The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines.Judges 14 (Annotated)
2. And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife.
3. Then his father and his mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumciscd Philistines? [a term of the intensest hatred]. And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well [she is right in my eyes].
4. But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the Lord [that there was more in it than at first sight appeared], that he sought an occasion [a quarrel] against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.
5. Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and behold, a young lion [a lion of lions] roared against him.
6. And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him [pervaded him], and he rent [throttled] him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done [absence of vanity].
7. And he went down, and talked with the woman [the requisite betrothal arrangements having been made], and she pleased Samson well.
8. And after a time [an absolutely indefinite period] he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase [rather, skeleton. The burning sun of the East soon dried the body] of the lion.
9. And he took thereof in his hands [a skeleton not being treated as a dead body], and went on eating, and came to his father and mother, and he gave them, and they did eat: but he told not them that he had taken the honey out of the carcase of the lion [he had not told of the slaying of the lion].
11. And it came to pass, when they saw him [perhaps saw him in some new aspect], that they brought thirty companions [paranymphs, children of the bridechambcr], to be with him.
12. And Samson said unto them, I will now put forth a riddle [from a word which means "to knot"] unto you: if ye can certainly declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets [shirts] and thirty change of garments:
13. But if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. And they said unto him, Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it.
14. And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle.
15. And it came to pass on the seventh day [being in despair], that they said unto Samson's wife, Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father's house with fire: have ye called us to take that we have [to spoil us]? is it not so?
16. And Samson's wife wept before him [marriage wine made sour] and said, Thou dost but hate me and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and hast not told it me. And he said unto her, Behold, I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall I tell it thee?
17. And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted: and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she lay sore upon him: and she told the riddle to the children of her people.
18. And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion? And he said unto them, If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.
19. And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil [armour or suits of armour], and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle [paid them out of their own purse]. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father's house.
20. But Samson's wife was given to his companion [the chief of the paranymphs: the bride-conductor], whom he had used as his friend [to the companion whose friend she was].
THE whole story of Samson is romantic, yet many of its lessons are most practical and useful. No such prodigy is known in our days, and indeed, such a man would, in many respects, be out of keeping with our civilisation. We have no room for him; we have no need of him. There are some respects in which history could not repeat itself with advantage in our civilisation. But the temptation is that we should look upon our progress as the measure of human history. We want a wider outlook. We must take in more field, if we would see things in their right perspective and proportion. We certainly did need this very type of man to complete the divine conception of humanity. If Samson had been left out, we might have said, there is one type which God never allowed to come upon the stage of human history. We have had the sanguinary man, Cain; the believing man, Abraham; the cunning man, Jacob; the meek and much-enduring man, yet a man full of enterprise and soldiery daring, Moses; we have had wise men and valiant men, not a few, but a man entrusted with all-abounding strength—the man of iron muscle—the elephantine man, we have never had in perfection. God leaves out nothing. God will finish the picture if we will not interrupt him with our provoking impatience. We needed just this man—huge, overwhelming, mountainous, and in very deed terrible; we needed to see what sheer strength could do, mere bone and muscle and bulk—what part they could play in the shifting and urgent drama of human history. We have never met the like of this man before. He does not know himself. There is so much of him that he cannot really take in the whole prospect and meaning. A kind of Adam over again; so new a thing, and such a baby. What will he do? How will he compare with his forerunners?
Physical power is the most rudimentary and imperfect form of strength. Yet it has its uses. It is full of high suggestion, if spiritually interpreted. There is a sense in which God glories in the very make of a man. Sometimes he becomes quite an angel. "Thou hast made him a little lower than God." God can have no delight in mere weakness for its own sake. He will not make the halt, the cripple, the deformed, the insane, merely as such; he will make use of them in his great economy, and he will sometimes turn disadvantages into advantages. But almightiness can take no pleasure in mere weakness, simply as such. But what is the strongest man known to us? Is there a tiger in the forest or jungle that could not tear him to pieces? What is mere strength—sheer physical energy? A man boasts that he has climbed some astounding height; and, behold, when he looked up, the wild goat was fifty feet higher, looking down upon him with a kind of superb and unconscious contempt! The fleetest man is outstripped by the tiniest bird that ever fluttered a wing. Who, therefore, would worship mere strength? Yet without health what is the world to any man? and strength is nothing if it be not expressive of health. Health is a compound term. It means equality, harmony, the fine, happy working of all faculties, so much so that we do not know they are working at all. Who knows that the earth is moving? and why is there no knowledge of the motion? Because the motion is so great, so regular. So it is with health. Whilst, therefore, we pour contempt upon mere strength, taking it singly and alone, we cannot but rejoice in that balance of faculty and motion expressing itself in the sweet, clean word, health—a state of being in which every happy influence is felt, responded to, acknowledged as a religious visitation, and turned to religious uses. The reason we dwell upon this matter of strength is that under some form or other, outward and measurable, it exercises a disastrous influence upon the imagination of many men: they judge by bulk, vastness, strength, all of which are as nothing compared with the infinite and the eternal, yet every one of them may be made of use in helping the mind to a larger and truer realisation of that which is infinite and everlasting.
Pitiable is a strong body and a weak spiritual nature. Samson was all force, his strength he played with. How infantile was his mind! It is beautiful to watch this huge elephant-man as he moves clumsily about. He is so pleased with little things. He delights in the very things that are weak. He feels that he is a stupendous contrast to everything that is within reach of his vision. How he was delighted with a riddle! how he shook with internal laughter as he thought he would propound a riddle to his wife and her friends! and when the idea of giving prizes for answers to riddles occurred to him, he was as pleased as a modern journalist. He said to the people about him: I have a riddle, and if you can give me the answer I will give you clothing, and almost anything you like to ask for; and he turned aside to hide the smile of triumph with which he regarded the imbecility of his contemporaries in the matter of answering riddles. Then what fancies he took! dreaming new dreams, and pleased with them as a child blowing blue bubbles from a clay pipe. Oh, how charmed he was with all things little, weak, fanciful! How we do eke out ourselves by taking in all that is contrastive and dissimilar! The man of slow, hesitating speech, whose words all counted do not number more than three hundred, is amazed at the volubility of a man who can speak a long time without stopping. He delights in that man; calls him a phenomenon; regards him as a prodigy. That is exactly what Samson did in relation to the little things and the little people who were round about him: he liked to have them there; they seemed to make up something that was wanting in his own vastness. Now, the other contrast is possible to every one of us. We may have a great spiritual nature, however weak and deformed may be our physical condition. The spirit can be born again. The interior man can be turned, like one of old, "into another man," so that his friends shall not know him, but shall wonder at his chastened, sweet, loving disposition, and speak of him as men might speak of a heavenly miracle. Wonderful is the providence of God in this direction! We cannot all be great, but we can all be good. All men may not have ah abundance of this world's wealth, but every man may be rich in faith, and otherwise rich towards God and society. Who may not store his mind with thoughts of the great and bright minds of the days that have gone? With what poetry he may enrich his imagination! With what gems of thinking he may stud his memory! The door of the temple of Knowledge stands wide open, and the poorest man may go in and find himself at home under that lofty and hospitable roof. The body a man may not be able to carry up to Samson's strength, but the mind every man can cultivate with diligent industry, and patience, and faith, until he find in his own intelligence bread to eat that the world knoweth not of, a comfortable sustenance which hands can never steal. Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that whatever may be the outward man—poor, dishonoured, mean—the inward man may be full of intelligence, and goodness, and truth. There was One of whom it was said, "There is no beauty that we should desire him;" and of that same One it was said, through his miracles, his graciousness of speech, his wisdom, his love, his Cross, his blood, he should become "the desire of all nations." The time will come when the nations will not look on bulk, strength, guns, swords, standing armies, and glittering diadems; but upon libraries, good actions, noble beneficences, and in that day all outward strength and pomp shall be considered vanity; for the soul alone shall be valiant for its attainments in the highest lore.
Samson's strength was quite unregulated. There was no soldierly discipline about the elephant. When he rose he seemed to wonder that he ever sat down; when he sat down he was larger every way than any other man he had ever seen. Who can be trusted with great strength that is ill-regulated? Hardly a man, and not a nation. Only give a nation guns enough, and that nation must quarrel, must fight. Samson, looking round and remembering his huge strength, thought he would tie the tails of about three hundred foxes all together—just by way of showing what he could do—and light them as a weak man might strike a match, and send them into the growing fields (Judges 15:4-5). It was an unregulated strength. Only the one man could do that deed, and where that power is not balanced by another which checks it, chastens it, subdues it, nothing can happen but wantonness, destruction, ruin. Then Samson would praise himself; he said, "I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself"—(Judges 16:20)—all that I want to put on my very best power is to shake myself, as a lion might shake the dew from his mane and hold his great jaw aloft proudly in the air. That is the tendency of all great endowment if it be not held back by spiritual ministry. That is the tendency of all strength unless it has learned the lesson that in the sight of God's almightiness there is no strength. We must be conquered by omnipotence. There is a great danger in one-sided strength. The great aim of life should be to cultivate an all-round—that is, a happily-balanced and harmonious—strength; otherwise we shall have eccentricity, erratic experiment, tremendous dash, and pitiable failure. This lesson should be applied to spiritual education. There is a danger of being too strong in this direction, or that, at the expense of equal culture along other lines. What is the consequence? Bigotry, stubbornness that is stupid, and self-opinionatedness—that is, self-idolatry. No one man knows everything; no one church is the Church. When all Churches are brought together, with their strength, weakness, and every possible variety of thought, attainment, and purpose, you begin to see the Church, complete as the rainbow which is round about the Throne. Until that time come, we are parts of the Church—little parts, awaiting the upcoming of our stronger brethren and our weaker brethren, that we may be all one in Christ. The danger is, too, that men boast of ill-regulated strength. They say, in dubious terms, Whatever I may be in this or that direction, I am, at all events, strong at this point. That may be an impious boast. The boasting, if any, should take effect in a different direction—namely: being comparatively strong at this point, thank God, I must go on to be equally strong through the whole series. Then the triumph divinely ascribed may be the beginning of a complete and lustrous manhood.
We cannot read the life of Samson without being struck with the perishableness of all outward strength. "Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth?" Herein Samson plays the gigantic baby. He tantalises the people, and then smiles at them. But he is lured, and persuaded, and conquered. He has won in two or three instances. When they bound him with green withs that were never dried—which he himself proposed as an experiment—"he brake the withs, as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire" (Judges 16:9). Then he smiled at the lords of the Philistines. Then another experiment he would try:—"If they bind me fast with new ropes that never were occupied, then shall I be weak, and be as another man. Delilah therefore took new ropes, and bound him therewith, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And there were liers in wait abiding in the chamber. And he brake them from off his arms like a thread" (Judges 16:11-12). Then he told about his hair:—"If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web. And she fastened it with the pin, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awaked out of his sleep, and went away with the pin of the beam, and with the web" (Judges 16:13-14). And then he told her about the vow. He came to the religious mystery—the mystery that holds everything in a great cloud. "He told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother's womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man" (Judges 16:17). And it was so. "He awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself" (Judges 16:20). He went out, and he shook himself; but having lost his religion, he had lost his power. When a man loses his character, all the life-house that he has been building falls, and great is the fall thereof! He may conduct a few experiments, and thereby may mock the malice of many who have watched him with envy and despair: so long as his character remains he is a mighty man; but when he breaks his vow, the other breaking is a matter which an infant can accomplish. When a man tears down the altar, his house follows in the tremendous collapse.
How much strength there is that is only outward! We say of Samson that his strength lay in his hair, and therein we do not represent the whole truth: but is there not much strength that is only external—beauty, which is said to be but skin-deep at the best; money, which may take to itself wings and flee away; great bodily strength, which time can suck out of a man, so insidiously and imperceptibly, that he will not know until he is a tottering pilgrim within a step of the tomb? But the point which is often overlooked in connection with Samson is, that his strength was not in the hair, but in that which the hair represented—namely, constancy to a vow, faithfulness to a period of consecration. The hair was nothing: there was no strength in that; but it was symbolical of a grand religious process which had been accomplished in Samson, and, having been faithful to God, God was faithful to him. "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." Let a man take care how he treats his vows. "When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools." Who has not entered into a vow? Who has not in some time of loneliness said, If God deliver me, I will be his slave in love and service evermore? Who has not said, If the Lord deliver me out of affliction, my life shall be a daily consecration? Who has not said, when men pressed heavily against him, and the best friend of all human friends deserted him, If God will give me another chance in life to make an honest livelihood, I will give him a tenth of all that I possess? Every man must remember his own vows, bring them into full view, apply to them searching and godly criticism, and know exactly what position he occupies. When we talk about times that are depressed, business that is paralysed, circumstances that are but so many impediments and obstructions in the way of progress, we are talking about effects and not about causes. Until we find the fount and origin of the evils which we mourn, the evils will but multiply under our lamentation. If we heal our hurt slightly; if we daub the wall with untempered mortar; If we cry "Peace, peace," where there is no peace, God will not deliver us out of the consequences of our mad infatuation.
Where, then, shall strength be found—the true, abiding, generous, beneficent strength? One man answers the question: he says, "Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." The same man says, "If our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Another man, writing to a dear friend, says, "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth,"—not that the soul may be as the body, but that the body may be as healthy as the soul. But in these expressions we lack definiteness. The expressions themselves are grand, no doubt copious in meaning, certainly very musical in utterance, but there is something wanting to centralise and define them. Then let the same man who spake the first two sentences speak again:—"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." That is what we wanted—the Name, the living Name, the redeeming Name. There will be periods when our strength goes down. Christ himself was weak in Gethsemane. There appeared an angel unto him, "strengthening him," fortifying him, holding him up, lest he dash his foot against a stone. Do not be afraid, then, if times of weakness beset our own Christian life—times when the devil seems to play with us, and have it all his own way with us—when he mocks us, taunts us, runs around us in laughter filled with contempt, and challenges us to repel or subdue him; such are times of darkness, times of weakness, times of fear—the very power and agony of hell. In that hour, oh that Paul would speak to us! His word would be as a resurrection voice. Let us remember this word in our wilderness temptations and Gethsemane agonies—"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." "Mighty Saviour, dwell with me!"
Almighty God, we know thee by thy sweet name of Love. Surely it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But we know thee in Christ Jesus, forbearing, patient, continually seeking us that we may be saved and made like unto thyself. We remember thy word concerning the terrible things in righteousness which thou didst to those who lived long ago. Surely then thou didst shake the heavens and the earth, and thine anger burned like a fire; it was then a fearful thing to behold thy face, for thy jealousy and thine anger burned there against the sins of men. But now thou art coming to us day by day by the way of the cross. Thou dost on beholding the city weep over it; thou dost send gospels of grace to those even who are furthest away; thou dost keep the door open that the prodigal may re-enter and establish himself in his Father's house. Thou art a gracious God, a loving Father. Behold, thine hand is stretched out towards us, not in wrath, but in welcome, and we would answer thy appeal as thou mayest inspire our hearts. We bless thee for the great words thou hast taught us, for they lift up all other speech, and sanctify all other intercourse. We find them nowhere but in thy Book, and finding them there we run unto them as unto a strong tower; they are part of thy very self; therein we read of thee as the eternal, the everlasting, the gracious Lord, the pardoning and forgiving God, the Lord of mercy and of might, the God of love. We feel that we in very deed are now on strong ground, building our life upon a rock, and that all we are and do is under thy control. So now we leave all that is below and mean and unworthy of us, and we ascend unto the hill of the Lord, standing upon the high and lofty places, overhearing the music of heaven, and catching early intimation of thy will. This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. Help us to live in the spirit of these gracious truths, that we ourselves may be gracious, having large-hearted feeling towards all the children of men, and even those who have strayed the most and are the most obdurate. Fill us with the spirit of redeeming pity. May we long to save the souls of men; may this be our burning concern, our daily zeal, growing in intensity and compelling us to many an act of sacrifice. Again and again we plead for one another—that necessity may be relieved, that the pressure of heavy burdens may be mitigated, that those who are weary and ill at ease may be lifted by thy gracious hands, and enabled to prosecute their journey with renewed strength and hope. We pray for all who have great plans before them, daring schemes, new enterprises, which touch the imagination, and sometimes stun the ear, though, alas! sometimes ignoring the conscience. The Lord look upon such: give them wisdom in the day of sudden temptation; enable them to consult the heavens before committing themselves to the exactions of earth. The Lord be with all those who cannot be in the open sanctuary; make a little chamber for them at home, a secret altar, a place of wordless communion, where tears will be speech and sighs will be eloquence; the Lord grant this favour: then shall all thy people rejoice with a great gladness, and there shall be Sabbath day all the world round. Amen.
Samson—Light and Shadow
IT would be unjust to consider this as a finished picture of the man of strength. In all that we have said we have endeavoured to establish by good reasoning and clear reference. But it would be unjust to pronounce upon any life after merely looking at a few incidental points in its course. That is a danger to which all criticism is exposed. We are prone to look upon vivid incidents, and to omit all the great breadths and spaces of the daily life, and to found our judgment of one another upon peculiarities, eccentricities, and very vivid displays of strength, or very pitiful exhibitions of weakness. This is wrong; this is unjust. Samson has indeed done many things that have startled us. We have been inclined to say now and again in the course of our study, This is the man—the whole man; in this point, or in that, we have the key of his character. Now the reality is that Samson is a greater man than the mere outline of the romantic part of his history would suggest. There was another man than that which we have just seen pass before us—the great giant, the man who played with things that were burdens to other men, the man who was infantile in mental weakness on many occasions; there is another man within that outer man, and until we understand somewhat of that interior personality we cannot grasp the whole character of Samson. We must judge men by the mass of their character. Who would not resent the idea of being tested by the incidents of a few months, rather than being judged by the level and the general tone and the average of a lifetime? Man does not reveal himself in little points, except incidentally and illustratively: hence we must live with the man, and so far as history will allow us to do so we must become identified with him: when we get to understand his motives we shall begin to comprehend his conduct, and when we put together the night and the day, the summer and the winter, the fair youth and the white old age, then we may be in some degree prepared to say what the man in reality was. When this rule of judgment obtains we shall get rid of all pettish ness of criticism, all vain remark upon one another: before pronouncing the final judgment, and especially a harsh verdict, we shall say: We do not know enough about him; we have only seen a few points in the man; he seems to be a greater and fuller man than he disclosed himself to be on the occasions when we saw him; had we seen more of him, and known more of him, we should have come probably to a more generous conclusion. That is the rule of Christian charity, and whoso violates it is no friend of Christ. He may show a certain kind of critical ability, and the very malice of hell in the power of sneering, but he knows nothing about the agony and the love of the Cross.
Is the life of Samson, then, comprehended within these few incidents which have just passed before us? The incidents upon which we have remarked might all have occurred within a few months. What was the exact position of Samson in Israel? He judged Israel twenty years. How often is that fact over" looked! we speak of the great strong man, the elephantine child, the huge monstrosity, but who thinks of twenty years' service—the consideration of all the necessities of the people, the frown which made the enemy afraid, the smile which encouraged struggling virtue, the recognition which came very near to being an inspiration? Who knows what headache and heartache the man had in prosecuting and completing the judgeship? Who can be twenty full years at any one service without amassing in that time features, actions, exhibitions of strength and weakness, sagacity, folly,—all of which ought to be taken into account before pronouncing final judgment? Thus may it be with us, or it will go hard with us in the day of partial and prejudiced criticism. Who will condemn you for one little month in your life? Then you were in very deed a fool; you know it; you own it: you broke through the sacred law; you did things you dare not name; you reeled and stumbled and fell, but were up again in a moment. Shall he be judge of your life who saw the reeling and the falling? or shall he be judge who knows that for ten years, twenty, or more, you walked right steadily, a brave soul, charged with generous thoughts, and often doing good with both hands? So it must be with all men. But we are prone to break that rule. How small we are, and unjust, herein; we will turn off a friend who has served us twenty years because of one petulant word which he spoke! Who has the justice, not to say generosity, to take in a whole lifetime, and let little incidents or great incidents fall into their proper perspective? Until we do this we cannot ply the craft of criticism: we are ill judges, and we shall do one another grievous injury.
Some physical constitutions are to be pitied. Samson's was particularly such a constitution. He seemed to be all body. He appeared to have run altogether into bone and muscle. He was obviously only a giant. How seldom we see more than one aspect of a man! call up any great name in Biblical history, and you will find how often one little, or great, characteristic is supposed to sum up and express the man. We call up the name of Moses, and think of nothing but his meekness: whereas, there was no man in all the ancient gallery of portraits that could burn with a fiercer anger; he brake stones upon stones, and shattered the very tablets written by the finger of God. We say, Characterise Jeremiah, and instantly we think of his tears, and call him the weeping prophet: whereas who concealed an eloquence equal to his?—a marvellous, many-coloured eloquence, now so strong, and now so pathetic: now all lightning, and now all tears. We must beware of the sophism that a life can be summed up in one little characteristic. Herein God will be Judge. Some men cannot be radiant. They may think they are, but they are only making sport for the Philistines when they are trying the trick of cheerfulness which they cannot learn. Other men cannot be wise. If they have conceived some plan of so-called wisdom, and submit it to you, and take it back again, they set it upside down, and forget exactly where it began and where it ended. They are to be pitied. Weakness is written right across the main line of the face; weakness characterises every tone of the voice. They are not to be judged harshly. Blessed be God, the judgment is with himself, and what if the first be last, and the last be first?
Is there hope of renewal for overthrown men? One would hope so:—"Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven"—(Judges 16:22). Is this real renewal or only apparent? It was not the hair that was in fault, but the soul. We have seen that the strength lay not in the hair, but in the vow which that hair represented and confirmed. If the matter had been one purely of person adornment, the hair might have grown again on the strong and noble head, and covered it as luxuriantly as before; but it was the soul that was shorn of its honour; it was the spirit that parted with its oath. How difficult to renew a broken character! Thank God, it is not impossible. It cannot be done mechanically,—that is to say from the outside, by skilful manipulation, by obedience to tabulated rules and orders,—"Ye must be born again:" it is not enough to renew the profession, to rehabilitate the reputation, to seem to be just as you were before,—"Ye must be born again." Samson's hair comes, the locks are as raven-like as ever, but has the soul been renewed; has the strong man cried mightily unto God for the restoration of his character? That is the vital point, and to trifle with it, pass over it hurriedly, is to lose the wisdom and the music of the occasion. Looking at men outwardly, we say, They seem to be as before; all the outer semblances are excellent, but who are we that we should judge what has taken place within? Outwardly the circumstances may be as before, but the man himself should take care as to what has happened within his soul. He should hold himself in severe and close monologue upon this matter, saying, These people form a good opinion of me; they think now I am a sober, upright, reliable man; I am regular in my church attendances, I keep up with the foremost in the public race, and the general impression seems to be that I have recovered myself,—but have I done so? I will not look at the outer man, but at the heart. Is that steadfast toward God—constant in holy love, burning with pure zeal for righteousness and truth? Man must not judge me in these matters—I must therefore judge myself the more austerely and exhaustively. Blessed are we if we can apply such criticism to ourselves; and blessed if outward appearances dimly typify a spiritual life, an unseen and undying probity of mind.
Samson died a curious death. He prayed in his blindness that he might yet show himself a strong man. The Philistines would have sport: Samson would that the occasion of sport might be turned into an occasion of what appeared to him to be just vengeance. Said he: Let me touch the pillars of the house; lay my poor hands on the pillars of this unholy place. And the giant's hands were lifted and put upon the pillars, and Samson cried mightily towards the heavens and shook the pillars, and the house fell, and he himself died with innumerable others. It was a poor way out of the world. But judge nothing by the death scene. In many instances the death scene amounts to nothing. Many a man has gone to heaven straight from the act of suicide. Many a man has died into heaven about whom we are prudently silent, because of some little or great incident which has disturbed our judgment of his character. It is not enough to leave the last transaction to be completed in a few moments of words without sacrifice, of profession without possible realisation. And some may have died and gone to heaven about whom we have our secret fears. Let us entertain no such apprehensions about any man whose twenty years of life lies open for public judgment. Nothing was said at the last; nay, more, the poor man got wrong within the last year of his life: he slipped, he fell, he was laid up a long time; what happened then between him and his Lord we cannot tell; but we have before us an instance or two of such secret and unreported interviews. The man who saw his Lord and plunged into the water, and came to him, had a talk with Christ all alone, and after that he became the most fervent of the apostles. The man is not to be judged by what he did in the last week of his life. It is the life that God will judge—the tone, the purpose, the main idea of the life. What is life indeed but a main idea—a grand central thought and aspiration? We shall delude ourselves and do injustice to others by thinking of collateral circumstances, things on the surface, things that come and go. Many a man has stolen who is no thief. Many a man has been overcome by strong drink who is no drunkard. Many a man has been guilty of innumerable weaknesses who is a strong man in the soul and heart of him. That these generous constructions may be perverted is perfectly possible; but I would rather that wicked men should pervert them than that the men who need such encouragement should go away in despair. We cannot tell what the dogs will do, but the children must nevertheless be fed. If any man should leave this study of Samson saying that licence has been given to do this or that which is wrong, he but aggravates his profanity by a final falsehood. On the other hand, many a man must be cheered, or he will be overwhelmed in despair, and we shall never hear of him any more. What is the central purpose of your life? what is the main idea? Answer that in the right way, and God will be merciful to you.
We have still to notice the most important point of all, which, in the mere matter of literal sequence, ought to have come earlier. Samson said he would go out and shake himself as at other times—"and he wist not that the Lord was departed from him "(Judges 16:20). All the outer man was there, but it was a temple without a God. The giant was as grand to look at as ever, but his soul was as a banqueting-hall deserted. And Samson knew it not! that is the painful point—the unknown losses of life, the unconscious losses of life: power gone, and the man not aware of it,—is there any irony so humbling, so awful to contemplate? We may be walking skeletons: we may be men without manliness; we may be houses untenanted: yet the eyes are where they always were, and just as bright, the voice is as vibrant as in olden time; and yet the divinity is dead. And for a man not to know it! We have had experience of this in other than merely religious directions. The writer that used to charm thinks he writes as well as ever, and only the readers are conscious that the genius is extinct: the right hand has forgotten its cunning; the writer does not know it; having filled his page, he says, That is as bright as ever: I never wrote with greater facility: in my old age I have become young again;—he wist not that the spirit of genius had departed from him. So with the preacher. He supposes he preaches as energetically and as happily and usefully as ever; he says he longs for his work more than he ever did; and only the hearers are conscious that the man has been outworn by all-claiming, all-dominating time. The statesman, too, has lost his wizardry: he cannot see afar off; yet he supposes himself to be as great as in his most lustrous prime. All these are common incidents, and are referred to simply to show that they point towards the most disastrous effect of all—that a man may have lost the Spirit of God, and not be aware of his loss. Others look on, and pity him. The prayer has lost its pleading tone; the tears which stream from his eyes are but common water; the upward look sees nothing but cloud; the universe has become a great blank space: the stars glitter, but say nothing; the summer comes, but creates no garden in his soul; and the man does not know it. Who dare tell him? This points towards a possible ghastly condition of affairs. The Church is as large as ever, but Ichabod is written upon its door. The old words are all said, one by one with formal pomp and accuracy, but they are only words—no longer bushes that burn and are not consumed. Again and again remember that the point is that the man did not know it. Had he known it, he would have been a better man; had he really felt that the Lord had gone out from him, he might have begun to cry at last like a child, if he could not pray like a priest How is it with us? Put the question right into the very centre of the soul. We may have more words, more dogmas, more points of controversy, more little orthodox idols; but what are we in the heart, the spirit, the purpose of the mind? Seeing that this great danger is before us, there is one sweet prayer which every day should carry to heaven from our pleading soul. A child can pray it; an angel cannot add to it. That deep, high, grand, all-inclusive prayer is—"Take not thy Holy Spirit from me,"—take health, take friends, take happiness, take all the world values as good and necessary, but take not thy Holy Spirit from me! "Holy Spirit, dwell with me."
Almighty God, our hope is in thy Son; other hope in very deed we have none. We have hewn out unto ourselves cisterns, but we have found them to be cisterns that could hold no water. So by this experience, so sad and deep, we have come to know that there is no help for man but in the living God, the Saviour of all, who will have all men to be saved. We lay down our arms of rebellion, we renounce our various inventions, and we now come to thee, empty-handed, full of sin in the heart, conscious of great and aggravated wickedness, and casting ourselves upon the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, we say each for himself, God be merciful to me a sinner! We know thine answer; it is a reply of love: where sin abounds, grace shall much more abound; wherein we have grieved thee, we shall be mightily brought back again to thy side, to take part in thy praise, and to be active in thy service. May the time that is past more than suffice; may our inquiry be about the few days that remain; with earnestness, simplicity, fidelity, may we gird ourselves to the work that lies before us, and with all-burning zeal, most constant love, may we do thy will gladly, hoping only for a reward in thine own heaven. Help us in all our life. Its necessities are as numerous as its moments. Our life is one crying want. Let our life be turned into a sacred prayer, by being lifted upwards towards the all-hospitable heavens, and no longer left to grope in the earth for that which can never be found there. As for our burdens, we shall forget them if thou dost increase our strength; our sins shall be cast behind thee, our duty shall be our delight, and our whole life a glowing and acceptable sacrifice. Guide men who are in perplexity; soothe the hearts that are overborne by daily distress; save from despair those who think they have tried every gate and beaten upon every door without success or reply: save such from the agony and blackness of despair; at the very last do thou appear, a shining light, a delivering day, wherein men can see what lies about them, and address themselves to their tasks with the help of the sun. Be round about us in business; save us amid a thousand temptations; direct us along a road that is sown with traps, and gins, and snares; take hold of our hand every step of the journey, and in thine own good time bring us to rest, to death—to life. Amen.