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1 Samuel 9:6-10
And he said unto him, Behold now, there is in this city a man of God.
Saul brought to Samuel
God’s Providence is a wonderful scheme; a web of many threads, woven with marvellous skill. The meeting of two convicts in an Egyptian prison is a vital link in the chain of events that makes Joseph governor of Egypt; a young lady coming to bathe in the river preserves the life of Moses, and secures the escape of the Israelites; the thoughtful regard of a father for the comfort of his sons in the army brings David into contact with Goliath, and prepares the way for his elevation to the throne; the beauty of a Hebrew girl fascinating a Persian king saves the whole Hebrew race from massacre and extermination. So in the passage now before us. The straying of some asses from the pastures of a Hebrew farmer brings together the two men, of whom the one was the old ruler, and the other was to be the new ruler of Israel, But of all the actors in the drama, not one ever feels that his freedom is in any way interfered with. All of them are at perfect liberty to follow the course that commends itself to their own minds. Thus wonderfully do the two things go together--Divine ordination and human freedom. How it should be so, it baffles us to explain. But that it is so, must be obvious to every thoughtful mind. It seemed desirable that in the first king of Israel, two classes of qualities should be united, in some degree contradictory to one another. First, he must possess some of the qualities for which the people desire to have a king; while at the same time, from God’s point of view, it is desirable that under him the people should have some taste of the evils which Samuel had said would follow from their choice. It was his servant that knew about, Samuel, and that told Saul of his being in the city, in the land of Zuph (1 Samuel 9:6). This cannot but strike us as very strange. We should have thought that the name of Samuel would have been as familiar to all the people of Israel as that of Queen Victoria to the people of Great Britain. But Saul does not appear to have heard it, as in any way remarkable. Does not this indicate a family living entirely outside of all religious connections, entirely immersed in secular things, hearing nothing about godly people, and hardly ever even pronouncing their name? It is singular how utterly ignorant worldly men are of what passes in religious circles, if they happen to have no near relative or familiar acquaintance in the religious world to carry the news to them from time to time. And as Saul thus lived outside of all religious circles, so he seems to have been entirely wanting in that great quality which was needed for a king of Israel--loyalty to the Heavenly King. Here it was that the difference between him and Samuel was so great. Loyalty to God and to God’s nation was the very foundation of Samuel’s life. Anything like self-seeking was unknown to him. It, was this that gave such solidity to Samuel’s character, and made him so invaluable to his people. In every sphere of life it is a precious quality. But in these high qualities Saul seems to have been altogether wanting. It was not the superficial qualities of Saul that would be a blessing to the nation. It was not a man out of all spiritual sympathy with the living God that would raise the standing of Israel among the kingdoms around, and bring them the submission and respect of foreign kings. The intense and consistent godliness of Samuel was probably the quality that was not popular among the people. In the worldliness of his spirit, Saul was probably more to their liking. Yet it was this unworldly but godly Samuel that had delivered them from the bitter yoke of the Philistines, and it was this handsome but unspiritual Saul that was to bring them again into bondage to their ancient foes. This was the sad lesson to be learned from the reign of Saul. But let us now come to the circumstances that led to the meeting of Saul and Samuel. The asses of Kish had strayed. From this part of the narrative we may derive two great lessons, the one with reference to God, and the other with reference to man.
1. As it regards God, we cannot but see how silently, secretly, often slowly, yet surely, He accomplishes His purposes. There are certain rivers in nature that flow so gently, that when looking at the water only, the eye of the spectator is unable to discern any movement at all. Often the ways of God resemble such riverses Looking at what is going on in common life, it is so ordinary, so absolutely quiet, that you can see no trace whatever of any Divine plan. And yet, all the while, the most insignificant of them is contributing towards the accomplishment of the mighty plans of God. Men may be instruments in God’s hands without knowing it. When Cyrus was moving his armies towards Babylon he little knew that he was accomplishing the Divine purpose for the humbling of the oppressor and the deliverance of His oppressed people. And in all the events of common life, men seem to be so completely their own masters, there seems such a want of any influence from without, that God is liable to slip entirely out of sight. And yet, as we see from the chapter before us, God is really at work.
2. But again, there is a useful lesson in this chapter for directing the conduct of men. You see in what direction the mind of Saul’s servant moved for guidance in the day of difficulty. It, was toward the servant of God. And you see likewise how, when Saul and he had determined to consult the man of God, they were providentially guided to him. To us, the way is open to God Himself, without the intervention of any prophet. Let us in every time of trouble seek access to God. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
Saul among the prophets
The threads of our daily life often appear to be either loose and unrelated or hopelessly entangled. At times we seem to have nothing to do with each other. We go on our separate ways, It is only now and then that we find lines touching each other. A man climbs a hill that he may in solitude revel in the delights of the landscape, and, lo, a little child meets him there, and the supposed accident is the turning point in his life. A traveller turns aside that he may drink of the well by the way, and, behold, the stranger who was there before him, and who would have gone in one moment more, becomes the chief joy of his life, the ruler of his fortunes, the sovereign of his destiny. Thus our life is a mystery; we are strangers, yet friends. We live for many years apart, and by-and-by there comes a moment which unites us in holy confidence, giving all mysteries a meaning, and showing all difficulties to be but steps up to heaven. I have been led into this strain of animating, yet tranquillising, reflection by the circumstances in connection with which the text is found. The asses were lost, what then? Who cares? Yet out of this simple circumstance there may arise events which shall startle the most indifferent reader. The asses being lost, Kish commanded his son Saul to take with him a servant, and go in pursuit. The filial spirit never sees anything contemptible in the paternal desire. Men should rule their lives not by the insignificance of the service, but by the sublimity of the one Ruler in whose hands are the laws and destinies of life. Saul might have looked at the object alone; instead of that he looked at his father, in that look we find the secret of his obedience and alacrity. When the disciples went to seek the ass for Jesus Christ, they thought not of the meanness of the duty, but of the dignity of the Master. In this verse there is nothing but the hollow sound of repeated disappointment. It emphatically describes the negative side of life. There are men today who are repeating this experience with most painful faithfulness. Go whither they may they find not the object of their pursuit. They climb the hill of difficulty, and, behold, their errand is lost. Many of us may be said to be within the limits of this dreary verse today. Life is to us hollow, empty, and mocking. The lifting up of our hand doth but bring us weariness, and the putting forth of our strength only adds to the vexation of our spirit Is there not a meaning in all this? Is it possible that God can be taking any man along so painful and barren a road to an end which shall bring elevation and gladness? The road to honour is often long and hard. Men have to endure the discipline of disappointment before they can bear the reward of success. The great advantage of having a man of God in every city! The man of God makes his influence felt for good, and becomes honoured and trusted in matters which are not strictly religious. Two travellers have lost their way, and, behold, they inquire of a man of God! A very beautiful image is this of the position of Samuel. What is the vocation of the man of God? It is to tell other men their way! All men are morally lost; the man of God points out the way of recovery: all men are in intellectual confusion by reason of their moral depravity; the man of God shows the way to the light! As ministers of the Gospel we are appointed to tell men the way. This, too, is the appointment of heads of houses, conductors of educational institutions, and those who mould and lead the sentiment of the times. Saul was a gentleman, every whit! Eastern customs aside altogether, there was a vein of gentlemanliness in the nature of Saul. He was about to ask a favour, but a preliminary question arose in his mind. Absurd indeed is the idea of giving anything to the man of God for his services! George Whitefield, when he had but a cow-heel for dinner, would have the frugal meal set out with as much care as if it had been a banquet. There are two ways of doing everything. It was but little that Saul had to give, yet he gave it of his own free will, and with all the grace of a natural king. We are not to pay mere prices for knowledge and direction in life; we are to give gifts of the heart,--such donations as are inspired by our love, though they may be limited by our poverty. It should be noted that this little arrangement was made before the lost travellers went into the presence of Samuel. It came of the spontaneous motion of their own hearts. The question was not, What dost thou charge? What shall we give thee? But a plan was laid beforehand, and Samuel was not subjected to the indignity of a commercial inquiry. Christian churches might learn a great lesson from this example. Modern gentlemen may learn something from the ancient aristocracy. A wonderful kingdom is the kingdom of God! Though Samuel had before him the future king of Israel, and he himself was about to be deposed from his own supremacy, yet he communicated to Saul intelligence of the lost asses! Doth anything escape the care of God? Doth not God care for oxen? Doth a sparrow fall to the ground without our Father’s notice? If we give the great concerns of our life into the hands of God, nothing that belongs to us shall be accounted unworthy of His notice. A man should inquire what background he has when a voice like Samuel’s sounds in his ear. Saul was informed that on him was set all the desire of Israel: under such an announcement it was natural and proper that he should look to his antecedents, that, so to speak, he should gather himself up, and take correct measure of his manhood. A word of caution must be spoken here. Inquiry into our antecedents and resources should never be made with a fear of evading duty and difficulty. A very subtle temptation assails us from this side. Spurious modesty may reduce to the uttermost poverty and insufficiency, in order that by so doing it may lure us from paths of difficulty and hard service. When humility is saved from degenerating into fear, it becomes a source of strength. Moses complained that he was a man of slow speech; he desired that God would send His word by some other messenger, because of his incapacity and unworthiness. Jeremiah urged in response to the call of God, that he was but a little child. Saul declared that he was of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and sought to escape the duty of the hour through a sense of personal inadequacy to fulfil its demands. There is a medium between spurious self-depreciation and presumptuous boastfulness. That medium is reliance upon the sufficiency of God. Whom God calls He also qualifies. Observe, not increased intelligence, not additional personal stature, not any outward sign and proof that he was elected to be king of Israel; God gave him another heart. The question of life is often a question of feeling. What you want is another heart. Your life requires to be sob on fire with the love of God. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” “Son, give me thine heart!” Thou wilt be saved because thou hast cast thy whole heart at the feet of the Saviour of the world, who came to teach men the love of God. The cry arose amongst the people, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” We may, by increasing our devotion, by multiplying our beneficent labours, by courageous service in the kingdom of God, excite a surprise which shall indicate that we are no longer amongst those who live only for this world, “whose god is their belly, and who glory in their shame.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
1 Samuel 9:8
Go seek the asses.
The lost asses
Though God gave the Israelites their own way, when they would not be convinced of their error, it was not till the very last--not until He had allowed them a further opportunity of reviewing their course. Sometimes arguments which have failed to convince amidst the excitement and warmth of a public assembly, will recur with power and impressiveness in the quietude and retirement of home. We have felt, many a time, that we could not give our friends a better piece of advice than to think again before they acted; and we ourselves, probably, are no strangers to the advantages of acting upon “second thoughts,” rather than upon first impressions. The Israelites accordingly were dismissed to their homes: “Go ye every man unto his city.” If conscience were awake and faithful, it would hear God saying, “Sinner, I stand between thee and thy ruin a few days longer; I give thee the mercy of a few hours delay. Go home; go and consider. Go to thy Bible; go to thy closet; go to the mercy seat; go, ere it be too late; and pause ere thou dost resolve on persistence in thy unholy desire--in thy ungodly plan.” We may be disposed to think that a more dignified form of introducing Saul might have been selected--which greater dignity would have been attained by an entire omission of the mention of such trifles as Saul’s father losing his asses, and sending his son to seek them.
I. The study of this feature of Saul’s history demands that a thought or two should be expended upon the subject of the introduction into Scripture of these trivial incidents, these homely occurrences--for the recollection of every reader of the Bible will immediately suggest that this is not the only instance in which the same feature meets us in its manifold narratives. A writer who, merely to answer some private end, makes up a tale, purposely avoids minute incidents. He deals in generalities; because he feels that if he should descend into particulars he will but multiply the chances of detection. The minutely circumstantial character, therefore, of many of the narratives in the Bible is so far most favourable to our reception of the Scriptures as written under Divine influence, that it guarantees their truthfulness--a characteristic, the absence of which would at once constrain us to deny their inspiration. Still further--it must be acknowledged that matters which, in themselves and separately considered, appear trivial, turn out often, in their connexion and consequences, to be most momentous. It is the habit with God to associate the most important results with that which, in its origin, appears most insignificant. Nor only so--the purpose of a Divine revelation could only be answered consistently with the dictates of the highest wisdom, as the leading features of such a revelation were conformed to the facts and features of our own everyday history. In order to accomplish its professed purpose of being a guide and directory to man, it must be a faithful picture of human life. Were the aspects under which it presented human life materially different from those under which we ourselves view it, and even participate in it, we should be tempted to say, This is not the book for us.
II. The incidents connected with Saul’s appointment as king were not only trivial, but they possessed in combination with this characteristic another feature--they were of a class to which, in the ordinary way of speaking, we should give the name of accidental. And in this respect, the history appears framed so as to teach us the simple but emphatic lesson, that there is a God of Providence, and that where, to the human eye, there may appear nothing but an accidental connexion between two or more circumstances, there exists, in the mind of God, the most clearly-intentioned, complete, and beautiful arrangement and harmony. As we look back upon our own lives there stays by us the recollection of many incidents which once appeared not only trivial, but accidental. Their occurrence was the result of no premeditation of ours. They were such as arose seemingly in the ordinary course of events; such as suggested no idea of any special purpose being involved, or such as no human foresight could have prevented. But why do they stay by us thus? What is the power which has lodged firmly in our memory things which in themselves seemed to have no claim to so long-enduring a recollection? Why have we not forgotten them long ago? For this good reason: that these very incidents constituted, as we can now see, the springs out of which flowed the most important events in the whole of our history. Such views as those which have now passed before us of a thread of Divine arrangement and plan passing through all the varied incidents of our everyday life, should incite to the habitual acknowledgment of God in all our ways. Repeated lessons discover to us our own incompetency to direct our steps rightly amid the puzzling and perplexing paths of life. For notwithstanding that which meets our eye, it is still a fact that all is arranged. The chart of the Divine purposes is gradually unfolding; but the measure and the manner of that unfolding we must leave in the hands of the great Contriver.
III. Another thought suggested by that portion of the narrative now under consideration is this--that since, from God’s concealment of the future, we cannot tell what He may intend to do with us and by us, it is our duty to hold ourselves in readiness to undertake any service which He may require us to render, to enter upon any position He may call upon us to fill. Of all the possible or probable events which might have happened to Saul, that of becoming king would most certainly have been set down by himself and by others as the least likely ever to occur. But how, it may be asked, can we be prepared for that which is as yet entirely concealed from us--that which we cannot even anticipate? To this it may be replied, that there are certain qualifications which are requisite alike for all positions, and which render us, in a good measure, ready for any service. Such, for instance, are diligence and fidelity in meeting the claims of our present condition, whatever it may be. Such is the effort at mental cultivation, by the acquisition of useful knowledge, and by the employment of our thoughts upon the information thus gained. To these we may add that habit of working from principle which will ever be found the best aid to perseverance, because it stands opposed to all fitful excitement. The more self-acquaintance, too, which has been gained--the more dependence upon God--the more prayerfulness, watchfulness, and concern for God’s glory--the more real religion, in fact, which a man possesses, the more satisfied will he be in any position, however lowly--the more prepared for service, however exalted. God can turn all your acquisitions to profit. Saul, in the pursuit of a lesser good, met with the offer and promise of a crown. We say he was fortunate. But there is a better fortune which meets us wandering through this desert land, and often in pursuit of objects of inferior worth. An offer of a crown is made us, but it is one of imperishable material. An offer of a kingdom is made us, but it is of “a kingdom which cannot be moved.” (J. A. Miller.)
The lost asses
Who would have thought that upon the straying of asses was linked the anointing of the first king of Israel! But you must recollect there can be nothing like what we call chance in God’s kingdom of Providence. Had some very wise and skilful mechanic made a beautiful piece of machinery, and, in explaining to you the different parts, were he to say of only one little wheel, “I have left that to work as it happens--I can’t, say what that will do;” tell me would not your opinion of his wisdom instantly sink very much? and would not there be a secret misgiving that that one wheel, however small, might bring disorder into the whole piece of machinery? Never, then, think that He, whose work is perfect, can have left the least thing without design; nay, so wondrous is His work that often greatest events hang upon, what, we should think, very small things. It is a blessed thing when the servant of God is enquired for, and it is found that he is about his Master’s business. Beautiful is the account here given of Samuel. (1 Samuel 9:12-13.) And here you find, while Saul was diligently seeking Samuel, Samuel stood before him. It is a great mercy to be kept in the use of means. When we have obtained mercy to seek any good thing of the Lord, we may be very sure He is waiting to give the mercy he has taught us to seek. Samuel could tell Saul that the asses were found; but he would fain draw his thoughts from such concerns to the higher matters of a kingdom. In that beautiful book, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” you have read about the poor man who was so busy raking among the rubbish that he never lifted up his eyes to the beautiful crown which was just over his head. What a picture of poor sinners! so taken up with seeking the things of earth that they have no eyes, no heart for heavenly things: a throne, a crown, a kingdom, go for nothing. Oh! leave caring for asses, your toys, your empty pleasures and pursuits: come to Him Who shall tell thee all that is in thy heart; yea. Who is able and willing to fill that large craving void, which all creation could not fill, but which Jesus can fill to overflowing. (Helen Plumptre.)
A trivial incident the herald of a momentous future
In the second verse we find the first mention of a great man. Some names are not worthy to receive the honour of historical immortality. Seeing that they represent injury and injustice, it is better that they should fade into unknown oblivion than stand as the patrons of evil and stimulus to crime for succeeding generations.
1. Saul is introduced in connection with his ancestry. We are informed of his nationality and parentage. If we thought more of our homes and ancestors, national life would be swept of the political and filled with the domestic. How apt are young men in times of advancement to forget their “poor relations.” But it sometimes happens that God fastens a young man to his father’s home by recording him in connection with his ancestry.
2. Saul is introduced in connection with the meaner duties of life. See the simplicity and mystery of the divine plan!
3. The light which this incident throws upon Saul’s domestic character:
(1) Saul was an obedient son.
(2) Saul was a persevering and patient son Yet he continued the search along the plain, mile after mile, uselessly.
(3) Saul wag a considerate son. (1 Samuel 9:5.) Thus he feared lest their absence should be of more grief to his parent than the loss of the animals. If every young man had such tender regard for the feelings of his father, how many homes would be cheered end how many hearts solaced!
(4) Saul was somewhat indebted to the social condition of the times for his elevation. The nation was in a state of unrest, the people were impatient; their request for a king had been communicated to Samuel, and they were anxiously awaiting the result. Yet, while the political state of the nation exercised a power in drawing Saul to kingship, it was only in a subsidiary sense. People, and especially jealous folk, are never tired of attributing the greatness and position of certain individuals to the “call of the times.” True, the times do influence men, as if no king had been wanted Saul could not have been made one. The vacancy was occasioned by the unhappy combination of the times, but Saul was not so made to fill it. “The times call forth! Alas, we have known times call loudly enough for their great man, but not find him when they called! He was not there; Providence had not sent him; the time, calling its loudest, had to go down to confusion and wreck because he would not come when called.” “But I liken common languid times with their embarrassed circumstances, impotently crumbling down into ever worse distress towards final ruin:--all this I liken to dry, dead fuel, waiting for the lightning out of heaven that shall kindle it. The great man, with his free force direct out of God’s own hand, is the lightning. All blazes round him now, when he has once struck on it, into fire like his own. The dry, mouldering sticks are thought to have called him forth. They did want him greatly; but, as to calling him forth! These are critics of smaller vision, I think, who cry, ‘See, is it not the sticks that made the fire?’”* *(Thomas Carlyle). See in this narrative:--
I. The mysterious powers which guide our lives. These forces are two-fold: the minor or secondary influences which touch us.
1. Events. Life is so mysterious to us because we only see one side of it. Like those beautiful laurel designs which decorate the church--behind there are ugly ends of stick, there is no design, but deepest confusion: but in front there are words of hope composed of leaves and flowers. So here we only see the behind of life; in heaven we shall behold its twofold aspect, and be thrilled by its harmony rather than awed by its mystery. The mysterious event which had such an influence in shaping the future of Saul was
(1) trivial. It was simply the loss of some asses. So we little know how potently the small events of everyday life touch our souls.
(2) Casual. It was quite a casual thing for Samuel to go in search of lost property. God takes hold of all the casualties of life, and makes them work the purposes of His will.
(3) At critical junctures. How the Divine Being links the separate events of life. He joined the loss of asses to Israel’s desire for a king, and made the one subservient to the other. Not only are events among the minor forces which shape our lives, but also:--
2. Persons. “And he said unto him, Behold now, there is in this city a man of God” (1 Samuel 9:6). This shows that we are influenced
(1) by persons of inferior rank. We little know the shaping power which even servants exercise upon us.
(2) Unconsciously. The servant little knew that in leading Saul to Samuel he was conducting him to kingship.
2. The primary or Supreme influences which shape our lives. God is the Supreme power of life.
(1) Their influence upon prophetic life. God told Samuel the person who was to be king (1 Samuel 9:15) the time he would appear (1 Samuel 9:15) the purpose he had in view (1 Samuel 9:16)
(2) Their influence upon unfolding life. A marvellous coincidence (1 Samuel 9:18-19); a mysterious assurance (1 Samuel 9:20); a consoling statement (1 Samuel 9:20).
II. The important issues to which they tend.
1. Spiritual in their nature. They lead to the prophet.
2. Social in their bearing. Lead to kingships.
(1) Predilection (1 Samuel 9:19);
(2) Modest credulity (1 Samuel 9:21);
(2) A typical preferment (1 Samuel 9:22)
3. Samuel’s communications to Saul.
(1) Many unrecorded;
(2) Privately received (1 Samuel 9:27).
1. If God wants a king he knows where to get him.
2. That obedient sons are likely to be Divinely honoured.
3. The mysterious power of human association.
4. The Divine casuistry of everyday life.
5. The harmonious working of Divine Providence.
6. The relationship of human governments to the Divine. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
1 Samuel 9:9
Saul, a choice young man.
The choice young man
1. The first thing to notice about young Saul is his fine physique. Do not despise a fine physique. Plato calls it “a privilege of nature”; Homer, “a glorious gift of the Deity”; and Ovid, “a favour bestowed by the gods.” Has it never struck you how frequently the sacred writers allude to this quality? It would be easy to find a score of Bible characters who are spoken of as “comely,” or “goodly,” or of “great beauty.” In comparison to the soul the body is not of great account; but still it must not be treated with neglect. The soul’s lodgment should be kept in the best and most beautiful condition. “It is a great mistake,” says Cobbet, in his essays to young men, “to suppose that you derive any advantage from exterior decoration. Though with the foolish and vain part of women fine clothes frequently do something; yet the greater part of the sex are much too penetrating to draw their conclusions solely from the outside shew of a man. They look deeper, and find other criteria whereby to judge.” The piece is not very classical; but, as expressing the common feeling of the best part of women towards the dandy or coxcomb, I believe it is almost perfection. Physical beauty alone is a poor thing. Talleyrand said of a lovely woman that “beauty was her least charm.” An intelligent mind and a kindly heart are as necessary almost to make a face truly beautiful as form and complexion. Physical beauty is often seen apart from spiritual beauty--“a gold ring in a swine’s snout.”
2. The second thing to notice about young Saul is his filial piety, There is no duty more plainly or strongly enforced in the Scriptures than the duty of obeying parents. And with it are associated the highest rewards and the severest punishments; and these rewards and punishments pertain not only to the future, but to the present life. The late William E. Forster, while still a youth, was ambitious of a political career. His own notion was to study for the law, as the likeliest means by which a poor man’s son could enter Parliament. But his father insisted on his going into business. And the son did as his father wished without demur, although not without keen disappointment and pain. He fancied that his chances of Parliament were at an end. In this connection his biographer says: “The boy acted invariably in such a manner as to prove that the reverential regard he professed for his father was really felt, and that he was at all times ready to submit his own inclinations to meet the wishes of the latter.” Did William Forster suffer ultimately by his filial submission? Most people will say that the father was wrong, and that his action was fitted to thwart the hopes of his boy. And that is true. But Forster, by his filial honour, had secured the interposition and influence of Heaven on his behalf. And so, unlikely as it looked, he got into Parliament, and made a name for himself there by noble and valuable services to his country--a name which will not soon be dropped from our nation’s story. We must not omit to notice here additionally the affectionate consideration young Saul had for his father.
3. The third thing to notice about young Saul is his modest disposition. It is told of an old Scotch weaver that he was wont to pray every morning that the Lord would give him “a guid opeenion o’ himsel’.” I cannot conceive a less needed petition. The great fault with people nowadays is that they have too good an opinion of themselves--see themselves bigger and better a great deal than the reality. While pride makes men ridiculous, humility commands admiration and love. Sir Joshua Reynolds was never satisfied with his work. He said once to a friend, who was praising his pictures very highly: “Sketches, sketches, only sketches!” When George Washington rose to reply to an eloquent and flattering speech, expressive of the thanks of his country for his services in the French and Indian Wars, he blushed, stammered, and then sat down in utter confusion, drawing from the speaker the further compliment that his modesty was equal to his valour. Virgil, the “Prince of Latin Poets,” could not bear to be stared at in the street: and would sometimes seek shelter in shops from the demonstrations of his admirers. But modesty may degenerate into a vice. Men suffer, and the world suffers, by an excess of modesty. Milton attributes to the just and pious honouring of ourselves every laudable endeavour and worthy achievement. And so Pythagoras said to his pupil: “Reverence thyself.” I would rather have a man over-estimate than underestimate his powers. While the first mistake may stimulate small talents to the performance of great deeds, the last may prevent great talents from achieving half their possibilities. We are familiar with the grumblings of (so-called) “modest merit.” It complains of neglect and unfair treatment. Nincompoops and nobodies are getting on, and even loaded with rewards and honours, while it is left without notice and without pay. But well has Washington Irving said of these complaints: “They are often the cant by which indolent and irresolute men seek to lay their want of success at the door of the public. Modest merit is too apt to be inactive, or negligent, or uninstructed merit. Well-matured and well-disciplined talent is always sure of a market, provided it exerts itself; but it must not cower at home, and expect to be sought for.”
4. The fourth thing to notice about young Saul is his independent and generous spirit. In search of the asses, he came near to the town where resided the prophet Samuel. The servant suggested to him that he should consult the seer about the strayed herd. The idea was good--capital--here was a way out of his difficulty. “But,” said Saul, “behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? for the bread is spent in our vessels, and there is not a present to bring to the man of God: what have we?” Saul was a gentleman! Do not say that this was an Eastern custom. It was, and the plate at the church door is a Western custom. But Saul might have neglected the custom, as some among us--I do not say in this audience--may neglect the plate. He respected the religion of his fathers. To all outward seeming he walked in the commandments of Jehovah. God complains through Samuel, at a later stage of the king’s history, that he had turned back from following Him, so that at one time Samuel had evidently been controlled, at least to some extent, by the Divine Will. But there was no depth in his religion. It was a superficial growth--its roots did not go down into the heart. And so the disappointment of his later history. Giving so much promise at the start, his life closed in midnight blackness and horror. (F. A. Forrest, M. A.)
The choice young man
Let us ask ourselves what are the characteristics of the choice young man. The “choice” of anything signifies the best example of that thing. The word involves the idea not of exceptionalness but of representativeness. The choice fruit of the tree is the tree’s best fruit; it is that in which the tree’s juices have had their most unhindered way, and made the best which that tree was capable of making. The choice work of art is the freest embodiment of the artistic spirit, the thing in which beautiful thought and beautiful work and beautiful material have done their best. The choice man is the best specimen of humanity, the human being in whom there is least that is inhuman or unhuman, and in whom the truly human qualities are most complete. So is it with the choice young man. He is the true young man. The great point of the phrase is this--that it denotes not an exception but a true condition of human life. When, however, we go on to ask, beyond this generous consciousness of admiration, what it is which we admire in young manhood, our answer must be found, I think, in the way in which the true human life always begins with its circumference, as it were, complete, and then fills in its space with its details. It might have been just the opposite. Life might have been made to begin with some one point and slowly widen out from that point until its completeness were attained. As it is, it leaps at once to this completeness of itself; it is exuberant at the beginning; it does not distrust the world and only gradually learn that the world is worthy of its trust; it trusts the world outright, and lets all stingy questionings come afterward. Life seems so good that it is satisfied with its own normal exercises and emotions, and does not seek additions in artificial stimulants. Now here is a distinct quality in human youth, belonging to a distinct truth concerning the life of man. If it is so, then we have reached our first idea about the choice young man. In him this quality of human youth will be most bright and clear He will be most possessed with the sense of the sufficiency of life, and most eager to preserve its purity because of the completeness which he feels in it. This is the true motive of the best young man’s desire for purity. It is not fear. Life, the true life, the choice life, begins upon the mountains. As the morning mists scatter, it sees the gulfs it did not see at first; but it has no natural necessity to plunge into them when they are seen. And the true power of its continence is not the horror of the gulf, but the abundance and glory of the pure hill top where the young feet stand. All this does not apply only to those things which are absolutely and manifestly vicious, to wanton licentiousness add reckless sin; it applies to all the accidents of life. It is a bad sight for the eyes to see when a young man has come prematurely into the power of those accidents, when he cannot find life abundant without what we call the “comforts of life,” even those which have no vicious element about them. What business has the young vigour of twenty to demand that the fire shall be warm and the seat cushioned and the road smooth? Let him not parade his incompetence for life by insisting that life is not worth living unless a man is rich--unless, that is the abundance of life should be eked out with wealth, which is an accident of life, not of its essence. Sad is it when a community grows more and more to abound in young men who worship wealth and think they cannot live without luxury and physical comfort. The choicest of its strength is gone. The same principle, that life in the young man should be abundant in itself, would find still broader application in every relation of human action. It would bring simplicity and healthiness in every standard. It would rule out and cast aside as impertinent and offensive all that was artificial and untrue. How clear it makes the whole question of the way in which money is to be gained or given! And so it brings us at once to another practical question of young men’s life. Money to the simple healthy human sense is but the representative of energy and power. It is to pass from man to man only as the symbol of some exertion, some worthy outputting of strength and life. In social life, in club, in college, on the street, the willingness of young men to give or to receive money on the mere turn of chance is a token of the decay of manliness and self-respect which is more alarming than almost anything besides. It has an inherent baseness about it which not to feel shows a base soul. To carry in your pocket money which has become yours by no use of your manly powers, which has ceased to be another man’s by no willing acceptance on his part of its equivalent--that is a degrading thing. Will it not burn the purse in which you hold it? Will it not blight the luxury for which you spend it? So I rank high among the signs of a choice human youth the clearness of sight and the healthiness of soul which make a man refuse to have anything to do with the transference of property by chance, which make him hate and despise betting and gambling under their most approved and fashionable and accepted forms. Plentiful as those vices are among us, they still in some degree have the grace to recognise their own disgracefulness by the way in which they conceal themselves. It is an awful hour when the first necessity of hiding anything comes. The whole life is different thenceforth. When there are questions to be feared and eyes to be avoided and subjects which must not be touched, then the bloom of life is gone. Put off that day as long as possible. It is no drawback from the truth or power of all this that it involves the appeal to sentiment, for the presence and the power of healthy sentiment is another token of the choice young humanity. Sentiment is the finest essence of the human life. It is, like all the finest things, the easiest to spoil. It bears testimony of itself that it is finer than judgment, because a thousand times when judgment is all clear and right, sentiment is tainted and all wrong. And hosts of men, feeling the mysterious dangers which beset sentiment, would fain banish it altogether. They do not know how to use it, and so they will not try. It is explosive and dangerous, and so it shall be watched and made contraband, like dynamite. How many men do you know who can frankly look you in the face and say a piece of sentiment, and make it seem perfectly real and true, and not make either you or themselves, or both, feel silly and embarrassed by their saying it? Now if men must come to that, the longer it can be before they come to it the better! Let the sentiments have their true, unquestioned power in the young man’s life. Let him glow with admiration, let him burn with indignation, let him believe with intensity, let him trust unquestioningly, let him sympathise with all his soul. The hard young man is the most terrible of all. Do you remember the simpler, nobler story of the young Christ? “When He came near He beheld the city, and wept ever it.” Tell me what becomes of the hard young man, proud of his unsensitiveness, even pretending to be more unsensitive than he is, incapable of enthusiasm, incapable of tears; what becomes of him beside the knightliness of a sorrow such as that? The little child is sensitive without a thought of effort. The old man often feels the joy and pain of men as if the long years had made it his own. But, in between, the young man is hardened by self-absorption. Be sure that there is no true escape from softness in making yourself hard. It is like freezing your arm to keep it from decay. Only by filling it with blood and giving it the true flexibility of health, so only is it to be preserved from the corruption which you fear. Be not afraid of sentiment, but only of untruth. Trust your sentiments, and so be a man. It would be strange indeed if our first truth did not apply to the whole methods of thought as well as to the actions and the feelings. That truth was, you remember, that youth began with the large circumference, and then filled in the circle gradually with the details of living. It does not start with the small detail, and only gradually build out to the large idea. Now, what will that truth mean as we apply it to the intellectual life? Will it not mean that the choicer a young mind is the more immediately it will begin with the perception of great truths, which then its thought and study and experience will fill out and confirm? It is the place and privilege of the young man to know immediately that God is good, that the world is hopeful, that spirit is real. These great ideas are his ideas. He does not prove God’s existence, building it up out of his own sight of the things God does. He sees God. He the pure in heart, sees God; and then all his life is occupied in gathering into the substance of the faith which he has won by direct vision, the vividness and definiteness which separate successive experiences of God have to give. Not that your young man will not make a thousand blunders, not that he will not sometimes seem to lose his sight of truth, but that the method of his mental life is right, and so that in the end he must stand clear under a cloudless sky. The world’s strength has been built up thus, by young men believing and uttering the truth they saw--the greatest, largest truth--and then their experience filling that truth with solidity until it became a foundation on which yet greater truth might rest. Begin with largeness of thought, and with positiveness of thought. The way in which a man begins to think influences all his thinking to the end of his life. Begin by seeking for what is true, not for what is false, in the thought and belief which you find about you. Scepticism is not merely the disbelief of some propositions. If it were that, there is not one of us but would be a sceptic. It is the habit and the preference of disbelieving. God save us all from that scepticism! God save especially our young men from it, for a sceptical young man is a monstrosity. What shall we say about this whole last matter, the matter of belief, except that the true young man’s life, the choice young man’s life, is bound to be a life of vision. To see the large things in their largeness--that is his privilege; and there is no privilege which is not a duty too. And now I do not know whether there has come at all out of What I have said anything like a clear image of the choice young man. As I said when I began, I should care little to try to create that image if it were some strange, exceptional creature that I was trying to carve. But it is not that; it is the true young human being, the type and flower of the first vigour of humanity. And these are the qualities which we have seen in him--purity of body, mind, and soul; simple integrity, and a dignity which will not have what is not his, no matter under what specious form of game or wager it has come into his hands; tenderness, sympathy, sentiment--call it what name you will, a soul that is not cynical or cruel; and positive, broad thought and conviction. Do these things, as I name them, blend with one another? Does there stand out as their result a figure recognisable and clear, well-knit and strong, brave, generous, and true, but very little conscious of itself, dimming the love and honour of the human heart. For men do love the type and flower of their own young manhood. Little children and young boys look up to it with touching reverence. Old men look back to it with wistful longing, often with a perplexed wonder how they ever passed themselves through a land which they see now to be so rich and kept so little of its richness. Only once in this sermon have! spoken of Jesus as the specimen of human youth. But He is such a specimen always. And I appeal to all of you who have sympathetically read” the Gospels to say whether you do not feel through all His life of sorrow the subtle, certain presence of this joy of which I speak. It is the ideal joy of life, burning through all the hardest and cruellest circumstances of life, and asserting, in spite of everything, the true condition of the Son of God and the Son of Man. I have spoken of the young man’s character and life, and I have seemed to say nothing at all of his religion. Is it because I have forgotten his religion or thought it of small consequence? God forbid! It is because one of the most effectual and convincing ways to reach religion is to make life seem so noble and exacting that it shall itself seem to demand religion with the great cry, “Who is sufficient for these things?” When not yet driven by the stress of sin and sorrow, but exalted by the revelation of what life might be, and eager with the witness of the truth of that revelation which fills his own self-consciousness, the young man looks abroad for help that he may realise it then he finds Christ. And he finds Christ in the way that belongs to him just then and there, just in the time and place where be is standing. He finds Christ the model and the master. It is the personal Christ that makes the young man’s religion. “Behold this Christ standing before me, pointing to the heights of the completed human life, and saying not, ‘Go there,’ but saying, ‘Follow me’--going before us into the land our souls desire!” When religion comes to mean simply following Christ, when the young man gives himself to Christ as his Leader and his Lord, when he prays to Christ with the entire sense that he is laying hold of the perfect strength for the perfect work--then the whole circle is complete. Power and purpose, purpose and power, both are there; and only the eternal growth is needed for the infinite result. (Phillip Brooks.)
A choice young man
A great writer has said that it is possible for us to be good for nothing in history save as a warning. Saul stands in history as a warning.
I. Observe, that prayer should be submissive. I cannot think the Israelites were wrong in their wish for a king. There is a provision in the Book of Deuteronomy for a king. But mark, they were wrong in demanding a king.
1. So sometimes God listens to and allows the blinded prayers of our hearts, and they turn to curses. “Thine own wickedness shall reprove thee and thy backslidings,” etc.; “I gave thee a king in my anger,” etc.
2. God sometimes grants in the way of reproof. I have seen parents who prayed: “O, spare my sick child,” mourn that their boy ever lived to grow to manhood. The shadow of death receded in answer to that dictating prayer, but a darker shadow took its place. I have heard young men pray” “O Lord, give me success in this life.” I have heard them declare: “That success they would have.” In pain beyond expression poignant, they afterward found out that character, made strong and shining with virtues, is better than applause, than power, than riches.
3. Let us rather pray as did our great exampler in Gethsemane. Let us never forget that our blessing is wrapped up in God’s will and not in our own.
II. Let us learn that Divine providences descend to and include what we call their trivialities of life. Could there be anything more trivial than searching for runaway asses. Yet, on this trivial circumstance swung the door through which Saul passed to his throne. Long before Mohammed’s power was settled, when pursued by his enemies, at one time, he pushed back a bough that was before a cave and entered the opening. A moment after a bird lit on the bough As the enemy came up the bird flew away. Said the enemy: “He could not have gone into that cave, or the bird would not have been on that bough,” and they passed on, and Mohammed’s life was saved. Tell your troubles in God’s ear. Don’t think them too trivial.
III. Learn that there may be a fair beginning and a dark ending. Saul attributed his first great victory to God, and would not allow the needless shedding of blood. But the drawback was, Saul had not given himself to God. There was another Saul who, when smitten down by the blinding light, cried out: “What wilt Thou have me to do?” His life was henceforth a seeming failure. He loses all things, but Saul, the king, has all things--he has his crown. Saul of Tarsus, stripped of all earthly things, awaits his crown. “Henceforth,” says he, “there is laid up for me a crown,” etc. Saul, the king, lost his crown in death, etc. See the difference. The one gave himself to God, the other did not. Which choice is to be preferred? Which do you make? (Wayland Hoyt.)
The ruin of a choice young man
A life of bright promise may prove a life of disastrous failure.
I. The bright prospects of this choice young man.
1. His natural endowments were such as admirably to fit him for the position it was the will of God he was to occupy, so that he entered upon his office with advantages from which the best auguries might have been formed. “See ye him,” said Samuel, “whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like him?” I would here remark the advantages to us, as young men, of good health, and a strong, vigorous body.
2. Nor was Saul lacking in moral qualities. His occupation, his concern for his father, his obedience to the prophet, his respect for religious ordinances, clearly indicate him to have been a man of quiet, plodding, and God-fearing disposition. Yes, you may have all these, and be in the eyes of all “a choice young man, and goodly;” yet lacking one thing, as Saul did, when trial and temptation come, the fair promise of your youth may be blighted; and when you, and others interested in you, expected to be reaping a harvest of bliss, there will be nothing left but bitter disappointment and vain regret.
II. Abused privileges. What God expected from the king of His people is clearly defined in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Saul was no doubt made acquainted with these injunctions by Samuel, so that there was no excuse whatever for his failure. Indeed, it is clear that his failure came not as the result of ignorance, but of a stubborn, rebellious will, which set itself in opposition to the will of God; and also from want of obedient faith. The first indication of these signs of defection, we have in 1 Samuel ch. 13. This injunction was to be a test of Saul’s faith, and it failed. Another test was given him. “Go,” said Samuel, “and smite Amalek” In this test of obedience he again failed; for, contrary to his commission, he spares Agag, and also brings of the spoil of war to offer in sacrifice to God. In this his pride is manifest--he cares little for the approbation of God, but wants honour before the people. God requires of you heart allegiance. The only true safeguard you can have for this life is in giving yourselves up to Christ,. Without this you may, and some of you will, become moral wrecks like Saul.
III. Blighted purposes.
1. The Divine purposes cannot be frustrated by our unfaithfulness. Without any interference with their moral liberty, God, no doubt, fulfils His own designs even by wicked men. The counsel of the Lord, that shall stand. God makes all events and all lives subservient, to His wise and holy will. Yet this is no excuse for our lack of fidelity to duty.
2. Saul’s own purposes were broken off. His heart must have been big with hope when he received the Divine anointing, and in pursuing his course of disobedience, he, no doubt thought to win renown for himself and Israel Self-aggrandisement was the secret purpose in much of his disobedience; and then as to his son Jonathan, whom he made a general in his army; as a father, he must have cherished purposes concerning him. But all were doomed to disappointment, and that by his own folly. He who serves God takes the best way to serve himself. It is a solemn truth, too, that when a man has begun to go wrong, he finds it harder every step he takes to retrace his course. Another startling truth, which it may be wise to mention, is given us in the ruined prospects of this virtually discrowned monarch.
3. He sins beyond the possibility of repentance. Awful capabilities of self-torture lie folded within every human soul. Youthful sins lay a foundation for aged sorrows heart allegiance to Christ will be the only insurance you can have against becoming the victims of clans of evil forces now lying in ambush within the mysterious recesses of your soul. But in addition to the blighted purpose of Saul, there were others who suffered by his sin. No man liveth unto himself. What a blight did Saul’s sin bring upon the hopes of Samuel. Saul, too, blasted the purposes of his family. His sin involved his sons in his misfortune; for the sceptre passed away from his house, and his family became extinct. (W. Williams.)
Saul: A shipwreck
Dr. Newman, after attempting three times to preach on Saul, is compelled to confess that Saul’s character continues to be obscure to him and he warns us that we must be cautious while considering Saul’s obscure character. But, unhappily, the obscurity begins further back than Saul. The obscurity begins with Saul’s father and mother. We never hear of Saul’s mother; but what kind of a father can Kish have been. We know all about Samuel. All Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord; all Israel but Kish and his son Saul. Yes, there is some quite inexplicable obscurity about Kish as well as about Saul; an obscurity that perplexes us and throws us out at the very opening of the son’s sad history. And yet, when we turn back and begin to read Saul’s whole history over again with our eye on the object; when we stop and look round about us as we read, the ancient obscurity begins to pass off, but only to let alarm and apprehension for ourselves and for our own sons take its place. Saul staggers us and throws us out till we look at ourselves and at the men round about us, and then we soon see, what had before been obscure to us, that our inborn and indulged tastes, likings, dispositions, inclinations, and pursuits rule us also, shape us, occupy us, and decide for us the men we know and the life we lead. Josephus says that Samuel had an inborn love of justice. But Saul had inherited from Kish an inborn and an absorbing love of cattle and sheep; and, till they were lost, Saul had no errand to Samuel’s city. Why hold up our hands at Saul’s obscurity, and at Saul’s ignorance of Samuel. We have it in ourselves. We also see what we bring, eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to love if you have no more sense of religion and life than Saul and his father had, at least, like them, give the preference to a religious servant. Saul’s servant knew Samuel. Saul was led up to the door of his earthly kingdom by the piety of his father’s servant; and you may be led up some day to the door of the heavenly kingdom by one of your servants who has interests and acquaintances and experiences that up to tonight you know nothing about. Saul with another hearts Saul with the Spirit of God upon him! You cannot understand. Another heart has more meanings than one in Holy Scripture; and so has the Spirit of God; and so has prophecy. Isaiah prophesied of the atoning death of Christ, but so did Caiaphas. The Spirit of God came upon Jesus at the Jordan, but He came also on Samson at the camp of Dan and upon Balaam beside the altar of Baal. Matthew Henry in two or three words makes clear to us all the obscurity of Saul’s other heart. “Saul,” says the most sensible of commentators, “has no longer the heart of a husbandman, concerned only with corn and cattle; he has now the heart of a statesman, a general, a prince. When God calls to service He will make fit for it. If He advances to another station, He will give another heart; and will preserve that heart to those who sincerely desire to serve Him.” So He will. But that is just what Saul, another heart, and all, did not sincerely desire to do. And here hangs the true key to the whole of Saul’s sad history. He was elected and crowned king over Israel, but he was as ignorant all the time of the God of Israel as he was of Samuel, the great prophet of the God of Israel. The truth is, another heart, prophetical spirit, and all, Saul all along was little better than a heathen at heart. And hence it is that what has often been called the profanity of Saul’s character scarcely rises to the dignity of profanity. Saul’s most presumptuous sins scarcely attain to profaneness. You must have some sense of what is sacred before you can be really profane. But Saul has no such sense. In his youth he had not one spark of insight or interest in the religious life and worship of Israel. He had never heard of Samuel. At the same time, in giving Saul another heart, the God of Israel gave Saul the greatest opportunity of his life to make himself a new heart God suddenly made a break in the ungodly and heathenish life of the son of Kish. So much so that Saul for the moment was almost persuaded to become an Israelite indeed. No; there is no such obscurity about Saul getting another heart and yet that heart coming to nothing. We have all had the same thing in ourselves. We ourselves have gone out on an errand of duty or of pleasure and have come back with another heart. Sometimes it has been at a time of sorrow, and sometimes at a time of joy and gladness. At the death of a father or a mother, at the time of leaving home to take our place in a lonely world; or, again, at that happy time when our loneliness was so graciously dealt with by God. God, I feel sure, lets no man become a married man without giving him the great opportunity and the new start in religion He gave to Saul when He made him king of Israel. In the kingly heart that God gives to every bridegroom we are not far for the time from the kingdom of heaven. Had Saul’s change of heart only held, had his conversion only become complete, Saul would have been one of the greatest of all the Old Testament men. Saul was not a common man. It would take a Shakespeare to put himself into Saul’s place and let us see the obscure working of Saul’s heart under all his temptations. But, unhappily, Shakespeare had so little interest in Divine things, at least as they are set forth in the word of God, that he has gone away and left us to deal with such characters as Esau, and Balaam, and Saul, and Judas for ourselves only, there is one dark passage toward the end of Saul’s insane life that we need no Shakespeare nor Newman to open up to us, Saul’s mad and murderous envy of David is as clear as day to every man who puts its proper name on what goes on every day in his own evil heart. Themistocles could not sleep for the victories of Miltiades, and no more could Manning sleep for the Sermons, and The Apologia, and the promotion of Newman. And I have my Miltiades and my Newman, and so have you. Between Saul and Themistocles and Manning, and you and me, there is no difference. In genius and in services there is an immeasurable difference; but there is no difference at all in our gnawing and sleepless envy of those who have the genius, and do the service, and enjoy the praises and the place. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
Men of great stature
Mr. Lincoln, as he shook hands with the judge [Kelley, of Pennsylvania], inquired, “What is your height?” “Six feet three. What is yours, Mr. Lincoln?” “Six feet four.” “Then,” said the judge, “Pennsylvania bows to Illinois. My dear man, for years my heart has been aching for a President that I could look up to, and I’ve found him at last in the land where we thought there were none but little giants.” [The distinguished Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois, was known as the “little giant.”]. (Raymond’s Lincoln.)
1 Samuel 9:18
The people will not eat until he come, because he doth bless the sacrifice.
There is a striking resemblance between the outlines of the Mosaic, and of the Christian Church. Each arose upon a Divine basis. Each had its form of imitation and symbolic rites. Each had its three orders of ministers in the sanctuary. And each boasts of a Divine Being at its head. As in the one, so in the other, the covenant is in the hands of a Mediator, and its principles and laws are deposited in a sacred code. There is, indeed, in the Christian Church, a higher degree of spirituality than is found under any other dispensation. Here, the daily sacrifice and oblation cease, absorbed, in their significance, in that great sacrifice, of which, to the eye of faith, they all were figures. But in the constitution of this Church, our blessed Lord did not overlook the ancient pattern of heavenly things, nor forget the nature of man.
1. The first point to which I would call your attention, is the fitness and utility of Religious Ordinances. There are in truth, no such obvious, simple, and universal means of preserving communities distinct, and manifesting their members to the world and to each other, as characteristic rights and peculiar badges. Nature prompts to the use of them; for the savage of the woods has the song and the ceremonies of his ancestors, and by the gashings and daubings with which he disfigures his form, denotes his tribe. Reason and policy have discovered their utility; for the armies of the ambitious have their uniforms and their standards; and almost every nation has its mode of naturalising subjects, its oaths of allegiance, and its arms. Indeed so fit and necessary are they, that few communities continue long without them, or survive the loss of them; and they who denounce all rites as useless, are obliged to recur to peculiarity of dress, of phrase, or of gesture, when they would be known to each other, and distinguished from the world. Hitherto our observations have been of a general nature applicable go any community. What, then, shall we say of the propriety and importance of rites and ordinances, in the service of religion? To the Jews, God appointed a system of ceremonies, to connect them together, and shadow forth the sublime subjects of faith to their understandings. And our adorable Redeemer instituted for His followers a baptism, which should represent their “death unto sin, and new birth unto righteousness”; and a supper, in which they should commemorate the foundation of all their hopes and joys, His offering Himself in the body once for all. Religious ordinances are of unspeakable advantage, in uniting members of the same body, and attaching them affectionately to each other. They form a kind of visible chain connoting men together; the first and last links of which are connected with God. Community of interest begets confidence; and while we are pursuing the same objects, under consciousness of the saint infirmities, but with reliance upon the same hopes, we are filled, involuntarily, with affection for each other. This strikingly illustrated in the natural tendency, and no doubt was strong in our Redeemer’s view at the gracious institution, of the Lord’s Supper.
2. There arises from the nature of the Christian ordinances, a peculiar necessity for an authorised ministry. These sacraments are of high and holy import. Like the ark of the covenant, they are not to be carried by unhallowed hands. They are seals of an engagement between God and men. They are compacts between the Almighty Father and His repentant children, in which He pledges Himself, upon condition of their faith and obedience, to give them the pardon of their sins, the blessings of His Spirit, and the enjoyment of eternal life. And who can sign the covenant of such mercies unto men, but they who act in God’s behalf? And who can act in God’s behalf, but they who act by God’s authority? Not, that in those to whom this ministry is committed, there is any elevation above the ordinary qualities of their fellow beings. “We have this treasure,” says St. Paul, speaking of the great Christian behests entrusted to the ministry, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
3. Here we are brought to notice the obligations, which the truths we have been considering devolve upon ministers and people. The first and most obvious inference is, that it is incumbent upon us all to respect and observe the institutions of the Gospel. But the truths we have been considering, press upon our observation the holiness, and importance, and duties of the ministry. They are the keepers of the fountain, which is set open for mankind to wash in from sin and from uncleanness, and they are the dispensers of the word, by which we are instructed in righteousness, and begotten again to the blessed hope of everlasting life. Under the Christian dispensation, much more than under the Jewish economy, should there be written upon the foreheads of the priesthood, and upon all their sacred vestments, “Holiness unto the Lord.” But, finally, we must remark, that there arises from what has been said, an obligation upon the people to abide by, and cooperate with those, who are regularly appointed to minister in holy things. In vain will God have instituted ordinances in the Church, in vain will He have established in it pastors and teachers, if the body of Christians neglect, or profane, these sacred institutions, or with Gallio’s temper, “care for none of these things.” (Bishop Dehon.)
1 Samuel 9:26
It came to pass about the spring of the day.
The spring of the day
“The time was to the day what spring is to the year. The diurnal revolution of the earth round its own axis corresponds with the annual revolution of the earth round the sun, and the different periods of the day--morning, noon and night--therefore resemble the different seasons of the year--spring, summer, autumn, and winter. According to this beautiful analogy, the spring of the day embraces the early hours after sunrise. Nowhere is the spring of the day so delightful as in Palestine, for later on it becomes oppressively hot. The people do all their travelling and most of their work in the early morning. Saul commenced that, fateful journey homeward from the hill village of the prophet which led to the throne of Israel in the spring of the day. Ah! what difference that first setting out in life, from the hill of Juph in the spring of the day from the dark closing of his life on Mount Gilboa in the dreary winter of the day.” (Hugh Macmillan, D. D.)
1 Samuel 9:27
Bid the servant pass on before us.
Samuel and the young man Saul
This was Samuel’s third interview with this goodly young man. This time he spoke to him with great closeness of personal application, sending the servant out of the way that he might say things to him which nobody else might hear. He tried to speak to the young man’s inmost soul. The prophet felt a deep solemnity, his whole heart saying every word that fell from his lip. I think I hear his earnest tones, and accents sweetened by a great love, for Samuel loved Saul, and it was his affection which made him speak so earnestly and pointedly. This time the preacher would hold you fast, as if he said to each one, “I will not let thee go unless thou givest thy heart to Christ, and become His servant from this very hour.”
I. First, let us think upon the attention which he requested. He said to the servant, “Pass on before us,” and he passed on. Bid the servant pass on; forget for a while your business, forget your family, forget your joys, forget your sorrows. I wish I could so speak that men would say of my preaching what they said of Whitefield’s. One man said, “Whenever I went to church before, I calculated how many looms the church would hold”--for he was a weaver--“but when I heard Whitefield I never thought of a loom.” Another said, “While I have been in church I have often built a ship from stem to stern; but when I heard Mr. Whitefield I could not lay a plank; he took my mind right away from such things, and occupied me with higher thoughts.” The next point in the attention requested was the desire that he would “stand still a while.” I pray you bask in the gospel as men do in the sunlight when they would be warm. Let the gospel have its own legitimate effect upon you. Lay bare your bosom to it. Ask that your soul may have no stone of carelessness laid upon it, as though it were a dead thing in a sepulchre, but that it may come forth in resurrection life through the quickening word of the Divine Spirit. Is not this what the word of God deserves? Should it not have our living, loving attention? When God speaks let all be silent. I have heard that the great clock at St. Paul’s can scarcely be heard in Cheapside, by reason of the traffic that is going on; and so the most solemn voices are drowned amidst the din and uproar of our business, and we do not often hear God’s voice, unless we are accustomed to give ourselves a little quiet and holy stillness, and sit in our chamber alone, and say, “Now, Lord, commune with me.” As the Word of God deserves such quiet attention, it certainly is only by such attention that it is likely to bless us. I remember a child who used to be noted for great attention during sermon, and his mother, noticing his deep earnestness, asked him why He said, “Because, mother, I heard the preacher once say that if there was a piece of the discourse that was likely to be of good to our souls, Satan would try to make us lose it; and as I do not know which part God will bless me by, I try to hear it all, and to remember it all.” Oh, when people come to listen to the preacher with such a spirit as that, it is sweet work to preach. But many things arise to prevent this attrition. You cannot get some folks to be still, they are so frivolous; you cannot make them think. Some men dread the process of thinking, almost as much as they would a touch of the “cat” on their backs. They cannot bear to consider and meditate. God has distinguished them above brutes by giving them the faculty of thought, but this high privilege they try to ignore. Do stand still a while, and let nothing come in to break the silence of your spirit, while you listen to the voice of God. I would earnestly persuade every one here who is not saved to get an hour alone somehow.
II. The subject upon which Samuel discoursed with Saul, or rather the subject about which I would discourse at this time, if I am so happy as to have secured your ear. The subject is the Word of God. That God should give us a Word at all is very gracious. It is wonderful that he should condescend to speak to us, because we cannot understand much: we are like little children at the very best. In the particular word of God which Samuel spoke to Saul there was some likeness to the message which I am bound to deliver to you! Samuel spoke to Saul about a kingdom, of which this young man should be the king. Little did Saul dream that on this day the kingdom should be given him, and little dost thou dream of it perhaps as yet; but I pray thee let me show thee the word of God, for thou mayest yet find a kingdom there, a kingdom for thee, a crown of life for thee which fadeth not away, and a seat at the right hand of God with Christ in the day of His appearing.
2. Samuel not only spoke about the kingdom, but he showed him the word of God by an anointing Thou sayest, “I am not capable of high and noble things.” Thou shalt be made capable, for in the day when God anoints thee thou shalt receive strength,--“To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.” Thou shalt receive enlightenment and illumination by the Divine unction of the Holy Ghost.
3. Samuel spake to Saul about another matter, namely, about a change that he should undergo. Hast thou never heard that God can create thee for the second time? can destroy in thee the power for sin, and bring thee under another dominion, and make thee an eager after right as thou hast been after wrong, and make thee as happy in the service of Christ as ever thou wast in the service of the devil, ay, and ten thousand times more so? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Stand thou still a while that I may shew thee the Word of God.
Communications from God to Man
The text suggests two remarks concerning Divine communication to man.
I. They are necessary to qualify him for the discharge of his obligations. Saul was about assuming an office of enormous responsibility, and Samuel felt that a knowledge of the “Word of God” was of primary importance to him. “I may shew thee the word of God.”
1. The word of God is essential to enlighten us as to our duty. On no subject has man made greater mistakes than on that of duty. The greatest sages of the old world blundered terribly on this point. But how clearly it is unfolded in the Divine Word! “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” “Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God,” “Whatsoever ye would that men would do unto you do ye even so to them.”
2. The word of God is necessary to stimulate us in the discharge of our duty. Where else can we find motives strong enough for this purpose.
II. That patient waiting is necessary for the reception of these communications. “But stand thou still a while that I may shew thee the word of God.” God’s voice cannot be heard in the hurry and bustle of life. There must be the halt and the hush, the pause and the quiet.
1. “Stand thou still a while” to listen. The ear must be opened. “Incline thine ear,” etc.
2. “Stand thou still a while,” to interpret. Ponder the meaning, pass from the sound to the sense, from the symbol to the substance.
3. “Stand thou still a while,” to apply. Apply the meaning to your own condition, experience, circumstances. Conclusion:--The words may be legitimately applied to all the good who are pressed down with the trials of life. To every tried saint I might say, “Stand thou still a while,” and
(1) Thou shalt have a solution of those intellectual difficulties that embarrass thee.
(2) Thou shalt be delivered from all the moral infections that grieve thee.
(3) Thou shalt be freed from all afflictions that oppress thee. (Homilist.)
Samuel and Saul
I. Samuel found much that was good in Saul. A cluster of excellencies incidentally present themselves in this chapter.
1. Saul had reverence for his father. He promptly obeyed his father; yet he was “from his shoulders and upwards taller,” etc.
2. Saul was no idler. He was no stranger to work; yet his father was “a mighty man of power.”
3. Saul was not particular as to the kind of work he did. We have his photograph in verse
2. Yet this splendid young man went in search of the lost asses: no person who is usefully employed is ignobly employed.
4. Saul found teachers everywhere. He listened to and was advised by his servant: he was guided by young maidens.
5. Saul was very modest and humble (1 Samuel 9:21).
II. Samuel touches the one guiding principle of a true life, “Stand thou still a while . . . ”This is the world’s only safe guiding star. Whoever would live a true life must often say with the child Samuel: “Speak Lord for . . . ”
1. Sometimes we are tossed by restlessness. Soul satisfaction, heart rest, are far from us. These are eagerly but vainly sought in company, pleasure, business, intellectual pursuits; what is wanted? A teacher to say in tones that will compel attention. “Stand thou . . . ”
2. Sometimes we are moved by covetousness. Men get the hunger of gold, and houses, and lands upon them. O, that some prophet of God would stand across their path, and in ringing tones that would make them pause, tremble, and repent, say: “Stand . . . ”
3. Sometimes we are pressed by difficulties. We must take care how we get free; Satan will be quite ready to help us; but he will not do it for nothing; he is a lawyer who never goes without his fee. Find one who with eyes bent upon this book will say: “Stand . . . ”
III. Saul’s great disasters and his final overthrow were the results of his neglect of “the Word of God.” Saul made a good beginning, but a terribly sad ending. Alas! what numbers do the same. (R. Berry.)
It is not easy to stand still
Now, there is Saul, a great, big, six-and-a-half-foot man, and broad in proportion. Head and shoulders above his fellows, full of health and strength and flesh and blood, full of his own plans and his own purposes; and Samuel virtually says, “Saul, halt! I can do nothing until I arrest you and get you to stand still, body and soul, to listen to the word of God.” Now, there, Sauls, I speak as a Samuel. I have all the same--ay, and more--reason, if I am God’s messenger at all, and if you believe in God and that there is anything in the preacher’s gift, the offered Lord Jesus Christ, then give me your full attention. “Stand still,” and it is not easy. Did you ever, when you were young, take your father’s spirit level out of the long pocket, as I used to take my father’s out of the moleskins, and try to hold it straight and steady, There you were, watching the little bead in the glass, and you think you have it dead level in the middle, when, without any motion you are aware of, it bangs away to the far end, then back again to the other. Why? There is a movement--the very coursing of your blood through your veins disturbs the balance. My friend, the devil counts on that trouble to spoil the Gospel. He knows that we are just set on wires--that he can fool or annoy with this, that, or the other thing. He knows how easily the balance is upset, and he is forever upsetting it. I sympathise with Samuel, coming to that big, healthy young giant, and saying, “Saul, stand still a bit, that I may show you the word of God.” Oh, I know you are still as regards your body, but I will do no good till I get your mind, which is as sensitive as the quicksilver, arrested: and with God’s help I will. (John McNeil.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent