1Sa_12:23-24. I will teach you the good and the right way: only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you.
A ZEAL for the honour of God, and a concern for the welfare of men’s souls, are the most striking features of a spiritual mind; and, when truly felt, will swallow up all selfish considerations, and take occasion, even from injuries received, to display their energy towards those who have injured us. This disposition was manifested in no small degree by the Prophet Samuel, who, having long been the teacher, the governor, and the deliverer of Israel, was deposed, though not by force, yet by the unanimous wishes of his nation, who desired to have a king after the manner of the surrounding nations. Instead of expressing any resentment against them for this indignity, he only inquired of them whether they could charge him with any mal-administration, and then assured them of a continued interest in his prayers, and exhorted them to serve the Lord with their whole hearts.
His words will naturally lead us to consider,
The duty here inculcated—
All, who believe the existence of God, acknowledge that he is worthy to be feared and served: but when our duty to him is practically enforced, too many cry out against it as the offspring of superstition and the parent of fanaticism.
Let us mark then with precision what our duty is—
[To fear God, is, to regulate our conduct by the unerring standard of his word, avoiding carefully every thing which may displease him, and doing with diligence whatever is pleasing in his sight. But this must be done “in truth:” it is not a feigned obedience that will suffice: hypocritical services, however specious, must be odious to God: “He requireth truth in our inward parts:” and though “he will not be extreme to mark” our unavoidable infirmities, he will fearfully resent every instance of dissimulation: “He cannot be deceived, and will not be mocked:” to be accepted of him, we must be “Israelites indeed, and without guile.” Moreover, our services must be, not like the constrained obedience of a slave, but the willing expressions of filial regard; they must be done “with all our heart.” If, like “Amaziah, we did that which was materially right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a perfect heart,” it would be of no avail [Note: 2Ch_25:2.]: we must, like Hezckiah, “do it with all our heart” if we would “prosper [Note: 2Ch_31:20-21.].” Nothing must be deemed too hard to do, or too great to suffer, that God may be glorified. David’s direction to Solomon to “serve the God of his father with a perfect heart and a willing mind,” completely expresses the nature of our duty as it is inculcated in the text [Note: 1Ch_28:9.].]
Let us next observe the importance of this duty—
[In the text it is said to be a right, and good, and necessary way; and not only in comparison of other ways, but to the exclusion of all others. They indeed, who most faithfully enforce the practice of this duty, are often reproached as deceivers, that would impose upon weak minds, and lead astray the ignorant and unwary. The example of the world is urged in opposition to them as a better standard of right and wrong than the Holy Scriptures. Nevertheless we must insist with Samuel that this way is “right;” “the broad road” of sin and self-indulgence leads men to destruction; and “the narrow path alone of holiness and self-denial leadeth unto life [Note: Mat_7:13-14.].” Nor is this way merely despised, as erroneous; it is also reprobated, as pernicious; and both they who teach it and they who follow it, are often deemed the very bane of society. While the drunkard and the whoremonger are respected, and excused, “he that departeth from evil is considered as a prey [Note: Isa_59:15.],” which all are at liberty to hunt and devour. But the testimony of Samuel, confirmed as it is by numberless other passages of Holy Writ, is sufficient to outweigh all that the blind votaries of sin and Satan can bring against religion. It is most assuredly, not only the right, but the “good” way; and though other ways may be more pleasing to flesh and blood, there is not any so productive of happiness, so perfective of our nature, or so conducive to the welfare of society.
Many, who feel convinced that fervent piety is both right and good, yet will not be persuaded that it is necessary. They acknowledge perhaps that ministers, and others who are detached from worldly engagements, should cultivate the fear of God: but a just attention to divine things seems to them incompatible with their own peculiar state and calling. Let none however imagine that any lawful calling is an impediment to religion: Adam even in Paradise had work assigned him by God himself, as being no less subservient to the welfare of his soul than to the health of his body [Note: Gen_2:15.]. The truth is, that religion is “the one thing needful;” nor though, like Samuel or David, we had a kingdom to govern, could we plead any exemption on account of the multiplicity or importance of our engagements. The word of God to every living creature is, “Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man [Note: Ecc_12:13.].”]
That while we acknowledge our duty we may also be led to practise it, let us consider,
The argument with which it is enforced—
The Jews were singularly indebted to God for their deliverance from Egypt, their preservation in the wilderness, their investiture in the promised land, and the many wonderful interpositions of the Deity on their behalf in the time of their Judges. But waving any further mention of them, let us call to mind the mercies vouchsafed to us:
[Numberless are the blessings which every individual amongst us has received; as are those also, which are conferred upon the nation at large. But on the present occasion it will be proper to contemplate rather the privileges we enjoy in our corporate capacity [Note: If this were the subject of a Commemoration Sermon, the peculiar privileges that are enjoyed should here be stated: but if of a Thanksgiving, the special occasions for thankfulness should here be opened.] — — — And should not these operate as inducements to fidelity and diligence in the service of our God? Does not every favour bestowed upon us address us, as it were, in the words of Samuel, “Only fear the Lord? Does it not bind us also, according to the ability and opportunities afforded us, to teach others “the good and the right way?” Instead then of making our situation an occasion for carnality, or an excuse for lukewarmness, let us endeavour to “render to the Lord according to the benefits he has conferred upon us.”]
[As the most signal mercies imparted to the Jewish nation were typical of far richer benefits reserved for the Christian Church, we should but ill consult the scope of the text, and still less the advancement of our eternal interests, if we should omit to mention our obligations to God for spiritual blessings. “Consider” then that stupendous act of mercy, the gift of God’s dear Son: consider that he was given up to death, even the accursed death of the cross, for us sinners, for the recovery of our souls from death and hell, and for the restoration of them to the divine favour; how unfathomable the mystery! how incomprehensible the love! The terms too upon which God will accept sinners; how easy, how simple, how suited to our lost and helpless nature! We have only to “believe in Christ, and we shall be saved [Note: Act_16:31.].” Can any thing be more encouraging; or lay us under greater obligations to obedience? Consider farther, the benefits we receive by believing: we are instantly brought into the family of God; we enjoy sweet “fellowship with the Father and the Son;” we have the sting of death taken away; and we have an eternal inheritance in heaven: shall all this love have no constraining influence? shall it not cause us to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, that we may both live to him who died for us, and glorify God with our bodies and our spirits which are his [Note: 2Co_5:14; Rom_12:1; 1Co_6:20.]? Yes; such were the sentiments of an inspired Apostle; nor can any rational being controvert or doubt such self-evident deductions. Let us then apply them in confirmation of the text, and fix them on our minds as motives to serve God with all our hearts. Let us put away that worldliness and sensuality, which are the bane and curse of our souls. Let us discard formality, that blinding, that deluding sin. Let us also abhor hypocrisy, that basest of all sins. Let us serve our God, not with a few outward ceremonies, but with the inward devotion of our hearts [Note: 1Jn_3:18.]. Let us not study how we may contract our regards to him into the smallest possible space; but how we may glorify his name, and advance his interests. And while we thus cultivate the fear of him in our own hearts, let us, with Samuel, labour to the utmost, that he may be feared and served by all around us [Note: Here, if it were judged proper, the connexion of our piety with the prosperity of the nation, as marked in the words following the text, might be urged as an additional, though inferior, motive to zeal and diligence.].]