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be overcome, it is idle to waste time upon them ; for the sad truth is, they do not wish to come.
Consider then, I pray you, brethren, what your state is. God invites you to His feast. Every Lord's day He invites you. There is a place for you at that table which hitherto has been empty. Shall it continue any longer empty or shall it be filled ? That is the question which you should ask and answer. There is room at that feast for you. Will you come and occupy that room? The sacrament which there we celebrate is the great rite of our religion. The sacrifice which there we commemorate is the great act of worship, to which all our prayers point, and from which they derive their efficacy and acquire prevailing force. To come here Sunday after Sunday, and to look at that table, and to take part in those prayers which lead towards it as their end and consummation, and yet never to communicate, is to do an action not less strange than if you should seat yourself beside a table on which food was about to be set before you, and then when the time had come for eating should rise and turn away. That meat which you should there feed on is the bread and life of souls. Think, I pray you, what you are doing when you refuse to come. You refuse to confess Christ before the eyes of men. You deny that you have any faith in Him Who died for you. You take your place among the unbelieving world which will not acknowledge Christ. You violate His distinct command. You reject the love of Him Who died to save you.
Do not thus, my brethren. There is room for you. Occupy that room. With all earnestness I warn you. With all affection I beseech you. “Come, for all things are now ready.” The day of grace is not yet over. “Yet there is room.”
1 SAMUEL XV, 22, 23. “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king."
THESE words contain a general truth, but they
I have a close reference to that particular circumstance which gave occasion to them.
They were spoken by Samuel, the priest and prophet of the Lord, to Saul, the king of Israel. Saul had been ordered by God to go and destroy the Amalekites, as a punishment for their treatment of the Israelites, many hundred years before. The destruction was to be complete. Nothing, either of the people or of their property, was to be left upon the earth. The command ran thus, “Utterly destroy all that they have and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” It was God's will that they should cease to be. So that Saul was sent upon this mission - not that he might achieve the fame which follows upon a great victory, or that he might enrich his people with abundant spoil, but—as a minister of the Divine vengeance and the exterminator of a people which could not be permitted any longer to exist. And what did Saul do? He won a great victory and he utterly destroyed the people of Amalek. But he spared the king, because he pitied the misfortunes of a brother monarch, and he spared the best of the flocks and of the cattle, because his army was covetous and had set its heart upon the spoil. That is to say, he carried out the commands of God as far as seemed to him expedient, but no further. And, when his own wishes and the wishes of his people contradicted the express command of God, he deliberately yielded to the one and opposed the other. In short, he pleased himself and disobeyed God.
Samuel of course was very angry, and charged the king with disobedience to God. And how did the king meet the accusation? His plea was, that a portion of the sheep and oxen were to be given to God in sacrifice. It was true that he had not perfectly obeyed the commands which Samuel had given him from God, but he had nearly obeyed, and his object at least was good, if his conduct had been mistaken. That was the king's excuse. But Samuel would not listen to it. In the first place, it was not true. Sacrifice was not the purpose for which the best of the cattle had been spared from slaughter. They had been spared to enrich the people and stock the farms of Israel. But even had the plea been true, a religious purpose was no excuse for distinct and deliberate rebellion against the clear commands of God. “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord ? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” The prophet tells the king, his master, that much as God approved of victims slain in sacrifice, there was one thing which
He loved a great deal more, and that thing, obedience. The heart and the obedience of a man was a better thing in His eyes and a dearer treasure than burnt offerings and “the fat of rams.” Sacrifices offered in disobedience were no sacrifices at all, in the judgment of Him “Who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.” To sacrifice and at the same time to obey was to do right, and to please God, and to win the Divine favour. But to sacrifice and at the same time to disobey was to insult and offend God. Sacrifice had a meaning. It was a sign of obedience. It expressed not only the need of an atonement for sin, but also the duty of self-surrender. The offering of a victim was a confession and declaration that a man should offer up himself to God. And therefore, sacrifice combined with disobedience, and especially with so manifest an instance of disobedience as this, was simply a mockery, and not only no service of God, but even an insult and an act of treason and rebellion against Him. And so Samuel described it. · Looking at the meaning of sacrifice, it is evident that to plead it as an excuse for disobedience was to make sin worse by adding to it hypocrisy. Had Saul said, 'I have done wrong, but I was overcome by weakness, and carried away by self-will and a desire to please my people by making them rich,' we might have found some sort of excuse for him. But to say, as he in fact did, 'I did wrong from the best of motives, and I did evil for the sake of God,' was to paint himself in the blackest colours, and to write
hypocrite' upon his own back. And nothing could be more just and more deserved than the sentence which was passed upon him, when it was said, “ Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, the
Lord hath rejected thee from being king.” Saul had wilfully and deliberately refused to execute the will of God, and therefore had proved himself unfit to be a king So that the meaning of these words of Samuel is
They declare obedience to be the truest service of a man to God, and rebellion to be the chief of all sins. They show that sacrifice and rite and ceremony are good things, but that they are not so good as obedience, and that obedience must dwell within them, and be their living soul and actuating principle, or else all service is a mockery and religion itself is degraded till it becomes a sin. They do not set these two things-sacrifice and holiness--one against another, as though there was any natural variance and contrariety between them. But they declare that as the body without the soul is nothing but a dead carcase, so religion without the heart, and faith without works, and worship without obedience, and form without godliness, are not pleasing to God. To obey and not to sacrifice is not good. To sacrifice and not to obey is not good also. Both are good, and therefore sacrifice and obedience must go together. Both are good things, and each is the complement and filling up of the other; but, of the two, obedience is the better.
That is the substance of the prophet's teaching. And in further recommending it to your especial notice I would first remark how great and good a thing obedience is.
I. Obedience to God is the chief good of man. Obedience to God is religion reduced to practice, and is the soul of religion. If we look about for words in which to define or describe a truly religious person