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Solomon and Toleration
1 Kings 11:6-11.11.8
I. There is a proverb that tells us that 'no one became thoroughly bad all at once,' 'Nemo repente fit turpissimus'. And so it was with Solomon; as the stream of his career sweeps by us in Holy Scripture, windows, as it were, are opened for us through which we gaze out on that sunny flood, so full of promise, carrying on its bosom such rich opportunities and varied treasures, and we note that as it gets wider it loses its pure beauty, as it gets deeper it parts with its simplicity. When we see Solomon again he is the liberal patron of error. He is not an idolater; it would not be fair to call him that. But he would tell us that 'he is no bigot,' that the Sidonians and the Moabites were sincere in what they believed and practised, that his first duty was to the empire, and to consolidate the acquisitions which he had made; that after all there is an element of truth underlying all religion; 'all worships are true'. It always sounds well to be tolerant; but believe me it is a deadly thing to be indifferent. Depend upon it, when Solomon says 'I do not care in the least what form of religion I follow,' when he attends the temple services in the morning, and some other imported religion in the afternoon, and lets his Egyptian wife take him to a third in the evening, he is not tolerant; be is indifferent.
II. But Solomon does not stop at undenominationalism. No one does. It is an impossible position. He settles down a step further into aestheticism, the worship of the beautiful, the luxurious, the fascinating. We detect and we detest the hollow ring of insincerity which hangs round the utterance which does not come from the heart. And so it is with worship that means nothing, which does not spring from any conviction, any sense of God, but which only tickles a man's sense of novelty, or languidly appeals to his aesthetic tastes. Solomon was not spreading religion when he erected the numerous shrines for the manifold superstitions of the East, and their attractive rites. He was degrading it, he was vitiating the religious instinct and depriving the religious sense. Let us remember that all the beauty, all the magnificence of the services of the Church are for the honour and glory of God, and that if we fail to honour Him, fail to find Him, fail to worship Him, they only add to our own condemnation.
III. But the worship of aestheticism has no finality about it. Do not suppose it, for one moment, if any of you have given up vital belief, if you have ceased to believe in God and his Sacraments, that you will be able to go on finding religious satisfaction in beautiful sounds and artistic sights: you will either get better, or you will get worse, and it is terribly easy to get worse. The end of Solomon's career is not encouraging; the least you can say of it is, that it is shrouded in gloom. Wise Solomon, who began with building the temple, goes on by tolerating error, to become a besotted voluptuary and to insult God. It is the history of many a man who has forgotten the lesson of his youth, who is false to his tradition, and falls below his own standard.
W. C. E. Newbolt, Words of Exhortation, p. 20.
References. XI. 11. H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 745 ; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv. p. 84.
1 Kings 11:9
This is a very sad chapter. It recalls at once the greatness of the opportunity that Solomon had what Solomon might have been. Solomon is a type for us of degeneration that falling away from that which we might have become, wasting the opportunities that have been given to us, and so slipping downward instead of progressing upward. When we look on the character of Solomon, remembering all that he knew of God, all that had been revealed to him, and how he had in his earlier days responded to the call of God, then the picture is more sad, and it holds up to us a warning of what may come to others, however great their blessings and their opportunities, if they deal with the evil influences surrounding them.
I. Solomon's Folly. Solomon, we know, recognized his own folly. Nothing is more sad than the way in which Solomon, in his book of Ecclesiastes, said of the world, 'All is vanity,' and yet he himself held to the influences of the world, and checked not the evil influences that surrounded him. He has handed down some wonderful writings wonderful thoughts in the book of Proverbs, in the book of Ecclesiastes, and in that spiritual love song, 'The Song of Solomon'. And how often in his later years must his own words have seemed to come back to him, like heavenly voices of angels! To have known higher things and more glorious conditions, and yet to have fallen away from them! No man was ever born to greater opportunities probably than Solomon. He came to the throne of the kingdom at the very zenith of its power. It was the heyday of Hebrew history. Jerusalem was at this time queen of the cities. The navies of three continents gave up their treasures for the building of the House of the Lord. The splendour of his court is brought before us in the first lesson of this morning, as described in the visit of the Queen of Sheba.
II. His Spiritual Decline. But it was not only earthly greatness that led him astray; there was a certain spirituality, too, in his early days which he seems to have lost. For instance, he makes noble choice of proper gifts when he chose not riches and honour, but wisdom as the gift of God. The energies of the early part of his life were occupied with the building of the temple, over which he bestowed much thought, labour, and interest; and when we read his prayer at the dedication of the temple, full of earnestness and reality, we begin to see from what wondrous heights this man seems to have slipped back, not only in worldly greatness, but even in his spiritual position in relation to God.
III. The Secret of his Fall. What was the secret of his failure? It was rather the passive than the active characteristics which led to his degeneration. Unused powers, spiritual as well as physical, are lost if they are not exercised. There must be force at the back if there is to be any real result in what we do in the worldly life; and in the spiritual life if we just let things go, and fall in with the circumstances by which we are surrounded, then we soon lose that which we might have had. When the body has lost its vitality, how soon it goes to decay; how soon the influences around absorb the dust which returns to dust. And if this is so with the body so even with any limb of the body which we do not use rightly then is it not true also of our spiritual life? We are so inclined in spiritual things to take things as they come, falling in with the sort of influences by which we are surrounded. If it is customary to go to church we go. If it is customary not to go, perhaps we do not go. If it is something a little more than the ordinary to become communicants, then we say, 'Oh, it is not for me, it is making some profession!' In other words, there is no force of spiritual power, no individuality. That seems to me the sort of position, spiritually, that Solomon took up in his later days. He just yielded himself to the influences of the world around him. As the head of a great court, as the king of a race that had now become great, he took all the homage that was brought. He sucked the honey from every flower; and the influences which were surrounding him in his earthly greatness were such as would actually demoralize, pull to pieces, and bring to decay all that was spiritual. So the morality which was his in the earlier days became demoralized, and was gradually lost in degeneration!
IV. The Lesson for Ourselves. What then does this character teach us? It teaches us that we must not put too high a premium upon our surroundings in life; because the influences of the world, the flesh and the devil, which will surely come, will pull to pieces our higher spiritual powers. If God grant us privileges of any kind, let us see what we are doing with them, because the higher spiritual nature, the higher spiritual life, will not be brought to its fullness in us unless there be effort, unless there be spiritual push and force of character, submitting to the will of God, seeking continuously guidance and power from God. If we just 'let be,' we shall soon find that the evil influences by which we are surrounded, wherever we may be placed, whether in the court, or in some back alley where all is sin and wickedness, will demoralize our character, unless there be effort, a seeking of God's power, God's help, and God's grace as well as His mercy. There have been noble lives, with the wisdom and the fear of God, in the vilest surroundings, but, in either case, it has not been the surroundings that have brought about the greatness or the beauty, but the seeking God's help, the using of the opportunities, the rising above the real influences by which we are surrounded. We are so inclined to think that we could do better under different circumstances or surroundings. Now here is a man put before us who had all the world at his disposal given to him from above, and yet what a picture of degeneration! Let us see to it, then, wherever God may have placed us, that there may be none of that spirit of 'let be,' of letting the influences take their course. There must be an individuality, an exercise of will, a personal individual seeking of God's help, and a using of the gifts He has placed at our disposal. Then, whatever may be the results of our life here as regards worldly prosperity, there will be a strengthening of the roots, a growth of power, and the blossom and fruit of spiritual life. Let us beware, when we read of the degeneration and the backsliding of Solomon, of yielding passively to the influences by which we are surrounded; and let us constantly exercise that spiritual life which God has granted to us, ever and continually seeking His power and help, that our life may bring forth its true harvest to glorify God.
References. XI. 21. S. Baring-Gould, One Hundred Sermon-Sketches, p. 158. A. Young, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 121.
The Purpose of God
1 Kings 11:31-11.11.32
I. Look at some portions of the plan of God, regarded from the side of His wise omnipotence. Is this world a failure? Does it whirl unchecked and uncontrolled along an aimless path, where luck and fortune and chance are the apparent and only guide to its caprice? Have vice and violence and cunning on the whole the upper hand in the control of the world? No! Remember that God is dealing with a fallen world, where the measures which He takes must be largely remedial, and tending towards a future rather than self-sufficient in the present. This power of God is displayed in the progress which is made, in spite of all the broken surface of storm-water scattered by the wind and driven by the tempest. Look out over the world and you will see progress you cannot deny it tending towards a renewal of that time when in the beginning God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good; while by the side of progress we see the unerring punishment which overtakes sin and evil retribution we call it a sign that God has given us a law which cannot be broken.
II. Equally shallow is the criticism which would believe the purpose of God to have failed in his Church. The Church is God's kingdom set up for the better management of the world. Wherever you go, even to the remotest parts of this realm, you find the beneficent action of the law securing you freedom and enriching you with privileges. If you pause to think at all, you will feel that life is fuller and richer for you by means of the civilization which shelters and develops it. In like manner the Church was meant to embrace us with a scheme of beneficence, to protect us from spiritual evil, to secure us our rights, and privileges, to help us in the midst of a fallen world. It is God's method of government that we may get the greatest good and the least harm out of the world where He has placed us. And most emphatically the Church has not been a failure. When Judaism despises the Gospel, the Gospel is carried to the Gentiles; when the wave is driven back on the shore of the West it laps up in a wider flood on the East; when it surges back from the East and West it is driven up with vigour further into the North or down into the South.
III. But there is another region yet, a region of which all of us know something, where we are apt to charge God with failure, and upbraid Him with the fickleness of His gifts. I mean the region of our own souls. Men turn round on the Old Bible and say it has failed; on the simple life of prayer and devotion, and say it has proved powerless to effect its purpose. Would that we realized more fully the love, the wonderful economy of the purpose of God. What can be more sad than the complete breakdown of the moral sense in the heart once alive unto God. Wise Solomon sunk in sensuality; David, whose heart was responsive to every ripple of the Divine breast, dull and insensate; the altar of God spurned, Sunday desecrated; evil eagerly followed; the shame of vice causing no blush, the meanness of it no compunction! And yet God's purpose survives in another way. Magdalen stands before the world to cheer it with the sight of a penitent love, more deep, more ultra, because like a precious flower, it has been snatched out of the abyss of sin. If ever you have been religious, when you are now cold and dead, cherish that seed of life. God means yet again to revive it, if you will let Him.
W. C. E. Newbolt Words of Exhortation, p. 63.
References. XII. 8. R. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 78. XII. 21-24. F. D. Maurice, Prophets and Kings, p. 87. XII. 23-25. W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi. p. 62.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Kings 11". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany