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SAMUEL, the venerable and almost outworn prophet, would have made a mistake upon this occasion. When he looked upon Eliab, he said, "Surely the Lord's anointed is before him." It is clear, therefore, that even inspired and honoured prophets were not, in themselves, infallible. It would further appear that their inspiration was occasionally suspended. Now and again natural judgment interposed its opinion. Now and again the natural sense spoke first, without allowing the spiritual sense to lead the way. So when Samuel saw Eliab, he was struck by the natural nobleness and majesty of the young man's appearance, and said, "Surely this is the king of the Lord's choice." This notion of Samuel's is most instructive. He saw the king in Eliab's form, and he inferred that the kingliness of his stature came from the kingliness of his soul. It ought to be, surely, that outward greatness should be the expression of inward greatness; otherwise how horrible a contradiction man may become! Evidently so. A man towering in stature, yet pining away in soul! A fine, noble, manly bearing, inspired, if inspired at all, by a spirit which has cut itself off from the divine and eternal! The man thus becomes a Jiving lie. He becomes, too, the occasion of many mistakes on the part of others. Young men, fascinated by his outward appearance, infer that it must be safe to follow the lead of such a noble. Unsuspecting men, looking upon his openness and candour of countenance, may say, "Surely this man was made to be trusted;" others may be caught by the same reasoning, and so a man of certain form and aspect may be unconsciously misleading and seriously injuring his fellows.
Appearances ought to mean something. If a man has a noble physical appearance, that appearance ought to carry with it some moral significance. If it does not, the man himself should retire into his own heart, and ask himself a plain question or two. Did God fashion palaces for dwarfs? The man should inquire whether God intended that his outward nobleness of form and aspect should be inconsistent with his inner and better life? Ought not the natural to be the expression of the spiritual? Ought a man to have a noble head, and nothing in it great physical power, and no power of soul an open, beautiful countenance, yet the heart of a hypocrite or the soul of a villain? As with personal appearance, so with social appearance. Our outward figure in society ought to mean something good; something according to the measure of its greatness, and the intensity of its splendour. Shall a man live in a great house, and be surrounded by all the signs of luxury and advanced civilisation, and yet that appearance fail to denote that the inhabitant of that house and the owner of that property is a man of the noblest charity, and that what is round about him is but a poor figure and dim emblem of the reality of his spirit, and the inexhaustibleness of his love? A man ought not to feel himself at liberty to be inconsistent, to exhibit a daily discrepancy between his appearance and his reality, whether it be his personal appearance or his social appearance. If he has been gifted, either in one Way or another, with great and notable outward blessings, those gifts ought to lead him to the consideration of questions of intellectual and moral culture; so that the outward, however great and impressive, may be but a feeble indication of inward wealth, the richness of his knowledge, the depth and truth, the purity and gentleness, of his soul!
On the other hand, there is a higher law. There is a law which takes us clear out of the realm of appearances. All men have not Eliab's kingliness of image, and majesty of bearing. There are dwarfs, cripples, deformed men, men whose figure is against them, whose outward appearance may lead people to form the most erroneous conclusions regarding the quality and temper of their souls. So we come for our relief and teaching to this higher law which says, "Look not on his appearance. The Lord seeth not as man seeth; man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." So, whilst our subject appeals to those who are favoured with outward beauty and external majesty, it also has a message for those who have no such physical and external advantages. It says, True beauty is beauty of the heart; true greatness is greatness of the mind; abiding majesty is moral majesty; what thou art in reality, thou art in thy soul! The bloom shall be taken off thy cheek, the lustre shall be dimmed in thine eye; the sap shall be taken out of thy bodily strength: moral elements, spiritual qualities, spiritual beauties, these survive all wrecks, these grow, these increase in lustre, beauty, and worth; these, partaking of the very nature and quality of God, shall abide through the ages of his own eternity!
Turning specially to the anointing of David, we shall regard it in its bearing upon the divine law of election, which is so mysteriously, yet so certainly and inexorably working amidst the affairs of men. Looking at that law within the limits of the present instance, two things are plain. It is plain, first, that the law of divine election pays no regard to human prejudices. There is, for example, a prejudice in favour of appearance. Samuel himself was the subject of that prejudice. When a man of towering physical stature, great breadth, and sublime aspect came before him, he, though a spiritual man, and a specially called prophet of the Lord, said, "Surely this kingly man must be the king of the Lord's choice." We may, too, have prejudices as respects age. We rightly say that age should speak, that a multitude of days should teach wisdom, that a man who has come to maturity, or grey hairs, has a right to a certain measure of social supremacy. There is, too, a prejudice as regards employment. We infer that because a man has been brought up in a lowly employment, therefore he is not qualified for high rule, for supreme command. Now as Samuel had the one prejudice, Jesse had the other. When Samuel asked if there was not another son, Jesse said to him, "that the youngest yet remained," pronouncing perhaps the word youngest so as to throw suspicion into the bare conjecture that one so young should be at all likely to ascend the throne of Israel. Not only did Jesse describe David as the youngest, but he described him also as keeping sheep. "He was but a shepherd, he watched his father's flock;" and to the mind of Jesse it seemed an impossible thing that a man could step from the shepherd's office to a royal position. Yet the Lord said of David, coming in fresh from the mountains, ruddy as the morning, strong as a youth sent down from heaven, "Arise, anoint him: for this is he;" thus setting aside human prejudices, and working according to a law which never has been sanctioned by the merely natural reason of mankind.
By calling unlikely men to the front, God humbles human judgment. No man can arise and say, "This is the Lord's chosen one," or "That ought to be the specially honoured servant of the Most High." Not the keenest, wisest, strongest of us is entitled to say who shall be sent on the Lord's errands. We are ruled by prejudices, we are oftentimes victims of appearances. We see form, not soul, hands, not hearts. We draw conclusions from things seen and temporal. God hushes all our voices, and says, "I am the Lord; I will send by whom I will send: the work is mine, and the Master must choose the servants." So again and again we are thrown back from our most cautious reasoning, our most prudent conclusions, and God is every day in the Church and elsewhere giving our proud intellect the lie; saying to our penetration, "Thou art blind;" saying to our judgment, "Thou art foolish, thou knowest not the measure of the case; and when thou hast pronounced thine own opinion, thou hast but betrayed thine own incapacity and folly!"
God also keeps the world in constant expectation by calling unlikely men to do the chief of his work in society. We know not who may be called. "What I say unto one, I say unto all, Watch." We cannot tell but that the man who has been sitting on the outside, year after year, may be the very next to be called to the front, entrusted with high commissions, inspired to do the Lord's work amongst men. We ought, therefore, to live as those who are expecting messages from the Most High. At any moment he may speak to us by combinations of events which may take place with startling suddenness. He can alter our position in society, so that the man who was yesterday obscure may to-morrow be set on the very pinnacle of the social fabric, and he whose opinion was yesterday despised may rule the judgment of men to-morrow. Our life is thus redeemed from monotony, and saved from suicidal insipidity. The Lord is round about us, and at any moment he may charge us with his messages, and clothe us with his power!
By calling unlikely men to the front, God equalises the conditions of society. Suppose for one moment that all men were called from one class. What a change would take place in our social relations! What pride would inspire some people what despair would chill and darken others! But God is continually working by a sovereign law, which we cannot understand, but which always vindicates its own mercifulness, as well as shows its infinite wisdom. Are the rich and the mighty and the noble always called to do the chief work in society? Has not God sometimes gone forth that he might call the gatherer of sycamore fruit to do his work in Israel; that he might call Elisha from the plough to speak the messages of his wisdom and love; and that he might call great men from lowliest and obscurest positions to do some great work for him? Thus society is equalised. One man is born to great social position; he rules and sways. Another, born in poverty and obscurity, is called to discover, to enter upon great projects, to develop sublime schemes. Thus God equalises one aristocracy with another, and daily teaches us that no man is to be despised; that in the lowliest of his creatures he can set up his temple, if he will!
See then the graciousness of the law of sovereign election. We lay the whole stress of the emphasis in this sentence upon the word graciousness. We do not speak of the majesty, the grandeur, the impressiveness, and sublimity of the law. But in this law of sovereign election, daily at work amidst the affairs of men, we discover infinite graciousness, beneficence, compassion. The law has not only a sublime side, but a side which appeals to our emotions, to our gratitude, to our confidence. God's strength is the measure of God's love. So the Christian should say: Had I any choice in the matter, I should prefer that God should elect to rule according to his own counsel without ever consulting me. In so far as I believe that he is infinite in wisdom, in power, in love, in righteousness, in so far would I disclaim any right to participate in his counsels, and should shrink from the responsibility of having anything to do with determining my own life, merely as a question of selfish calculation and policy; whilst with my whole heart would I say to my Father in heaven, "Thy will be done!" I would pray him to save me from consultation; I would appeal to him not to make me a party to a decision; I would be his servant, his agent, his son. I am but an insect born yesterday. What shall I say to the eternal and infinite God? I say, "Do not ask me; do not consult me; thou knowest all; let me find my liberty in thy sovereignty; let me find my freedom in thy rule; what thou doest, infinite, living One, must be best! I will not ask to be taken into the secret place of thy tabernacle, to be consulted; only fill me with thy light, and inspire me with thy love." Thus the great law of election is not a terror, nor does it disclose mere arbitrariness of will. It shows that there can be but one Lord; and in so far as we can say, "The Lord reigneth," our life is a continual sabbath!
It is plain from this instance, in the second place, that the law of divine election proves itself in spiritual gifts. We read, "The Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward." The same thing we see in the case of Saul, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord came, and of whom we read, "The Lord gave him another heart." So it was with Joshua: "And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay thine hand upon him." In like manner we read that "the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah." So with Samson the strong man: "The Spirit of the Lord began to move Samson at times in the camp of Dan." It is of supreme importance that this side of the doctrine be understood; so that the law of divine election may be saved from abuse. The law of divine election vindicates itself in spiritual expression on the part of those who are divinely elected. How is a man to show his election? Not by pretension. The most solemn assertion on his part that he is called of God to do the work, amounts to nothing, considered in itself. A man may declare most solemnly and resolutely that he has a charge from God to reveal certain truths, to undertake certain offices, to do a specific work; and yet his emphatic asseveration may go for nothing. How, then, is a man to prove his divine election? Not by contemptuous treatment of other workers. Whatever be our gifts, we are not at liberty to treat with contempt those who are doing Christian work, or right work of any kind whatsoever, in Church or State, in the market-place, or in the household. The divinely elected man is a magnanimous man. He rarely has recourse to contempt; when he is contemptuous, it is for moral, not for merely personal, reasons; when he resorts to irony, banter, sarcasm, and contempt, it is in a spirit of righteousness not that he enjoys the exercise, but that he sees by a vision, quickened and strengthened by God the Holy Ghost, that no other weapons could so successfully do the work to which he is called.
How, then, is a man to prove that he is called of God to do a special work, or to occupy a special position? We answer, distinctly and emphatically, by the purity and force of his spiritual qualifications. Only so far as he has the Holy Ghost is he the elect servant, the representative of God! What of his spirituality? What of his calculation of things that are round about him, things seen and temporal? what of his ideas of truth? Is he at home in the spiritual region has he keen, piercing insight into things, true, living, heavenly insight into them? By so much is he the called and crowned servant of the living God! He must declare his election by his speech, by its purity, spirituality, heavenliness. When we come near him, we must feel that, though on earth, he is yet in heaven; that though he speaks the language of men, he speaks it in a tone and with an accent which he could only have learned of Jesus Christ and of God the Father! There must be something about him that is not merely physically distinctive, but spiritually distinctive, separating him from all other men, and giving him a bearing and force which could only be derived from long-continued loving fellowship with the unseen, ever-living Lord! "Beloved, believe not every spirit: but try the spirits, whether they are of God." "Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many." "Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw disciples after them." Hence we see that assertion is nothing; great, bold claim is nothing; sublimity of appearance is nothing. The whole question turns upon this: How much of the Holy Ghost is in the heart of a man, who claims to be a teacher sent from God, or a king of men?
An intelligent appreciation of this law of divine sovereign election would be attended by the happiest consequences. Life would no longer be looked upon as an irregular warfare. If we lose grasp of this doctrine life becomes a scramble; the strongest wins, the weakest is knocked to the wall; and as for the spiritual man, the soul that has not lost its sensibility, the man that has ideas of righteousness, truth, and honour such men must be trampled in the dust. Lay hold of this doctrine, that God is at the centre, God is on the throne, marshalling all forces, and ruling all events; and how confused soever may be present appearances, we shall find a law working itself out which will justify every one who is good, vindicate every righteous claim, confound the wicked, and bear them away upon the whirlwind of divine indignation. Not only will this result follow; but responsibility will be felt to be measurable by proper limitations. All men are not equally responsible before God. Some require to be comforted upon this point, because this great question of responsibility is so heavy to carry; it troubles and overweights them till they can hardly get along at all, so grievous is their sense of personal responsibility. Tell a man that God gives to every one a certain number of talents, five, two, or one. Tell him that from one to whom much has been given, much will be required, and that from one to whom little has been given, little will be required; then he begins to feel the justness, the equity, and graciousness of the living Lord. God gave us our original dowry, and from that point we must work out the sum of our responsibility. Our one talent will not be expected to be multiplied into ten; our five talents will be expected to grow in proportion to their original number and quality. So there is righteousness at the heart of things. God's judgment-seat is a judgment-seat of light, truth, and equity; and no man hath occasion to fear it, who has served God, and worshipped him in spirit and in truth. There will also be another result. Mutual honour will be unmingled with personal envy. We are not all equal, to begin with. God intended some to have great talents, and others to have but feeble gifts. God called some men to work at the front, and he intended other men to do a lowly, obscure, unseen work. God created yonder singing, shining poet, and God set another man down amongst the prosaic thinkers, men who could see no further than a fact, and had little power of coming far into the empire of truth; yet who were firm and sound within the limit and region of fact. Shall we envy the great man? Surely not. He was made of God; he is honoured of our Father, we will glorify God in him. Such will be the conclusion to which we shall come, if we believe with all our heart that God is on the throne; and that he doeth in all these things, which are beyond our control, according, not only to the pleasure of his will, but the infinitude of his righteousness.
No man is elected to badness of character. God never called a man to wickedness. The whole tone of biblical teaching is against a theory so monstrous. We read of election to righteousness, of calls to high offices and noble functions, but we never read of God electing a man to hell! As to this matter of election, we would to God that some who object to it were as common-sense in this question as they are in the daily actions of ordinary life! We ask no higher degree of common-sense. Let us assume that a purse has been lost a purse containing a thousand guineas; and whoever finds it may keep it. "Ha!" we say, "well, only one can find it; therefore what is the use of a thousand seeking it? Only one can have it; and if I am elected to be the man, it will come in my way." We never heard people reasoning so with regard to an affair of that kind. Though only one may have it, ten thousand would strive for it, if they know the conditions. There is a prize to be given in a school. It is one prize; there are five hundred scholars in the school. The boys say, "Well, only one of us can get it, why should five hundred of us be toiling and fagging for it?" Another boy says, "I know if I am to have the prize, I shall get it; so I shall read no books, and make no preparation." You would not allow a boy to reason so. Yet there are men who say this, "If we are called to heaven, we'll get to heaven; if we are elected to be saved, we need not make any effort about it." "Thou wicked and slothful servant: out of thine own mouth I condemn thee;" the whole action of thy evil life shall be thy answer on the day of judgment, and thou shalt be condemned to an ignominious silence because of a self-accusing conscience.
With God upon the throne, why should we be distressed by unhappy appearances and unwelcome rumours? The Lord reigneth; that is enough. Seated above all forms and all forces, holding the royal sceptre, is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The armies of heaven are his loving servants. The forces of creation are measured and controlled by his gracious power. Children of earth cannot go beyond the line he has marked. He maketh the wrath of man to praise him, and the remainder of the wrath of men he doth restrain. Such thoughts bring the soul into holy quietness. They sustain our hope when the day is cloudiest and the night is filled with darkness. They rebuke our impatience and murmuring, and bid us nestle closer to our Father's heart. The sovereignty of the Lord is the security of all goodness. Destroy sovereignty and you inaugurate confusion. What would be our poor human life, were God to leave the throne, and allow us to go our own way, and do our own bidding? Truly then we should be far away on the wild waters, without captain or friend, and without hope of home. Blessed One, known to us through the great cross, leave not the throne; but rule us, work in us, have us in thy holy keeping!
Almighty God, thou art always showing us thy goodness. We have said in many a song of adoring praise, "Goodness and mercy have followed us all the days of our life." Saying this, the whole earth has become the house of the Lord. We have consecrated every part of the habitable globe by songs of praise and by utterances of adoration and trust. "Behold, this is none other than the house of God," we have said, as great religious emotions have arisen in our hearts and ennobled our whole spirit by their pathos. We will now sing of judgment and mercy; we will make mention of thy lovingkindness; and thy providential care shall be the subject of our song. Thou hast watched our uprising and our down-sitting, our going out and our coming in, and from the high hills thou hast sent us help every day, so that we have been lifted out of the low place, amid the cold wind and the stifling cloud, right up into bright places and into the sunlight and the music of better worlds. Thou hast disappointed our fear, as surely as thou hast exceeded our hope. We have not recognised our little prayer in thy great answer. Thou hast swallowed up our poor cry in all the bounteousness of thy great response. If our prayer was sown a little seed, thine answer has come to us as a great tree. Behold, how good thou art! How infinite in tenderness! How eternal in patience! How mighty is the delivering arm of God! We will comfort ourselves with these words, being entitled to apply them by the grace that is in our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom alone we have come to know thee in all the loftiest and tenderest aspects of thy character. He has taught us to call thee Father, Father in heaven, and he has given to us visions of thy bounty and love which put out the brightness of the sun by their infinite glow. So we stand as children at home in the presence of the Father, and the table of his bounty, confessing our unworthiness; but whilst the confession is yet staining our lips, behold, thou art arraying us in the best robe and making our finger rich with the ring of thy love. "How good is the Lord!" our souls will say, startled into the gracious exclamation by many a sacred surprise. The high hill has been brought within easy ascent when we have come to it because of. the presence of the Lord, and the rest of soul by which that presence has been testified. The stone has been rolled away from the door of the sepulchre when we have come to it; for who can outrun the angels, and be first at the scene of battle? Behold, thou art always first. We can but be second, for we are the creatures of thy hand, we arc the sheep of thy pasture. Thou didst dwell in eternity; thou didst come up from the infinite spaces; by new names hast thou come down to us; by the Lord and by Jehovah have we known thee, and then by Father merciful, pitiful and Redeemer revealed in thy Son. We will trust thy mercy, goodness, compassion, and love. There we feel a sense of security; there our souls fall into sweet peace; and as for the mysteries which darken around the horizon, we leave them to thee. Thou hast light enough to burn out their darkness, and to fill them with grace and glory. We will think of the past, but not too tearfully, lest we blind ourselves to its best lesson. We will call up the dead, until we know that they are more truly living than we are a larger life, blessed with celestial liberty. We will look forward with confidence, for all our yesterdays are promises of all our to-morrows, and the Lord who has been known to us by many a name will find a new revelation for every dawning day. We will remember before thee our sick ones. Thou canst heal them with the poor health of time and the eternal health of heaven. Thou wilt remember our travelling friends, tossed on the sea, wandering in new lands, surrounded by unfamiliar associations. Their hearts are here, and yet there, with a divided attention, with a scattered and yearning love. The Lord feed them, lead them, sustain them, wherever they are, and bring them back to their desired haven with new blessings and the sense of new consecration to the living Owner of all souls. We remember the little ones, who can hardly speak their own request or tell their own necessities. We remember all classes and conditions of human life, from the lowest to the highest, from the most plebeian to the most imperial and royal, praying that all may feel themselves to be but men in the Lord's presence, and yet men even in his sight. The Lord send a fire amongst us that shall burn, but not consume. Open our mouths in blessing, in fearless, triumphant praise, and give us a deepening love, a more intense zeal for God, and a clearer view of the cross as the only answer to sin, and the only way to heaven. Amen.
"Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature." 1 Samuel 16:7 .
Men are always doing this: hence they become the victims of appearances. A man has only to be good-looking in order to win the confidence of many people; they think that so fair an exterior must represent an interior worthy of itself. In the estimation of God height is nothing, formal beauty is nothing; the man is within and not without, and not until his spiritual qualities have been tested, can it be known what the man really is. "The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." Here is an irony which ought to be intolerable to us, namely, that there should be an infinite discrepancy between the outward appearance and the heart: one would suppose that what a man was in his heart he would be also in his countenance. The poet has told us of a villain with a smiling cheek, "a goodly apple rotten at the core." When the work of Christ is done in the soul, the result will report itself in the face and manner and voice, in every uplifting of the hand, and in every expression of the eye. There may not indeed be formal beauty, but there will be an expression which testifies as to the indwelling and the inworking of God. Many men hold their places in society today, simply because they are of fair countenance or of lofty stature. Time is against all such men; events are never finally in their favour; there comes a period when merely formal beauty is dismantled, and moral ghastliness is revealed in all its reality and sadness; there comes also a time when the despised and rejected, men without form and comeliness, show that they have beauty of heart, dignity of mind, and that they belong to the very aristocracy of heaven.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 16". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany