Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call on the LORD to send thunder and rain, so that you will know and see what a great evil you have committed in the sight of the LORD by asking for a king."
1 Samuel 12:8-12. (GILGAL.)
1. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (ver. 8). "It hath pleased the Lord to make you his people" (ver. 22). Of his own free and gracious will, always founded in perfect wisdom, he raises up a people from the lowest condition, confers upon them special blessings and privileges, and exalts them to the most eminent place among the nations of the earth (Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26, 27). As it was with Israel, so has it been with other peoples. His right so to deal with men cannot be questioned, his power therein is manifested, his undeserved goodness should be acknowledged, and the gifts bestowed employed not for selfish ends, but for his glory and the welfare of mankind.
II. THE SINFULNESS OF MEN. "They forgat the Lord their God" (ver. 9). So constantly and universally have men departed from God and goodness as to make it evident that there is in human nature an inherited tendency to sin. "It is that tendency to sinful passions or unlawful propensities which is perceived in man whenever objects of desire are placed before him, and laws laid upon him." As often as God in his great goodness has exalted him to honour, so often has he fallen away from his service; and left to himself, without the continual help of Divine grace, his course is downward. "In times past the Divine nature flourished in men, but at length, being mixed with mortal custom, it fell into ruin; hence an inundation of evils in the race" (Plato. See other testimonies quoted by Bushnell in 'Nature and the Supernatural'). "There is nothing in the whole earth that does not prove either the misery of man or the compassion of God; either his powerlessness without, or his power with God" (Pascal).
III. THE CERTAINTY OF RETRIBUTION. "He sold them into the hand of Sisera," etc. (ver. 9).
"The sword of Heaven is not in haste to smite,
IV. THE BENEFICENCE OF SUFFERING. "And they cried unto the Lord, and said, We have sinned," etc. (ver. 10). Underneath what is in itself an evil, and a result of the violation of law, physical or moral, there is ever working a Divine power which makes it the means of convincing men of sin, turning them from it, and improving their character and condition. A state of deepest humiliation often precedes one of highest honour. It is only those who refuse to submit to discipline (Job 36:10) and harden themselves in iniquity that sink into hopeless ruin.
V. THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER. "And the Lord sent...and delivered you," etc. (ver. 11). "Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses" (Psalm 107:6, 13, 19, 28). As it was with Israel throughout their history, so has it been with others, even those who have had but little knowledge of "the Hearer of prayer."
"In even savage bosoms
VI. THE PREVALENCE OF MEDIATION. "Then the Lord sent Moses and Aaron" (ver. 8). "And the Lord sent Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel" (ver. 11). He sent help by men specially raised up and appointed, and deliverance came through their labours, conflicts, and sufferings. One people also has been often made the medium of blessing to others. And herein we see a shadowing forth of the work of the great Mediator and Deliverer, and (in an inferior manner) of his people on behalf of the world.
VII. THE INCREASE OF RESPONSIBILITY on the part of those who have had the experience of former generations to profit by, and who have received higher privileges than they (vers. 12, 19). "Now all these things were written for our admonition," etc. (1 Corinthians 10:11). "Two things we ought to learn from history: one, that we are not in ourselves superior to our fathers; another, that we are shamefully and monstrously inferior to them if we do not advance beyond them" (Froude). - D.
I. THAT UNFAVOURABLE WEATHER IS SOMETIMES SENT BY GOD IN PROOF OF HIS DISPLEASURE. On the occasion before us it is distinctly stated to have been so; this happened again and again in the history of Israel. The prophet Amos refers to this. (Amos 4:6, 8). And we all call to mind the terrible drought which happened to the kingdom of Israel during the reign of the wicked Ahab, when for the space of "three years and six months it rained not." Now, before we begin to ask God to send us favourable weather, and to revive our trade, would it not be well for us to ask ourselves whether we have done anything as a nation justly to merit judgment at the hands of God? We are accustomed to talk about our country as a "Christian country." Is it really so? If so, what are the evidences of its being so? Listen to what God says by His prophet on this matter to ancient Israel. (Isaiah 1:11-16.) In other words, the national religion that God demands is a religion founded on righteousness or right doing. Judged by this test, surely there is abundant room for the inquiry whether, as a nation, we have not deserved God's judgments. For instance, look at the social vices which are rife in our midst. Think next of the large amount of commercial depravity which exists! What cheating and overreaching are current in business transactions! Judged by the standard of righteousness, how does the political life of the nation appear? What about the opium wars, in which this country engaged with China a few years back? And yet, in face of all these unrighteousnesses, we expect a God of righteousness — a God who has revealed Himself as "of purer eyes than to behold iniquity" — to regard us with favour, and to hear our prayers for national blessing.
I will call unto the Lord, and He will send thunder end rain.
1. How near to God he seemed to live! He was always in Divine communion, and possessed the ear of the Almighty Father. He prayed, and the answer thundered through the air and deluged the ground. He spoke to men as the vice-regent of God, and the people trembled in his presence. But his nearness to God was not so close as is the privilege of the humblest believer in New Testament times.
2. How powerful is prayer! This was Samuel's greatness His intimacy with God was fully used in prayer. It was his highest means of doing good. The outer effort had the inner prayer. His labour among men was implemented by his wrestling with God. Prayer was the secret of his strength and of his happiness. Prayer is still powerful. It is receiving illustrations in our own day on a scale of grandeur and extent not equalled in any age of the Church. People have believed in the power of prayer, have felt its necessity and its efficacy. Conversions have been more largely the result of prayer than of preaching. Thus John Newton wrote in his journal: "About this time I began to know that there is a God who hears and answers prayer." Prayer is the strength of your soul, for it takes hold of God. Samuel's word to the people was with power. It was not until this special witness from God awakened them that they confessed, "We have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king." It, is striking how long sin can remain upon a comparatively enlightened conscience without causing fear. But when the guilt is felt, compunction is often more agonizing than that which the sharp arrows of a first awakening produce.
3. They now sought Samuel's intercession. They knew him to be a man of prayer, and intensely concerned in their spiritual good. They therefore sought his aid in their distress. It is true that many have wished the intercession of the godly, without any personal desire to seek God: — as Pharaoh, when be entreated Moses to pray on his behalf; and as Simon Magus, when he asked St. Peter to plead that the evil threatened against him might not come; and as those who, fearing death to be near, attach a saving value to the prayers of the godly, whose counsels they had been despising. But though such may not receive a benefit from prayers offered by proxy, the prayers of a righteous man avail much in behalf of the awakened sinner. If you know the power of prayer, you cannot, without guilt, cease to intercede on behalf of your friends, acquaintances, and others. Is this intercession, a feature of your personal religion? It is specially important that anxious souls should seek the prayers of the people of God. God has pledged his word to receive the returning sinner, the repenting prodigal, the trembling backslider. "The Lord will not forsake His people for His great name's sake; because it hath pleased the Lord to make you His people." Thus Samuel reasoned with the children of Israel in their distress of soul. Thus did the faithful Samuel seek the spiritual conviction of the people. It was by declaring the truth, and abounding in prayer. Apart from the miraculous, this is the constant means of blessing attached to the ministry still.
Outlines from Sermons by a London minister.I. THAT THIS INCIDENT WAS A MIRACLE IS EVIDENT. This instance is a parallel to that which occurred in Egypt (Exodus 9:23). It is to be remarked that Samuel spoke confidently as to the issue of his prayer, "The Lord shall send," etc.
2. Because the thunder and rain came at a season of the year in which, in the natural course of things, they are never heard or seen in Canaan. "Is it not wheat harvest today?" The time of harvest in this country is often a time of much thunder and rain, but this is not the case in the land where this miracle was wrought.
3. The effect of the storm upon the minds of those who witnessed it was such as to make it evident; that they regarded it as a supernatural manifestation.
II. THE INTENTION OF THE MIRACLE. It was sent as an attestation of the blamelessness of Samuel's administration as judge of Israel. It was at the same time a token of God's displeasure at Israel's present wilfulness. Samuel's expressions of displeasure were thus shown to be a message to them from the God whose rule they had treated so lightly. Lessons: —
1. Whenever a nation rejects God, such rejection will be followed by signs of God's displeasure.
2. The continuance of a nation's greatness depends upon the relation of individual members of it to the Living God. The beauty of the garden depends upon each flower being placed in right relations to the light.
3. The servants of God sin against Him when they neglect to pray for their fellow countrymen (ver. 28).We should pray for them —
1. Because they are our fellow creatures (1 Timothy 2:1).
2. Because, as a body politic, we have an interest in their right relations to God (1 Corinthians 12:26).
3. Because national love ought to be an element in every Christian's character (Romans 10:1).
(Outlines from Sermons by a London minister.)
II. THAT PRAYER FOR FAVOURABLE WEATHER IS A FIT SUBJECT FOR PRAYER. "But," asks some, "do you not believe in the laws of nature as fixed, unalterable?" Most certainly we do; but, at the same time, we hold that it is not unreasonable or unscientific to pray for the modification of these laws. By the laws of nature we do not mean mere blind, unintelligent forces ruling the universe, but forces or powers which are under God's control, forces, indeed, which are God's modes or methods of carrying on the government, of the natural world. Now we maintain that it is perfectly reasonable, and in entire accordance with scientific facts, that these laws should be capable of modification at the will of God, for to modify a law is not to suspend or to abrogate a law. Take an illustration from the matter before us — viz., the supply of rain. Rain falls through the law of condensation. The vapour in the atmosphere is condensed, and falls in the form of rain. Now, vegetation, trees and shrubs in particular, is favourable to the condensation of vapour, and, consequently, to the production of rain. Cut down the trees in a given tract of country, and the result will be a lessening of the rainfall. The law by which the vapour is produced remains in force, and the law of condensation remains in force, and yet the rainfall is diminished. Now, this is just what has happened in the land to which the text refers. Our argument, then, is this, if man has power to modify the weather, it is surely not unscientific or unreasonable to deny this power to God. He from whom all natural laws derive their power, and to whom they owe their allegiance, must be capable of modifying them at His will, and if sufficient reason exist why we should appeal to Him — if the temporal welfare of a whole people depend upon the weather — it is fitting that we should lay the matter before Him in prayer. But after all the main subject of our prayer should be that as a nation we should learn righteousness. It is permissible for us to pray for a return of national prosperity; but, above all, let us pray for the return of the nation, as more than one of our statesmen has expressed it, "to sanity and the Ten Commandments." If, is manifest that if this is to be the case we must be righteous as individuals. A righteous nation is composed of those who are individually righteous. A nation cannot be righteous in the mass without being righteous in its units.
Your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the eight of the Lord, in asking a king.
1. And here we may note a striking illustration of that peculiarity in the arrangements of Providence by which a combination of seeming casualties becomes subordinated to the purposes of the Almighty, and chance is made a minister, to effectuate and perform His will For, observe, Saul had been appointed, in the eternal decrees of Heaven, to take charge of the new kingdom; and yet, for all this, lots are to be cast, to determine who the new king should be. But in "casting the lot into the lap," man has done all that he can do; "the disposing thereof" rests "with the Lord;" and nothing can hinder, but that this lot shall find out the right person. Human contingencies are Divine certainties. All chance is only unseen design. God marshals accidents, as man originates plans; save only, that the plans may fail of their intended aim, whilst the accidents never can.
2. A ranted prayer is not always a sanctioned prayer; and it will be time enough to rejoice in the blessing we have been seeking for when we find that "the Lord addeth no sorrow with it." "The prayer of the wicked" is often turned "into sin;" and the prayer of the impatient is almost sure to be turned into misfortune. God does exercise His authority over our lives, and He claims to exercise it over our desires as well. He forbids all presumptuous wrestlings with the course of His own Providence: all usurpations of His right to shape, direct, and regulate all our plans of life. Why is everything to be "according to our minds?" We would fain choose our own path. We would set up ourselves as infallible judges of what may be best and happiest for us. We judge of the fruit by its appearance, and not by its taste; we are satisfied with the breadth of the way, and never think of the end of the way. We would have a king, like the nations, to reign over us, and forget that "the Lord our God is our king." Learn, then, to tremble at your own success, whenever your impatient anxiety for some temporal good has, as it were, turned the channels of Divine Providence out of their usual course; when you have, so to speak, coerced the Almighty into a concession which the whole aspect of His Providences indicated His intention to keep back. If the door does not open of its own accord you must not force it. The concession, sooner or later, must be fatal to you. In letting you have your own way God has only laid down the sceptre to take up the sword; He has loosened "the cords of love," but it is to bind you with fetters of iron. He has given you a king, to lead you to the battles; but He will no longer "go forth with your armies," or crown your endeavours with victory. When we know that we have done, and are doing, that for which the arrow of God's pursuing judgments must be flying after us, it were better for our soul's peace that it should overtake us at once. The tardiness of its flight in time may be only to gather its more deadly poisons for eternity. And bitter as it may be to bear God's temporal chastisements, it were better to feel them than not to feel our own sin.
3. The instrument chosen of God for bearing His remonstrance to the Jewish nation, was the same venerable prophet. "A word spoken in season, how good is it!" How often do the arrows of the truth fall blunt and powerless upon the soul, from their not being aimed at the right time! We commonly allow the fault and the reproof to come too close together. We forget that a little interval between them would allow the offender time to think; the offended time to cool; and both, when the grace of God should so incline them, the opportunity and time to pray. Had Samuel uttered his bold remonstrance to the Israelites, under the first keen sense of the insult they had offered him, he would probably have been answered with scorn; but having waited till they supposed he had forgotten their unkindness, he beholds them now meekly outranking for an interest in his prayers. Such of you as are parents particularly I would exhort you to imitate Samuel's example in this respect. The expected reproof, even in children, is seldom a profitable reproof. Pride is on the alert; conscience has taken the alarm; and the whole artillery of excuses and self-justifications are being prepared for the encounter. But let the taste of sin have time to turn bitter on the tongue; let the sense of the wrongfulness of your children's fault be heightened by the tenderness which, on your part, seems to have passed it entirely by; nay, let the time for calling them to account be that when you are showing them marks of continued kindness — and you will then find that pride will have nothing to answer; the convicted heart will be ashamed of its excuses; and wondering at this unexpected and undeserved forbearance, they will say with the penitent Israelites before us — "We have sinned; we have forsaken the Lord; pray for thy servants to the Lord thy God."
4. How many souls have perished from the desire to be "like the rest of the nations!" Things which men care little about for themselves, they yet desire and discountenance, because they would not displease others. They cannot pay the price of a holy singularity. "I cannot," says one, "bid adieu to scenes of vanity and folly, to the midnight revel and dramatic blasphemy, because I should be unlike all the nations." I cannot, in the multiplied occupations and intercourses of life, make profession of godliness, without at the same time bearing a witness against the nations; against their principles, which are opposed to Christ. Conformity to the world, or friendship with the world, can only be obtained at one price — enmity with God. What was Pilate's motive for staining his hands with the life-blood of the Son of God? He was "willing to content the people." Hear, then, the words of the Lord — the words of Samuel, yea, the words of all the prophets, God hath ever sent to you. They are as eloquent of mercy as the harvest thunder was eloquent of power. "Fear not. Ye have done all this wickedness;" ye have made for yourselves a king — a king of your wealth, a king of your pleasures, a king (it may be) of your griefs and cares. But if ye will now turn aside from this folly, and serve the Lord with all your heart, following no commands but His, desiring no smile but His, depending on no righteousness but His, and no longer like the rest of the nations, trusting to those vain things which can neither profit nor deliver, rest assured that, as Samuel declared to the Israelites, "the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name's sake." Yes, the glory of that great name is bound up with, and brightened and magnified by a thousand pardons The Redeemer's brow shall be illumined with a yet brighter radiance, and angels' bosoms throb with a yet diviner joy at each sinner that repenteth.
(Daniel Moore, M. A.)
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