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1 Samuel 12
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ 1-samuel-12.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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1 Samuel 12:1-5
And Samuel said unto all Israel.
A statesman’s retrospect
The closing years in the life of Samuel, the last and greatest of the judges, witnessed a transition in the method of governing the nation of Israel from the theocracy to the monarchy. By the wise, unselfish action of Samuel, this transition, which might have involved grave national controversy and bloodshed, was peaceably made. Samuel’s work was, therefore, as a ruler, transferred to Saul; and though he continued for some years to exercise the functions of prophet, administrative duties passed into other hands. This address is a fine example of ancient Hebrew eloquence, and it manifestly appealed to the conscience and heart of the audience addressed. It touched upon three important points.
I. Vindication of personal character and administration. In his splendid review what facts emerged that should commend the retiring leader to the gratitude and appreciation of the nation he had sought to serve?
1. His loyalty to the national request for a king. We know how acutely he had felt his supersession of himself, and how he had directed his prayer to God in respect of it; but he had waived his own strong objection, and had dutifully assisted in the appointment of the divinely selected monarch.
2. His long and blameless life. High position magnifies every human quality, heightens every excellency, and blackens every blot of human character. But Samuel’s long career furnished no fault on which the most acute enquiry could fasten, no deviation from the right path that the sternest rectitude could condemn. What a magnificent challenge.
3. His upright administration. Samuel challenged the people on the question of his “official life,” as well as on his personal character. His public duties had been as free from exaction and oppression as his private life from moral taint. Nothing is more common, it is said, in Eastern lands, even down to this day, than oppression and exaction on the part of rulers and public men having charge of the government and taxation of the people.
II. Defence of God’s previous government of Israel. Note:--
1. The principle of this government. The theocracy, under which Israel had so long lived and prospered, meant the supreme and recognised sovereignty of God. By the test of experience, the test of practical results on the national life, the theocracy had its amplest vindication. Under it the nation had enjoyed signal prosperity.
2. The agency by which administered. This unique method of national government was carried on by specially selected rulers, appointed as the exigencies of the times demanded. God raised up men--great men--to meet emergencies of national life as they arose.
3. The law by which controlled. This law was the nation’s loyalty to God. When the nation was true to its best traditions, true to the faith and worship of the living God, true to the sublime morality of the Ten Commandments, God’s benediction rested upon them, and national prosperity followed. In this memorable address Samuel referred also to:--
III. The conditions of continued national prosperity.
1. Changed political conditions do not change moral or religious obligations. King or no king, God’s claim on the worship and service of Israel could not be abrogated or diminished. Amid all the changes of their national life, that was the one thing that was changeless. A new king on the throne, or a new form of government of the realm, did not and could not alter that. What is morally wrong cannot be politically right. What is wrong in England is wrong in India. If it is wrong to break the Sabbath at home, it is wrong to break it abroad. Christianity knows no geographical limits in the scope of its message, or the authority of its claims. Public opinion may change and vary, but it ought not, and must not, override the higher and more authoritative law of God.
2. Righteousness exalteth a nation. John Ruskin, in the opening paragraph of his “Stones of Venice,” tells us that “Since the first dominion of men was asserted over the ocean, three thrones, of mark beyond all others, have been set upon its sands: the thrones of Tyre, Venice, and England. Of the first of these great powers only the memory remains; of the second, the ruin; the third, which inherits their greatness, if it forget their example, may be led through prouder eminence to less pitied destruction.” No lesson is more urgently needed in our time than this. Vice means weakness and decay; virtue, devotion, humanity--these mean strength and permanence. The conditions of national prosperity, then, are clear and uniform. They are reverence for sacred things, obedience to the law of God in personal, social, and national affairs alike, consideration for others, and unselfish service to promote their interests and welfare. (Thomas Mitchell.)
Saul’s confirmation in the kingship
After the great victory over the Ammonites at Jabesh-Gilead, Samuel said to the people, “Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there.” The people were in a mood to listen to the advice. They were full of enthusiasm for Saul, and of gratitude to God on account of their splendid success. And Samuel wisely took advantage of the occasion to confirm the loyalty, not only of the people to the king, but also of the king and people to God.
1. After the feast, perhaps in the course of the afternoon, Samuel solemnly addressed the vast assembly. His aim, in the first part of his speech, was to show that they had nothing to justify their demand for a king in the character of his administration.
2. Samuel’s aim in the second part of his speech was to show that they had nothing to justify their demand for a king in the character of the Divine administration.
3. But, after convicting them of slighting God in asking for an earthly sovereign, Samuel now speaks to them about their present duty. (T. Kirk.)
Samuel’s vindication of himself
No doubt Samuel felt that, after the victory at Jabesh-Gilead, he had the people in a much more impressible condition than they had been in before; and while their minds were thus so open to impression, it was his duty to urge on them to the very uttermost the truths that bore on their most vital well-being. The reasons why Samuel makes such explicit reference to his past life and such a strong appeal to the people as to its blameless character is that he may establish a powerful claim for the favourable consideration of the advice which he is about to give them. If you have reason to suspect an adviser of a selfish purpose let him argue as he pleases, you do not allow yourselves to be moved by anything he may say. But if you have good cause to know that he is a disinterested man you feel that what such a man urges comes home to you with extraordinary weight.
1. The first consideration he urged was that he had listened to their voice in making them a king. He had not obstructed nor baulked them in their strong feeling, though he might reasonably enough have done so.
2. In the next place Samuel adverts to his age. What Samuel delicately points to here is the uniformity of his life. He had not begun on one line, then changed to another. Such steadiness and uniformity throughout a long life genders a wonderful weight of character. Happy the Church, happy the country, that abounds in such worthies!--men, as Thomas Carlyle said of his peasant Christian father, of whom one should be prouder in one’s pedigree than of dukes or kings, for what is the glory of mere rank or accidental station compared to the glory of Godlike qualities, and of a character which reflects the image of God Himself?
3. The third point to which Samuel adverts is his freedom from all acts of unjust exaction or oppression, and from all those corrupt practices in the administration of justice which were so common in Eastern countries. Is there nothing here for us to ponder in these days of intense competition in business and questionable methods of securing gain? Surely the rule of unbending integrity, absolute honesty, and unswerving truth is as binding on the Christian merchant as it was on the Hebrew judge. No doubt Samuel was a poor man, though he might have been rich had he followed the example of heathen rulers. But who does not honour him in his poverty, with his incorruptible integrity and most scrupulous, truthfulness, as no man would or could have honoured him had he accumulated the wealth of a Cardinal Wolsey and lived in splendour rivalling royalty itself? It is right that we should very specially take note of the root of this remarkable integrity and truthfulness of his toward men. For we live in times when it is often alleged that religion and morality have no vital connection with each other, and that there may be found an “independent morality” altogether separate from religious profession. Let it be granted that this divorce from morality may be true of religions of an external character, where Divine service is supposed to consist of ritual observances and bodily attitudes and attendances, performed in strict accordance with a very rigid rule. Wherever such performances are looked on as the end of religion they may be utterly dissociated from morality, and one may be, at one and the same time, strictly religious and glaringly immoral. But wherever religion is spiritual and penetrating, wherever sin is seen in its true character, wherever men feel the curse and pollution of sin in their hearts and lives, another spirit rules. The will of God is a terrible rule of life to the natural man--a rule against which he rebels as unreasonable, impracticable, terrible. How then are men brought to pay supreme and constant regard to that will? How was Samuel brought to do this, and how are men led to do it now? In both cases, it is through the influence of gracious, Divine love. Samuel was a member of a nation that God had chosen as His own, that God had redeemed from bondage, that God dwelt among, protected, restored, guided, and blessed beyond all example. The heart of Samuel was moved by God’s goodness to the nation. More than that, Samuel personally had been the object of God’s redeeming love; and though the hundred-and-third Psalm was not yet written, he could doubtless say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities,” etc. It is the same gracious, Divine action, the same experience of redeeming grace and mercy, that under the Christian dispensation draws men’s hearts to the will of God; only a new light has been thrown on these Divine qualities by the Cross of Christ. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
Samuel on his defence
The scene explains itself. In olden times, meetings of this kind were held in the open air. In earlier French history, the warriors used to meet in the month of May, and the king was carried round on a shield, to receive their homage. When our king Alfred divided the country into “hundreds,” he directed the heads of families to meet together at fixed seasons, the muster place being sometimes round a well-known tree, and there is in existence to this day such a tree, which gave its name to the hundred or wapen-take. And in the Isle of Man the farmers of the island meet once a year in the open air to transact business, to this very day. Israel in this chapter is met together in the same way. They are under a bright eastern sky, the young king stands before them--a fine figure to behold; perhaps the handsomest man of his time--and by his side stands an old man, hoary, and grey-headed. We must now leave all the rest, and think only of this grey-headed old man.
I. The public man’s influence and temptations. Samuel spent about fifty years in a public life like this. Consider the influence he would necessarily acquire. If he has become known for being a sound thinker, competent to advise and willing to do so, men never mention his name without respect. They will go and ask him for opinions on matters that it seems almost impertinent to trouble him with. He seems only to live to assist others. Every house is open to him, and he carries many matters of importance without opposition. With such influence, consider what will be his temptations! If he has given a decision favourable to a man and that man, out of gratitude, sends him a handsome present, how tempting it will be to receive it. In going the round of his sessions he would probably receive hospitality from some of the richer men about; it would be his due. Now, suppose one of these richer men who had entertained him handsomely came into court, how tempting it would be to listen to him a little more favourably! What opportunities, too, he has to benefit his family. A man in such a position has sometimes disagreeable things to do. If he decides one way, he may make a powerful man his enemy. That enemy may annoy him much, may libel his character and torment him terribly. The temptation will then be to get rid of such a tormentor, by oppressing him and putting him down.
II. Fidelity to trust. We are all in some places of trust. No man lives for himself alone. It is a very great mistake for any man to suppose that he has no influence. Who is more respected by any right-minded man than an honourable servant of standing character? I don’t know anyone more entitled to sympathy and kindness than those who have grown hoary and grey in service. Well, then, you that are men and women in the prime of life, whatever be your occupation, put this model before you, this speech of Samuel’s.
III. The joy of a pure conscience. Children and young people, in this life of Samuel there is nothing that you cannot do in your way. Say to yourselves every day as you begin, “I am determined, God being my helper, to be so faithful in all that I do, that no man shall charge me with wronging him.” You will fail sometimes, and be grieved at your failure. Yet be not discouraged, but persevere, and you may, if spared to be old and grey-headed, totter down the aisle of your church, or the streets of your village or town, with the consciousness of clean hands. There is no joy unmixed in this world. In his old age Samuel could have applied to himself the words of our great dramatist:--Tho’ I look old, I’m lusty; For never in my youth did I woo the means of debility. Therefore mine age is as a lusty winter--Frosty, yet kindly. Let me be your servant. I’ll do the service of a younger man. But no! the appeal had not its right effect. His countrymen were not grateful to him, as they ought to have been; they wanted this young king--something new--and the old man in his old age was to be forgotten. We must be prepared to be misunderstood--to find even a friend, who ought to know better, grow cool. But, firm in our upright course, we must fall back on the approbation of a pure conscience. A man need not skulk and hang his head if his conscience tells him that he has nothing to be ashamed of; rather will it whisper to him peace amidst the gloom that might dishearten him. (H. Hiley, D. D.)
Appointment of the first king in Israel
Israel was in the position of a boat which has been borne downs a swift stream into the very suction of the rapids. The best would be that she should be put back; but if it be too late for this, then the best is that there should be in her a strong arm and a steady eye to keep her head straight. And thus it was with Israel. She plunged down the fail madly, rashly, wickedly; but under Samuel’s control, steadily. This part of the chapter we arrange in two branches:--
I. Samuel’s conduct after the mortification of his own rejection. The people having accepted Saul as their king, had been dismissed, and Samuel was left alone, but his feelings were very different from those which he had in that other moment of solitude, when he had dismissed the delegates of the people. That struggle was past. He was now calm. The first moment was a terrible one. It was one of those periods in human life when the whole meaning of life is perplexed, its aims and hopes frustrated; when a man is down upon his face and gust after gust sweeps desolately over his spirit. Samuel was there to feel all the ideas that naturally suggest themselves in such hours--the instability of human affection--the nothingness of the highest earthly aims. But by degrees, two thoughts calmed him. The first was the feeling of identification with God’s cause. “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me.” The other element of consolation was the Divine sympathy. If they had been rebellious to their ruler, they had also been disloyal to Jehovah. Atheism and revolution here, as elsewhere, went hand-in-hand. We do not know how this sentence was impressed by the Infinite Mind on Samuel’s mind; all we know is, he had a conviction that God was a fellow sufferer. The many-coloured phases of human feeling all find themselves reflected in the lights and shadows of ever-varying sensitiveness which the different sentences of His conversation exhibit. Be your tone of feeling what it may, whether you are poor or rich, gay or sad--in society or alone--adored, loved, betrayed, misunderstood, despised--weigh well His words first, by thinking what they mean, and you will become aware that one heart in space throbs in conscious harmony with yours. In its degree, that was Samuel’s support. Next, Samuel’s cheerful way of submitting to his fate is to be observed. Another prophet, when his prediction was nullified, built himself a booth and sat beneath it, fretting in sullen pride, to see the end of Nineveh. Samuel might have done this; he might have withdrawn himself in offended dignity from public life, watched the impotent attempts of the people to guide themselves, and seen dynasty after dynasty fall with secret pleasure. Very different is his conduct. He addresses himself like a man to the exigencies of the moment. Now remark in all this, the healthy, vigorous tone of Samuel’s religion. This man, the greatest and wisest then alive, thought this the great thing to live for--to establish a kingdom of God on earth--to transform his own country into a kingdom of God. It is worthwhile to see how he set about it. From first to last it was in a practical, real way--by activity in every department of life. Now he is deposed: but he has duties still. He has a king to look for, public festivals to superintend, a public feast to preside over; and later on we shall find him becoming the teacher of a school. All this was a religion for life. His spirituality was no fanciful, shadowy thing; the kingdom of God to him was to be in this world, and we know no surer sign of enfeebled religion than the disposition to separate religion from life and life duties. Listen: What is secularity or worldliness? Meddling with worldly things? or meddling with a worldly spirit? We brand political existence and thought with the name “worldly”--we stigmatise first one department of life and then another as secular; and so religion becomes a pale, unreal thing, which must end, if we are only true to our principles, in the cloister. Religion becomes feeble, and the world, deserted and proscribed, becomes infidel.
II. Samuel’s treatment of his successor, after his own rejection, is remarkable. It was characterised by two things--courtesy and generosity. When he saw the man who was to be his successor, he invited him to the entertainment. This is politeness; what we allude to is a very different thing, however, from that mere system of etiquette and conventionalisms in which small minds find their very being, to observe which accurately is life, and to transgress which is sin. Courtesy is not confined to the high bred; often theirs is but the artistic imitation of courtesy. The peasant who rises to put before you his only chair, while he sits upon the oaken chest, is a polite man. Motive determines everything. Something still more beautiful marks Samuel’s generosity. The man who stood before him was a Successful rival. One who had been his inferior now was to supersede him. And Samuel lends him a helping hand--gracefully assists him to rise above him, entertains him, recommends him to the people. It is very touching. Samuel and the people did the game thing--they made Saul king. But the people did it by drawing down Samuel nearer to themselves. Samuel did it by elevating Saul above himself. One was the spirit of revolution, the other was the spirit of the Gospel. In our own day it specially behoves us to try the spirits, whether they be of God. The reality and the counterfeit, as in this case, are singularly like each other. Three spirits make their voices heard, in a cry for Freedom, for Brotherhood, for human Equality. And we must not forget, these names are hallowed by the very Gospel itself. Unless we realise them we have no Gospel kingdom. Distinguish, however, well the reality from the baser alloy. The spirit, which longs for freedom puts forth a righteous claim; for it is written, “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Brotherhood--the Gospel promises brotherhood also--“One is your master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” Equality--Yes. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free.” This is the grand Federation, Brotherhood, Emancipation of the human raze. Now the world’s spirit aims at bringing all this about by drawing others down to the level on which each one stands. The Christian spirit secures equality by raising up. The man that is less wise, less good than I--I am to raise up to my level in these things. Yes, and in social position too, if he be fit for it. I am to be glad to see him rise above me, as generously as Samuel saw Saul. And if we could but all work in this generous rivalry, our rent and bleeding country, sick at heart, gangrened with an exclusiveness, which narrows our sympathies and corrupts our hearts, might be all that the most patriotic love would have her. Once more there is suggested to us the thought that Samuel was now growing old. They might forget Samuel--they might crowd round his successor--but Samuel’s work could not be forgotten; years after he was quiet and silent, under ground, his courts in Bethel and Mizpeh would form the precedents and the germs of the national jurisprudence. A very pregnant lesson. Life passes, work is permanent. It is all going--fleeting and withering. Youth goes. Mind decays. That which is done remains. Deeds never die. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Samuel, seer and statesman
The character of Samuel itself is one which surely sets before us a type of that class of character which we can see in all departments of public life. Will you allow me to ask you to notice not merely the greatness of Samuel, but those causes which seem to have contributed to the formation of that character which lay at the back of his greatness? First, I may remind you how great Samuel was in the history of Israel. He has been called the second Moses, and not without reason.
I. The greatness of Samuel is seen in the three-fold aspect of his life. He was great as a judge in an era of considerable political confusion; he was great in that he founded, or was considered to have founded, what was called the school of prophets; and he was great also in that, in an era of transition, he acted as a consummate statesman. We have only to recall the significance of those three statements to see how widespread and enduring was that quality of Samuel’s greatness. As a judge in an era of confusion he showed exactly those qualities which were so much needed. And you mark that he had seen some of the symptoms of moral deterioration in his early days. He had seen the loose habits which had crept in in all quarters, he had seen the immoral sons of Eli, and how far the immorality had crept into the people when in the very precincts of the sacred place there was such immorality! But that was not all. Where there is a moral deterioration there is always a deterioration of the religious conception. And that is what Samuel had perceived, and therefore he realised that alike in religious thought and in social manners there needed a great reformation. Now there are a great many ways in which you bring about reformation. You may do it by legislation, you may do it by sending broadcast through the world the pressure and persuasion of men. Samuel chose the latter. He knew the only valuable reformation was a reformation which would strike the heart of the people. Watch him now as the statesman. There comes a change; there is inevitably a change in all human life. The development of national life, like the development of individual life, must go on. And this development must mean the passing away of things which are very dear. He showed us the example which will always be the example of wise men in eras of change. When you see a movement has become movement of the people’s thought do not be so unwise as to endeavour to withstand it, unless it be a question of right and wrong, but be wise and direct what you cannot oppose. That is the attitude of Samuel. If you watch him you see him, a man possessed of singular gifts, of great vigour in action, practical, with great insight into the causes which underlie national greatness, and at the same time with that marvellous flexibility that even in his old age he was ready to adjust himself to the new conditions of the life in which he found himself.
II. Samuel’s training for service. If we take him as marked by these features of greatness, we ask, what was the source, what were the forces which came to the formation of a character so strong, so youthfully great. There are two things, surely, which make up the complete man in his later days. One is, of course, the surroundings of his early life, and the other is the character which was originally his. The dramatic interest of life surely lies in this, that you have the raw material of life exposed to certain influences in the home, in the early training of the school, and in the environment of the dawn of life. Watch the environing circumstances in the case of Samuel. No person who understands the influence of home life will, I think, be tempted to undervalue it. Do you not pity Samuel in the second stage of his life? The child who is suddenly withdrawn at a tender age from home and is planted down amidst surroundings which, I think, one may venture without disparagement to call unsympathetic. He could not find sympathy in the wild men who were leading the loose lives of Hophni and Phinehas, and Eli must have been but a grave companion for the young child, but as you watch him he somehow or other identifies himself with the quiet gravity of the old man. Watch him a step further. There comes a moment in which the third influence is seen. The first is home, the second is the general companionship, and the third is the silent influence of the unseen world come into his life. There comes a moment when he is aware that life does not consist merely in those factors of home life which he has known, nor in these various powers of official and national life of which he has had some youthful experience, but behind all activities of the human life there is the great presiding power of the unseen; and in the silent watches of the night there is disclosed to him a consciousness of the great power, the great formative spirit, the great influence of the Divine which is always at work in the hearts and lives of men. And now watch the character which is exposed to these influences. Is there any character in the Bible of which you may say, “The quiet piety of his life was like a growing thing?” There were no startling changes. There was the one solid change from the home into the sanctuary, but for the rest his days were bound each to each by natural piety. Quietly he ripened under the solemn and sweet influences of the sanctuary.
III. The ripened character. And now watch him in his later life, and see the other characteristics. One would have imagined that this child who ripened under these circumstances would have been a person deficient in practical activity, deficient in those stronger and manlier virtues which we think can only be gained in the rude struggle of the more active life. But the man who has been brought up in this fashion had the qualities within him of that dogged determination and that entire devotion to duty which never stumbled at any duty, however arduous, and never shudders or shrinks from any danger; and, therefore, when he takes the reins of power what promptitude and what decision there is in all that he does! This is the man who, in the climax of his life, can show the one great solid quality which was, after all, the true characteristic of his life--the most complete and absolute disinterestedness. What are the conditions which we desire to see established in national life? If Samuel is to be an expression, or a type, or a teaching to us, then surely we want men who are absolutely free from self-interest. The danger of nations lies in self-interest. May I venture to say it without being misinterpreted?--this danger of self-interest in national affairs becomes much more dangerous as the complexity of life grows, and therefore the opportunities of manipulating affairs for personal interest begin to multiply upon us. What is the secret of having a disinterested mind? Jesus Christ was the supreme teacher, remember, and remember those words which He said, which we ought to write forever in our hearts--I would emblazon them upon the walls of our Law Courts and our political assembly rooms--“If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” Is there any inspiration of single-mindedness, is there any way that we can get the power to rid ourselves of self-interest? The voice of God heard always, the voice of God in the still hours of the night. That which makes the difference between man and man lies in this: his relationship to God. And it was because Samuel had found God in his life so early that God was in his life all through, and wherever he stood it was God that he saw. How much may we not be warped by personal interests, by the desire of some gain, by the opportunities which so often in the hurly-burly of affairs come in temptations before us! What need there is that we in such hours should be, as Samuel would have the people, purged from our own offences, all our gods of covetousness and idolatry put far away, and standing once more as a people hearing the voice of God. (W. Boyd Carpenter, D. D.)
1 Samuel 12:2
I am now old and grey-headed.
A good old age
A good old age has been cynically defined as “an age at which a man is good for nothing;” but it is our own fault if we are good for nothing in old age. The old can help the rising generation by sympathy and advice, and do much to prevent them from rising in the wrong direction. (Quiver.)
Age in the service of God
The late Mr. George Muller, of Bristol, sent this testimony as a message to Christian Endeavourers: “The joy of serving God increases with the multiplying years. I have never had more delight in the work of the Master than now, at the end of more than threescore years and ten. The richest blessings will be discovered in the path of service.”
Beautiful old age
How beautiful it is to see a man, below whose feet time is crumbling away, holding firmly by the Lord whom he has loved and served all his days, and finding that the pillar of cloud, which guided him while he lived, begins to glow in its heart of fire as the shadows fall, and is a pillar of light to guide him when he comes to die. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A peaceful retrospect
The only life that bears being looked back upon is a life of Christian devotion and effort. It shows fairer when seen in the strange cross lights that come when we stand on the boundary of two worlds--with “the white radiance of eternity” beginning to master the vulgar oil lamps of earth--than when seen by these alone. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1 Samuel 12:3-5
Behold, here I am, witness against me.
A bold and just challenge of an old judge, made before all the people, upon his resignal of the government into the hands of a new king. In which words are observable both the matter and form of Samuel’s challenge. We may observe concerning Samuel three things. First, his great forwardness in the business, in putting himself upon the trial by his own voluntary offer, before he was called thereunto by others. “Behold, here I am.” Secondly, his great confidence, upon the conscience of his own integrity; in that he durst put himself upon his trial before God and the world. “Witness against me before the Lord, and before His Anointed.” Thirdly, his great equity, in offering to make real satisfaction to the full, in case anything should be justly proved against him in any of the premises, “Whose ox, or whose ass, etc., and I will restore it you.”
I. Samuel on self-testing voluntarily. We cannot marvel that Samuel should thus offer himself to the trial, when no man urged him to it; since there may be rendered so many congruous reasons for it. Especially being withal so conscious to himself, of having dealt uprightly, that he knew all the world could not touch him with any wilful violation of justice. He doth not therefore decline the trial, but seek it. The righteous are bold as a lion. The merchant that knoweth his wares to be faulty, is glad of the dark shop, and false light; whereas he that will uphold them right and good, willeth his customers to view them in the open sun. A corrupt magistrate or officer may sometimes set a face upon it, and in a kind of bravery bid defiance to all the world; but it is then when he is sure he hath power on his side to bear him out; when he is so backed with his great friends that no man dare once open his lips against him for fear of being shut. Even as a rank coward may take up the bucklers, and brave it like a stout champion, when he is sure the coast is clear and nobody near to enter the lists with him. And yet all this is but a mere flourish, a faint and feigned bravado; his heart the while is as cold as lead, and he meaneth nothing less than what he maketh show of. If the offer should be indeed accepted, and that his actions were like to be brought upon the public stage, there to receive a due and impartial hearing and doom; how would he then shrink and hold off trow ye? Be just then, fathers and brethren, and ye may be bold: so long as you stand right, you stand upon your own legs, and not at the mercy of others. But turn aside once to defrauding, oppressing, or receiving rewards, and you make yourselves slaves foreverse Possibly you may bear up, if the times favour you, and by your greatness out-face your crimes for a while: but that is not a thing to trust to. The wind and the tide may turn against you, when you little think it: and when once you begin to go down the wind, every base and busy companion will have one puff at you, to drive you the faster and farther down. Yet mistake not, as if I did exact from magistrates an absolute immunity from those common frailties and infirmities, whereunto the whole race of mankind is subject: the imposition were unreasonable. I doubt not but Samuel, notwithstanding all this great confidence in his own integrity, had yet among so many causes, as in so many years space had gone through his hands, sundry times erred in judgment, either in the substance or the sentence, or at least in some circumstances of the proceedings. By misinformations, or misapprehensions, or by other passions or prejudices, no doubt but he might be carried, and like enough sometimes was, to shew either more lenity, or more rigour, than was in every respect expedient. But this is the thing that made him stand so clear, both in his own conscience and in the sight of God and the world, that he had not wittingly and purposely perverted judgment, nor done wrong to any man with an evil or corrupt intention.
II. Samuel’s confidence. See we next, what the things are he doth with so much confidence disclaim, as the matter of the challenge. It is in the general, injury or wrong: the particular kinds whereof in the text specified, are fraud, oppression, and bribery. Against all and every of these he expressly protesteth. It is verily nothing so much as our covetousness that maketh us unjust: which St. Paul affirmeth to be the root of all evil; but is most manifestly the root of this evil of injustice. But men that are resolved of their end (if this be their end, to make themselves great and rich howsoever) are not much moved with arguments of this nature. The evidence of God’s Law, and conscience of their own duty, work little upon them: gain is the thing they look after; as for equity they little regard it. A man may seem to profit by them, and to come up wonderfully for a time; but time and experience show, that they moulder away again at the last, and crumble to nothing; and that for the most part within the compass of an age. What gained Ahab by it, when he made himself master of Naboth’s vineyard, but the hastening of his own destruction? And what was Gehazi the better for the gifts be received from Naaman? which brought an hereditary leprosy with them? And what was Achan the richer for the golden wedge he had saved out of the spoils, and hidden in his tent, which brought destruction upon him and all that appertained to him? It ought to be the care of every private man, thus far to follow Samuel’s example that he keep himself from doing any man wrong. But men that are in place of government, as Samuel was, have yet a further charge lying upon them, over and besides the former; and that is, to preserve others from wrong, and being wronged, to relieve them to the utmost of their power. The more have they to answer for that abuse any part of this so sacred an ordinance, for the abetting, countenancing, or strengthening of any injurious act. They that have skill in the laws, by giving dangerous counsel in the chamber or pleading smoothly at the bar. They that attend about the courts, by keeping back just complaints, or doing other casts of their office in favour of an evil person or cause; but especially the magistrates themselves, by a perfunctory or partial hearing, by pressing the laws with rigour, or qualifying them with some mitigation where they ought not. Where others do wrong, if they know it, and can help it, their very connivance maketh them accessories; and then the greatness and eminency of their places enhanceth the crime yet further, and maketh them principals.
1. A very grievous thing it is to think of, but a thing merely impossible to reckon up (how much less then to remedy and reform?) all the several kinds of frauds and deceits that are used in the world. It is stark nought, saith the buyer: It is perfect good, saith the seller: when many times neither of both speaketh, either as he thinketh, or as the truth of the thing is. Blessed is the man, then, in whose heart, and tongue, and hands, there is found no deceit; that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness; and speaketh the truth from his heart; that hath not stretched his wits to hurt his neighbour; nor made advantage of any man’s unskilfulness, simplicity or credulity, to gain from him wrongfully; that can stand upon it, as Samuel here doth, and his heart not give his tongue the lie, that he hath defrauded no man.
2. The other kind of injury, here next mentioned, is oppression: wherein a man maketh use of his power to the doing of wrong, as he did of his wits in defrauding. Which is for the most part the fault of rich and great men; because they have the greatest power so to do, and are not so easily resisted in what they will have done. Yet is it indeed a very grievous sin, forbidden by God himself in express terms (Leviticus 25:1-55). If thou sell ought unto thy neighbour, or buyest ought of thy neighbour’s hand, ye shall not oppress one another: and so going on, concludeth, Ye shall not therefore oppress one another, but thou shalt fear thy God; implying that it is from want of the fear of God that men oppress one another Solomon therefore saith, that he that oppresseth the poor, reproacheth (or despiseth) his Maker (Proverbs 14:1-35). And, indeed, so he doth, more ways than one. First, he despiseth his Maker’s commandment, who hath (as you heard) peremptorily forbidden him to oppress. Secondly, he despiseth his Maker’s creature: the poor man whom he so oppresseth being God’s workmanship as well as himself. Thirdly, he despiseth his Maker’s example; who looketh upon the distresses of the poor and oppressed, to provide for them, and to relieve them. Fourthly, he despiseth his Master’s ordinance; in perverting that power and wealth, which God lent him purposely to do good therewithal, and turning it to a quite contrary use, to the hurt and damage of others. And he that goeth on to reproach his Maker (without repentance) must needs do it to his own confusion He that made him, can mar him when he pleaseth; and the greatest oppressors shall be no more able to stand before him then, than their poorer brethren are now able to stand out against them. But herein especially may you behold the baseness of oppression; that the basest people, men of the lowest rank and spirit, are evermore the most insolent, and consequently (according to the proportion of their power) the most oppressive Solomon compareth a poor man, when he hath the opportunity to oppress another poor man, to a sweeping rain that leaveth no food (Proverbs 28:1-28). How roughly did that servant in the parable deal with his fellow servant, when he took him by the throat for a small debt, after his master had but newly remitted to him a sum incomparably greater? The reason of the difference was the master dealt nobly, and freely, and like himself, and had compassion; but the servant, being of a low and narrow spirit, must insult. Conclude hence, all ye that are of generous births or spirits, how unworthy that practice would be in you, wherein men of the lowest minds and conditions can (in their proportion) not equal only, but even exceed you. Which should make you, not only to hate oppression, because it is wicked, but even to scorn it, because it is base, and to despise it.
3. There is yet a third behind, against which Samuel protesteth as a branch of injustice also; which also concerned him more properly as a judge; to wit, bribery. Bribery is properly a branch of oppression. For if the bribe be exacted, or but expected yet so, as that there can be little hope of a favourable, or but so much as a fair hearing without it; then is it a manifest oppression in the receiver, because he maketh an advantage of that power, wherewith he is entrusted for the administration of justice, to his own proper benefit, which ought not to be, and is clearly an oppression. But if it proceed rather from the voluntary offer of the giver, for the compassing of his own ends, then is it an oppression in him; because thereby he getteth an advantage in the favour of the court against his adversary, and to his prejudice. For, observe it, the general oppressors are ever the greatest bribers, and freest of their gifts to those that may bestead them in their suits. What is it to blind the eyes? Or, how can bribes do it? Justice is not unfitly portrayed in the form of a man with his right eye open, to look at the cause; and his left eye shut or muffled, that he may not look at the person. Now a gift putteth all this out of order, and setteth it the quite contrary way. It giveth the left eye liberty but too much, to look asquint at the person; but putteth the right eye quite out that it cannot discern the cause. Even as in the next foregoing chapter, Nahash the Ammonite would have covenanted with the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead, upon condition he might thrust out all their right eyes. “From this property of hoodwinking and muffling up the eyes it is that a bribe is in the Hebrew to cover, to dawn up, or to draw over with lime, plaster, or the like.” Whereunto our English word, to cover, hath such near affinity in the sound that (were it not apparently taken from the French couvrir, and that from the Latin cooperire) it might with some probability be thought to owe its original to the Hebrew. But however it be for the word, the thing is clear enough: this copher doth so cover and plaster up the eyes, that they cannot see to do their office aright, and as they ought.
III. Is Samuel’s equity, in offering, in case anything should be truly charged against him in any of the premises, to make the wronged parties restitution, (Whose ox have I taken? etc. And I will restore it you.). Samuel was confident he had not wittingly done any man wrong, either by fraud, oppression of bribery; whereby he should be bound to make, or should need to offer restitution. A duty, in case of injury, most necessary, both for quieting the conscience within and to give satisfaction to the world; and for the more assurance of the truth and sincerity of our repentance in the fight of God for the wrongs we have done. Without which (at least in the desire and endeavour) there can be no true repentance for the sin. There is an enforced restitution, whereof perhaps Zophar speaketh in Job 20:1-29. (That which he laboured for, he shall restore, and not swallow it down; according to his substance shall the restitution be, and he shall not rejoice therein); and such as the law imposed upon thefts, and other manifest wrongs; which although not much worth, is yet better than none. But as Samuel’s offer here was voluntary: so it is the voluntary restitution that best pleaseth God, pacifieth the conscience, and in some measure satisfieth the world. Such was that of Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-48). It may be feared, if every officer that hath to do in or about the Courts of Justice, should be tied to that proportion, many one would have but a very small surplusage remaining, whereout to bestow the one moiety to pious uses, as Zaccheus there did. There is scarce any one point in the whole body of moral divinity, that soundeth so harsh to the ear, or relisheth so harsh in the palate of a worldling, as that of restitution doth. To such a man this is indeed a hard, very hard saying; yet as hard as it seemeth to be, it is full of reason and equity. Whole volumes have been written of this subject; and the casuists are large in their discourses thereof. But for one thing itself in general, this much is clear from the Judicial Law of God, given by Moses to the people of Israel; from the letter whereof, though Christians be free (positive laws binding none but those to whom they were given), yet the equity thereof still bindeth us as a branch of the unchangeable Laws of Nature. That whosoever shall have wronged his neighbour in anything committed to his custody, or in fellowship, or in anything taken away by violence, or by fraud, or in detaining any found thing, or the like, is bound to restore it; and that in integrum, to the utmost farthing of what he hath taken, if he be able. Not so only, but beside the principal, to offer some little overplus also by way of compensation for the damage; if at least the wronged party have sustained any damage thereby, and unless he shall be willing freely to remit it. The Lord give us all hearts to do that which is equal and right, and in all our dealings with others, to have evermore the fear of God before our eyes; knowing that of the Lord, the righteous Judge, we shall in our souls receive at the last great assize according to that we have done in our bodies here, whether it be good or evil. (Bishop Sanderson.)
Lessons from the life of Samuel
I. The public scenes of a noble life. A man’s life of outward relationships naturally divides into three parts, but there are not fresh and interesting scenes in each part of every man’s life. There were in Samuel’s. Take
1. Samuel’s relation to the social life of his childhood. Eli’s rule was weak. It has been beautifully said that in this case the ivy supported the feeble tottering wall--the child Samuel was the stay of aged Eli. Samuel was the only one there who was in real harmony with God’s holy house. He was a living witness in the world for God, even as a child.
2. Samuel’s relation to the social life of his manhood. Judges were in part patriotic deliverers and in part civil rulers. In Samuel’s life there is one great military scene, that with which the word “Ebenezer” is associated; but his chief work was magistracy and moral influence. In his time the nation was outgrowing the mode of government by temporary and uncertain judgeships; the way was preparing for fixed and hereditary rulers. We may think of him as saying with King Arthur--
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”
3. Samuel’s relation to the social life of his older age. Then came the demand for a hereditary sovereign. And this demand Samuel had to meet, and the Divine response to it he was called to arrange. The position as viewed by Samuel was this,--If Israel was to be a common nation, developing an ordinary civilisation, it would be better for them to have a king, a court, a stated army, and national alliances. But if Israel was to be a special nation, called of God to the supremely high, honourable, unique work of conserving for the world the foundation truths of the Divine revelation, they must be willing to give up what men call civilisation, and keep the separateness and directness of the Divine rule, the theocracy. Alas! they were weak in faith in those days. They chose the lesser good. Samuel became the prophet of the new kingdom; and prophets--or persons in direct relations with Jehovah--were specially needed when the hereditary idea of kingship was destroying the prevailing idea of immediacy of Divine rule.
II. The private sources of the nobility of this life. We note in Samuel--
1. A pure and beautiful childhood. There have been cases in which men of power have come up out of a wild and wayward childhood--Augustine, Loyola, John Newton, etc. But these are exceptions The rule is, that the world’s great benefactors grew out of a lovely, gracious, and godly childhood.
2. The spirit of self-abnegation.
3. Force of character. Illustrated in his later interviews with Saul; in the severity of his carrying out the Jehovah-judgment on Agag; in the influence he gained with the people; and in the scene at his death.
4. Power of prevailing prayer. He was preeminently an interceder.
5. Continuity of goodness--the usual feature marking the life of men whose conversion is a growth rather than a sudden change. The quietly converted usually have a patient, persistent influence for good, along with breadth of view, and readiness to see truth and goodness in others. Samuel’s great power lay in this direction. In Samuel’s case we have this supremely beautiful thing, a whole life for God. (R. Tuck, B. A.)
Retrospsect of public life
There are two great aspects of human character--that which is manifest to the all-seeing eye of God, and that which is seen by men,--both of which are of great importance to every one. It is too common to attend chiefly to the opinion of men, and many who obtain respect from their contemporaries are devoid of the favour of God. But all those who live in the fear of the Most High, seek to maintain a constant character among men. From such motives as these some of the most notable personages of Holy Scripture, ere they laid down their offices, or slept with their fathers, reviewed their whole public career before the people, and challenged accusation if any wrong were manifest. Thus Moses, in the last of his books, gives the retrospect which be spake to the children of Israel, and in which we find this solemn appeal, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing.” Thus also his illustrious successor. Joshua, finished his public life, and left Israel under a solemn obligation to continue in the way wherein he had led them. Thus also St. Paul, when he was about to part with the Ephesian elders, recapitulated his self-denying labours, declared that he was free from the blood of all men, charged them to keep the faith, and received from their tears and affectionate embraces testimony to his zeal for God and his love to them. He had spent his manhood in a struggle to reform the Church and rekindle patriotism. He referred to his sons to show that he claimed no hereditary right to rule, and no indulgence to their guilt. He would not screen them. He was too much concerned for the glory of God and the good of Israel, to permit any personal or relative matter to stand in the way of righteous judgment. No Roman Brutus could feel more self-denial in his patriotism than Samuel in that love for truth and justice which the fear of God imparted to his character. He would not wish respect for him to hide the scandal which his sons had caused. Eli had his family wrecked by neglect of discipline. We are not told that Samuel sinned after the same manner, nor can we suppose it. We have reason to hope that his sons improved under his correction, for we find the next generation among the most godly of their day. Haman, one of the chief singers, and himself the author of some psalms of very deep spiritual experience, was the grandson of Samuel. Samuel was a most notable example, and he was preserved throughout a long period of gross corruption and religious backsliding. Obadiah was another, and the grace of God flourished in his soul, and led to sacrifice for the Lord’s sake, though he lived in Ahab’s godless household and near the wicked Jezebel. Joseph did so, and he was enabled to be faithful amidst temptations to lust, in prison, and in a place of dignity among an idolatrous people. It is good to make an early choice. The course in which it leads you brings no regrets because of your decision. If you would not be afraid of the scrutiny and condemnation of the world, when about to leave it, you must begin and act upon the principle of maintaining a good conscience, and of doing to others as ye would that they should do to you. This was Samuel’s aim, and hence his spotless reputation. His life is both an example and a rebuke.
1. It is an example. To stand forth and make so successful an appeal must have presented to Saul an illustrious example of personal excellence, and of public probity. He thus saw that it was possible to live in high places, and be a righteous man; to administer the state, and retain integrity; to direct the concerns of millions, and receive their spontaneous and unanimous approval--truths which few governors have ever found. He saw that what had been done by one man might be done again by another. Such a specimen of fidelity could not fail to impress his mind. It taught him what the people would expect, and what he should do. It had been well for Saul had he followed so beautiful and righteous an example. Samuel was also an example to the whole people. If there be anything which can recommend the religion of the Bible, surely a consistent example of its living union with an active and public life ought to do so. This we have in a most striking form before us in Samuel. It declares that godliness never blunts, but sharpens the intellect; never destroys, but regulates studies or business; never hinders, but promotes well-being; never narrows, but expands benevolence. “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that Which is to come.”
2. It is a rebuke. (R. Steel.)
Samuel knew that he might tell his grief to the God of all comfort. Such acts of prayer are the soul’s noble confessions of weakness, self-distrust, and self-surrender; but like the turning of the flower to the light, they are its equally noble efforts after strength, fulness of life, and power. In Samuel’s private, personal prayers there is one fact that is specially noteworthy; and that is their consistence with his public life and duty. For it does not always follow from a man having to pray in public and offer to God the desires of others that he will as certainly, and fully, and reverently pray in private, and turn to God with bin own need and trial. Every man is in danger of professionalism, especially in sacred things; and one form of its occurrence is in the possibility that the intercedings at the bedside of the sick, or in public service, may lead to forgetfulness of private intercourse with God. They are truly blessed souls who, the more frequently they are called to speak to others for God and pray to God for their fellows, are able also to preserve freshness and continuousness of personal life with God in prayer. Such a man was Samuel. The same noble and consistent trust in God, and prayer to God, marks the aged prophet, when, Saul having been chosen and anointed king, and having beaten Nahash the Ammonite, the people assembled at Gilgal for the renewal of the kingdom, as it was called. To Saul and the people renewing the kingdom meant jubilation, shouting, and sword brandishing, as much as anything else. To Samuel it meant the re-affirming of their sinfulness, the re-assertion of God’s supremacy, and the solemn declaration that their new and jubilant king was as much under the law and power of God as the meanest peasant that hung on the skirts of the army. See how Samuel dealt with them.
1. First of all, though rejected by them, he challenged judgment on his own life. And this was in order to show the unfitness, the unfairness of the occasion that they had seized for rejecting the Lord his God. It was well for the Jews in after times to be reminded that if, in Samuel’s time, there had not been so much fighting and military pageantry as in David’s reign, nor so much taxation and kingly show as in Solomon’s, nor so much devil worship as in the ceaseless wars and ambition of subsequent kings, yet there had been justice, and judgment, and knowledge, and some little approach to the fear of the Lord. Such rulers and such governments have been rarities and curiosities ever since. But Samuel went farther than challenging judgment on his public life. He offered to restore if anyone had been wronged by him. Most of us are capable of the sentiment of penitence, regret, shame for wrong doing; especially where detected. Many of us say, I will do so no more; but the number fines off into a very small one of those who live to restore to God or man the loss by wrong done or right withheld. Deeper still may be put the probe into our hearts when we think of Paul’s farewell to his friends: “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.” The men who occupy the space in history that Samuel and Paul take up, and of whom such things can be said, are to be remembered more vividly than they have been for such excellencies. Think of the few great honest men of God that have had power over nations, especially those whose names are in this Book; and remember that while none of us can expect to have much success and admiration among men, yet all of us, even the lowliest and the simplest, may be like Samuel and Paul; all of us may be approved of God; all of us may be honest men of God. Think of the men who have occupied public stations with unselfishness and uncovetousness, and honoured it chiefly by integrity and holiness; and let the popular idols fall before your heavenly desire and purpose to be like such men.
2. The next thing that Samuel did was to rehearse the historic goodness of God to them. Though the illustrations of the same truth may not have been so vividly traced in other histories, yet we need to learn and remember that the principles which may be found in Samuel’s words are of worldwide significance. There may not be chosen people now as Israel was then; though, perhaps, if we knew the purposes of God, we might see as much of calling and election among nations as in the olden time. History, as now slowly working itself towards solemn changes among the nations, witnesses abundantly to faith that, as with ancient Israel, so now, God gives no abiding to iniquity among peoples and communities; but that His wrath abides on those who take hands with the wicked, and identify their welfare with the vile of the earth.
3. When Samuel recounted God’s goodness to the Hebrews it involved him in the reassertion of their wickedness. And this he accompanied with a prayer to God, who in answer sent thunder in the midst of wheat harvest, and terrified the sinful nation. Would that God would thunder now when nations do wrong and rulers sin unchecked! It is not for lack of sin that the heavens are silent; and the earth is blood-stained enough to bring more than thunderous voices from heaven to stay the follies and miseries of reckless men. Perhaps God’s people, it may be Christ’s Church, is not praying enough; that the eyes of His covenanted ones are not towards Him for these things; that Christian faith and longings are running in shallow selfish grooves, or round little rings of merely local and personal desire, instead of believing and hoping in Him as the God of all nations and families. With deeper necessities and wider knowledge than ancient Israel, we, at least, might take the spirit of Isaiah’s word, and say to one another in these days of fear and foreboding, “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest till He establish” the nations, and make all lands a praise in the earth.
4. Samuel’s answer to this is one of the tenderest things that ever fell from the lips of man. He counselled them to serve the Lord, and promised them his continued prayers. The almost womanlike tenderness of Samuel to the erring people is seen in his answer to their call for his prayers: “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing, to pray for you: I will teach you the good and right way.” If he could not judge them, he could pray for them; if he could not rule, he could teach. Yet he did not say this to please and soothe them. It would have been sin against the Lord to do otherwise. A man’s Divine work, a prophet’s vocation, a Christian duty is not altered by the rejection or the petition of men. He is the Lord’s servant; whether men will bear or forbear, whether men approve or not, his duties and privileges are too solemn for him to take them up or lay them down at the voice of man. Samuel would still teach, though they forgot his word: he would still pray, for it was God’s will. He did not give them up in shame and sadness: he prayed and taught the more. Is not this altogether worthy in him? Is he not to be admired? But do not the like duties press on us? Are there not times in all our lives when we smart from undeserved injury, or fret over unwarranted neglect and despite? If at such times we but silenced our self-conscious complaints, we might hear a voice calling us to as august and noble an act as Samuel’s. (G. B. Ryley.)
Israel never had a judge like Hannah’s son. Josephus says that Samuel had an “inborn love of justice.” And so he had. Some men still both in public and in private life have that same love of justice born in them. And they are happy men, and all men are happy who have to do with them. Some other men, again, most men indeed, have an inborn love of injustice that they have to fight against all their days. The golden rule is written as if with nature’s own finger, on some men’s hearts; while other men are never able all their days to learn that rule. Samuel was still “The Seer” as he sat on the judgment seat; but there was nothing enthusiastic, carried away, or impracticable about Samuel. He was a clear-eyed, firm-handed, sure-footed, resolute-minded, righteous man, with an inborn sense of truth end righteousness; and all his opinions, and decisions, and sentences carried all men’s consent and conscience with them. In ancient Rome they used to put on a white robe when they went out to ask for the votes of the voters, and it was for this that they were called “candidates” in the language of Rome; clean men, that is, in our language. But it was only one famous name here and another famous name there that came out of office as clean as they entered it. Look at Samuel laying down his office, and putting on his snow-white mantle. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
1 Samuel 12:6-25
And Samuel maid unto the people.
Samuel’s dealings with the people
Having vindicated himself (in the first five verses of this chapter), Samuel now proceeds to his second point, and takes the people in hand. But before proceeding to close quarters with them, he gives a brief review of the history of the nation, in order to bring out the precise relation in which they stood to God, and the duty resulting from that relation (1 Samuel 12:6-12).
1. First, he brings out the fundamental fact of their history. Its grand feature was this: “It is the Lord who advanced Moses and Aaron, and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt.” The fact could not be disputed--their existence as a people and their settlement in Canaan were due to the special mercy of the Lord. And yet there was a want of cordiality on the part of the people in acknowledging it. They were partly at least blind to its surpassing lustre. “How strange it is,” Richard Baxter says in substance somewhere, “that men can see beauty in so many things--in the flowers, in the sky, in the sun--and yet be blind to the highest beauty of all the fountain and essence of all beauty, the beauty of the Lord!” Having emphatically laid down the fundamental fact in the history of Israel, Samuel next proceeds to reason upon it. The reasoning rests on two classes of facts: the first, that whenever the people forsook God they had been brought into trouble; the second, that whenever they repented and cried to God. He delivered them out of their trouble. Now, what, was it that had recently occurred? They had had trouble from the Ammonites. Now, from what Samuel says here, it would appear that this annoyance from the Ammonites was the immediate occasion of the people wishing to have a king. Here let us observe what their natural course would have been, in accordance with former precedent. It would have been to cry to the Lord to deliver them from the Ammonites. But instead of that, they asked Samuel to give them a king, that he might deliver them. You see from this what cause Samuel had to charge them with rejecting God for their King. You see at the same time how much forbearance God exercised in allowing Samuel to grant their request.
2. Samuel is specially concerned to press on the people; and this he does in the remaining verses (1 Samuel 12:13-25), that they were to remember that their having a king in no serene and in no degree exempted them from their moral and spiritual obligations to God. He would show them there and then, under their very ayes, what agencies of destruction God held in His hand, and how easily He could bring these to bear on them and on their property. Oh, what folly it was to offer an affront to the great God, who had such complete control over “fire and hail, anew and vapours, stormy wind fulfilling His word”! What blindness to think they could in any respect be better with another king! Thus it is that in their times of trial God’s people in all ages have been brought to feel their entire dependence on Him.
3. But now, the humble and contrite spirit having been shown by the people, see how Samuel hastens to comfort and reassure them. Now that they have begun to fear, he can say to them, “Fear not.” Now that they have shown themselves alive to the evils of God’s displeasure, they are assured that there is a clear way of escape from these evils. Samuel, moreover, reminds them that it was not they that had chosen God; it was God that had chosen them. “The Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it hath pleased the Lord to make you His people.” This was a great ground of comfort for Israel.
4. Once more, in answer to the people’s request that he would intercede for them, Samuel is very earnest. “God forbid that I should sin again it the Lord in ceasing to pray for you.” The great emphasis with which he says this shows how much his heart is in it. “What should I do, if I had not the privilege of intercessory prayer for you?” There is a wonderful revelation of love to the people here. “I bless God,” said Mr. Flavel, one of the best and sweetest of the old Puritan divines, on the death of his father--“I bless God for a religious and tender father, who often poured out his soul to God for me; and this stock of prayers I esteem the fairest inheritance on earth.” How many a man has been deeply impressed even by the very thought that someone was praying for him! “Is it not strange,” he has said to himself, “that he should pray for me far more than I pray for myself? What can induce him to take such an interest in me?” Every Christian ought to think much of intercessory prayer, and practise it greatly. Think how Moses interceded for the whole nation after the golden calf, and it was spared. Think how Daniel interceded for his companions in Babylon, and the spirit was revealed to him. Think how Elijah interceded for the widow, and her son was restored to life. Think how Paul constantly interceded for all his Churches, and how their growth and spiritual prosperity evinced that his prayer was not in vain. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
1 Samuel 12:8
Which brought forth your fathers out of Egypt.
A child might say to a geographer: “You talk about the earth being round! Look on this great crag; look on that deep dell; look on yonder great mountain, and the valley at its feet, and yet you talk about the earth being round.” The geographer’s view is comprehensive; he does not look at the surface of the world in mere detail; he does not deal with inches and feet and yards; he sees a larger world than the child has had time to grasp. And so it is with God’s wonderful dealings with us: there are great rocks and barren deserts, deep, dank, dark pits and defiles, and glens and dells, rugged places that we cannot smooth over at all, and yet when He comes to say to us at the end of the journey, “Now, look back; there is the way that I have brought you,” we shall be enabled to say, “Thou hast gone before us, and made our way straight.”
1 Samuel 12:9-15
And when they forgot the Lord their God he sold them into the hand of Sisera.
National judgments the consequence of national sins
Let us learn from this transaction the important lesson, that national judgments are the certain consequences of national transgression! A lesson, taught not merely in this particular passage of Jewish history, but written in characters the most legible upon every period of their national career--a truth, for the confirmation of which we need not search the annals of other countries; we have merely to look back to the past experience of our own. Yes, whatever be the instrument to which the Almighty may see fit to entrust the execution of His vengeance; whether it be the sword, or the famine, or the pestilence, or the far more terrible scourge of popular fury and civil discord; whether He raise up a tyrant to oppress His people, and grievously afflict them with a rod of iron; whatever may be the means employed to inflict the chastisement, the occasion of that chastisement is sin. The same spirit is at work among us,--the self-willed spirit of insubordination,--the spirit of opposition to all constituted authority--of dissatisfaction with all long established institutions. The same principles are broached among us; principles which, if carried out to their legitimate conclusions, must lead inevitably to the same miserable results. Now, as in those days, the “majesty of the people” is held to be the only true source of power; the will of the multitude is substituted for the authority of God! Surely, when we see these things come to pass, there can be nothing very unreasonable in the fear that trouble may be hard at hand; that the day of calamity may be nearer than we are willing to believe? Should the Almighty “deal with us after our sins, and reward us according to our iniquities,” (Psalms 103:10), the issue may be easily foreseen. Did the transgression of our fathers draw down upon them the calamities which we this day deplore, and are we better than they? No! in nowise. Our privileges, indeed, are greater--our deliverances have been greater--our responsibilities are greater--let us beware lest our condemnation, also, be greater. (W. Brickwell.)
Unheeding warnings prepare for judgment
“Things to which,” says Manton, “we are used do not work upon us; we are not much moved with them. Custom maketh men sleep quietly by the falls of great waters, where much noise is; and some parts of the body grow callous, brawny, dry, and dead, as the labourer’s hand, and the traveller’s heel, by much use.” So doth the conscience gradually lose its force. At first, like a cataract, its great roar astounds the soul, and effectually prevents its slumbers of carnal security; but by-and-by its noise is scarcely heard, and men are even lulled to sleep by its sound. Now this is to be dreaded exceedingly, for it is the forerunner of doom. No more warnings are heard because sentence has gone forth and the man’s destruction is sealed.
1 Samuel 12:13-25
Now, therefore, behold the king whom ye have chosen.
Samuel’s farewell address
I. One could hardly fail to note what is here taught respecting the condition of true prosperity. Samuel plainly tells people that, in gaining their desire, they had not made sure of blessing. It still remained that they must fear and serve the Lord. Refusing to do this, His hand would be against them. In early times, when man was in his childhood, it was needful that God should make Himself and His will known chiefly through temporal blessings. To fidelity He promised present benefit; against transgression he denounced present ills. Now, it is clear that God does not deal with us in just this way. From the first He sought to lead a sinning race out; into the knowledge and enjoyment of a larger life. He would lead them on to see that there is a better than merely outward and earthly good. Less and less, therefore, did be connect temporal prosperity with obedience. Here, then, is the true good; in the smile of God, communion with Him, His present keeping and guidance, and heirship to an inheritance spiritual and eternal. This, with just such admixture of earthly honour and treasure as seems to God best, is true prosperity. When God would greatly bless, it is in ways like these. Does it need, now, to be greatly insisted that this is conditioned, still and forever, on the fear of God and faithful keeping of His commands? There are those who seem not to see it. Many, apparently, imagine that the present and future smile and favour of God come alike to all; not in gracious offer only, but in actual possession. They rather resent the suggestion that it can make any essential difference. But this is practical atheism--call it by whatever pleasing name we will. Then there is a class who seem to fancy that the requirement of obedience as a condition of present and future good is done away, for us at least, by the gospel promise of gratuitous pardon and free grace. This, too, is a fatal mistake. The seemingly two ways, of Samuel and of Christ, are not two, but one. Never was an Old Testament saint saved by the merit of his works. He, too, came into God’s spiritual household by undeserving favour. But he did not come bringing disobedience and self-will along with him. He came to love, trust, serve, and obey. So does the returning soul now come. And, coming with any other spirit, God cannot give him approving welcome. Now and forever, here and hereafter, true blessing is conditioned upon our walking in God’s way.
II. It will repay us to note the light which this Scripture sheds upon the use of wonders and signs. To confirm the words he had spoken, Samuel makes his appeal to God. He asks a sign from heaven, and his request is granted: “The Lord sent thunder and rain that day.” Robinson, in his Palestine, says: “In ordinary seasons, from the cessation of the showers in spring until their commencement in October and November, rain never falls and the sky is usually serene.” Jerome, whose home was in that land, tells us, “I have never seen rain in Judea in the end of June or in July.” The fulfilment of Samuel’s prediction was thus a wonder and a sign. Now, supposing there is sufficient need of them, nothing is more natural than expectation of such signs from heaven. But that wonders and signs may be at any particular time probable there must be an adequate occasion for them. The end to be accomplished must be worthy, and other and ordinary means inadequate to it. It must be clear that the signs will do what the ordinary means can not. There was such adequate occasion when the book of Revelation was incomplete. It is not certain that there is now, at any time with us, a similar need; and our Saviour, whose wonders were so many and so stupendous, declared that, in response to idle curiosity or unbelieving demand, “no sign shall be given.” Of such, “They have Moses and the prophets, the written gospel and the Divine spirit; if they hear not them, neither would they be persuaded though One rose from the dead.”
III. It is worth our while to note briefly the hint we here have of the real estimate is which the worldly man holds the ungodly. Upon the latter the former sometimes turns his back with not a little seeming scorn. So, in a measure, Israel had done with Samuel. They wanted a more stately rule. But now, no sooner is the sense of their sin and of God’s ready resources of judgment brought home to them than they are glad to get, as we say, under His wing.
IV. In this scripture there are impressive reminders of the great and multiplied incentives which wanderers have to return to God. Why does Samuel remind the people that right relations with God are the condition of true prosperity, save that he may persuade them to return to Him? And why does he make use of the startling sign from heaven but to the same end? What an array of incentives! Surely, if we fail to find God and the blessing He would bestow, the fault cannot be that of Him who sets before us motives so numerous and so great.
V. There is an important intimation running all through these words as to what it is which makes one truly and savingly religious. Upon this point there would seem to be among men a great and strange variety of opinions. Some seem to suppose that religion mainly consists in knowing and holding the truth, or in soundness of intellectual belief; others have thought that he is a sufficiently religious person who reads his Bible, and says his prayers, and goes to his church, and pays his share for its support; there are those who make chief account of warm and ardent religious emotions, and think it enough to delight in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; just now there is a considerable class who would have us understand that religion is summed up in what is termed a good life--in practical reverence for honesty, charity, truth, neighbourly kindness, and kindred virtues. But now the thought which underlies all of Samuel’s words is different from anything here named, What he implies is that true, acceptable, saving religion consists in a right personal relation to a personal God. This does not mean that any one of the things enumerated is worthless, unimportant. Each is an important help to it, or expression or fruit of it. But never are they anywhere in the Scripture set forth as the very thing itself; as that central reality whence all its deep blessedness flows, and in which its reasonableness consists. He is a truly religious man who is in a right personal relation to a personal God.
VI. This address, as a whole, gives us a pleasing glimpse of the beauty and power of unselfish piety. His own were the hands that anointed his successor. To those who have cast him off he pledges his unceasing prayers and gives his cheerful help. In all this there was rare magnanimity. Some good men have fallen greatly below it. Have we not heard of Gospel ministers who, when rightly or wrongly dismissed from their charge, have spoken harsh words and gone out with a resentful spirit? and of Sunday school superintendents, chief singers, and other helpers, who, because another has been put in their place or because disparaging words have been spoken concerning them, have altogether withdrawn from Christian work? This is simply because to step down and out from a place of influence and honour, to see the crown of favour transferred to the head of another, is never easy. To do it patiently takes great grace. Yet it is not impossible. We have witnessed it in ministers and church officials, who have proved just as constant and ardent in the ranks as at the head; in following as when they led. The beauty of such a spirit never fails of recognition. Such men are everywhere beloved. (Monday Club Sermon.)
1 Samuel 12:14
Continue following the Lord your God.
Continuity in service
It has been said that one reason (perhaps the chief one) why the late Emperor of Brazil was dethroned by his own subjects, was because he was a man of peaceful pursuits and tastes, fond of literature, science and art, and the society of learned men. Hence his government was too tame for his people. There was not enough of the Napoleonic spirit about him, not enough glitter and show, and martial array and warrior spirit, as if the chief end of a king was to assume a fighting attitude, and challenge everybody to mortal combat. The man, be he sovereign or subject, who labours in such peaceful pursuits as tend to develop the intelligence and material resources of a country, is a far greater benefactor of the race than all the despots who have ever cursed the world with their combativeness. But people sometimes, in their mad frenzy and folly, drive away their best advisers, or commit the blunder of selling their friends and buying their enemies. The clamour for a king showed deep ingratitude to Samuel, after all he had done for them, and all the evils he had saved them from. But “Memory soon, of service done, deserteth the ingrate.” They had a pretext, it is true, in the bad conduct of Samuel’s sons, and of this they failed not to take advantage. But Samuel had not himself abdicated the office of Judge, though his sons were associated with him as helpers. There was also in their demand a spirit of rebellion against the order of governors God Himself had set over them, and a spirit of inordinate ambition and pride in desiring to be like the rest of the nations round about them. Having equipped the vessel of the State, and arranged and settled the new form of government, he assembled all the people at Gilgal, that he might give them some counsels, cautions, and warnings as to the future. He reminds them of his own past career amongst them from his childhood. This was a glorious testimony to the justice, integrity, and humanity of the prophet’s rule. Happy the ruler, by whatever name he may be called, king, emperor, or president, about whom such testimony can be borne, and happy the people, if they only knew it, who are blest with such rulers. King and people had now entered on a new career under the most favourable auspices, and what they needed most was the spirit of continuity--“Continue following the Lord your God.” That is a beautiful prayer, in which we desire that all our works may be “begun, continued, and ended” in God, that thus living, and walking, and working, we may glorify His holy name, and finally by His mercy obtain everlasting life. It is not enough--though it is something--to begin well. We must continue and advance, and “not be wearied in well-doing.” Sometimes a year or a day is well begun, and people resolve to “amend their lives,” and determine to turn over a new page in life’s book. Like the Galatians, they “run well” for a while. Continuity, or perseverance in human affairs is one great secret of success. Let the motto of the German soldier be yours, inmer vorwarts (ever forward). The influence of birth, fortune, and patronage sinks into insignificance, compared with enthusiasm, diligence, and perseverance. Inducements to evil there will be in plenty. The devil, the father of evil, will ply all his arts to succeed in our overthrow. Let us always be ready and prepared for him. “For some days past,” said an eminent servant of God, “I have been unusually harassed by temptations of various kinds, and am often led to inquire, ‘Why am I thus?’” So it is still: the Christian soldier is not only drilled and equipped, he is also placed in the field, and his qualities tried. Man’s duty is simply to do as God tells him, neither adding to nor diminishing the Divine rule. But, in our ignorance and blindness, and presumption, we are for superseding or improving God’s plan. It is not the high enterprise He desires, so much as the quiet, continuance in well-doing. Many of us would rather choose to climb the mountain side than plod along, steadily and wearily, miles of level road. Many would be willing, no doubt, to serve Him if they only might do it in their own way. But the thing God requires most of us all is to have no will but His. “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” This is but an expansion by the Saviour of the warning advice of Samuel. (J. Reid.)
Persistent following after the Lord
Let those tempted to depart from the Lord remember the answer of Christian to Apollyon, when the latter sought to persuade him to turn back, and forsake his Lord: “O thou destroying Apollyon, to speak truth, I like his service, his wages, his servants, his government, his company, and country, better than thine; and, therefore, leave off to persuade me further: I am his servant, and I will follow him.”
1 Samuel 12:17-18
I will call unto the Lord, and He will send thunder end rain.
The power of prayer
The evidence of history to the truth is most invaluable. It makes an appeal to the judgment which can be readily appreciated and, next to experience, is one of the most convincing demonstrations of the divinity of the Scriptures. History may teach lessons of wisdom by its striking examples, but personal experience is essential to the awakening of the soul. This was what Samuel sought.
1. How near to God he seemed to live! He was always in Divine communion, and possessed the ear of the Almighty Father. He prayed, and the answer thundered through the air and deluged the ground. He spoke to men as the vice-regent of God, and the people trembled in his presence. But his nearness to God was not so close as is the privilege of the humblest believer in New Testament times.
2. How powerful is prayer! This was Samuel’s greatness His intimacy with God was fully used in prayer. It was his highest means of doing good. The outer effort had the inner prayer. His labour among men was implemented by his wrestling with God. Prayer was the secret of his strength and of his happiness. Prayer is still powerful. It is receiving illustrations in our own day on a scale of grandeur and extent not equalled in any age of the Church. People have believed in the power of prayer, have felt its necessity and its efficacy. Conversions have been more largely the result of prayer than of preaching. Thus John Newton wrote in his journal: “About this time I began to know that there is a God who hears and answers prayer.” Prayer is the strength of your soul, for it takes hold of God. Samuel’s word to the people was with power. It was not until this special witness from God awakened them that they confessed, “We have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king.” It, is striking how long sin can remain upon a comparatively enlightened conscience without causing fear. But when the guilt is felt, compunction is often more agonizing than that which the sharp arrows of a first awakening produce.
3. They now sought Samuel’s intercession. They knew him to be a man of prayer, and intensely concerned in their spiritual good. They therefore sought his aid in their distress. It is true that many have wished the intercession of the godly, without any personal desire to seek God:--as Pharaoh, when be entreated Moses to pray on his behalf; and as Simon Magus, when he asked St. Peter to plead that the evil threatened against him might not come; and as those who, fearing death to be near, attach a saving value to the prayers of the godly, whose counsels they had been despising. But though such may not receive a benefit from prayers offered by proxy, the prayers of a righteous man avail much in behalf of the awakened sinner. If you know the power of prayer, you cannot, without guilt, cease to intercede on behalf of your friends, acquaintances, and others. Is this intercession, a feature of your personal religion? It is specially important that anxious souls should seek the prayers of the people of God. God has pledged his word to receive the returning sinner, the repenting prodigal, the trembling backslider. “The Lord will not forsake His people for His great name’s sake; because it hath pleased the Lord to make you His people.” Thus Samuel reasoned with the children of Israel in their distress of soul. Thus did the faithful Samuel seek the spiritual conviction of the people. It was by declaring the truth, and abounding in prayer. Apart from the miraculous, this is the constant means of blessing attached to the ministry still. (R. Steel.)
Thunder and rain at the prayer of Samuel
I. That this incident was a miracle is evident. This instance is a parallel to that which occurred in Egypt (Exodus 9:23). It is to be remarked that Samuel spoke confidently as to the issue of his prayer, “The Lord shall send,” etc.
2. Because the thunder and rain came at a season of the year in which, in the natural course of things, they are never heard or seen in Canaan. “Is it not wheat harvest today?” The time of harvest in this country is often a time of much thunder and rain, but this is not the case in the land where this miracle was wrought.
3. The effect of the storm upon the minds of those who witnessed it was such as to make it evident; that they regarded it as a supernatural manifestation.
II. The intention of the miracle. It was sent as an attestation of the blamelessness of Samuel’s administration as judge of Israel. It was at the same time a token of God’s displeasure at Israel’s present wilfulness. Samuel’s expressions of displeasure were thus shown to be a message to them from the God whose rule they had treated so lightly. Lessons:--
1. Whenever a nation rejects God, such rejection will be followed by signs of God’s displeasure.
2. The continuance of a nation’s greatness depends upon the relation of individual members of it to the Living God. The beauty of the garden depends upon each flower being placed in right relations to the light.
3. The servants of God sin against Him when they neglect to pray for their fellow countrymen (verse 28).
We should pray for them--
1. Because they are our fellow creatures (1 Timothy 2:1).
2. Because, as a body politic, we have an interest in their right relations to God (1 Corinthians 12:26).
3. Because national love ought to be an element in every Christian’s character (Romans 10:1). (Outlines from Sermons by a London minister.)
Prayer for favourable weather
I. That unfavourable weather is sometimes sent by God in proof of his displeasure. On the occasion before us it is distinctly stated to have been so; this happened again and again in the history of Israel. The prophet Amos refers to this. (Amos 4:6; Amos 4:8). And we all call to mind the terrible drought which happened to the kingdom of Israel during the reign of the wicked Ahab, when for the space of “three years and six months it rained not.” Now, before we begin to ask God to send us favourable weather, and to revive our trade, would it not be well for us to ask ourselves whether we have done anything as a nation justly to merit judgment at the hands of God? We are accustomed to talk about our country as a “Christian country.” Is it really so? If so, what are the evidences of its being so? Listen to what God says by His prophet on this matter to ancient Israel. (Isaiah 1:11-16.) In other words, the national religion that God demands is a religion founded on righteousness or right doing. Judged by this test, surely there is abundant room for the inquiry whether, as a nation, we have not deserved God’s judgments. For instance, look at the social vices which are rife in our midst. Think next of the large amount of commercial depravity which exists! What cheating and overreaching are current in business transactions! Judged by the standard of righteousness, how does the political life of the nation appear? What about the opium wars, in which this country engaged with China a few years back? And yet, in face of all these unrighteousnesses, we expect a God of righteousness--a God who has revealed Himself as “of purer eyes than to behold iniquity”--to regard us with favour, and to hear our prayers for national blessing.
II. That prayer for favourable weather is a fit subject for prayer. “But,” asks some, “do you not believe in the laws of nature as fixed, unalterable?” Most certainly we do; but, at the same time, we hold that it is not unreasonable or unscientific to pray for the modification of these laws. By the laws of nature we do not mean mere blind, unintelligent forces ruling the universe, but forces or powers which are under God’s control, forces, indeed, which are God’s modes or methods of carrying on the government, of the natural world. Now we maintain that it is perfectly reasonable, and in entire accordance with scientific facts, that these laws should be capable of modification at the will of God, for to modify a law is not to suspend or to abrogate a law. Take an illustration from the matter before us--viz., the supply of rain. Rain falls through the law of condensation. The vapour in the atmosphere is condensed, and falls in the form of rain. Now, vegetation, trees and shrubs in particular, is favourable to the condensation of vapour, and, consequently, to the production of rain. Cut down the trees in a given tract of country, and the result will be a lessening of the rainfall. The law by which the vapour is produced remains in force, and the law of condensation remains in force, and yet the rainfall is diminished. Now, this is just what has happened in the land to which the text refers. Our argument, then, is this, if man has power to modify the weather, it is surely not unscientific or unreasonable to deny this power to God. He from whom all natural laws derive their power, and to whom they owe their allegiance, must be capable of modifying them at His will, and if sufficient reason exist why we should appeal to Him--if the temporal welfare of a whole people depend upon the weather--it is fitting that we should lay the matter before Him in prayer. But after all the main subject of our prayer should be that as a nation we should learn righteousness. It is permissible for us to pray for a return of national prosperity; but, above all, let us pray for the return of the nation, as more than one of our statesmen has expressed it, “to sanity and the Ten Commandments.” If, is manifest that if this is to be the case we must be righteous as individuals. A righteous nation is composed of those who are individually righteous. A nation cannot be righteous in the mass without being righteous in its units. (William Spensley.)
Your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the eight of the Lord, in asking a king.--
The Israelites asking a king
To stain the glory of all human pride, and to allow no flesh to boast itself in the presence of its Maker, is the great moral of sacred story. Man retains too much of his mould and faculties Divine, to overlook his own vast superiority over the rest of creation; but he has lost so much that he often overlooks God’s measureless superiority over him. Hence it arises that the Almighty is so often left out of sight in the plans and purposes of His creatures; or, at all events, that He is only so far recognised as the acknowledgment may redound to the greater glory of self, and raise that shining idol to a brighter pedestal than it occupied before. We immediately fancy He is smiling on our unsanctified plans, and passing by, unavenged and uncured for, an affront put upon His own laws. It is a striking illustration the folly of putting our own constructions on the silence or non-interference of Almighty God, which is presented in that portion of Jewish history which has been brought before us. We find the holy seer warning the infatuated nation of the consequences which should result to them from the curse of a granted prayer. Presumption and infatuation, however, still swayed their counsels. Accordingly, by an immediate revelation from heaven, the prophet is directed to fix upon a young man, named Saul, as the anointed of God over His people; to whom, whilst in search of His father’s asses, the prophet is instructed to make the offer of the kingdom.
1. And here we may note a striking illustration of that peculiarity in the arrangements of Providence by which a combination of seeming casualties becomes subordinated to the purposes of the Almighty, and chance is made a minister, to effectuate and perform His will For, observe, Saul had been appointed, in the eternal decrees of Heaven, to take charge of the new kingdom; and yet, for all this, lots are to be cast, to determine who the new king should be. But in “casting the lot into the lap,” man has done all that he can do; “the disposing thereof” rests “with the Lord;” and nothing can hinder, but that this lot shall find out the right person. Human contingencies are Divine certainties. All chance is only unseen design. God marshals accidents, as man originates plans; save only, that the plans may fail of their intended aim, whilst the accidents never can.
2. A ranted prayer is not always a sanctioned prayer; and it will be time enough to rejoice in the blessing we have been seeking for when we find that “the Lord addeth no sorrow with it.” “The prayer of the wicked” is often turned “into sin;” and the prayer of the impatient is almost sure to be turned into misfortune. God does exercise His authority over our lives, and He claims to exercise it over our desires as well. He forbids all presumptuous wrestlings with the course of His own Providence: all usurpations of His right to shape, direct, and regulate all our plans of life. Why is everything to be “according to our minds?” We would fain choose our own path. We would set up ourselves as infallible judges of what may be best and happiest for us. We judge of the fruit by its appearance, and not by its taste; we are satisfied with the breadth of the way, and never think of the end of the way. We would have a king, like the nations, to reign over us, and forget that “the Lord our God is our king.” Learn, then, to tremble at your own success, whenever your impatient anxiety for some temporal good has, as it were, turned the channels of Divine Providence out of their usual course; when you have, so to speak, coerced the Almighty into a concession which the whole aspect of His Providences indicated His intention to keep back. If the door does not open of its own accord you must not force it. The concession, sooner or later, must be fatal to you. In letting you have your own way God has only laid down the sceptre to take up the sword; He has loosened “the cords of love,” but it is to bind you with fetters of iron. He has given you a king, to lead you to the battles; but He will no longer “go forth with your armies,” or crown your endeavours with victory. When we know that we have done, and are doing, that for which the arrow of God’s pursuing judgments must be flying after us, it were better for our soul’s peace that it should overtake us at once. The tardiness of its flight in time may be only to gather its more deadly poisons for eternity. And bitter as it may be to bear God’s temporal chastisements, it were better to feel them than not to feel our own sin.
3. The instrument chosen of God for bearing His remonstrance to the Jewish nation, was the same venerable prophet. “A word spoken in season, how good is it!” How often do the arrows of the truth fall blunt and powerless upon the soul, from their not being aimed at the right time! We commonly allow the fault and the reproof to come too close together. We forget that a little interval between them would allow the offender time to think; the offended time to cool; and both, when the grace of God should so incline them, the opportunity and time to pray. Had Samuel uttered his bold remonstrance to the Israelites, under the first keen sense of the insult they had offered him, he would probably have been answered with scorn; but having waited till they supposed he had forgotten their unkindness, he beholds them now meekly outranking for an interest in his prayers. Such of you as are parents particularly I would exhort you to imitate Samuel’s example in this respect. The expected reproof, even in children, is seldom a profitable reproof. Pride is on the alert; conscience has taken the alarm; and the whole artillery of excuses and self-justifications are being prepared for the encounter. But let the taste of sin have time to turn bitter on the tongue; let the sense of the wrongfulness of your children’s fault be heightened by the tenderness which, on your part, seems to have passed it entirely by; nay, let the time for calling them to account be that when you are showing them marks of continued kindness--and you will then find that pride will have nothing to answer; the convicted heart will be ashamed of its excuses; and wondering at this unexpected and undeserved forbearance, they will say with the penitent Israelites before us--“We have sinned; we have forsaken the Lord; pray for thy servants to the Lord thy God.”
4. How many souls have perished from the desire to be “like the rest of the nations!” Things which men care little about for themselves, they yet desire and discountenance, because they would not displease others. They cannot pay the price of a holy singularity. “I cannot,” says one, “bid adieu to scenes of vanity and folly, to the midnight revel and dramatic blasphemy, because I should be unlike all the nations.” I cannot, in the multiplied occupations and intercourses of life, make profession of godliness, without at the same time bearing a witness against the nations; against their principles, which are opposed to Christ. Conformity to the world, or friendship with the world, can only be obtained at one price--enmity with God. What was Pilate’s motive for staining his hands with the life-blood of the Son of God? He was “willing to content the people.” Hear, then, the words of the Lord--the words of Samuel, yea, the words of all the prophets, God hath ever sent to you. They are as eloquent of mercy as the harvest thunder was eloquent of power. “Fear not. Ye have done all this wickedness;” ye have made for yourselves a king--a king of your wealth, a king of your pleasures, a king (it may be) of your griefs and cares. But if ye will now turn aside from this folly, and serve the Lord with all your heart, following no commands but His, desiring no smile but His, depending on no righteousness but His, and no longer like the rest of the nations, trusting to those vain things which can neither profit nor deliver, rest assured that, as Samuel declared to the Israelites, “the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake.” Yes, the glory of that great name is bound up with, and brightened and magnified by a thousand pardons The Redeemer’s brow shall be illumined with a yet brighter radiance, and angels’ bosoms throb with a yet diviner joy at each sinner that repenteth. (Daniel Moore, M. A.)
1 Samuel 12:19
Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God.
1. This Lesson contains Samuel’s official farewell to the people--that is, as Judge. There is something touching in all farewells. Retirement from long and distinguished service has ever a shade of melancholy; it reminds us of the transitoriness of human life and human greatness.
2. There was one link with the old Judge which they were anxious to retain. The king might rule them in times of peace, and go forth with them as leader in times of war; he might be the representative of national unity and the keystone of national greatness; but it was to Samuel they turned when they wanted to be remembered before God. With one voice they besought him, “Pray for thy servants,” etc.
I. The request. “Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not.”
1. It is the language of fear. The people were terrified with the thunder and rain. God had shown His displeasure by this sign
2. It is the language of faith. Samuel’s power as an intercessor with God was a recognised fact. It was not the discovery of a passing emotion.
3. It may not be presumptuous to inquire wherein his great strength in this respect lieth. First, his vocation as a prophet brought him very near to God. Secondly, the office without the life is not of much avail. Samuel lived for God, and it appears that, according to the degree of sanctity to which individuals attain, so is the efficacy of their intercessions.
II. The reasons for this request. Their sense of sin in having asked for a king. They feared death, lest a glittering flash of lightning--a symbol of Divine wrath--should at once consume them.
1. What was their fault? Viewed in reference to Samuel, it was ingratitude.
2. But, regarded in reference to God, the asking for a king was a rejection of His direct rule. (1 Samuel 8:7).
3. Yet, what, looked at on the side of the spontaneous action of God’s people, was a grave fault--“wickedness;” when viewed in relation to the course of events, was a result of a variety of causes.
4. But God can bring good out of evil. The formation of a kingdom was in His providence overruled to the ultimate fulfilment of His designs. Through it looms the kingdom of Christ and Christ the King, and, with the realised unity of the nation under a king, the carrying out of the Levitical Law as to one sanctuary; and in the temple, which was a result of this change, and its service and its Psalter, we have an image of the Catholic Church and her solemn ritual to the end of time.
1. To quicken our belief in the efficacy of intercessory prayer.
2. To remember that Christ is our invisible King and the Head of His Church; and that obedience to an outward rule must be accompanied by inward obedience, for though the kingdom of God, that is, the Church, is visible, yet it is also an inward kingdom of “righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Ghost.” (The Thinker.)
1 Samuel 12:20-22
And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not.
Danger or despondency
It is, I believe, no very unusual thing, however unwilling we may be to avow it, for persons to give way to a kind of despair, when they are called on to repent of their sins. They say to themselves, “It is too late now: it is no use pretending to keep the commandments, after so many years of transgression.” And what is very remarkable, men change all at once into this method of excusing themselves, from one the very contrary to it, in which they have spent all their lives. We know too well, most of us, by experience, how common a thing it is to break God’s plain commandments, and yet to keep one’s conscience tolerably quiet, with the hope of repenting one day or another. At last we get ashamed and tired of dreaming of amendment, and promising it vainly to ourselves; we know by experience what the end will be if we again resolve and put off our resolutions: our consciences also have insensibly become hardened, and have lost all horror of sin as it is in itself: and in this state of mind it is no hard matter for the Evil Spirit to pervert our minds in a way exactly opposite to the former. Hitherto we have gone on, quieting ourselves every day with the notion that we might and would repent tomorrow; but now He keeps whispering to our disordered spirits, “What if it should be too late for you to repent at all?” Against such a snare as this it would seem that Samuel is guarding the children of Israel. They were to beware of that sullen fear which would make it impossible for them to repent; they were not to doubt that, wicked as they had been, and irremediable as their wickedness might be in some respects, still their best and only true wisdom lay in following the Lord for the future with all their heart. The great wickedness which the Israelites had done was this, that having been especially chosen and set apart by Almighty God to be His own people, and having so gone on for many years, receiving from Him peculiar and distinguishing favours, they were dissatisfied with their own condition, and rather wished themselves, as said the Prophet Ezekiel, “like the Heathen, the families of the countries,” if not directly to serve wood and stone, yet to take liberties of one sort and another, very inconsistent with the pure and holy character of a people redeemed and marked as they were to be God’s own. This was their sin; most dangerous to themselves, and most affronting to the Almighty: so that we need not wonder at the severity of Samuel’s reproof, nor at the awful warning which God sent them from Heaven. It was a voice from above, most mercifully sent, to warn them what would come of it if they went on in the way which they had begun, and how much worse and more ungodly the temper in which they were acting than they had themselves imagined. Too often have we taken a perverse pleasure in slighting and undervaluing our own privileges. Surely in this way we have most of us too much to answer for, and our Lord might most justly and reasonably cast us off. But He has not done so; therefore, in any case we must not cast ourselves away. We may not, we must not, go in any kind of sin, under pretence of its being too late to cure ourselves of that ill habit at least.
1. To be a little more particular. The cases in which people are most apt to give themselves up are generally such as these following. First, when after having gone on religiously and blamelessly for many years, perhaps through the whole of youth and early manhood, the Devil prevails against any man, and he gives way to temptation, slight or strong, and knowingly commits any kind of deadly sin. The same Evil Spirit, who has so far had his own way with him, will presently try to make him think the case desperate. Thus, at first, through a feeling of despair, and afterwards through a sense of thorough incurable bad habit, men knowingly throw away their only remaining chance of repentance, and with it, of course, their only remaining chance of salvation. One of the sins in which this sad and fatal process may be seen most distinctly is the inordinate love of strong drink. And if it is so in drunkenness, much more in those sins, which in man’s sentence as well as God’s bring an irrecoverable stain on those who are guilty of them: such as unchastity, falsehood, dishonesty. One might well imagine that the Prophet Jeremiah was thinking on these two sorts of deadly sin--the unchaste and the deceitful--when he wrote that most fearful of all sentences, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye do good who are accustomed to do evil;” as much as to say, “With men this is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” On the other hand, it is well for all, even the worst, to be sure there is hope so far, as that no one holy desire or good purpose, no one prayer or sigh of sincere repentance through Faith in Christ Jesus our Lord, can ever fall to the ground useless and vain. Hitherto I have spoken of great and notorious sins; practices which naturally startle the consciences of all men, such as unchastity, drunkenness, dishonesty: and I have shown what danger we are in of becoming hardened in these by a kind of despair, as if, having been long bad, we must of course go on and be worse.
2. A word must now be added on another way of going wrong, somewhat in the same kind, that is, by mere lightness of temper and shallowness of principle: when men, for instance, continue in the custom of profane swearing, or of dissolute wanton talk, or of backbiting and slandering, or of lying in common conversation. These persons are in one thing unlike the sinful Jewish people as described in Samuel; they are far from acknowledging that in their way of going on they are adding a great evil to their former sins: they look upon their ill words, as I just now said, one by one, not as making up a sum of mischief; they do not consider that such sinful habits are, as it were, a smothered, inward fire, gradually consuming the whole body.
3. There is another class who are especially apt to encourage themselves in sinning again by the very remembrance which ought most to daunt and humble them;--the remembrance that they have sinned much and often before:--I mean those who sin mostly in the way of omission; the habitual scorner of the Church and Sacraments of God. They say to themselves and sometimes to others, “It, is so very hard to recollect what for so many years we have allowed to slip out of our minds;” and they fancy to themselves in some indistinct way that a little act of kindness or of devotion will go further, and tell for more, in their case, than in the case of one to whom such acts are familiar; making the great unpleasantness of the duty, which is an effect of their own sinful neglect, an excuse for their imperfect performance of it. Now the example of the Israelites and the Prophet in the text shows how all these and other like cases are to be treated. They must be spoken to very plainly, as Samuel spoke to those Jews: though full of all kindness towards them, he neither spared them at first, in reproving them plainly for their apostasy. “It is true,” he said, “you have indeed done all this great wickedness; I cannot, I must not flatter you; your case is very bad; you have need to humble yourselves deeply before your God; but this one thing you must do; you must turn your attention earnestly from the Past to the Future; you must live in fear and trembling and watchfulness, that you add no more to your sad and heavy account: ‘Ye have done all this great wickedness, yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.’” This one sentence of the grave and mild Prophet may convey to us the meaning of the whole Scripture of God. Your past sins, He tells you, are at least as bad as you imagine them: but they are done, and you cannot undo them; very likely you may forever have to bear the mark and stain of them; yet despair not; the worst consequence may yet, by God’s mercy, be averted; only lay hold in earnest of that Cross by which hitherto you have held so slightly: fear always, but not with such slavish, ungodly fear, as shall hinder you from doing your very best; preserve a holy obstinacy in following Christ for the future. (Plain sermons by contributors to the ”Tracts for the Times. ”)
1 Samuel 12:21
Turn ye not aside.
Points of departure
Samuel assumes that the true path was clear before Israel; it knew its calling and destiny. To love God alone and to serve Him was the simple royal pathway. And Samuel here reminds the people that the imminent danger was not that they would execute a right-about and go back to Egypt, but that they should turn aside. So the grand path of life is clearly discovered to us. And our great danger is not that we should suddenly wheel about, but that we should deflect little by little. Let us note these points of departure from a higher to a lower life--from faith to unbelief, spirituality to worldliness, purity to laxity and immorality.
I. These points of departure are numerous. Men begin to live afresh, to live a better and still better life, prompted by most diverse occasions. On the other side, from all kinds of happenings men begin to gravitate. Beginning school awakes in one child a higher sense, whilst for another it is the loss of innocence and the beginning of evil, proving, as Michelet writes, that the real fall is the day when a boy leaves him me, her. Leaving school initiates one youth into a more serious, manly life, whilst another takes advantage of the change to relax discipline and begins to play a baser part. A change of residence or situation leads one to greater devotion and circumspection, whilst another from that time forward is distinctly poorer in character, the change destroying old habits of good. Marriage proves a truly golden day in the life of some--the beginning of higher thought, love, and purpose; for others the same event is altogether disastrous to their moral and religious life. After Methuselah was born, Enoch his father walked with God. Events are always happening which are occasions of the rising or falling of souls, and herein lies the real seriousness of life. The danger comes from opposite directions. “Thou shalt not go aside . . . to the right hand, or to the left.” Directly opposite phases of experience and circumstance prove equally fatal.
II. These points of departure are slight. We do not go off at an acute angle, or down a steep incline, leading right away from the Christian course; we simply get a little wrong, and this may end with ruin. The first departure from God is of really tremendous significance, and yet it may appear absolutely trifling. The descent into error is rarely violent. We speak of men falling into error, but more commonly they slide into it. There are half-way houses to superstition. There is a literature which deftly saps solemn convictions, and which, like the thief in the night, despoils men of a faith infinitely more precious than gold. The “down grade” in belief is a masterpiece of engineering, and many who follow it are all the time unconscious of any declination. The lapse into worldliness is usually a process of fine shadings off. The “little rift” in the lute slowly widening stills the music; but that rift is never more subtle and slow than it is in the lute which makes musical the hearts and lives of righteous men. The descent into wickedness is equally gentle. The beginning of sin is always obscure. Insidious are the beginnings of evil. The agents of darkness, as our poet says,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray us
In deepest consequence.
The slow and subtle way in which practical iniquity takes shape is one of the tragedies of life. M. Joly has recorded the experience of the police concerning the thefts that take place at the great Parisian shops. “This is the beginning. From a gallery one sees a woman--rich or well-to-do--who buys a certain number of objects and pays for them, but without asking permission she takes some little, almost insignificant, object--a little ribbon to fasten a parcel, more commodious paper bag. No one will say she is stealing; no one will think of speaking to her or disturbing her. But she is observed, and even watched; for one expects to see her again some time after taking, as she walks along, say, a flower worth twenty-five centimes. A little later she will appropriate an article of greater value, and henceforth she will take for the pleasure of taking.” Amid the glaciers of the Alps an explosion is sometimes heard announcing the birth of a crevasse. At first the young fissure is almost too slight to be seen, and at no place is it wide enough to admit a knife blade. But the almost imperceptible fracture eventually becomes a gaping, impassable chasm. So it is when we break with good; the great gulf fixed between the lost and paradise began in a flaw hardly to be discerned.
III. These points of departure are specious. It seems in the hour of temptation as if we should secure a great advantage by departing from a strict, literal fidelity to the path of duty. When Israel first dabbled with idolatry, they had no thought of renouncing God. They imagined that certain advantages were to be gained by intercourse with idolatrous nations, and that such advantages might be secured without losing in any measure the blessing of Jehovah. They became worse than the heathen. Very specious still are many of the things which draw us from God. The point of departure to worldliness is often similarly specious. Care for his family--this is the reason why Demos abates his religious enthusiasm and applies himself to business. James Hinton said, “Wishing to tempt an Englishman, the devil generally appears in the shape of the man’s wife and family.” And how plausible he is in this shape! How much is to be said for prudence and diligence! Oh, very rational, promising, enticing seem those openings which lead to a lower life! This is what Shakespeare meant when he wrote:
But ’tis strange:
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths.
“At Bypath meadow Christian said to Hopeful, ‘If this meadow lieth along by our wayside, let’s go over into it.’ Then he went to the stile to see, and behold a path lay along by the way on the other side of the fence. ‘Here is the easiest going,’ said he; ‘let us go over.’” Many paths on the other side of the fence seem to run parallel with Christian principle and doctrine, and yet they lead to death. The fence may be very narrow. Andrew Bonar writes: “Often I have wondered that I did not feel the temptations of Satan more frequently and plainly. But now I discover his plan. In short, he succeeds in reversing in my case, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God.’”
IV. These points of departure are always serious. Even if they do not lead us altogether astray or far astray, turnings aside are great evils. A tree grows so grandly because without vagary it develops itself according to its nature; the flower is so glorious because it concentrates itself on bud and blossom; the bee is so rich in honey because it follows the shortest line: and if we are to attain wealth and glory of character we must avoid lapses, eccentricities, obliquities, waste of time and power by diversions and repentances. These branchings off from the King’s highway may lead to utter ruin. All wanderings of heart or life begin in a lack of faith either in the prize or in the path. Let us keep alive, then, an ardent faith in the grand prize of life. Life is not like a suddenly twisted kaleidoscope which at every turn discloses startling scenery, events, and experiences; still there will not be a day without its stepping stones to higher things, and there will be critical, privileged days, bringing memorable chances and inspiration. (W. L. Watkinson.)
I. The first point of instruction addressed to such is, that they should not proceed another step in their backsliding.
II. The second point of instruction which the prophet addressed to these trembling backsliders was, that they should have a filial confidence in God, in order that they might not depart from Him. “Fear not, ye have done all this wickedness; yet turn not aside from following the Lord with all your heart.”
III. This leads us to the third point of instruction addressed by the Prophet to the people, namely, the ground upon which their confidence was to rest. “Turn ye not aside; for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver, for they are vain. For the Lord will not forsake his people.”
IV. The reason why the Lord thus delights to be gracious. “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for His great name’s sake: because it has pleased the Lord to make you his people.” (B. Noel.)
The folly of turning aside from the Lord
The text is a defiance held out to men in their attempts to mend their condition by departing from the Lord. In which there is,
1. A case supposed, which is, That they should turn aside from the Lord; and having done so, they have the wide world to choose upon, let them take to the right hand, or to the left, choose the best they can pitch on, some or all, that what is wanting in one, may be made up in another. This is the utmost extent to which it can be carried. There is,
2. The determination in this case, which is expressed in the text with all confidence. Ye shall not, ye cannot for your hearts, turn aside, but after vain things; I defy you to find out a substantial good for yourselves in the whole creation, separate from God. Doctrine, That no man shall mend his condition, but will ruin it, by turning aside from the Lord, let him turn to what hand soever he will. For illustrating this doctrine, I shall--
I. To offer some things for explaining the point. Here I observe,
1. That no man, by turning aside from the Lord, shall mend his condition, but ruin it, in point of rest to his heart, and satisfaction to the desires of it (Isaiah 57:19-20).
2. That no man, by turning aside from the Lord, shall mend his condition, but ruin it, in point of comfort and ease to his conscience.
3. That no man, by turning aside from the Lord, shall mend his condition, but ruin it, in point of his interest and advantage (Jeremiah 2:13).
4. That no man, by turning aside from the Lord, will better his condition, but ruin it, in point of security from evil (Proverbs 28:18), “Whoso walketh uprightly, shall be saved; but he that is perverse in his ways, shall fall at once.”
II. To evince the truth of this weighty point. That no man shall mend his condition, but will ruin it, by turning aside from the Lord, let him turn to what hand soever he will.
1. We are to evince the truth of this weighty point, by considering to what a person turns aside when he turns from God. It is but vanity, which cannot proof or deliverse There are but two things to which a person can turn aside, though the particulars are numberless. The character agrees either,
(1) To sin, that is, to sinful ways, courses, or practices. And while there is a God in heaven to avenge the affront, no man shall mend his condition in this way.
2. To the creature, to which, when men are turning aside from God, they turn to seek happiness. This comprehends all created comforts whatsoeverse Of them we have two things to say. They are all uncertain, a person can never get a sure hold of them: (Proverbs 23:5), “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings, they flee away as an eagle towards heaven.” They are utterly insufficient. It is not in them to answer the cravings of the human heart, of an immortal soul (Isaiah 55:2). There is no suitableness in them to the soul They have no Divine appointment for that end.
2. For evincing the truth of this weighty point, consider what a person turns aside from, when turning aside from God He turns from an upmaking portion; (Psalms 73:25), “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee.” Cleave to the Lord, turn not aside from him: for,
(1) Thou art enriched for time: (1 Timothy 4:8), “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (Psalms 37:3).
(2) Cleave unto the Lord, turn not aside from Him, and thus thou art enriched for eternity (1 Timothy 4:8), quoted above. Come death when it will, what then? thou shalt be carried where thy happiness shall be completed: (John 14:2). The law cannot debar thee from this happiness, it is satisfied; justice has nothing to say against thee, for the debt is paid: God is thy God; and the tongue of men, nor of angels, cannot fully express this privilege.
3. The truth of this weighty point in the text will farther appear, by inspecting the pretended gain which is acquired by turning aside from the Lord. It may all be summed up in these two particulars.
(1) It is nothing (Proverbs 23:5). All the gain is but children’s gain, which they have won off their fellows, of which grown persons make no account. It is a poor trade where a person is not gaining for his soul; and no person will gain for this by turning aside from God.
(2) It is worse than nothing. Whatsoever thou thinkest thou gainest by turning aside from the Lord, a thousand times more is going to destruction in the meantime. Count what thou givest out, as well at what thou gettest in, and thou wilt soon see the gain worse than nothing (Matthew 16:26). From all which it is evident, that no man shall better his condition, but ruin it, by turning aside from the Lord; let him turn to what hand soever he will. I now proceed,
III. To make some improvement of this subject, in an use of information.
1. You who have never yet turned to the Lord, but have been going aside from him all your days, know, that ye are yet in a ruinous condition; there is nothing you can call yours, but what is vanity, and cannot, profit or deliver.
2. Backsliders, be all of you convinced of the foolish choice ye have made, repent, and turn again unto the Lord. What have you gained by your departure from him?
3. Ye who have got near God in this ordinance, ye may see that it is your duty and interest, by a holy tender walk, a living by faith, to hold where you are.
4. Disappointed communicants may hence be satisfied, that if you love your own souls, it is not for your profit to go aside to another door, to get your loss at the door of God’s house made up another way. Be peremptory in your resolutions that you will wait upon the Lord, and not give over, how long soever ye be without sensible success (Genesis 32:26).
5. Ye carnal ones, who are weary of waiting about the Lord’s hand, and are longing to be back to the world as your element, saying in your heart, “When will the Sabbath be over?” Ye may see the propriety of checking these carnal notions: stir up yourselves to seek the Lord. (T. Boston, D. D.)
How steadfastness is secured
Loose things on the deck of a ship will be blown or washed overboard when the storm comes. There is only one way to keep them firm, and that is to lash them to something that is fixed. It is not the bit of rope that gives them security, but it is the stable thing to which they are lashed. Lash yourselves to Christ by faith, and whatever storm or tempest comes you will be safe, and stand firm and immovable. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1 Samuel 12:22
For the Lord will not forsake His people.
God never forsakes His people
I. Let us consider how God has made our nation His peculiar people.
1. It hath pleased the Lord to separate us in a peculiar manner from other nations.
2. It hath pleased the Lord to make us the objects of His peculiar care and protection. Thus He distinguished His ancient chosen people.
3. The Lord has been pleased to form us for His peculiar service, by making us, from the beginning, a religious people.
II. To show what ground we have to hope that God will not forsake us. It appears from the preceding observations, that He has done a good deal to form us for Himself. Can we suppose that He would spend so much time and employ so many means to make us His peculiar people, without some wise and weighty reasons.
1. God will not forsake us because He loved and respected our fathers. As the effectual, fervent prayers of such righteous men must have been pleasing to God, so they give us ground to hope that He will long remember our land, and not forsake the children of those whom He delighted to love.
2. We are encouraged to hope that God will not forsake us, because He loves the pious posterity of our pious ancestors. God often spared the whole Jewish nation for the sake of those pious individuals who remained heartily attached to His cause and His interest. And as long as a succession of these godly men shall remain, we have reason to hope that the Lord will spare us from national ruin.
3. We may confidently hope not to be forsaken by God, because He may still answer very important purposes, by preserving and treating us as His peculiar people. One end may be, to make it appear to the world that He is able to protect a nation whom He has set apart for Himself, against their most, powerful and subtile enemies.
III. Let me now apply this leading sentiment agreeably to the design of the day, and the present state of our religion and government.
1. If God will continue to own us as His peculiar people, then we may confide in His wisdom and goodness, to defeat the designs of those, who attempt to destroy our national peace and prosperity.
2. If God will not forsake us, then He will enlarge us, and make us an exceedingly great and flourishing nation.
3. If God will not forsake us, but own us as His peculiar people, then it is to be expected that He will take effectual care to maintain the cause of religion among us. This will be necessary to promote our prosperity, and to prepare us to answer His chief design in making us His peculiar people. The cause of religion is now in a languishing state. Notwithstanding, therefore, the present triumph of vice and infidelity, we may confidently hope that our churches will live, increase, and flourish, till the end of time. This God will do for us, for His great name’s sake.
4. If God intends to own and build us up as His favourite people, then He has much for us to do, in carrying into execution His gracious designs. This is probably the last peculiar people which He means to form, and the last great empire which He means to erect, before the kingdoms of this world are absorbed in the kingdom of Christ. God is now loudly proclaiming that we have much to do to maintain His cause, and promote His designs, in opposition to His and our enemies.
5. This subject teaches us how we ought to feel and to act in our present situation. Our feelings and conduct ought to be in conformity with the past and present dispensations of Divine providence towards us. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
God’s protective presence
We can be sure of this, that God will be with us in all the days that He before us. What may be round the next headland we know not; but this we know, that the same sunshine will make a broadening path across the waters right to where we rock on the unknown sea, and the same unmoving mighty star will burn for our guidance. So we may let the waves and currents roll as they list; or rather, as He lists, and be little concerned about the incidents or the companions of our voyage since He is with us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1 Samuel 12:23
God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you.
Samuel: An example of intercession
It is a very great privilege to be permitted to pray for our fellow men Such prayers are often of unspeakable value to those for whom they are offered. Intercessory prayer is a benefit to the man who exercises it, and is often a better channel of comfort than any other means of grace. The Lord turned again the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends. I would have you stirred up to diligent supplication by the example of Samuel, who is worthy to be placed in the very forefront of intercessors.
I. Let us dwell upon his habit of intercession, for it was most manifest in Samuel. We gather this from the text. He says, “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you.” It is clear, therefore, that he had been in the continual habit and practice of praying for Israel as to the success of Samuel’s prayers, read his life, and you will find that he wrought great deliverances for the people. In the seventh chapter of this book we find that the Philistines grievously oppressed Israel, and Samuel bravely called the people together, to consider their condition, and bade them turn from idolatry, and worship the only true God, and promised them his prayers as a boon which they greatly valued. These are his words: “Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord.” Samuel’s prayers were so prevalent that the very elements were controlled by him.
II. Notice in Samuel’s case his provocation to cease from intercession, which provocation he patiently endured.
1. The first provocation was the slight which they put upon himself.
2. Beyond the provocation which came from their slight upon himself he felt wounded by their utter rejection of his solemn protest.
III. Notice Samuel in his persevering intercession. Though the people thus provoked him he did not cease from prayer for them. When the prophet knew that Saul was hopelessly rejected he did not cease to pray for the nation, but went down to Bethlehem and anointed David, and when David was pursued by the malice of Saul we find him harbouring David at Ramah, and exhibiting the power of prayer in his own house and in the holy place. I pray you, therefore, still persevere in supplication, and be supported in your perseverance by the knowledge that it would be a sin to cease to pray for those who have been the subjects of your petitions. Samuel confesses that it would have been sinful on his part to abstain from intercession. How so? Why, if he ceased to pray for the people, he would be neglecting his office, for God had made him a prophet to the nation, and he must intercede for them or neglect his duty. It would have been a neglect of the Divine glory; for whatever the people might be, God’s name was wrapped up in them, and if they did not prosper the Lord would not be glorified in the eyes of the heathen. He could not give up praying for them, for their cause was the cause of God. It would have been a cruelty to souls if he who possessed such a power in prayer had restrained it.
IV. Samuel showed his sincerity in intercession by corresponding action, for he says in the words of the text, “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way.” So far from leaving off praying, he would be doubly diligent to teach them; and he did so. After praying for your friends, do try as well as you can to answer your own prayer by using the means which God ordinarily blesses. Some persons make idle prayers, for they use no effort for obtaining their requests. If a husbandman asks for a harvest, he also ploughs and sows, for else his supplications would be hypocritical. If we wish to see our neighbours converted, we shall labour for it in all ways. A man who wishes to shoot birds will, after a while, become expert in the sport, because he will give his mind to it: he will after a little practice become a noted marksman and know all about guns and dogs. A man who wants to catch salmon has his heart set upon his angling, and becomes absorbed in the pursuit. He soon learns how to use his rod and how to manage his fish. So he who longs to win souls, and puts his heart into it, finds out the knack of it by some means, and the Lord gives him success. There is a power in your gifts; there is a power in your speech; use these powers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. Its efficacy generally acknowledged. They felt that his words, if weak on earth, were mighty in heaven. Now this feeling implies their belief in the efficacy of intercessory prayer, and I make three remarks concerning this belief.
1. It is very common. There is nothing peculiar in the belief that one man on earth may have power in heaven to help his fellow men. In truth, it is so common that I am almost disposed to regard it as one of the intuitive faiths of humanity. Priesthoods are everywhere, and this faith is the foundation of all priesthoods.
2. Divinely warranted. In truth, if it be an inborn faith, it must be Divinely warranted; for Heaven evermore encourages all that is truly natural. We find the Divine warrant in the numerous exhortations addressed to us in the Word of God to pray for our fellow men.
3. Sadly abused. It is abused by those who trust to it irrespective of their own efforts
II. Its neglect deprecated as a sin:--“God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you.” It is the ordinance of God that man should assist his fellow man, not merely by bringing his best influences to bear upon his mind, but by offering up his best desires to heaven on his behalf. This being the law, to neglect it is a sin.
1. It serves to impress society with the solemnity of man’s existence. Surely, here in a world where the millions are grubbing in what is material and drudging with their hands, it is something to elevate us into stately seriousness to feel that there are men like Samuel endowed with powers to touch the heart of God, and so move the springs of history.
2. It serves to unite men together in spiritual interest. Mutual intercessory prayers are, of all influences, the most socially uniting.
3. It serves to nurture the deepest philanthropy. True intercession is philanthropy exercising itself in the very presence of God. Where can it get a higher inspiration or a stronger impulse? (Homilist.)
Ceasing to pray for others is a sin against the Lord
The sentiments of the text are, that prayer for others is a duty, and the neglect of it is a sin. We will therefore inquire--
I. Who are the individuals for whom we should pray?
1. For our families.
2. For the Church of God.
3. For our country.
4. For the world.
What an awful state is the world in, notwithstanding all the attempts which are made to mend it!
II. State the arguments for the adoption of such practice.
1. We are related to each other, and therefore we should pray for one another.
2. We are dependent on each other’s exertions for a subsistence. Some talk of being independent, but this is absurd. “The king himself is served by the field” (Ecclesiastes 5:9).
3. The practice of praying for others will serve to keep alive in our hearts the most benevolent feelings towards them.
4. This practice may promote their salvation.
III. We may omit to pray for others. The text is sufficiently indicative of this.
1. We may omit to pray for others through unconcern about our own salvation.
2. We may do it through unbelief in reference to the efficacy of prayer.
3. We may do it through prejudice.
IV. That our ceasing to pray for others is a sin against the Lord.
1. It is a sin against the precepts of the Lord (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
2. Against the spirit of the Lord. The Holy Ghost works in our hearts feelings of benevolence and love, which give birth to prayer.
3. Against the example of the Lord.
1. What straits people are brought into by their sinful conduct.
2. None can help us in our distress but God.
3. People in affliction are glad to have the prayers of those whom they have treated with insult before.
4. Good men pray for those who have despitefully used them. (Sketches of four hundred sermons.)
The sin of prayerlessness
The sainted Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote to his church at Dundee, during his last illness: “You have hindered God’s work by your want of prayer. When God gives grace to souls, it is in answer to the prayers of His children . . . When God puts it into the hearts of His children to pray, it is certain that He is going to pour down His spirit in abundance . . . The salvation of those around you depends upon your asking . . . I often think it strange that ever we should be in heaven, and so many in hell through our soul-destroying carelessness . . . Plead and wrestle with God, showing Him that the cause is His own, and that it is all for His own glory to arise and have mercy upon Zion.”
But I will teach you the good and the right way.
Duties of ministers and people. The Chartists’ visit to the Parish Church
I. First, then, let us consider the duties inculcated; and they are two fold.
1. With respect to the ministers of God. Samuel, the prophet of the Lord, considering the state of the people, exclaimed, “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way.” To a similar effect the apostle declared, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” These are the peculiar duties of the ministers of God,--prayer, and the ministry of the Word. Sweet is the work to those who know it, delightful is the duty of intercessory prayer. Of all those men of God whose histories are recorded in Holy Scripture, there is not one who did not delight in this duty.
2. The ministry of the Word: “I will teach you the good and the right way” So said the inspired prophet Samuel; so said a long line of faithful men of God, many of whom sealed their testimony with their blood; so said the apostles of Jesus Christ; and so say the ministers of God to this day. And is there presumption or affectation in saying, “We will teach you the good and the right way?” It would indeed be presumption if we conceived that we had chalked out that way for ourselves, or if it were the notions of man we had to teach you; but we know the good and the right way, and are able to testify to you that which we have seen, and that which we have believed. Revelation has taught us, and we know there is but one way, one good way, one true way; and that all other ways lead to the chambers of darkness and despair. And if these are our duties, what are yours? Mark the exhortation of the prophet in the text, “Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart.” This brief sentence contains the whole duty of man! “Only fear the Lord,” said he to the tumultuous people; we stop to inculcate no other principle; if we gain your heart, we gain the whole man; we know all must follow; we know that the man who fears God has the grand principle of moral duty in him. If he wants the fear of God, he wants everything! he wants the cement of social society, that which binds man to man, which gives peace and comfort him, and gilds the grave itself with hope. This is the standing or falling principle, “Only fear the Lord;” then your conscience shall be enlightened by the Spirit of God, your heart shall bend to the will of God. The noble testimony of Joseph’s steward, to the trembling brethren is our guarantee, “I fear God!” Such a man will be a lover of justice, a lover of truth, and of everything that is honourable and of good report; whereas all others are as garnished sepulchres--they have sweet words in their mouths, but war in their hearts. Here is our security and our comfort; “only fear God.” The other expressions in the text are but expletives of this duty: “Only fear the Lord, and serve Him.” If a man fears God, he will be the servant of God, and he will serve Him in prayer and praise; he will serve Him with the best member that he has, with his body, soul, and spirit, consecrating all he has to His glory, not with hypocrisy, but “in truth.”
II. Let us then consider the inspiring motive which is implied in the text, for the cheerful discharge of these duties. Ofttimes the strongest appeal to the feelings and the affection is contained in one short sentence, or a suggestion conveyed by a single word; thus in the text: “Consider how great things the Lord hath done for you!” Now, let me transfer this appeal to you; let me apply it to your hearts and consciences as a motive; and I know of no stronger; if this fail, the treasury of God Himself is exhausted! He asks you to love Him, to fear and serve Him; and He does not place before you the terrors of hell, nor the fearful things of judgment to come, nor a world in flames; nor does He upbraid you by the stings of a guilty conscience; but He appeals to your love and affection! and He says, “Consider how great things the Lord hath done for you!” Hard must be that man’s heart, ungrateful his bosom, who can look back over a whole life and not see one trace of the goodness of God, who can discern no token of Divine love, no sweet things mingled with his bitterness, nothing to allay his afflictions. Think of the spiritual mercies also which you have received at his hands. There are very few who are altogether unconscious of God’s mercies to them in this respect. But the argument of Samuel on this occasion was a national argument: his exhortation was a national exhortation; and, therefore, I shall avail myself of it, and consider the words of the text in this point of view applicable to us all as a nation. “Consider, I pray you, how great things the Lord hath done for you.” And is it, possible that anyone can be so ignorant or so wilfully blind as to deny that there has been a special providence over Great Britain, and that special mercies have been poured down on her? Has not our little island been floating on a see of mercy? (F. Clogs, M. A.)
1 Samuel 12:24
Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart.
The religious capability of man
I. That man can reverence God. “Only fear the Lord” Reverence implies:--
1. A sense of Divine greatness. For none can reverence the contemptible or the small
2. A sense of Divine excellance. For none can reverence the morally unworthy.
II. That man can serve God. “Serve Him in truth with all your heart.” There is a sense in which all things serve God.
1. Some serve Him without their will. All the masses of matter, organised and inorganised, serve Him.
2. Some serve Him with their will. All rational existences do this, and moving thus they serve Him.
3. Some serve Him against their will. All fiends human and angelic do this
III. That man can consider God. “Consider how great things He hath done for you.” Man can reflect on God, both on what He is in Himself and on what He does. What other creatures on this earth can do this? The eagle that pierces the clouds with a power of vision keener, and a range wider than ours, returns from its lofty flight to its lonely eyrie without one thought of God, (Homilist.)
Filial fear of God
Our feeling must be the reverence of a son, not the abject terror of a slave. For surely if this terror were merely that servile dread which represents God as an implacable inexorable Being, the soul under such an impression would sit down inactive, overwhelmed with a horrible despair, and never engage in a fruitless attempt to appease a Power whom no prayers could interest, no repentance reconcile.
1. It is clear that the fear of an awakened sinner who sues successfully for pardon differs vastly from that servile dread which would flee from God as an unfriendly Being delighting in the misery of His creatures. I know also that it differs greatly from that composed reverence with which the soul in a condition of confirmed pardon and reconciliation looks upon God. It is--if we may use the expression--an initial fear of God, it is the beginning of wisdom, it is the broken and contrite heart, looking with self-abasement yet with humble trust upon its omniscient Judge; and in proportion as we teal ourselves reconciled to Him in the face of Jesus Christ, the feeling will gradually ripen into that filial reverence accompanied by love which is the proper attitude of the justified soul towards its Maker. It is only, as I conceive, upon the principles which I have enunciated that you can reconcile passages of God’s Word which would otherwise appear contradictory. St. John tells us that perfect love casteth out fear, and that he who feareth is not made perfect in love, while other passages, such as our text and many like it, represent the Fear of God--coupled with obedience--as the whole duty of man; but all becomes plain when we understand the term as commencing with the initial fear which attends the imperfect conversion of the sinner, and leading on to that filial reverence which is the strength and ornament of the soul as that conversion progresses to its perfection.
2. I must go on to show the connection of the former clause of my text with the latter. How are we to bridge over the interval, as it were, between fearing God and serving Him in truth with all our heart? I presume in this way. We can imagine no motives for obedience either to an earthly or a heavenly father except either the value and certainty of the rewards proposed, coupled with a conviction of the ability and willingness of our father to confer them, or the apprehension of just and severe punishment for disobedience. Now, neither of these, exclusive of the other, is the true principle of our obedience to God. For if our obedience of the Divine law were founded merely on our belief of God’s desire for our happiness then as soon as the rough wind of calamity swept over us, we should cease to regard Him as the God whom we had hitherto worshipped. On the other hand, if our service arose from our dread of the vengeance of God and nothing more, it would be deficient in that entire trust in His goodness, and free choice of His service which alone can make us acceptable in His sight. He is at once the Governor of the World, and “Our Father which is in heaven.” Therefore, ere we can “serve God in truth with all our heart” our bosoms must be transfused with that fear of God which is made perfect in love. For if you regard it attentively you will observe that this principle of reverential love is most marvellously adapted to every state and condition in life, and to the due discharge of our duty at all times and under all circumstances. In a word, the fear of God rightly understood and rightly acted upon will give warmth to our zeal, spirit to our devotion, animation to our faith, life be our hope, and extension to our charity. It will deter us from sin; it will cheer and encourage us in the path of duty--that path which leads us unto everlasting life. I have thus given what may be regarded as a Christian interpretation of the fear of God, end shown you how it is the germ which blossoms unto the perfect love and service of our heavenly Father--a service which is both real and engages the affections of the whole heart.
3. God’s claim to this Fear which I have described That claim is founded on every one of the Divine imperfections. Can we think of His omniscience and omnipresence and justice without casting our meditations forward to that great day when we must all appear before His impartial tribunal? Goodness, holiness, mercy when exhibited by our fellow men win our hearts and charm us into admiration, but how puny are even their highest development on earth compared with the display of them in the character of God! The crowning proof of God’s mercy we have reserved to the last--I mean His wondrous love and pity as displayed in the Redemption of the World by the death and passion of Christ. In Creation and Providence there is never conveyed to the mind any impression of effort or sacrifice on the part of the Supreme Being. The beauty and bounty which, through the long cycle of the ages. God has been scattering over this earth, have not detracted from His boundless wealth. But of Jesus, His well-beloved Son, He possessed no equivalent, no counterpart. Of this Possession only Himself could be the Parallel. And yet He Who alone knew its worth yielded it up for us. Behold, then, the power and mercy of Jehovah! Beware how you affront His Majesty by want of reverence, or dishonour His goodness by servile dread. It may not be our lot while upon earth to realise the Majesty and Beauty of His attributes. But a day will surely come, which the rapid years are hurrying on, when we shall behold Him no longer armed as our Judge, but displaying Himself as reconciled to us and at one with us through Christ. (J. Hunt, M. A.)
The simplicity of life
The great scientist is he who discovers some wide-reaching law of nature which explains a thousand facts otherwise disconnected and inexplicable; the great historian is he who seizes some deep social law which determines the development of nations through long periods. Men of lesser genius seek to understand things superficially, and to correct them one by one, but the masters get to the root principle, the dominant law, the prevailing tendency. Now, in our text Samuel has got to the deep and final law of human life--“Only fear the Lord.” Strange, complicated, contradictory, baffling as life seems, there is one simple principle, one sovereign passion, one master truth, that will solve for us every problem, subdue every opposition, and guide us safely through every difficulty.
I. Let us consider the text in relation to national life. The kingdom of Israel was at this time in the throes of a great political change. They stood on the threshold of a new epoch. They were alarmed at the change they had made in their form of government; they were ashamed of the unbelief which had prompted the change; they were full of misgiving as to the consequences of this great political revolution Then Samuel speaks: Ye have done all this wickedness, yet turn not aside from following the Lord, and all shall still be right. Did not our Lord teach us most clearly the selfsame truth, that everything in human life depends upon the religious idea--that the knowledge and service of God constitute the one grand question which decides all other questions? There can be no doubt but that we live on the eve of vast changes alike in Church and State. And not only do these signs of the times, with fear of change, perplex monarchs, but they trouble many besides. Listen to your great prophet Carlyle, to your great critic Ruskin, to your great poet Tennyson. These and many more are full of misgiving as they ponder the signs of the times. Is not our text to us a very precious direction and encouragement? In all this confusion and conflict true religious faith and feeling shall preserve us, and bring us through in safety. It will prove our sheet anchor in the storm, our guiding star in the hour of darkness, our spring of strength and hope always. Everything depends upon the religious faith and life of our nation. Let this be true and deep, and all shall be well. But it must be true and deep. “In truth with all your heart.” A national profession of Christianity will not says us, a barren orthodoxy will not save us, but if the heart of the nation be sound God will not desert us. “For consider how great things He hath done for you.” We have had perils before, and they were averted. The religious sentiment revived in the Puritan saved us from the terrible despotism which the Stuarts sought to fasten upon up. The religious sentiment revived in Wesley and Whitefield saved us from atheism and its horrors when Voltaire with a light heart led the French nation into a sea of blood. The religious question comes before all others, it is the deepest question of all, it decides all others. Let us be full of faith and spirituality; let us honour God and the higher law; let us be true to prayer, to worship, to God’s Holy Word; let us do our duty in the fear of God; and God will untie our knots, solve our problems, protect our liberties end glory, and lead us into a larger and richer inheritance.
II. Let us consider the text in relation to personal life. To the individual life often appears chaotic, confusing, and we are sometimes tempted to give it up in despair. In all perplexities touching belief the best philosophy is the philosophy of the text. Proceed in practical life to perform the duty that presents itself in the fear of God, live from day to day keeping close to conscience, and the Spirit shall teach you the true thing and the right way. When Frederic Douglass was a slave, escaping from the Southern States, it was strictly necessary for him to travel by night, and his grand guide was the North Star. He knew nothing of the country through which be was passing, it was all silence and darkness and mystery, but keeping his eye on the Star of the North, it guided him to liberty. So you may mentally be traversing a land of mystery, a land of darkness and of the shadow of death, but you have a precious beacon. “Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth,” follow that star, and the Dayspring shall arise upon you. Does anyone object that such mottoes as these are vague generalities, out of which we can get little good? “Only fear the Lord.” “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel.” Does anyone cavil at these sayings as if they were not definite and illuminative? When someone objected that the clauses in the American Declaration of Independence, such as, “All men are equal,” and so forth, were but “glittering generalities,” Emerson replied that they had proved “blazing ubiquities,” they had poured the light of salvation on the nation’s path at great moments. So with these sayings, they have a very definite and immense significance, they are blazing ubiquities, and they will throw a precious light on all the questions and interests and duties of life, as the pillar of fire lit up every stick and stone of the wilderness. In hours of deepest darkness and confusion be loyal to the text--only that, and nothing more. I remember once hearing a devout engine driver relate his religious experience. He said, “The other night when I was on duty there was a dense fog; we could not see a yard before us, but I knew that the permanent way was under us, and every now and then we caught a glimpse of some signal or other, and in time came safely to the journey’s end; so,” he said, “I know if I am true to the great commandments and promises God will guide and bring me through” (W. L. Watkinson.)
Samuel’s address to Israel
I. The duties urged. “Fear the Lord, and serve Him,” etc.
1. To fear the Lord. This is an indispensable part of true godliness. Setting Him ever before us. (Job 28:28; Psalms 19:9; Proverbs 23:17; Revelation 14:7.)
2. To serve God. In the way that He appoints. With the voluntary devotedness of the heart and life, With constancy and perseverance.
3. It must be in truth with all our hearts. Notice:--
II. The powerful motive supplied. “For consider what great things the Lord hath done for you.” This is seen:
1. In the temporal provisions of His bounty.
2. In providential interpositions.
3. In the exercises of His mercy.
4. In the supplies of His grace.
5. In the promises of glory.
1. The practical nature of true religion. It includes both the fear and service of God.
2. How great are our obligations thus to fear and serve God.
3. Abused mercies will bring a fearful weight of judgment upon us (J. Burns.)
Gratitude a motive for Divine service
To all such seers as Samuel, all history has a moral; indeed, all history is an argument. Thus he deals with the history of Israel, as an argument for their serving God. We notice here:--
I. The service characterised. It is to be marked:
1. By reality. “Serve Him in truth.” This distinguishes it from all mere external service, as well as from all hypocrisy. “Be real,” is the foundation stone as well as the top stone. It is to be marked:
2. By heartiness. “With all your heart.” There is to be vitality as well as sincerity, enthusiasm as well as thoroughness.
II. The motive enforced. There are two other motives for serving God besides this one.
1. The supreme one is adoration of God. Were there no rewards or punishments, no heaven or hell, He commands our service by what He is The Infinite Beauty claims our homage, the Infinite Righteousness our obedience.
2. Another and proper, though inferior, motive is regard to reward. Christ uses it in many of His parables. Moses had “respect to the recompense,” etc. Jesus, “for the joy that was set before Him,” etc.
3. But the motive pleaded here is gratitude for what God has done. “Great things.” These are words which Moses and David as well as Samuel use in speaking of God’s dealings. We may note the parallel between God’s dealings with the Jews and His dealings with us--Redemption, Protection, Discipline. But the parallel fails; He has given us Christ; the demand on our gratitude is transcendent, the claim for our service unparalleled. (U. R. Thomas.)
Consider how great things He hath done for you.
Thanksgiving Sermon, 1817
In applying these words to ourselves let us:
I. Briefly review some of those great things which God hath done for us. These are recorded in the annals of our country, in almost every page of which we meet with instances of Divine interposition and guardianship, which must compel him who loves his country or his God, to lift up his grateful and adoring heart to Him who ruleth over all. Still there is preserved that form of government in which we so deservedly rejoice. Still there is preserved unto us the inestimable privilege of worshipping God according, to the dictates of our own consciences. It is another mercy which peculiarly calls for our praise that the triumphs of the Gospel during the last year have in our country been extensive. In passing from our country in general, to the city which we inhabit, we still see that God hath done great things for us. To whom have we been indebted for the almost unprecedented healthfulness of our city, but to that God who sends sickness or preserves life at His pleasure? What great things has God done for us as individuals? Here your own meditations must supply what we can only intimate. But I forbear: Thy mercies, Lord, are innumerable; and to reckon them up in order before Thee is as difficult as to count the stars in the heavens, or the sand which is on the seashore.
II. Shall our hearts be unaffected by this kindness of our God? Ingratitude, with respect to men, is ever considered by you as the evidence of a most abandoned character, as the unfailing mark of a total dereliction of every noble emotion; and yet how many of us, occupied by the cares of the world, engaged in the pursuit of a thousand frivolous objects, never feelingly remember the goodness of the Lord. The exercise of gratitude for the Divine mercies is certainly the most elevated of all the occupations of the believer; for it leads us, thus to speak, even to heaven, and attaches us immediately to God; it places in our heart the greatest object that can engage it, in our mouth the greatest name which can fill it; it unites us to God in a manner the most tender and disinterested by emotions of love, by emotions which have for their end the glory even of God. But how shall this gratitude be expressed? Is it sufficient for us coldly to bless God with our lips; unconcernedly to enter into His holy temple, and unite with His people in declaring our thankfulness? No, this alone will not satisfy Him who searcheth the heart; who trifles not with us, and will not permit us to trifle with Him. We must “fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth, with all our heart.” This filial fear must necessarily impel us to “serve the Lord in truth, with all our heart.” It will not rest satisfied with the most splendid outward performances: since “God is a Spirit,” the believer will pay his thanks “in spirit and in truth.” If these be the sentiments of his soul, if this be the conduct of his life, his tongue cannot be silent. Gratitude, which loosed the tongue of Zechariah at the birth of John the Baptist, will loose his also, and cause him to glorify God with a loud voice.
III. Such a mode of expressing our gratitude by devoting our lives to the service of God is right and good. It is the right way enjoined upon us by the nature of things; as well as by the authority of God.
1. It is a way which is profitable, and will secure for us new favours God wastes not His blessings: the streams of His goodness will not always flow upon a barren and unfertile soil: He will at last turn them to those places that will be rendered by them luxuriant and productive.
2. This way is pleasant and good. Yes, act thus, and every situation in life will be to you full of blessedness. Prosperity will not be to you as to the ungrateful, a snare for your virtue; it will never for you be turned into a curse; you will preserve in the midst of your enjoyments a heart humble, docile, detached from the vanities of the world. (H. Kollock, D. D.)
Benefits of remembrance
God gives us remembrance in order that we may make great and blessed use of it. Often in our hearts may shine an afterglow of uncoruscating light from a sun that has set, more lustrous, more calm, more mellow, than when its hot fervours were falling on our heads--a pensive, clear, and still Indian summer of memory after the sultry autumn has gone. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
These words conclude the sum of the whole chapter, wherein Samuel had made a long narration of God’s dealing with His people, and theirs with Him. In the words are:
1. An exhortation to fear and serve the Lord.
2. The reasons of it. Consider how great things he hath done for you. But if ye do wickedly ye shall perish both you and your King. This duty meets us everywhere in Scripture, and therefore I will stand no longer in explaining it, but come to the reasons that enforce it.
I. The first is to consider how great things they had seen God doing for them, and therein see what a tie and bond the Lord hath upon them to obey Him. Consider what spiritual mercies He hath vouchsafed you, when of old ye were no people, but an Amorite was your father, an Hittite your mother. If you cast your eyes back to temporal favours, consider how He went clown with your fathers into Egypt, and what wonders he wrought for them in that land. If you cast your eye upon present things, consider how you have rebelled and cast the government of Jehovah from off your necks; and yet He forbeareth you, not plaguing you according to your demerits, but hath condescended to yield you a king.
1. Israel must consider the works of God in the greatness of them, their multitude, variety, freeness, and sweetness; in their own unworthiness of them, and their misery without them. All these will make them swell in our eyes to a wonderful magnitude. And that many cords bind faster then one, unto love and duty: And in many great mercies such a flame of affection shineth out upon the Church as much water cannot quench; and this sense of God’s love enlargeth our affections with zeal and fervency, to love Him again.
2. Israel must consider who hath wrought these great works; and that is the Lord. Consider what the Lord hath done for us. Israel shall sat an higher price on the mercies, because they are the Lord’s; as you know it doubles the favour, to be from a friend, a father, or a dear hand. The gift is but the shell; the grace of the giver the kernel. All waters issue from the sea by secret channels, but run openly back again to it. So all the streams of mercy must, in the right use of them, return to the boundless sea whence they first flow unto us.
3. Israel must consider for whom God hath dons all these great works, namely for Israel. The greatest works of His mercy are but His love tokens to Israel, In all which not the greatest mercy itself, but the application of it to ourselves, whets up and sets an edge upon thankfulness. And thus in this place it serves Samuel’s purpose to bring home the mercies close to Israel.
4. Israel must consider for what the Lord hath wrought all these great things for them: And this, three ways.
(1) In respect of the mercies themselves, to remember and keep them in mind. As men of trading have their day’s book for their receipts of every day, so should we make a day book of our receipts, and by occasion of one (while we turn leaves) look often upon others, which we look not for.
(2) In respect of God, to think of some return. One good turn requires another, we say; and among men we are careful to answer kindness with kindness. So saith David, What shall I return or render to the Lord for all his benefits? (Psalms 116:1-19; Psalms 12:1-8.) I have nothing to give Him but His own; I have nothing worth giving Him, or worth the taking. But know, He desires nothing beyond that thou art able to give, and he accepts according to that we have. For free favours, he expecteth but free thanks, free duties, fast affections. He hath given us the choicest and best things we have, and we in way of thankfulness must return and offer the best things we have unto Him (Leviticus 2:1), the cakes for the meat offering must be made of the finest flour. We must offer the best of our time, our youth, our strength; the best of the day, the morning for His service; the best part of ourselves, our hearts, which will bring our whole selves.
(3) In respect of others, to provoke them to praise God with us, as the cock clapping himself rouseth himself, and by crowing provoketh others (Psalms 34:8.) Say as the lepers, Come, this is a day of good tidings, we do not well to be silent.
II. And now, having done with Israel, let us see what great things God hath done for us, and whether they be not as worthy our consideration. What? As great things for us? We never were in Egypt, nor in the bottom of the sea, nor in the wilderness fed with manna, etc.
1. Let me a little untie a bundle of spiritual mercies wrapt up together. And was the covenant of grace more peculiar, more sure, half so clear to Israel, as to us? What oracles had they, which we want? Had they the law written, and have not we? And to the prophets, the whole Gospel added, the evangelists, Apostles, pastors, and teachers? Had they the true worship of God in shadows, and have not we in substances? Had they the promises in hope, and have not we them in mind? Had they Moses, faithful as a servant in the house, leading them through the wilderness, and Joshua to save them, and lead them into Canaan? And have not we one faithful in the house as the Son, and our great Joshua, a great Saviour, to lead us into the celestial Canaan? Had they the Lord nearer unto them than any nation, walking among them in the Ark, in the pillar of the cloud and fire, and the like? And is our God farther from us? Nay, is He not nearer unto us, even our Immanuel. Had they plenty of manna, purity of worship, and extraordinary protection, and are we inferior to them, or any age before us, in the liberties of the Gospel, and happy days of grace?
2. Next, are we behind them in temporals? Hath not God brought our vine out of Egypt, where it grew not well, with signs and wonders, and a strong hand, when we were in Egyptian darkness and the Babylonish captivity. How did His strong arm pull us out of popery, and make the happy restoring of the Gospel the new and glorious birthday of our country? Did the Lord give them a good land, flowing with milk and honey? And hath He not seated us in a land far exceeding that in commodity, as in quantity, four times as big, every way as fruitful. As he gave them saviours and deliverers, so have we had our Moseses, our Joshuas, our Kings in a settled government, who led us forward in the Gospel, where the former left us. As the Lord gave Israel extraordinary victories and deliverances, which struck dread into all the nations about them, so hath He done for us, who have been made the head of nations, and not the tail, honoured and feared abroad, as well as happy at home. The conclusion of all is in verse 14. Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him in uprightness. The sins of kingdoms are the destroyers of kings and kingdoms. Sin makes havoc of all, confounds all, and brings derision to all estates; makes the tail the head, changes the fine gold, and makes it dim like to earthen pitchers. It gives up the strong staff and beautiful rod to be broken (Jeremiah 48:17). (T. Taylor, D. D.)
1 Samuel 12:25
But if ye shall do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king.
Sin ruins a kingdom
Such was the language of Samuel to the Jews. He requires of them nothing superstitious; nothing merely ceremonious; nothing only external and temporary--but the exercise of piety flowing from the feet of God, End accompanied with sincerity and fervour in serving Him. This is all. “Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart.” This He enforces by two motives; the one drawn from gratitude, and the other from interest. Already I hope you have dropped Judea, and fixed your attention on your own country. The words could never have been more applicable to the Jews than they are to us. Has He not done great things for us? It is not foolish partiality, but truth that compels us to say, “The lines are fallen to us in pleasant places; yea, we have a goodly heritage.” And to secure all these civil and religious advantages--how often has He made our cause His own! How seasonably and signally has He interposed to save us from the designs of our enemies! When brought low He has helped us. Can we be insensible to all this? If there were any ingenuousness in us, this motive alone would be sufficient. But fear has its use--and it is necessary to tell you not only that you are bound by gratitude, but interest. “If ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be destroyed, both you and your king.” This is dreadful--Think of a king you love, as well as honour, and “whose life is a lesson to the land he sways”--driven from his throne. Think of liberty exchanged for slavery. Think of property rapaciously plundered, or devoured by tyrannical exaction. Think of your private dwellings affording those who are dearer to you than yourselves no security from brutal passions. Think of the temples of God burnt up, or converted to other purposes.
1. If there be a moral governor of the universe, sin must provoke Him. For who could adore a Being who professed to govern the world, and suffered the wicked to go on with impunity?
2. If sin provoke God He is able to punish it. All the elements are His. Every creature obeys His nod, from an archangel to a worm. Is anything too hard for the Lord--when He would either show mercy or execute wrath?
3. Bodies of men are punishable in this world only. In eternity there are no families, churches, nations. If, therefore, a country is to be destroyed, it is tried and condemned and executed here.
4. There is a tendency in the very nature of sin to injure and ruin a country. It destroys subordination. It relaxes the ties which bind mankind together, and makes them selfish and mean. Social welfare cannot survive the death of morals and virtue.
5. God’s dealings with guilty nations are confirmed by His word, and indeed by all history. Finally, to enable us to draw the conclusion, He often--he always--gives previous intimation of His displeasure--so that, were not men blind and deaf, they must see and bear His coming. When you see the body wasting away by disease, and every complaint growing more inveterate, you suspect that death will be the consequence--it is already begun. “When the fig tree, and all the trees, put forth leaves, you know that summer is nigh.” And how is it that we do not perceive that God is angry with us--that He is contending with us? But, you ask--Have we any cause to fear this? I answer, just in proportion to the degree of our sin. Now there are two ways by which we may judge of our national guilt. The first is to enumerate the sins which reign predominant among us. The other method is to lay down Criterions, by which we may estimate the prevalency and the aggravations of sin in a country. And what test has ever been devised that is not alarming when applied to ourselves? There is one thing of which we hear very much, and many seem to consider it as a counterpoise to all our fears, that there are so many good people among us. Blessed be God, this is true, and they certainly afford us encouragement. Ten righteous men would have saved Sodom. Let us remember that it is a hopeful circumstance--but that it does not absolutely insure the salvation of a country. Let us recollect that there was a time when God used the following language to Jeremiah and Ezekiel concerning the Jews: “Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to Me: for I will not hear thee. Then said the Lord unto Me, Pray not for this people for their good. Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be toward this people: Cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth.” What learn we from all this? That there are cases in the history of nations when the Divine forbearance is exhausted, and when the cries of the righteous will avail no more than those of the wicked. Let us prize those institutions which are favourable to the morality and sanctification of mankind. Especially let us value the Gospel. And, oh! remember, if your country should be saved, and you as an individual continue impenitent--you--you will be certainly destroyed! And what is any national calamity to “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of His power!” (William Jay.)
Sin the ruin of nations
The influence which continuance in sin hath upon a kingdom’s ruin. But here a material question may be asked, whether this connection between their doing wickedly and being consumed were not by virtue of that political covenant between God and the people of Israel, which was peculiar to themselves; and how far it may be just and reasonable to argue concerning the case of other nations, with whom God hath entered into no such covenant, as He did with them? To make this clear, and to bring it nearer to our own case, I shall proceed in this method.
1. To show that God doth exercise a particular Providence with respect to the state End condition of kingdoms and nations.
2. That according to the usual method of Providence their condition is better or worse as the people are.
3. That there are some circumstances of sinning which do very much portend and hasten a people’s ruin.
I. That God doth exercise a particular providence with a respect to the state and condition of nations, i.e., as they are united into several and distinct bodies, which are capable as such of being happy or miserable. For since mankind’s entering into society is both necessary and advantageous to them, and God doth not barely permit and approve, but dispose and incline men to it, and hath given them laws to govern themselves by, with respect to society, it is but reasonable to suppose that God should call men to an account in that capacity. Either, therefore, those societies as such shall go wholly unpunished, or they must suffer according to them in this world, and therefore here the case is very different, from that of particular persons. We say, and with a great deal of reason, that it is no disparagement to the justice of God’s Providence for good men to suffer, or for wicked men to escape punishment in this life, because the great day of recompense is to come, wherein there will be a Revelation of the righteous judgment of God. But that will not hold as to nations, who shall not suffer in communities then as they have sinned here; and therefore it is more reasonable to suppose the rewards and punishments of such shall be in this life according to the measure and proportion of their sins. And of this we have sufficient evidence in Scripture upon these accounts.
1. Because it charges guilt upon nations as well as upon particular persons.
2. Because the Scripture tells us of a certain measure to which the sins of a nation do rise before they are ripe for punishment. This was the reason given why Abraham’s children must stay to the fourth generation before they come to the possession of the promised land, for the iniquity of the Ammorites is not vet full.
3. Because it attributes the great revolutions of government to a particular Providence of God, God is the Judge, or the supreme Arbitrator of the affairs of the world, He pulleth down one and setteth up another. Which holds with respect to nations as well as particular persons. When a nation is near some dreadful calamity, as a just punishment of its sins, God takes away the wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the prudent, and the resolution of the men of courage, that they all stand amazed and confounded, not knowing how to give or take advice; but they are full of fears, and rather apt to quarrel with one another than to consult the general good. This was just the state of Egypt when God did purpose to execute His justice upon it.
(1) First, their courage failed them.
(2) Their counsels were divided and infatuated: And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians.
The Princes of Zoan are fools, the counsel of the wise counsellors of Pharaoh is become brutish; they have also seduced Egypt, even they that are the stay of the tribes thereof. The Lord hath mingled a perverse spirit in the midst thereof, and they have caused Egypt to err in every work thereof, as a reeling man staggereth in his vomit, i.e., they know not what to fix upon, all their counsels being so uncertain, and the best taking no effect. But on the other side, when God raises up a nation to be a scourge to other nations, He inspires them with a new spirit and courage, unites their counsels. Look over all the mighty revolutions which have happened in the kingdoms and empires of the world, and the more ye search and consider and compare things together the greater truth you will find in this observation. When God designed to punish the Eastern nations for their transgressions, then the Babylonian monarchy rose so fast and spread so far that nothing was able to stand before it. And when the sins of Babylon called for vengeance, God raised up Cyrus, and called him by his name, long before he was born, and brought the fierce nations of the East to submit themselves to him.
4. Because the Scripture still leaves hopes of mercy to a people where they have a heart to repent. And where repentance hath intervened between the threatening and execution of judgment God hath showed wonderful kindness either in stopping, removing, or deferring the severity of judgments.
(1) In stopping His hand when it hath been lifted up, end just ready to strike. We can desire no clearer instance in that case than that of Nineveh.
(2) In removing His hand when it hath struck.
(3) In putting by the stroke for the present, or deferring the execution of His wrath.
II. The second particular is that according to the usual method of providence the state or condition of a people is better or worse according to the general nature of their actions. If they be good and virtuous, careful to please God, diligent observers of God’s Laws and their own, and dealing with other nations according to the laws of nations, they will live in a much more flourishing and happy condition than a nation can do where atheism, profaneness, and all sorts of wickedness abound, which I shall prove two ways.
1. Absolutely, and that will appear
(1) From the tendency of true goodness and piety to promote a nation’s honour and interest abroad. And no man is ignorant how much reputation brings of real advantage to a nation; and that a people despised are next to a people enslaved, and that it is impossible to hold up honour and esteem in the world, where the reputation of virtue is lost.
(2) From its tendency to maintain peace and tranquillity at home.
(3) From the keeping up the spirits, and securing the safety of men. A good conscience makes a man dare to do his duty; but the sinners in Zion are afraid, fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites.
2. Comparatively, if we do compare several nations together, we shall find those to flourish most and to be the most happy where men do most fear God and work righteousness. This may seem a paradox at first hearing to those who consider by what ways of fraud and violence, of injustice and cruelty, of rapine and oppression, the great and mighty empires of the world have been raised and maintained. Yet, notwithstanding this plausible objection, the truth of my assertion will appear, if we understand it as we ought to do with these following cautions.
(1) That it is not to be understood of the largeness of dominion, or superfluity of riches, but of the true happiness of living in society together, which is by promoting the real good of all. To which the vastness of empire, and immensity of riches is by no means necessary, but a sufficiency both of strength and treasure to defend itself in case of foreign enemies, and to provide for the necessities and conveniences of all the members of it.
(2) That this is not to be understood of the private benefit of any particular persons, but of the general good of all sorts and conditions of men.
(3) That it is not to be understood of sudden and surprising events, but of a lasting and continued state.
(4) It is to be understood of persons under equal circumstances, when we compare the condition of people with each other: not the nobles of one nation with the peasants of another, nor the princes with the people, but every rank and order of men with those of the same rank and condition. And upon these terms we need no other proof of the truth of this assertion than the instance in the text of the people of Israel, which will best appear by comparing the state of both kingdoms after the body of the people was broken into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The kingdom of Israel by Jeroboam’s policy, and for reasons of state, fell off from the worship of the true God, and worshipped the calves of Dan and Bethel. But did they prosper or succeed more than the kingdom of Judah? The ten tribes had a much larger territory, yet the kingdom of Judah was stronger and flourished more, and continued longer by 135 years than the kingdom of Israel did; and when they were carried into captivity the ten tribes were lost as to their name and interest among the people of Assyria; but the two tribes were restored after 70 years’ captivity under the princes of the line of David.
III. That there are some circumstances in the sins of a nation which do very much portend and hasten its ruin.
1. When they are committed after more than ordinary mercies received, such as in reason ought to keep men most from the commission of them, as greater knowledge of the will of God that other people enjoy, more frequent warnings of their danger than others have had, many and great deliverances which God hath vouchsafed.
2. When they are committed with more than ordinary contempt of God and religion.
3. When there is an universal degeneracy of all ranks and conditions of men. Thus I have considered the influence which doing wickedly hath upon the ruin of a nation, it remains now that I make application of this to our own case. We have been a people that have received wonderful mercies and many final deliverances from God’s hand. He hath placed us in a rich and fruitful land, and hath furnished us with so great plenty, that even that hath been thought our burden; hath blessed us with such an increase of trade that our merchants far exceed those of Tyre both in riches and number. Our ships of trade are like a valley of cedars when they lie at home, and when they are abroad they compass the earth, and make the fiches of the East and West Indies to meet in our streets. As to our civil constitution, if we consider the admirable temper of our government, the justice and wisdom of our laws, and the greatness of our liberties, we have no reason to envy the condition of any people upon earth. Thus far all things tend still to make us a happy nation if we did know and value our own happiness. But that which above all other things should make us so hath been the great occasion of our trouble, and is still of our fears, and that is religion. And yet in this respect we have advantages above any other nation in the Christian world, having a Church reformed with so much wisdom and moderation as to avoid the dangerous extremes on both sides. But before I conclude the text suggests to us three things, very pertinent to the duty of this day, which I shall briefly recommend to your consideration.
1. Matter of humiliation for our sins, as they have an influence upon the nation’s suffering.
2. Matter of advice, only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth, and with all your heart.
3. Matter of encouragement, for consider what great things He hath done for you. (Edward Stillingfleet.)