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SERMON XVII.

THE CHARACTER OF SAUL.

1 Sam. xv. 30.

Then he said, I have sinned; yet honour me now, I pray

thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord thy God.

Saul, the first king of Israel, speaks these words. Before the affair of Amalek, stated in this chapter, he had given but too plain evidences of a heart not right with God. He was no idolater, but a constant worshipper of the true God, in form at least, all his days. He appears to have had always some idea of serving God; but then it must be in his own way, by his own will, and in dependance only on his own judgment. Thus, for instance, when he was directed to wait for the prophet seven days, he chose to sacrifice at his own discretion, rather than exercise faith and patience a little longer.

But not to dwell on former scenes, the chapter before us lets us into his true character very completely. He received a positive direction to destroy Amalek and all their possessions. I shall not spend time in vindicating the severity of the command. God knows how to punish sin in his creatures; and they, who think the case of Amalek

hard, will doubtless think the case of sinners being sent to hell still harder : Nor will the same persons, probably, see, that, in the sufferings of the innocent Jesus, mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other * . But " let God be true, and every man a liar.” To measure him, by our short line, is one of the evils of which Saul was guilty; and it is an unreasonable pride, which, however it may tempt and harass, can find no abiding place in the heart of any truly humble person.

Saul performed the commission with great partiality. What he approved of in it, he did ; what did not suit with his reason, he left undone. He destroyed the Amalekites, but he spared the best of the sheep and oxen. It appeared to him an unreasonable thing to waste so much property. The command of God is sufficient reason to an humble soul. A proud man is not content with this. You must satisfy him with reasons, or he will not obey. Saul, it seems, did not think he had done much, if any thing, amiss.

He boasts, before Samuel, how well he had done. He insists on it, that he had obeyed. He enlarges on circumstances which made something in his favour: and what was not quite right, he thinks might well be excused, by his laying the blame of it on the people, and because of the very pious end of the disobedience, -" to sacrifice to the Lord thy God in Gilgal.” Samuel shows him what a poor thing sacrifice is compared with obedience; and that though he had destroyed the witches out of Israel, as his story tells us, his “rebellion was as the sin of witchcraft;" and that though he did not bow down to idols, his “ stubborness was as idolatry.”

* Psalm lxxxv. 10.

The self-will of a proud heart, which is determined to have its own way, and which will not bend to God, though varnished with the forms of true religion, and clear of gross idolatry, ranks a man, on the same level, with an open worshipper of idols. How slightly does this proud man confess his guilt, after having defended himself as long as he could with cavils and excuses! In the Text, he owns he had sinned, but he adds, “ Yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord.” The prophet, who had a strong affection for Saul, and mourned for him deeply before God, complies; but he cannot reverse the righteous sentence, which takes from him the kingdom of Israel. And how little reason is there to hope, that Saul will repent, while he is far more concerned for his own honour and character, than on account of his sin. He saw what a disgraceful thing it would be in the eyes of the great men, and of his subjects in general, for the prophet to go away and leave him to sacrifice alone. Samuel must attend him in public ; pay him respect and own him ; and the king and the prophet must appear together as of the same religion. So, I fear, it is no uncharitable conjecture to support, that this false-hearted formalist, having been seen in public with the prophet, and gone through, with pomp, some forms of prayer and thanksgiving, afterwards forgot his sin, and dismissed the burden of it from his mind. He regarded man more than God, and his own reasonings more than the will of his Maker. His own corrupt desires he had no idea of mortifying in obedience to the Almighty.

His future conduet, full of pride, obstinacy, and rebellion against God, and ending in the dreadful guilt of self-murder, speaks awfully to the case of Pharisaic formalists, who would be thought men of great virtue, while none are farther from it, and who will scarce ever see themselves sinful in any thing. Saul, in short, seems the very picture of such characters, which are very common in the world ! May God give us eyes to see ourselves aright. We can often perceive others to be Pharisees, without seeing ourselves to be so.

Yet what is more wholesome than to find out our own evils, while there is time to amend them? In

In every attempt of this sort I am sensible how disadvantageously we proceed. The heart of man naturally fights against the strongest evidence, when that evidence has a tendency to detect its guilt and wickedness. With our eye, however, on the pattern of Saul, we will endeavour more distinctly to describe, in a few particulars, the workings of a mind like his, showing you how contrary it is to the character of one who is truly humble and sincere. And we may then exhort two sorts of persons in a manner adapted to the subject.

1. A false professor of religion, like Saul, is PARTIAL in his obedience. Some duties he will perform; others he will omit. In doing this he is led by his own will, humour, and what he calls his reason.

It is indeed HIS REASON, but not right For the reasoning powers of man, in reli

, gion, are corrupted by sin and the fall, as much as the affections and passions. Hence such men will

VOL. I.

reason.

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pick and choose in the Scriptures themselves. Some things they approve, others they cannot endure. That which bears hard on their pride they will not receive. Hence, views of the natural depravity, misery, and ignorance of man, though most wholesome, most humbling, and directly leading us to Christ and salvation, they reject. The doctrines of the Gospel, and the whole work of God's Holy Spirit, they slightly regard. As they are in doctrines, so they are in temper and practice. While they indulge themselves in such reasonings they remain proud and self-willed. They will bear no cross; they will exercise no self-denial for God's sake. They consult what is pleasing and agreeable. By this they measure doctrines, practice, and every thing, in which they are concerned. Cheap duties and services, which cost them nothing, they will practise : Difficult, burdensome duties, which would cause trouble to them, or expose them to reproach, they disregard. Whatever happen to be the fashionable virtues they will follow : What is not agreeable to the manners of the times they live in, they hate ; and no precepts of God, however expressly declared, can move them to it. Yet they have a world of reasons and arguments to support their disobedience. The grand source of all their argument, the very hinge on which all their opposition turns,-a rebellious heart itself,—this they neither see nor suspect.

Now, Brethren, consider. Is your obedience thus partial ? Are there some sins in which you live continually; some duties which you continually neglect ? Do not think your discharge of these will excuse your omission of other duties. You

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