<< 1 Samuel 12: Samuel's Charge in His Old Age >>
"Moreover, as or me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way. “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for YOU."-I SAM. xii. 23, 24.
The prophet Samuel's life was really a noble one. The characters of Joseph and Samuel stand out far beyond all others in the Israelitish history, as having from childhood to old age been singularly stainless. We have their whole history before us; and by Divine Mercy their lives were so pure that no one could lay anything to their charge. The blessings of a well-spent life gathered round their declining years; and while they were grateful to Him whose shield had protected them as they went in and out before them, they felt they could claim in the sight of their people to have been absolutely blameless. It was a grand time for Samuel when, having surrendered the government of the nation at their request to a young and valiant king, he could appeal to them in full assembly, and say, "I am old and grey-headed; and, behold, my sons are with you: and. I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day. Behold, here I am: witness against me, before the Lord, and before His anointed. Whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? or whom have I oppressed? or of whose hands have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you." It must have been delightful to the grand old man to hear the reply of the assembled people: "Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken aught of any man's hand." Though the good man has in his own conscience the testimony that he has faithfully done his duty, it is a pleasure as well as a right to receive from those who have been the objects of his care the assurance that they entirely acknowledge his service and his faithfulness. The approbation of the Lord in the conscience is the testimony the good man values highest; but next to that, the testimony of those he has loved and aided, is music to his ears.
Samuel had passed through great vicissitudes. In childhood, he had waited on Eli, and must have witnessed with horror the disorders of the priests and the people. He had heard of the capture of the ark, seen the flying multitudes who brought the tidings of defeat; probably was near when the aged high priest Eli, stunned by the astounding intelligence, fell from his seat on the wayside, broke his neck, and died. What bitter grief must have been suffered by the faithful among the priests, while the ark, the symbol of the Divine Presence among them, was in captivity amongst the wicked Philistines! In the interval of seven months, during which the sacred chest was lost to Israel, it must have been a consolation to hear, from time to time, that it was no gain to Israel's foes; but we can only faintly picture the bereavement of such as Samuel, while the golden cherubim, the tables of the commandments, the pot of manna, and the rod of Aaron, with the golden covered ark itself, were in the hands of the uncircumcised, That must have been a mournful period; but after a while the Ark, the palladium of Israel's strength and safety, was brought within the precincts of the country once more. It was not, however, returned to Shiloh. For twenty years it remained at Kirjath-jearim, in the house of Abinadab, on a hill; until, by king David, it was removed to Jerusalem.
Israel bitterly lamented the disorganized state of things they had fallen into; and then the conscientious character of Samuel acquired new lustre. He pointed out to the people their idolatries and pollutions, which had been the sources of their sorrows. He called an assembly of the nation at their council-city, Mizpeh, where they had often met in former days for advice and encouragement. A solemn confession of sin was made, and a renunciation of idolatry; and thus a basis was formed for the return of prosperity.
At this indication of the commencement of a better life, their fierce foes, the Philistines, put themselves in motion. They were determined to destroy the new movement in the bud. Before the assembly had broken up, the hosts of Philistia appeared, and filled the timid with consternation. But Samuel, equally great in the eloquence that sustains an assembly and animates to deeds of daring, and in the piety that looks to Divine Providence for help, cheered and encouraged the people. A thunder-storm was a sign to the Israelites that the Lord was once more with them since their repentance. It spread panic among their enemies. The result was, that the Philistines received such a discomfiture that they left Israel in peace all the days of Samuel. He was now recognised as the chief man of his nation; the prophet, hero, and judge of his people. He set up a monument of stone, and called it Ebenezer, "the Lord our help;" saying: "Hitherto the Lord hath helped us."
Samuel went on circuit, from year to year, to judge the people at Mizpeh, Gilgal, and Bethel. Whatever his integrity and wisdom decided seems to have been satisfactory; while the land was restored, under his benign administration, to order, confidence, and prosperity.
After a life so long, so active, and so eventful, It would lnot have been wonderful if, in his old age, some one had felt himself aggrieved, and had made some charge of imaginary if not real wrong against him, But, no; his integrity no one impugned; no man raised his voice with a word of complaint. He laid down his power as free from the imputation of wrong as when he took it up. He remained, by universal consent, the tried and trusted counsellor of king and people. The advice he gave to both is contained in the words of our text, which we will now proceed to consider.
He first assured the assembly of his constant affection for them, and declared he would never forget to ask, in his daily prayers, for the divine blessing to guide and preserve them. Indeed he intimates that if he should fall away from this labour of brotherly love, it would be a sin against the Lord. "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord, in ceasing to pray for you."
The practice of intercessory prayer does not commend itself to all; but it was clearly a duty deeply and affectionately fixed in the mind of the prophet Samuel, Indeed, a little examination will show that prayer for others pervades all prayer as authorized in the Holy Word. To pray only for self, is SELFISHNESS IN PRAYER; the very opposite of the state which prepares us for divine blessings. Solomon's prayer consists almost entirely of petitions for Israel, in the changing circumstances through which their national life would take them. He prays for them when they trespass individually or generally, and entreats pardon for them when they. are penitent. He prays for them in sorrow, and in captivity; and entreats the divine support and comfort for them in every corning need. The Lord's prayer itself is an intercessory prayer. We say "Our Father," and in every petition we are led to ask for others all that we ask for ourselves.
It may be said, But why pray for others? Does not the Lord love them as much as He loves you? and will He not care for their good, and their salvation, as much as He does for yours? Is it not presumptuous for you to dictate to Him what He shall do in relation to others of His children, who are as much under the inspection of His Infinite Goodness and Wisdom, as you can possibly be?
To these objections we may justly reply-Prayer in our own cases is not offered up to change the Divine Being, but only to prepare us to receive those mercies He is wishful to bestow. He waiteth to be gracious. He suggests the prayer when we are in a humble frame of mind; and what we ask when thus prompted is assuredly bestowed. When we abide in Him, and His words abide in us, we ask what we will, and it is done unto us (John xv. 7).
"Not that our prayers make heaven more prompt to give,
But they make us more worthy to receive:
There is in that celestial treasury
Wealth inexhaustible, admission free:
But he that never prays rejects the golden key."
We do well to pray, then, and to pray fervently, as if the divine blessings altogether depended upon our prayers; and then to work earnestly to earn success, as if the gracious result entirely depended upon our earnest and skilful labour.
So in our prayer for others, there is no more reason to think we shall not do them good, than there is to imagine that any other service we can render them would not be truly useful. Prayer is the desire of the heart uttering itself in words; or, too deep for words, but ascending as an incense to heaven. A response is "often given in the way of a suggestion of something for their benefit, that has not occurred to us before. Prayer is a kind of converse with the Lord. When our souls are opened to Him in a spirit of love and wise devotion, we are like the high priest with his breastplate of precious stones; and divine flashes of light will prompt us in reply, if WE DO NOT ASK AMISS. (James iv. 3.) We are wonderfully bound together with others, not by outward relations only, but by inward spheres; and just as our aid outwardly is needed to help a brother or sister on in some external position or circumstance of life, so may it well be that our prayers may be the inward help. that is needed, as the channel for some hope, some consolation, some strength, that would lift another soul from trouble, and carry comfort where it is sorely wanted.
There is a remarkable incident illustrative of this, related in the Acts of the Apostles. Cornelius prayed at Cresarca, the Roman capital of Palestine; and in a vision an angel directed him to send Peter to Joppa, thirty-five miles away. In the meantime while the messengers were on their journey, Peter, during his devotions in the middle of the day, had a vision in which he was taught that these men were coming; that he must return with them to Caesarea, and introduce Christianity to Cornelius and regard him as the first-fruits of those who in every nation would be gathered in and compose the glorious fold of the Christian Church. Such was the answer to fervent prayer.
Let us then learn with Samuel to pray for humility, for integrity, for loving-kindness, for wisdom, for ourselves; but let us never forget also to pray for our families, for our friends, for our enemies for the advancement of every good object we are striving to realize, and for the progress and happiness of mankind all over the world. All men form one vast humanity on earth; and the whole will prosper in proportion to the fervour and the loving service of every individual alone. Let us regard all human beings as our brethren, and say with the prophet, "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you." We shall be irradiated by the Spirit from on high, which will prepare us better to serve those whom we earnestly remember in prayer; and they will be touched with a loving influence which will dispose them to receive our efforts, and give them full success. Those whom we pray for we shall tenderly regard, and love will find a thousand ways of watching over them for good.
To prayer, however, Samuel adds, there must be teaching. " I will teach you the good and the right way." Prayer furnishes impulses from within; but teaching must be added from without or there will be no satisfactory progress. Man is an intellectual being, and must never be left to sentiment alone. He must be taught, and well taught. It must be line upon line, and precept upon precept, until he rationally grasps "the good and the right way," or he will be feeble in the day of trial. Even the simplest things of religion should be often illustrated and often enforced. Only when truths have been abundantly supplied, arranged in order, and bound together will the cement of love, is there a wall round the soul, which is impregnable. "Jerusalem is a city that is compact together." Nothing is more simple than the good and the right way, when it is properly taught; yet simplicity comes at last, not at first. All converging colours blending together form white. All the truths of religion as they apply to heaven and earth, to the soul and the Lord, in His characters as Creator, Father, Redeemer, Saviour, and Regenerator, enable us to be strong, when we have lovingly learned, and been well-taught, that the Lord Jesus is God, who is Love itself, our All in all; and that to love Him, to have faith in Him, to shun all that is evil in His sight, and to keep His commandments, is the good and the right way. "What doth the Lord require of thee; but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?
The prophet proceeds, "Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart."
There are two kinds of fear, which we must learn carefully to distinguish; the fear of love, and the fear of terror. When we dread a being who has the power to injure us, and is not, we surmise, unwilling to do so, we suffer from the fear of terror. This fear excites pain. in proportion as we believe the power we dread to be terrible. This fear we ought never to harbour in regard to the Lord, who is unchangeably good, and loves all His immortal creatures with more than a father's, more than a mother's love; nay, with an affection exceeding that of all the fathers and all the mothers since time began. If the "whole were concentrated into one breast. The fear that we ought to entertain for the Lord, is the fear that resembles that of an affectionate child towards a good parent; a fear to do that of which the good parent would not approve. This is the fear of love. It is the fear of doing anything of which the Lord would not approve; of doing anything which is not right. The more we have of true love the more we shall have of this tender fear. "The fear of the Lord," the wise man wrote, "is to hate evil" (Prov. viii. 13). In this sense, the aged Samuel wrote, "Only fear the Lord."
"Fear Him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear:
Make you His service your delight;
He'll make your souls His care."
The prophet continues-" Serve Him in truth." And the sentence not only indicates the importance of a religious and just life, but of the principles of our lives being true. " Serve Him in TRUTH." A want of truth is not so fatal to our spiritual well-being as a want of good; because with good, if we persevere, the Lord will sooner or later bring us to the truth. Granting this, however, it must yet be acknowledged that the want of truth entails immense detriment, multiplied fears and sorrows. Life without truth is life in a fog. Life without truth is taking the wrong way home. It is attempting to work out the problems of human conduct with erroneous rules. The soul without truth is a ship without a compass or a guiding star. The world without truth is a wild sea without a lighthouse. Multitudes walk in superstitious fears and glooms for years, for want of the divine truth which assures us our Heavenly Father is the Father of lights, the Father of love, in whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning.
For want of truth, the religion of many is not the loving service of cheerfully doing right in all the relations of life; but pilgrimages, superstitious observances, and protracted and often repeated joyless prayers. They think to be heard for their much speaking; and when they uselessly afflict themselves, they imagine they are doing what is highly pleasing in the sight of God. This life often sours man and severs him from the Lord, whose yoke is easy, and whose burden is light. On the contrary, the life of religion is a service in the cheerful performance of duty. It is doing everything in the truest and best manner. It is, from love to our neighbour, to do right to him in all the relations of life. It is a life of justice and judgment in all our works, like the Divine life of the Lord Himself. We must serve the Lord in truth; and for that object we must learn and understand the truth, rejoice in finding the truth, distinguish the truth from error in all things with which we have to do; certain that truth is one of our best friends, both for time and eternity.
"Dare to be true: nothing can need a lie :
A fault which needs it most grows two thereby."
The joy of exercising our faculties to acquire the truth is an exalted felicity. It is called in Scripture "seeking for goodly pearls," "coming to the light," "the truth setting us free." Let us then joyfully yield the Lord a willing service; but let us never forget that the Lord's will and our well-being incessantly require the bright service of an intelligent performance of real useful duties, performed in accordance with TRUTH.
Lastly, the prophet Samuel urges that we should serve the Lord with all the heart. The heart means the will. The voluntary faculty, or will, is to the soul what the heart is to the body, THE CENTRE OF ENERGY AND ACTIVE LIFE. THE MAN IS WHAT HIS HEART IS. The heart is a little house of four chambers, brim-full of vigour; and, by the blood it sends down the arteries, it is present in every portion of the body, and sustains the uses and gives a character to the activities of every part. As the blood returns from the various parts of the body, the heart sends it into the lungs to be purified; and only when it has been brightened and returned is it sent round the body again. THE WILL, in true order, has similar functions to perform for the soul. A firm will, with a virtuous ruling love, sends its sentiments out with power throughout the mind, It infuses life into everything. But it is also ever watchful to purify its aims and purposes by the understanding, THE LUNGS OF THE SOUL, rejecting from them whatever is not in accordance with the spirit-- the atmosphere-of heaven. Let us do our duty, then, in the sight of the Lord with all the heart; and pray that our hearts may ever be made newer and purer, so that our heart and mind and all our powers may be consecrated to His glory, whose service is perfect freedom, perfect happiness, and a real heaven.
For, as the prophet Samuel said, "Consider what great things the Lord hath done for you." These latter words were indeed especially applicable to the Israelites. Samuel hall just reminded them of their marvellous history. And when they remembered the wonders of Egypt, of the Red Sea, and of the desert, to say , nothing of the astonishing deliverances from Philistia in Samuel's own time, well might the adoring exclamation arise from every heart, "What hath God wrought!" "Consider what good things the Lord hath done for you."
And in concluding our meditation of to-day on this important charge of Samuel, let us each glance at the no less wonderful mercies of the Divine Goodness in our individual cases. In the amazing gift of life and health, in the marvellous construction of our bodies, so fearfully and wonderfully made, in the formation and support of this beautiful world redolent with variety, loveliness, abundance, and blessing, alike calculated to support and embellish our being while we live here, and to prepare us for our higher being in our everlasting home, well may these words sink into our tenderest affections, and inspire us with the deepest gratitude to that Father, Saviour, and King, the Lord Jesus Christ, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." "Consider what great things the Lord hath done for you." "Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men !"
Author: Jonathan Bayley--- The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)