1 Samuel Chapter Twenty-eight
1 Samuel 28
Achish puts confidence in David, Saul's fear. (1-6) Saul consults a witch at Endor. (7-19) Saul's terror. (20-25)
Commentary on 1 Samuel 28:1-6
(Read 1 Samuel 28:1-6)
David could not refuse Achish without danger. If he promised assistance, and then stood neuter, or went over to the Israelites, he would behave with ingratitude and treachery. If he fought against Israel, he would sin greatly. It seemed impossible that he should get out of this difficulty with a clear conscience; but his evasive answer, intended to gain time, was not consistent with the character of an Israelite indeed. Troubles are terrors to the children of disobedience. In his distress, Saul inquired of the Lord. He did not seek in faith, but with a double, unstable mind. Saul had put the law in force against those that had familiar spirits, Exodus 22:18. Many seem zealous against, sin, when they are any way hurt by it, who have no concern for the glory of God, nor any dislike of sin as sin. Many seem enemies to sin in others, while they indulge it in themselves. Saul will drive the devil out of his kingdom, yet harbours him in his heart by envy and malice. How foolish to consult those whom, according to God's law, he had endeavoured to root out!
Commentary on 1 Samuel 28:7-19
(Read 1 Samuel 28:7-19)
When we go from the plain path of duty, every thing draws us further aside, and increases our perplexity and temptation. Saul desires the woman to bring one from the dead, with whom he wished to speak; this was expressly forbidden, Deuteronomy 18:11. All real or pretended witchcraft or conjuration, is a malicious or an ignorant attempt to gain knowledge or help from some creature, when it cannot be had from the Lord in the path of duty. While Samuel was living, we never read of Saul's going to advise with him in any difficulties; it had been well for him if he had. But now he is dead, "Bring me up Samuel." Many who despise and persecute God's saints and ministers when living, would be glad to have them again, when they are gone. The whole shows that it was no human fraud or trick. Though the woman could not cause Samuel's being sent, yet Saul's inquiry might be the occasion of it. The woman's surprise and terror proved that it was an unusual and unexpected appearance. Saul had despised Samuel's solemn warnings in his lifetime, yet now that he hoped, as in defiance of God, to obtain some counsel and encouragement from him, might not God permit the soul of his departed prophet to appear to Saul, to confirm his former sentence, and denounce his doom? The expression, "Thou and thy sons shall be with me," means no more than that they shall be in the eternal world. There appears much solemnity in God's permitting the soul of a departed prophet to come as a witness from heaven, to confirm the word he had spoken on earth.
Commentary on 1 Samuel 28:20-25
(Read 1 Samuel 28:20-25)
Those that expect any good counsel or comfort, otherwise than from God, and in the way of his institutions, will be as wretchedly disappointed as Saul. Though terrified even to despair, he was not humbled. He confessed not his sins, offered no sacrifices, and presented no supplications. He does not seem to have cared about his sons or his people, or to have attempted any escape; but in sullen despair he rushed upon his doom. God sets up a few such beacons, to warn men not to stifle convictions, or despise his word. But while one repenting thought remains, let no sinner suppose himself in this case. Let him humble himself before God, determined to live and die beseeching his favour, and he will succeed.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on 1 Samuel》
1 Samuel 28
 And David said to Achish, Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do. And Achish said to David, Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head for ever.
Can do — He speaks ambiguously, as he did before.
 And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled.
He trembled — Had he kept close to God, he needed not fear all the armies of the Philistines.
 Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.
That hath, … — One that converseth with the devil, or dead men's ghosts, and by them can discover future things. See Isaiah 8:19.
 And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.
Disguised — Both because he was ashamed to be known, or thought guilty of this practice; and because he suspected, the woman, had she known him, would not practice her art before him.
 Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.
Samuel — Whose kindness and compassion as he had formerly experienced, so now he expected it in his deep distress. This practice of divination by the dead, or the souls of dead persons, was very usual among all nations.
 And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
Saw Samuel — The words are express, the woman saw Samuel, instead of the spirit whom she expected to see, God ordering it so for his own glory.
She cried with a loud voice — Terrified and astonished, and thence easily conjectured, whom she had been talking with.
 And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.
Gods — That is, a god, and divine person, glorious, and full of majesty and splendor, exceeding not only mortal men, but common ghosts. She used the plural number, gods, either after the manner of the Hebrew language, which commonly uses that word of one person: or, after the language and custom of the heathens.
 And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.
A mantle — The usual habit of prophets, and particularly of Samuel, chap. 15:27. If it was not Samuel, but an other spirit in his shape, it is not true, that Saul perceived it was Samuel. It seems Saul did not see him, so soon as the woman, which occasioned his asking those questions.
 And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
Called Samuel — Happy had it been, if he had called Samuel sooner, or rather the God of Samuel! It was now too late: destruction was at hand and God had determined, it should not be stayed.
 And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David:
To him — To David.
 Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.
Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: "What do these solemn words portend? A gleam of hope when life shall end. Thou and thy sons, tho' slain shall be To-morrow in repose with me. Not in a state of health or pain If Saul with Samuel doth remain; Not in a state of damn'd despair, If loving Jonathan is there." Tho' these words may only mean, ye shall surely die, without any reference to the state of their souls after death.
 Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night.
Fell — As if the Archers of the Philistines had already hit him, and there was no strength in him, to bear up against these heavy tidings: especially, as we cannot doubt, but all his past sins were now brought to his remembrance and what authority has any man to affirm, that he felt no contrition all this time? Altho' it did not seem good to the holy ghost, to leave it upon record?
 And the woman came unto Saul, and saw that he was sore troubled, and said unto him, Behold, thine handmaid hath obeyed thy voice, and I have put my life in my hand, and have hearkened unto thy words which thou spakest unto me.
Came to Saul — From whom she departed, when she had brought him and Samuel together, that they might more freely converse together.
 And the woman had a fat calf in the house; and she hasted, and killed it, and took flour, and kneaded it, and did bake unleavened bread thereof:
Unleavened — Not having time to leaven it.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on 1 Samuel》
28 Chapter 28
The Philistines gathered their armies together for warfare, to fight with Israel.
Night preceding battle
As the flash of lightning reveals the hidden scenery around, so the reception of momentous news suddenly reveals character. Two such events we trace--the news of the terrible defeat brought to Saul, and the news of Saul’s death brought to David. Leading his people to meet the Philistines, at whose number he is astonished and affrighted, we come upon Saul as his army is encamped on the slopes of Gilboa. We notice:--
I. Divine direction sought (1 Samuel 28:6). In all former difficulties Saul had sought Samuel. The prophet’s voice was hushed. Few estimate faithful advisers at their value. Saul had no Samuel now. He knew not God. His desolateness is indescribable. His own hand had closed the avenues along which the angel of mercy had been wont to come. Yet, as Cowper says, “In agony nature is no atheist;” so this desolate and moody man kneels to God! Self-will, pride, resentment lurk in his petition (1 Samuel 28:15). He has no wish to know God’s will, only how he may be successful! Complaints against God’s dealings--there is no prayer in such words! Is it ever any use coming thus to seek God’s help? Merely for our own selfish ends, asking the Divine One to become partner in our self-seeking purposes! Come, let us hold our prayers up to the light! Not everyone that saith, “Lord, Lord,” will enter into the Kingdom. Unable to bear the silence, Saul exhibits the--
II. Desperate defiance of disobedience. In those days when his vision was clear and his heart open to Divine teaching he abhorred this sin. Driven by fear, jealousy, and pride, refusing to humble himself before God, he sends his servant to find “one that hath a familiar spirit” (1 Samuel 28:7). Superstition takes the place of obedient faith. The four theories concerning this scene may thus be summarised--
III. Disobedience ends in disaster. Did not our fathers fall in the wilderness through unbelief? Is that not why so many fail to enter the life of joy?
1. Disobedience produced direst misery. In the path of disobedience we become targets for the archers of Satan.
2. Disobedience culminated in suicide. The inhabitants of hell are surely suicides. “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself. Ye would not come unto Me, that ye might have life.” (H. E. Stone.)
The Lord answered him not.
I. A frequent experience of those who seek God. It is neither an universal nor invariable one, else prayer would become impossible. But it is sufficiently frequent to occasion grave spiritual difficulty.
1. In apparent contradiction of Divine promise. Of Israel, even in Egypt, it was said, “I will surely hear their cry” (Exodus 22:23). (Zechariah 10:1.) (Psalms 86:7.) How strong are the assurances of Christ. (Matthew 7:7-11.)
2. Disastrous in its effect upon the life of the soul. If it be true that “where there is no vision the people perish,” equally so is it that when no Divine voice speaks to the soul it must cease to live. As the plant withers in the gloom of the cellar, the soul that knows not the sunshine of the Father’s smile cannot be healthy or vigorous.
3. A source of uneasiness and sorrow. It is not only right but in the best sense natural that man should seek God; there is no deeper source of dissatisfaction and restlessness than a baffled instinct.
II. An experience to be interpreted. Even the silence of God has a meaning. Rightly interrogated it may prove a precious revelation. In any case the possibilities are too grave for the “sign” to be neglected.
1. God is sometimes supposed to be silent when He is not. Answers to prayer are not always at once or easily apparent.
2. His silence is not always a token of displeasure. It may be simply
3. Yet it is often expressive of Divine wrath.
It must not be regarded as a light thing.
1. It may be intended to invite to inward examination and repentance. Some unfaithfulness; a falling from grace; it may be direct disobedience. The Holy One is saying, by His silence, “Come up higher. I cannot speak to you there!”
2. It sometimes occurs, as in the case of Saul, in token of doom. The gracious lips of Christ were silent before a Pilate and a Herod. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)
A silent god
1.Calamity may be borne. We can oppose it to our manhood and our constancy. Menaced by shipwreck, we can breast the storm. To be defeated in battle, to be superseded in power, to see popularity crumbling into indifference--all this and more Saul had to bear, and all this may be borne. “If God be on my side,” anyone may say to all the world, “I care nothing for all the rest.” Did not great Martin Luther cry: “Oh! my God, punish me rather with pestilence, with all the terrible sicknesses on earth, with war, with anything, rather than Thou be silent to me?” “And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not.” Ah! that is to be desolate indeed!
2. There are some whom God does not answer because they do not care to inquire of Him at all. The earth suffices them. Life is their feeding trough, and they care nothing for more. They never care to look beyond the narrow horizon of themselves.
3. When Saul inquired of the Lord, we are told that the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. Dreams were the lowest form of revelation: yet we have so many closer modes of communion with God, in His Christ and by His Spirit, that of dreams we need not speak. Have no messages of Scripture ever seemed suddenly to burn their revelation upon your souls? Yes, God does speak to us by Urim still, and He also speaks to us by His prophets. And can you wonder that, if this be so, God, whom you have despised, and whose laws you have deliberately and habitually violated, should not only be silent to you at last? God never turns from the cry of the penitent, however bad he may have been. Distinguish between God’s apparent silences for His children, and the self-created silence of your own to those who utterly refuse Him. Oh, let us beware lest we feel the awful silence which is not God’s, but arises from our own obstinate and determined wickedness, that it may not overwhelm us. (Dean Farrar.)
During a heavy snowstorm the warning was sent out that in a few hours the wet, heavy snow would break down the telephone and telegraph wires, and cut off communication with the outside world. Instantly there was a great rush to the telephones and the telegraph offices to get messages off before it was too late. What if we knew that very soon God would refuse to hear any more prayers; would there not be a great rush to the throne of grace to send our petitions heavenward before we were cut off foreverse (Christian Endeavour Times.)
Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit.
Saul and the witch of Endor
This narrative is unlike any other in the Bible, and therefore, as might have been expected, has received various explanations. Three of them may be briefly noticed:
1. In favour of the first interpretation may be urged the prima facie meaning of the narrative. For the sacred writer says that “the woman saw Samuel” (1 Samuel 28:12); that when she described the apparition seen by her “Saul knew it was Samuel” (1 Samuel 28:14); that the prophet reproached Saul for “disquieting and bringing him up” (1 Samuel 28:15); and that the prophet foretold the defeat of Israel and the death of Saul and his sons on the morrow (1 Samuel 28:19), both of which came to pass. These are strong reasons, and if they are set aside, it should be in view of others that are stronger. What, then, are some of the arguments against this explanation of the narrative? God had forbidden the practice of necromancy in Israel, and had commanded those who practised the same to be stoned (Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10-11). Again, Saul himself was acquainted with this law of Jehovah, and had attempted to execute it (verse 3-9). Still further, God had rejected the king, and had refused to answer him by any of the usual and appointed ways of making known his will (1 Samuel 28:6). And, besides, there is no indication in this narrative that Saul was now, at last, penitent, so that a message from God might be expected to control or benefit him. Certainly the refusal of God to answer Saul by dreams, by the Urim, or by the prophets, the wilful disobedience of the king in the act of consulting the women, and the close connection of Samuel’s appearance (if real) with the agency of this evil woman, are moral objections to this view of the passage. Moreover, it will scarcely be denied that the words, “Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?” do not seem perfectly natural as the language of a true prophet coming back from the Unseen with a Divine message, while they do seem entirely natural as words spoken in behalf of a pretended apparition by the enchantress herself. Again, if the woman was really and greatly amazed by the apparition of Samuel, as she well might be if it was real, it is somewhat singular that she was so prudent and self-collected afterwards.
2. In favour of the second explanation, that an evil spirit, personating Samuel, appeared to the woman, and predicted to Saul his defeat and death on the morrow, we can say but little of a positive character. It is, however, free from some of the objections which lie against the first. For on this hypothesis God does not connect a revelation of the future through his own prophet with an act of desperate disobedience on the part of Saul, or with a practice so solemnly prohibited as necromancy. For all the parties concerned are given up to evil. “That the devil, by the Divine permission, should be able to personate Samuel is not strange, since he can transform himself into an angel of light! Nor is it strange that he should be permitted do it upon this occasion, that Saul might be driven to despair, by enquiring of the devil, since he would not, in a right manner, inquire of the Lord, by which he might have had comfort. Had this been the true Samuel, he could not have foretold the event, unless God had revealed it to him; and, though it were an evil spirit, God might by him foretell it; as we read of an evil spirit that foresaw Ahab’s fall at Ramoth-Gilead, and was instrumental in it.”
3. In favour of the third explanation several things may be alleged.
1. The king was in a state of mind which would render deception on the part of the sorceress easy. He believed in necromancy, and in the testimony of his servants that this woman was a mistress of necromancy, he was also afraid and exceedingly anxious to obtain some clue to the future from the invisible world, especially by means of Samuel, whom he knew to be a prophet.
2. The woman of Endor was most likely to have known of the extraordinary stature of Saul, of the degeneracy of his character and fortunes, of the perilous condition of his army, and of the dress of Samuel in his old age.
3. With this knowledge she would have been tolerably sure to detect the person of Saul in spite of his disguise, and would have laid her plan of action accordingly.
4. It would have been easy for her as a ventriloquist to make the prostrate king suppose that her changed voice came from an unseen form at a slight remove from the place where she stood.
5. For Saul himself, it will be observed, did not see the alleged apparition of Samuel; he but inferred it from the woman’s description of what she professed to see rising out of the earth.
6. The woman’s animosity towards Saul, because of his “putting away the necromancers and wizards out of the land” may have led her to wish his death, and the circumstances in which he was now placed by the Philistines may have emboldened her to say what she did. But in declaring Saul’s doom she was personating Samuel, and must therefore speak as he might have been expected to speak, reminding Saul of his past disobedience to God, of God’s displeasure with him on that account, of God’s giving the throne to David, and of the certain death which awaited Saul and his sons on the morrow.
7. The fulfilment of her words may have been partly due to the despair which they produced in the mind of Saul. At any rate, the fact of their fulfilment is not conclusive, in the circumstances, of their being a proper revelation beforehand of the purpose of God. (A. Hovey, D. D.)
Saul and the witch of Endor
At this period to which the text relates Saul was in great perplexity, owing to the want of someone through whom to obtain counsel from God. The affairs of Israel were at this time in a critical state. Their ancient adversaries, the Philistines, were mustering their forces. The moral degeneracy of Israel served to embolden the enemy. Let us now endeavour to point out some of the practical lessons which this remarkable narrative suggests.
1. The history forcibly teaches the solemn truth, that a man’s day of grace is by no means invariably co-extensive with his life on earth. It is evident that at least for a time before Saul perished he was left to eat of the fruit of his own way, and to be filled with his own devices. The Spirit departed from him, and at the same time the Spirit of evil entered in and took full possession of him. After this there were no further means to be tried for his conversion. The king had outlived his time of opportunity, and God was departed from him. Saul’s day of grace had then terminated; and, whilst you notice this, observe also the steps which led to this consummation: they were a progressive series of resistances offered to God’s Spirit--repeated acts of provocation, the repetition of refusals to hearken and to obey. There are numbers who are emboldened in a course of irreligion from the impression that it will be easy at some future time to turn and repent, and undergo the indispensable change, without which they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. On this account it becomes more necessary to repeat the warning, that the season for turning to the Lord may pass away, never to return, even before the stroke of death ushers the soul to its everlasting portion.
2. Again, the history before us is instructive as pointing out what act it was on the part of Saul which challenged his final and immediate punishment. From the narrative it appears it was the sin of witchcraft. But the peculiarity lies in this, that it was a sin which Saul had professedly abandoned, and against which he had proclaimed open war. Can we err in concluding from hence that sin is then more especially hateful to God when practised by one who knows its nature and has once deliberately purposed to forsake it? To fall back to the indulgence of a sin which you have once resolved to renounce is a sure way to provoke the heavy displeasure of God.
3. The narrative is full of instruction as to the folly of expecting conversion by miracle when it is not effected by ordinary means. The reappearance of Samuel availed nothing for Saul’s conversion. The reanimated Prophet could not guide the man who had abandoned the guidance of God’s own Spirit. Be not deceived to suppose that if unconverted by what God is doing for you now, you would be converted by any supernatural agency. Your conversion is possible now. It is the province of the Holy Ghost to effect it. Use the means you have. God will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask. (R. Bickersteth, D. D.)
The witch of Endor
1. Let me explain what the belief about this woman of Endor was. In popular speech we speak of her as the witch of Endor, but a more accurate description would be the Necromancer. Among all races and nations in the ancient world witchcraft, necromancy, and all their allied magic arts were believed in and practised. In all heathen religions there was a place for diviners, augurs, and magicians, who by their arts professed to tell what was the will of the gods in any special enterprise. Never did Greek or Roman army go forth to battle till the omens had been sought and found to be favourable. Sometimes the diviners would profess to find the answer they were seeking for in the appearances of Nature in sea, or earth, or sky, sometimes in visions of the night, sometimes in the creatures slain as sacrifices; sometimes in the mysteries of the grave, like this woman; sometimes by strange, weird incantations or by mysterious rites and enchantments. In one or other of these ways men believed they could get to know the Divine will.
2. The next point I would touch on is the question, What is the significance of this so widespread a belief in necromancy and magic? It is now held, I believe, that these arts represent the first attempts of men to have converse with the unseen world, the first blind gropings of the soul after God, the first rude efforts of man’s spirit towards a religion. Just as the science of chemistry with its wonderful discoveries of the secret and subtle forces of Nature had its beginning in the dreams and visions and impossible ambitions of the alchemists; or just as astronomy, which reveals the sublime order of the heavenly bodies, had its origin in the baseless imaginings of astrology, so religion in human history began in the practice of these magic arts. What God demands in those who come to Him is not the power of magic, but mercy, truth, righteousness in the heart.
I. Saul’s spiritual condition. First of all, it throws light on the spiritual condition of Saul. He sought the aid of this necromancer because he despaired of any message from God. It is in times of religious decay that superstition most flourishes. When men lose faith in a living God who loves righteousness they resort to magic and sorcery, and put their faith in outward ceremonies and rites. Spiritualism is a reversion to the first and lowest forms of religious inquiry. Science tells us that when a plant or animal reverts to its original type, it suffers degeneration. And the spiritualist is one who is ignoring all the world’s progress through ages of religious education, and is going back to the first, rude, low methods in which men sought communication with the Unseen.
II. A wilful imposture. The words in which the woman is described point to the means by which she might have carried out the imposture. Rendered literally, the words, “a woman who had a familiar spirit,” read, “a woman a mistress of the Ob.” And the word “Ob” denotes ventriloquism. No doubt the power of ventriloquism was believed to be supernatural, the gift of evil spirits. Then, for another thing, what the supposed ghost of the departed prophet revealed was in great part already well known to Saul, and may have been known to the woman. It needed no spirit from the grave to tell them. And as for the prediction of Saul’s death on the morrow, there are those who contend that the word rendered “tomorrow” is of indefinite meaning denoting some time in the future. The prediction that Saul and his sons would some day be with Samuel in the world of shadows was a safe prediction, like many of the ancient oracles. But the chief objection is simply to the idea that any arts possessed by the necromancer should have had power to call forth the dead. It is sometimes assumed thaton this occasion God wrought a miracle through the woman in order to inform Saul of his fate. But this explanation is beset with insuperable difficulties. For according to it God would be doing just what He had refused to do. He would be “answering” Saul and satisfying his desire for a Divine communication. Again, it seems incredible that God should lend sanction to the pretensions of a necromancer when the practice of every such art was condemned under severest penalties by the Divine law. When we read the narrative in the light of these considerations, there is little difficulty in supposing that the whole thing was a wilful imposture practised on a wretched and despairing man. Keep clear thy faith in the Living God, the Righteous One and the Loving, and witchcraft and all other superstitions will be powerless over thee. But lose hold of God and you may drift into any dark and debasing belief. (J. Legge, M. A.)
Lessons from the incident at Endor
Solemn are the instructions to be gained from this incident.
1. We may have taken strong ground against some particular form of evil, we may have condemned it in others, and we may, thus far, have acted outwardly in consistency with God’s commands; but we may live to do the very thing which we have condemned, to break the very commands to which we have given an external homage. There may be motives for putting away one particular form of sin, the operation of which may yet co-exist with a spirit unwilling to yield to the fear of God, and unaffected by his love. It was not because Saul’s heart was prepared to render allegiance to God that he put away witchcraft; but because he would affect an outward regard for religion, or because he wished to avenge his mental disquietude on those whom he deemed its cause, or because he was in daily fear of some further mischief from them. The operation of these motives, and their result, still left him a rebel, prepared at any time, when the will of God crossed his own purpose, to resist the commands of the Almighty. And wherever the spirit of opposition to the Divine will is permitted, there is no security against its indulgence in any particular form; and if circumstances arise to make it convenient, it may develop itself in the identical manifestation which, in a previous stage of our history, we have been most ardent and loud in condemning. Let us be assured that no outward reformations are to be depended on, which do not issue from that radical change of which the Holy Spirit is the author, and in which the whole heart is yielded up to God.
2. We notice bow certainly a man loses his own dignity in proportion as he recedes from the principle of obedience to God, and yields to the guidance of his own heart. What term so aptly describes the condition of the king of Israel in the witch’s abode at Endor, as that of degradation--deep, thorough degradation. Be it ours to take warning. No station in life, however exalted--no position, however respectable--no claims on the regard of society, however strong--can stand against the degrading influence of indulged sin.
3. We are taught that mercies abused and privileges slighted may be desired when they have been withdrawn, and when, in God’s providential arrangements, they are no longer within our reach. While Samuel lived, his counsel was treated with contempt; but when he could no longer be consulted, then the very man who grieved him most was most anxious to have him back at any cost. Let the sad spectacle awaken inquiry, How are you employing present mercies? (J. A. Miller.)
The religion of ghosts
I. I learn first from this subject that spiritualism is a very old religion. What does God think of all these delusions? He thinks so severely of them that he never speaks of them but with livid thunders of indignation. He says: “I will be a swift witness against the sorcerer.” He says: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” And lest you might make some important distinction between Spiritualism and witchcraft, God says, in so many words: “There shall not be among you a consulter of familiar spirits, or wizard, or necromancer; for they that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord.”
II. Still further: we learn from this text now it is that people come to fall into spiritualism. Saul had enough trouble to kill ten men. He did not know where to go for relief. After awhile he resolved to go and see the witch of Endor. It was his trouble that drove him there. And I have to tell you now that, spiritualism finds its victims in the troubled, the bankrupt, the sick, the bereft.
III. I learn still farther from this subject, that spiritualism and necromancy are affairs of the darkness. Why did not Saul go in the day? He was ashamed to go. Besides that he knew that this spiritual medium, like all her successors, performed her exploits in the night.
IV. Still further, that spiritualism is doom and death to its disciples. King Saul thought that he would get help from the “medium;” but the first thing that he sees makes him swoon away, and no sooner is he resuscitated than he is told he must die. Spiritualism is doom and death to everyone that yields to. It ruins the body. Spiritualism smites first of all, and mightily, against the nervous system, and so makes life miserable.
V. I indict spiritualism also, because it is a social and marital curse. The worst deeds of licentiousness and the worst orgies of obscenity have been enacted under its patronage.
VI. I further indict spiritualism for the fact that it is the cause of much insanity.
VII. I bring against this delusion a more fearful indictment: it ruins the soul immortal. The whole system, as I conceive it, is founded on the insufficiency of the Word of God as a revelation. God says the Bible is enough for you to know about the future world. God has told you all you ought to know, and how dare you be prying into that which is none of your business? You cannot keep the Bible in one hand and spiritualism in the other. One or the other will slip out of your grasp, depend upon it. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Saul at Endor
The worlds are nearer together than we think! What is there in reason, in the fitness of things, or in Scripture itself, to forbid the idea that we are surrounded by spiritual existences? What is thy universe, O man? Thou makest thine own creation. The pathetic incident shows:--
I. The rapidity with which a man may fall from the highest eminence. “Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor executedst His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day.” There is but a step between thee and death!
II. The awful possibility of being cut off from spiritual communication with the Divine and invisible. “God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets nor by dreams.”
III. The certainty that one day the impenitent will want their old teachers. “Bring me up Samuel.” “I have called thee that thou mayest make known to me what I shall do.” The solemn lesson of the whole is--Seek ye the Lord while He may be found! (J. Parker, D. D.)
Spiritualism a folly
To meddle with the walls of separation that God has built is a wrong and sinful thing. We have no business but in our own world. This dabbling in spiritualism and communication with the departed is nothing more than folly. It is unlawful, and has all the consequences of a broken law. There was an old Scotch body, who was sitting by the deathbed of her only son. Trying to comfort the grieving mother, the dying boy said: “Mother, if so be it’s permitted, I’ll come from the dead to see thee.” “Na, us, lad,” she exclaimed; “keep to your sin side.” It was a wise injunction. Keep to your own side. (J. Robertson.)
Bring me up Samuel.
Samuel after death
Wise reasons must have prevailed with God for the appearance of Samuel. Dr. Hales has suggested the three following:
1. To make Saul’s crime the instrument of his punishment, in the dreadful denunciation of his approaching doom.
2. To show to the heathen world the infinite superiority of the Oracle of the Lord inspiring his prophets over the powers of darkness, and the delusive prognostics of their wretched votaries in their false oracles.
3. To confirm the belief in a future state, by “one who rose from the dead,” even under the Mosaical dispensation.
Taking the view now represented, we may draw some practical conclusions from it.
1. The soul lives after death. Samuel’s appearance showed that his soul still lived, though his body had died at Ramah and had been buried.
2. It is vain to pray to the dead. Scripture gives no encouragement to this practice. This passage, and one in the New Testament, show the utter hopelessness of finding comfort by this means. The word of God reveals the mercy seat; and a prayer hearing God invites the sinner to ask mercy in the name of Jesus. “If any man sin, he has an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” “He is able be save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
3. There is no oracle of the future but God’s. No evil spirit can reveal the destiny of a soul, nor could he be trusted. No light that led astray was ever light from heaven. The father of lies could not he entitled to credit in his disclosures of our future. Departed saints are incapable of doing this. They have not such a function assigned to them in the economy of the spiritual world. (R. Steel.)
Saul in the cave at Endor
I. This is the cry of a soul consciously deserted of God. “The Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.”
1. God does sometimes desert the sinner even in this world. “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.”
2. The consciousness of this desertion is the greatest misery. There is no orphanage so bad as the orphanage of a soul--a soul that has lost its God. It lives to sink deeper and deeper forever into ruin.
II. This is the cry of a soul profoundly convinced of the value of a once neglected ministry. “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh, for if they escaped not,” etc.
III. This is the cry of a soul that had become the victim of delusions. The man’s mind under a sense of guilt and Divine desertion had lost its balance; his intellect had been hurled from the throne, and his imagination, under the despotism of a guilty conscience, filled his soul with ghastly phantoms. Men talk of a sound mind in a sound body, but there is no sound mind without a sound conscience--a conscience freed from the sense of guilt, and attuned to the everlasting harmonies of right. Reason in the atmosphere of a guilty conscience is like the eye amidst the shower of pyrotechnic lights, dazzled with false visions. As we build up our houses and our cities out of the rough materials taken from the earth, so the imagination of a mind consciously deserted by God will build up its world of woe out of the corrupt materials of its own heart.
IV. This is the cry of a soul plunging into the depths of despair. When despair comes, a hopeless darkness settles over the soul. The course of sin leads to despair. Every sin a man commits he quenches a star in the firmament of hope. The moral of the whole is this--the well-being of humanity consists in loving fellowship with the Eternal Father. (Homilist.)
Without God, without hope
This was a cry wrung from the heart of a man who believed himself forsaken by God. “His soul was orphaned,” without God in the world.”
1. Have you never felt that orphanage--when God seems to have gone out from your heavens, and the universe appears a vast, sunless, godless infinite, black as night? The world without a sun! The flower stems bend over filled with icy tears shed for the loss of the sun that gave them all their colours, the bleached leaves hang without a flutter in the still, cold air, or fall rotting in the dark, the cattle of the field, perish for lack of sweet food and soft warmth, and the shivering hearts of men freeze within them--for the sun died last night. A soul without God, in awful solitude, starless, sunless. If you have felt that orphanage, and lived through doubt and despair to believe in God, happy are you. If you have never known it, happy are you also.
1. Saul was without God in his soul--he was alone; what should he do? Do! What could he do? Why could he not be quiet, and stop still? The sun would not forever be on the under size of the world, the night would not last foreverse One of the most fruitful errors of mankind is that irrepressible desire to do something; men cannot wait. Pascal said that most of life’s evils sprang from “man’s being unable to sit still in a room.” This restless unquiet is the cause of business depression; men must speculate, “do something;” there was a mania for excessive action.
2. Saul would do something, no matter what! He would seek a witch, and she would raise up Samuel to him. Ill omens crowd his mind, and his heart fell when he heard the mysterious seer from the afterworld add his ghostly word to his own too sad prevision of disaster and ruin on the morrow. He needs no ghost to tell him that, ‘tis already too surely known. Oh, power of conscience! A guilty conscience fills the soul with phantoms that are tongued with evil. The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a soul. Conscience speaks in whispers; but, if unheeded, its whispers echo quickly back and back from the close walls of the dark prison house of the soul, until, gathering strength, they reverberate like sounds of volleying thunder. Small as an earthworm, conscience may swell, until at last it becomes a great stinging serpent.
3. Hope is belief in God; hope is the anchor of the soul, which, tossed on the rolling ocean that is full to bursting, and driven helpless by the wind that is wet with storms, is steady, for deep buried in God’s bosom is the anchor, trust in our Father in heaven. The wise ancients said that Hope was the only gift left in Pandora’s box; it is the last thing that dies in a man. To lose hope is to lose oneself. By hope are we saved. Be not ashamed to hope; hope the highest things. Such is our Christian duty. A soul losing hope in God is like a traveller going down some mountainside as the broadening sun sets behind him; at his every step his shadow widens, lengthens, blackens, till at last he is shrouded in midnight darkness, and with way lost, tumbles over the crag into ruin. Hope then in God; doubt but hastens peril. Look up, out, of thyself; and learn that the darkness is thine own, that the heavens glow with light. Thou despairest of good, saying that there is no sun? Open thy closed eyes, the darkness is in thine own soul only. Despair is the only atheism; hopelessness is unbelief in God; Hope thou; that is, believe in God; he that believeth not is damned. But hope, which is the presence of God, never dies--neverse (B. J. Snell, M. A.)
And Saul perceived that it was Samuel.
The appearance of Samuel
This is altogether a strange and mysterious scene. It is a difficult and much debated question how we are to understand it. One or two remarks is all that can be offered here. In the first place, there is no ground whatever for supposing a collusion between the woman and Soul’s two servants. Nor, secondly, is it at all tenable that Satan appeared, personating Samuel. Whether, then, shall we hold that the whole phenomena both of sight and sound formed a vision presented supernaturally by God; or as actual and literal occurrence? Of visions there were two principal varieties: First, a symbolic representation seen in a trance, such as that presented to Peter (Acts 10:1-48) or those brought before the rapt mind of John (Revelation). Of this kind the scene before us could not be an example. The figure is not symbolic. The state of mind is calm and self-possessed. Secondly, a miraculous sight of objects real and present. Of this sort were the vision of Zacharias (Luke 1:1-80); of the angels at the tomb (Luke 24:23); and of Moses and Elijah on the mount (Matthew 17:9). In this latter sense, the vision does not differ much from the literal understanding of the occurrence. To the objection--that it was unjust to Samuel to “disquiet” him thus, it may be answered that the word refers only to his change of place in its outward aspect, and does not necessarily imply the endurance of pain. To the other objection--that the figure was seen “ascending out of the earth” and could not therefore represent the soul of Samuel, it may yet be deemed satisfactory to say that the earth being the resting place of the body, and the figure appearing in the character of a body, it was natural to present the mysterious apparition as emerging from the ground; and that, whatever may be thought of this, the objection holds equally against the visional supposition. The last objection calling for notice takes higher ground, and the answer to it will lead us in among the moral purposes served by this mysterious transaction. “It was neither worthy of God, nor fitted to secure objects important enough to commend to our reason an interposition such as the literary theory implies.” It will be seen at once that any answer which disposes satisfactorily of the second branch of the objection will be valid against the first. Now we shall not have to go far in quest of important ends actually served by the occurrence.
1. A stern rebuke to Saul. The guilty man had recourse to an agency which his conscience condemned, and which his own recent enactment proscribed as unlawful, and punished capitally as impious. The holy God met him in the face on that forbidden ground, in that unhallowed work. And to be confronted thus must have filled him with overwhelming confusion. The tenderhearted prophet denounced him without reserve or mitigation. And rebukes never fall so crushingly, or with such condemning evidence of their justice, as from the lips of forbearing gentleness.
2. A solemn rehearsal of the law which regulated the national fortunes. Calamity came in the wake of sin. The holy King of heaven constituted them a people on that basis. His command was broken signally in the case of Amalek. This dreadful offence was yet pouring out its vials of vengeance on the land. The catastrophe announced by Samuel as immediately to occur was to exhaust the dregs of this vengeance on the doomed dynasty of Saul. How wisely adapted to strike through their conscience the conviction that this great calamity was strictly punitive.
3. Proof that the God of Israel overruled all agencies of evil. It is indeed a mysterious thing, and unexampled, that the holy Jehovah should be a party in a scene like this. The same sovereign authority laid hold on Balaam, and made the bad man a true prophet.
4. An exhibition of important facts from the spiritual world. The existence of the soul after death; the continuance of all its powers, and among them memory--stored with the recollections of the past; the perpetuation of moral and spiritual character. (P. Richardson, B. A.)
The appearance of Samuel to Saul at Endor
There has been a great variety of sentiments among the learned and very different accounts have been given of this famed adventure.
I. The truth of the case. Some have thought that there was nothing more in it than trick and legerdemain, whereby a cunning woman imposed upon Soul’s credulity. But this opinion is highly improbable. For, if the woman had the sole conducting of that affair, intending only to impose upon Saul, she would most undoubtedly have contrived to make the pretended Samuel’s answer as agreeable and pleasing to the King as possible, and that for her own sake especially; for fear of offending Saul, and to save her own life, as well as to procure from Him the larger gratuity. For it must be observed further, that what was here spoken as from Samuel was really prophetic, and was punctually fulfilled a few days after. None but God Himself could have revealed the secret. And how unlikely is it that God should make use of this sorceress as a prophetess, and should give her the honour of revealing his counsels. For these reasons, we may presume to think and judge that the matter here related was not all a mere juggle or contrivance of an artful woman, but something more. There was most certainly an apparition in the ease, either of Samuel’s ghost, or of some other spirit personating Samuel. I incline to think that Samuel really appeared. The reasons for this interpretation are as follow:--
1. This method of proceeding is very conformable to what God had been pleased to do before, in other cases of like nature. As Balak had recourse to sorceries and divinations in hopes to procure some relief, or fair promises at least from them. In like manner when King Ahaziah had sent to consult Beelzebub, the demon of Ekron, to know whether he should recover of the sickness he then lay under, hoping, no doubt, to obtain a favourable answer there, as probably he might have done; God Himself took care to anticipate the answer by Elijah the Prophet, who assured the messengers, meeting them by the way, that their master Ahaziah should not recover, but should surely die. Thus probably was it in the case of Saul.
2. This interpretation is plain and natural, and least forced of any, agreeing well with the words of the text. The story is here told in such a way as one would expect to find, upon the supposition it really was Samuel. So that if we consider the letter of the text, and the most obvious and natural construction of it we shall be obliged to confess that the apparition was really Samuel and no other.
3. This construction is very ancient, the most ancient of any; and seems indeed to have been the general persuasion of the Jewish Church long before the coming of Christ. (Sirach 46:20). In the same sentiments was Josephus the Jewish historian, who lived in the apostle’s times; and thus thought many of the earliest Christian fathers.
II. Objections answered. It is objected that the text speaks of bringing up Samuel as it were out of the ground; whereas, if it had been Samuel, he should rather have come down from heaven. But the true reason why Samuel is represented as being brought up is because his body was under ground, to which his soul was still conceived to bear a relation; and it was upon this chiefly, that the popular prevailing notion of all separate souls being in the heart of the earth, was founded.
2. But it is further objected that the apparition here in the person of Samuel complains to Saul of being disquieted or disturbed by him. But God Almighty with whom the spirits of just men made perfect dwell, might please to send Samuel upon that occasion, to deliver the message from him.
3. But it is further objected that it is hard to give a reason why God, Who had refused to answer Saul either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets, should at length vouchsafe to answer him in such a way as this, and by the mediation of a wicked sorceress. But it may be easy to account for God’s answering Saul in this way, as it was exposing and afflicting him more severely than in any other, after he had richly deserved it.
4. But it is still further objected thatthe predict, ions of the apparition, under the name of Samuel, were not true, and therefore could not be Samuel’s. But the things foretold were exactly verified, and the event answered to the prophecy in every particular. The things came to pass four or five days after. It says, Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me. But it is acknowledged by the best critics that the word which we render in English, tomorrow, may as welt be rendered very shortly, which it really signifies in this place.
5. Well, but is it not said, Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me? Was Saul, then, so wicked a man, to go after death to the same blessed place with righteous Samuel? The text determines nothing at all of the state of either after death, All that is meant by the words, Thou shalt be with me, is, Thou shalt die; add so it proved.
III. Practical uses.
1. Observe how careless and unthinking men are apt to be in their prosperity, and till the hour of distress comes.
2. That in such cases, generally, God very justly turns away His ear, and will vouchsafe no answer in the ordinary way, to such grievous offender.
3. Observe, further, how miserable, how melancholy a thing it is for a man to have sinned to such a degree as to be entirely abandoned by God, and to have the best friend in the world become his enemy. The practical conclusion from the whole is that we learn to set a true value upon God’s favour and friendship, and that, we use our utmost endeavours both to procure and to preserve it. (D. Waterland, D. D.)
God is departed from me.
“Without God in the world”
It is not in the power of language to depict a more terrible and hopeless condition for a rational creature to be in than that set forth in these five words of Scripture. And the climax of Paul’s description of man’s unregenerate state is: “Having no hope, and without God in the world.” Let us glance at the true meaning and significance of the words.
1. They do not mean that God has absolved them from all obligation--no longer sustains relations with them--has withdrawn His supervision and feels no concern on their account. For He holds them to strict account the same as with other men; He takes cognizance of their daily conduct, the same as if they were on terms of intimacy.
2. But they do mean:
3. Glance at the awfulness of such a condition!
Humanity consciously deserted of God
There are two stages in the history of human depravity.
1. Man deserts God. God calls, and man refuses.
2. God deserts man. The Eternal departs from him, which means a discontinuance of the overtures of His love, and His agencies to restore; it is leaving man to himself, to reap the labour of his own hands; it is the physician giving up the patient; the tender father closing the door against his reprobate child. In the first stage, we find the vast majorities of mankind in every age; in the second, we may find some of earth in every period. This stage is hell. The first stage is probation; the second stage is retribution. This second and final stage Saul had reached. All guiding oracles were hushed to him. The Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. Deep is the necessity he feels for supernatural help. He feels himself deserted by God. This passage presents three considerations concerning mankind in this state.
I. That humanity under a consciousness of God’s desertion will ever be impressed with the need of the forfeited means of Divine communion. There was a time when Saul had communications with his Maker. The prophets were accessible to him. He could consult the Urim on the breast of the high priest; but he had lost all now: he had slain the high priest; Samuel was dead; the Spirit of the Lord forsook him, and the heavens were closed against him. How deep and earnest is the cry, “Bring me up Samuel.” Oh! for one word from God now. Oh! that I could have but one more message from those sealed heavens. The deep cry of humanity, under a consciousness that God had deserted it, is, “Oh! that I knew but where I might, find him.” Captives away in Babylon, how did the Jews value the temple which, perhaps, they often neglected when at home? Sinner, value and improve the means of Divine communion now: God is speaking to you, through ministers, the Bible, and other books.
II. That humanity, under a consciousness of God’s desertion, becomes the subject of fearful delusions. Such delusions seem to me to spring naturally from his excited state of mired.
1. It presented a vivid vision of the teacher whose counsels had been neglected. The imagination of a conscience-stricken sinner will bring old reechoes from their graves, give them voice, and make them speak again.
2. It proclaimed the sin and pronounced the doom. (1 Samuel 28:18-19.) Imagination now gives a voice of thunder to all this whispering of conscience. Imagination is a terrible faculty, when swayed by a guilty conscience. What visions it can unfold! It can create a subjective world, whose firmament is “black as sackcloth,” whose tenants are fiends, whose stormy atmosphere is rent by lightnings and loaded with shrieks of anguish.
III. That humanity, under a consciousness of God’s desertion, must sink into unmitigated despair. Here is despair prostrating the man. The guilty mind, in despair, loses three elements of power.
1. Hope. What an inspiring element is this! How it sustains under trial! How it stimulates in enterprise!
2. Purpose. Mind is only powerful and happy as it has some purpose to engage its attention and energies: but in despair there is no purpose; the mind looks abroad on the dark universe and finds nothing to do.
3. Sympathy. A God-deserted mind has no sympathy: all hearts recoil from a sin-convicted soul, and it turns in upon itself. (Homilist.)
Abandoned of God
It is the saddest, the most despairing confession that ever fell from human lips. We can sympathise with the bitterness of the more ordinary losses and bereavements of men. But we cannot rise to the full agony of Saul’s confession, nor sympathise with the sadness and hopelessness of spirit that wail through it, like the winds through the vaults of the dead.
I. We consider the departure of God. There are two sets of moral forces in the world contending with each other for the possession of the spirit of man, called in Scripture the one, the powers of the world to come; the other, the powers of this present evil world. The former is a holy beneficent order of influences which have their source in the nature and life of God; the latter is a destructive, despoiling, degrading order. Now, just as the laws and forces of the material world build up the external economy of things, so do these two sets of influences mould and form human character. They are obviously diametrically opposed to each other in their aim and tendency; they try to bear and pull the spirit of life in each man in opposite directions. What therefore had happened in the experience of Saul was this: that the set of virtues or holy energies that have their origin in God and that pull men Godward, had ceased to strive for the possession of his spirit; and had left him to the undisputed sovereignty of the powers of this present evil world. And look at what happened in the nature of Saul when God had departed from him in this sense--the only sense in which God ever departs from a man. His once fine and brave and manly nature--manly and brave and fine as long as God stayed to make and keep it so--grew suspicious and bitter and restless, and filled with slavish fear. It is a law which holds for all time, which is as fixed and unalterable as the laws of the physical universe; it is an eternal law that separation from God involves moral disorder, and the tyranny of all the destroying influences that prey upon human hearts. Saul’s experience unfolds to us what would happen did God depart from the social life of today, be it village life, or commercial life, or court life; did He depart from any of the spheres of life where men meet and associate and deal with men. Society is impossible without the felt presence of God, warring against sin and keeping it down in the hearts of men. And in the case of the individual, too, every kind of moral disorder and wretchedness is involved in the departure of God. The individual soul is the realm of God’s most holy and blessed activities. Oh, it is fearful when God, as the moral force in the soul, departs from a man; for in this world there is a great conspiracy and confederacy against our truest good, the cunning of which God alone can baffle and God alone can confound. Without Him our very conceptions of righteousness will be unworthy; our consciences will get seared, as though a hot iron had passed over them, deadening their sensitive papillae; our hearts will give birth to bad devices, unholy plans, and thoughts of lawless and forbidden pleasures. Our whole nature will get cankered and corrupted, unless the sweet, refreshing waters of life are ever circulating in us. In short, there is no crime or sin which is not possible to, and likely to happen in, the life of the man from whom God has departed.
II. We have now to consider what Saul had done to compel God to depart. It was Saul’s disobedience and perverseness of temper that drove God away. By the requisite devices of overlooking, despising, rejecting, wearying, and tiring out the reproving presence of God’s spirit in him, he bad succeeded in making complete isolation between his soul and the Soul of souls. He determined against his better reason to keep his sins and his bad heart, and to take his own will and way. Never does the great Father of us all send an evil spirit into the hearts and minds of men. Every spirit that cornea from God, comes of holy ministries of love and blessing; comes to strive to bring bad men under the power of goodness; comes to war a noble warfare with the evil which Saul grappled to his soul as though it were his tried and adopted friend. What is it that turns God into a relentless foe? or, rather, what is it that so throws our eyes off the straight line of moral vision that we seem to see the great loving Father and a tyrant? We say, sin. Yes; but what kind of sin? Such sins as those of Noah, David, and Peter--drunkenness, lust and murder, falsehood and profanity--alienate God till the dark hour of anguish Domes, but do not compel an absolute departure. The sin of Saul must have been the unpardonable one--the resolute refusal to surrender the spirit of our life into God’s hands that we may be formed and shaped by Him. (James Forfar.)
Saul God forsaken
What a complication of calamities! What a deluge of distress and misery!
I. Reflect a moment on the language of his complaint. “The Philistines are come upon me.” However disproportionate the forces of a defending army, a Christian king and a Christian people are secure. “A thousand shall fall at their side, and ten thousand at their right hand, but it shall not Dome nigh them.” But when a man forsakes the Lord until the season of distress, who can wonder if his repentance is destitute of the character of sincerity, and he is left to perish. “If ye walk contrary to me, I will walk contrary to you,” is the threatening of that God who has justice as well as mercy.
1. But still, listen to his cry, “The Lord hath forsaken me.” This is indescribably dreadful! Better that all the world should leave us, better that we lose our health, our strength, our property, our friends, than be forsaken of Him whose smile is Heaven, whose frown is hell. What a state of abandonment, what a state of orphanage! With no eye to pity, with no arm to save. But what follows from such withdrawment of the greatest and the best of Beings? Penal blindness of mind, hardness of heart, the uncontrolled sway of evil passions, left a prey to the tempter, and to the influence and associations of wicked men. But this is not all; hear him yet again: “And the Lord answers me not, neither by prophets nor by dreams.” This, if possible, is still more distressing and dreadful than before. What a privilege is prayer! What must it be to have our prayers rejected.
II. The method which he adopted to obtain relief. What a wretched expedient for soothing the anguish of a guilty conscience! And yet how often do we see subterfuges, equally untenable and unsafe, resorted to by transgressors to stifle conviction, to prevent reflection, to silence the accusations of a guilty mind, and to obtain a little temporary relief.
III. Let us now contemplate his overthrow--his monitory death. What does this subject suggest for our mutual improvement?
1. How possible it is to live and die without hope in the world though surrounded by religious advantages.
2. We learn the awful consequences of rebellion against God. (B. Leach.)
I desire to set before you the end to which in this world allowed sin brings finally the impenitent man. Now that state is spoken of in God’s Word under various awful descriptions. It is described as one in which the heart is hardened; as one in which a man is “given over to a reprobate mind;” in which he is “to every good work reprobate;” in which men “have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” They are spoken of as “reprobate concerning the faith;” as having “treasured up” for themselves “wrath against the day of wrath;” as having “grieved,”--yea, and “quenched,”--the “Holy Spirit of God.” Now these passages of God’s Word suffice of themselves to show that there is here in this world such a state as that of final impenitence: and what can be added to those words to describe its misery and horror! Yet it may be well for us, instead of simply resting in them, to examine more in detail wherein their fearfulness consists; that so, of God’s mercy, we may be driven by the sight to cry to Him with greater earnestness to save us from all danger of failing ourselves into this most deadly state.
1. Now, in entering on this subject, we must remember what is involved in that certain truth which is set before us from one end of the Bible to the other, namely, that we, in this world, are really in a state of probation.
2. Now, mark how that probation is accomplished:
“Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.” Now the effect of such conduct on an earthly friend would be that it would lead him to withdraw himself from the intimate relationship of an undisturbed affection; and so we are taught that from the heart so resisting Him the Holy One withdraws Himself. Now as a necessary consequence of such a withdrawal, the progress of the forsaken soul towards final hardness is inevitable. The injured quality of the soil makes it need more urgently than before, if it is to yield any good upgrowth, the refreshment of cooling showers, and at that very time the decree has gone forth to the clouds of heaven that they rain no rain upon it.
3. What the downward process of such a soul must be we may see at once by recalling what we saw to be the Spirit’s gracious influences upon one whom He was sanctifying, and so estimating the consequences of their withdrawal. For reproofs for sin would in such a heart sink first into a whisper, and then die out in silence. And as they expired the conscience would be struck with dumbness, and the first cause therefore of a saving penitence would be removed. Next, the secret voice teaching the heart, and reminding it of the words of Christ, would cease to speak; and with this would fail also those first drawings of the affections towards God, which are as the tender bud of a future penitence, and which can awaken only beneath the Cross of Christ, and within the sound of His words of love, as the Blessed Spirit reveals them to the soul. So that there would be in such a heart nothing to begin that work of true repentance, which without the aid of the good Spirit cannot originate in fallen man. Nor is even this all. For in this heart there would be no shedding abroad the sweet reviving influences of love; there would be no sealing it by the pressure of a moulding hand to the day of redemption. So that such a heart must harden daily. The law of evil must daily pervade it more thoroughly, until it comes to choose sin as sin: whilst from such a state there is nothing to awaken it. And this is the awful, hopeless, rayless, outer darkness of the full and final impenitence of a reasonable soul which has failed utterly in its moral probation. Here, then, we reach the consummation of this course. It leads down to an impenitent despair. At this point, then, let us for a moment pause, and see the conclusion we have reached. It is, that this state of final, hopeless impenitence is the natural conclusion of a life spent under the influences of God’s Blessed Spirit by a reasonable moral agent, who by his neglect of or resistance to them, makes them turn into his uttermost condemnation. For as death can come to no man by chance, as the time of closing his day of trial must be exactly and certainly fixed for every man by God’s sovereign Will, does it not necessarily follow from the fact of God having placed him in this probation, that no man is taken from his life of trial with the trial incomplete? that no branch in the living Vine is taken away until it is indeed certain that it will bear no fruit. In fine, instead of its being a rare and uncommon thing for men to reach a state of final impenitence, it is the real and most awful secret of every hopeless death. And if this be so, with what a dreadful character does this truth invest every allowance of wilful sin in us Christians! That probation differs, of course, necessarily in every different man. The same act of sin may embody in itself, in the case of two different men, utterly different degrees of resistance to the Holy Spirit. Such is the lesson taught us by the examples set before us in God’s Word. Yet two such examples at least there are set before us in its pages--that of Saul in the Old Testament, and that of Judas in the New. In the history of Saul are traced with minuteness of detail the gifts of grace against which his sins of self-will and rebellion against Gad had been committed, until “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” Thenceforward the features of one whose heart was hardening look ever out upon us from his life. And to what an end does all this bring him! Who can read unmoved the record of those wild throbbings of despair which drove him, who in his better day had cut off those that had familiar spirits and the wizards from the land, to the sorceress at Endor; or the history of all that there awaited him? The deceitful tempter, now turned into the merciless accuser, took up the fierce utterance of that still hard though broken heart--“I am sore distressed,” etc. Here is no mingling of mercy with judgment, no call to repentance, no sweet whisper of pardon. These, then, are our lessons from this fearful subject. First, that we strive diligently to maintain such a temper of watchful observance for the motions of the Blessed Spirit as that we may never unawares resist or neglect any of His lightest intimations. Without this watchful observance we are sure to interrupt His work. For if the soul be heated with worldliness, or covered with the dust of the earth, how shall it receive those heavenly colours with which He would brighten and adorn it? if it be perpetually distracted by ten thousand cares, how shall it be ready to entertain His presence? Lastly, if through our exceeding feebleness we have fallen, let us learn to look straight to the cross of Christ, and strive diligently in His strength to arise again; that we fly to Him as for our lives, crying only to Him out of our low estate, “Forsake not, O Lord, the work of Thine own hands: Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit, from me.” (Bishop Wilberforce.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》