<< 1 Samuel 2: Bad Priests and Good Priests >>
“And this shall be a sign unto thee, that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die both of them. “And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in my heart, and in my mind: and I will, build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine Anointed for ever."-I SAM. ii, 34, 35.
THE Lord administers His blessings to men through the instrumentality of men, He is really the giver of all things, the all in all: but for man's happiness, and that man may receive somewhat of "the Divine joy He has in giving, He imparts His gifts largely through the thousand offices of use for which He fits all human beings by their varied tastes, aptitudes, training, and circumstances. The labourer and the farmer, the mechanic and his employer, the seaman and the merchant, the artist and the scholar; the literary man and the philosopher, the legislator and the sovereign, all alike receive from the Divine Universal Father gifts in their daily callings to impart to their fellow-children of the Most High; and as each faithfully and lovingly does his duty in the vocation the Lord has given him, He imparts also His blessing in present peace and in continual progress. He who does his work well from love to the Lord is doing the work of religion, and contributing to the universal good.
The Lord gives the harvest through the farmer, the ploughman, and the sower. The Lord diffuses His blessings over the world by the merchant, the shipbuilder, and the seaman. He imparts the desire and the skill, and man co-operates in the execution. The Lord creates and multiplies objects of art and beauty; but the artist receives the impulse and the enlightenment, and develops these in the glorious picture, the lovely or the noble statue, or the brilliant gem. The Lord ministers to men by the appliances of machinery; but the engineer and the mechanic receive the skill, the power, and the patience which bring about the goodly results that facilitate human labour, and multiply the comforts of life for all. The Lord administers order and safety to a state by means of legislators and their officers, judges and expounders of justice and law; but these must first receive into themselves His good and perfect gifts, and thus become channels of blessing to their fellow-men.
The Lord blesses men through men in all the operations of life; and that men may be more perfect instruments of His Divine Love, yet in harmony with their freedom, He disposes some to devote themselves chiefly to one career of usefulness, and some to another. By thus devoting themselves pre-eminently and constantly to one class of avocation, universal experience has taught that greater usefulness, greater perfection, and greater success are attained. Hence have arisen the different ranks and arrangements of men in society, grades in government and literature, in trade, commerce, and business.
Among these the ministry of the Word is not the least important.
God gave His Word through men. He opens it and diffuses it through men. Hence He has appointed and continued in all ages a class of men who have been trained and set apart to administer the blessings of religion; and when they have been truly inspired by the Giver of all good, their influence has been deeply felt. The uses the Word of God has to accomplish among men are so great, varied, and important, that it has ever been felt that the office of the minister of religion is one whose faithful and worthy fulfillment is fraught with extensive blessings to mankind. Unworthy men are an affliction anywhere and in anything; but in the ministry they are intolerable.
The good minister is always presented in the Word itself as a great blessing. Thus we read, "And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, who shall feed you with knowledge and understanding" (Jer. iii. 15.) Our Lord called the good minister the good shepherd, who would know his sheep by name, and whose voice the sheep would hear and follow (John x. 3, 4.) The apostle Peter sets forth both the duties of a minister and his reward very clearly in his first epistle. "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (v. 2-4).
If we consider for a moment the rich harvest of blessings the .truths of the Word of God have to diffuse among men, and reflect that it is only when those truths are explained and understood that their transcendent benefits can be fully experienced, we shall be impressed with the importance of the ministerial office, and the invaluable uses which are attendant on the labours of men who are called by the Lord, chosen, sincere, and faithful. They are watchmen who warn; they are soldiers who defend; they are shepherds who lead, guard, and feed the sheep and lambs; they are elder brothers who encourage; they are physicians under the Great Physician of souls; they are sowers of angel seed; they are standard bearers of heaven; they are ensamples of what they preach.
The truths of the Word which faithful apostles proclaim call men to repentance, and manifest to them the heinous nature of their sins. The truths of the Word have to evoke and strengthen love to the Lord, and charity to our neighbour, filling with the spirit of heaven every employment and office in which we are engaged. The truths of the Word are the means by which virtuous principles are formed and sustained; by them we are strengthened in the hour of trial, and consoled and encouraged in periods of darkness and distress. The truths of the Word impart freedom to men; they lead them in the regenerate life, and unfold in them beauty and order. The truths of the Word lighten up the gloom and aid us to bear !he anguish of affliction, and they irradiate the scene of death with the dawn of eternal light and peace. "By the Word of the Lord are the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" is as true of the Word as it operates in human souls, as it ever was of the Eternal Word or Wisdom by which the created universe was formed and is sustained. The work of the ministry is to exhibit and strengthen the foundations of human society, and irradiate the path of life with beams from heaven. Ministers of the Word are to raise up the golden candlestick, and diffuse over the dark pathways of existence a golden and a radiant gleam.
The faithful priest has been well described by Cowper, as-
Himself, as conscious of his awful charge,
And anxious mainly that the flock he feeds
May feel it too: affectionate in look,
And tender in address, as well becomes
A messenger-of grace to guilty men.”
But if we turn from the contemplation of what the ministry ought to be, to regard the account given of Hophni and Phinehas, what a spectacle of degradation do we find! Being sons of the high priest, their conduct was more than commonly disgraceful and nefarious. They oppressed the people; seizing with insolence more than their due, and taking by force what was Intended to be the offering of willing hearts. They disgusted the people with divine worship, instead of contending it by their purity, their wisdom, and their holiness. "Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord: for men abhorred the offering of the Lord" (ii. 17.) There is no greater harm that one man can do to another than to misrepresent religion to him by unfaithfulness, and dishearten him by a bad example.
But these unhappy priests went further. They degraded themselves by the most shameless conduct at the very door of the tabernacle. The evils most directly and interiorly opposed to the purity of heaven, they paraded in open defiance of the Lord, as if in mockery of their father, of their office, and of decency. The whole scene was that of an expiring church. The people wicked, the priests false to their vocation, the reins in the hands of feeble rulers, ruin at the door.
Such epochs of general decay always portend general disaster, and soon it certainly came. The Philistines invaded the country and earned all before them; the ark, the very centre of their worship and the glory of their dispensation, was taken; and the light of Israel was almost entirely extinguished. No more complete illustration can be afforded of what Cowper so justly describedthan this period of the high-priesthood of Eli :-
" When nations are to perish in their sins,
'Tis in the Church the leprosy begins.
The priest whose office is with zeal sincere
To watch the fountain, and preserve it clear,
Carelessly nods, and sleeps upon the brink,
While others poison what the flock must drink:
Or, waking at the call of lust alone,
Infuses lies and errors of his own.
His unsuspecting flock believe it pure,
And, tainted by the very means of cure,
Catch from each other a contagious spot,
The foul forerunner of a general rot. "
The Church is the salt of the earth, when it is pure; it is the curse of the earth when it is depraved. Hence the Lord watches over the Church with jealous and tender care and provides in every time of its decay the means of its restoration. In the very house of Eli he placed a Samuel, Besides this a prophet was sent to the feeble, miserable Eli, who spared the sins of his children, and ruined both them and his nation. The man of God came like a condemning conscience, unveiled the high-priest to himself and announced to him the destruction of his family. "There shall not be an old man in thine house forever" (v. 32.) There should be continued vexation and sorrow amongst his descendants when they ceased to be priests. "And the man of thine, whom I shall not cut off from mine altar shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart; and all the increase of thine house shall die in the flower of their age " (xxxiii.)
What lesson is afforded here to over-indulgent and inconsiderate parents! They, like Eli, abstain from checking their children's faults, or only make a feeble remonstrance and then close their eyes; not considering that each vice in a child is, like a wolf and will injure it more deeply than the bite of a wild beast. Hophni and Phinehas, the wicked sons who grew to be wicked priests, not only ruined themselves but ruined their father, who died broken-hearted at their fall; and ruined their country, which, became by the battle they fell in, subject to the oppression of the Philistines, Had their father been faithful to his God, and to his duty to them, he might have lived for them to bless him, instead of dying amidst the ruin they had caused.
In one day they died both of them. And so will surely die spiritually all who are forgetful of the laws of truth and duty to our Heavenly Father, and a deeper death and a deeper condemnation must come to those depraved ministers who have profaned their office by their lusts, and have betrayed the holy cause of heaven among men which they were especially appointed to guard. "The soul that sinneth it shall die" is true of all. But priests who sin, as they have had more safe-guards and deeper responsibilities, sink more deeply when they fall, and doubtless are of those who are "beaten with many stripes."
Let us now turn to the second and more cheering portion of our text. In the description of what Samuel would be, we have the delineation of a real minister of the Lord Jesus Christ. "I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart, and in my mind" (v, 35.)
The Lord's heart is His Divine Love. The first characteristic of the true minister is to be in harmony with the Divine heart. The Lord desires to bless His children for ever in heaven, and to prepare them for this everlasting blessedness by regeneration. The true minister enters into the same spirit, he lives for this, and labours for this, among the people. That which is in the Lord's heart is in his heart also; and he rejoices in leading men to their Saviour, in elevating and strengthening in them all that is noble, pure, and good. He feels for the weak and the wicked, and pities them. He does not quench the smoking flax, nor break the bruised reed, but brings forth judgment unto victory. He tells men plainly of their sins, but also cheers them with the hope and faith which animate himself. He knows that whosoever seeks his Saviour truly and earnestly, receives power to turn away from his wickedness, and save his soul alive. The heart of the Lord Jesus is very merciful, very tender, and very patient; and the minister who knows the Lord does according to that which is in His heart.
"The sons of Eli," it is said, " knew not the Lord " (ver. 12), and so they did harsh, cruel, and vile things. True ministers of religion know the Lord, are in sympathy with Him, enter into the atmosphere of His Love, and delight in seeing Him giving sight to the blind, opening the ears of the deaf, causing the lame to walk, and raising the dead. One sinner that repents causes the angels who watch over him to rejoice, and to the good minister also there is a similar joy, when the lost sheep returns to the fold of the good again.
He does according to what is in the Lord's heart; but also according to what is in the Lord's mind. The mind of the Lord is infinitely wise. From the Divine Wisdom comes all truth, and without truth there is no progress. The faithful minister of the Lord is very zealous for the spread of truth.
One of the insidious dangers against which the Christian needs to be on his guard is slothfulness and unconcern in relation to truth. The feeling of indifference will creep over him at times; and when he sees people outwardly living a moral life, with many a form of erroneous doctrine and varied creed, the thought will sometimes come, "of what consequence can it be whether people have a false creed or a true creed, false doctrines or true, or if they know little or much of the truths of religion ?" But this is an error as dangerous as it is unscriptural. We need truth daily to sustain us, to purify us, to strengthen and to elevate us. An outwardly becoming life may be induced by fashion, by fear, by desire of a good name, or by the dread of being singular or losing caste; and may cover a soul infested with selfish anxieties, dead to everything good and great. Such a one is a whited sepulchre full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. A lack of taste for truth is a mark of an evil state. The man who does good, loves truth, and delights to speak about it, hear about it, and read about it.
When a person finds he has no pleasure in a good book abounding with truths, he may be certain he is spiritually unwell. He has a chronic, low, mental fever, and it deprives him of appetite. He should pray to the Lord as is done so often in the Psalm: "O send out thy light and THY TRUTH: let them lead me. (xliii, 3)."Thou desirest TRUTH in the inward parts, and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom " (li. 6). "God shall send forth His mercy and His TRUTH (lvii, 13). "O prepare mercy and TRUTH which may preserve him " (lxi, 7).
From the inestimable value of the knowledge of truth and because one leading duty of the true minister of the Lord is to diffuse it, we read, "For the priest's lips shall keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts" (Mal. ii. 7). In like manner in our text, the faithful priest is said not only to do according to what is in the Lord's heart, but also according to what is in His mind; or according to the Divine Truth. He is anxious that all around-him should know the truth, and see it in its own light.
The bad priest is afraid of truth, and would rather that ignorance and superstition should continue to enslave mankind; that the multitude should be the tools and slaves of the few. The good priest, however, knows that truth is light, "the true light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world." He shudders to think of a world without light, and not the less does he dread to contemplate a soul without truth.
Without light no man can see the beauties either of earth or heaven, "He that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth" (John: xii. 35.) Error is the wrong road home. He who follows ignorantly may find his home at last, but not till after many a weary turn, and many a painful quagmire. Probably much more than half of the evils and sorrow under which men suffer, come from error and ignorance. People take the wrong road, believing it to be right. To be unconcerned and indifferent about this is to be heedless of lifelong and widespread suffering.
What were the famines and pestilences of the middle ages, but the results of that ignorance of divine laws which made men indifferent to districts of vile and festering vegetation, poisoning the atmosphere with vapours bearing on their horrid bosoms fever and death? What were the persecutions of past times, in which myriads suffered pains incredible, but the result of the ignorant persuasion that the God of Love would be pleased by fierce souls harassing to death those who thought differently from themselves? What has so long continued undiminished the terrible sufferings of innumerable diseases, but the false idea that afflictions come from God, instead of the truth, that they arise from the violations of God's laws, and indulging in self-will both in mind and body. The drunkard or the glutton dies of apoplexy, the immediate result of a last serious error; and disregarding the years and years during which he has violated the laws of health, people say he has died by the visitation of God! These false ideas are engendered by other and deeper errors which underlie them ; and so vast strata sustain the mighty empire of wrong.
But the real messenger of heaven, the true minister of the Lord, unfolds the divine mind to the people. He unfurls the standard of truth. He opens the fountains of living water, "Arise, shine," he says, "for your light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. Darkness hath covered the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon you, and His glory shall be seen upon you" (Isa lx, 1, 2). Such a priest would Samuel be. Hence it is written, "He shall do according to that which is in mine heart, and IN MY MIND."
We read further, "I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever" (ver. 35). To make Samuel a sure house would doubtless mean that he would be established as a prophet; that he would have a firm position in the esteem and reverence of the people. To walk before the anointed would be a prophecy that when a king, an anointed one, was chosen for Israel (they had no king then), Samuel would be his guide and director "for ever," that is, for his age or dispensation; for such is the import of the Hebrew term which is rendered "for ever."
But what is said of Samuel is still more deeply true of every real genuine minister of the Lord Jesus Christ, of every faithful and true priest. The Lord makes him a sure house. He is built up on the rock of ages; truths are the stones, and these are cemented with love. This is a sure house: neither death nor hell can shake it. He walks before the Anointed One. He lives on earth, and will hereafter live for ever in the Heavens, under the blessing and favour of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Author: Jonathan Bayley--- The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)