THE SIN OF INGRATITUDE
--I SAM. 12:1-25.--JULY 19.--
Golden Text:--"Only fear the Lord, and serve
him in truth with all your heart; for consider
how great things he hath done for you."
AFTER Saul had been duly anointed, accepted and installed in office came the time for his coronation. This is in full line with the custom of the present time. The present king of England was not crowned for nearly a year after he had assumed his office. The interim had given time for the development of an appreciation for their king on the part of the people by reason of his prompt action and good success in dealing with the situation at Jabesh, referred to in our last lesson. The people rejoiced much more in the coronation of their king than they would have done immediately after his choice under divine direction. If we carry out this thought and its application to the Christ, the lesson would be that the influence of the Church in the present time under the divine anointing and before the coronation, after the first recognition, will have a helpful influence upon the world. Mankind will then discover that the Adversary's blinding influences upon them would have been still greater, still more pernicious, had it not been for the intervention of the Royal Priesthood, who laid down their lives in the service of the truth under the guidance of their Head.
Concerning the attitude of the world toward the new Kingdom of Messiah when established, we remember the declaration of the Scriptures, "Many people shall go and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths." "The desire of all nations shall come." (Micah 4:2; Hag. 2:7.) All nations have been desiring the very blessing that God has in store for them during the Millennium; but the enemies of truth and righteousness have deceived them, putting light for darkness and darkness for light. When once they see clearly out of obscurity, the effects will be magical. Eventually every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Immanuel.
Samuel chose the occasion of Saul's coronation for a public rendering up of his own accounts. As God's servant, he had occupied the place of a Chief Justice to the nation, but the choice of a king relieved the prophet of political influence and responsibility. He called upon them as a whole people to declare whether or not he had ever taken from them aught that could be construed as a bribe, aught that in any sense of the word could be said to influence his judgment or decision of their matters. With one voice, the people declared that he had been faithful; and he in turn called upon the king and upon the Almighty Sovereign to witness this declaration of the people as a safeguard against anything that could ever be said against him in the future.
The statesmanship of Moses and Samuel stand out upon the pages of history as noble examples of courage and faithfulness to God and to the people. While it is true that few if any of the saints of God of this Gospel Age have occupied or are occupying positions of special political influence, nevertheless, the principle here set forth should be appreciated by all of God's saints under all conditions. Similar principles apply in the home, in the family. Every father ought to be able to make a similar appeal to his family as respects his nobility of purpose and honorableness in dealing with them. They should be able to witness that he had not been self-seeking in any sense of the word; that he had been faithful to his responsibility as a husband and as a father, seeking to use wisely the opportunities and responsibilities which were his by divine arrangement, caring for those under his charge, spending his life in considerable degree in their interest and certainly never against their interests. Every mother, every son, every daughter, in the family ought similarly to be able to call the fellow-members of the family to witness their faithfulness, their loyalty. The person who would be loyal in the family would be loyal to his nation, which is merely a larger family. Although Samuel had sons, he had not sought to put them forward for political preferment. His faithfulness to the interests of Israel meant primarily his faithfulness to God. So it is always with God's people. They are not to trust in their own judgment merely in serving their family. They are to seek the wisdom from above; and this implies prayer and the study of the teachings of the Scriptures.
A SEVERE ARRAIGNMENT
In verses 6-12, the prophet recounted God's faithfulness to the people of Israel, and their ingratitude in return. He reminded them that Moses and Aaron, those noble characters [R4199 : page 201] who had served them so faithfully, were of divine appointment; and that their success was because of their faithfulness to the Lord. He said, "Now, therefore, stand still, that I may reason with you before the Lord of all the righteous acts of the Lord, which he did to you and to your fathers." He rehearsed to them their sins of idolatry, forgetfulness of the Lord's favor, and reminded them that chastisements were sent upon them not in anger, but in love, because the Lord desired to have them as his people, and because the chastisements were necessary for their good. He mentioned the names of a number of the prominent judges under whom the Lord had blessed them in recovering them from the power of their enemies. This is in full accord with the subsequent statements of the Lord on this subject. Through Isaiah the prophet, the Lord reminds the people that he used these enemies as "The rod of his anger" (Isa. 10:5); and through the Psalmist he reminds them of how he had cleansed them from their defilements and brought them back to himself, saying, "Moab is my washpot." (Psa. 108:9.) Thus for several centuries Israel had been under divine supervision, blessed according to the Covenant which God had made with them through Moses, when between the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim he caused to be pronounced upon them the blessing that would be theirs if they would be faithful to him, and the evil that would befall them if they forsook the Lord--evil that would be not only retributive but also purgative, intended to retrieve them from their evil tendencies.
The Israelites had not been rightly appreciative of the favor they enjoyed, rather they forgot, ignored the Lord in their affairs; and taking worldly wisdom on the subject, they concluded that their disasters had not been punishments from the Lord and blessings in disguise, but merely the result of their failure to be organized as a kingdom under an earthly head. This, Samuel related to them, saying, "When ye saw that Nahash, the king of the children of Ammon, came against you, ye said unto me, Nay; but a king shall reign over us; when the Lord your God was your King."
Fallen human nature is considerably the same at all times and in all places; and so we find that amongst those who have named the name of the Lord during this Gospel Age, there have been similar tendencies to overlook the Lord as the great Head of the Church, the great protector of its interests, the great Governor of its affairs. Two centuries of the Gospel Age had not passed when the worldly spirit called out for more organization than the Lord had established through Jesus and the apostles. First it was the partizan spirit, whereby the people in various parts sought headship for their bishops, contrary to the arrangement which the Lord had made for them. This was the very spirit which the Apostle had reproved, saying, While ye say, I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, and I of Peter, are ye not carnal? Is not this sectarian spirit an evidence that you are not in the proper relationship to the Lord? Paul did not die for you; neither did Peter; neither did Apollos. (1 Cor. 1:11-13.) Your Redeemer is the only Head which should be recognized in this particular way. Though Paul and Apollos and Peter, and all of the Lord's faithful ones may be recognized and appreciated for their work's sake, it must be remembered that they are nothing more than the Lord's mouth-pieces and representatives, and that he alone is to be considered the Head of the Church. Such are to be appreciated only as they are faithful and loyal to him. Repeatedly during the last thirty years we have reminded the Lord's faithful of the [R4200 : page 201] experience of John on the Isle of Patmos. When receiving revelation of divine things, he fell down before the angel that showed him these things, to worship him. The Apostle John in a measure represented the faithful of the Lord's people in the end of this age. The more wonderful things of the divine plan are being revealed; and some might be in danger of worshiping the angel through whom the enlightenment was sent. It is well that all should remember the lesson given in that connection, in which the angel of the Lord rebuked anything that would be in the nature of personal idolatry, saying, "See thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant, ...worship God."--Rev. 19:10.
This same spirit of forsaking God as the real ruler and protector of all the interests of his people was further emphasized in the third century, when the rivalry of the bishops became pronounced, ultimately leading to the recognition of one of these as Primate or Pope. The Lord did not interfere to hinder the establishment of the papal views in the Church, even as he did not interfere to hinder natural Israel from choosing a king. Although they had chosen unwisely and contrary to divine instruction, the Lord would still be gracious to such as would seek to keep his way even under the new arrangement. He would be faithful, even though his people were not faithful. He would still do them all the good possible, but they would find that those conditions which they had made for themselves were injurious to their better interests, and thus might ultimately learn a lesson as respects the wisdom of God and its superiority to the wisdom and desires of their own fallen judgment.
In other words, as the Israelites were far better under such leaders as the Lord raised up from time to time--Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Jerubbaal, Bedan, Jephthah and Samuel--he would, nevertheless, bless them as much as would be possible according to their course under the new arrangement which they desired. He would overrule the further experiences they would have under their kings, so that they might from these learn a great lesson in respect to the wisdom of God. So, too, in Spiritual Israel, the Lord has not forsaken Israelites indeed, even in the midst of spiritual Babylon; but as related in the parable which foretold present conditions, the Lord said, Let both wheat and tares grow together until the harvest; in the time of harvest shall be the separating; so now the Lord, still mindful of his true saints in Babylon, sends forth the call, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins and that ye receive not of her plagues." (Rev. 18:4.) Those desirous of being under the Lord's direction have constituted a little flock, for whose shepherding and care the Lord himself has always been responsible, sending assistance and messages from time to time through undershepherds who were never recognized by the great systems, but merely by those who had an ear to hear and the right condition of heart to appreciate the message of truth and grace.
GOD'S LOVE FOR THEM NOT QUENCHED
From verses 13-18, the Prophet reviews the present situation of the people. They had rejected the Lord from being their King, but he had not rejected them and would not do so. They had not chosen the best, but the Lord did not cross them in this matter. He, therefore, had anointed their king as his representative, and their future blessings would depend now upon how truly they and their king would remain in accord with the Lord. Under the new arrangement, the king of their choice represented them, and a sin on his part, a deflection from obedience to the Lord would mean a national sin, for which the people as well as the king would be punishable; whereas, before, under the judges whom the Lord had raised up, if the judge was faulty, he was the Lord's agent and was punished as such; and, if the people [R4200 : page 202] were faulty, the punishment was theirs. Thus they had run a great risk in choosing a representative, in placing power in his hands, because the weakness and selfishness of humanity is such that the one thus exalted would be the more liable to transgress the divine statutes. In harmony with this, note how the sin of David was esteemed a national sin and brought a national penalty.--1 Chron. 21:12-27.
In summing up by the Lord's direction, Samuel gave a sign to corroborate his declaration that their calling for a king was a rejection of the Lord as their king, and a sin on the part of the people. There should be a thunderstorm in the midst of their harvest-time, an occurrence said to be very rare in southern Palestine. Coming promptly as a fulfilment of Samuel's prediction, it appealed to the people, convincing them for the first time that their course was a reprehensible one and a sin of gross ingratitude. They said to Samuel, "Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not; for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king."
THE SIN OF INGRATITUDE
Of all crimes, ingratitude appears to be one of the most inexcusable, and has so been esteemed amongst all people and at all times. Lycurgus, the great law-giver and statesman of Greece, wrote, "I make no law, perhaps, punishing ingratitude; I leave that for the gods to punish." Amongst the Athenians, if a slave, being freed, was afterward convicted of ingratitude toward his liberator, he was sent back again into slavery. Someone has written, "Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul; and the heart of man knoweth none more fragrant." Shakespeare wrote:
"This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Caesar saw him stabbed,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitor's arms,
Quite vanquished him; then burst his mighty heart."
Gratitude not only is a fragrant flower, but is indigenous to the soul of every true and noble heart. Accepting this standard, we are bound to conclude that comparatively few of the human family are noble in this respect. Even amongst the Lord's people the grateful seem to be comparatively few in number. This agrees well with the Apostle's statement that amongst the called are "not many noble"-- chiefly the mean things of this world." (1 Cor. 1:26-29.) But this describes what we were when we were called. Who shall say that amongst those who have accepted the divine call and been made partakers of the divine favors granted to all the sons of God, begotten of the Spirit--who shall say that these will remain ungrateful? Who shall say that the grace of God would not have a transforming influence on their hearts, so that however ungrateful they might be by nature, they would be so changed by grace that gratitude would be one of the chief elements of their disposition?
We believe that this is true; and that the Lord's people may in considerable degree measure their spiritual growth and development in this manner. If they find in themselves a spirit of murmuring and complaining against the Lord, it is a sure sign that they are ungrateful; for we know that he is faithful, and faith tells us that it is surely true that all the experiences of life permitted to come to us are working for our good. (Rom. 8:28.) Whoever has this faith can give thanks to the Lord and can rejoice even through his trial and sorrow. And if we have gratitude to God for his blessings and favors, if we cultivate the true nobility of heart which is impulsed by love and appreciation of divine care, it will make us appreciative of all the affairs of life and of all those with whom we have contact. We shall appreciate their good qualities, even if we cannot endorse all of their course; and whoever may do us kindness in the least degree must have our gratitude, our appreciation. Yea, with the Christian the standard must be still higher than this; for this should be the world's standard; as our Lord expressed it, "For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same." (Luke 6:32.) The standard for the Lord's people is still higher than that of gratitude, though it must include this. Our standard is benevolence, a forgiveness of those who transgress against us, and who say all manner of evil against us falsely. Such as attain this degree of character-likeness to their Lord receive an extra blessing from him in proportion, and are bidden to rejoice and be exceeding glad, and to know that they will have a reward in heaven.
Gratitude is therefore a keeping power in our hearts, there to repel the suggestions of the evil one, and to stop our imperfect fleshly mind if it attempts to assert itself. Gratitude is closely akin to love; and where they dwell together in the heart, there is little room for the Adversary to get in his work. On the contrary, ingratitude signifies a blindness of the mind in respect to justice. It speaks a low standard of character, in which the fruits of the Spirit of the Lord have not been well developed. Surely in any heart in which the love of God has been "shed abroad," ingratitude to him or anybody would be an impossibility. But where ingratitude gains a foothold, it admits its relatives-- selfishness, pride, anger, malice, hatred, strife, evil surmisings, slander, backbitings and other qualities which the Apostle enumerates as "works of the flesh and the devil." The Lord's consecrated people should daily search their hearts for any manifestations of selfishness or ingratitude, and should look well to the growing development therein of love and thankfulness and appreciation toward the Giver of all good, toward the brethren of the Household of Faith, yea, toward all with whom we have to do.
"FORBID, THAT I SHOULD SIN AGAINST THE LORD"
After assuring the Israelites that they need not fear the Lord, that he is gracious, and that if they should follow him [R4201 : page 202] faithfully under a king or otherwise, he would surely never forsake them, the prophet proceeds to answer their query respecting his praying for them. He said, "As for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you." What a sublime character is thus brought to our view! It is the more remarkable when we note that Samuel did not belong to the Spirit dispensation; that he therefore had not all the advantages which we, the Lord's people of this Gospel Age since Pentecost, enjoy, and yet, alas! how few of the Spirit-begotten ones manifest this spirit, this same degree of likeness to the Lord's character and Spirit! In how many would the natural mind rise up and say, You have a king now, I have foretold you that it was a sin of ingratitude against the Almighty and against me, now go your way and see if what I have told you does not come true, and that you will be worse off.
On the contrary, notice the prophet's words. They show that he felt that he had a duty toward the people of Israel as his brethren, whether they felt similarly toward him or not. Although they had rejected him after his faithful service of many years, he assured them that he would pray for them and consider their very highest welfare, and that he would consider the matter from the very best standpoint, viz.: that it was a part of his duty, if he would be in harmony with the Lord, and that he could do nothing less than pray for them and seek their every good. How is it with those who slight us? Has the new spirit, the new mind of [R4201 : page 203] Christ, gained sufficiency of foothold for us to say as Samuel did, "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord and cease to pray for you." Our Master's words instruct us even upon this, and say, "Love your enemies,...pray for them which despitefully use you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:44,45.) Oh, yes! Those whose hearts are loving to their enemies, and loving to the Household of Faith, and above all, loving to the Lord, these would indeed be exceedingly sensitive if their hearts got into any attitude in which they would not be seeking the welfare of others, and praying for them. In such hearts there would be no room for anger, bitterness, strife, envying. In such hearts the love of God is shed abroad as represented by the holy anointing oil, the unction from the Holy One, which lubricates all of the sensibilities, smoothing not only the countenance, but also the tongue and the heart; for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," and bitter water cannot come from a pure fountain. --Luke 6:45; James 3:11.
"THE LORD HATH DONE GREAT THINGS FOR US"
After assuring them of his prayers on their behalf, Samuel told that he would continue to instruct them in the good and right way, and that he would do all of his duty toward them so far as their attitude of heart would permit. Then he urges the words of our Golden Text, "Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart; for consider how great things he hath done for you." It is well that we note the distinction between the outward service and that of the heart, the mind, the affections. Outward service that does not spring from the heart will soon wither away, whether under adversity or prosperity. Hence the Lord always appeals to our hearts, "Give me thine heart." (Prov. 23:26.) So long as our heart is loyal to the Lord, it will control all of the products of life, because it will lead us to seek to know the Lord's will in everything. This will take us to the Lord in prayer. It will take us to the Word for instruction, and it will assist us in understanding the Word, giving us more and more the spirit of a sound mind.
The prophet gives us a lesson in the statement, "Consider how great things he hath done for you." Oh, yes! The difficulty generally is that consideration of these favors of God are crowded out of our hearts by other considerations, often selfish ones. The Israelites had passed through several centuries of divine guidance under the judges, and we have comparatively little knowledge of their progress during that time, the history of that period being much less ample than that which followed their organization as a kingdom; but we may be sure, nevertheless, that their spiritual interests were really forwarded more under the judges than under the kings. Centralization of government does not always mean greater blessing and progress. It usually means less in individuality and personal progress. A similar condition of things is noticed in the history of the Church. We have no history whatever of that period which followed the days of the apostles for more than a century, for the same reason that we have no history regarding the real Church, which is unrecognized of men. "The world knoweth us not." That the rule of the judges was superior to that of the kings is evident from the Lord's promise to Israel, "I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning." (Isa. 1:26.) The lawgivers as at the first will be the greater than Moses--the Christ, Head and Body. The judges as at the beginning will be the Ancient Worthies, in full authority as the prophets or teachers and judges amongst men, under the supervision of Immanuel's heavenly Kingdom.
Samuel appealed to fleshly Israel to remember the great things that God had done for them, as a ground for thankfulness and faithfulness--their delivery from Egypt, their guidance through the wilderness and their entrance into the land of Israel; but if we apply these words to Spiritual Israel, with what greater force do they come to us! The Lord has delivered us from Egyptian bondage, the bondage of sin and death. He has led us out of darkness into his marvelous light. He not only lifted our feet from the horrible pit and the miry clay, but he placed them upon the Rock, Christ Jesus; yea, more! he has put a new song into our mouths, even the loving kindness of our God. He not only forgave our sins, but accepted us in Jesus, and invited us to joint-heirship with Christ. He not only gave us exceeding great and precious promises to cheer our hearts in the wilderness journey, but has in reservation for us things exceeding great and precious, of which he has given us a glimpse or foretaste through the holy Spirit, an earnest of our inheritance.
Who that has gratitude of heart to the Lord for these blessings, who that is appreciative and thankful, would not be indeed seeking to serve the Lord in truth with all his heart! Who that is of this attitude of mind would fail to remember the Lord's Word and to seek divine assistance in complying with its requirements, remembering the statement, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." To such daily the commandments of the Lord amplify, enlarge. Daily he sees new forces, new meanings in these commandments. If he be thankful, if he be appreciative of the Lord's providence toward him in the past, the depths of meaning to God's commands would not be grievous to him; but he will still rejoice to go on day by day in sympathy with our Lord's words, "I delight to do thy will, O my God; Thy law is written in my heart." So it will be with us. As the Apostle says, We shall do his commandments, and they will not be grievous unto us, and this will be the evidence to us that we love God and that we are loved of him, and being sealed, impressed more and more by his Spirit, the spirit of truth.--1 John 5:2,3.
"YE SHALL BE CONSUMED"
Of course there is an alternative. Those who do not enter into the Lord's service of a truth, with all their heart, those who do not continually and repeatedly consider how great things God has done for them, those who lack appreciation of his kindness and are resentful of his arrangement and leading, will be esteemed of him as wicked and as unfit for the glorious things which he has in reservation for the faithful. The Lord has made provision for the forgiveness of all of our inherited imperfections and weaknesses, and he has also made provision for our growth in grace and knowledge and love. While he is willing to cover our blemishes from his sight through the merit of the precious blood, he insists that we under that covenant shall develop the character which he has delineated and exemplified, the character of which love is the essence, and he rejects those who refuse to come to this standard of perfect love, or refuse all the provisions of divine grace; for it is not the Father's proposition to associate with his Son in glory any except those who shall be copies of his character. This he has predestinated.-- Rom. 8:29.