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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

1 Samuel 19

Verses 1-24

Religious Enthusiasm, True and False

1 Samuel 19:18-24

This is a sort of subject that needs to be thought out and discreetly treated. And yet it can never be made quite plain. It goes off into mystery on every side; for the action of the nervous system is involved in this, and the whole question of contagious emotion which not the best physiologists thoroughly understand. But without going into physiological questions, there are here things very plain which ought to be known by all intelligent Christians.

I. There is a religious excitation or excitement which may not have any moral quality or influence whatever. It is not affected it is real. It is not insincere; it is sincere. I mean a person who really is lifted up and carried along with a rush of sacred enthusiasm. He cries for mercy, and he sings loudly of salvation. I do not say that all excitement is useless, but I say that there is an excitement that only amounts to this. God forbid that we should for a moment deny that there are cases in which people get real permanent good. But the excitement is only the accompaniment; it is not the change. The only thing of real value is the exercise of conscience, and enlightenment of the understanding, the turning of the affections and the will to God in Christ and to righteousness.

II. The degree in which religious emotion overpowers the body is generally proportioned to the ignorance of the mind, or to its alienation or estrangement from God. David joined the company of these prophets without any excitement or frenzy. Why was that? Because David had more of the matter in him than Saul. He was a man of God himself, and the religious emotions flowed through him without resistance found in him a congenial recipient. But Saul was in an evil mood. Envy and murder were in his heart, and when this pure sacred impulse came upon him it met with the stronger resistance. Then there was this bodily manifestation, this falling down upon the ground, which far from being a sign of grace, was rather indicative of the lower moral state in which the man was found, and the resistance that his mind and heart made to the spirit upon him.

III. If this is right, and surely this is right it is historical this case should teach those persons who have at various times made a great ado over prostrations and trances and long fastings as signs of the work of grace to be somewhat more cautious in their utterances. These things occur almost always in the case of a morbid hysterical temperament, in which case they are only a sign of disease, not of health; or in the case of a very ignorant person who is overwhelmed with things of which he has no intelligent conception; or in cases where there has been a very awful estrangement from God, and the Word of His grace finds an obstruction. The Bible teaches us to be calm and fervent, fervent and calm. Let the evidence of our Christian faith and character be found not in any passing mood of excitement, but in the moral excellence that we exhibit in the fruit of the light and of the spirit that we daily bring forth.

D. Fraser, British Weekly Pulpit, vol. II. p. 178.

References. XIX. 24. F. D. Maurice, Prophets and Kings, p. 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1870. XIX. W. M. Taylor, David King of Israel, p. 52.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 19". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-samuel-19.html. 1910.