Ad Magistratum
1 Samuel 12:3-5
Behold, here I am: witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose donkey have I taken?…

A bold and just challenge of an old judge, made before all the people, upon his resignal of the government into the hands of a new king. In which words are observable both the matter and form of Samuel's challenge. We may observe concerning Samuel three things. First, his great forwardness in the business, in putting himself upon the trial by his own voluntary offer, before he was called thereunto by others. "Behold, here I am." Secondly, his great confidence, upon the conscience of his own integrity; in that he durst put himself upon his trial before God and the world. "Witness against me before the Lord, and before His Anointed." Thirdly, his great equity, in offering to make real satisfaction to the full, in case anything should be justly proved against him in any of the premises, "Whose ox, or whose ass, etc., and I will restore it you."

I. SAMUEL ON SELF-TESTING VOLUNTARILY. We cannot marvel that Samuel should thus offer himself to the trial, when no man urged him to it; since there may be rendered so many congruous reasons for it. Especially being withal so conscious to himself, of having dealt uprightly, that he knew all the world could not touch him with any wilful violation of justice. He doth not therefore decline the trial, but seek it. The righteous are bold as a lion. The merchant that knoweth his wares to be faulty, is glad of the dark shop, and false light; whereas he that will uphold them right and good, willeth his customers to view them in the open sun. A corrupt magistrate or officer may sometimes set a face upon it, and in a kind of bravery bid defiance to all the world; but it is then when he is sure he hath power on his side to bear him out; when he is so backed with his great friends that no man dare once open his lips against him for fear of being shut. Even as a rank coward may take up the bucklers, and brave it like a stout champion, when he is sure the coast is clear and nobody near to enter the lists with him. And yet all this is but a mere flourish, a faint and feigned bravado; his heart the while is as cold as lead, and he meaneth nothing less than what he maketh show of. If the offer should be indeed accepted, and that his actions were like to be brought upon the public stage, there to receive a due and impartial hearing and doom; how would he then shrink and hold off trow ye? Be just then, fathers and brethren, and ye may be bold: so long as you stand right, you stand upon your own legs, and not at the mercy of others. But turn aside once to defrauding, oppressing, or receiving rewards, and you make yourselves slaves forever. Possibly you may bear up, if the times favour you, and by your greatness out-face your crimes for a while: but that is not a thing to trust to. The wind and the tide may turn against you, when you little think it: and when once you begin to go down the wind, every base and busy companion will have one puff at you, to drive you the faster and farther down. Yet mistake not, as if I did exact from magistrates an absolute immunity from those common frailties and infirmities, whereunto the whole race of mankind is subject: the imposition were unreasonable. I doubt not but Samuel, notwithstanding all this great confidence in his own integrity, had yet among so many causes, as in so many years space had gone through his hands, sundry times erred in judgment, either in the substance or the sentence, or at least in some circumstances of the proceedings. By misinformations, or misapprehensions, or by other passions or prejudices, no doubt but he might be carried, and like enough sometimes was, to shew either more lenity, or more rigour, than was in every respect expedient. But this is the thing that made him stand so clear, both in his own conscience and in the sight of God and the world, that he had not wittingly and purposely perverted judgment, nor done wrong to any man with an evil or corrupt intention.

II. SAMUEL'S CONFIDENCE. See we next, what the things are he doth with so much confidence disclaim, as the matter of the challenge. It is in the general, injury or wrong: the particular kinds whereof in the text specified, are fraud, oppression, and bribery. Against all and every of these he expressly protesteth. It is verily nothing so much as our covetousness that maketh us unjust: which St. Paul affirmeth to be the root of all evil; but is most manifestly the root of this evil of injustice. But men that are resolved of their end (if this be their end, to make themselves great and rich howsoever) are not much moved with arguments of this nature. The evidence of God's Law, and conscience of their own duty, work little upon them: gain is the thing they look after; as for equity they little regard it. A man may seem to profit by them, and to come up wonderfully for a time; but time and experience show, that they moulder away again at the last, and crumble to nothing; and that for the most part within the compass of an age. What gained Ahab by it, when he made himself master of Naboth's vineyard, but the hastening of his own destruction? And what was Gehazi the better for the gifts be received from Naaman? which brought an hereditary leprosy with them? And what was Achan the richer for the golden wedge he had saved out of the spoils, and hidden in his tent, which brought destruction upon him and all that appertained to him? It ought to be the care of every private man, thus far to follow Samuel's example that he keep himself from doing any man wrong. But men that are in place of government, as Samuel was, have yet a further charge lying upon them, over and besides the former; and that is, to preserve others from wrong, and being wronged, to relieve them to the utmost of their power. The more have they to answer for that abuse any part of this so sacred an ordinance, for the abetting, countenancing, or strengthening of any injurious act. They that have skill in the laws, by giving dangerous counsel in the chamber or pleading smoothly at the bar. They that attend about the courts, by keeping back just complaints, or doing other casts of their office in favour of an evil person or cause; but especially the magistrates themselves, by a perfunctory or partial hearing, by pressing the laws with rigour, or qualifying them with some mitigation where they ought not. Where others do wrong, if they know it, and can help it, their very connivance maketh them accessories; and then the greatness and eminency of their places enhanceth the crime yet further, and maketh them principals.

1. A very grievous thing it is to think of, but a thing merely impossible to reckon up (how much less then to remedy and reform?) all the several kinds of frauds and deceits that are used in the world. It is stark nought, saith the buyer: It is perfect good, saith the seller: when many times neither of both speaketh, either as he thinketh, or as the truth of the thing is. Blessed is the man, then, in whose heart, and tongue, and hands, there is found no deceit; that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness; and speaketh the truth from his heart; that hath not stretched his wits to hurt his neighbour; nor made advantage of any man's unskilfulness, simplicity or credulity, to gain from him wrongfully; that can stand upon it, as Samuel here doth, and his heart not give his tongue the lie, that he hath defrauded no man.

2. The other kind of injury, here next mentioned, is oppression: wherein a man maketh use of his power to the doing of wrong, as he did of his wits in defrauding. Which is for the most part the fault of rich and great men; because they have the greatest power so to do, and are not so easily resisted in what they will have done. Yet is it indeed a very grievous sin, forbidden by God himself in express terms (Leviticus 25). If thou sell ought unto thy neighbour, or buyest ought of thy neighbour's hand, ye shall not oppress one another: and so going on, concludeth, Ye shall not therefore oppress one another, but thou shalt fear thy God; implying that it is from want of the fear of God that men oppress one another Solomon therefore saith, that he that oppresseth the poor, reproacheth (or despiseth) his Maker (Proverbs 14). And, indeed, so he doth, more ways than one. First, he despiseth his Maker's commandment, who hath (as you heard) peremptorily forbidden him to oppress. Secondly, he despiseth his Maker's creature: the poor man whom he so oppresseth being God's workmanship as well as himself. Thirdly, he despiseth his Maker's example; who looketh upon the distresses of the poor and oppressed, to provide for them, and to relieve them. Fourthly, he despiseth his Master's ordinance; in perverting that power and wealth, which God lent him purposely to do good therewithal, and turning it to a quite contrary use, to the hurt and damage of others. And he that goeth on to reproach his Maker (without repentance) must needs do it to his own confusion He that made him, can mar him when he pleaseth; and the greatest oppressors shall be no more able to stand before him then, than their poorer brethren are now able to stand out against them. But herein especially may you behold the baseness of oppression; that the basest people, men of the lowest rank and spirit, are evermore the most insolent, and consequently (according to the proportion of their power) the most oppressive Solomon compareth a poor man, when he hath the opportunity to oppress another poor man, to a sweeping rain that leaveth no food (Proverbs 28). How roughly did that servant in the parable deal with his fellow servant, when he took him by the throat for a small debt, after his master had but newly remitted to him a sum incomparably greater? The reason of the difference was the master dealt nobly, and freely, and like himself, and had compassion; but the servant, being of a low and narrow spirit, must insult. Conclude hence, all ye that are of generous births or spirits, how unworthy that practice would be in you, wherein men of the lowest minds and conditions can (in their proportion) not equal only, but even exceed you. Which should make you, not only to hate oppression, because it is wicked, but even to scorn it, because it is base, and to despise it.

3. There is yet a third behind, against which Samuel protesteth as a branch of injustice also; which also concerned him more properly as a judge; to wit, bribery. Bribery is properly a branch of oppression. For if the bribe be exacted, or but expected yet so, as that there can be little hope of a favourable, or but so much as a fair hearing without it; then is it a manifest oppression in the receiver, because he maketh an advantage of that power, wherewith he is entrusted for the administration of justice, to his own proper benefit, which ought not to be, and is clearly an oppression. But if it proceed rather from the voluntary offer of the giver, for the compassing of his own ends, then is it an oppression in him; because thereby he getteth an advantage in the favour of the court against his adversary, and to his prejudice. For, observe it, the general oppressors are ever the greatest bribers, and freest of their gifts to those that may bestead them in their suits. What is it to blind the eyes? Or, how can bribes do it? Justice is not unfitly portrayed in the form of a man with his right eye open, to look at the cause; and his left eye shut or muffled, that he may not look at the person. Now a gift putteth all this out of order, and setteth it the quite contrary way. It giveth the left eye liberty but too much, to look asquint at the person; but putteth the right eye quite out. that it cannot discern the cause. Even as in the next foregoing chapter, Nahash the Ammonite would have covenanted with the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead, upon condition he might thrust out all their right eyes. "From this property of hoodwinking and muffling up the eyes it is that a bribe is in the Hebrew to cover, to dawn up, or to draw over with lime, plaster, or the like." Whereunto our English word, to cover, hath such near affinity in the sound that (were it not apparently taken from the French couvrir, and that from the Latin cooperire) it might with some probability be thought to owe its original to the Hebrew. But however it be for the word, the thing is clear enough: this copher doth so cover and plaster up the eyes, that they cannot see to do their office aright, and as they ought.

III. IS SAMUEL'S EQUITY, in offering, in case anything should be truly charged against him in any of the premises, to make the wronged parties restitution, (Whose ox have I taken? etc. And I will restore it you.). Samuel was confident he had not wittingly done any man wrong, either by fraud, oppression of bribery; whereby he should be bound to make, or should need to offer restitution. A duty, in case of injury, most necessary, both for quieting the conscience within and to give satisfaction to the world; and for the more assurance of the truth and sincerity of our repentance in the fight of God for the wrongs we have done. Without which (at least in the desire and endeavour) there can be no true repentance for the sin. There is an enforced restitution, whereof perhaps Zophar speaketh in Job 20. (That which he laboured for, he shall restore, and not swallow it down; according to his substance shall the restitution be, and he shall not rejoice therein); and such as the law imposed upon thefts, and other manifest wrongs; which although not much worth, is yet better than none. But as Samuel's offer here was voluntary: so it is the voluntary restitution that best pleaseth God, pacifieth the conscience, and in some measure satisfieth the world. Such was that of Zaccheus (Luke 19). It may be feared, if every officer that hath to do in or about the Courts of Justice, should be tied to that proportion, many one would have but a very small surplusage remaining, whereout to bestow the one moiety to pious uses, as Zaccheus there did. There is scarce any one point in the whole body of moral divinity, that soundeth so harsh to the ear, or relisheth so harsh in the palate of a worldling, as that of restitution doth. To such a man this is indeed a hard, very hard saying; yet as hard as it seemeth to be, it is full of reason and equity. Whole volumes have been written of this subject; and the casuists are large in their discourses thereof. But for one thing itself in general, this much is clear from the Judicial Law of God, given by Moses to the people of Israel; from the letter whereof, though Christians be free (positive laws binding none but those to whom they were given), yet the equity thereof still bindeth us as a branch of the unchangeable Laws of Nature. That whosoever shall have wronged his neighbour in anything committed to his custody, or in fellowship, or in anything taken away by violence, or by fraud, or in detaining any found thing, or the like, is bound to restore it; and that in integrum, to the utmost farthing of what he hath taken, if he be able. Not so only, but beside the principal, to offer some little overplus also by way of compensation for the damage; if at least the wronged party have sustained any damage thereby, and unless he shall be willing freely to remit it. The Lord give us all hearts to do that which is equal and right, and in all our dealings with others, to have evermore the fear of God before our eyes; knowing that of the Lord, the righteous Judge, we shall in our souls receive at the last great assize according to that we have done in our bodies here, whether it be good or evil.

(Bishop Sanderson.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Behold, here I am: witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you.

WEB: Here I am. Witness against me before Yahweh, and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Of whose hand have I taken a ransom to blind my eyes therewith? I will restore it to you."

Piety in Old Age
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