In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a Levite who lived in the remote hill country of Ephraim took for himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah.
I. TRUE HOSPITALITY SHOULD BE FOR THE SAKE OF THE GUEST, AND NOT THE HOST.
II. EXCESS OF HOSPITALITY MAY ENTAIL INCONVENIENCE AND WRONG UPON OUR GUEST.
III. WHERE HOSPITALITY IS OFFERED FOR SOME EXTRINSIC PURPOSE, IT LOSES ITS TRUE CHARACTER.
IV. CHRIST THE GRAND EXAMPLE OF THE HOST. His moderation; careful calculation as to needs of his guests; fulness of human sympathy; impartation of spiritual grace to the humbler viands. - M.
1. The Book of Judges is full of expressions of singular beauty. The springs of human action are bared and revealed to view with wonderful power.
1. Two things stand out in the narrative of Samson's career, as compared with the history of at least the majority of the other judges.(1) The other judges fight God's battles with the people at their backs. They simply give aid and point to a sense of rising strength, of impatience of subjection, of reviving national pride and religious zeal in the Hebrew people. Samson, on the contrary, stands utterly alone, fights his battle single-handed, is supported by no enthusiasm for the national cause, and not even by common loyalty on the part of his own comrades.(2) The other judges are chosen to their office as mature men, but Samson is set apart to his career as an unborn child. From his very infancy the sense of his vocation takes possession of him; as child and boy and youth it is making and moulding him, and preparing him for what he is to be. The explanation of these two characteristic features of his history, which distinguish it from that of the other judges, lies in this, that Samson's lot in life fell upon a period of utter national demoralisation. Israel had elapsed into subjection to the despised, uncircumcised Philistines. All national spirit was dying out, and the prestige of Jehovah was giving way before the prestige of Dagon. Now the only hope for the redemption of a society that has fallen into a condition of such lassitude, mental and moral, lies in the creation of a fresh and powerful personality.
Samson.Milton has been pronounced by the highest authority to be "one of the noblest dramas in the English language." It reminds us of the mystic touches and shadowy grandeur of Rembrandt, while Rembrandt himself and Rubens, Guido, David, and Martin are indebted to this heroic judge for several of their immortal pieces. I am aware that some look upon Samson merely as a strong man. They do not consider that the moving of the Spirit of Jehovah gave extraordinary strength to Samson for special purposes. His peculiarities are not remarkable, because of anything that we perceive foreign to fallen humanity in the kind or composition of his passions and besetting sins, but in the fierceness and greatness of their strength. Ordinary men now have the same besetting sins — passions of the same character, but they are diminutive in comparison with him, and are without his supernatural strength. It must be confessed in the outset that Samson's spiritual history is very skeleton-like. We have only a few time-worn fragments out of which to construct his inner man. Now and then, and sometimes after long and dreary intervals, and from out of heavy clouds and thick darkness, we catch a few rays of hope, and rejoice in some signs of a reviving conscience and of the presence of God's Spirit. "His character is indeed dark and almost inexplicable. By none of the judges of Israel did God work so many miracles, and yet by none were so many faults committed." As an old writer has said, he must be looked upon as "rather a rough believer." I like not to dwell on Samson as a type of Christ. We must at least guard against removing him so far from us by reason of his uniqueness of character as to forget that he was a man of like passions with ourselves. We must carefully discriminate in his life between what God moved him to do and what his sinful passions moved him to. The Lord raised up this heroic Israelite for us. He threw into him a miraculous composition of strength and energy of passion, and called them forth in such a way as to make him our teacher. And besides being a hero, he was a believer. God raised him up for our learning, and made him, as it were, "a mirror or molten looking-glass," in which we may see some of our own leading features truthfully portrayed, only on an enlarged scale.
(W. A. Scott, D. D.)
2. How, humanly speaking, was Samson prepared for his work?(1) To begin with, God made a cradle and a home for him. Samson's mother was a woman with a great soul and a large heart, to whom God was a reality; a woman who could not indeed fight God's battles and deliver God's people, but who lived with the upper storeys of her being in the unseen, and was possessed with a tremendous longing that there should be deliverance for Israel, that something heroic should appear in history, and that God should vindicate His might and grandeur above the heathen gods. Samson was born to a mother that longed for a boy, not that he might rise to comfort and ease, but that he might be lofty and heroic, and fight and, if need be, die for God and God's kingdom. To her son she transmits her hope, faith, and enthusiasm.(2) From a little child Samson felt something mysterious stirring in his soul, ay, and in his physical nature. Samson needed extraordinary gifts for extraordinary work. He had, single-handed, by his own solitary prowess, to cow the Philistines and reanimate the courage of the Hebrews.Two things were needful for him:
(1) (2) (Professor W. G. Elmslie.)
(2) (Professor W. G. Elmslie.)
(Professor W. G. Elmslie.)
2. Samson was inspired and sent forth with a heavenly mission. Yet second motive was the frequent spring of his actions.
3. There is a vigour, width, and absence of detail or accurate plan about his proceedings which stamp him still more as a man of genius and bold conception.
4. But there is a further remarkable feature in Samson's case. He became the slave of his wife. The same mind around which a mother wound the soft coils of maternal and home influences a wife bound round with the adamantine chains of female plot and management.
5. But we have to account for this and see its force.(1) In ordinary terms Samson was a man of genius. Genius is a more direct gift from God than the ordinary power of man. It is a species of inspiration. It sees the means of deliverance from an evil without having to wade through the tortuous windings of the labyrinth of hard-worked, plans and schemes.(2) The man of genius is left with the simplicity of a child from never having commenced his hard task in the school of experience and difficulty. He leans with the trust of infancy on the natural stays and supports of life. Men of genius will be subject to the tyranny as well as consolations of inferior influences; and will often become the slaves and victims of female narrowness and punctilio. Their dependence on natural affections is accounted for by the same cause which accounts for their sometimes unaccountably sinking under the extravagant exercise of that influence. Not having had the need to manage others by elaborate plans, they are duped by overmanagement, and not having been called on to work out schemes, they fall the ready and easy victims to those devised by others.
6. We are often startled by inconsistencies in Samson's history. They may be accounted for by the same reason — genius. The man of genius is not therefore of necessity a man of personal holiness. The glass tube may be the medium of streams of water, yet not one drop will imbue the substance forming the channel that conveys the fertilising drops from one spot to another. The eternal truth which a man speaks, the holiness he may bear witness to, the warnings he may proclaim, may all be declared with the utmost efficiency, and yet not influence him who is the medium.
(E. Monro, M. A.)
The Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times
(C. E. Searle, M. A.)Judges 13:5). To enable him to fulfil this peculiar ministry, the possession of extraordinary physical strength, accompanied by an unequalled daring, were the special gifts bestowed upon him. These began early to manifest themselves. From the first they are traced back in the sacred record to the working of that exceptional influence which rested upon him as a "Nazarite unto God." In spite of actions which seem at a first glance to us Christians irreconcilable with such a spiritual relation, the occurrence of his name under the dictation of the Spirit in the catalogue of worthies "who through faith subdued kingdoms, stopped the mouths of lions, escaped the edge of the sword, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of aliens" (Hebrews 11:32-34), establishes beyond a doubt the fact that he was essentially a faithful man. As we look closer, we may see that passing signs of such an inward vitality break forth from time to time along the ruder outlines of his half-barbarous course. Surely there is written large upon the grave of the Nazarite judge, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God." There are those in whom, in spite of remaining infirmities, there is a manifest indwelling and inworking of God the Holy Ghost — men whose lives are rich with the golden fruit of His inward life. Their life, without a word spoken, has an untold influence upon others. Be they young or old, they are God's witnesses, God's workmen. Far outside these is another circle. These are men of whom it is not possible to doubt that the Spirit of God "has begun to move them at times." There are plain marks of a hard struggle going on within them; more or less they are conscious of it themselves. The good they would they do not, the evil they would not that they too often do. Perhaps their youth is stained with something of the waywardness, the sensuality, and disorder which marked that of the Nazarite Samson; and yet there is another Spirit striving within them. What a strife it is! with what risks, with what issues! The master temptation of one may be to yield the Nazarite locks of the purity of a Christian soul to the Philistine razor of sensual appetite; to another it may be to surrender to the fair speeches, or perhaps the taunts, of some intellectual Delilah, the faith which grew up early in his heart; his simple trust in God's Word, in creeds, in prayers, in Christ Incarnate. "Trust to me," the tempter whispers, "this secret of thy strength, and I will let thee rest at peace and enjoy thy life in victorious possession of all that thy mind lusteth after." It is the old promise, broken as of old. Beyond that yielding what is there for him but mockery and chains, eyelessness and death? And yet, once again, another class is visible. There are those who, though the Nazarite life is theirs, show to the keenest searching of the longing eye no token of any moving by the blessed Spirit. In some it is as if there had never been so much as a first awakening of the Spirit's life. In others there is that which we can scarcely doubt is indeed present, active, conscious resistance to the Holy One. This is the darkest, dreariest, most terrible apparition which this world can show. Here, then, are our conclusions.
1. Let us use, simply and earnestly, our present opportunities, such as daily prayer. Let us regularly practise it, in spite of any difficulties. Let us watch over ourselves in little things even more carefully than in those which seem great.
2. Let us guard against all that grieves Him.
3. Let us each one seek from Him a thorough conversion. In this thoroughness is everything — is the giving the heart up to God, is the subduing the life to His law, is all the peace of regulated passions, all the brightness of a purified imagination.
(Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)I. HERE WAS A MAN OF SURPASSING PHYSICAL STRENGTH. His distinction was, that in splendour of muscle and sinew none could approach him, and hence his popularity and the high position he acquired. In a later age and a more advanced state of society it would not have enthroned him thus. But these are the earliest masters, these are the primitive heroes, the men who can do great things with their limbs. Afterwards, the dominion is taken from them and given to the largest brains. Now, Samson was simply mighty in muscle and sinew. Unlike most of the other judges he does not appear to have possessed the slightest military genius or enterprise, nor any power of combining his countrymen in opposition to their enemies, or inspiring them with spirit and desire to fight for liberty. There was no generalship in him, and no gift for leading. He had but massive, magnificent limbs, and went in, straightway, for applying them to the help of Israel without caring or aiming to be more and other than heaven had qualified him to be. Is it not a grand thing always to perceive the line along which we can minister, and to be willing to pursue it, and able to keep to it, however narrow or relatively inferior it may be. Not a few would be more successful and more useful than they are were they but more bravely content to be themselves — did they but accept more unreservedly the talent committed to them, and study more simply and independently to be faithful to it. Samson's gift was not much, was not of the highest kind. It was far below that of other judges in Israel, nor did it produce any great results. Is it not possible that the reported mighty deeds of the redoubtable Nazarite of Dan had something to do in moving Hannah to set apart her boy, the boy for whom she had prayed, to be a Nazarite from his birth? Samson may have contributed to give to Israel the greater Samuel. "I, too," he had stirred the woman in Mount Ephraim to say to herself — "I too, would fain have a son devoted to work wonders in the cause of God's people; let me make sacred for the purpose this new-born babe of mine!" and out of that came, not a mere repetition of the same wonder-working strength, but something infinitely superior — even the wisest, noblest, and most powerful judge the land had ever seen. And so, often, they who are doing faithfully, in quite a small way, on quite a small scale, may be secretly conducive to the awakening and inspiring of grander actors than themselves. There are those who, with their rough and crude performances, with their honest yet blundering attempts, with their dim guesses and half-discoveries, do prepare the way, and furnish the clue for subsequent splendid successes on the part of some who come after them.
II. But observe WHAT SAMSON'S COUNTRYMEN THOUGHT OF HIS AMAZING PHYSICAL STRENGTH, AND HOW IT IMPRESSED AND AFFECTED THEM. They ascribed it to the Spirit of the Lord: "The Spirit of the Lord came upon him." That was how they looked at it. Their mountains were to them more than mountains, they were the mountains of the Lord, and the might of their mighty men was the might of the Lord. It is worth cherishing, this old Hebrew sense of the sacredness of things; it helps to make the world a grander place, and to enhance and elevate one's enjoyment of all skills and powers displayed by men. Samson's chief value lay, perhaps, after all, in the one inspiring thought which his prowess awakened — the thought that God was there; for it is a blessed thing to be the means of starting in any sluggish, despondent, or earth-bound human breast some inspiring thought. Good work it is, and great, to be the instrument of putting another, for a while, into a better and holier frame, of leading him to be more tender, more patient, more finely sympathetic, or more believing in the Divine government of things, and in the reality of the kingdom of God.
(S. A. Tipple.)
I. Consider, then, HOW LOW GOD'S PEOPLE HAD FALLEN THROUGH THEIR UNFAITHFULNESS TO HIM, and their many departures, though they had only been a short time ago brought into a land flowing with milk and honey. Ammon, Midian, and Moab had all conquered them in turn. Now it was the Philistines, with a little country bordering on the sea coast, and with five chief cities, and yet they oppressed God's people! They would not let them have any weapons, and their very ploughs had to be sharpened at a Philistine forge. They constantly made raids upon them. It was a sore humiliation when Germany marched right up to Paris, dictated terms to the conquered in their own great Palace at Versailles, and made them pay heavily before they would go home. But suppose it had been Belgium! And yet Philistia answered somewhat to that: so low and weak do men become when they depart from the living God. But then it was that the Lord in wrath remembered mercy, and sent them Samson, a mighty deliverer. Deborah and Barak had delivered them before. Gideon and Jephthah had kept up the bright succession, and now Samson entered into it, and for a long time made the Philistines tremble. Never were such wonders known as he wrought, and the oppressions of the Philistines soon came to an end. O sunny, strong, stout-hearted Samson, how much good you might have done if you could have ruled yourself as well as conquering your foes! But there he failed, and so all was a failure. He was a Nazarite, and so never took any wine, according to the Nazarite vow, and yet he was completely overcome by the lusts of the flesh. It was not in vain that the net had been spread in the sight of the bird. He had seen the wicked Delilah and the savage Philistines spreading it together, and had been taken in it just the same. The same razor that cut his hair, the sign of his strength, could have cut his throat at any time. But for a few months he lingered on in penitence and prayer, whilst his hair grew once more — the sign, though not the source, of his strength. And then came a great day in Gaza, when they gathered to glorify their god Dagon in thousands. So with one tremendous effort of his new-found strength down came the columns, and down came the temple, and down came the people, and "the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life." So when they thought themselves most secure their sport was turned to woe, and in an hour when they looked not for it their destruction came,
II. But now let us look at SOME OF THE LESSONS WHICH THIS REMARKABLE STORY IS DESIGNED TO TEACH.
1. And the obvious one on the face of the whole narrative is the poor figure that mere physical strength cuts. There are three sorts of strength — physical, intellectual, and spiritual — and the greatest of these is spiritual. If this be lacking, the other two are of little use. Later on, Solomon was an example of how mental power is of little worth without true godliness. Samson is an example of great strength of body, but he becomes the fool and the plaything of wicked women. There is a great deal of attention paid to physical strength to-day, but it is a poor thing at the best. "Bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness is profitable unto all things." We may have very strong muscles and very weak resolutions, and when the greatest strength is secured it is very inferior to that of the gorilla. God only "began" to deliver Israel in Samson's day, it is significantly said. The real and effective deliverance came later on, when Samuel, the wise and the good, judged Israel for a long time, and David carried on his moral and spiritual reformation.
2. But, further, let us never rely on certain moralities if we are failing in obedience to God. Samson was not devoid of all spiritual strength. He was a Nazarite from his birth, and the vow of the Nazarite, of which he is the first example, included abstinence from wine and all similar drinks. There is a false sympathy as well as a true, and its influence is to misinterpret and condone evil. So we are perpetually told by a certain class of writers that Charles I. may have been a great public sinner, but he had excellent private virtues. He may have been, as declared in his sentence, "a tyrant, a traitor, a murderer, and a public enemy," but he was a good husband and a good father. He broke his coronation oath a hundred times, but then he always kept his marriage vow. He was an awful tyrant, but he took his little son on his knee and kissed him. He was a dreadful liar, but he went to the prayers in his chapel sometimes at six in the morning. So, well may Lord Macaulay exclaim, "If in the most important things we find him to have been selfish, cruel, and deceitful, we will take the liberty to call him a bad man, in spite of all his temperance at table and all his regularity at chapel."
3. Let us remember that the badge of our consecration is largely the pledge of our strength.
4. Yea, let the very Dagon worshippers teach us some such lesson. When Samson was caught, like some wild beast, they all gathered together to do honour to their fish-god Dagon. It was nothing to do with Dagon, but instead of honouring Delilah and the lords of the Philistines who had enticed her, they had a great assembly to do honour to their god. They said, when they saw Samson, "Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us." There was not quite enough of this in Samson, even when he had his strength. When he slew his thousand Philistines it was, "I have done it." Yes, we may often learn from those that have not our light. The Mohammedans believe many a lie and strong delusion, but this is what Mr. Wilson says of them in "Uganda and the Egyptian Soudan": "These Arabs are most regular in performing their devotions, even on the march. I noticed frequently sand on their foreheads, chins, and noses, from their prostrations during prayers. The sand is never wiped off, as it is considered a mark of honour on a believer's face." Oh, let us keep before us the true mercies and blessings of the true God, and pay our vows unto the Most High!
(W. J. Heaton.)
(J. Vaughan, M. A.).
Samson went down to Timnath.
(W. A. Scott, D. D.)1. That the people of God are liable to imperfections. They are human, though partakers of grace.
2. That our lusts and passions are to be resisted. Scenes of temptation ought to be avoided, and our greatest earthly joys ought to be regarded by us as pregnant with temptation, and be carefully watched.
3. That care should be taken in forming friendships or alliances.
4. That a crooked policy does not eventually profit. Samson's wife burnt by those to whom she betrayed her husband.
5. That God frequently works good out of evil; and that God's purposes are frequently accomplished by means of persons and events apparently least adapted, or even most opposed.
6. That though God may pardon our sins, their consequences in this life are frequently irremediable. The Spirit of God came again upon Samson, but his eyes were never restored, and he perished in the destruction of his enemies.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
It was of the Lord1. This verse has been very strangely and very unfortunately misunderstood by many. It has been thought to mean(1) That Samson was moved by the Spirit of God to desire this marriage; and(2) that Samson desired to enter into it for the purpose of finding occasion to quarrel with the Philistines.
2. This view seems open to three fatal objections.(1) The silence of Samson about any such movement of the Spirit of God.(2) It makes God inspire Samson to go contrary to the spirit of His own law.(3) It is opposed to the whole spirit of the narrative, which impresses one with the idea that Samson was sincere in his passion.
3. The marriage was of God, as the conquest of Nebuchadnezzar or the treachery of Judas, inasmuch as He permitted it and overruled it for bringing Samson into collision with the Philistines, and introducing him to the grand work of his life.
A young lion... and he rent him1. Physical strength is not an index of moral power. That this man was mighty the lion and the Philistines found out, and yet he was the subject of petty revenges, and was ungianted by base passion. Oh! it is a shame that so much of the work of the Church and the world has been done by invalids, while the stout and the healthy men, like great hulks, were rotting in the sun. Richard Baxter, spending his life in the door of the tomb, and yet writing a hundred volumes and starting uncounted people on the way to the saints' everlasting rest. Giants in body, be giants in soul!
2. Strength may do a great deal of damage if it is misdirected. To pay one miserable bet which this man had lost, he robs and slays thirty people. As near as I can tell, much of his life was spent in animalism, and he is a type of a large class of people in all ages who, either giants in body, or giants in mind, or giants in social position, or giants in wealth, use that strength for making the world worse instead of making it better. Who can estimate the soul-havoc wrought by Rousseau going forward with the very enthusiasm of iniquity and his fiery imagination affecting all the impulsive natures of his time? Or wrought by David Hume, who spent his lifetime, as a spider spends the summer, in weaving silken webs to catch the unwary? Or by Voltaire, who marshalled a host of sceptics in his time and led them on down into a deeper darkness?
3. A giant may be overthrown by a sorceress.
4. The greatest physical strength must crumble and give way. He may have had a longer grave and a wider grave than you and I will have, but the tomb was his terminus.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
(J. McNeill.)1. The victory over the lion of unbelief.
2. The lion of temptation.
3. The lion of a rebellious spirit.
4. Death, the last enemy, shall also be vanquished.
He told not his father or his mother
(John Bruce, D. D.)
Honey in the carcaseI. IT IS THROUGH DIVINE STRENGTH THAT VICTORIES ARE WON.
1. The Spirit of the Lord came mightily on Samson. God trains men for the work they have to do; if they are to be deliverers, saviours, then their training shall be physical — as in the case of Samson; his conflict with the lion would prepare him for repeated encounters with the Philistines.
2. It was when Samson was about to enter public life that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. It is in the freshness of youth, before the mind is saturated with worldliness and the heart incrustated with selfishness, that there are Divine visitations.
II. LIFE IS THE HISTORY OF VICTORY AND DEFEAT. A man may slay a lion, but have no control over himself; he may be physically strong, but morally weak. Many of our defeats are to be traced to our self-confidence and self-love, to our forgetfulness of God. If we have won any victories, they are to be traced to Divine grace and strength.
III. PAST VICTORIES ARE NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN. On a subsequent occasion Samson turned aside to see the lion he had slain. God will not have us forget the past, or the way by which we have reached our present position (Deuteronomy 8:2-5). All our Sabbaths, and sacraments, and sermons, are always saying to us, "Thou shalt remember." They remind us of the great victory gained for us by the Captain of our salvation, in which we are permitted to claim our part.
IV. WE GET STRENGTH AND ENCOURAGEMENT FROM THE REMEMBRANCE OF PAST VICTORIES. If ever you have slain a lion, be sure that eventually it will yield you honey. You have overcome doubt — you have strengthened faith. You have vanquished sin — you have increased holiness. You have conquered fear — you have gained strength. We learn, too, that there is a Divine power ever at work in this world. From the secret place of thunder come forth the streams that make glad the world. The light is born in darkness. Good comes out of evil.
(H. J. Bevis.)
I. THE BELIEVER'S LIFE HAS ITS CONFLICTS. Learn, then, that if, like Samson, you are to be a hero for Israel, you must early be inured to suffering and daring in some form or other.
1. These conflicts may often be very terrible. By a young lion is not meant a whelp, but a lion in the fulness of its early strength; not yet slackened in its pace, or curbed in its fury by growing years. Fresh and furious, a young lion is the worst kind of beast that a man can meet with. Let us expect as followers of Christ to meet with strong temptations, fierce persecutions, and severe trials, which will lead to stern conflicts. These present evils are for our future good: their terror is for our teaching.
2. These conflicts come early, and they are very terrible; and, moreover, they happen to us when we are least prepared for them. Samson was not hunting for wild beasts; he was engaged on a much more tender business. He was walking in the vineyards of Timnath, thinking of anything but lions, and "behold," says the Scripture, "a young lion roared against him." It was a remarkable and startling occurrence. Samson stood an unarmed, unarmoured man in the presence of a raging beast. So we in our early temptations are apt to think that we have no weapon for the war, and we do not know what to do. We are made to cry out, "I am unprepared! How can I meet this trial? " Herein will the splendour of faith and glory of God be made manifest, when you shall slay the lion, and yet it shall be said of you that "he had nothing in his hand" — nothing but that which the world sees not and values not.
3. I invite you to remember that it was by the Spirit of God that the victory was won. We read, "And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid." Let the Holy Spirit help us in our trouble, and we need neither company nor weapon; but without Him what can we do?
II. THE BELIEVER'S LIFE HAS ITS SWEETS. What is more joyful than the joy of a saint!
1. Of these joys there is plenty. We have such a living swarm of bees to make honey for us in the precious promises of God, that there is more delight in store than any of us can possibly realise. There is infinitely more of Christ beyond our comprehension than we have as yet been able to comprehend. How blessed to receive of His fulness, to be sweetened with His sweetness, and yet to know that infinite goodness still remains!
2. Our joys are often found in the former places of our conflicts. We gather our honey out of the lions which have been slain for us or by us. There is, first, our sin. A horrible lion that! But it is a dead lion, for grace has much more abounded over abounding sin. "I have blotted out thy sins like a cloud, and as a thick cloud thine iniquities." Here is choice honey for you! The next dead lion is conquered desire. When a wish has arisen in the heart contrary to the mind of God, and you have said, "Down with you! I will pray you down. You used to master me; I fell into a habit and I was soon overcome by you; but I will not again yield to you. By God's grace I will conquer you" — I say, when at last you have obtained the victory such a sweet contentment perfumes your heart that you are filled with joy unspeakable, and you are devoutly grateful to have been helped of the Spirit of God to master your own spirit. Thus you have again eaten spiritual honey.
III. THE BELIEVER'S LIFE LEADS HIM TO COMMUNICATE OF THESE SWEETS. As soon as we have tasted the honey of forgiven sin and perceived the bliss that God has laid up for His people in Christ Jesus, we feel it to be both our duty and our privilege to communicate the good news to others. Here let my ideal statue stand in our midst: the strong man, conqueror of the lion, holding forth his hands full of honey to his parents. We are to be modelled according to this fashion.
1. We do this immediately. The moment a man is converted, if he would let himself alone, his instincts would lead him to tell his fellows.
2. The believer will do this first to those who are nearest to him. Samson took the honey to his father and mother, who were not far away. With each of us the most natural action would be to tell a brother or a sister or a fellow-workman, or a bosom friend. It will be a great joy to see them eating the honey which is so pleasant to our own palate.
3. The believer will do this as best he can. Samson, you see, brought the honey to his father and mother in a rough-and-ready style, going on eating it as he brought it. Carry the honey in your hands, though it drip all round: no hurt will come of the spilling; there are always little ones waiting for such drops. If you were to make the gospel drip about everywhere, and sweeten all things, it would be no waste, but a blessed gain to all around. Therefore, I say to you, tell of Jesus Christ as best you can, and never cease to do so while life lasts.
4. But then Samson did another thing, and every true believer should do it too: he did not merely tell his parents about the honey, but he took them some of it. If your hands serve God, if your heart serves God, if your face beams with joy in the service of God, you will carry grace wherever you go, and those who see you will perceive it.
5. Take note, also, that Samson did this with great modesty. In telling your own experience be wisely cautious. Say much of what the Lord has done for you, but say little of what you have done for the Lord.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
He told not them that he had taken the honey
1. To secure that his parents might eat the honey. According to the ceremonial law, the honeycomb, from its having been in contact with a dead body, was unclean, and the likelihood is that, if the parents of Samson had known the fact, they would have refused to eat it. Such a motive for his silence would be indeed discreditable; but it does not seem likely that such minute particulars of ceremonial observance, in that degenerate period, would be present to the mind of a young man of about nineteen years of age.
2. The other reason — and probably the true one — is, that he might ensure the success of his riddle at the marriage feast. Samson was gifted with a quick wit and ready invention. He saw, as he walked along, how the circumstance of getting the honey out of the carcase of the lion might be turned into a riddle for the entertainment of his guests, and so, in order to make sure that no inkling of it might get abroad, he resolved to keep it a secret. He was manifestly a young man who could keep his own counsel.
I will now put forth a riddle unto you
1. This general observation may be applied to those painful convictions and apprehensions which sometimes harass the minds of beginners in religion. Many who have felt the deepest sorrow for sin have afterwards possessed the greatest degree of religious joy, and have "loved much, because they knew that much was forgiven." Thus, then, "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness."
2. The same may be said of divers temptations with which a Christian may be exercised.
3. It is the lot of many, of very many good people, to be poor. Yet, even here, they gather honey from the carcase of the lion; for their various troubles give occasion for the exercise of humble resignation to the sovereign will of God. Constant dependence upon God is thereby promoted. Thankfulness is another fruit of sanctified affliction; for such is the ingratitude of our hearts, that we are scarcely sensible of the value of our mercies but by the loss or suspension of them. Another advantage which may be gained from poverty is, that the Christian is led to seek the things that are above.
4. Apply this sentiment to the person who is grievously afflicted with severe pains and bodily afflictions. "We have borne chastisement; we will not offend any more," then is the purpose of Divine goodness in the visitation accomplished (Psalm 119:67, 71).
5. Domestic trials may produce the same advantages (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).
6. The same may be said with regard to disappointments in our worldly affairs.
7. Persecution is another of those evils to which the people of God are exposed. As long as there are men "born after the flesh," there will be hatred and opposition against those who are "born after the Spirit." But out of this unpromising lion sweet honey has been procured.
8. The subject may even be extended to death itself. The death of Christ, though "according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God," was effected by the cruel hands of wicked men. But bitter as seemed this event to the disciples; what ever produced so much sweetness? Apply this also to the death of believers. Nothing to nature is so formidable as death; it is the king of terrors; and through the fear of it, many are all their lifetime subject to bondage. Such, indeed, is the carcase of the lion; but search and see: is there no honey within? Is there nothing to lessen the terrors of the tomb, and reconcile man to the grave? Yes; there is much every way. The sting of death is extracted. And not only so, but death is gain. The Christian leaves a troublesome world, a diseased body, a disordered soul, to be with Christ, to behold His glory, to be perfectly like Him.Conclusion:
1. Let us be led to adore the wisdom and goodness of God in bringing good out of evil.
2. On the contrary, it is painful to reflect on the state of worldly and wicked men, who are unhappily so entirely under the power of sin and Satan that they continually extract evil even from good.
3. What an argument may we derive from this subject for the commitment of ourselves and all our concerns into the hands of an all-wise and all-gracious God!
(G. Burder.)I. In the HISTORY OF CIVILISATION we see how honey comes from the lion, rich fruitage from conflict. Men at first dwelt in caves. Navies were then only in forests, and railways in the mountains. Men's necessities goaded to effort. Even in Eden sinless man toiled; much more must sinful man toil. Think of the poverty and pains of Elias Howe, through long years of weary effort, before he perfected the sewing-machine; of the obscurity and penury out of which the great emancipator came who rent the lion of American slavery and rescued the slave; and of Him whom we worship as the Saviour of the race — if you would justly estimate the value and significance of disciplinary trial.
II. THE CONFLICTS OF THE CHURCH illustrate the same. In the glens and on the moors of Scotland thousands have fallen martyrs in struggles against superstition, etc.
III. INDIVIDUAL HISTORY. You are a business man. The prosperity you have has been gained by toil. These are the sweets that came from the lion of poverty and toil. You are a parent, and have suffered tribulation in the loss of dear ones. Good comes out of it if you love God, somehow, as purity comes to the atmosphere after the thunderstorm. I saw recently, in the gallery of the Royal Academy in Edinburgh, the face of St. Paul painted with an encircling cloud full of angels. It held me as no other picture, and I thought that every cloud which darkens the believer's way is full of angels, if he did but know it. Conclusion: There are three ways of conquering a foe — you may knock, talk, or live him down. Choose the last. Though others are bad, be yourselves good.
(C. Easton.)1. I do not see anything wrong in Samson making a feast, as the young men used to do. It belonged to the bride and her friends to say what its details should be. In so far, then, as he could comply with the customs of her people without sinning we find no fault. The Bible does not require us to be proud, mopish, rude, supercilious, or ill-behaved. The want of genuine politeness is no proof of true religion.
2. At weddings it was common to have games, riddles, and the like amusements. An old scholiast on Aristophanes is quoted by Dr. Clark as saying that it was "a custom among the ancient Greeks to propose, at their festivals, what were called griphoi, riddles, enigmas, or very obscure sayings, both curious and difficult, and to give a recompense to those who found them out, which generally consisted either in a festive crown or a goblet full of wine. Those who failed to solve them were condemned to drink a large portion of fresh water, or of wine mingled with sea water, which they were compelled to take down at one draught, without drawing their breath, their hands being tied behind their backs. Sometimes they gave the crown to the deity in honour of whom the festival was made; and if none could solve the riddle, the reward was given to him who proposed it." It were a much better way to spend our time at seasons of merry-making in expounding enigmas and riddles than in slandering our neighbours or in gluttony or excessive drink. At our weddings let there be entertainment for the mind, as well as employment for the palate. Our social habits and opportunities should be diligently employed in doing and receiving good. At the wedding all goes on merrily. Sport and play are in the ascendant. The cup-questions were as sparkling as the cups. Many were the passages at Wit. At last Samson is aroused. He says, "I will propose a riddle." If they solve his riddle, he is to pay thirty changes of raiment. If they fail, they are to pay him one change of raiment apiece. Samson had an odd humour generally of pitting himself against great odds. No doubt he thought himself sure of victory.
3. The solution is given at the appointed hour. Josephus paraphrases the interview thus: "They said to Samson, 'Nothing is more disagreeable than a lion to those that light on it, and nothing is sweeter than honey to those that make use of it.' To which he replied: 'Nothing is more deceitful than a woman; for such was the perfidious person that discovered my interpretation to you." He meant, doubtless, that without the assistance of his wife they could not have told the riddle. And on this plea, he might have disputed whether they were entitled to the forfeit.
4. Though betrayed and badly treated, Samson scorns to complain, but goes right off to procure the means to pay his forfeit. He was neither a cruel husband nor a repudiator.
5. Samson's "anger was kindled, and he went up to his father's house." Anger is as natural as a smile. His wife's treachery was a just cause of anger, and his going up to his father's house at this time showed unusual prudence and forbearance. When he returned to Timnath to pay the forfeit, he seems not to have seen his wife. But lordly as Achilles, and quite as angry and proud in his self-consciousness of unmerited wrong and impulsive ferocity, he strides off home to his father and mother. It was not wise for him to trust himself in his wife's presence when the sense of his wrongs was so warm within him. "But Samson's wife was given to his companion, whom he had used as his friend." That is, she was given by her father and the chiefs of the town in marriage to his first groomsman. Although she had but little liberty in the matter, still no doubt she was glad the Hebrew was gone, and that she was the wife of his friend. How far Samson was justified in leaving his wife is not altogether clear from the text. Most probably he did not intend a final separation, although this was the result.
(W. A. Scott, D. D.)
(T. L. Cuyler.)Luther, a man of gigantic force and grasp; before whose fixed will and undaunted perseverance the Papacy itself totters. And yet in the familiar talk which happily survives to tell what manner of man he was, how kindly he shows himself, how gentle, how full of domestic cheerfulness and mirth, how loving to little children! So perhaps in Luther's master, Paul, it is the strength which dared and endured so much that first makes its mark upon us: we marvel at the inexhaustible energy which founded so many churches, traversed the civilised world hither and thither, survived such various hardships, could know no pleasure, enjoy no rest, so long as an opportunity remained of speaking a word or winning a soul for Christ. And yet, as we look more closely, we note how this restlessly energetic apostle is still the prophet — I had almost said the poet — of Christian love; keeps his sway over men's minds by the charm of sweetness. On the other hand, it is peculiar to that type of character which we call the saintly to make an impression of sweetness, which diverts attention from the hidden strength within: that St. Francis should draw hearts of like pulse to his own, and live the centre of a brotherhood of love, we can understand; while that he should be a power in the Church for centuries, begetting spiritual sons through generation after generation, is a fact that startles us into the search for its explanation. But the consummate instance of this kind of character is the Master Himself. In Him men see and feel the sweetness, but they have to learn the strength. They are swayed, but so gently that they are hardly conscious of the force, which nevertheless they are unable to resist. These examples are all taken from the high places of humanity: let us look a little nearer home. We may admit without any difficulty that there is a strength which has no sweetness in it; which puts itself forth and strives towards its own ends, without caring what other forces it jostles against, or even what hearts it tramples on; which, wholly self-centred, goes on its way with all the hardness which comes of pure and unalloyed selfishness. But whether such strength is not in its nature partial and incomplete, whether its very lack of sweetness does not argue a certain narrowness of scope and meanness of aim, I will rather ask than pause to prove. With all the finest strength we associate the idea of magnanimity; and what we call "greatness of mind" has in it precisely the quality which I attributed to the powers of nature, of being concerned with things on the largest scale, and yet easily and unconsciously bending to things on the least. This, however, is not the point to which I chiefly ask your attention; but rather that, though there is a sweetness of disposition, undoubtedly genuine and lovable after its kind, which does not co-exist with force of character, the truest and noblest sweetness is that which "cometh out of the strong." For this last is no mere yieldingness and flexibility of heart, which is willing to take men for their outward seeming and at their own valuation, but a keen and large discernment of what elements of nobleness are really in them; not a desire that the complicated machine of society should run smoothly, and unpleasant things be hidden out of sight, and a general pretence established that life holds no sin and is stained by no shame, but a true reaching forth towards the essential harmony in which all God's world is compact together, an aspiration after the peace which comes of all places filled and all rights respected.
(C. Beard, B. A.).
I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her.Genesis 3:12, 13). And the same spirit is commonly found still amongst all ranks and classes of wrong-doers. Frank and full acknowledgment of a wrong is exceedingly rare. In most cases the wrong-doer through self-love aims at making the wrong appear right, or as near to right as one may expect from fallible men; and in this endeavour to exonerate himself he is in great danger of blinding the eye of his conscience and tampering with the sanctities of truth. Hence it behoves us, in the interests of our moral nature, to abhor that which is evil and cleave to that which is good; and, when we have done wrong through weakness or the stress of temptation, frankly and at once to confess it. The person who does wrong and seeks to justify it, is morally on the down-grade.
Now shall I be more blameless than the PhilistinesRomans 5:3, 4; 2 Corinthians 4:17). We may deplore and abhor the wrongs which are perpetrated in the world and on the Church; but let us also gratefully behold this silver lining in the cloud, which comes from the gracious overruling providence of God.
Samson went and caught three hundred foxes
(W. A. Scott, D. D.)
The Philistines... burnt her and her fathercovertures, the noble Girondists, and then Robespierre lived only long enough to see the death of Danton before perishing himself by the same guillotine.
(W. A. Scott, D. D.)
The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon hime.g., who seem to lack the power of bursting the fetters with which the love of drink has bound and enslaved them. And what seems to be true of some in reference to particular vices is true of all in reference to the spirit of insubordination to the Divine will. All men are naturally rebellious; and this insubordination grows with our growth, and strengthens with our strength. But what is impossible to man in his own strength, in reference both to this spirit of rebellion and particular vices, is possible to man in the strength of the Spirit of God. Any man, the most enslaved, the most powerfully bound with the cords and fetters of sin and vice, may obtain his spiritual freedom. What he needs is that the Spirit of the Lord come mightily upon him, as He did upon Samson, and any man who sincerely prays for this wondrous endowment shall obtain it. This is the grand hope which Jesus Christ has brought to our race.
The jawbone of an asse.g., suddenly prompted by your conscience to say a word of rebuke to some profane or wicked person, or a word of warning to some one who is, as you know, casting off even ordinary restraints, and giving way to evil passions; but you feel your want of wisdom and fluency; you know you can never say a thing as it ought to be said — you wish you could, you wish you were well enough equipped for this, which you feel to be really a desirable duty. Now in such circumstances it is more than half the battle to attempt the duty with such weapon as we have, in the faith that God will help us. A rude weapon, wielded by a vigorous arm, and by one confident in God, did more than the fine swords of these men of Judah, who had no spirit in them; and in very much of the good that we are all called upon to do to one another in this world it is the spirit in which we do it that tells far more than the outward thing we do. And it is a good thing to be reduced to reliance, not on the weapon you use, but on the Spirit who uses you. Samson found it so, and gave a name to that period of his history where he learned this; and so does every one look back gratefully to the time when he distinctly became aware that efficiency in duty depends on God's taking us and using us as His weapons.
(Marcus Dods, D. D.)I. SAMSON FOUGHT THE BATTLE SINGLE-HANDED against three thousand men. It is a feature of God's heroes in all ages that they fight whether they are in the minority or the majority. God has wrought His greatest works through single champions.
II. SAMSON FOUGHT WITHOUT THE USUAL WEAPONS OF WARFARE. The Philistines were armed, but he had no sword. Well, now, what did Sampson do? A man that is raised by God for special work has keen eyes, as a rule. He sees what there is about him and to what use everything can be put. This moist bone had all its natural strength in it. Samson laid hold of that. He knew what he was about, and what he could do with that weapon, and he turned it to terrible uses.
III. SAMSON WON THE VICTORY WITH A POOR WEAPON. He was not one of those who excused himself for bad work by complaining about the tool he used. I have known some little boys at school, over whose copy books I have looked. When I have said, "Oh, here is a blot," they have replied, "Yes, but the ink bottle was too full." And so in many other instances I have noticed that bad writers blame the pens, and bad workers blame the instruments they have had to work with. If you see a bad carpenter, the plane is always wrong. On the other hand, if you see a good workman, he never blames his tools, but makes the best of them.
I. YOU HAVE ALREADY EXPERIENCED GREAT DELIVERANCES. Happy is it for you that you have not had the slaying of a thousand men, but there are "heaps upon heaps" of another sort upon which you may look with quite as much satisfaction as Samson, and perhaps with less mingled emotions than his, when he gazed on the slaughtered Philistines.
1. See there the great heaps of your sins, all of them giants, and any one of them sufficient to drag you down to the lowest hell. But they are all slain; there is not a single sin that speaks a word against you.
2. Think, too, of the heaps of your doubts and fears. Do you not remember when you thought God would never have mercy upon you? "Heaps upon heaps" of fears have we had; bigger heaps than our sins, but there they lie — troops of doubters. There are their bones and their skulls, as Bunyan pictured them outside the town of Mansoul; but they are all dead, God having wrought for us a deliverance from them.
3. Another set of foes that God has slain includes our temptations. Some of us have been tempted from every quarter of the world, from every corner of the compass. There has not been a bush behind which an enemy has not lurked, no inch of the road to Canaan which has not been overgrown with thorns. But look back upon them. Your temptations, where are they? Your soul has escaped like a bird out of the snare of the fowler.
4. So, let me say, in the next place, has it been with most of your sorrows. Like Job's messengers, evil tidings have followed one another, and you have been brought very low. But, in Christ Jesus, you have been delivered. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all."
II. YET FRESH TROUBLES WILL ASSAIL YOU, AND EXCITE YOUR ALARM. Thus Samson was thirsty. This was a new kind of want to him. He was so thirsty that he was near to die. The difficulty was totally different from any that Samson had met before. Now I think there may be some of you who have been forgiven, saved, delivered, and yet you do not feel happy. God has done great things for you, whereof you are glad, yet you cannot rejoice; the song of your thanksgiving is hushed. Let me say two or three words to you. It is very usual for God's people, when they have had some great deliverance, to have some little trouble that is too much for them. Look at Jacob; he wrestles with God at Peniel, and overcomes Omnipotence itself, and yet he goes "halting on his thigh!" Strange, is it not, that there must be a touching of the sinew whenever you and I win the day? It seems as if God must teach us our littleness, our nothingness, in order to keep us within bounds.
III. If you are now feeling any present trouble pressing so sorely that it takes away from you all power to rejoice in your deliverance, remember that YOU ARE STILL SECURE. God will as certainly bring you out of this present little trouble as He has brought you out of all the great troubles in the past.
1. He will do this because if He does not do it your enemy will rejoice over you. If you perish, the honour of Christ will be tarnished, and the laughter of hell will be excited. What! a Child of God forsaken of his Father! God will never permit the power of darkness to triumph over the power of light.
2. That is one reason for confidence, but another reason is to be found in the fact that God has already delivered you. I asked you just now to walk over the battlefield of your life, and observe the heaps of slaughtered sins, and fears, and cares, and troubles. Do you think He would have done all that He has done for you if He had intended to leave you? The God who has so graciously delivered you hitherto has not changed; He is still the same as He ever was. Bethink you if He does not do so He will lose all that He has done. When I see a potter making a vessel, if he is using some delicate clay upon which he has spent much preliminary labour to bring it to its proper fineness, and if I see him again and again moulding the vessel — if I see, moreover, that the pattern is coming out — if I know that he has put it in the oven, and that the colours are beginning to display themselves — I bethink me were it common delf ware I could understand his breaking up what he had done, because it would be worth but little; but since it is a piece of rich and rare porcelain upon which months of labour had been spared , I could not understand his saying, "I will not go on with it," because he would lose so much that he has already spent. Look at some of those rich vessels by Bernard de Palissy, which are worth their weight in gold, and you can hardly imagine Bernard stopping when he had almost finished, and saying, "I have been six months over this, but I shall never take the pains to complete it." Now, God has spent the blood of His own dear Son to save you; He has spent the power of the Holy Spirit to make you what He would have you be, and He will never stay His mighty hand till His work is done. "Hath He said, and shall He not do it? Hath He begun, and shall He not complete?"
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. One is that he is the Lord's servant he describes himself as "Thy servant." Samson, in all his hostile acts against the Philistines, evidently regarded himself as doing the work for which God raised him up.
2. The other is, that his recent glorious victory, which was a wonderful deliverance not only to Samson but to his country, was due to God: "Thou hast given this great deliverance." And after stating these two facts, he uses them as a plea for the relief of his present distresses: "And now shall I die for thirst...?" Surely God cannot allow such a disgraceful end to happen to His own servant, for whom He had wrought such a wonderful deliverance!
Then went Samson to Gaza.
(R. A. Watson, M. A.)
And went away with them, bar and all
I. LOOK AT OUR MIGHTY CHAMPION AT HIS WORK. You remember when our Samson, our Lord Jesus, came down to the Gaza of this world, 'twas love that brought Him; love to a most unworthy object, for He loved the sinful Church which had gone astray from Him; yet came He from heaven, and left the ease and delights of His Father's palace to put Himself among the Philistines, the sons of sin and Satan here below. There He lies silently in the tomb. He who is to bruise the serpent's head is Himself bruised. O Thou who art the world's great Deliverer, there Thou liest, as dead as any stone! Surely Thy foes have led Thee captive, O Thou mighty Samson! He sleeps; but think not that He is unconscious of what is going on. He knows everything. He sleeps till the proper moment comes, and then our Samson awakes; and what now? He has defeated death; He has pulled up his posts and bar, and taken away his gates. As for sin, He treads that beneath His feet: He has, utterly overthrown it, and Satan lies broken beneath the heel that once was bruised. In sacred triumph He drags our enemies behind Him. Sing to Him! Angels, praise Him in your hymns! Exalt Him, cherubim and seraphim! Our mightier Samson hath gotten to Himself the victory, and cleared the road to heaven and eternal life for all His people!
II. CONSIDER THE WORK ITSELF. We will stand at the gates of this Gaza and see what the Champion has done. He had three enemies. These three beset Him, and He has achieved a threefold victory. There was death. Christ, in being first overcome by death, made Himself a conqueror over death, and hath given us also the victory; for concerning death we may truly say, Christ has not only opened the gates, but He has taken them away; and not the gates only, but the very posts, and the bar, and all. Christ hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light. He hath abolished it in this sense — that, in the first place, the cause of death is gone. Believers die, but they do not die for their sins. The curse of death, then, being taken away, we may say that the posts are pulled up. Christ has taken away the after-results of death, the soul's exposure to the second death. There is no hell for you, believer. Christ has taken away posts, and bar, and all. Death is not to you any longer the gate of torment, but the gate of paradise. Moreover, Christ has not only taken away the curse, and the after-tumults of death, but from many of us he has taken away the fear of death. He came on purpose to deliver "those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Besides, there is a sense in which it may be said that Christians never die at all. "He that liveth and believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." "He that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die." They do not die; they do but "sleep in Jesus, and are blessed." But the main sense in which Christ has pulled up the posts of the gates of death is that He has brought in a glorious resurrection. If you have imagination, let the scene now present itself before your eyes. Christ the Samson sleeping in the dominions of death; death boasting and glorifying itself that now it has conquered the Prince of Life; Christ waking, striding to that gate, dashing it aside, taking it upon His shoulders, carrying it away, and saying as He mounts to heaven, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? " Another host which Christ had to defeat was the army of sin. Christ had come among sinners, and sins beset Him round. Your sins and my sins beleaguered the Saviour till He became their captive. In Him was no sin, and yet sins compassed Him about like bees. Sin was imputed to Him; the sins of all His people stood in His way to keep Him out of heaven as well as them. I may say, therefore, that all our sins stood in the way of Christ's resurrection; they were the great iron gate, and they were the bar of brass, that shut Him out from heaven. Doubtless, we might have thought that Christ would be a prisoner for ever under the troops of sin, but oh, see how the mighty Conqueror, as He bears our sins "in His own body on the tree," stands with unbroken bones beneath the enormous load. See how He takes those sins upon His shoulders, and carries them right up from His tomb, and hurls them away into the deep abyss of forgetfulness, where, if they be sought for, they shall not be found any more for ever. Then there was a third enemy, and he also has been destroyed — that was Satan. Our Saviour's sufferings were not only an atonement for sin, but they were a conflict with Satan, and a conquest over him. Satan is a defeated foe. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church; but, what is more, Christ has prevailed against the gates of hell. As for Satan, the posts, and bar, and all have been plucked up from his citadel in this sense — that Satan has now no reigning power over believers. He may bark at us like a dog, and he may go about like a roaring lion, but to rend and to devour are not in his power.
III. We will now see HOW WE CAN USE THIS VICTORY. Surely there is some comfort here. You have a desire to be saved; God has impressed you with a deep sense of sin; the very strongest wish of your soul is that you might have peace with God. But you think there are so many difficulties in the way — Satan, your sins, and I know not what. Let me tell thee, in God's name there is no difficulty whatever in the way except in thine own heart, for Christ has taken away the gates of Gaza — gates, post, bar, and all. They are all gone. Is not this an incentive for us who profess to be servants of Christ to go out and fight with the world and overcome it for Christ? Where Jesus leads us it needs not much courage to follow. "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof." Let us go and take it for Him!
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth
Homilist.Man has the power to turn bad things to a good account, and it is lawful and right for him to do so. On this principle we shall use these words of a bad woman to a not very good man to illustrate the ability and the inability of man.
I. THE INABILITY OF MAN; OR WHAT HE HAS NO "STRENGTH" FOR.
1. He cannot destroy the actions of his life.
2. He cannot bring back the neglected opportunities of his life.
3. He cannot blot out the sins of his life.
4. He cannot arrest the course of his life.
5. He cannot destroy the influence of his life.
II. THE ABILITY OF MAN; OR, WHAT HE HAS "STRENGTH" FOR. " I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Through the moral strength of Christ man can —
1. Reverse the ruling impulse of his past sinful life.
2. Make amends for the pernicious influence of his past life.
3. Remove from his own soul the pernicious influence of his past life.
4. Turn the very scene of his earthly life into a heaven.
I. The first response, with all the uniqueness and definiteness of inspiration, brings us face to face with God. The historian of the judges, with characteristic simplicity and directness, brevity and force, traces Samson's power, by one single and swift step, to Jehovah, and credits his marvellous triumphs to the mighty and immediate movements of the Divine Spirit. His birth is a Divine incident and his nurture the Divine care. He is reared according to the directions of God, and whilst still a young man "the Spirit of God moves him," "strikes" him repeatedly and with increasing force, as the smith hits and welds the glowing metal on the anvil with his hammer; "pierces him "through and through till his pain-born patriotism is unsupportable and he flings himself against the Philistines with the crushing weight of an avalanche. From first to last the hero's life is invested with the supernatural. Samson's power is moral, of the will and spirit, and not merely of bone and sinew. He is not a giant in body and a dwarf in soul. The Spirit of God is the underlying force of his character, and alone secures for him his rank in the long line of mediators of Divine truth, and agents of Divine revelation.
II. Now what is attributed to God directly and at once in the Old Testament is set down to the credit of Samson's "faith" in the New; and accordingly this Divine hero takes his place in the long roll-call of conquering believers, along with Abel and Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, Deborah and David. The language changes, but the fact is the same. It is the view-point that differs. The historian is seated on high, and reads Samson's career from beside the throne of the Eternal. The key-note is the same; both are struck in the high spiritual realm, but the note has different names in the different notations of the old and new economies. In the former case the answer to the question reads, "Samson is of God, and has overcome them; because, greater is He than is in him, than he that is in the world"; whilst the second case is expressed in the language of the same writer: "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." But this is not all. The new description is itself a positive addition to our knowledge — another ray from the Sun of Revelation. The same people do not describe the same facts in different ways without a motive. Fresh forces of the Spirit are at work meeting the fresh needs of living and suffering men, in a fresh and living speech, addressed to the heart and life. "True eloquence," says one of our most recent seers, "is to translate a truth into language perfectly intelligible to the person to whom yon speak." That is what the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews does. In a sustained stream of the purest and most exalted eloquence he translates the histories of Enoch and Noah, Moses and Samson, into the language of the Church and the street, brings them into vital touch with the feelings throbbing in the heart, and makes the Hebrew Christians to realise the unity of their lives, under the new and revolutionary conditions created by Christianity, with those of the fathers of the human race, the founders of the Hebrew nationality, and the prophets and leaders of the revelation of God. In becoming Christians they were not destroying the law and the prophets, but filling out their programme, advancing their ideals, and accomplishing their projects. We can only discharge our obligations to our age as we catch the spirit of the writers of the New Testament, make the use of the elder Christianity they made of Mosaism and Judaism, adopt a language that beats and throbs with the life of to-day, and so reveal the unity of human life, and of all ages in the living and loving God.
III. Bringing Samson, then, out of the ancient Eastern world, and looking at him in the full blaze of all the lights that shine on human character in its making, and on human struggle in its success and failure, what is the answer yielded to the demand, "Tell me wherein thy great strength lieth?"
1. No despicable advantage, surely, was that with which our hero started life. His being was stored with force at his birth. He had an uncommon, I may say, for that day, a uniquely opulent inheritance. He was "born of a good family," though in a bad time; a family that dwelt at the topmost heights of spiritual consecration, had grandly dared in the midst of seething vice and irreligion to choose the most self-suppressing type of personal and domestic life, and dedicate its energies to obeying the most strenuous law of living yet made known, even that of the Nazarite vow. No aspiration soared higher. No range of service was broader. No attitude was less open to question. No position made greater demands on courage, fidelity, and self-sacrifice. Can you estimate the spiritual wealth of such a descent? Have you any measure for the advantages of such a home? Would not every day be an acquisition of power, and may we not readily believe that as "the child grew the Lord blessed him"? Parentage and nurture are among the chief agents for continuing and advancing the spiritual welfare of the world; and so, whilst God was the fountain-head of all the power of Samson, one stream of the spirit-force assuredly came along the line of inherited sanctities and family training, constituting him the typical Nazarite, the chief example of that special phase of the Hebrew religion — at once of its splendid strength and of its possible weakness.
2. Again, Samson's Nazarism, practised from boyhood, nourished by a mother's watchful care, and intensified by his isolation from the rest of the world, must have exercised an incalculable power upon his mind, and fixed in the "porcelain" of his nature the faith that he had a supreme work to do for God, and was responsible to Him, till the last stroke was given. The man who means to do any real work in a brief life must know what not to do. Samson's vow was of signal service in teaching that. The root of his religion was separation, and his vow roused and stimulated his nature, opened his being to the access of God's Spirit with unresisted fulness and all-subduing might, developed the feeling of the sacred inviolability of his life, assured him he could not be hurt so long as he was faithful to his calling, and rendered him susceptible of that strength of will, heroic fearlessness, and resistless dash, which made him indomitable. Samson is a dedicated will; and once dedicated in will to God we are strong for God and by God.
3. The reputation of Samson has suffered from the grim humour marking some of his exploits and the gigantic and boisterous mirth that runs riot through some of his achievements. We men of the West set so high an estimate on strenuous earnestness, rigid intensity, and serious ardour, that we always prefer majesty to grace, sober sincerity to playful humour. The massive dignity and royal gravity of Milton win upon us, whilst the nimble pliancy and occasional sportfulness of Shakespeare are ignored. But we must not forget that great natures are rarely wanting in humour. Samson's natural cheerfulness; his light and cheerful temperament, sending forth a full buoyant river of mirth, was one of the sources of his strength, saving him from the weakness that, in a time of oppression and calamity, nurses care, frets away power, anticipates disaster, and wastes existence. Never quailing before the superiority of his foes, he is as sunny as he is strong, as bright as he is bold, and thus is able to husband his strength for the heaviest demand that the day may bring. Joy is a duty, and of priceless worth is the temperament that makes obedience easy, opening the soul to every genial ray that shines, and closing it to the access of brooding care and darkening anxiety.
4. It was one of the darkest hours in Israel's history. The tribes generally had lost heart and hope, and Judah was so disorganised that, instead of co-operating with Samson, they betrayed him into the hands of the common enemy. Here then was urgent need, and the need provoked and stimulated Samson's faith, as his vow had inspired it. Necessity was laid upon him. The Spirit of God moved him mightily by the sight of the work to be done, the widespread anarchy and confusion, and the vast suffering and misery. Consecrated souls are goaded to battle by the sympathetic pains they feel with the wronged and the oppressed. Oh, for the quick sympathy that sees in every lost soul a call to service, and in every national and social evil a Divine summons to a quenchless zeal in service for God and men!
5. But the function of Samson in revelation would be most imperfectly discharged for us if we did not recognise the teaching of his flagrant and ignominious fall. Nothing external, though it be the purest and best, can enable us "to keep the heights the soul is competent to gain." God, and God alone, is sufficient for continuous progress and final victory.
(J. Clifford, D. D.)
I. IN HIS EARLY CONSECRATION TO GOD. And just in proportion to the degree of our consecration will be the extent of our influence and success in the Divine service. We are weak in the ratio of what we reserve. Give up little for Christ, and we will accomplish little. Give up all, and we shall be more than conquerors through Him who loves us.
II. IN DOING THE WORK ASSIGNED HIM.
III. IN FIGHTING WITH THE WEAPON GIVEN HIM.
IV. SAMSON WAS PREPARED TO DIE FOR HIS CAUSE. And Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines." This was the Hebrew warrior's greatest and most heroic exploit. He gave his life for his country.
( R. Balgarnie, D. D.)
His soul was vexed unto death
(Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)
If I be shaven, then my strength will go from meI. LEARN HOW VERY STRONG PEOPLE ABE SOMETIMES COAXED INTO GREAT IMBECILITIES. Those who have the kindest and most sympathetic natures are the most in danger. The warmth and susceptibility of your nature will encourage the siren. Though strong as a giant, look out for Delilah's scissors.
II. THIS NARRATIVE TEACHES US THE POWER OF AN ILL-DISPOSED WOMAN. While the most excellent and triumphant exhibitions of character we find among the women of history, and the world thrills with the names of Marie Antoinette and Josephine and Joan of Arc and Maria Theresa and hundreds of others, who have ruled in the brightest homes and sung the sweetest cantos, and enchanted the nations with their art, and swayed the mightiest of sceptres, on the other hand the names of Mary the First of England, Margaret of France, Julia of Rome, and Elizabeth Petrowna of Russia have scorched the eye of history with their abominations, and their names, like banished spirits, have gone shrieking and cursing through the world. Woman stands nearest the gate of heaven or nearest the door of hell. When adorned by grace she reaches a point of Christian elevation which man cannot attain, and when blasted by crime she sinks deeper than man can plunge.
III. CONSIDER SOME OF THE WAYS IN WHICH STRONG MEN GET THEIR LOCKS SHORN. The strength of men is variously distributed. Sometimes it lies in physical development, sometimes in intellectual attainment, sometimes in heart force, sometimes in social position, sometimes in financial accumulation; and there is always a shears ready to destroy it. Every day there are Samsons ungianted. I saw a young man start in life under the most cheering advantages. His acute mind was at home in all scientific dominions. But he began to tamper with brilliant free-thinking. Modern theories of the soul threw over him their blandishments. Scepticism was the Delilah that shore his locks off, and all the Philistines of doubt and darkness and despair were upon him. He died in a very prison of unbelief, his eyes out. Far back in the country districts there was born one whose fame will last as long as American institutions. His name was the terror of all enemies of free government. He stood the admired of millions; the nation uncovered in his presence, and when he spoke senates sat breathless under the spell. The plotters against good government attempted to bind him with green withes and weave his locks in a web, yet he walked forth from the enthralment, not knowing he had burst a bond. But from the wine-cup there arose a destroying spirit that came forth to capture his soul. He drank until his eyes grew dim, and his knees knocked together, and his strength failed. Exhausted with lifelong dissipations, he went home to die. It was strong drink that came like the infamous Delilah, and his locks were shorn. Evil associations, sudden successes, spendthrift habits, miserly proclivities and dissipation, are the names of some of the shears with which men are every day made powerless. They have strewn the earth with the carcases of giant, and filled the great prison houses with destroyed Samsons, who sit grinding the mills of despair, their locks shorn and their eyes out.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
Made him sleep upon her knees
(E. P. Hood.)
The Preacher's Monthly.Learn how it was that Samson was shorn of his strength.
1. Because he was not equally strong in all directions.
2. Because he ventured too far into temptation. Samson allowed Delilah to bind him with green withes, etc. "He laid his head in her lap," etc. Beyond a certain point retreat was impossible.
3. Because he relied upon his own strength. He did not realise that his strength was from God. It is a sad experience that teaches men what Philip Melanchthon learned at last, "that Satan was stronger than Philip."
(The Preacher's Monthly.)
I will go out as at other times
I. THERE ARE, NO DOUBT, MANY SUBJECTS ABOUT WHICH WE HAVE LEARNED SOMETHING, AND ABOUT WHICH NEVERTHELESS WE KNOW VERY LITTLE AFTERWARDS, AND FEEL LITTLE INCLINATION TO MAKE EXPERIMENTS. This is, probably, the case with all sorts of studies except one; and that one varies in different persons. What would afford me extreme gratification might be to some one else a very wearisome pursuit; while his favourite subject would have no charms for me. And so he might have gained an insight into the nature of my pursuit, or I into the nature of his, without any danger of either of us injuring our prospects or losing our time by following the pursuit of the other to the neglect of his own. Now this safeguard, you will see at once, is wanting as regards the knowledge of evil. We have naturally a decided taste for wickedness. Here, then, is an answer to the common excuses for becoming unnecessarily acquainted with the evil that is being done in the world. It is admitted that the practice of sin is injurious. Well, the taste is so decided in your heart, that the likelihood of your stopping short and being satisfied with mere knowledge is reduced to almost nothing. In your own strength you surely cannot resist. Strength from on high how can you expect when you are tempting God? On what, then, are you to depend to preserve you from going beyond knowledge if you once get it? On nothing. Then you had better not have the knowledge.
II. But, besides this, IT IS A FACT IN OUR NATURE THAT THE DESIRE OF KNOWLEDGE IS CONNECTED WITH THE DESIRE OF SOCIETY. Now how will this work in the case under our consideration? The man who has acquired a knowledge of evil from pursuing it as a study, must seek for the society of those already acquainted with it, or of those not already acquainted with it. Of the former class — those already acquainted with it — how many of those he meets are likely to have stopped short at that point? and how many are likely to be satisfied so long as he stops short of it? But suppose, on the other hand, that the associates chosen be those to whom the knowledge of evil is new, and to whom it may be imparted. See what an infinity of mischief you are bringing about, even supposing — and it is a very wild supposition — that you avoid actually committing the sins about which you are so anxious to acquire and to impart knowledge! There is, literally, no end to the mischief. You have made yourself Satan's missionary. The effects of your first — perhaps thoughtless — effort you never can reverse.
III. There is yet another important practical evil resulting from the knowledge of sins, even though we neither practise them nor speak of them; that is, THE TENDENCY OF SUCH KNOWLEDGE TO DEADEN IN OUR OWN MINDS THE SENSE OF SIN AS SUCH, TO DIVERT US FROM VIEWING IT AS SOMETHING UTTERLY ANTAGONISTIC AND ABHORRENT TO A PURE AND HOLY GOD, as something so bad that to save us from it Christ, who was very God, died on the Cross. There are very many cases where repentance seems doubtful not so much from an unwillingness to abandon particular acts of sin, as from, apparently, an utter incapability to comprehend the nature of sin itself. So difficult is it when once we have left the path of safety, which we trod with the Divine aid, to return to it again — so impossible to come back to it as we left it. In presumptuous security we part with the innocence which was the secret of our success, forgetting that our strength was dependent upon its preservation. In an unfounded conviction that at any time a little effort will restore us to the position which we wantonly abandon, we do wantonly abandon it and slumber unconscious of our loss, until at last, like Samson in the text, awakened from our sleep we say, "I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself" — not knowing that "the Lord is departed from us." No words of mine could at all convey to you my deep sense of the inestimable benefit of following all through life the injunction of the wise man, "Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it. and pass away."
(J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)Miltons poem of Samson Agonistes. If so, let me remind you that the Samson of the Bible is not at all the Samson of the poem. Milton's tragedy depicts Samson as a stately, majestic, fallen hero, great and admirable in every respect, even in his overthrow. The Samson of the Book of Judges is quite another man. I do not think that he is, on the whole, a man whom you can possibly respect, though I think he is a man that you cannot possibly help liking. A boyish, sunny, radiant soul — keen for life as he understands it. Just the sort of man to be exposed to extra temptation by the very qualities that were fitted to make him so popular. Aye, we too need that natural and happy hopefulness in God's campaigns — and we have too little of it. We are too sour and grim, we who fight His battles. And yet, I think, there is a false ring in Samson's laughter. There is just a touch of the crackling of the thorns under the pot, of the noisy laughter of the fool. The youth of him was the best of him; and that is a hard thing to say of any man. The strongest man of his day, he was about essentially the weakest man of his day. No doubt he did much to save his country; he began to save Israel from the Philistines. But himself he could not save. First of all, glance at his childhood and youth in Zorah, for that is the first chapter of his life. How the story of Samson's birth is as beautiful and tender as a summer morning. And how mother and father resolve together that the life God would have their boy lead they, by God's grace, will help him towards. They will not take God's gift apart from God's purpose. They will not plan their boy's career to please themselves. And so, under these happy auspices, the boy is born, and under such training he grows up in his happy youth until the time comes that, as an Israelite, he must take his responsible part in the burden and the pain of his people. And now I think we may entitle the second chapter, "Samson in the camp of Dan." There he has betaken himself, with his consecrated life, where the manhood of his tribe are wont to gather for military exercise, or perhaps for grave counsel concerning the public peril; for they seemed to be ever in peril in those days. There his forefathers, long ago, had established their camp. There was the ancestral burying-place of his people. There he felt himself moved nearer to all that was great and glorious in the world and in the history of his people. There we read , "The Spirit of the Lord moved him in the camp of Dan." And I think that to all of us ere we took our plunge into life there came this same experience in some sacred spot when a vision was given us of the future that dawned so fair for us when we were children, but now shown so near, a vision of the heaving and wresting of immortal powers, of the battle between good and evil, between God and the world; and when we felt, oh, a great scorn of the world and the trivial and the selfish, and a great purpose to strike in and strike out on the right side — to be for God and for God's cause in this world, to win the glory that is of God. Well, well, the Spirit of the Lord, I venture to say, hath moved us all in the camp of Dan. And now we pass on to the third chapter, and we may entitle it "Samson in Gaza," or "Samson plunging into Life," or if you prefer, "Peril and Pleasure in Gaza." Gaza was the chief seaport of the Philistines, a great commercial city, a gay, pleasure-loving place, contrasting strikingly with the quiet monotony of the home-life in the tribe of Dan. And, although Samson's first visit to Gaza is first spoken of well on in his life, there is no doubt whatever that he had visited Gaza in early youth. Gaza lay very near to the camp of Dan, and there all that he had purposed and felt was to be put to the test. The fact is, there is no escaping Gaza for you and me. We have to mix with life. One ought, in one sense, to trust life utterly. You cannot believe too strongly in the good of life, and in all that you can get from life if you live it rightly. Yet, on the other hand, one is bound to say you must distrust life. Ah, it is life that undoes folk, and undoes them smilingly and tenderly, as Delilah undid Samson in Gaza. It is life that lays the unholy hand on the holy secret, that asks insinuatingly, "Tell me, tell me, wherein the secret of thy strength lies. Tell me what makes thee different from other folk. Tell me what prevents thee now from coming in with us. Tell me — " and wins the secret from us, laying the unholy hand upon the holy secret for the unholy purpose. So Samson in Gaza gives himself away. Not knowingly, mark you. He believed that even if he got into some kind of mess, he was strong enough to get out of it. He believed that he could touch the fire and not be burnt. Samson one day woke up finding he had made a mistake, but saying to himself, "Well, I must retrieve; I will go out as at other times, and resume my life." But he was never more to go out as at other times. He had gone too far; he had done it once too often; he had given way too much. Now, it seems to me that this is the teaching of Samson's life. The man had no principle, no definite and consecutive purpose in life. Even an inferior principle, even any kind of purpose, would have spared him much that he suffered. Why, one would rather have seen that man set himself to be a millionaire than drift as he did; one would rather see the man's heart given to gold than to Delilah. But the man had no purpose at all, he had no rudder to steer by. That man was doomed to drift upon the rocks, to make shipwreck of his life. Ah, what a strange and awful trust this life of ours is! It is the one thing that you must not play with. You must take it very seriously. The gift that God gives you, if you do not use it properly, it will undo you. "I will go out as at other times." That is the history of every temptation and of every failure. That is the encouragement every one applies to his soul, ere he goes into temptation. You cannot do that. It cannot be with you as it was, you who have yielded to the temptress, you who have yielded to sin. Oh, then, you must come straight back to God, and get His forgiveness, and begin life again with His help. But be very sure you can never without that leave your sin behind you; you cannot go out as at other times.
He wist not that the Lord was departed from himI. THE SOURCE OF SAMSON'S STRENGTH. Evidently then there was a supernatural element in it. But, on the other hand, Samson's vow as a Nazarite bound him to a mode of life calculated to secure a healthy, vigorous physical development; and the rationalist will contend that that of itself is a sufficient explanation of the matter. There was both the natural and the supernatural. And is not Samson's strength in these respects typical of a higher strength, that which is moral and spiritual? Here also we may discern two elements, the Divine and human. The highest form of strength, the strength of goodness, by which a man triumphs over evil, and which finds its highest joy in holy and righteous action, is not to be gained by a life of dreamy contemplation, or by sitting still and affecting that God will some day transform us into giants. It is to be attained by self-denial, self-sacrifice, and true work.
II. THE LOSS OF SAMSON'S STRENGTH. Now, what is the key to this sad affair? In one word, it is weakness; and that is the key to half the wickedness committed in the world. When temptation presents itself, instead of saying with a soul in utter revolt, "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" men stop to think and dally, and once that is done there is fearful danger. They never intend doing any harm; they have good feelings and desires, and yet through moral weakness commit all kinds of wickedness, and involve themselves and others in misery. If we would be safe from breakdown, we must have a well-fortified moral character. Guard scrupulously the outworks; beware of everything that is morally enervating. If we fail to do this, ere we are aware we may find ourselves shorn of our strength.
III. THE RESTORATION OF SAMSON'S STRENGTH. Have we not here the conditions of moral restoration, with its limitations? The first condition is a painful consciousness of weakness. Without this a man will never desire any change in his condition, and therefore he will never seek any. There must further be a realisation of the folly and wickedness of his conduct, producing sincere regret for it and earnest desires and resolution of amendment. Hence, in true penitence there is an element that will deter a man from committing the sin again. And then there must also be the prayer of faith. Samson prayed and looked for an immediate answer. But there is something lost never to be regained. Samson's strength was restored, but not his eyesight; and he lost his life into the bargain. And that typifies a solemn truth. The man who, like Samson or David, is guilty of glaring sin, may, by the mercy and grace of God, be restored; but he can never regain the feeling of comparative innocence he once enjoyed. To the backslider these thoughts should bring sadness indeed, but not despair.
(Dean Vaughan.)Exodus 34:29): — The recurrence of the same phrase in two such opposite connections is very striking.
I. BEAUTY AND STRENGTH COME FROM COMMUNION WITH GOD. In both the cases with which we are dealing these were of a merely material sort. The light on Moses' face and the strength in Samson's arm were, at the highest, but types of something far higher and nobler than themselves. But still, the presence of the one and the departure of the other alike teach us the conditions on which we may possess both in nobler form, and the certainty of losing them if we lose hold of God. There have been in the past, and there are to-day, thousands of simple souls shut out by lowliness of position, and other circumstances from all the refining and ennobling influences which the world makes so much of, who yet in character and bearing, aye, and sometimes in the very look of their meek faces, are living witnesses how true and mighty is the power of loving gazing upon Jesus Christ to transform a nature. All of us who have had much to do with Christians of the humbler classes know that. There is no influence to refine and beautify men like that of living near Jesus Christ and walking in the light of that beauty which is the effulgence of the Divine glory and express image of His person. And in like manner as beauty, so strength comes from communion with God, and laying hold on Him. Samson's consecration, rude and external as that consecration was, both in itself and in its consequences, had passed away from him.
II. THE BEARER OF THE RADIANCE IS UNCONSCIOUS OF IT. "Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone." In all regions of life, the consummate apex and crowning charm of excellence is unconsciousness of excellence. Whenever a man begins to suspect that he is good, he begins to be bad; and you rob every virtue and beauty of character of some portion of its attractive fairness when the man who bears it knows, or fancies that he knows it. The charm of childhood is its perfect unconsciousness, and the man has to win back the child's heritage, and become as a little child, if he would enter into and dwell in the kingdom of heaven. And so in the loftiest region of all, that of the religious life, depend on it, the more a man is like Christ the less he knows it, and the better he is the less he suspects it.
III. THE STRONG MAN MADE WEAK IS UNCONSCIOUS OF HIS WEAKNESS. The very fact that you do not suppose the statement to have the least application to yourself is perhaps the very sign that it has. When the life blood is pouring out of a man he faints before he dies. The swoon of unconsciousness is the condition of some professing Christians. Frost-bitten limbs are quite comfortable, and only tingle when circulation is coming back. I remember a great elm-tree, the pride of an avenue in the South, that had spread its branches for more years than the oldest man could count, and stood, leafy and green. Not until a winter storm came one night and laid it low with a crash did anybody suspect what everybody saw in the morning — that the heart was eaten out of it, and nothing left but a shell of bark. Some Christian people are like that; they manage leaves, they manage fruit; when the storm comes they will go down, because the heart has been out of their religion for years. "Samson wist not that the Lord was departed from him." And so, because there are so many things that mask the ebbing away of a Christian life, and because our own self-love and habits come in to hide declension, let me earnestly exhort you and myself to watch our selves very narrowly. Again let me say, let us ask God to help us. "Search me, O God, and try me." We shall never rightly understand what we are unless we spread ourselves out before Him, and crave that Divine Spirit, which is the candle of the Lord, to be carried even in our hands into the secret recesses of our sinful hearts. And, last of all, let us keep near to Jesus Christ, near enough to Him to feel His touch, to hear His voice, to see His face, and to carry down with us into the valley some radiance on our countenances which may tell even the world that we have been up where the Light lives and reigns.
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
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