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Then went Samson to Gaza.
Pleasure and peril in Gaza
For what reason did Samson go down to Gaza? We imagine that in default of any excitement such as he craved in the towns of his own land, he turned his eyes to the Philistine cities which presented a marked contrast. There life was energetic and gay, there many pleasures were to be had. New colonists were coming in their swift ships, and the streets presented a scene of constant animation. The strong, eager man, full of animal passions, found the life he craved in Gaza where he mingled with the crowds and heard tales of strange existence. Nor was there wanting the opportunity for enjoyment which at home he could not indulge. A constant peril this of seeking excitement, especially in an age of high civilisation. The means of variety and stimulus are multiplied, and even the craving outruns them--a craving yielded to, with little or no resistance, by many who should know better. The moral teacher must recognise the desire for variety and excitement as perhaps the chief of all the hindrances he has now to overcome. For one who desires duty there are scores who find it dull and tame and turn from it, without sense of fault, to the gaieties of civilised society in which there is so little of the positively wrong that conscience is easily appeased. The religious teacher finds the demand for “brightness” and variety before him at every turn; he is indeed often touched by it himself, and follows with more or less of doubt a path that leads straight from his professed goal. “Is amusement devilish?“ asks one. Most people reply with a smile that life must be lively or it is not worth having. And the Philistinism that attracts them with its dash and gaudiness is not far away nor hard to reach. It is not necessary to go across to the Continent, where the brilliance of Vienna or Paris offers a contrast to the grey dulness of a country village; nor even to London where, amid the lures of the midnight streets, there is peril of the gravest kind. Those who are restless and foolhardy can find a Gaza and a valley of Sorek nearer home, in the next market town. Philistine life, lax in morals, full of rattle and glitter, heat and change, in gambling, in debauchery, in sheer audacity of movement and talk, presents its allurements in our streets, has its acknowledged haunts in our midst. Young people brought up to fear God in quiet homes whether of town or country, are enticed by the whispered counsels of comrades half-ashamed of the things they say, yet eager for more companionship in what they secretly know to be folly or worse. Young women are the prey of those who disgrace manhood and womanhood by the offers they make, the insidious lies they tell. The attraction once felt is apt to master. As the current that rushes swiftly bears them with it, they exult in the rapid motion even while life is nearing the fatal cataract. Subtle is the progress of infidelity. From the persuasion that enjoyment is lawful and has no peril in it, the mind quickly passes to a doubt of the old laws and warnings. Is it so certain that there is a reward for purity and unworldliness? Is not all the talk about the life to come a jangle of vain words? The present is a reality, death a certainty, life a swiftly passing possession. They who enjoy know what they are getting. The rest is dismissed as altogether in the air. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
And went away with them, bar and all.
Poor Samson! We cannot say much about him by way of an example to believers. He is a beacon to us all, for he shows us that no strength of body can suffice to deliver from weakness of mind. Samson is also a prodigy. He is more a wonder as a believer than he is even as a man. It is marvellous that a man could smite thousands of Philistines with no better weapon than the jawbone of a newly-killed ass, but it is more marvellous still that Samson should be a saint, ranked among these illustrious ones saved by faith, though such a sinner. St. Paul has put him among the worthies in the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews. I look upon Samson’s case as a great wonder, put in Scripture for the encouragement of great sinners. If such a man as Samson, nevertheless, prevails by faith to enter the kingdom of heaven, so shall you and I. Though our characters may have been disfigured by many vices, and hitherto we may have committed a multitude of sins, if we can trust Christ to save us He will purge us with hyssop, and we shall be clean; and in our death we shall fall asleep in the arms of sovereign mercy to wake up in the likeness of Christ.
I. Look at our mighty champion at his work. You remember when our Samson, our Lord Jesus, came down to the Gaza of this world, ‘twas love that brought Him; love to a most unworthy object, for He loved the sinful Church which had gone astray from Him; yet came He from heaven, and left the ease and delights of His Father’s palace to put Himself among the Philistines, the sons of sin and Satan here below. There He lies silently in the tomb. He who is to bruise the serpent’s head is Himself bruised. O Thou who art the world’s great Deliverer, there Thou liest, as dead as any stone! Surely Thy foes have led Thee captive, O Thou mighty Samson! He sleeps; but think not that He is unconscious of what is going on. He knows everything. He sleeps till the proper moment comes, and then our Samson awakes; and what now? He has defeated death; He has pulled up his posts and bar, and taken away his gates. As for sin, He treads that beneath His feet: He has, utterly overthrown it, and Satan lies broken beneath the heel that once was bruised. In sacred triumph He drags our enemies behind Him. Sing to Him! Angels, praise Him in your hymns! Exalt Him, cherubim and seraphim! Our mightier Samson hath gotten to Himself the victory, and cleared the road to heaven and eternal life for all His people!
II. Consider the work itself. We will stand at the gates of this Gaza and see what the Champion has done. He had three enemies. These three beset Him, and He has achieved a threefold victory. There was death. Christ, in being first overcome by death, made Himself a conqueror over death, and hath given us also the victory; for concerning death we may truly say, Christ has not only opened the gates, but He has taken them away; and not the gates only, but the very posts, and the bar, and all. Christ hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light. He hath abolished it in this sense--that, in the first place, the cause of death is gone. Believers die, but they do not die for their sins. The curse of death, then, being taken away, we may say that the posts are pulled up. Christ has taken away the after-results of death, the soul’s exposure to the second death. There is no hell for you, believer. Christ has taken away posts, and bar, and all. Death is not to you any longer the gate of torment, but the gate of paradise. Moreover, Christ has not only taken away the curse, and the after-tumults of death, but from many of us he has taken away the fear of death. He came on purpose to deliver “those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Besides, there is a sense in which it may be said that Christians never die at all. “He that liveth and believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” “He that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.” They do not die; they do but “sleep in Jesus, and are blessed.” But the main sense in which Christ has pulled up the posts of the gates of death is that He has brought in a glorious resurrection. If you have imagination, let the scene now present itself before your eyes. Christ the Samson sleeping in the dominions of death; death boasting and glorifying itself that now it has conquered the Prince of Life; Christ waking, striding to that gate, dashing it aside, taking it upon His shoulders, carrying it away, and saying as He mounts to heaven, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? “ Another host which Christ had to defeat was the army of sin. Christ had come among sinners, and sins beset Him round. Your sins and my sins beleaguered the Saviour till He became their captive. In Him was no sin, and yet sins compassed Him about like bees. Sin was imputed to Him; the sins of all His people stood in His way to keep Him out of heaven as well as them. I may say, therefore, that all our sins stood in the way of Christ’s resurrection; they were the great iron gate, and they were the bar of brass, that shut Him out from heaven. Doubtless, we might have thought that Christ would be a prisoner for ever under the troops of sin, but oh, see how the mighty Conqueror, as He bears our sins “in His own body on the tree,” stands with unbroken bones beneath the enormous load. See how He takes those sins upon His shoulders, and carries them right up from His tomb, and hurls them away into the deep abyss of forgetfulness, where, if they be sought for, they shall not be found any more for ever. Then there was a third enemy, and he also has been destroyed--that was Satan. Our Saviour’s sufferings were not only an atonement for sin, but they were a conflict with Satan, and a conquest over him. Satan is a defeated foe. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church; but, what is more, Christ has prevailed against the gates of hell. As for Satan, the posts, and bar, and all have been plucked up from his citadel in this sense--that Satan has now no reigning power over believers. He may bark at us like a dog, and he may go about like a roaring lion, but to rend and to devour are not in his power.
III. We will now see how we can use this victory. Surely there is some comfort here. You have a desire to be saved; God has impressed you with a deep sense of sin; the very strongest wish of your soul is that you might have peace with God. But you think there are so many difficulties in the way--Satan, your sins, and I know not what. Let me tell thee, in God’s name there is no difficulty whatever in the way except in thine own heart, for Christ has taken away the gates of Gaza--gates, post, bar, and all. They are all gone. Is not this an incentive for us who profess to be servants of Christ to go out and fight with the world and overcome it for Christ? Where Jesus leads us it needs not much courage to follow. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” Let us go and take it for Him! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth.--
Man’s cannot and man’s can: A New Year’s address
Man has the power to turn bad things to a good account, and it is lawful and right for him to do so. On this principle we shall use these words of a bad woman to a not very good man to illustrate the ability and the inability of man.
I. The inability of man; or what he has no “strength“ for.
1. He cannot destroy the actions of his life.
2. He cannot bring back the neglected opportunities of his life.
3. He cannot blot out the sins of his life.
4. He cannot arrest the course of his life.
5. He cannot destroy the influence of his life.
II. The ability of man; or, what he has “strength” for. “ I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Through the moral strength of Christ man can--
1. Reverse the ruling impulse of his past sinful life.
2. Make amends for the pernicious influence of his past life.
3. Remove from his own soul the pernicious influence of his past life.
4. Turn the very scene of his earthly life into a heaven. (Homilist.)
The secret of Samson’s strength
Samson was not transparent to the vision of those who were nearest him. His true nature was a riddle they could not solve. His phenomenal prowess was not written in the lines of a vast and unwieldy body, or, as imagined by some, in the flowing locks of his hair. It was no mere matter of exceptional physique, of massive thews and sinews, of Titanic proportions visible to every eye. There was more in him than met the eye, or the question would not have been repeated with such despairing urgency, “Tell me wherein thy great strength lieth?” Did it spring from the dignity and exaltation of his lot? Samson was a “judge” in Israel, the “saviour” of his tribe, the liberator of his people, an “uncrowned king”; one of those elect military and moral leaders raised up in an era of gross barbarity and widespread lawlessness to repress irreligion and godlessness, subdue the foes of Israel, call the people back to truth, and goodness, and God, and prepare them for the acceptance of law and order at the hands of His earthly representative, a Divinely-given king. But Samson’s strength lay no more in his position than in his body. He had to make his opportunity rather than to take it. Therefore, we repeat Delilah’s inquiry and say--if neither in the limbs he used, nor in the place he filled, where then lay his great strength?
I. The first response, with all the uniqueness and definiteness of inspiration, brings us face to face with God. The historian of the judges, with characteristic simplicity and directness, brevity and force, traces Samson’s power, by one single and swift step, to Jehovah, and credits his marvellous triumphs to the mighty and immediate movements of the Divine Spirit. His birth is a Divine incident and his nurture the Divine care. He is reared according to the directions of God, and whilst still a young man “the Spirit of God moves him,” “strikes” him repeatedly and with increasing force, as the smith hits and welds the glowing metal on the anvil with his hammer; “pierces him “through and through till his pain-born patriotism is unsupportable and he flings himself against the Philistines with the crushing weight of an avalanche. From first to last the hero’s life is invested with the supernatural. Samson’s power is moral, of the will and spirit, and not merely of bone and sinew. He is not a giant in body and a dwarf in soul. The Spirit of God is the underlying force of his character, and alone secures for him his rank in the long line of mediators of Divine truth, and agents of Divine revelation.
II. Now what is attributed to God directly and at once in the Old Testament is set down to the credit of Samson’s “faith“ in the New; and accordingly this Divine hero takes his place in the long roll-call of conquering believers, along with Abel and Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, Deborah and David. The language changes, but the fact is the same. It is the view-point that differs. The historian is seated on high, and reads Samson’s career from beside the throne of the Eternal. The key-note is the same; both are struck in the high spiritual realm, but the note has different names in the different notations of the old and new economies. In the former case the answer to the question reads, “Samson is of God, and has overcome them; because, greater is He than is in him, than he that is in the world”; whilst the second case is expressed in the language of the same writer: “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” But this is not all. The new description is itself a positive addition to our knowledge--another ray from the Sun of Revelation. The same people do not describe the same facts in different ways without a motive. Fresh forces of the Spirit are at work meeting the fresh needs of living and suffering men, in a fresh and living speech, addressed to the heart and life. “True eloquence,” says one of our most recent seers, “is to translate a truth into language perfectly intelligible to the person to whom yon speak.” That is what the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews does. In a sustained stream of the purest and most exalted eloquence he translates the histories of Enoch and Noah, Moses and Samson, into the language of the Church and the street, brings them into vital touch with the feelings throbbing in the heart, and makes the Hebrew Christians to realise the unity of their lives, under the new and revolutionary conditions created by Christianity, with those of the fathers of the human race, the founders of the Hebrew nationality, and the prophets and leaders of the revelation of God. In becoming Christians they were not destroying the law and the prophets, but filling out their programme, advancing their ideals, and accomplishing their projects. We can only discharge our obligations to our age as we catch the spirit of the writers of the New Testament, make the use of the elder Christianity they made of Mosaism and Judaism, adopt a language that beats and throbs with the life of to-day, and so reveal the unity of human life, and of all ages in the living and loving God.
III. Bringing Samson, then, out of the ancient Eastern world, and looking at him in the full blaze of all the lights that shine on human character in its making, and on human struggle in its success and failure, what is the answer yielded to the demand, ”Tell me wherein thy great strength lieth?“
1. No despicable advantage, surely, was that with which our hero started life. His being was stored with force at his birth. He had an uncommon, I may say, for that day, a uniquely opulent inheritance. He was “born of a good family,” though in a bad time; a family that dwelt at the topmost heights of spiritual consecration, had grandly dared in the midst of seething vice and irreligion to choose the most self-suppressing type of personal and domestic life, and dedicate its energies to obeying the most strenuous law of living yet made known, even that of the Nazarite vow. No aspiration soared higher. No range of service was broader. No attitude was less open to question. No position made greater demands on courage, fidelity, and self-sacrifice. Can you estimate the spiritual wealth of such a descent? Have you any measure for the advantages of such a home? Would not every day be an acquisition of power, and may we not readily believe that as “the child grew the Lord blessed him“? Parentage and nurture are among the chief agents for continuing and advancing the spiritual welfare of the world; and so, whilst God was the fountain-head of all the power of Samson, one stream of the spirit-force assuredly came along the line of inherited sanctities and family training, constituting him the typical Nazarite, the chief example of that special phase of the Hebrew religion--at once of its splendid strength and of its possible weakness.
2. Again, Samson’s Nazarism, practised from boyhood, nourished by a mother’s watchful care, and intensified by his isolation from the rest of the world, must have exercised an incalculable power upon his mind, and fixed in the “porcelain” of his nature the faith that he had a supreme work to do for God, and was responsible to Him, till the last stroke was given. The man who means to do any real work in a brief life must know what not to do. Samson’s vow was of signal service in teaching that. The root of his religion was separation, and his vow roused and stimulated his nature, opened his being to the access of God’s Spirit with unresisted fulness and all-subduing might, developed the feeling of the sacred inviolability of his life, assured him he could not be hurt so long as he was faithful to his calling, and rendered him susceptible of that strength of will, heroic fearlessness, and resistless dash, which made him indomitable. Samson is a dedicated will; and once dedicated in will to God we are strong for God and by God.
3. The reputation of Samson has suffered from the grim humour marking some of his exploits and the gigantic and boisterous mirth that runs riot through some of his achievements. We men of the West set so high an estimate on strenuous earnestness, rigid intensity, and serious ardour, that we always prefer majesty to grace, sober sincerity to playful humour. The massive dignity and royal gravity of Milton win upon us, whilst the nimble pliancy and occasional sportfulness of Shakespeare are ignored. But we must not forget that great natures are rarely wanting in humour. Samson’s natural cheerfulness; his light and cheerful temperament, sending forth a full buoyant river of mirth, was one of the sources of his strength, saving him from the weakness that, in a time of oppression and calamity, nurses care, frets away power, anticipates disaster, and wastes existence. Never quailing before the superiority of his foes, he is as sunny as he is strong, as bright as he is bold, and thus is able to husband his strength for the heaviest demand that the day may bring. Joy is a duty, and of priceless worth is the temperament that makes obedience easy, opening the soul to every genial ray that shines, and closing it to the access of brooding care and darkening anxiety.
4. It was one of the darkest hours in Israel’s history. The tribes generally had lost heart and hope, and Judah was so disorganised that, instead of co-operating with Samson, they betrayed him into the hands of the common enemy. Here then was urgent need, and the need provoked and stimulated Samson’s faith, as his vow had inspired it. Necessity was laid upon him. The Spirit of God moved him mightily by the sight of the work to be done, the widespread anarchy and confusion, and the vast suffering and misery. Consecrated souls are goaded to battle by the sympathetic pains they feel with the wronged and the oppressed. Oh, for the quick sympathy that sees in every lost soul a call to service, and in every national and social evil a Divine summons to a quenchless zeal in service for God and men!
5. But the function of Samson in revelation would be most imperfectly discharged for us if we did not recognise the teaching of his flagrant and ignominious fall. Nothing external, though it be the purest and best, can enable us “to keep the heights the soul is competent to gain.” God, and God alone, is sufficient for continuous progress and final victory. (J. Clifford, D. D.)
Individulalism in religion
The lesson of Samson’s life is “Individualism in religion: what God can accomplish for His people by the power of a single arm.” Wherein lay his strength?
I. In his early consecration to God. And just in proportion to the degree of our consecration will be the extent of our influence and success in the Divine service. We are weak in the ratio of what we reserve. Give up little for Christ, and we will accomplish little. Give up all, and we shall be more than conquerors through Him who loves us.
II. In doing the work assigned him.
III. In fighting with the weapon given him.
IV. Samson was prepared to die for his cause. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” This was the Hebrew warrior’s greatest and most heroic exploit. He gave his life for his country. ( R. Balgarnie, D. D.)
His soul was vexed unto death.--
The gradual and subtle advance of sin
That story of the blandishments of Delilah is compassed in a few verses, but as a matter of fact, I presume, it spreads over a considerable time. Delilah could not have overcome a man of native wit and ready perception like Samson by bringing those snares against him in a short period; but she might now, with soft, silent look, woo the secret from his heart; then, changing her humour, she would try the loving petulance of the toy of his love as she was: “How canst thou say thou lovest me, seeing thou withholdest this secret from me?” Then inch by inch she wearied out the strength of resistance, and then came that terrible catastrophe; but it was slow, very slow. He felt himself strong through it all, perchance; but because he felt himself strong, the snare was biting through the very joints of his harness; and when the day of danger and necessity came, it fell from off him, and left him a victim to the powers of the enemy. Now, you are an old man; white hairs are upon your head. Did you notice their growth? Did you notice how one by one they began to whiten? Did you not rather, the first day you noticed that symptom of coming age, pluck out the recreant hair and cast it aside as a mere accidental thing? But it grew notwithstanding, till it frosted your head. You see it is bleak, cold winter, and there is not a leaf to be seen, and the earth is bound up in its snowy coat; you never noticed how it stole in, and how bright, warm summer and the green leaves turned to the crispness of the sere and yellow leaf, and one by one dropped away, till at length winter came and killed the last leaf that fluttered in the cold wind. You did not notice this, but it came on. Or see yon noble berg that floats in the northern seas, and upon its pinnacled crown the bright spring sunshine plays till it lights it up into a diadem of glory. How majestically it floats upon the blue bosom of these waters! Then suddenly as in an instant you see that mighty diadem of crystal pinnacles plunge into the depths. Sudden? no, not sudden at all. Sudden in its collapse, sudden in its end; but the warm waters of the springtide far beneath the broad base which weighted it so well were lapping away its strength and melting down the icy surface, and then, when the gravity was just pitched over, it fell. So gradual is sin. You go on in all the joyousness of your sinnership; you glory that you at least have been free from all the grievous pestilences which hang about sin: aye, go on, and float down towards the south, and remember that the warm currents which you do not notice are eating out the strength of your life, and your fall will be sudden, in an instant, because you have not noticed its gradual approach. You do not notice that first sin; you feel that it has not produced any great impression upon you; but toils are being prepared, and inch by inch you are let down to the very edge. It is only taken to put back again; it is only keeping a little longer; it is only preparing the way for disgrace and exposure. It is only a light laugh at the corner of the street, and a merry innocent freak with a strange coy face that meets you. It is only tarrying a while to speak a word of ready and easy good-humoured jest. But her ways lead down to hell, and her end is in the grave. (Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)
If I be shaven, then my strength will go from me.--
The giant’s locks
I. Learn how very strong people abe sometimes coaxed into great imbecilities. Those who have the kindest and most sympathetic natures are the most in danger. The warmth and susceptibility of your nature will encourage the siren. Though strong as a giant, look out for Delilah’s scissors.
II. This narrative teaches us the power of an ill-disposed woman. While the most excellent and triumphant exhibitions of character we find among the women of history, and the world thrills with the names of Marie Antoinette and Josephine and Joan of Arc and Maria Theresa and hundreds of others, who have ruled in the brightest homes and sung the sweetest cantos, and enchanted the nations with their art, and swayed the mightiest of sceptres, on the other hand the names of Mary the First of England, Margaret of France, Julia of Rome, and Elizabeth Petrowna of Russia have scorched the eye of history with their abominations, and their names, like banished spirits, have gone shrieking and cursing through the world. Woman stands nearest the gate of heaven or nearest the door of hell. When adorned by grace she reaches a point of Christian elevation which man cannot attain, and when blasted by crime she sinks deeper than man can plunge.
III. Consider some of the ways in which strong men get their locks shorn. The strength of men is variously distributed. Sometimes it lies in physical development, sometimes in intellectual attainment, sometimes in heart force, sometimes in social position, sometimes in financial accumulation; and there is always a shears ready to destroy it. Every day there are Samsons ungianted. I saw a young man start in life under the most cheering advantages. His acute mind was at home in all scientific dominions. But he began to tamper with brilliant free-thinking. Modern theories of the soul threw over him their blandishments. Scepticism was the Delilah that shore his locks off, and all the Philistines of doubt and darkness and despair were upon him. He died in a very prison of unbelief, his eyes out. Far back in the country districts there was born one whose fame will last as long as American institutions. His name was the terror of all enemies of free government. He stood the admired of millions; the nation uncovered in his presence, and when he spoke senates sat breathless under the spell. The plotters against good government attempted to bind him with green withes and weave his locks in a web, yet he walked forth from the enthralment, not knowing he had burst a bond. But from the wine-cup there arose a destroying spirit that came forth to capture his soul. He drank until his eyes grew dim, and his knees knocked together, and his strength failed. Exhausted with lifelong dissipations, he went home to die. It was strong drink that came like the infamous Delilah, and his locks were shorn. Evil associations, sudden successes, spendthrift habits, miserly proclivities and dissipation, are the names of some of the shears with which men are every day made powerless. They have strewn the earth with the carcases of giant, and filled the great prison houses with destroyed Samsons, who sit grinding the mills of despair, their locks shorn and their eyes out. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Made him sleep upon her knees.--
The victim and the victor
I remember once walking with a man ever a large mortgaged farm; the poor owner had fallen somehow in the rear of life; and some years before he had mortgaged the whole property. He began life badly, and when I knew him he had been past the prime of life, for some time ineffectually trying to overtake old mistakes. But it is a difficult matter for the wisdom of to-day to overtake the folly of yesterday. Thus a mortgaged life is far more affecting and hopeless than a mortgaged farm; and there are those who mortgage their lives, and they cannot redeem them. Some mortgage health by the excesses of intemperance. Oh, it is a sad spectacle, a man trying to overtake or trying to repossess a mortgaged life. Of course a nature like Samson’s was especially in danger from women; and there were women in Sorek! His is the old story; so all these heroes fell. Thus it was with Hercules and Omphale; and Hercules, as we have said, was the strong Samson of the ancient classic world; his story is so like that of Samson that some have not unnaturally supposed it derived from Hebrew story. Omphale was the queen of Lydia, and Hercules fell in love with her, and became her slave for three years, and led an effeminate life in winding and carding wool, while Omphale wore the skin of the tremendous Nemean lion he had slain! What a parable! He had squeezed the lion to death; and 0mphale pressed out his manhood in her embrace! Thus it was with Antony and Cleopatra; thus it was with Henry IV. of France. Few, like Ulysses, have passed in safety the isle of Syrens; few escape Calypso! One of the great masters of modern poetry has, with subtle and matchless power, in the “Idylls of the King,” drawn in Vivien the very illustration of the history before us; you pity, you feel contempt for, the great prince lying there, his head in the lap of the Syren of Sorek; you cannot believe it! You say, “Did he not know?” You say, “Could there be such matchless folly? Could he surrender his secret?” Yes, wise men fall, great men fall! Notice the manner of Samson’s fall; it was by the extortion of his secret; therefore has it been said, “Keep thine heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues,” or, which is the same thing, within it is the secret of life. There are around us constantly those who seek to know our secret, the secret of our strength and of our weakness; for there is a dangerous secret, there is in all of us a charm; we know it. Surrender to others the charm, and they put it forth against us. And then the victim lies dead; “lost to life, and use, and name, and fame.” You remember the wonderful dream of John Newton. He was, he thought, in the harbour of Venice, on the deck of a ship, when a stranger brought him a ring of inestimable value, giving him charge to keep it, because its loss would entail on him trouble and misery. The ring was accepted, and also the responsibility of keeping it; but while he was meditating on the value of the ring, a second person appeared. He talked to him about the supposed value and virtues of the ring; he laughed at the idea of its value, and, in the end, advised him to throw it away. He plucked it from his finger, and threw it into the sea. Immediately, from the Alps, behind Venice, burst forth flames; and the tempter, laughing, told him that he was a fool, that the whole mercy of God was in that ring. He trembled with agony and fear, when a third person came, or the same who had first given him the ring; he blamed his rashness, but, exactly where the ring went down, he plunged, and brought it up again; instantly the Alps ceased their burning, and the seducer fled. He approached his friend, expecting to receive again the ring. “No,” said his friend, “if you kept it, you would soon bring your self into the same distress. You are not able to keep it; I will keep it for you, and produce it, when needful, on your behalf.” A wonderful dream--do not doubt it. We all have something to keep--something precious. We must not let the enemy of our spirits steal our secret from us. Do you remember Samson in the lap of Delilah? Samson had his secret; “Show me,” said the crafty woman, “wherein thy great strength lieth.” But Samson kept his secret. “How canst thou say,” said she, “I love thee, when thy heart is not with me?” So he gave up his secret; he parted with his heart. “Then, in one moment, she put forth the charm of woven paces and waving hands; and he lay as dead, and lost to life, and use, and name, and fame.” Then they burst forth into laughter. “Ha! ha! ha! Samson, where is thy secret now? Ha! Ha! “But he had parted with his heart; he had lost, he had mortgaged his secret. “And was lost to life, and use, and name, and fame.” And what a spectacle is that of Samson asleep! Behold here the recklessness, the carelessness, of the tempted soul. There is but one thing more; the price of his ruin is paid, now awake him! “The Philistines be upon thee, Samson! And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the Lord had departed from him.” He rouses, but all is lost! How strange it all seemed; how new! Where am I? What?” No man knows well the value of what he has had until he has lost it. A character gone! Young Weltly sat at his desk; a clerk came to him and said, “Weltly, Mr. Drummond, the principal, wants to speak to you.” He went into the office; he knew! The principal looked to the inspector of police standing by. “There’s your prisoner, sir.” And the lost young man held out his hands mechanically for the handcuffs. Poor boy! they were not needed, but it was a lost life! So here strength is gone! character is gone! Israel has lost her hero! her hero has lost himself! He surrendered “the secret of the Lord,” which is only “with them that fear Him,” and awoke to find the Spirit of the Lord departed from him! (E. P. Hood.)
Samson shorn of his strength
Learn how it was that Samson was shorn of his strength.
1. Because he was not equally strong in all directions.
2. Because he ventured too far into temptation. Samson allowed Delilah to bind him with green withes, etc. “He laid his head in her lap,” etc. Beyond a certain point retreat was impossible.
3. Because he relied upon his own strength. He did not realise that his strength was from God. It is a sad experience that teaches men what Philip Melanchthon learned at last, “that Satan was stronger than Philip.” (The Preacher’s Monthly.)
I will go out as at other times.--
The evil of knowing evil
These were the words of a man once strong, who found, to his amazement, that he had, through his own fault, lost that in which his strength lay. What do you try to keep from your children? Is it not the knowledge of evil? Their innocence you feel to be their safety, as you know it is your admiration. You preserve it to them while you can. Why? Because when it is gone they are not the same. At best they go out as at other times before and shake themselves: they are not aware that, for a season at least, the Lord has departed from them. Their history is the universal history.
I. There are, no doubt, many subjects about which we have learned something, and about which nevertheless we know very little afterwards, and feel little inclination to make experiments. This is, probably, the case with all sorts of studies except one; and that one varies in different persons. What would afford me extreme gratification might be to some one else a very wearisome pursuit; while his favourite subject would have no charms for me. And so he might have gained an insight into the nature of my pursuit, or I into the nature of his, without any danger of either of us injuring our prospects or losing our time by following the pursuit of the other to the neglect of his own. Now this safeguard, you will see at once, is wanting as regards the knowledge of evil. We have naturally a decided taste for wickedness. Here, then, is an answer to the common excuses for becoming unnecessarily acquainted with the evil that is being done in the world. It is admitted that the practice of sin is injurious. Well, the taste is so decided in your heart, that the likelihood of your stopping short and being satisfied with mere knowledge is reduced to almost nothing. In your own strength you surely cannot resist. Strength from on high how can you expect when you are tempting God? On what, then, are you to depend to preserve you from going beyond knowledge if you once get it? On nothing. Then you had better not have the knowledge.
II. But, besides this, it is a fact in our nature that the desire of knowledge is connected with the desire of society. Now how will this work in the case under our consideration? The man who has acquired a knowledge of evil from pursuing it as a study, must seek for the society of those already acquainted with it, or of those not already acquainted with it. Of the former class--those already acquainted with it--how many of those he meets are likely to have stopped short at that point? and how many are likely to be satisfied so long as he stops short of it? But suppose, on the other hand, that the associates chosen be those to whom the knowledge of evil is new, and to whom it may be imparted. See what an infinity of mischief you are bringing about, even supposing--and it is a very wild supposition--that you avoid actually committing the sins about which you are so anxious to acquire and to impart knowledge! There is, literally, no end to the mischief. You have made yourself Satan’s missionary. The effects of your first--perhaps thoughtless--effort you never can reverse.
III. There is yet another important practical evil resulting from the knowledge of sins, even though we neither practise them nor speak of them; that is, the tendency of such knowledge to deaden in our own minds the sense of sin as such, to divert us from viewing it as something utterly antagonistic and abhorrent to a pure and holy God, as something so bad that to save us from it Christ, who was very God, died on the Cross. There are very many cases where repentance seems doubtful not so much from an unwillingness to abandon particular acts of sin, as from, apparently, an utter incapability to comprehend the nature of sin itself. So difficult is it when once we have left the path of safety, which we trod with the Divine aid, to return to it again--so impossible to come back to it as we left it. In presumptuous security we part with the innocence which was the secret of our success, forgetting that our strength was dependent upon its preservation. In an unfounded conviction that at any time a little effort will restore us to the position which we wantonly abandon, we do wantonly abandon it and slumber unconscious of our loss, until at last, like Samson in the text, awakened from our sleep we say, “I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself”--not knowing that “the Lord is departed from us.” No words of mine could at all convey to you my deep sense of the inestimable benefit of following all through life the injunction of the wise man, “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it and pass away.” (J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)
As at other times
Now the story of Samson is told in this book, just in the characteristic fashion of Bible biography. There is nothing extenuated, and there is nothing concealed. Here you have the man as he is--in his strength and his weakness, in his right-doing and his wrongdoing. Now, in the story of Samson itself there is nothing very puzzling. The one puzzling thing about it is in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where we find this man canonised as one of the heroes of faith. Now, as we candidly read the story, we must confess that Samson does not seem to have very much religion about him. That unshorn hair was a solemn thing to him. It marked out a certain dedication of him to God, a certain separation of him among men. But so far as we can see that is all the religion that Samson had about him. Whence that verdict of the Epistle to the Hebrews? There is no doubt that Samson was possessed of a certain faith in the God of Israel, and in Israel’s future, which did help to redeem his life from utter ignobleness, which did inspire him to make a part of that history that leads up to Christ. As I understand, that is all that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says. Samson is an illustration of how far a liberal, true, and noble faith will go to redeem what is essentially a poor life from utter ignobleness. Samson’s life is far from that of inspiration and example. He is here rather as a signal warning. I daresay some of you are familiar with Milton’s poem of Samson Agonistes. If so, let me remind you that the Samson of the Bible is not at all the Samson of the poem. Milton’s tragedy depicts Samson as a stately, majestic, fallen hero, great and admirable in every respect, even in his overthrow. The Samson of the Book of Judges is quite another man. I do not think that he is, on the whole, a man whom you can possibly respect, though I think he is a man that you cannot possibly help liking. A boyish, sunny, radiant soul--keen for life as he understands it. Just the sort of man to be exposed to extra temptation by the very qualities that were fitted to make him so popular. Aye, we too need that natural and happy hopefulness in God’s campaigns--and we have too little of it. We are too sour and grim, we who fight His battles. And yet, I think, there is a false ring in Samson’s laughter. There is just a touch of the crackling of the thorns under the pot, of the noisy laughter of the fool. The youth of him was the best of him; and that is a hard thing to say of any man. The strongest man of his day, he was about essentially the weakest man of his day. No doubt he did much to save his country; he began to save Israel from the Philistines. But himself he could not save. First of all, glance at his childhood and youth in Zorah, for that is the first chapter of his life. How the story of Samson’s birth is as beautiful and tender as a summer morning. And how mother and father resolve together that the life God would have their boy lead they, by God’s grace, will help him towards. They will not take God’s gift apart from God’s purpose. They will not plan their boy’s career to please themselves. And so, under these happy auspices, the boy is born, and under such training he grows up in his happy youth until the time comes that, as an Israelite, he must take his responsible part in the burden and the pain of his people. And now I think we may entitle the second chapter, “Samson in the camp of Dan.” There he has betaken himself, with his consecrated life, where the manhood of his tribe are wont to gather for military exercise, or perhaps for grave counsel concerning the public peril; for they seemed to be ever in peril in those days. There his forefathers, long ago, had established their camp. There was the ancestral burying-place of his people. There he felt himself moved nearer to all that was great and glorious in the world and in the history of his people. There we read , “The Spirit of the Lord moved him in the camp of Dan.” And I think that to all of us ere we took our plunge into life there came this same experience in some sacred spot when a vision was given us of the future that dawned so fair for us when we were children, but now shown so near, a vision of the heaving and wresting of immortal powers, of the battle between good and evil, between God and the world; and when we felt, oh, a great scorn of the world and the trivial and the selfish, and a great purpose to strike in and strike out on the right side--to be for God and for God’s cause in this world, to win the glory that is of God. Well, well, the Spirit of the Lord, I venture to say, hath moved us all in the camp of Dan. And now we pass on to the third chapter, and we may entitle it “Samson in Gaza,” or “Samson plunging into Life,” or if you prefer, “Peril and Pleasure in Gaza.” Gaza was the chief seaport of the Philistines, a great commercial city, a gay, pleasure-loving place, contrasting strikingly with the quiet monotony of the home-life in the tribe of Dan. And, although Samson’s first visit to Gaza is first spoken of well on in his life, there is no doubt whatever that he had visited Gaza in early youth. Gaza lay very near to the camp of Dan, and there all that he had purposed and felt was to be put to the test. The fact is, there is no escaping Gaza for you and me. We have to mix with life. One ought, in one sense, to trust life utterly. You cannot believe too strongly in the good of life, and in all that you can get from life if you live it rightly. Yet, on the other hand, one is bound to say you must distrust life. Ah, it is life that undoes folk, and undoes them smilingly and tenderly, as Delilah undid Samson in Gaza. It is life that lays the unholy hand on the holy secret, that asks insinuatingly, “Tell me, tell me, wherein the secret of thy strength lies. Tell me what makes thee different from other folk. Tell me what prevents thee now from coming in with us. Tell me--“ and wins the secret from us, laying the unholy hand upon the holy secret for the unholy purpose. So Samson in Gaza gives himself away. Not knowingly, mark you. He believed that even if he got into some kind of mess, he was strong enough to get out of it. He believed that he could touch the fire and not be burnt. Samson one day woke up finding he had made a mistake, but saying to himself, “Well, I must retrieve; I will go out as at other times, and resume my life.” But he was never more to go out as at other times. He had gone too far; he had done it once too often; he had given way too much. Now, it seems to me that this is the teaching of Samson’s life. The man had no principle, no definite and consecutive purpose in life. Even an inferior principle, even any kind of purpose, would have spared him much that he suffered. Why, one would rather have seen that man set himself to be a millionaire than drift as he did; one would rather see the man’s heart given to gold than to Delilah. But the man had no purpose at all, he had no rudder to steer by. That man was doomed to drift upon the rocks, to make shipwreck of his life. Ah, what a strange and awful trust this life of ours is! It is the one thing that you must not play with. You must take it very seriously. The gift that God gives you, if you do not use it properly, it will undo you. “I will go out as at other times.” That is the history of every temptation and of every failure. That is the encouragement every one applies to his soul, ere he goes into temptation. You cannot do that. It cannot be with you as it was, you who have yielded to the temptress, you who have yielded to sin. Oh, then, you must come straight back to God, and get His forgiveness, and begin life again with His help. But be very sure you can never without that leave your sin behind you; you cannot go out as at other times. (J. Durran.)
He wist not that the Lord was departed from him.--
I. The source of Samson’s strength. Evidently then there was a supernatural element in it. But, on the other hand, Samson’s vow as a Nazarite bound him to a mode of life calculated to secure a healthy, vigorous physical development; and the rationalist will contend that that of itself is a sufficient explanation of the matter. There was both the natural and the supernatural. And is not Samson’s strength in these respects typical of a higher strength, that which is moral and spiritual? Here also we may discern two elements, the Divine and human. The highest form of strength, the strength of goodness, by which a man triumphs over evil, and which finds its highest joy in holy and righteous action, is not to be gained by a life of dreamy contemplation, or by sitting still and affecting that God will some day transform us into giants. It is to be attained by self-denial, self-sacrifice, and true work.
II. The loss of Samson’s strength. Now, what is the key to this sad affair? In one word, it is weakness; and that is the key to half the wickedness committed in the world. When temptation presents itself, instead of saying with a soul in utter revolt, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” men stop to think and dally, and once that is done there is fearful danger. They never intend doing any harm; they have good feelings and desires, and yet through moral weakness commit all kinds of wickedness, and involve themselves and others in misery. If we would be safe from breakdown, we must have a well-fortified moral character. Guard scrupulously the outworks; beware of everything that is morally enervating. If we fail to do this, ere we are aware we may find ourselves shorn of our strength.
III. The restoration of Samson’s strength. Have we not here the conditions of moral restoration, with its limitations? The first condition is a painful consciousness of weakness. Without this a man will never desire any change in his condition, and therefore he will never seek any. There must further be a realisation of the folly and wickedness of his conduct, producing sincere regret for it and earnest desires and resolution of amendment. Hence, in true penitence there is an element that will deter a man from committing the sin again. And then there must also be the prayer of faith. Samson prayed and looked for an immediate answer. But there is something lost never to be regained. Samson’s strength was restored, but not his eyesight; and he lost his life into the bargain. And that typifies a solemn truth. The man who, like Samson or David, is guilty of glaring sin, may, by the mercy and grace of God, be restored; but he can never regain the feeling of comparative innocence he once enjoyed. To the backslider these thoughts should bring sadness indeed, but not despair. (Joseph Ritson.)
The man who has trifled once too often
The text speaks of one who has trifled once too often. He has allowed some influence, it scarcely matters what, to steal from him the secret of his strength. He has parted with it by his own folly--in a certain sense, with his eyes open--and yet he treats it as still recoverable by the exercise of quite a common kind of effort and of resolution. “I will go out,” he says, “as at other times before, and shake myself.” In vain. The strength is gone from him, and the Lord with it. Such is the parable; and to every thoughtful hearer it is its own interpreter. There is in many men, perhaps in most men, an erroneous idea, in two respects, of the free agency and the free will. We exaggerate to ourselves, in the first place, what is sometimes called the bondage of the will. It is an article of our religion, that we cannot of ourselves either will or do the thing that we ought. This, which is all true in its place--true as a reason for humility, and true as a motive for prayer--becomes a terrible falsehood on lips which utter it as an excuse for indolence, or as a sufficient explanation of any neglect or any sin by which we may be dishonouring God or giving an ill example to our generation. On the other hand, the same man who has pleaded the bondage of the will in excuse for his own negligences, follies, and sins will be the first to exaggerate his freedom in reference to the reparative powers of the future. “I have but to resolve, any day, and I shall shake myself free--free from the chain of habit, free from the binding force of past action, and from the connection, of yesterday and to-morrow in the living man of to-day”--this is language quite familiar to us all, in the ear, if not in the heart. In this state of mind we exaggerate our freedom, as in the other we unduly disparaged it. The real bondage of the will lies in the having sinned away the freedom. It would be easy to apply this general experience to the various departments of the life. “I will go out, as at other times before, and shake myself.” Thus speaks the man who has allowed some influence of evil to fasten itself upon his conduct, and yet refuses to regard the fetter as anything more than a daily separate willing, which could any morning be reversed and willed into the opposite. The doctrine which that man wants is the true doctrine of the bondage. Tell him that to-morrow, if he does not take heed, he will be a slave; tell him that “whosoever committeth sin is sin’s bondman”; tell him that, for anything he knows, by to-morrow the Lord may have departed; tell him that this one night’s sinning may be to him like that fatal sleep upon the knees of the traitoress, which cost Samson eyesight and life--“I made haste and prolonged not the time” is his one chance; the dream of liberty is not false only, for him, but fatal; let him awake and cry mightily unto God, if so be He may yet this once hear him, that he perish not. We cannot doubt that the same delusion has place in the faith as well as in the life. There are thousands at this moment dallying with scepticism, who would be terrified if they thought that they could not at any moment go forth from it all and shake themselves free. A man may count himself free to believe or to disbelieve; he may even set himself above his own scruples, and say, “To-morrow, if it so pleases me, I will go out and shake myself free of them”; but, in reality, he is fastening them upon himself to-day by the very postponement, and to-morrow, if it ever dawn upon him, may find him one from whom God Himself has departed. There is in us all, as God has created us, a marvellous elasticity of mind, body, and estate. The recuperative power is perhaps the greatest of His gifts. We have seen it wonderfully exemplified on the bed of sickness. We have seen it wonderfully exemplified in the fortunes of men and nations. We have seen it wonderfully exemplified in the moral being. Some terrible flaw there was, in early days, in the character; some vice of untruthfulness, or some worse vice still, brought disgrace and punishment after it into the school-life and into the young home. But, by the blessing of God upon discipline tempered with love, a new growth of honesty and of purity showed itself in the life, and a noble career of usefulness and honour obliterated, long before death, the very memory of the sad beginning. We have seen it wonderfully exemplified in the one higher region, of the spiritual life. Once there was carelessness; once there was unbelief; once there was scoffing: but the blessed promise of the “last first” had place, by the grace of God, in the history as a whole; and one of the brightest ornaments of the faith and of the Church has been the product of a “trying in the fire” which promised only, to the eye of flesh, scorching and scathing, if not destruction. This is one side of human experience. But there is another. The recuperative power is wonderful, but it has its limit. “Thus far and no further” is written upon it, or it would bring evil and not blessing with it. There is a point beyond which recovery is not. If we could foresee the exact moment at which, or the precise act by which, the limit of the possible recovery would be overpassed, it would be contrary to God’s uniform dealing; it would but tempt to presumption on the way to it. No man knows exactly how many injuries he may do himself, in health or wealth, in conduct or faith, and be scatheless. He must take his chance. If he will trifle in any of these ways, there is no Divine Mentor to say to him, The next time but two, or, the next time but twenty, will be fatal. The man is standing aloof from God all the time, and by the nature of the case must look to himself alone for monition. Whatever has been said, and said truly, of the restorative powers of this being, there is another sense, and a yet more grave one, in which we must read the words, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” We speak now of the identity and the continuity of the life, which makes it utter childishness for a man to say suddenly to himself, “I will go out and shake myself, and I shall be another man.” There is a mighty power in the will, there is a mightier power still in Divine grace; but the former cannot, and the latter could not consistently, isolate one period of the life altogether from another, or make that in the past, which was most of all to be regretted and mourned over, actually unmade or undone again, so as to be as though it had never been. All this is no reason for despondency. Although we are warned by the text that there is always a danger, for those who are living without God in the world, that they may, even without knowing it, overstep the limit of grace, and find God departed from them when they would shake themselves from their bonds, yet we must remember that all this is no matter of chance, caprice, or destiny; it is the result of a long process of sinning and neglecting, which need not be any man’s; it is a loud call to awake and arise while we may; to seek God now while He certainly may be found, and, instead of trusting in our independent powers of recovery and self-amendment, to cast ourselves earnestly upon the help of His grace who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not. (Dean Vaughan.)
Blessed and tragic unconsciousness
(with Exodus 34:29):--The recurrence of the same phrase in two such opposite connections is very striking.
I. Beauty and strength come from communion with God. In both the cases with which we are dealing these were of a merely material sort. The light on Moses’ face and the strength in Samson’s arm were, at the highest, but types of something far higher and nobler than themselves. But still, the presence of the one and the departure of the other alike teach us the conditions on which we may possess both in nobler form, and the certainty of losing them if we lose hold of God. There have been in the past, and there are to-day, thousands of simple souls shut out by lowliness of position, and other circumstances from all the refining and ennobling influences which the world makes so much of, who yet in character and bearing, aye, and sometimes in the very look of their meek faces, are living witnesses how true and mighty is the power of loving gazing upon Jesus Christ to transform a nature. All of us who have had much to do with Christians of the humbler classes know that. There is no influence to refine and beautify men like that of living near Jesus Christ and walking in the light of that beauty which is the effulgence of the Divine glory and express image of His person. And in like manner as beauty, so strength comes from communion with God, and laying hold on Him. Samson’s consecration, rude and external as that consecration was, both in itself and in its consequences, had passed away from him.
II. The bearer of the radiance is unconscious of it. “Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone.” In all regions of life, the consummate apex and crowning charm of excellence is unconsciousness of excellence. Whenever a man begins to suspect that he is good, he begins to be bad; and you rob every virtue and beauty of character of some portion of its attractive fairness when the man who bears it knows, or fancies that he knows it. The charm of childhood is its perfect unconsciousness, and the man has to win back the child’s heritage, and become as a little child, if he would enter into and dwell in the kingdom of heaven. And so in the loftiest region of all, that of the religious life, depend on it, the more a man is like Christ the less he knows it, and the better he is the less he suspects it.
III. The strong man made weak is unconscious of his weakness. The very fact that you do not suppose the statement to have the least application to yourself is perhaps the very sign that it has. When the life blood is pouring out of a man he faints before he dies. The swoon of unconsciousness is the condition of some professing Christians. Frost-bitten limbs are quite comfortable, and only tingle when circulation is coming back. I remember a great elm-tree, the pride of an avenue in the South, that had spread its branches for more years than the oldest man could count, and stood, leafy and green. Not until a winter storm came one night and laid it low with a crash did anybody suspect what everybody saw in the morning--that the heart was eaten out of it, and nothing left but a shell of bark. Some Christian people are like that; they manage leaves, they manage fruit; when the storm comes they will go down, because the heart has been out of their religion for years. “Samson wist not that the Lord was departed from him.” And so, because there are so many things that mask the ebbing away of a Christian life, and because our own self-love and habits come in to hide declension, let me earnestly exhort you and myself to watch our selves very narrowly. Again let me say, let us ask God to help us. “Search me, O God, and try me.” We shall never rightly understand what we are unless we spread ourselves out before Him, and crave that Divine Spirit, which is the candle of the Lord, to be carried even in our hands into the secret recesses of our sinful hearts. And, last of all, let us keep near to Jesus Christ, near enough to Him to feel His touch, to hear His voice, to see His face, and to carry down with us into the valley some radiance on our countenances which may tell even the world that we have been up where the Light lives and reigns. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
The withdrawal of Divine influences
I. Christians in a state of grace and Divine favour may, in a great measure, be forsaken of God, and yet be insensible thereof.
1. The prevalence of some darling idol in the heart may so blind the discerning faculty and disorder the understanding that the soul may not perceive its distance from the ways of religion.
2. There can be no doubt concerning this truth, that God withdraws sometimes from His people, if we observe the many complaints they make to this purpose (Psalms 30:7). These complaints were not without cause, nor would such pious characters complain without reason. The deadened state of their souls made them feel that the Divine influences and power were withdrawn; they found the stream was in a great measure stopped, when the waters of life did not revive their souls.
3. Christians may not perceive the withdrawing of the Divine influence, because there may be a counterfeit resemblance between their idols and their duty. When we have a strong affection for something connected with another thing that is good, we seldom see the difference between them, but fall into error and mistake through inattention. We view under one character things different in their nature; and perceive not the unlawfulness of what we covet, when we find it, in some measure, related to other things that are innocent.
4. The subtlety and the deceitfulness of sin in the souls of the best Christians hinder them from distinguishing the knowledge of Christianity from its life and practice.
5. Believers may not only be insensible of God’s withdrawing from them, but also embrace false for true grounds of comfort and enlargement. Sin is so deceitful that it will creep in upon the believer under a mask: sometimes a false hope, at other times a deceitful joy will deceive the saints themselves.
II. Evidences of this condition.
1. When men live easy and indifferent under the means of salvation; when they are not active in the performance of the duties belonging to their several stations and characters in life, but like Samson, instead of destroying the Philistines, for which he was raised up, fall asleep in carnal security, and begin to enter into league with the enemies of God; when they begin to remit their watchfulness, and live secure and careless.
2. When men not only have no fears of their present evil condition, but think well of it; when they imagine that they are rich, and increased in goods, and stand in need of nothing, etc.
3. When thoughts of death and a future judgment are removed from men’s meditation and consideration; when the evil day is put far away, and people, like those of whom the prophet Ezekiel speaks, say, “The Lord hath forsaken the earth, neither doth He consider it.” (J. Williamson.)
I. The strength of the consecrated man. Even though he may consecrate himself to a wrong object, yet if it be a thorough consecration, he will have strength. In the old Roman wars with Pyrrhus, you remember an ancient story of self-devotion. There was an oracle which said that victory would attend that army whose leader should give himself up to death. Decius, the Roman Consul, knowing this, rushed into the thickest of the battle, that his army might overcome by his dying. The prodigies of valour which he performed are proofs of the power of consecration. The Romans at that time seemed to be every man a hero, because every man was a consecrated man. They went to battle with this thought--“I will conquer or die; the name of Rome is written on my heart; for my country I am prepared to live, or for that to shed my blood.” And no enemies could ever stand against them. If a Roman fell, there were no wounds in his back, but all in his breast. His face, even in cold death, was like the face of a lion, and when looked upon it was of terrible aspect. They were men consecrated to their country. How much more is this true if I limit the description to that which is peculiar to the Christian--consecration to God!
II. the secret of his strength. I have heard some men talk as if the strength of free-will, of human nature, was sufficient to carry men to heaven. No strength of nature can suffice to serve the Lord aright. No man can say that Jesus is the Christ but by the Holy Ghost. If, then, the first act of Christian life is beyond all human strength, how much more are those higher steps far beyond any one of us?
III. What is the peculiar danger of a consecrated man? His danger is that his locks may be shorn; that is to say, that his consecration may be broken, Now there are a thousand razors with which the devil can shave off the locks of a consecrated man without his knowing it. Sometimes he takes the sharp razor of pride, and when the Christian falls asleep, and is not vigilant, he comes with it and begins to run his fingers upon the Christian’s locks, and says, “What a fine fellow you are! What wonders you have done! Didn’t you rend that lion finely? Wasn’t it a great feat to smite those Philistines hip and thigh? Ah! you will be talked of as long as time endures for carrying those gates of Gaza away! You need not be afraid of anybody.” And so on goes the razor, lock after lock falling off, and Samson knows it not. He is just thinking within himself, “How brave am I! How great am I!“ Thus works the razor of pride--cut, cut, cut away--and he wakes up to find himself bald, and all his strength gone. Another razor he uses is self-sufficiency. The moment we begin to think that it is our own arm that has gotten us the victory, it will be all over with us--our locks of strength shall be taken away, and the glory shall depart from us. There is yet another and a more palpable danger still. When a consecrated man begins to change his purpose in life and live for himself--that razor shaves clean indeed. Oh, Christian, above all things take care of thy consecration. Ever feel that thou art wholly given up to God, and to God alone.
IV. The Christian’s disgrace. His locks are cut off. I have seen him in the ministry. He spake like an angel of God; many there were that regarded him; he seemed to be sound in doctrine and earnest in manner. I have seen him turn aside; it was but a little thing--some slight deviation from the ancient orthodoxy of his fathers, some slight violation of the law of his Church. I have seen him, till he has given up doctrine after doctrine, until at last the very place wherein he preached has become a bye-word and a proverb. What disgrace was there! What a fall! The man who came out in the camps of Dan, and seemed to be moved by the Spirit of the Lord, has become the slave of error. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. A man may lose his strength, and yet live in the experiences of the past. You may have made a profession of faith in Christ; you were “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might”; but you have departed from the Lord, and yet you still retain the forms and habits of your spiritual life. You have a name to live--that is all. You do not know that the Lord has departed from you.
II. When a man departs from the Lord, it is certain the Lord will depart from him. The departure is at first scarcely perceptible--it is in thought and feeling and then in life. I have seen glaciers, like rivers that, flowing down the sides of the Alps, have been stopped and arrested in a moment. There seems no movement, for all appears to be the same year after year. Though not perceptible to the eye, it can be proved by experiment that the frozen river is always moving on and on. So with you--the distance from God may be increasing and widening, but it is so slowly that no one perceives it. At length some circumstance leads to the manifestation of your real state, and the fearful consciousness of your departure from God. The Lord does not all at once depart--there are restraints, remonstrances, difficulties put in the way of backsliding; there are invitations to return. At last, when all is vain, and the man will have his own way, a Divine voice says, “Let him alone.”
III. When God departs from a man, the consequence will be, that the man loses his strength. Have you ever seen an eagle in its captivity, wearing its chains, an uncrowned king? How sad the spectacle, how deep the humiliation--what a seeming consciousness of fallen greatness! The eagle was made for the glorious mountains, its home is on the summit of the lofty rocks, its wings are fitted for flight, its eye to look on the sun. How much sadder is it to see the change that has come over this man. How are the mighty fallen! (H. J. Bevis.)
The weakness of strength
We still need to learn what true strength is, and that both physical and intellectual power may be the means of moral weakness.
I. Strength from ancestry. Victor Hugo remarks: “If you want to reform a man, you must begin with his grandmother.” The parents of Samson were sober and pious people. The weakening effects of strong drinks upon posterity are well known. One thing that makes it hard to be born again is being born wrong the first time.
II. Strength through consecration.
III. Strength may become weakness. Great powers imply great passions. With every increase of faculty come more subtle temptations. There is nothing so destructive to strength and youth as sensual sin.
IV. Strength forfeited through falsehood. He broke his vow, and with it broke faith with God. No one can really betray the strong man but himself. Break trust with God, and sin will be too strong for you, and the Philistines of the soul will enslave you.
V. Last effort of strength. The mercy of God gave him still a chance. He was not wholly lost. So do you, already weakened by falsehood to God and your best self, use the strength that remains. Make one last effort to break the chains that bind you. A little more, and your strength will be entirely gone. (G. Elliott.)
Loss of strength
I. The strength by which alone we can overcome evil is to be obtained from the Spirit of God.
II. This spiritual strength is lost by us when we yield ourselves to sin.
III. One may lose this spiritual strength without at the Moment being conscious of the privation. Samson “wist not that the Lord was departed from him.” That was melancholy enough, but its spiritual antitype is infinitely more so, for it is terribly true that one may become morally feeble through habitual indulgence in sin, and yet at the time be unaware of the change that has passed upon him. How shall we account for this?
1. We may explain it by the fact that all outward things may be with him as they were before. He may be outwardly attentive to the ordinances of religion, but his heart has been given to some earthly object.
2. Another explanation of the unconsciousness of many to the terrible loss of which we speak may be the stealthiness of the growth of the sin which has caused it. No man becomes helplessly wicked all at once.
3. Another reason why a man may be unconscious of the loss of his spiritual strength is the blinding effect of sin upon the conscience. When the snow is untrodden you may easily distinguish the first footprints that are made upon it, but after multitudes have hardened it by their tread, it is no longer possible to mark each separate traveller’s tracks. So conscience may take faithful note of the first sins which one commits, but when habits have, as I may say, formed footmarks over it, the soft impressiveness of its early stage has gone, and it becomes impenetrable as a rock.
IV. The consciousness of this loss of strength will be realised when the strength itself is most needed. You know the dreadful agony of nightmare, when in your dream, being pursued by some assassin, your limbs refuse to perform their office, and you seem to be left in the assailant’s power. Such is the experience of the man who discovers in some time of urgency that his strength has departed from him. Enumerate a few of the times of crisis, which will infallibly test whether we have God with us or not: temptation, affliction, death, judgment. As all these are experiences through which every one of us must pass, we ought to be sure that we have strength enough to sustain us in them all. If we have not strength enough for these occasions, we have virtually no strength at all. It is for such times we must prepare, and not for the mere review days of showy profession. Men do not build a ship to lie all decked with bunting in the harbour, but to weather the rough storms of mid-ocean, and the cable that will not bear the toughest strain is in time of hurricane as bad as none at all. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Man’s power for God’s work
I. That it is derived from a special connection with God. All power comes from God: this is true not only of physical, but also of intellectual and moral power.
1. God is in a good man, morally--dwells in him as the favourite author dwells in the mind of the devoted reader. God’s thoughts live in his intellect, God’s love glows in his heart: he is filled with all the fulness of God.
2. That God is with a good man operationally. Without Him we can do nothing in His cause.
II. That sin dissolves this special connection between man and God.
1. By destroying our sympathy with God.
2. By awakening a dread of God.
3. By generating an opposition to God.
III. That this dissolution may occur when the subject is unconscious of it.
1. Because of the gradual way in which it takes place. God does not give a man up at once.
2. Because external circumstances continue the same. Providence pursues its wonted course; health continues, business prospers, the sun shines as usual, and temporal blessings fall free and full as ever on the path.
3. Because the mechanical habits of religion are maintained. There may be family worship, regular attendance on the house of God, but no soul in anything.
IV. That a period will arrive when the dissolution will be painfully realised. In the hour of severe temptation--in the hour of suffering--in the dark hour of death--in the solemn hour of judgment the want of Divine moral strength will be deeply felt. Its lack will be ruin. (Homilist)
Samson, the Jewish Hercules
I. That God has respect to the emergencies of His people. The raising of one man, rather than a host, to break the power of the Philistines, served to manifest the Divine power.
II. That moral feebleness may co-exist with the highest physical energy. Many giants in body are dwarfs in soul. Many who have slain an army have been slain by their own lusts.
III. Samson’s history shows that great physical strength is not the highest good of man. Here God furnishes the world with a striking example that great muscular energy, apart from moral goodness, is of little worth. Look at the misery to which he was reduced--blinded, deluded, destroyed.
IV. Samson’s history shows that one man, through God, can accomplish great things. (Homilist)
The fall and rise of a great man
I. The fall of a great man.
1. The whence and the whither of the fall.
(1) From special connection with God.
(2) Into the hands of his enemies.
(a) “They put out his eyes.” When a man falls from God, he sinks into darkness; he is like a planet cut off from its centre, rolling in a starless, moonless midnight. Hell is “outer darkness.”
(b) “They bound him in fetters of brass.” Emblem of the fettering power of sin. Evil prejudices and habits--how they manacle the limbs of the soul!
(c) “He did grind in the prison house.” The little liberty of limb he had was only allowed that he might feel his bondage more. Servants of sin are slaves of the devil. The corn the sinner grinds is not for himself.
2. The wherefore and the how of this man’s fall.
(1) The cause was in himself. He did it, and did it freely. The devil himself cannot push a man down against his will.
(2) His fall was very gradual, and even imperceptible to himself. He had been pampering his appetite, and gratifying his animal desires; and thus gradually sliding away from the virtuous and the true, he lost his power before he was aware of it. Remember that the losing of Divine power is a gradual and an imperceptible process. No outward event will announce its loss; no great convulsion within will signify it. He will only know it when the time comes that he requires it; when, like Samson, he is reduced to an emergency, requires Divine power, makes an effort, and finds it is gone.
II. The rise of a great man.
1. The demonstrations of his recovered strength.
(1) Miraculous achievement.
(2) Self-sacrificing heroism.
2. The means of his recovered power.
(1) Practical obedience. He who does the will, gets the power of God.
(2) Earnest prayer.
1. A solemn warning to men of signal ability. There are many intellectual giants every day being stripped of their power, and lying eyeless and crippled in the dungeon.
2. A special encouragement to great men who have fallen. (Homilist)
Lost grace unrealised
He knew not that the Lord was departed from him. No wonder; he felt not the smarting effect of it as yet: he fared as he who is robbed in the night of all his treasure or wares of his storehouse; but till the light of the day he misseth nothing. But then, oh what an inventory makes he of his several losses! And so did this poor self-robber in this place. When the Philistines came upon him there was no power to resist; then it appeared indeed that he was robbed to purpose. It is woeful to lose grace, but more to feel no such loss. (R. Rogers.)
He did grind in the prison house.--
Look at the ignoble task to which Samson is put by the Philistines, a type of the ignominious uses to which the hero may be doomed by the crowd. The multitude cannot be trusted with a great man. In the prison at Gaza the fallen chief was set to grind corn, to do the work of slaves. To him, indeed, work was a blessing. From the bitter thoughts that would have eaten out his heart he was somewhat delivered by the irksome labour. In reality, as we now perceive, no work degrades; but a man of Samson’s type and period thought differently. The Philistine purpose was to degrade him; and the Hebrew captive would feel in the depths of his hot brooding nature the humiliating doom. Look, then, at the parallels. Think of a great statesman placed at the head of a nation to guide its policy in the line of righteousness, to bring its laws into harmony with the principles of human freedom and Divine justice--think of such an one, while labouring at his sacred task with all the ardour of a noble heart, called to account by those whose only desire is for better trade, the means of beating their rivals in some market or bolstering up their failing speculations. Or see him at another time pursued by the cry of a class that feels its prescriptive rights invaded or its position threatened. Take again a poet, an artist, a writer, a preacher intent on great themes, eagerly following after the ideal to which he has devoted himself, but exposed every moment to the criticism of men who have no soul--held up to ridicule and reprobation because he does not accept vulgar models and repeat the catchwords of this or that party. Philistinism is always in this way asserting its claim, and ever and anon it succeeds in dragging some ardent soul into the dungeon to grind thenceforth at the mill. With the very highest, too, it is not afraid to intermeddle. Christ Himself is not safe. The Philistines of to-day are doing their utmost to make His name inglorious. For what else is the modern cry that Christianity should be chiefly about the business of making life comfortable in this world and providing not only bread but amusement for the crowd? The ideas of the Church are not practical enough for this generation. To get rid of sin--that is a dream; to make men fearers of God, soldiers of truth, doers of righteousness at all hazards--that is in the air. Let it be given up; let us seek what we can reach; bind the name of Christ and the Spirit of Christ in chains to the work of a practical secularism and let us turn churches into pleasant lounging-places and picture galleries. Why should the soul have the benefit of so great a name as that of the Son of God? Is not the body more? Is not the main business to have houses and railways, news and enjoyment? The policy of undeifying Christ is having too much success. If it makes way there will soon be need for a fresh departure into the wilderness. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
A grist from the prison mill of Gaza
I. In Samson’s history we see the wonderful forbearance of God, notwithstanding his misuse of great mercies and of supernatural strength.
II. Samson lost his great strength in an unconscious manner. His frame was not convulsed when the barber removed his locks. No sobs revealed the fact that he had become as another man. He slept on just as other men sleep.
III. Samson’s history is pictorial of the progressive downward tendencies of sinning. Glorious were the hopes of his infancy.
IV. Once more, the downward course of the Hebrew judge illustrates our reluctance to give up the last badge of our Nazarite consecration. We find him disgustingly in dalliance with sin, and yet keeping, as it were, to the very last moment the outward sign of his covenant relation to God. His vows were for life. But in those cases where the Nazarite covenant was for a limited period of life, the expiration of that period was signalised by shaving the head. When Samson, therefore, told his religious secret, he took the formal step to separate himself wholly from his God. The substance of his covenant he had long since lost, but the seal of it he now throws to the devil. I do not wonder, children of pious parents, that you are uneasy if living in sin under such vows as rest upon you. Nor do I wonder that you are reluctant to part with the last locks that bind you to the God of your fathers. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)
The hair of his head began to grow.--
Strength lost and restored
I. The right relation of man to God is the condition of his real strength. There were many remarkable circumstances connected with the birth of Samson; and the angel who appeared to his mother gave her most minute directions about the training of the child, that thus he might be fitted for the great work to which he was designated. Where there is a right relation to God there is personal dedication, and as the result there will be separateness and sanctity. The consecrated man was to be temperate and chaste, to avoid everything that would defile him. You are not to suffer the flesh to overshadow the spirit. You are to “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul”; to mortify your members which are upon the earth; and to keep your body under and bring it into subjection. The Divine presence will be recognised by the man who stands in a right relation to God--the true strength of the man is in God. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson--moving him at times, rousing him to activity--stirring up his whole nature to great and heroic deeds, and giving him strength to do them. You realise the Divine presence. You can say, “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.” God is with you in all events and circumstances--in all conflicts and victories--in life and in death.
II. This relation to God may be weakened and broken, and then the strength of the man departs.
1. This may be the result of an unhallowed alliance. This was the first wrong step on the part of Samson. Marriage is the oldest human institute, and the one that has been most perverted and abused. In many instances the two never become one--and never can become one--but must remain in awful separateness and loneliness. Their souls never touch each other at any point. In many instances there are no true affinities--no real, abiding love. Marriage is sometimes created by mere excitement or passion--it is based on prudential or mercenary motives. Where there are no mental or moral fitnesses, these ill-assorted matches become the pregnant source of the miseries and wretchedness that abound in the world.
2. This relation may be broken through the indulgence of unrestrained passions. The strong man is a child when governed by his passions; he has no self-mastery or control--his affections are misplaced; they have degenerated into passions. His weakness is known--not the secret of his strength--but men take advantage of his weakness to find out where his strength lies, that they may thus deprive him of it. Our weaknesses lead to the loss of strength.
3. A man may lose his strength and yet live in the experiences of the past. The man’s strength was gone, but “he wist not that the Lord had departed from him.”
4. When a man departs from the Lord, it is certain the Lord will depart from him.
5. When God departs from a man, the consequence will be that the man loses his strength. He cannot retain his strength and lose God. When he falls into the hands of his enemies, then comes the fearful consciousness of his loss. What a contrast between strength and weakness--light and darkness--liberty and captivity!
III. This relation may be renewed, and the strength restored. “Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow after he was shaven.” The man turns to God. This is true repentance. In the parable, the son when he has spent all--when he has nothing left--when a mighty famine comes, and he begins to be in want--when his servitude is the most degrading--comes to himself, and says, “I will arise,” etc. So the captivity and wretchedness of this man may have awakened reflection, and led to repentance.
IV. Strength may be restored, but there are some things that are lost for ever. There is the return of strength, but not of sight. Sin does fearful injury. You may return after your backslidings--God may forgive you. There are some things you have lost--freshness, purity, peace, wholeness, light, joy. You know you are pardoned, but the light is gone. You walk softly. There are the traces and scars of the past. The lightning has scathed you--has blinded you. Never think lightly of sin; it is an evil and a bitter thing--darkness follows it. (H. J. Bevis.)
Shaven and shorn, but not beyond hope
I. What this growing of the hair pictures. I think that this pictures the gradual restoration of certain among us who have backslidden from God.
II. What it specifically symbolises. Samson’s strength lay in his consecration. His hair was the token of his dedication to God. I know Christian people who used to spend an hour a day in prayer. The hour has dwindled into five minutes. They used to be constant at week-night services. They very seldom gladden us with their presence now; and they are not as happy as they once were. I can read this riddle. If a man were to reduce his meals to eating once a week, we could not warrant his health. So I do not think that people who neglect the means of grace, and give up their consecration, can expect to be lively, happy, or vigorous.
III. What it prophesied when Samson’s hair began to grow again. I wonder why these Philistines did not care to keep his hair from growing to any length. But wicked men are not in all matters wise men; indeed, they so conspicuously fail in one point or another that Scripture calls them fools. The devil himself is a fool after all. He thinks that he is wonderfully cunning, but there is always a place where he breaks down. Satan is very cunning in getting hold of backsliders, but he generally manages to let them slip by his over-confidence in their wilfulness. When Samson’s hair began to grow, what did it prophesy?
1. Well, it prophesied hope for Samson. Now, if any of you have signs of restoring grace in your hearts, and you are coming back to your God and Saviour, be glad, be thankful. Do not hesitate to let your renewed devotion to God be seen by those round about you. If the grace of God is moving you at all, be hopeful and quicken your steps, and come to Jesus.
2. Joy for Samson, but also hope for Israel. Oh, if any of the Israelites did get in to see him in prison, how they must have been cheered by the sight of his returning hair! Oh, you do not know the joy that you backsliders will give to the hearts of God’s people if you do but return! There is joy not only with the Great Shepherd, but with His friends and His neighbours when the lost sheep is restored to the fold.
3. Well, it prophesied mischief for the Philistines. They did not know it, but if they could have read the writing in Samson’s heart, they would have understood that he meant to shave their nation quite as closely as they had shaven him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Call for Samson, that he may make us sport.--
The influence of amusements on character and destiny
The best men that the world ever knew have had their sports. William Wilberforce trundled hoop with his children. Martin Luther helped dress the Christmas-tree. Show me a man who never lights up with sportfulness and has no sympathy with the recreations of others, and I will show you a man who is a stumbling-block to the kingdom of God. Such men are caricatures of religion. I have no confidence in a man who makes a religion of his gloomy looks. God means you to be happy. But, when there are so many sources of innocent pleasure, why tamper with anything that is dangerous and polluting?
1. You may judge of any amusement by its healthful result or by its baleful reaction. If an amusement sends you home at night nervous so you cannot sleep, you have been where you ought not to have been. There are amusements that send a man next day to his work bloodshot, yawning, stupid, nauseated, and they are wrong kinds of amusements. There are entertainments that give a man disgust with the drudgery of life. Our recreations are intended to build us up, and if they pull us down as to our moral or as to our physical strength, you may come to the conclusion that they are obnoxious.
2. Those amusements are wrong which lead into expenditure beyond your means.
3. You may judge of amusements by their effect upon physical health.
4. Again, judge of the places of amusement by the companionship into which they put you.
5. Again, any amusement that gives you a distaste for domestic life is bad. How many bright domestic circles have been broken up by sinful amusements! (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Only this once.--
How not to pray
We have heard these words until we are heartsick of them. It seems as if such words could not be done without in the history of human experience. Samson would gather himself up for a grand final effort; he said in effect, “O Lord, the Philistines have taken away mine eyes, I am no longer what I was, I am no longer a prophet and servant of Thine, I am a poor fool; I gave up my secret; Lord, this once, only this once; I pray Thee let the old strength come back, and I will be avenged for my two eyes.” It was very natural, it was most human, it was just what we would have done under similar circumstances, and therefore do not let us laugh at the dismantled giant. Let us accommodate the passage, so that it may become a lamp which we can hold over various points of life. “‘Only this once’: forgive me, I will never ask it again, this is the very last time; I have no excuse, I did the evil deed, I spoke the false word, but I am getting old, and I shall not trouble my family much longer; give me the final pardon; I seem as if I could not do without it; it seems as if I had it I would die easily and triumphantly; I do not deserve it, but add one more to your forbearances; I will never ask again, but pardon me this one time.” You know that speech; it is now a stale speech in your ears; you have pardoned seventy times seven, and another pardon is requested with the promise that it shall be the last. This is the very thing we have done in the case of the Divine Creator and Redeemer of the worlds; we have told Him that we would never repeat the sin. It is not of our necessity we go again, but for the very selfsame sin we did last week, and we will do to-morrow. Life is critical. I am sure I thought I would never do it again; I said this shall not occur again; then I told a blacker lie than ever, and put myself more thoroughly into the devil’s service. And then we have it again in the daily cry from familiar voices: “Deliver me out of this perplexity only this once, no more; I will never ask for deliverance again, I will take the literal consequences; nay, I will pray to go to hell rather than come back to be delivered.” And the fool means it; he thinks he will be brave next time. You know this in your own family, in your own soul, in your own son, daughter, fastest friend. “Only this once, this other ten pounds; this once screen me, and I will never, never return.” You know the cry. Which of us has not in his desk a hundred promises that this shall be the last solicitation of love? We say again and again, “Lord, let Thy providence help me in this case, only this once; this is really the final perplexity of my life; I am very ill, and I am afraid of the other world; I have suffered much on account of it in a dream but yesternight; I heard the groanings of the lost, I heard the cry for water, and the water had fled away. I do not want to die just now; if Thou wilt give the doctor great success and turn the herbal medicines of the field into sacramental wine, I will never grieve Thee more; only this once! and I promised God many things; I said I would love His Church, I would support His altar, I would vindicate the Cross; I would take up a new line and become a new man.” He did, and the devil has never had a sturdier soldier. Oh, the pity of it! the utter, utter sadness of it! Now let us note three things about this prayer.
1. First of all, the prayer was to the true God. It was not offered to an idol. Know, then, that we may be praying to the right God; that is no guarantee that we shall get the answer which we desire. You may read the right book and get nothing out of it. Not every man who reads the Bible receives a revelation, or has the slightest idea that there is a revelation of a spiritual and effective kind in the whole range of Holy Scripture. The right God does not make the right prayer; the prayer is in the spirit, in the will; it is in the temper or disposition of the heart; it is in the self-crucifixion of the soul: not a cry, but a sacrifice.
2. What ailed this poor prayer? what was its mortal disease? The mortal disease of this prayer uttered by Samson was that it was offered in the wrong spirit. It is the spirit that determines the quality. “That I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” It was a prayer for vengeance. That prayer comes easily to the natural spirit. We love to magnify the individual, and to think that individualism is personality. What grave mistakes we make in our verbal definitions! A man will say that he stands up for personality, when he knows nothing about it. He is standing up for individuality, his own little miserable self. Here is a man who comes forward to avenge his personal or individual or physical loss; in that spirit a man cannot pray. What he says may have the form of prayer, so to say the likeness of prayer, and yet the man may not be praying; he may be in reality simply and deeply cursing. A curse is not a prayer; an imprecation is not part of the great liturgy in which all redeemed souls ought to take part. Prayer is self-renunciation; prayer says, “Lord, Thy will be done, not mine.” Thus the Divine will is done by consent, human and Divine, and is the law, in its own degree, of the universe; the soul then falls into the rhythmic movement of the creation, and the man is translated out of individuality into personality in its broadest definitions, and he is part and parcel of the great unity which swings like a censer round the altar Divine.
3. In the third place this prayer was answered, but answered in judgment. Samson had his way, but his way killed him. God has many ways of answering prayer. One sad case is recorded which will at once occur to your memory: “He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” They had their way, and lost it; they got what they wanted, and it poisoned them. How marvellous it is in all this process that Samson still had within him what I may call a spark of vital faith. He knew he had lost his opportunities, and forfeited his privileges, and betrayed his trust; yet he knew something higher than all this, namely, that God lives, and that God is a God of judgment, and that the way of God shall yet prevail upon the earth, be human circumstances and conditions what they may. He made the most of that vital spark. But Samson might have said, “Do not upbraid me; I have played the fool before God; I yielded up my secret, I parted with my strength, I ceased at once to be a judge in Israel and to be a child of God; but there is one last lingering flash of faith, and I want to turn that last lingering flash into works, into actions, into palpable and crushing results.” Samson was then at the very height of his will; he then touched the sublimest personality of his own consciousness, and he was dealing not only with his enemies, but with the enemies of the Lord. This we may say; for the eternal comfort of the race it is written according to the blessing pronounced by father Jacob, “Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.” So we come upon the familiar thought of intermediate and final victories. Gad, my poor, poor son, a troop shall overcome him, but he, my son Gad, shall overcome at the last. When they think he is dead he will spring to his feet; when they report it in pagan, uncircumcised cities that Gad is dead, Gad will rise and whet his sword and challenge the enemy to a deadlier combat. Do not pronounce upon intermediate failures; there may be many of them, and yet there may be conquest at the last. So it shall be with our poor hearts. Yes, we were caught in all the sins, the devil was triumphing over us, but we overcame at the last. “All these sins are ours, and we repent them,” who can tell whether God will be gracious unto us, and give us a nail in His tabernacle, and one small place in His great providential plan? As a nation we have sinned; I do not see that our cup of iniquity could hold one drop more; it is not for us to fall back upon a history we have dishonoured, it is for us to go forward to a throne that is still a throne of mercy. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Let me die with the Philistines.--
The death of Samson
I. Humiliation and weakness are sure to follow the failure to keep covenant with God. He lacks the highest motive and the holiest hope who has not consciously agreed to fulfil the conditions on which the exceeding great and precious promises of God are given.
II. The discipline of humiliation is the only way to a restoration of strength. All great endowments bring with them also especial weaknesses. This big burly body carried great passions with it. This giant strength led easily to over-confidence. But a sudden gleam of light seems to show him the opportunity to complete his mission as the champion of Israel. Blind and alone, he may yet gain a victory for God and for His people over their oppressors. Now he confesses that his strength is in Jehovah. To Him he cries for help. His hair has grown again, but he does not put his trust in that. Perhaps he feels the vigour of his returning power, but in his blindness he needs God, however strong he may be. And as soon as he can pray again he is the hero again.
III. While one who has broken covenant with God can never come back and be what he was before, God may sometimes accomplish more through a fallen man restored than if he had not fallen. Poor Samson never could get back his eyes. No penitence or prayer could restore the lost faculty. Even though his strength came back, his eyesight did not. He must beg the aid of a boy to find his way. It is thus with all who fall from God and fail from duty, who turn their back upon the Lord and neglect the conditions of His blessing. The scars remain though the man is healed. One who has fallen into gross sin may be restored, but he is weakened. Do not let us think too lightly of the peril of sin, and especially of the sin of one who is pledged to God. The disability which comes from the violation of a conscious obligation is more severe and more lasting than any other. (G. M. Boynton.)
Lessons from the life of Samson
His character is unlike that of the other heroes of Hebrew story. Alone in the Old Testament he overflows with joyfulness. His very name is probably associated with the sunshine--“sunlike.” He is light of heart, and his courage rises in the hour of danger. He has a sportive wit which sparkles in rhythmic couplets, flashes in epigrams, plays upon words. It will not be forgotten that the great child of daring and genius is brought up a Neziyr-Elohim with his vow of abstinence. Unquestionably, he derived an inward strength of a certain kind from the conviction that he was indeed God’s own, consecrated to Him from his mother’s womb. Certainly, also, the circumstances which called him to be a judge must have had a strengthening and ennobling influence. We must remember that in Israel God’s Spirit takes the place which in human history is ascribed to natural genius. But this influence of the Spirit was a gift and not necessarily a sanctifying grace. Now, such measure of spiritual strength as may have been given to Samson by his being a Neziyr-Elohim was, so to speak, artificial. No chain is stronger than its weakest link; no vow is stronger than the will behind it. Add to this, that the vow only covers an isolated fragment of the world of moral duty. Unnatural strictness in one direction sometimes compensates itself by unnatural laxity in another. Samson was a rigid total abstainer. I mean no unworthy sneer at a cause to which I wish well. But if Samson was a rigid total abstainer, so I believe is the Mormon, and so I know is the Moslem. At all events, Samson’s strictness in one direction was compensated for by laxity in another. A fiercer passion than that for wine coursed through the hero’s veins, and set his blood on fire. The unrivalled bodily strength co-exists with abject moral weakness. Why will so many novelists and poets speak as if strength and passion were almost convertible terms? What we call the strength of passion is really its weakness. It is not passion, but the repression of passion, which is really strong. And the strongest character is that in which what are called the strongest passions are held in leash by the sternest will. Lessons:
1. Flee from every sin that has light in its eye, and honey upon its tongue. Flee from the touch that wins, but blisters as it touches, and fills the vein with fire.
2. A second lesson derived from the fallen Nazarite is the weakness of our will; the helplessness of our resolutions; their imperfect and partial action upon our moral nature. How, then, is the will to be emancipated and strengthened? I am not now speaking of prudential rules, and humble efforts, indispensable though they are--I am not just yet speaking of a sacramental means of grace--but of ultimate Divine principles.
(1) The strengthening of our will comes from the sympathy of Christ. In this we have a law of our human nature perfected. When our will needs an accession of strength, we find such accession by bringing it to a higher will. And the higher and purer that other will may be, with the stronger grasp shall it lay hold upon our sinking resolutions.
(2) The strengthening of our will further comes from the inward gift of the Spirit. The great gift of the new covenant is (Jeremiah 31:33). In those whose will Christ emancipates there is a supernatural power, conforming the man to the law, not dispensing him from it.
3. And now we are led to see from all this the fitness and reasonableness of the view entertained by the Church of the reality of grace in sacraments and ordinances. (Abp. Wm. Alexander.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Judges 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany