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we see here how God deals with them, and may readily judge how He would have them dealt with, either by others, or by the persons themselves, whose consciences are in so dangerous and uncertain a state.
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, and telling them how infinite a blessing they were throwing away; nor when they had uttered words of repentance, did he too easily admit them to comfort again, as many persons do, out of a false good-nature. "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, in its addresses to those persons who have fallen into deadly sin, or habits of sin, after Baptism, and are so far sensible of their danger, as to desire comfort, and express sorrow. To such, GoD speaking by His Church and His Scripture, does not by any means try to soften their penitent sense of ills already done: 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 for ever 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 a slavish, ungodly fear, as shall hinder you from doing your very best; preserve a holy obstinacy in following CHRIST for the future; take crosses, ill usage, low spirits, the irksomeness of many duties, with all patience and submission, as a part of your appointed penance for past ingratitude: cling to your blessed Church Privileges in hope, as to so many tokens that you are not yet forsaken, yet in awe likewise, as knowing that if unimproved they are wasting
away daily and hourly from your hold: in a word, let your temper of mind, living and dying, be that of the humble Saint, who, conscious of many good endeavours, yet remembering many sad backslidings, and trusting only in God's great mercy, made his confession and prayer thus: "I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost; O seek Thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments."
THE MAN OF WORLDLY EXPEDIENTS.
1 SAMUEL Xv. 24.
"And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and thy words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice."
THERE is not a more melancholy, nor in some respects a more perplexing, part of the Old Testament, than the history of Saul, the first king of Israel. He had been raised from a low condition by the especial providence of GOD, and had done his duty like a good soldier against the enemies of his country. So that the Philistines were kept back, and the Israelites greatly helped by him, for many years. He had the particular affection and good advice of the Prophet Samuel, one of the best and wisest persons in the whole Jewish history; yet all the latter part of his life is one continued course of sin and misery. His envy and hatred of David, who he knew was one day to be king in his place, took up all his thoughts. He was miserable, because he could not contrive the murder of his best friend and most faithful servant. And when he found, as might be expected, that God's favour and protection were quite withdrawn from him, instead of doing his best to recover it by true repentance, he turned from his MAKER in despair, and joined himself to His Enemy. He went and inquired of a woman who pretended to have dealings with evil spirits, with the false gods of the heathen; receiving no comfort from these, and finding the Philistines prevail more and more against him, he ended his days by murdering himself.
Now it is indeed melancholy and alarming, to see one so highly favoured by the ALMIGHTY falling away and coming to such an end. No man, surely, should dare depend upon GOD'S temporal favours, or upon the friendship of the best of men, after reading of the sin and punishment of Saul, who failed so sadly at last, though he was made king of Israel by the especial providence of the ALMIGHTY, and though he had the constant affection and intercession of so good a man as Samuel. If men will not labour to keep their own hearts in the right place, it is not either in GoD or man to do them good against their will.
This is the general impression which we receive upon reading the history of Saul. When we come to examine the particulars of it, we find somewhat rather startling and perplexing, which it will be best to explain before we go any farther. His falling away, we read, began from the following circumstance: When the Philistines were masters of nearly all the country, only a few men still remaining with him, and they gradually becoming fewer, he thought it would do good, and keep the people more contentedly with him, if a sacrifice were offered to God; but in strict obedience to the Law, it ought not to be offered without the presence of Samuel, or some other minister of God. He waited, therefore, seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed; but "Samuel came not to Gilgal, and the people were scattered from him. And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt-offering to me, and peace-offerings; and he offered the burnt-offering. And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt-offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him. And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together; therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD. I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt-offering. And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly; thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy GOD, which He commanded thee; for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue the LORD hath sought HIм a man after His own heart,
and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over His people; because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee."
If we judged of Saul's conduct in this instance by the measures which are common in the world, we must indeed reckon the punishment far too severe for the offence. To force one's self into the priests' office, and do those things, such as offering sacrifices, which GoD intended they only should do, might seem to the generality of men but a small error, now that it is become so common, even for well-meaning persons, to do what is very like it, to set themselves up as preachers of the Gospel without any authority from the Bishops, that is, without any authority from JESUS CHRIST, Perhaps, however, there may be a mistake in this; perhaps that God, who took such particular pains, in the beginning of the Gospel, to let people know who were His lawful and authorized ministers, may not be so well pleased, in our days, to have liberties taken in such things, with whatever good intentions.
It is true, some may think there is a difference between the Gospel and the Law in this respect, The Gospel does not, it may appear to them, so expressly set down who are the appointed ministers of GOD, as the Law did. It leaves more, perhaps, to men's faith and honest consideration; puts them more on their trial, whether they will submit themselves to what appears, on the whole, most likely to be the will of God, without waiting for clear and express commands from HIM. But the Law spoke out so positively and distinctly, that it was quite impossible to mistake it: "That no stranger, who is not of the seed of Aaron, come near to offer incense before the LORD." It is not said that Saul offered incense; but he offered sacrifice, which was a sort of intrusion on the office of the tribe of Levi. And he did not wait, as Samuel had appointed, full seven days; but being alarmed at the near approach of the Philistines, and the gradual departure of his own army, took and offered the burnt-offering some hours before the regular time.
It was not, however, merely for this, or any one act of disobedience, that the ALMIGHTY rejected Saul; but it was on account of the temper and disposition which he shewed by acting as he did, and which made him particularly unfit to be king over