Great Texts of the Bible
Knowledge and Service
And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind.—1 Chronicles 28:9.
1. It was at the very end of his life that David uttered these words. Dark clouds had gathered round him from the time of his great sin. War, famine, and pestilence diminished the numbers, and laid waste the homes, of his subjects; rebellions in his own family, and the death of son after son, afflicted his soul. Yet through all these sorrows the penitent king held fast to God’s promises, and found comfort in thinking, “Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire” (2 Samuel 23:5).
2. Solomon was the first link in the great chain which God’s faithful promise had established between David, sin-stained and suffering, and that stainless Sufferer whom the helpless would invoke as the Son of David, and whose distant advent appeared “as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.” It was Solomon whom God had chosen to escape the curse which seemed to brood over David’s other children, and to build that temple which his father had longed to erect to the glory of God, but which he was not suffered to behold except in vision and devout anticipation. And, accordingly, it is in David’s solemn farewell charge to Solomon in the presence of assembled Israel that we see the stormy rain-clouds that obscured his latter days disperse, and his setting sun shine out bright and warm for a few moments, before it sinks beneath our ken. Adonijah’s rebellion has been put down. Solomon has been anointed king in his father’s lifetime, to insure his succession to the throne; and, as if by a miracle, his father rises from what had seemed his death-bed, and, endued with almost supernatural strength, commits to his well-beloved son the great work for which he had gone on making preparations so long as health and life served him, but which he now feels that the hour has come for him to resign into other hands.
3. The occasion is an august one. Spectators stand round the princes and chief men of Israel, the great in peace, the mighty in war, representatives of the whole nation. Vast stores of gold and silver from the royal treasury are ready to be given over to meet the expense of the temple-building; costly marbles and precious stones are prepared for its adornment, and the divinely inspired plan of the future work is in the old king’s hand. The aged king rapidly reviews his own early wish to build the temple, God’s appointment of Solomon in his place, and the condition of obedience to the law on which that successor and his descendants are to hold the kingdom. Then, turning to the young king by his side, he gives him his parting charge: “And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind; for the lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.” After this follow directions for the building, ending with the words, “The work is great: for the palace is not for man, but for the Lord God.”
The whole picture is one of serene beauty. It shows us that by God’s grace no error is irretrievable, no crime inexpiable. No blot rests on the fair fame of our own English kings Henry II. and Edward III. (even allowing, as we ought to do, for the raising by the Gospel of men’s moral standard) equal in darkness to that which left its indelible stain on David. Yet how like to his afflictions from his rebellious son were the sorrows of Henry’s latter years! how easily might David’s last days have resembled those of Crecy’s conqueror, as depicted by the poet!—
Mighty victor, mighty lord,
Low on his funeral couch he lies!
No pitying heart, no eye, afford
A tear to grace his obsequies.
Is the sable warrior fled?
Thy son is gone. He rests among the dead.
The swarm that in thy noontide beam were born?
—Gone to salute the rising morn.
Whence comes it then that with David, instead, “at evening time it is light,”—that he cheerfully directs the hopes of his subjects, the devotions of his servants, to another than himself; and, complaining of no desertion, fearing no evil, dies with his eyes fixed in rapture on the temple of the future, and the king whose wealth and power were to eclipse his own? Simply because he knew that his sin was pardoned; because he could say, “In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion”; because God had been his “trust from his youth,” and was his “strong refuge” in his age; because, by what God had done for him already, he well knew what God could do for him in time to come—so that, standing on the grave’s brink, he could say, with assured faith, “Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth.”1 [Note: E. J. Hasell.]
4. It was a high destiny to which Solomon was called. He was called to build a temple to the Lord. But is it not the very destiny to which each of us is called, only higher in degree, inasmuch as the spiritual temple is higher than the material? This is the great purpose of our life—the building of God’s spiritual temple. It rests on the foundation of prophets and apostles, “Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” And the time will come when the fire will try every man’s work therein, of what sort it is. Let us therefore take our share in the honour of that work, lest we should then suffer shame. For us, as for Solomon, provision has been made, a pattern has been given, and it only remains for us to serve in the work with a perfect heart.
5. Two things are spoken of as necessary to the fulfilment of this high calling—Knowledge and Service.
(1) It is pitched on a lofty key of spiritual religion, for it lays “Know thou the God of thy father “as the foundation of everything. That knowledge is no mere intellectual apprehension, but, as always in Scripture, personal acquaintance with a Person, which involves communion with Him and love towards Him. For us, too, it is the seed of all strenuous discharge of our life’s tasks, whether we are rulers or nobodies, and it means a much deeper experience than understanding or giving assent to a set of truths about God. We know one. another when we summer and winter with each other, and not unless we love one another; and we know God on no other terms.
(2) After such knowledge comes an outward life of service. Active obedience is the expression of inward communion, love, and trust. The spring that moves the hands on the dial is love, and, if the hands do not move, there is something wrong with the spring. Morality is the garment of religion; religion is the animating principle of morality. Faith without works is dead, and works without faith are dead too.
“Know thou the God of thy father.”
1. Knowledge of any kind requires thought and effort. It does not come by chance, in a momentary flash. We must “dig for wisdom as for hid treasure,” and digging implies toil. It is said that even Professor Palmer, who was one of our greatest linguists, with a perfect genius for languages, “took advantage of every help offered, and made the most of it.” This is equally necessary in the sphere of religious knowledge. True, there is a great difference between the intellectual and the spiritual. No man by mere searching can find out God, for it requires moral and spiritual capacity. As we do not know what love is by reading about it, but only when the feeling itself is awakened within us, so is it with the knowledge of Divine things. Yet this knowledge has its laws and methods, and those will fail to gain it who learn nothing of the Bible, and neglect prayer. Plato had a glimpse of this truth when he distinguished between “knowledge” and “wisdom.” In one of his dialogues he describes a young Athenian who sought desperately for some one to teach him wisdom. Poets and philosophers failed him. It was not in them to teach, because it was not in him to learn. We also need a spiritual appetite, and a spiritual capacity, which God alone can give, before we understand how He “fills the hungry with good things.”
Let all our business be to know God: the more one knows Him, the more one desires to know Him. And as knowledge is commonly the measure of love, the deeper and more extensive our knowledge shall be, the greater will be our love; and if our love of God be great, we shall love Him equally in grief and in joy.1 [Note: Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God.]
2. Knowledge of God has its steps of progress.
(1) It is knowledge of God as holy.—Some men regard God in such a way as to believe that however they live, and whatever they believe, all will come right with them in the long-run. But these do not “know” God, in whose presence no evil can stay. The Only-begotten of the Father has revealed Him as He really is, for “God was in Christ.” And Christ never made light of sin. He told us more of the power and dreadfulness of evil than the world ever knew before, and He declared that all would appear before the judgment-seat, whether they were good or bad, to receive every man according as his works should be. God would not have said all He did say through the King of Truth, unless sin and its consequences had been dreadful beyond our dreams.
The conception of God, august, majestic, awe-inspiring, is found in the Hebrew prophets as it is found in no other literature in the world. Did Jesus of Nazareth revolt from it? No. He ratified it. He spoke of God as a God of absolute righteousness. It is true His thought of God was always the thought of God as a Father. And in this respect He passed beyond the prophets. While the prophets emphasized our responsibility to God, He drew out the other side and made known God’s responsibility for us. But if God is responsible for us as a father is responsible for his children, does that lessen our responsibility to Him? If the judgment on sin is the judgment of a Father, does that make sin less sinful? In that word “Father” everything is contained that is needed to feed and exercise the faculty and instinct of awe. “If ye call on him as Father,” said St. Peter, “pass the time of your sojourning here in awe.”
O tell me whence that joy doth spring,
Whose diet is divine and fair,
Which wears heaven like a bridal ring,
And tramples on doubts and despair?
Whose Eastern traffique deals in bright
And boundless empyrean themes,
Mountains of spice, day-stars and light,
Green trees of life and living streams?
Sure Holyness the magnet is,
And love the lure that woos thee down:
Which makes the high transcendent bliss
Of knowing thee, so rarely known!1 [Note: Henry Vaughan.]
(2) It is knowledge of God as a forgiving God.—Some think of God as a stern avenger, who cares nothing for our love or our longing. They believe that immutable laws will land one in heaven and another in hell, much as a train whirls passengers up the line, or down it, with no thought or care on their part. If that were true, perhaps the Epicurean maxim would be the wisest to follow: “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” But Jesus made an atonement for our sins, and came here to save us from them, so that every one who repents may have the blessedness of the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.
I have a pile of bills at home, the accumulation of years. Together those accounts would make up such a large amount that if it were called for I should be ruined. But I can look on them without a shade of anxiety, because every one of them is receipted. No creditor has any claim, and if I were sued in court, I should only have to produce the receipts to be free from condemnation. Thus our moral debts, greater than these, are discharged, and are as if they were not; so that to each penitent believer the Lord says, “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.”2 [Note: A. Rowland.]
(3) It is the knowledge of God as a deliverer.—David urged Solomon and said, “Know thou the God of thy father.” The old king was returning in thought upon the experience of his life. He had sinned and he had been forgiven. But more than pardon had been granted him. He had been delivered from the tyranny of evil passion through much suffering and anguish, and he had been brought into a large place. He was there that day to testify to the good hand of his God upon him. “Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father.”
When his friends asked Coleridge for a proof of Christianity, they expected an answer that would display the philosopher’s powers of acute dialectic. They were surprised at the simplicity of the answer they received—“Try it!” And in truth that is the only satisfactory answer that can be given. In all departments of knowledge we are realizing more than ever that experiment is the final test.1 [Note: A. W. Robinson, The Voice of Joy and Health, 146.]
I may be speaking to many a one in a very special sense when I say, “Know thou the God of thy father.” He may have been a leader, a minister in the Christian church, and you have more than once said to yourself, “If ever any one went to heaven, my father did.” For his sake, as well as for your own, I urge you to decision and consecration. There are things hardly worth keeping that you prize for your father’s sake—the chair he used to sit in, the Bible he was wont to use—and if you knew of some one he specially loved, you would be good to him if you could. But there is One he did love intensely, and who always loved him; a Friend who never failed, whose grace made him what he was, who welcomed him to His home when the life-journey was ended. Will you longer hesitate to yield yourself to the God of your father?2 [Note: A. Rowland.]
A life woven in with the history of Missions in China is that of David Hill. He was given to God by a father who was devoted to the work of helping missions from the home end. In his youth he gave his overtime earnings, in all about seventy pounds, to the cause. Later he gave all he could, including his son. The relationship between them was peculiarly close and tender. The father’s judgment was the son’s highest human standard. Even in China the knowledge of what his father would think and say ruled him still, and once saved his life. He was bathing in the Moon Lake near Hankow, when he got out of his depth. He sank again and again, and was nearly giving up effort, when suddenly the thought came: “What will my father think of me, if I let myself be drowned before I have been of any use in China?” The thought stimulated a final effort, which brought him safely to shore.3 [Note: H. S. Dyer, The Ideal Christian Home, 57.]
I can see my dear father’s life in some measure as the sunk pillar on which mine was to rise and be built. I seem to myself only the continuation and second volume of my father. Let me write my books as he built his houses, and walk as blamelessly through this shadow world.4 [Note: Carlyle.]
“Serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind.”
There is a true service done for God which no one notices. It lies apart from church organizations, and gives no prominence to those who do it, though it is seen, and will be rewarded, by Him who sees in secret. Take a few examples. We may have an opportunity of reading some book which panders to evil passions, and we fling it aside with loathing. We are invited to join a society where mirth is very doubtful in its source, and we decline. Stung by a taunt, we restrain ourselves from the utterance of an angry retort, though it springs to our lips instinctively. Tempted by sensual delights, or by the chance of making money by a bet, we resist triumphantly. Engaged in daily work with others, we refuse to do behind our employer’s back what we would not do in his presence; for we say to ourselves, “Thou God seest me,” and refrain. In all these and similar experiences we “serve” God with a pure conscience, and thus witness for Him; and at the same time we are building up in ourselves a Christlike character.
At the present time the greatest need seems to be that we should return to the fundamentals of spiritual religion. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that both the old seats of authority, the infallible Church and the infallible Book, are fiercely assailed, and that our faith needs reinforcements. These can only come from the depths of the religious consciousness itself; and if summoned from thence they will not be found wanting. The “impregnable rock” is neither an institution nor a book, but a life or experience. Faith, which is an affirmation of the basal personality, is its own evidence and justification. Under normal conditions it will always be strongest in the healthiest minds. There is and can be no appeal from it. If, then, our hearts, duly prepared for the reception of the Divine Guest, at length say to us, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see,” we may, in St. John’s words, “have confidence toward God.”1 [Note: W. R. Inge.]
But let us also undertake what will more directly serve others. Beginning early in a Guild, a Christian Endeavour or other Society, let us learn to speak or to pray, for the effort will become difficult as the years slip by. Let us guard against indolence in youth, if we would not become idlers in manhood. And let us not delude ourselves with the idea that we can do great service while meanwhile we do not even attempt small service; for the one fits for the other.
But even when we “know God” we have to make efforts to have our service correspond with our knowledge, for we have wayward hearts and obstinate wills, which need to be stimulated, sometimes to be coerced and forcibly diverted from unworthy objects. Therefore the exhortation to serve God “with a perfect heart and with a willing mind” is always needful and often hard. Entire surrender and glad obedience are the Christian ideal, and continual effort to approximate to it will be ours in the degree in which we “know God.” There is no worse slavery than that of the half-hearted Christian whose yoke is not padded with love. Reluctant obedience is disobedience in God’s sight.
1. A perfect heart.—If “perfect” means sinless, none of us can obey that command. But “perfect” means here undivided. It refers to the work of one who is not thinking partly of his own advantage while professing to please God; who, instead of spasms of piety, has the constant mind, which does not think of God on Sunday only, while forgetting Him all the week. It implies thoroughness also, a service of reality as well as of purpose; and has about it such courage that it waits for no applause and shrinks from no unpopularity.
The “perfect man” of the Old Testament is one who, like David, can dance before the Lord with all his might—that is to be enthusiastic in God’s service.1 [Note: A. B. Bruce.]
To “serve God with a perfect heart” is the sum and substance of all practical religion. It is required of all persons of all ages, of young as well as of old. It is required that we should endeavour to have our heart and affections perfect towards God; that is, that we should love Him more than any or all of the things of this world; that we should be ever seeking what will please Him, and avoiding what will grieve Him; that we should live as in His constant presence, and be thoroughly resigned, and satisfied with what He orders for us. This is to serve God with a perfect heart. And it is plain, that any person who endeavours to lead such a life as this, will be very strict with himself, very watchful and suspicious of his own faults and errors, and, as long as he lives, will be striving to grow better, according to the solemn admonition of our Saviour. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
2. A willing mind.—To serve with a “willing mind” implies that we are not merely compelled to service by circumstances, or persuaded by friends, or impelled by fear; but that we understand what the Psalmist said and Jesus quoted about Himself: “I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart.”
O Christian soldier! shouldst thou rue
Life and its toils, as others do—
Wear a sad frown from day to day,
And garb thy soul in hodden-gray?
Oh! rather shouldst thou smile elate,
Unquelled by sin, unawed by hate,—
Thy lofty-statured spirit dress
In moods of royal stateliness;—
For say, what service so divine
As that, ah! warrior heart, of thine,
High pledged alike through gain or loss,
To thy brave banner of the cross?
Yea! what hast thou to do with gloom,
Whose footsteps spurn the conquered tomb?
Thou, that through dreariest dark canst see
A smiling immortality?
Leave to the mournful, doubting slave,
Who deems the whole wan earth a grave,
Across whose dusky mounds forlorn
Can rise no resurrection morn,
The sombre mien, the funeral weed,
That darkly match so dark a creed;
But be thy brow turned bright on all,
Thy voice like some clear clarion call,
Pealing o’er life’s tumultuous van
The keynote of the hopes of man,
While o’er thee flames through gain, through loss,—
That fadeless symbol of the cross!1 [Note: Paul Hamilton Hayne.]
Bosanquet (C.), The Man after God’s Own Heart, 434.
Burrows (H. W.), Lenten and other Sermons, 60.
Hasell (E. J.), Bible Partings, 202.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: 2 Kings-Nehemiah, 101.
Rowland (A.), in The Ladder of Life, 135.
Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 251.
Church Pulpit Year Book, vii. (1910) 152.
Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., ii. 36 (Youard).
Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times,” x. 285.