1 Samuel 4:22
And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.
The person by whom this mournful language was uttered, was the wife of one who, by descent and occupation, had been associated with the momentous office of the priesthood of ancient Israel. That people were engaged in war with the neighbouring nation of the Philistines, their persevering and inveterate foe.
I. First, WE PROPOSE TO NOTICE THE PROPERTIES OF TRUE RELIGION, AS INDICATED BY THE SYMBOL, UNDER WHICH IT IS REPRESENTED. "The glory" of Israel, of which the pious mother spake, was "the ark of God;" so called, from the place which it occupied in the ritual of Levitical worship, and because, on account of that place, it became necessarily the token of the whole economy and general interests of religion. The religion possessed by Israel was, really and truly, its "glory."
1. Following this mode of illustration, you will observe, first, that the ark was associated with immediate and visible displays of the Divine presence. Above the ark were the mysterious figures of the cherubim, overshadowing it with their outstretched wings, and between the cherubim was the Shechinah, that luminous cloud denominated "the cloud of glory" which betokened the Divine presence, and from which, in audible voice, God uttered His will and His promises to the priests whom He had chosen. In the economy of the Gospel, the presence of God has been possessed, not indeed, you must remember, by outward and visible signs and tokens, but spiritually, and with a spiritual clearness, which, in the present state, cannot be surpassed. That presence is vouchsafed in the work of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the operations and influences of the Divine Spirit, whose office it is to apply the work of the Lord Jesus to the minds of men. And therefore it is, that the ancient symbol is used in reference to them both.
2. Observe, secondly, the ark was identified with the Divinely appointed mediation for the pardon of human sin. The covering or lid of the ark was denominated "the mercy seat," because the priest, by Divine command, sprinkled upon it the blood of the sacrifices, which had been offered in propitiatory atonement for sin. He then, according to the same command, interceded, that for the sake of the blood so presented before God, pardon and favour with Him might be obtained. Now this whole arrangement will be found directly typical of the one Saviour, as revealed under the economy of the Gospel; and the victim, and the priest and the mercy seat were all made to terminate and concentrate in Him. The mediation in this manner set forth — a mediation precisely adapted to the circumstances and wants of man, and preserving its efficacy unexhausted in all successive ages — this is the supreme and permanent glory of the Gospel. Apart from it, the glory of that Gospel would indeed be but dim and cloudy; and when you observe the mode of its indication, and the value of its influence, you will doubtless again recognise how well your religion is represented by the ancient symbol, and how richly it deserves the appellation of "the glory."
3. Again, you will observe, that the ark was the instrument of Divine protection, in behalf of the people who possessed and who rightly applied to it. On various occasions in the history of Israel, we find that it was connected with marvellous preservation, deliverance, and victory. Now, the religion of the Gospel is directly the agent of God, in imparting protection and deliverance to man. If the Gospel be viewed in a political aspect, we are sure that it is to the nations now, what the ark once was to Israel of old. We might, without any difficulty, show from multiplied evidence, that, for the sake of His truth, God has been pleased in this manner to protect and to shield us, in our own land; and there is abundant reason also to conclude, that just in proportion as the nations of the earth become imbued with the vital spirit of Christianity, they become protected against the very elements which would naturally operate to subvert and to destroy. If the Gospel be viewed in a spiritual aspect — in relation to the interests of the souls of men, we know how, by its mediatorial power and grace, brought home through the agency of the Spirit, men are guarded against the various adversaries, by whom, from time to time, their progress in the present world is assailed — how they triumph over "the last enemy," and how they are exalted to the final inheritance of heaven, where they will abide in triumph, in bliss, and in glory, for over and ever.
II. Let us now proceed to notice THE DANGER IN WHICH THE INTERESTS OF RELIGION, LIKE THE ANCIENT SYMBOL, MAY APPEAR TO BE INVOLVED. There are not a few circumstances occurring from time to time, when the religion of the Gospel appears, according to human judgment, in its various interests, to be in jeopardy, in danger of dishonourable defeat and injury.
1. And you will observe, first, that apparent danger to the interests of religion arises from the efforts of avowed and open adversaries to its claims. From the commencement of its career, to such efforts the Gospel has been exposed. In its earliest period, it encountered the malignant hostility of the Jews, who, mistaking alike the nature of their own system and of the Gospel, crucified "the Lord of Glory," and when He had triumphantly risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, "breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the Church," that they might overwhelm it.
2. We observe, that apparent danger also arises to the interests of Christianity, from the evils which exist and are cherished, within its own internal sphere. The danger to the ark of God as much arose from the habits and dispositions of the Israelites themselves, as from the array and hostile exertions of the Philistines. We very briefly notice what we fear from the internal aspect of the Gospel, so as to constitute its existing or its anticipated danger.
(1) And there are the errors by which the doctrines or truths of the Gospel are compromised, or substantially abandoned.
(2) Again, we may mention the discords by which the union of those who profess the Gospel is jarred, and broken.
(3) There are, again, the worldly conformities, by which the line of separation between the professed disciples of the Gospel, and the votaries of sin, is diminished, and rendered well-nigh imperceptible. And thus it is, that there is jeopardy to that, which we ought to keep, and not to part with for worlds. And when to these evils we add the external adversaries, which have already passed before your view, there appears a combination, which may well strike the timid with terror, while it subdues even the boldest into a spirit of solemnity and awe.
III. We now proceed to observe THE EMOTIONS WHICH THE APPARENT DANGER TO THE INTERESTS OF RELIGION MUST PROPERLY PRODUCE.
1. The emotions of the mother of the infant, whose case is here recorded, were those of fear and of grief, for fear and grief ended her own life; and she perpetuated her impassioned emotion in the name which she gave to her offspring: "she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel;" "and she said, The glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken." Emotions of the same class — those of fear and grief — may well fill the hearts of Christians, when they look upon the apparent danger to their religion in itself, and without regard to those consoling considerations, to which it will be our duty to allude. Recognising the value of Christianity in all respects to every class of human character and human interests, we cannot contemplate the probability of any injury being done to it, but in a view of immense and almost inconceivable magnitude. Were we to have placed before us the prospect of the downfall of religion in our own land, what a sad and mournful catastrophe would then be before us! If our "ark" were taken, what would then remain? Think you, that we should long retain the possession of the riches, by which we have been adorned, and hold our high station among the surrounding nations of the earth.
2. But, having noticed the nature of these emotions, we must now observe the manner, in which they may be soothed. The ark of God, notwithstanding the calamity which had happened to it, had a power with it, which secured its essential preservation. You read its history and the history of the attendant power which directed it, in the chapters which follow, until it came back in triumph unto the nation, to whom it appertained. You are doubtless aware also, with regard to Him, whose power is with His Church in the Gospel, that He has announced positive intentions respecting it, that it shall "go on conquering and to conquer," that it shall survive and overcome all the efforts which are made to injure and to blast it, and that it shall at last receive an empire over the whole universe. This great intention, which forms a part of the purpose of the Father, has been sealed by the blood of the Son, and by the promise and the influence of the Spirit. Amidst all that appears ominous and dark in the times which are before us, we are to rest upon these truths, with encouragement and with hope.
3. Observe, finally, the deportment to which these emotions should prompt. While we exercise this consoling reliance upon the purpose and upon the promise of God, we are not to forget the importance of employing those means which are placed within our grasp, and which it is our bounden duty to use, in order that we ourselves may be instrumental in meeting the danger, and in attributing victory to the cause and to the empire of the Redeemer.
(1) Allow me to suggest that there ought to be on our part, and on the part of all professing Christians, a careful removal of those imperfections, by which we may have been tainted and corrupted. Has there been any compromise, or abandonment of the doctrines and truths of the Gospel? Then let us return to a faithful and stedfast adherence to those doctrines, and "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," "holding fast the form of sound words." Has there been a display of discord and disunion?
(2) Again: with this removal of the existing imperfections of the Church, there must also be great zeal in behalf of the unconverted.
(3) And then again, there is required also an importunity of prayer.
Parallel VersesKJV: And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.