Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in to her.…
The text speaks of one who has trifled once too often. He has allowed some influence, it scarcely matters what, to steal from him the secret of his strength. He has parted with it by his own folly — in a certain sense, with his eyes open — and yet he treats it as still recoverable by the exercise of quite a common kind of effort and of resolution. "I will go out," he says, "as at other times before, and shake myself." In vain. The strength is gone from him, and the Lord with it. Such is the parable; and to every thoughtful hearer it is its own interpreter. There is in many men, perhaps in most men, an erroneous idea, in two respects, of the free agency and the free will. We exaggerate to ourselves, in the first place, what is sometimes called the bondage of the will. It is an article of our religion, that we cannot of ourselves either will or do the thing that we ought. This, which is all true in its place — true as a reason for humility, and true as a motive for prayer — becomes a terrible falsehood on lips which utter it as an excuse for indolence, or as a sufficient explanation of any neglect or any sin by which we may be dishonouring God or giving an ill example to our generation. On the other hand, the same man who has pleaded the bondage of the will in excuse for his own negligences, follies, and sins will be the first to exaggerate his freedom in reference to the reparative powers of the future. "I have but to resolve, any day, and I shall shake myself free — free from the chain of habit, free from the binding force of past action, and from the connection, of yesterday and to-morrow in the living man of to-day" — this is language quite familiar to us all, in the ear, if not in the heart. In this state of mind we exaggerate our freedom, as in the other we unduly disparaged it. The real bondage of the will lies in the having sinned away the freedom. It would be easy to apply this general experience to the various departments of the life. "I will go out, as at other times before, and shake myself." Thus speaks the man who has allowed some influence of evil to fasten itself upon his conduct, and yet refuses to regard the fetter as anything more than a daily separate willing, which could any morning be reversed and willed into the opposite. The doctrine which that man wants is the true doctrine of the bondage. Tell him that to-morrow, if he does not take heed, he will be a slave; tell him that "whosoever committeth sin is sin's bondman"; tell him that, for anything he knows, by to-morrow the Lord may have departed; tell him that this one night's sinning may be to him like that fatal sleep upon the knees of the traitoress, which cost Samson eyesight and life — "I made haste and prolonged not the time" is his one chance; the dream of liberty is not false only, for him, but fatal; let him awake and cry mightily unto God, if so be He may yet this once hear him, that he perish not. We cannot doubt that the same delusion has place in the faith as well as in the life. There are thousands at this moment dallying with scepticism, who would be terrified if they thought that they could not at any moment go forth from it all and shake themselves free. A man may count himself free to believe or to disbelieve; he may even set himself above his own scruples, and say, "To-morrow, if it so pleases me, I will go out and shake myself free of them"; but, in reality, he is fastening them upon himself to-day by the very postponement, and to-morrow, if it ever dawn upon him, may find him one from whom God Himself has departed. There is in us all, as God has created us, a marvellous elasticity of mind, body, and estate. The recuperative power is perhaps the greatest of His gifts. We have seen it wonderfully exemplified on the bed of sickness. We have seen it wonderfully exemplified in the fortunes of men and nations. We have seen it wonderfully exemplified in the moral being. Some terrible flaw there was, in early days, in the character; some vice of untruthfulness, or some worse vice still, brought disgrace and punishment after it into the school-life and into the young home. But, by the blessing of God upon discipline tempered with love, a new growth of honesty and of purity showed itself in the life, and a noble career of usefulness and honour obliterated, long before death, the very memory of the sad beginning. We have seen it wonderfully exemplified in the one higher region, of the spiritual life. Once there was carelessness; once there was unbelief; once there was scoffing: but the blessed promise of the "last first" had place, by the grace of God, in the history as a whole; and one of the brightest ornaments of the faith and of the Church has been the product of a "trying in the fire" which promised only, to the eye of flesh, scorching and scathing, if not destruction. This is one side of human experience. But there is another. The recuperative power is wonderful, but it has its limit. "Thus far and no further" is written upon it, or it would bring evil and not blessing with it. There is a point beyond which recovery is not. If we could foresee the exact moment at which, or the precise act by which, the limit of the possible recovery would be overpassed, it would be contrary to God's uniform dealing; it would but tempt to presumption on the way to it. No man knows exactly how many injuries he may do himself, in health or wealth, in conduct or faith, and be scatheless. He must take his chance. If he will trifle in any of these ways, there is no Divine Mentor to say to him, The next time but two, or, the next time but twenty, will be fatal. The man is standing aloof from God all the time, and by the nature of the case must look to himself alone for monition. Whatever has been said, and said truly, of the restorative powers of this being, there is another sense, and a yet more grave one, in which we must read the words, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." We speak now of the identity and the continuity of the life, which makes it utter childishness for a man to say suddenly to himself, "I will go out and shake myself, and I shall be another man." There is a mighty power in the will, there is a mightier power still in Divine grace; but the former cannot, and the latter could not consistently, isolate one period of the life altogether from another, or make that in the past, which was most of all to be regretted and mourned over, actually unmade or undone again, so as to be as though it had never been. All this is no reason for despondency. Although we are warned by the text that there is always a danger, for those who are living without God in the world, that they may, even without knowing it, overstep the limit of grace, and find God departed from them when they would shake themselves from their bonds, yet we must remember that all this is no matter of chance, caprice, or destiny; it is the result of a long process of sinning and neglecting, which need not be any man's; it is a loud call to awake and arise while we may; to seek God now while He certainly may be found, and, instead of trusting in our independent powers of recovery and self-amendment, to cast ourselves earnestly upon the help of His grace who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.