1Sa_15:13-16. And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord. And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed. Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what the Lord hath said to me this night.
IF the Holy Scriptures exhibit to us the most perfect patterns of righteousness, they also bring to our view men devoid of righteousness, and living characters of wickedness under all its diversified forms and operations. In truth, if we read them only as records of past events, without an application of them to our own business and bosoms, we may be amused and instructed by them, but we shall not be greatly edified. But if we view them as mirrors, in which our own countenance, and the countenances of those around us, are reflected, then, indeed, do we reap from them the benefit which they were intended to convey. Let us, then, take this view of the history before us, and see in it the state of the ungodly world at this time. Let us see in it,
Their presumptuous confidence—
Saul had been commanded to destroy the whole nation of Amalek, and every thing belonging to them: but he spared the best of their cattle; and yet boasted to Samuel, that he had “performed the commandment of the Lord.” In this we see the conduct of multitudes around us.
We all have received a commandment to wage war with our spiritual enemies, and to “destroy the whole body of sin [Note: Rom_6:6.]”—
[Not only is “our reigning lust” to be mortified [Note: Rom_6:12.], but every sinful disposition, though it be dear to us as “a right eye,” or apparently necessary to us as “a right hand [Note: Mat_5:29-30.].”]
But, whilst much remains unmodified, we take credit to ourselves as having fulfilled the will of God—
[The great majority of men, if not living in very flagrant iniquity, think, and wish others to think, that they have fulfilled the will of God, so far at least as not to leave them any material ground for shame and sorrow on account of their iniquities. See the self-complacent state of all around us. In the habit of their minds, they plainly say, “We have performed the commandment of the Lord,” and have ground for commendation on that account — — —]
But they stand reproved, one and all of them, by,
Their glaring inconsistency—
The very beasts which Saul had spared, convicted him of falsehood—
[It was impossible for him to resist the evidence which the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen gave of his disobedience.]
And is there not equal evidence of the self-deceit of those around us?
[You say you have obeyed the voice of the Lord. Let me then ask, What means that worldliness which is so visible to all who behold you? Is it not clear and manifest, that the great mass of those who take credit to themselves on account of their obedience to God, are as much addicted to the world as any other persons whatever? They may be free from its grosser vices; but their cares, their pleasures, their company, their entire lives, shew indisputably whose they are, and to whom they belong. They are altogether “of the earth, earthly.”
And what means their impenitence, which is as manifest as the sun at noon-day? Who ever sees their tears, or hears their sighs and groans on account of indwelling sin? Who ever beholds them crying to God for mercy; and fleeing, like the man-slayer, with all possible earnestness, to the hope set before him in the Gospel? Does the heart-searching God behold any more of this in the secret chamber, than man beholds in the domestic circle, or in the public assembly?
I say, then, What means all this indifference to heavenly things? It is as clear a demonstration of their disobedience to God, as were “the bleating of the sheep, and the lowing of the oxen,” of Saul’s hypocrisy.]
But in the reply of Saul to his reprover, we see,
Their vain excuses—
Saul cast the blame of his misconduct upon the people—
[Not only does he speak of them as the agents whom he could not control, but he declares that they were the authors of his disobedience, inasmuch as he was constrained to sanction their conduct through fear of their displeasure [Note: ver. 21, 24.].]
This is the very rock on which all self-complacent Pharisees are wont to stumble—
[It is not owing to any want of inclination in themselves, that they do not serve God more perfectly, they will say, but to their situation and circumstances in life. It would be in vain for them to stem the torrent that carries all before it. Were they to follow the Lord fully, and to carry into effect the commands of God according to their full import, they should be altogether singular: and therefore they conform to the will of others, not from inclination, but necessity.
But let me ask, Are we to obey man in opposition to God? Are we to “follow a multitude to do evil?” Even Saul himself acknowledged, that in such a compliance “he had greatly sinned [Note: ver. 21, 24.]:” and we may be sure that no such excuses will avail us at the judgment-seat of Christ.]
Let me, then, declare to you,
Their impending fate—
Saul was rejected of his God—
[He might have urged in his behalf, that the command which had been given him, left him a discretion to exercise mercy: and, at all events, his desire had been to honour God with sacrifices which must otherwise have been withheld. But the commands of God leave nothing to our discretion. We are not at liberty to restrict any one of them; but are bound to execute them all in their full extent. And as Saul, in deviating from God’s command, had, in fact, “rejected the word of the Lord, God, in righteous indignation, rejected him [Note: ver. 23.].”]
And what better fate awaits us who limit the commands of God?
[It is in vain for us to dispute against the commands of God, as too strict, or too difficult. We are not called to dispute, but to obey. Nor is it a partial obedience that will suffice: nor are we at liberty to commute obedience for sacrifice. Nothing is left to us, but to obey: and, if we would please the Lord, we must “follow him fully:” our obedience must be entire and unreserved: and, if it be not unreserved, we are guilty of direct and positive “rebellion, which is declared by God himself to be, in his sight, even as idolatry:” for, whatever we may think to the contrary, there is little to choose between disobedience to the true God, and obedience to a false one [Note: ver. 23.].
I declare, then, to all of you, my Brethren, that, to whatever privileges you have been exalted by God himself, you will have reason to curse the day wherein you ever listened to man in opposition to God, or withheld from God the entire obedience of your souls. By whatever excuses you may palliate such conduct, I declare to you, before God, that it is rebellion against him, and that, as rebels, he will reject you in the day of judgment.]
As an improvement of this subject, there is one thing only which I would say; and that is, Take the Holy Scriptures, in every thing, for your guide—
[Call not any thing “A hard saying [Note: Joh_6:60.].” You may not be able to understand the reasons of God’s commands, or to appreciate his reasons aright, if they were stated to you. Doubtless, to study their real import is your duty: but when that is once ascertained, you have nothing to do but to obey them. You are not to sit in judgment upon them, or to lower their demands. If the whole world urge you to depart from them, you are in no wise to comply. For God you are to live: and, if need be, for God you are to die. It is on these terms alone that you can ever be acknowledged as Christ’s disciples [Note: Mat_10:38-39.]. If, then, “you have been called to God’s kingdom and glory,” see that you “walk worthy of your high calling.” “Be faithful unto death, and God will give you the crown of life.”]