Great Texts of the Bible
And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times, and shake myself. But he wist not that the Lord was departed from him.—Jdg 16:20.
Let us look at the text in two ways, first as it applies to Samson, and second as it applies to the Christian.
“The Lord was departed from him.”
So God had once been there. His Spirit had dwelt in Samson’s heart, and in no small measure. But now God had left Samson. Well, what difference did it make to him? We must look at Samson before and after.
1. His consecration.—Samson enjoyed a singular privilege, accorded only to one other person in the Old Testament. His birth was foretold to his parents by an angel. Isaac was promised to Abraham and Sarah by angels whom they entertained unawares; but, save Isaac, Samson was the only one whose birth was foretold by an angelic messenger before the opening of the Gospel dispensation. Before his birth he was dedicated to God, and set apart as a Nazirite. Now, a Nazirite was a person who was entirely consecrated to God, and in token of his consecration he drank no wine, and allowed his hair to grow, untouched by a razor. Samson was entirely consecrated to God, and when any saw him, they would say, “That man is God’s man, a Nazirite, set apart.” Thus Samson grew up in the belief that he was consecrated to God, that there was a definite, divinely appointed work for him to do, and that God would endow him for that work with all the necessary strength. As he grew up, we are told, “The Lord blessed him, and the spirit of the Lord began to move him in the camp of Dan.”
To consecrate one’s life is not necessarily to alter the daily round of duty, but it must fill everything—recreation as well as work—with a new spirit. And the “spirit” in which a thing is done makes all the difference between a great and a small action. A room may be swept or scrubbed because it is a necessary part of the day’s work; or the commonplace task may be turned into a high and glorious privilege, if the heart is thrilled with the wonderful remembrance that Christ is the Royal Guest for whom the room is being prepared.1 [Note: Dora Farncombe, The Vision of His Face, 81.]
2. The heroic in him.—What was it that made Samson strong? It was this: He refused to accept the low, degraded religious standard with which his contemporaries were content. The Israelites still believed that they were the chosen people of God, but there was a glaring inconsistency between what they professed to believe and the real condition in which they were. Called to freedom, God’s people they were; emancipated by the power of Joshua, working the will of Almighty God, they were yet in a despicable servitude to the Philistines; they were content—for the human mind is strangely constructed—they were quite content with that state of things. It did not appear to them any great inconsistency that the people of the Lord, who were in the land which flowed with milk and honey, with all the bright and glorious promises of utter quiet and entire freedom, should yet be the craven slaves of a people with lower morals and grosser religion. Samson refused to ratify the inconsistency that he saw. To him nothing short of harmony between the promise of God and the fact of his people’s freedom would be satisfying. His conviction was a real and an adequate one; it was this—and he held it firmly—that the dominion of God was absolute and irresistible, that the promises of God were true and everlastingly faithful. Without doubt the temptation came to him to accept things as they were, and not to rise to the higher level of truth and integrity; but he cast it from him, and, doing so, became the man of his age, the hero of his race, and the vindicator of God’s truth at that era of the world.
The other Judges were backed by the people: the movement for freedom began with them individually, but the mass of the people rose at their call. But Samson, throughout, fought the Philistines single-handed. He despised their whole collected armies, went down alone into their strongest cities, and when they would shut him in, carried away gates and bars in the grim satiric mood that was his fighting humour; and that was the nearest approach to seriousness the presence of armed enemies could induce. Samson was qualified by his natural gifts thus to stand alone and to hearten the people and give them more courageous and hopeful thoughts. It was not more his great physical strength than the blithe and daring manner in which he used it that impressed the people and solaced the weaker men who could not imitate him. His name, Samson, refers not to his strength, but to his temper. It means “Sunny.” This was what the people saw in him—an inexhaustible joyousness of disposition that buoyed him up in danger and difficulty, and made him seem to the down-trodden people, whose future was clouded and gloomy, as the sun rising upon and cheering them. This joyousness came out in the lightheartedness with which he fought against countless odds; in his taste for witty sayings and riddles; and in the gigantic practical jokes he perpetrated in carrying off the gates of Gaza, and in tying the foxes tail to tail, and sending them through the standing corn with burning brands.
Where consecration is, there will be the realization of God’s presence. We may rely upon it that where one resolutely sets God before the soul as the object of desire, adoration, and obedience, there God will become a living reality. He will reveal Himself without doubt to such, and His presence will come to surround the soul. And there will be joy. That is to say, the sure fruit of consecration, like the fruit of the Spirit, is joy. We do not always regard the matter in this light. We are disposed to speak of the duty of consecration—the duty of setting apart substance or self to the use and service of God; and it is a duty, the rightful claim of God upon us. What we are apt to forget is that Duty where it is discharged always comes to wear the robes of gladness and is apparelled in celestial light. That is especially true of our duty to God. In keeping His commandments there is great reward.1 [Note: Charles Brown, in Youth and Life, 202.]
And it was not only without the help of the people but in spite of them that Samson had to deliver the land. The Israelites, instead of flocking to Samson’s standard and seconding his effort to throw off the Philistine yoke, bound him and gave him into the hands of the Philistines, complaining bitterly that he had brought them into trouble with their masters, and willing to buy peace at the price of Samson’s life—just as the Pharisees said of our Lord: “If we let him thus alone, the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation”; and subsequently gave Him up bound to the Romans. They would not strike a blow in defence of their own liberty, still less in defence of their champion. These 3000 men of Judah, armed and equipped, stood by as idle spectators whilst Samson burst the bonds they had bound upon him, and, snatching up the only weapon he could see, the jawbone of an ass, fell upon the common enemy, and slaughtered as many as did not flee.
Count me o’er earth’s chosen heroes,—they were souls that stood alone,
While the men they agonised for hurled the contumelious stone,
Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline
To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine,
By one man’s plain truth to manhood and to God’s supreme design.1 [Note: Lowell.]
1. “The Lord was departed from him.” Why? There were two causes—an inward and an outward; and, as always, the outward was subordinate to the inward and depended upon it.
(1) The inward cause.—It is true that the evolution of moral life in history bids us apply a different standard of judgment to the lives of the heroes of the old-time faith from that which we apply to those of the new. Yet it does not require the neglect or reversal of this principle to see that the life of Samson fell very far short of the moral possibilities of his day and race.
“For I have been a Nazirite unto God from my mother’s womb.” A Nazirite!—and what manner of man was he? He was a separated and consecrated man; for this was the law of the Nazirite—“He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink; he shall be holy. All the days of his separation he is holy unto the Lord.” The vow of the Nazirite was essentially a vow to abstain from fleshly lusts. He was to hold himself pure as God’s instrument; he was not to yield his members unto evil; he was to nurture his life in Spartan severity and simplicity; he was to attain self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control, and from that discipline his whole body and soul were to derive strength.
Without any disparagement to the character of Samson, one may fairly say that his keeping of the Nazirite vow had all along been marked by adherence that was letter-perfect rather than spiritually faithful. He had been temperate in the direction of his vow.
Desire of wine and all delicious drinks,
Which many a famous warrior overturns,
He could repress; nor did the dancing ruby
Sparkling, outpoured, the flavour or the smell,
Or taste that cheers the hearts of gods and men,
Allure him from the cool crystalline stream.
But in that direction only. In others he had been weak.
The Nazirite vow, rightly understood, was a divinely-given basis for moral development, a prophecy through outer separateness of spiritual consecration. Nor could any man be said to have drunk of its spirit who rested in the details of ritual, and did not seek to penetrate to its essence—consecration to God. The consecration of the Scriptures is never a mere separating from something; it is also a separating to something, a shutting-up of a man to God. What poverty of meaning must have been assigned to the words “separate unto the Lord,” “holy unto the Lord,” when they could be supposed to be fulfilled by a life admitting of the sensual irregularity of this Hebrew chief!
It was here surely that the seeds of defection were sown—in the poor external conception of holiness belonging to the time, above which Samson, although one of the heroes of faith enumerated in the Epistle to the Hebrews, never rose. But at length that defection reached the outward life. And here let us remember that charity bids us think that only a strong and vital spirit of obedience could sustain the burdensome restrictions which the national code laid on the pious Hebrew, and especially upon the Nazirite; so that, however little intelligent grasp of the further purport of the vow there was in Samson’s life, there was in the faithful literal observance of it some evidence, conscious as he was of the Divine commission given him, that he was more than a mere ritualist.
(2) The outward cause.—When the inner life of honest service was weakened, even the outer conformity to the Divine condition laid upon Samson was not maintained. The thing that seemed within his power, that seemed most easy—to maintain the secret of his God-given strength—proved beyond him, and the strong man was ensnared by wiles that would not have caught a child.
It seemed to be a trifle whether a man’s hair was to be permitted to grow, or was cut off. In itself it was a trifle—infinitely unimportant. But it was not a trifle in the light of its associations. Samson knew that it was no trifle: he had no mind to betray to Delilah what he knew to be the secret of his strength. Behind the commonest acts in life, it often happens, there cluster infinite issues; a whole moral world may be at stake: heaven or hell may await us behind a deed done, a word spoken, a consent or a refusal,—and these petty acts at once become momentous; their importance is measured by their results. What could matter less in itself than whether a man was or was not circumcised? “Neither circumcision availeth anything,” said the Apostle, “nor uncircumcision.” But let circumstances change: let it be maintained by a powerful school in Galatia that no Christian can do without circumcision, and the meaning of the act changes too: “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing” (Galatians 5:2).1 [Note: H. P. Liddon.]
2. And what was the result? His yielding meant an immediate loss of power. Could it matter, one might think, whether the head of the Hebrew judge were adorned with locks that hung to his broad shoulders, or were closely shorn? His strength surely lay in his mighty sinew and muscle. But this is just the naturalistic reasoning that misses the Divine element of the Hebrew history. The great thing about the Divine ordination of Samson’s life was just that obedience to God had been made to hinge upon a detail. The detail is nothing, the principle is everything. It is the incidental expression of eternal reality; the small link that preserves, or, severed, breaks the chain of obedience that keeps man in communion with God. Keep it intact, and there is for every emergency the unceasing inflow of the Divine power; break it, disregard the small, apparently insignificant point which God in your inner life has made the condition of His being with you, and the power flies. It flies insensibly as the perishing of the perfume from a dead flower, to be succeeded in time by the odour of corruption. So it flew quietly, swiftly from Samson. “And he woke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times, and shake myself. But he wist not that the Lord was departed from him.”
He knew his loss only when the strain came. His enemies were without. They flew upon him, and he, confident with the confidence of fifty past victories, bent his mighty limbs for the fray. But the power was gone. Ramath-Lehi was not to be repeated then. The strength that had made one man a terror to a band had gone. Flaccid and powerless, he sank a pitiable prey to the ground. “And the Philistines laid hold on him, and put out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison-house.”
The constant message of every poet, prophet, and seer, of every leader and guide of Hebrew history, is that only as God dwells in the nation can the nation be great. The chosen race go into the wilderness a mere band of fugitive slaves; they become a great nation because God is with them. They go out to battle against mighty enemies, and a little one puts to flight a thousand, because God marches with the host; they go to battle without God and the process is reversed—they go out one way and flee seven ways. Prophets like Elijah defy kings like Ahab; men untrained to arms like Gideon put trained armies to flight; Elisha, lonely and forgotten, counts those who be with him more than those who be with his foes, because he sees the chariots and horsemen of God moving in the clouds; David, the shepherd boy, is stronger than Goliath; Daniel, in his purity and piety, is more than a match for the tyrannous king who holds him in his power; and the simple explanation of every such triumph is that God is with these heroes of faith and action. We may say, if we will, that the heroism of those men was but the reflex action of their faith; it does not alter the facts. Something made them great, some power moving in and through them, which begot faith, and courage and high ideals, and noblest heroism. “The Lord was with them,” is the explanation afforded us in Scripture. He was with them of their own consent, working through their own obedience and consecration. They were His vehicles, His instruments, the media of Divine manifestations. And if they had withdrawn from God, or if God had withdrawn from them, then had they been as other men; they would have awakened as Samson did, to know their strength departed and the fountains of their virtue dry.1 [Note: W. J. Dawson.]
How infinite and sweet, Thou everywhere
And all-abounding Love, Thy service is!
Thou liest an ocean round my world of care,
My petty every-day; and fresh and fair
Pour Thy strong tides through all my crevices,
Until the silence ripples into prayer.
That Thy full glory may abound, increase,
And so Thy likeness shall be formed in me,
I pray; the answer is not rest or peace,
But charges, duties, wants, anxieties,
Till there seems room for everything but Thee,
And never time for anything but these.
And I should fear, but lo! amid the press,
The whirl and hum and pressure of the day,
I hear Thy garment’s sweep, Thy seamless dress,
And close beside my work and weariness
Discern Thy gracious form, not far away,
But very near, O Lord, to help and bless.
The busy fingers fly, the eyes may see
Only the glancing needle which they hold,
But all my life is blossoming inwardly,
And every breath is like a litany,
While through each labour, like a thread of gold,
Is woven the sweet consciousness of Thee!2 [Note: Sarah Chauncey Woolsey.]
The Christian’s Loss
Samson as consecrated is a type of every Christian. But we may take the text in two ways, first, as it refers to the Christian who has lost touch with God—the backslider—“The Lord was departed from him”; second, as it refers to the Christian who has been anointed by the Holy Ghost and has received power for special service, and has afterwards lost this power. Of him Samson is more clearly the type.
i. The Backslider
1. What is backsliding? It is a falling from grace. But let us look at it psychologically. The man has been “born again,” and the new-born soul is feeling its way along a course absolutely new to itself. It faces a trackless area, and everything is strange. Under these conditions of inexperience, evil meets the new life in countless guises. It often comes suddenly with no time for deliberation. It comes, many times, at an inopportune moment, when the new life is not at its strongest. That life is surprised and taken off its guard. It does not take in the gravity of the situation. The seriousness of the consequences is not comprehended, and the yielding is often almost imperceptible. Yet, notwithstanding all palliating conditions, the yielding is sin. Darkness again suffuses the soul; condemnation spreads its gloom over consciousness, and sin, once getting a foothold, however slight and brief at first, in the regenerated heart, brings back the old tendencies which, prior to regeneration, have dominated the psychical being.
The consequence is that there takes place in consciousness an oscillation between victory and defeat. Now the new life is victorious; and now the old tendencies conquer. But such psychical fluctuations, from the very nature of the psychical structure, cannot be perpetual. Resilience gradually and imperceptibly grows less. The movement now swings positively in one of two ways. Weary of vacillation, disheartened by repeated failure, vanquished by continuous defeats, the heart may swing completely back into the old grooves of action. The rebound from sin then ceases; the recoil from condemnation ends. The life then remains under the domination of sin; in common terminology, it is “backslidden.”1 [Note: H. E. Warner, The Psychology of the Christian Life, 127.]
In the life of Coillard of the Zambesi we read that all the sons of Moshesh were converted but that subsequently all lapsed. The following is a conversation between M. Coillard and Molapo.
When reminded of his conversion:—“Yes,” he said, “I was awakened, exercised beyond the power of words to express. I have experienced in my own heart, with unspeakable delight, the sweetness of Jesus. But to-day you see I have sunk into sin, and I am always sinking deeper and deeper.”
“Poor man; and can you do nothing to escape?”
“Moruti, a man like you ought to know what the Apostle says: ‘It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance.’ So to-day, you see, if I listen to the Word of God, it is only with the ears of the head; my heart, no, that hears them no more. I like the preaching (thuto); I like you. I shall do my best to build a school-house and a church. I do not like a place where the name of God is never heard. But that is all. It is all over with me. Ah, Monare, if you knew the power of that anguish which once laid hold of me, if only that could be renewed, do you see, it would cost me nothing either to send my wives away or to come and talk to you about my soul.”
“I tried to exhort him in God’s name, but no mark of emotion or even of real seriousness betrayed itself in his own face. It is terrible to taste of the living, the true, and to return like the sow to her wallowing in the mire.”2 [Note: Coillard of the Zambesi, 70.]
But, ah! not yet is peace complete,
The foemen, fiercer for defeat,
Strive to regain their ancient seat.
The world, forsaken, brings again
Its joys and cares: the Will would fain
Its realm recover and retain.
And though that Light still shineth clear
Through those new shades, and though the ear
Hears still that Voice it loves to hear
Speak, as of old, on Galilee,
“Peace”: yet, withal, the heart must see,
And hate its own infirmity:
And cries, as one who cries for breath,
Worn and oppressed, “I faint beneath
The alien body of this death!”
’Tis well, for, otherwise than so,
The soul, disdaining to lie low,
A deeper depth of ill might know.
A darker gloom, a gulf more wide,
Because a self-exalting pride
Would thrust her further from His side.1 [Note: S. J. Stone, Poems and Hymns, 103.]
2. Backsliding may be unconscious. Samson “wist not” that the Lord was departed from him. There are always people like Samson in the world. They imagine that grace once given stays, and that they must still be in the safe channel. They are not conscious of any deliberate break with the Church and faith of their fathers, and so they take these for granted as still there. People can very easily bring themselves to believe that what they once were they still are, especially if there has been no swerve or outburst of misconduct to mark the change that has been going on. And yet a change has been, in many cases, passing over their life. Associations and practices which once they would have scrupulously avoided are now admitted upon the score of business, or of legitimate pleasure, or of a larger knowledge of the world. The depreciation goes on unsuspected.
The Scripture speaks of individuals who have left their first love, while many of the characteristics of a religious profession continue to be maintained—backsliders in heart, who hang on as useless encumbrances to a church from which their affections are estranged. In Ephesus, although they had left their first love—in Sardis, where the graces languished and were ready to die—in Laodicea, where a lethargic lukewarmness had dulled away the energy of devotion—there was the maintenance of outward decorousness and the continuance in the fellowship of saints. And in our churches now, it is to be feared, there are numbers who realize the terrible description of the prophet, that “grey hairs are upon them”—premonitions of mortality, signs of weakness and of age—“and they know it not.”2 [Note: W. M. Punshon.]
3. “The Philistines be upon thee.” The degradation of character may go on quite unconsciously, and it is only when some crisis arises in a man’s life that he becomes aware that his moral strength has departed from him.
I remember a great elm tree, the pride of an avenue in the south, that had spread its branches for more years than the oldest man could count, and stood leafy and green. Not until a winter storm came one night and laid it low with a crash did anybody suspect what everybody saw in the morning—that the heart was eaten out of it, and nothing left but a shell of bark.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
4. It is difficult to make an estimate of ourselves by poking into our own sentiments and supposed feelings and convictions, and the estimate is likely to be wrong. There is a better way than that. Two things tell what a man is—one, what he wants, and the other, what he does. As the will is, the man is. Where do the currents of your desires set? If you watch their flow, you may be pretty sure whether your religious life is an ebbing or a rising tide. The other way to ascertain what we are is rigidly to examine and judge what we do. “Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.” Actions are the true test of a man. Conduct is the best illumination of character, especially in regard to ourselves.
M. Coillard had all his life the greatest horror of religious fictions; and of emotion, which ought to be a spiritual force, evaporating in mere sentiment. With him, as with Mabille, to see a truth was to put it in practice. Hence he says: “Our project of extending the Mission to Banyailand … was the one theme of our conversation as we rode back. One day Major Malan, Mabille, and I were crossing the river Key, and climbing the slopes, when, in obedience to an irresistible impulse, we all three sprang from our horses, knelt in the shadow of a bush … and, taking each other as witness, we offered ourselves individually to the Lord for the new Mission—an act of deep solemnity which made us all brothers in arms. Immediately we remounted, Major Malan waved his hat, spurred his horse, and galloped up the hill, calling out ‘Three soldiers ready to conquer Africa.’ Mabille and I said, ‘… by God’s grace we will be true till death.’ And we meant it. That marked a new era in our life, and was, in so far as we were concerned, the true origin of the Barotsi Mission.”2 [Note: Coillard of the Zambesi, 217.]
ii. The Anointed
God chooses and anoints men for special work, and He bestows upon them the Spirit in large measure as an equipment for their work. What do we mean when we say that “the Lord is departed from them”? We do not necessarily mean that they have lost complete touch with God, but that they have lost their large spiritual endowment. They have failed to realize the highest—that of which they were capable—and they have lost power.
Power, that is the great practical matter for us men, once our faces are set towards the light; and in the life in Christ the way of power is marked out. Everywhere, all over the world, in its darkest places, as a man follows the light he sees, the power comes, and more light comes, and power grows anew, Divine power flowing in upon him and through him, whether he knows it or not. But in the Christian faith we are given an open vision of the way of power, as well as of the light and truth of men; open-eyed we may yield to Christ being made Man in us—the Christ who ever comes to enlarge the realm of His incarnation; and we may possess and wield His power as our own, reason giving consent, heart warmed by the vision and the presence of Him who reigns. In this, too, Christianity stands at the centre of things, and fulfils and completes them all.1 [Note: W. Scott Palmer.]
1. The anointed and their varying gifts.—God does not give the same gifts to all men, nor does He give them in the same measure. To Samson He gave physical strength, to Saul kingly power, to Balaam the power of prophecy. And each was answerable only for his own gift, and in the measure in which he had received the gift. And the greater the gift and opportunity, the greater the failure.
When there is something rotten in the state of a Church; when a nation’s politics are based on false principles; when the social relations between high and low, rich and poor, landlord and tenant, master and servant, are at fault; then, from the midst of a down-trodden, silently suffering community God raises up a man. He raised up equally for Israel a Samuel and a Saul. But of Saul we read that “the Spirit of the Lord departed from him.”
But the gift may be different from these. We put these from us. They do not concern us. But the gifts are very varied. Let us take one as an example which we do not generally regard in that light—the gift of prayer.
If we steadily make use of this capacity, small as it may be; if we make a rule of keeping sacred a portion of our time, and endeavour with all our might to press upward to God, He will bless the efforts we are making; the door will open as we knock, and we shall experience day by day a greater aptitude for thinking of heavenly things; we shall become more and more conscious of the Spirit of God helping our infirmities. On the other hand, if we despise the one talent which God has given us; if, because we find it difficult to pray, because we are conscious how poor and worthless our prayers are, therefore we give up the habit of prayer, or content ourselves with simply repeating the words of prayer, without any effort to rise to its meaning; if we despair of ever being able to pray in spirit and in truth, then the end will be that we shall lose that capacity which we had refused to make use of.
Darwin has been criticized for allowing his taste for music and letters to be starved away in his devotion to science; but it is a question whether he would have made the discovery of evolution without it. Sir James Paget has been blamed for his indifference to social reform, indeed to all politics; but he was probably right when he said that a man did more good if he kept to his own business, doing that with all his soul, and not dissipating his energies in directions outside his own particular range; that every cobbler should stick to his last; and that, by obedience to that rule, the affairs of the world at large would come straight. And doubtless Sir E. Burne-Jones was chided for keeping so much to himself; but he rightly looked upon an artist as a dedicated man, with as real a responsibility to discharge as any other. “What do we want to be wrenched from our work for?” he would say in reply to those who would tempt him away; “I should like to stop in this room for 439 years, and never be taken out of it.” Everyone, indeed, if he is to develop as God intended him, must stick to the narrow path, whether it lead to a Nazareth or a London. Even the Son of Man confessed to being narrowed till His baptism was accomplished.1 [Note: G. H. S. Walpole, Personality and Power, 75.]
“O World-God, give me wealth!” the Egyptian cried.
His prayer was granted. High as heaven, behold
Palace and Pyramid; the brimming tide
Of lavish Nile washed all his land with gold.
Armies of slaves toiled ant-wise at his feet,
World-circling traffic roared through mart and street,
His priests were gods, his spice-balmed kings enshrined
Set death at naught in rock-ribbed charnels deep.
Seek Pharaoh’s race to-day, and ye shall find
Rust and the moth, silence and dusty sleep.
“O World-God, give me beauty!” cried the Greek.
His prayer was granted. All the earth became
Plastic and vocal to his sense; each peak,
Each grove, each stream, quick with Promethean flame,
Peopled the world with imaged grace and light.
The lyre was his, and his the breathing might
Of the immortal marble, his the play
Of diamond-pointed thought and golden tongue.
Go seek the sunshine-race, ye find to-day
A broken column and a lute unstrung.
“O World-God, give me power!” the Roman cried.
His prayer was granted. The vast world was chained
A captive to the chariot of his pride.
The blood of myriad provinces was drained
To feed that fierce, insatiable red heart;
Invulnerably bulwarked every part
With serried legions, and with close-meshed Code;
Within, the burrowing worm had gnawed its home.
A roofless ruin stands where once abode
The imperial race of everlasting Rome.
“O Godhead, give me Truth!” the Hebrew cried.
His prayer was granted; he became the slave
Of the Idea, a pilgrim far and wide,
Cursed, hated, spurned, and scourged with none to save.
The Pharaohs knew him, and when Greece beheld,
His wisdom wore the hoary crown of Eld.
Beauty he hath forsworn, and wealth and power.
Seek him to-day, and find in every land
No fire consumes him, neither floods devour;
Immortal through the lamp within his hand.1 [Note: Emma Lazarus.]
2. This brings us to our second point—the loss of the gift.—Samson lost his God-given power. But is it for that that we generally pity him? No. We give our sympathy to Samson because in the midst of his days he fell overcome by treachery, because the cruelty of enemies afflicted him.
(1) The loss may be unconscious. Samson “wist not.” It is so in the physical world. The man who has been accustomed to active and even strenuous exertion settles down to a life in which there is slight opportunity for the practice of his favourite pursuits, but in which there is constant tension exercised on muscle, nerve, and brain. He is unconscious of the extent to which the process is affecting him. But some day a necessity arises for putting forth unwonted exertion, and he finds to his astonishment that he is unequal to the task. Silently, like the wearing away of the rock by rain and storm, like the rounding of the sea pebble by the ripple of the water, his strength has been worn away; and, until the moment arises for putting it forth, he wist not that it had departed from him.
It is so in mental things. The freshness of intellectual vigour seems preserved to some men long beyond the wonted span of working years; but a time comes to the strongest when the climax of power has been reached and passed, when the old freshness of delight in new aspects of familiar things no longer exists, when the mind settles on the few certainties and deserts the speculative view of the world, when there is lacking the power to approach new subjects of investigation, or to undertake new tasks of practical life; when the mind turns back upon experience, and lives by the retrospect. And though at such a time some may still continue to delude themselves that their mental vigour is unabated, nature lifts up its testimony against the delusion, and declares, in the lost flexibility, in the absence of initiative and administrative power, in the failing memory, that the strength of the man has departed, though he wist it not.
So is it in the spiritual world. There is a loss that is more deadly than the loss of physical vigour, sadder than the decay of mental power. It is the weakening of the soul by almost imperceptible decline; the experience that issues in spiritual paralysis.
And because we know we have breath in our mouth and think we have thought in our head,
We shall assume that we are alive, whereas we are really dead.
The Lamp of our Youth will be utterly out: but we shall subsist on the smell of it!
And whatever we do, we shall fold our hands and suck our gums and think well of it,
Yes, we shall be perfectly pleased with our work, and that is the perfectest Hell of it!1 [Note: Rudyard Kipling.]
(2) The Christian realizes his loss only when the moment of need comes, when he hears the words “the Philistines be upon thee.”
A Christian may be in a society where the tone is agreeably worldly. And he finds it a little hard to maintain the distinctness of the Christian life. It is pleasant to him to stand well with his unconverted friends. And the temptation springs up in his heart to conform. It comes in the subtle form of presenting to his friends a Christianity void of all that even the world may call narrowness or fanaticism. He hopes that by mingling as far as possible with those who are undecided, in their recreations and the pursuits that may be common, he may gain an influence over them that may be used for God; but it leads himself to compromises, until the process of levelling down has gone so far that the distinctive attitude of the Christian life has gone. Now, just so far as this has taken place, a man’s influence with others is killed. All the while that he was fondly imagining he was presenting to his friends the type of a Christianity shorn of all acerbities and angularities, his power over them has been quietly slipping away. And the awakening to this consciousness is an unpleasant experience. Some one of his careless, light-hearted acquaintances has become more serious—the breath of God’s Spirit where it listeth has awakened a new longing in his soul; and his life, so self-centred, so agreeably undisturbed before, has become to him poor and miserable without Christ. He wants direction; he wants communion; he wants to hear the man speak who can tell the reality of these things to his own heart. And to whom does he resort?—to the Christian who has lost his Christian savour and become worldly? No; but to the man about whom his Christianity is the most distinctive thing, who has not been engaged in minimizing this difference between himself and the world, and paring down the dimensions of that, but who has longed—and has got some part of that for which he longed—to be “transformed by the renewing of his mind.” Why, thinks the Christian who has lost his influence, did my friend not come to me?
3. A note of hope.—He that has vowed his strength to God, he that has received some grace from God, some godliness of feeling and aim, and yet yields—it may be to some wretched lust—and loses his power, and is left helpless, ashamed, miserable, has his power perished absolutely? Think of Samson—for there is no better instance of the use which God can make of an ill-spent life. He could never be the man he was; but there in his prison-house he saw the ruinous folly he had been guilty of, saw his betrayal of the trust God had reposed in him, saw that out of the best material for a life of glory that any man of that period had received he had wrought for himself a life of shame and a degrading end. His heart was broken; the strong man was crushed, and had, like the weakest sinner, to cry to God, to seek that last comfort which abides when all others are gone, and which more than makes up for the loss of all others—to seek that light, the light of God’s own presence, which restores brightness to the most darkened life, which does not refuse to shine on the most benighted soul. And what he sought, he found. Slowly his hair grew, and with it slowly returned his strength; as health comes slowly back to the man who has been shattered by disease or accident; as spiritual vigour slowly returns to him who by one rash act has let his soul be trodden in the dust. And so Samson made restitution, and he said, “Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.”
The Lion, he prowleth far and near,
Nor swerves for pain or rue;
He heedeth nought of sloth nor fear,
He prowleth—prowleth through
The silent glade and the weary street,
In the empty dark and the full noon heat;
And a little Lamb with aching Feet—
He prowleth too.
The Lion croucheth alert, apart—
With patience doth he woo;
He waiteth long by the shuttered heart,
And the Lamb—He waiteth too.
Up the lurid passes of dreams that kill,
Through the twisting maze of the great Untrue,
The Lion followeth the fainting will—
And the Lamb—He followeth too.
From the thickets dim of the hidden way
Where the debts of Hell accrue,
The Lion leapeth upon his prey:
But the Lamb—He leapeth too.
Ah! loose the leash of the sins that damn,
Mark Devil and God as goals,
In the panting love of a famished Lamb,
Gone mad with the need of souls.
The Lion, he strayeth near and far;
What heights hath he left untrod?
He crawleth nigh to the purest star,
On the trail of the saints of God.
And throughout the darkness of things unclean,
In the depths where the sin-ghouls brood,
There prowleth ever with yearning mien—
A lamb as white as Blood.1 [Note: Ruth Temple Lindsay, The Hunters.]
Back (W. J.), in A Book of Lay Sermons, 247.
Campbell (R. J.), Sermons addressed to Individuals, 73.
Forbes (J. T.), God’s Measure, 107.
Jenkinson (A.), A Modern Disciple, 137.
Maclaren (A.), The God of the Amen, 259.
Spurgeon (C. H.), New Park Street Pulpit, iv. (1858), No. 224.
Taylor (W. M.), The Limitations of Life, 219.
Vaughan (C. J.), Temple Sermons, 437.
Wilson (S. L.), Helpful Words for Daily Life, 302.
Worthington-Atkin (J.), The Paraklete, 33.
Christian World Pulpit, i. 299 (Carpenter); lvii. 203 (Durran); lxv. 266 (Dawson); lxx. 35 (Morrow); lxxvi. 196 (Davis); lxxvii. 180 (Moffatt).
Church of England Pulpit, lix. 38 (Hitchcock).
Church Pulpit Year Book, vii. (1910) 194.
Keswick Week, 1899, 37 (Thomas).