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mind of any great body of the people, in the previous age. But Samuel's reformation had awakened in them a sense of order to which they had been strangers before. The words “ Elders of Israel” themselves show how much had been done to revive the institutions of Moses, to call out the family and tribe sympathies which were at the root of those institutions and to make them ministers of union, not, as they had been, of division. So strongly had this family feeling been awakened, that Samuel's sons, it seems from the next passage, had, without any formal election or designation, performed some of the functions of their father. A tendency to hereditary succession was unfolding itself in the mind of the people, and was connecting itself directly with the civil, as it had before been connected with the ecclesiastical, forms of the commonwealth. But Samuel's sons did not walk in his ways. They were self-seekers; they were suspected of taking bribes. The effect of this distrust was just that which proceeds in all ages from the same cause—dissatisfaction, a cry for change, a feeling that the fault of the person who administers implies some evil or defect in that which he has to administer. But the change which these elders craved for was not a greater independence of authority. They had a sense of wanting authority. The degeneracy of Samuel's sons did not, as we might have fancied, make them suspicious of a ruler who should establish a family. It only made them long for a different sort of rule, for one which should be less irregular and fluctuating. They were not like the nations round about; they seemed to be at a manifest disadvantage when they fought with them; they had no regular leader of their armies, no one who could set them in array and go forth at the head of them. It is evident from another pas
sage, in which it is said that they desired a king because Nahash the king of Ammon was coming out against them, that this was their uppermost thought. A king signified to them little more than a general. There was something else in their minds than this; something at least was implied in this which was deeper than the rude craving for a man in a target of brass and with a spear like a weaver's beam. The discipline and the coherency of an army have a charm which the inmost spirit recognizes, and which could not exist if it was without a directing head.
But the thing displeased Samuel and he cried unto the Lord. Why did it displease him? Men who think themselves very clever have answered, “Of course, because he was seeking to aggrandise his own family. He had a cunning plan of advancing his sons which this new proposition would defeat.” It is not necessary to confute such a notion by proclaiming that the characters in Scripture are different from other characters. It is quite enough to say that if such a character as Samuel’s were met with in any history whatever, this would be a low, paltry, vulgar way of accounting for his acts. He had all his life been possessed with one great conviction, that the righteous God was King of the land. In His name and in His strength, he had been putting down wrong and asserting right. He had taken no man's ass and had handled no bribes, had sought for truth in his inward parts, and had striven to speak and act the truth outwardly. To suppose that he had been plotting all his days for those miserable objects which have made Popes execrable and have overthrown the kingdoms of modern dynasts, is to confound all distinctions, to make the records of humanity merely the records of the pettinesses and crimes which have destroyed it. If Samuel was con
[Serm scious of any such desire in his heart—and it may doubtless have been there, as any, even the vilest desire may be working in him who abhors it most—he would indeed have cried to the Lord to deliver him from such godlessness, and his nation from the effects of it. He did cry to the Lord because the thing displeased him, because he had a sense that there was something very wrong in the wish which his countrymen were cherishing; perhaps--and such a feeling was not wrong, though wrong might be very near it—because he discovered in them much ingratitude to himself; because he thought his government was better than any they would substitute for it, because he did not believe, or tried not to believe the ills which were imputed to his sons. All these were good reasons for praying to the Lord; for a man does that with very little fervency if he is quite clear about his own conclusion, if he sees his way and is in no sort of embarassment or perplexity. It is a sense of dimness and confusion which drives us to the source of light. We do not know what we ought to think about this thing or that, and we want to be told what we should think about it; we want to have our displeasure deepened if it is right and taken away if it is wrong; or if, as most often happens, it is partly right and partly wrong, that the good should be separated from the evil, the first reinforced with God's own might, the other utterly cast out. In such a state of mind, I apprehend, Samuel prayed unto the Lord, or else into such a state of mind he came while he was praying. And so his prayers led to an honest practical result, a result to which the displeasure without the prayer would certainly not have brought him.
“ And the Lord said unto Samuel, hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they
have not rejected thee but they have rejected Me that I should not reign over them.” Such an answer sounds at first most strange, most perplexing! Hearken unto themfor they have rejected Me. Yield to them because they are doing a worse thing than you supposed they were doing. Let them have their way seeing that they are not changing a mere form of government but breaking loose from the principle upon which their nation has stood from its foundation. No contradiction can seem greater. And yet no Jewish statesman or prophet could do the work that was given him to do, could be God's faithful witness, if he did not enter into the very heart of this contradiction, if he did not mould his own conduct according to the deep truth which was implied in it. His impulse was to maintain the order of things which he found established in his day. He believed that order was God's order; he dared not refer it to any lower source. He administered that order in this faith; if it forsook him he became careless and corrupt. Could God's order then be changed ? Was He not by His very nature, the Unchangeable? Was it not the highest duty to make the people feel that this was His character ? Was it not thus that their own frivolity and passion for change would be corrected? When the impulse passes into reasoning you cannot easily detect a flaw in it; and yet it was stronger still while it remained an impulse and did not pass into reasoning. Nothing but prayer to the unchangeable God could shew wherein both were false and might lead to falsehood. The unchangeableness of God is not to be confounded with the rigidness of a rule or a system. If it is so confounded the purpose and nature of His government are forgotten. He—the Perfect and Absolute Will—has created beings with wills, beings made in His
own image. He educates them; He desires that they should know His will, that is to say Himself. They are to learn what they themselves are, what they would make of themselves, what He would make of them, partly by an experience of the effects of their own wilfulness, partly by the results which He brings to pass in spite of that wilfulness, nay, by means of it. This is the explanation of the paradox. 'Hearken unto them for they have not rejected thee but Me. If this was a personal question, if the wish of the people was one which you might regard merely as an offence to you, there would be a pretext for fighting with them, and insisting upon their surrendering themselves to your judgment. But if you take a more accurate measure of their wrong, if you feel it to be an act of unbelief in my unseen government, and a desire to substitute a visible for an invisible ruler, you will not think you can deal with such perverseness by any petty scheme of yours, by a mere adherence to existing forms. The evil requires a far deeper and more radical treatment; the people must be taught that they have an unseen ruler, and cannot live or act without one. The preservation of you as a judge, the preservation of the system of government by judges, would be no such lesson. It would only be a question between one kind of outward rule and another; you would be attaching the same kind of false and dangerous importance to the ancient scheme which they attach to the novel one. There is nothing strange in this desire of theirs. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even unto this day wherewith they have forsaken Me and served other gods, so do they now unto thee. The same idolatrous tendency, the same unbelief in an invisible government has been in them throughout.