1Sa_15:11. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night.
NEVER can we be weary of contemplating the scripture history; so diversified are its incidents, and so instructive the examples it sets before us. The whole life of Samuel, from his first dedication to God by his mother to the very hour of his death, was one uniform course of piety. That particular part of it which I propose at present to consider, is his conduct in reference to Saul, when God declared his purpose to rend the kingdom from him, and to transfer it to another who should shew himself more worthy of it: we are told, “it grieved Samuel: and he cried unto the Lord all night.”
In discoursing on these words, we shall notice,
The pious grief of Samuel—
Respecting this we shall distinctly consider,
The grounds of it—
[Saul had disobeyed the commandment of the Lord, in sparing Agag the king of the Amalekites, together with all the best of the spoil, when he had been strictly enjoined to destroy every thing, “man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
This, at first sight, might appear a venial fault, inasmuch as he had leaned to the side of mercy, and had acted in conformity with the wishes of his people; and had even consulted, as he thought, the honour of God, to whom he intended to offer all the best of the cattle in sacrifice.
But he had received a specific commission, which it was his duty to execute. He was not left at liberty to act according to circumstances: his path was marked out, and should have been rigidly adhered to.
It does not appear that he stopped short of his purpose, because he thought that the command itself was too severe: for, in the first instance, he set himself to execute it fully: but, if he had felt some reluctance on account of its severity, he had no alternative left him: it was his duty simply to obey. When Abraham was called to come out from his country and from his kindred, he obeyed, though he knew not which way he was to direct his steps. And, when he was enjoined to offer up upon an altar his own son Isaac, he hesitated not to do it; notwithstanding he knew that on the life of Isaac, to whose lineal descendants all the promises were made, the coming even of the Messiah himself essentially depended. Had he judged it right to listen to carnal reasonings of any kind, or to put his own feelings in competition with his duty, he might have easily found enough to satisfy his own mind. But he knew what was the duty of a creature: and he obeyed it without reserve. And so should Saul have done. We will take for granted that all his excuses were true; (though we doubt much whether covetousness was not the true source of his conduct:) still they were of no real weight: and his listening to them was nothing less than an act of rebellion against God.
And was not this a sufficient ground for grief? Yes: and Samuel did well in that he was grieved with it.
Doubtless Samuel was also grieved on account of the judgment which Saul had brought on himself and on his family, by this act of disobedience. He pitied the man who had subjected himself so grievously to the divine displeasure: and pitied his children also, who were involved both in his guilt and punishment. When he himself, indeed, had been dispossessed of the kingdom, we do not find that he was grieved either for himself or his children: but for Saul and his children he deeply grieved. In his own case, Samuel had nothing to deplore: whilst he fell a victim to the ingratitude of man, he had a testimony from the whole nation, and from God himself, that he had discharged his duty towards them with fidelity: but in the case of Saul, he saw the man who had been specially called by God to the kingdom, now dispossessed of it by that very God who had appointed him, and under his heavy and merited displeasure. In a word, the sin and the punishment of Saul formed in the mind of Samuel one ground of deep and undissembled grief.]
The expression of it—
[By God the sentence against Saul had been pronounced; and none but God could reverse it. But so often, and in such astonishing instances, had God condescended to the prayers of his servants, yea, to the prayers of Samuel himself, that this holy man did not despair of yet obtaining mercy for his unhappy prince. He, therefore, betook himself to prayer, and continued in it all the night, hoping that, like Israel of old, he should at last prevail. With what “strong crying and tears” may we suppose he urged his suit! And what an extraordinary measure of compassion must he have exercised, when he could continue in supplication for a whole night together! Such had been his feelings towards the people at large, after they had rejected him: “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord, in ceasing to pray for you [Note: 1Sa_12:23.].” And such is the proper expression of love, whether towards God or man: for God it honours as a merciful and gracious God; whilst it seeks to benefit man, by bringing down upon him the blessing of the Most High.]
But, in contemplating his example, we are chiefly called to notice,
The instruction to be derived from it—
In this record we may see what should be our conduct,
In reference to the sins of others—
[It is amazing with what indifference the universal prevalence of sin is beheld by the generality of mankind. Those evils which tend to the destruction of all social comfort are indeed reprobated by men of considerate minds: but it is in that view alone that they are reprobated. As offending God, they are scarcely thought of: men may live altogether as “without God in the world,” and no one will lay it to heart, or shew the least concern about the dishonour which is done to God.
The eternal interests of men too, it is surprising how little they are thought of. Men are dying all around us, and no one inquires whether they are prepared to die: and, when they are launched into eternity, no one feels any anxiety about their state, or entertains any doubt about their happiness before God. It is taken for granted that all who die are happy. Whether they sought after God or not, all is supposed to be well with them: and to express a doubt respecting it would be deemed the essence of uncharitableness and presumption.
But widely different from this should be the state of our minds. We are not indeed called to sit in judgment upon men: but to feel compassion towards them, and to pray for them, is our bounden duty. David tells us that “horror seized hold upon him,” and “rivers of waters ran down his cheeks, because men kept not God’s Law.” The Prophet Jeremiah exclaimed, “O that mine head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” Thus was it also with Samuel, in relation to Saul; and thus should it be with us, in reference to all around us. To see them dishonouring God and ruining their own souls, ought to create in us the same emotions as were felt by the Apostle Paul, when he declared that he had “great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart for his brethren’s sake.” Even though we have no hope of doing them good, yet should we, like our blessed Saviour, weep over them, saying, “O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace!” Nor should we ever cease to pray for them, in hope that God may be gracious unto them, and make them distinguished monuments of his grace.]
In reference to our own sins—
[Here is reason for the very same complaint. Men can violate every command of God, and feel no fear, no compunction. As for such a sin as Saul’s, it would not even be deemed a sin. ‘True, they have not strictly adhered to the divine command; but the command itself was too strict; and they complied with the solicitations of their friends; and they meant no harm.’ Hence, in their prayers, if they pray at all, there is no fervour, no importunity, no continuance. A transient petition or two is quite as much as their necessities require.
But did Samuel feel such grief for another, and should not we for ourselves? Did he cry to God all night for another, and should we scarcely offer a petition for ourselves? Should the deposing of another from an earthly kingdom appear a judgment to be deprecated, and shall we not deprecate the loss of heaven for ourselves? Verily, in neglecting to pray for ourselves, we not only sin against God, but grievously sin also against our own souls.]
Let me then address myself,
To those who are in a state of careless indifference—
[Alas! What a large proportion of every assembly does this comprise! What then shall I say unto you? To Samuel, whose grief for Saul was inconsolable, God said, “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul [Note: 1Sa_16:1.]?” But to you I must say, How long will ye refuse to mourn for yourselves? Has not your impenitence continued long enough? Many, of you have sinned against God, not in one act only, but in the whole course of your lives; and that, too, not in a way of partial obedience only, like Saul, but in direct and wilful disobedience. Will not ye, then, weep and pray? Remember, I entreat you, that if you will not humble yourselves before God, you must be humbled ere long; and if you will not weep now, you must ere long “weep, and wail, and gnash your teeth for ever” in that place where redemption can never come, nor one ray of hope can ever enter. I beseech you, Brethren, reflect on this; and now, whilst the sentence that is gone forth against you may be reversed, cease not to cry unto your God for mercy day and night.]
To those who are desirous of obtaining mercy from God—
[Great as was Samuel’s interest with God, he could not prevail for Saul. But you have an Advocate, whose intercessions for you must of necessity prevail, if only you put your cause into his hands. This “Advocate is the Lord Jesus Christ, who is also the propitiation for your sins.” To him St. John directs you: and, if you go to him, it is impossible that you should ever perish: for he has expressly said, “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” To have a praying friend or minister is a great comfort to one who feels his need of mercy: but to have One who “ever liveth on purpose to make intercession for us,” and “whom the Father heareth always,” this is a comfort indeed. Commit then your cause, Brethren, into the Saviour’s hands; and you may rest assured, that, whatever judgments you may have merited at God’s hands, “you shall never perish, but shall have eternal life.”]