Samuel's Farewell Address.

1 Samuel 12.

1891 356 The first government given to Israel was the highest conceivable — the direct government of God. They could say with truth, The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King." 'That they should prove themselves unworthy of this supreme honour, this exalted government, which set them above all the nations of the earth, might perhaps be expected; but that they should reject it was the basest ingratitude, and, surrounded as they were by powerful enemies on all sides, the greatest folly. It was this grave dishonour put upon the Lord which called forth the address that now invites our attention. "They have not rejected thee," God said to Samuel, "but they have rejected Me that I should not reign over them."

We need not dwell now on Samuel's challenge as to his own conduct among them from childhood. It evidently afforded no excuse for their sin, and this they own. He was free therefore to remind them of the faithful and merciful ways of the Lord with them, and for this the prophet was eminently fitted, not only by his gifts but by his experiences. His memorial (Ebenezer) tells us how he loved to recall past help and deliverances, and he could well bid them "stand still, that he might reason with them before the Lord of all the righteous acts of the Lord which He did to them and their fathers." It is probable that we have only a brief summary of this address, but the scope of the retrospect which he takes is complete. He begins with Jacob going down into Egypt, and he continues it to his own time when, notwithstanding all their sins, "the Lord had delivered them out of the hand of their enemies on every side, and they dwelled safe." What a moment to manifest their distrust of Him! What a time to desire a man to take the place of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel!

But we shall be in danger of falling under the condemnation of the hypocrite in Matt. vii. 4, 5 if, while dwelling on their sin, we lose sight of the ingratitude and folly of the church, and it may be of ourselves. That God was present in the church of a truth even strangers owned where His word was obeyed. That Christ by the Spirit was supreme, the Son over the house of God, is clearly revealed. That there were diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; differences of administration, but the same Lord; diversities of operations, but the same God Who worketh all in all, is insisted on in scripture with peculiar emphasis. But when the pure worship of God by the Spirit declined, and confidence in the flesh revived, when the love of Christ waned and delight in His assured presence with those gathered to His name failed, the desire for a visible head arose. The spiritual rule and order of 1 Cor. 12, 14 no longer sufficed, nay, was even counted as disorder, and contentions began as to what was to take its place. Enemies poured in on every side, grievous wolves not sparing the flock, and even those who ought to have fed it as the flock of God, sought to draw the sheep after themselves and thus have flocks of their own. But Paul, who foresaw the danger, pointed out the only resource — return to dependence on God, and obedience of His word. "And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20). Paul's farewell address and Samuel's are remarkably alike; and the church has heeded the one as little as Israel the other.

This digression seemed to be needed, but the reader will judge. We return to the address. With intense solemnity Samuel told them that, although the Lord will never change His purposes, He assuredly would change His method of procedure with them, and God accompanied the warning with thunder and rain, although it was wheat-harvest, a sign that, if it reminded them of the discomfiture of the Philistines at Mizpah, also bore witness to their own danger of provoking the anger of the Lord as they had done. As to the divine purpose he said, "The Lord will not forsake His people for His great name's sake; because it hath pleased the Lord to make you His people." This is absolute; the sovereign purpose of love which nothing can change. Israel is "the dearly beloved of His soul" (Jer. xii. 7). But, as they had desired a king and thrown off their allegiance to the Lord, Samuel told them plainly that in this self-chosen position all would depend on their conduct, "If ye shall do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king."

And here we may again pause, because, for abiding peace and humble submission under the mighty hand of God, it is most important for every Christian to distinguish, as Samuel did here, between the purposes of God for His people and His ways with them. In His absolute and unchanging grace "He will not forsake them," though in His dealings in government "He will consume them." According to the conclusions of the natural mind these two principles are so opposed that any attempt to reconcile them would appear to be hopeless, and, as a fact, two schools of doctrine divide christendom on them. Yet to faith there is no difficulty, for faith brings in God. They simply resolve themselves into this, Is the Lord not to use the rod with a people whom He loves and saves? Or shall He not save a people on whom He may indict the rod? Christians are sadly afraid of all "if," although it is a very salutary little word to a dormant conscience. The effort to get rid of the whole point of the exhortation in Heb. xii. 29, "For our God is a consuming fire," by interpreting it, "God out of Christ," is another proof of the difficulty that some find in this subject. They forget that it is an inspired apostle writing to his brethren who says, "Our God," and hence the need of grace to worship Him aright (ver. 28). Think of the crowds of professed worshippers every Lord's day and is not the exhortation needed by Christians now as much as by the Hebrews? But in the case of Israel we must bear in mind that when their salvation is spoken of it is as a nation and for the earth, while the salvation which the gospel offers is of individuals and for heaven; but these two principles apply to both. Israel is now cast out of their land, scattered among the nations, and often treated with exceptional rigour, as now in Russia. The question is raised in Romans xi. Are they cast off as well as cast out? Paul admits the latter, but denies the former. He says that severity characterises the dealings of God with them now because of their unbelief; but he also says, "all Israel shall be saved."* Severity is the dealing of God in government. Salvation is His purpose, the fruit of His grace. They, having forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters, have to learn experimentally the evil of hewing them out cisterns that can hold no water. How soon they proved it in their first king, Saul. His desired reign ended in disaster and death. They are proving it now under the Gentile yoke, which they wickedly preferred to the Prince of life, heartlessly saying to Pilate, to force him to crucify Jesus, "We have no King but Caesar." And they will finally and more bitterly prove it when they receive the one of whom the Lord spake in John v., who shall come in his own name, the king who shall do according to his will (Dan. xi. 36-39).

[*What is meant by "all Israel" he shows from Isaiah (Rom. ix. 27).]

No prophecy concerning the sufferings has failed, and assuredly none will, for God will never let His word fall to the ground. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities." Shall He prove less faithful as to their promised future blessings? Impossible. "Thus saith the Lord: Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have promised them" (Jer. xxxii. 42). Would we know something of this good? Read Isa. lx., Isa. lxv. 17-25, Isa. lxvi. 10–16 (et al. freq.).

And now as to individual souls. The first truth of the gospel is extremely simple — God is just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus (Rom. iii.). That is, every believer in Jesus is accounted righteous by God. "It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?" From this first point of blessing, which cannot fail to faith, the Spirit of God leads on to others, until in Rom. chapter viii. the purpose of God in them all is disclosed. It is this: to conform all those whom He has justified to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. No higher glory, no more perfect bliss, can be communicated to the creature, and in the purpose and the power of God it shall be reached by all the justified. Their chain of blessings are here seen to stretch from eternity to eternity, and the last link is as certain as the first.

When however we read in Galatians vi., "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.* For he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting," we are clearly upon other ground, the ground of the righteous government of God in respect of conduct here. He will visit faults now which he has forgiven for eternity. Hence the Christian's duty is to keep a close watch on himself, for "if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged. But when we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. xi. 31). The chastenings specially referred to here are weakness, sickness, and death (ver. 30), and are purely temporal; while condemnation, from which they are distinguished, is eternal. The adorable fulness and clearness with which these two principles are treated in scripture must be our plea for dwelling thus on this part of Samuel's address. Let the reader search for himself, and he will have cause to say with Augustine, "Adoro plenitudinem scripturae."

[*While this admonition has the widest application, the context especially points to the use made of one's property. May it be heeded.]

A brief word now as to Samuel himself. There was real nobility of character displayed in him at this time, and all by grace. Whatever the ingratitude of the people in desiring his deposition after he had served them from childhood with spotless integrity and sincere devotion; whatever the secret sorrow of his heart for having listened to nature in his old age in making his sons judges, instead of leaving it with the Lord; whatever the shame brought on him by those sons, nothing of self appears. He would still serve the people of God in the only way left, he would not cease to pray for them. He was a man of prayer, an intercessor of whom the Spirit makes honourable mention in later times (Ps. xcix. Jer. xv. 1). Once indeed he failed, in the matter of his sons, and the elders of Israel took occasion of an aged man's faults to accomplish what their unbelieving hearts were set upon, making it the ostensible reason for asking for a king. The plea was a weak one even if true, but it was not true. It was their utter want of faith in God in the presence of some threatened attack of the Ammonites (ver. 12); Ebenezer was lost on them. They chose their own method of deliverance to their shame and subsequent ruin. Samuel went patiently on, seeking the good of the nation and their king; and the Lord was with him. Saul's course made this unselfish path most difficult and distressing; but in it Samuel was brought to know the man after God's own heart, the king of His sovereign choice, and to share in his rejection. "So David fled, and escaped, and came to Samuel to Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth" (chap. xix. 18). It was a beautiful close to a remarkable life. All confidence in the flesh was gone. The difficult lesson of true separation from it was learned, and Samuel now found all his rest in communion with David at a time when, in his experiences, he was a remarkable type of Him Who "was despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."