make none; but, on the other hand, if to do the right, and to believe the true, and to carry out the honest, should make him lose every earthly friend, he will count it but a small loss, since his great Friend in heaven will be yet more friendly and reveal Himself to him more graciously than ever.
Joshua, in his obedience, needed much courage, because he had undertaken a task which involved, if he carried it out, long years of perseverance. After he had captured one city, he must go on to attack the next fortress. The days were not long enough for his battles. He bids the sun stand still, and the moon is stayed; and even when that long day has passed, yet the morning sees him sword in hand still. Joshua was like one of those old knights who slept in their armor. He was always fighting. His sword must have been well hacked, and often must his armor have been blood-red. He had before him a life-long enterprise. Such is the life of the Christian, a warfare from end to end.
As soon as you are washed in Christ's blood and clothed in His righteousness, you must begin to hew your way through a lane of enemies, right up to the eternal throne. Every foot of the way will be disputed; not an inch will Satan yield to you. You must continue daily to fight. "He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved"; not the beginner who commences in his own strength, and soon comes to an end, but he who, girt about with divine grace, with the Spirit of God within him, determines to hold on till he has smitten the last foe, and never leaves the battlefield till he has heard the word, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"
Let the man who says that the Christian's life is mean, and devoid of manliness, let him go and learn wisdom before he speaketh; for of all men the persevering believer is the most manly. Thou who boastest of thyself, of thy courage in sinning, thou yieldest to the foe; thou art a cringing car; thou turnest tail upon the enemy; thou courtest the friendship of the world; thou hast not courage enough to dare to do the right and the true; thou hast past under the yoke of Satan and thine own passions, and to conceal thine own cowardice thou art base enough to call the brave Christian man a coward. Out on thee, for adding lying to thine other vices!
Oftentimes, if we follow Christ we shall need to be brave indeed in facing the world's customs. You will find it so, young man, in a mercantile house. You will find it so, husband, even in connection with your own wife and children, if they are unsaved. Children have found this so in the school. Traders find it so in the market-place. He that would be a true Christian had need wear a stout heart.
There is a story told of Dr. Adam Clarke, which shows the courage which the youthful Christian sometimes needs. When he was in a shop in the town of Coleraine, they were preparing for the annual fair, and some rolls of cloth were being measured. One of them was too short, and the master said, "Come, Adam, you take that end, and I will take the other, and we will soon pull it, and stretch it till it is long enough." But Adam had no hands to do it with, and no ears to hear his master's dishonest order, and at last he flatly refused, whereupon the master said, "You will never make a tradesman; you are good for nothing here; you had better go home, and take to something else."
Now, that thing may not be done now, for men do not generally cheat in that open downright kind of way nowadays, but they cheat after more roguish fashions. The records of the Bankruptcy Court will tell you what I mean Bankruptcies one after another of the same person are doubled-distilled thieving, generally; not old-fashioned thieving like that which once brought men to transportation and to the gallows, but something worse than highway robbery and burglary.
The genuine Christian will every now and then have to put his foot down, and say, "No, I cannot, and I will not be mixed up with such a thing as that," and will have to say this to his master, to his father, to his friend, whose respect he desires to gain, and who may be of the greatest possible assistance to him in life. But if it be your duty, my dear brother and sister, thus to do the right, do it if the skies fall. Do it if poverty should stare you in the face. Do it if you should be turned into the streets to-morrow. You shall never be a loser by God in the long run; and if you have to Suffer for righteousness' sake, blessed are you!
Count yourselves to be happy that you have the privilege of making any sacrifice for the sake of conscience, for in these days we have not the power to honor God as they did who went to prison, and to the rack, and to the stake; let us not, therefore, cast aside other opportunities which are given to us of showing how much we love the Lord, and how faithfully we desire to serve Him. Be very courageous to do what the Lord Jesus bids you in all things, and let men judge you to be an idiot if they will, you shall be one of the Lord's champions, a true Knight of the Cross.
The world saith, "We must not be too precise." Hypocritical world! The world means that it would be glad to get rid of God's law altogether, but as it scarcely dares to say that point-blank, it cants with the most sickening of all cant, "We must not be too particular, or too nice." As one said to an old Puritan once, "Many people have rent their consciences in halves could not you just make a little nick in yours?" "No," he said, "I cannot, for my conscience belongs to God." "We must live, you know," said a money-loving shopkeeper, as his excuse for doing what he could not otherwise defend. "Yes, but we must die," was the reply, "and therefore we must do no such thing." There is no particular necessity for any of us living. We are probably better dead, if we cannot live without doing wrong.
The very essence of obedience, I have said, lies in exactness. Probably your
child, if sometimes disobedient, would still, as a general rule, do what you
told him. It would be in the little things that thorough-going and commendable obedience would appear. Let the world judge of this for itself. Here is an honest man. Do people say of him, "He is such an honest man that he would not steal a horse"? No, that would not prove him to be very honest; but they say, "He would not even take a pin that did not belong to him." That is the world's own description of honesty, and surely when it comes to obedience to God it ought to be the same.
Here is a merchant, and he boasts, "I have a clerk, who is such a good accountant that you would not find a mistake of a single penny in six months' reckoning." It would not have meant much if he had said, "You would not find a mistake of ten thousand pounds in six months' reckoning." And yet if a man stands to little things, and is minute and particular, worldlings charge him with being too stringent, too strict, too straitlaced, and I know not what besides; while all the time, according to their own showing, the essence of honesty and of correctness is exactness in little things.