Danger or Despondency
Plain sermons by contributors to the, Tracts for the Times
1 Samuel 12:20-22
And Samuel said to the people, Fear not: you have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the LORD…

It is, I believe, no very unusual thing, however unwilling we may be to avow it, for persons to give way to a kind of despair, when they are called on to repent of their sins. They say to themselves, "It is too late now: it is no use pretending to keep the commandments, after so many years of transgression." And what is very remarkable, men change all at once into this method of excusing themselves, from one the very contrary to it, in which they have spent all their lives. We know too well, most of us, by experience, how common a thing it is to break God's plain commandments, and yet to keep one's conscience tolerably quiet, with the hope of repenting one day or another. At last we get ashamed and tired of dreaming of amendment, and promising it vainly to ourselves; we know by experience what the end will be if we again resolve and put off our resolutions: our consciences also have insensibly become hardened, and have lost all horror of sin as it is in itself: and in this state of mind it is no hard matter for the Evil Spirit to pervert our minds in a way exactly opposite to the former. Hitherto we have gone on, quieting ourselves every day with the notion that we might and would repent tomorrow; but now He keeps whispering to our disordered spirits, "What if it should be too late for you to repent at all?" Against such a snare as this it would seem that Samuel is guarding the children of Israel. They were to beware of that sullen fear which would make it impossible for them to repent; they were not to doubt that, wicked as they had been, and irremediable as their wickedness might be in some respects, still their best and only true wisdom lay in following the Lord for the future with all their heart. The great wickedness which the Israelites had done was this, that having been especially chosen and set apart by Almighty God to be His own people, and having so gone on for many years, receiving from Him peculiar and distinguishing favours, they were dissatisfied with their own condition, and rather wished themselves, as said the Prophet Ezekiel, "like the Heathen, the families of the countries," if not directly to serve wood and stone, yet to take liberties of one sort and another, very inconsistent with the pure and holy character of a people redeemed and marked as they were to be God's own. This was their sin; most dangerous to themselves, and most affronting to the Almighty: so that we need not wonder at the severity of Samuel's reproof, nor at the awful warning which God sent them from Heaven. It was a voice from above, most mercifully sent, to warn them what would come of it if they went on in the way which they had begun, and how much worse and more ungodly the temper in which they were acting than they had themselves imagined. Too often have we taken a perverse pleasure in slighting and undervaluing our own privileges. Surely in this way we have most of us too much to answer for, and our Lord might most justly and reasonably cast us off. But He has not done so; therefore, in any case we must not cast ourselves away. We may not, we must not, go in any kind of sin, under pretence of its being too late to cure ourselves of that ill habit at least.

1. To be a little more particular. The cases in which people are most apt to give themselves up are generally such as these following. First, when after having gone on religiously and blamelessly for many years, perhaps through the whole of youth and early manhood, the Devil prevails against any man, and he gives way to temptation, slight or strong, and knowingly commits any kind of deadly sin. The same Evil Spirit, who has so far had his own way with him, will presently try to make him think the case desperate. Thus, at first, through a feeling of despair, and afterwards through a sense of thorough incurable bad habit, men knowingly throw away their only remaining chance of repentance, and with it, of course, their only remaining chance of salvation. One of the sins in which this sad and fatal process may be seen most distinctly is the inordinate love of strong drink. And if it is so in drunkenness, much more in those sins, which in man's sentence as well as God's bring an irrecoverable stain on those who are guilty of them: such as unchastity, falsehood, dishonesty. One might well imagine that the Prophet Jeremiah was thinking on these two sorts of deadly sin — the unchaste and the deceitful — when he wrote that most fearful of all sentences, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye do good who are accustomed to do evil;" as much as to say, "With men this is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible." On the other hand, it is well for all, even the worst, to be sure there is hope so far, as that no one holy desire or good purpose, no one prayer or sigh of sincere repentance through Faith in Christ Jesus our Lord, can ever fall to the ground useless and vain. Hitherto I have spoken of great and notorious sins; practices which naturally startle the consciences of all men, such as unchastity, drunkenness, dishonesty: and I have shown what danger we are in of becoming hardened in these by a kind of despair, as if, having been long bad, we must of course go on and be worse.

2. A word must now be added on another way of going wrong, somewhat in the same kind, that is, by mere lightness of temper and shallowness of principle: when men, for instance, continue in the custom of profane swearing, or of dissolute wanton talk, or of backbiting and slandering, or of lying in common conversation. These persons are in one thing unlike the sinful Jewish people as described in Samuel; they are far from acknowledging that in their way of going on they are adding a great evil to their former sins: they look upon their ill words, as I just now said, one by one, not as making up a sum of mischief; they do not consider that such sinful habits are, as it were, a smothered, inward fire, gradually consuming the whole body.

3. There is another class who are especially apt to encourage themselves in sinning again by the very remembrance which ought most to daunt and humble them; — the remembrance that they have sinned much and often before: — I mean those who sin mostly in the way of omission; the habitual scorner of the Church and Sacraments of God. They say to themselves and sometimes to others, "It, is so very hard to recollect what for so many years we have allowed to slip out of our minds;" and they fancy to themselves in some indistinct way that a little act of kindness or of devotion will go further, and tell for more, in their case, than in the case of one to whom such acts are familiar; making the great unpleasantness of the duty, which is an effect of their own sinful neglect, an excuse for their imperfect performance of it. Now the example of the Israelites and the Prophet in the text shows how all these and other like cases are to be treated. They must be spoken to very plainly, as Samuel spoke to those Jews: though full of all kindness towards them, he neither spared them at first, in reproving them plainly for their apostasy. "It is true," he said, "you have indeed done all this great wickedness; I cannot, I must not flatter you; your case is very bad; you have need to humble yourselves deeply before your God; but this one thing you must do; you must turn your attention earnestly from the Past to the Future; you must live in fear and trembling and watchfulness, that you add no more to your sad and heavy account: 'Ye have done all this great wickedness, yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.'" This one sentence of the grave and mild Prophet may convey to us the meaning of the whole Scripture of God. Your past sins, He tells you, are at least as bad as you imagine them: but they are done, and you cannot undo them; very likely you may forever have to bear the mark and stain of them; yet despair not; the worst consequence may yet, by God's mercy, be averted; only lay hold in earnest of that Cross by which hitherto you have held so slightly: fear always, but not with such slavish, ungodly fear, as shall hinder you from doing your very best; preserve a holy obstinacy in following Christ for the future.

(Plain sermons by contributors to the "Tracts for the Times. ")

Parallel Verses
KJV: And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart;

WEB: Samuel said to the people, "Don't be afraid. You have indeed done all this evil; yet don't turn aside from following Yahweh, but serve Yahweh with all your heart.

Intercessory Prayer
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