Page images

Hosea, he “ gave them a king in his anger," as well as “ took him away in his wrath :'* for they who ask for unreasonable and injurious things, are oftentimes most fitly punished by receiving them, and are filled with the bitter fruits of their own devices. Neither can any man complain, who has attended in any degree to religious instruction, that he did not know what would be hurtful to him, and what would not: if he did not, he might have known it-God has declared it openly and sufficiently in his word, and calls upon all to whom that word is offered, to learn of him the way to real happiness, the things belonging to their lasting peace.

What he does now generally, he did then specially for his people Israel : Samuel was commanded to tell them, in plain language, the miseries and oppressions which they would bring upon themselves, by hus setting up over them a human governor, full of human passions and vices, and armed with that nearly unlimited power over their lives and fortunes, with which the kings of the heathen then lorded it over their subjects. Thus, if they still asked to be so governed, they asked it with their eyes open, with a fair and full knowledge of the consequences that would arise : they seem even to have meditated their future subjection to an arbitrary despot, as a relief from the constant duty of watching over their daily conduct, left to no external control but the divine law. They said, “ Nay, but we will have a king over us.”+ Upon this, God gave them up to their own hearts' lusts, and let them follow their own imaginations; still reserving to himself, however, the privilege, which indeed they were disposed to concede to bim, of appointing them their king. One of the motives which induced them to apply for him at this particular time was, the fear that Nahash, king of the Ammonites, was coming to make war upon them: God therefore so far condescended to their wishes, as to choose them out a man whose lofty stature and personal courage fitted him for the rude duty of heading them in battle, Saul by name, the son of Kish, of the warrior tribe of Benjamin. This young man, having been sent with a servant to seek his father's asses, which were strayed, came, among other places, to Samuel's residence, who received him honourably, and, before his departure, informed him that he was authorized by God to anoint him king over Israel; which ceremony he immediately performed, and sent him home, filled for the time with a spirit of prophecy, and disposed to receive with reverence the high commission which the Lord willed him to discharge. Accordingly, though he attended the great assembly of the nation, at which the choice of a king was to be made known, a becoming feeling of modesty kept him in a place of concealment, until, being discovered, he was brought forth and placed in the midst of them, overtopping them all from the shoulders upwards, and commanding that involuntary homage which is in almost all cases paid by the crowd to personal strength and beauty. A few indeed, selfwilled and rebellious men, despised him, and doubted his ability to save them: but the people generally were well content; and his first action, namely, the rescue of Jabesh-gilead from the assault of the Ammonites, being attended with complete success, confirmed his authority beyond dispute over the whole Israelitish nation. Nor was it more the skill and valour which he showed in the defence of his country, than the merciful moderation with which he treated those, who before his victory had rejected him with contempt, that raised his character among his subjects. Samuel, for a time at least, had reason to comfort himself with the reflection, that God, in giving such a ruler to his people, had treated them more mildly than they deserved : though he felt it his duty to give them again a solemn warning to continue in obedience to the laws of God, being well aware of the terrible calamities that would befal both them and their sovereign, should they cease to do so. He acted upon the principle of that most true saying, "righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people;"* a saying which the whole history of the Israelites abundantly illustrates, and which both the governors and the governed, in every country where the superintending providence of God is acknowledged, will do well to bear in mind. The Captain of our salvation, who watches over us from heaven, is King of kings and Lord of lords: all earthly power in christian countries is held subordinate to his, and is bound to provide, as his delegate, for the spiritual as well as temporal welfare of its subjects, and the maintenance of his visible church. Over hearts He alone can rule who sees them, but outward actions may be controlled to habits of decency, and religious institutions may be framed upon principles of regularity and order : the people may be instructed in the good and right way; and the sure guide of the erring may be entreated with national as well as individual supplication, to keep them in it unto the end.

* Hos, xiii. 11.

+ 1 Sam. viii. 19.



SAUL, having begun his reign beneficially to his

country by a great defeat of the Ammonites, sought further that renown which arises from suc

* Prov, xiv, 34.


cessful enterprise, by turning his arms against its old enemies, the Philistines. He did so, however, without sufficiently calculating his own strength, and consequently brought down upon the land of Israel a host whose ravages he was unable to check. Being in this strait, and having waited seven days in vain for the arrival of Samuel to countenance his proceedings, he took upon himself to offer a burnt offering, by which he hoped to procure the favour of God. Samuel, on his arrival, rebuked him sharply, as he deserved, for his impatience, and undue interference with the office of others; and warned him that he had forfeited thereby the continuance of his kingdom.

Let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God ;'* as no one is excused for neglecting his own business, so no one is justified in presumptuously intruding into that which is clearly set apart as the business of another. The kings of Israel, for instance, great as was the extent of their authority, were invariably forbidden to execute the office of its priests; and upon the same principle it is, that our Church pronounces in her thirty-seventh article, that“we give not to our princes the ministering either of God's word or of the sacraments ; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly princes in holy Scriptures by God himself, that is, that they should rule all states and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be ecclesiastical or temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil doers." The deliverance of the Israelites out of the dangerous position in which Saul had placed them, was brought about by a most bold action on the part of Jonathan his son, who, attended only by a single follower, climbed up the hill on which their troops were stationed, slew twenty men at his first onset, and struck such a terror into the whole army, that they fled in confusion, and would have been utterly destroyed, had not Saul rashly bound the people by an oath, that they would taste no food that day, while the pursuit lasted ; the consequence of which was, that they became faint, and were unable to follow up their retreating enemies. This shows how foolish it is to bind oneself or others to any particular course of conduct, until we have maturely considered the results which are likely to arise from it, lest, like Saul, we defeat our own purposes, by the very means which we adopt in order to bring them to a successful issue. Jonathan alone, who had not heard of the oath imposed by his father upon the people, tasted a little honey, which he found in a wood: and when afterwards God, being consulted by Saul, refused to answer, the king, supposing that some one had broken his oath, caused inquiry to be made ; and Jonathan's action being thus discovered, he was condemned to death, which sentence would have been inflicted upon him, had not the people in a body interfered in his behalf, and declared that not a hair of his head should fall to the ground, who “had wrought with God this great salvation in Israel."* Had it not been for this outbreak of popular feeling, another consequence of Saul's hasty conduct would have been the death of his son, who had gotten him the victory. Although perhaps, in strictness, the people had no right thus to controvert the sentence pronounced by their king, it would appear that they took a sounder view than he of the point at issue ; and that theirs was in this instance, the voice of good sense and humanity-preferring mercy to sacrifice, and instructing him in that which he should have known before, that no engagement can be binding, which involves the shedding of innocent blood. Saul

* I Cor. vii. 24.

1 Sam. xiv, 45

« PreviousContinue »