It is a very dreadful thought that a time can come and does come in this life when God casts off a man. But hell is also a fearful fact, and yet it is as true as it is awful, and it is agreed that sad and heartsickening as is the subject, yet we owe it to God and to human souls to hold up this dark side of the moral universe. We have to declare the whole counsel of God, to be faithful servants and messengers in order to deliver our own souls.
There is a gentle and merciful side to the Gospel, and there is a rugged, unbending, just and punitive side. There is a bleeding Lamb in Redemption, and yet that same being is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and men pray at the last day to be delivered from His wrath.
Much is said about God's readiness to accept the vilest and worst of men, and this is all right; but it is not the less true that an hour comes when God leaves a soul, and that departure is eternal. Moreover, this divine withdrawal may take place with one who has been his servant and follower.
We not only have Bible statement of this fact, but life illustrations and confirmations of it in the Scripture. The Word of God says, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." David solemnly warns Solomon, "If thou forsake Him He will cast thee off forever." And here in Saul's case, Samuel was charged by the Lord to tell him, "I have rejected thee."
It is vain to try to evade the force of these words by saying it was a rejection in regard to kingship over Israel. It was more. Saul himself said, "The Lord has departed from me and answereth me no more." Thus he lived, and so he died, a rejected man. His last night was spent in consulting a witch, and his last act was the commission of suicide.
About the fearful fact of the divine casting off and rejection of this man, gather several thoughts worthy of consideration.
One is that he was once a saved and accepted man.
The Word is explicit here in stating that God had given him a new heart. This occurred during his visit to Samuel, and after that prophet had conversed with and anointed him. The Bible says, "When he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart." In addition it says, "The Spirit of God came upon him and he prophesied."
Later on the man's modesty and humility are evidenced in his "hiding in the stuff" when the people were seeking him for a king. This was the time when he was little in his own sight and God made him great. Afterwards he got great and God made him little.
For years we supposed that God cast Saul off for a single act, that act being his disobedience in regard to the destruction of the Amalekites and their property. But this was not the case. The transgression in regard to the Amalekites was really a culmination. Unmistakable signs of disloyalty and spiritual decay, long before, are seen in the man, who, step by step, approached his ruin.
One instance is beheld in his impatience in not waiting for Samuel, and irreverently taking the place of the priest at the altar. For this same offence God smote a king centuries afterward with leprosy. At a prior time he martialled an army and inaugurated a war without consulting God. In his earthly wisdom he commanded a fast during the battle which unfitted the people of Israel by physical weakness from doing what they might have done. At the same time he had thereby laid a temptation before them from the ravenous hunger which possessed them, and they flew upon the animals, captured and ate them in their blood, which was forbidden by their law. In the rashest impetuosity he decided upon the death of Jonathan to fulfil one of his rash vows.
All these are the outcroppings of the state of his heart, which had already weakened and become untrue in the service of God. They were the steps that lead to—the brow of the precipice from whence the traveller falls headlong. It was the gradual decay which precedes the ponderous and booming fall of a monarch of the forest. If we had the minute moral history of all fallen and rejected Christians written out for our reading, we would discover that before the divine casting off, there had been a world of patience, warning, rebuke and striving on the part of God, and months, perhaps years, of moral stubbornness and perverseness on the part of the unfaithful servant of heaven. God had repeatedly forgiven, and the infatuated one had committed again the act or acts of folly until at last God said, "Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone."
He who does not see how this can be uttered to a man or woman once religious, has not read the Bible, nor studied the history of the church, nor read the hearts of men.
Men have so persisted in looking on the love and mercy side of the Divine Being that they do not seem to realize He has a sterner side to His character, and that Justice is as truly an attribute of His nature as Mercy.
It is well to recollect that He who hung on the cross is to sit on the Judgment Seat; that He who is to say, "Come ye blessed," is also to say, "Depart ye cursed." The same mouth which declares that some shall go into everlasting life adds that others shall fall into an everlasting hell.
It would pay men to study the character of God, and find out who He is, and what He is, and not worship a creature of their own imagination. There is a time when God will cast a man off, and it will be final. He solemnly declares that men may mock and laugh at Him, but that the day will come when He will mock at their calamity, and laugh when their fear cometh. He solemnly affirms that then they will call, but He will not answer. Jesus forewarned the Jews of this very woe, while in tears. He told them they knew not the time of their visitation, and that their house would be left unto them desolate.
It has all been fulfilled, and for nearly two thousand years God has not sent a prophet to that people. The skies are locked to their cries, the veil is on their heart, their temple is gone, their nation scattered, and a judgment which men are powerless to remove is upon them.
The unchangeable attitude of God to this people for centuries prepares us to expect as dreadful a doom if cast off as individuals.
Not a particle of vindictiveness need be imagined nor is implicated. It is the conduct and bearing of an infinitely perfect character. It is the stand of One who has exhausted all remedies and efforts, and reading the future clearly, sees that it is a hopeless case, and so draws off finally and forever.
Upon the part of the Divine Being there may be a holy wrath in addition, toward a creature who has withstood the love, pity, entreaties and efforts of an infinite God in his behalf. Anyhow, the attitude above described, once assumed, is never changed. In the case of the Jews as a national judgment it is to remain until "the fullness of the Gentiles," which period may yet be hundreds of years away in the dim future. Until that time, vain will be every effort to alter that averted look of God. Darker still, the divine relation to hell is unchangeable. The word "everlasting" is the name of the key which locks that gloomy portal. The awful sentence, "Given up of God," might truly be written over its gateway.
So with a man who is rejected by the Lord on earth; there is no possibility of his ever turning from sin and being saved. For that matter he does not want to turn.
And one thing is certain, God never tries to turn him again.
We once knew of a young woman who married a man who was her inferior in many respects, and was undoubtedly unworthy of her. Still she loved him and was affectionate. One day, as she stooped to kiss him, he, being peevish and irritable, slapped her. She arose slowly with an indescribable look upon her face and said in measured words, "From this moment, if ever a kiss passes between us, you will have to give it."
They lived together over thirty years after that, but she never offered him another caress. She was one of the gentlest and purest of women, and a most faithful wife, but under the velvet of her refined nature was an iron bar of character that her husband had not suspected, but whose unbending firmness he was made to feel to the hour of his death. She never broke the vow of that morning. She never refused to let him kiss her, but she never again kissed him. There was a judgment of rejection of a domestic character in that home. We doubt not that the man himself, if now living, would be able to appreciate what is contained in this chapter.
Saul found that his casting off was final. He said, "God answereth me no more." Samuel told him that God had rejected him, and the whole of the sad after life proved the truth of the statement.
That a great sorrow settled upon the man is evident to the Bible reader; and one might say, why did not God consider his grief, relent and restore him? but the spiritually thoughtful will see that He did not from the fact that the sorrow was not a godly one. The Bible plainly distinguishes between the sorrow of the world, a kind of selfish grief, and godly mourning which ends in salvation.
It is evident that Judas did not have the proper kind of repentance. It is equally clear that Saul did not grieve aright. His comment on his conduct was that "he had played the fool exceedingly." His greatest desire at times in the midst of his lapsed life was that Samuel would honor him before Israel. How dissimilar the case of David who was heartbroken in that he had sinned against God, and humbled himself in deepest contrition before Him. The difference in these emotions is so great in the moral world that one man is saved and the other lost. David and Peter grieved with a godly sorrow and returned to the heavenly fold, while Saul and Judas had the sorrow of the world and committed suicide.
The closing scenes of a God–rejected man usually show an increasing rush to greater sins and the final, fearful plunge into ruin.
No one can read about the last days of Saul without genuine heartsickness and pain. How swiftly and terribly the events follow one another that precede the last ghastly act.
We note his fruitless effort to get a message from God, his consciousness of coming doom, his vain attempts to escape it, his midnight visit to the witch with peerings into the dark future, and the solemn words of the spirit of Samuel, telling him that he would die on the morrow. All these are features of fearful, sickening interest, and people read them as they would about an approaching execution.
When the ghost of Samuel told Saul about his defeat in battle and coming death next day, the Bible says that the unhappy king fell prostrate on the floor. His servants lifted him up, the woman prepared a meal, and they insisted on his eating. It was a dreary meal. Then followed the tramp back over the mountains and through the plains under the stars. How far away and pitiless they looked!
The next day the battle with the Philistines took place, and Saul fought desperately, but did so with a sense of being forsaken of heaven, and so with a heart frozen by despair. His army was soon defeated and scattered, his son Jonathan killed, while he, hard pressed by the enemy, begged his armor–bearer to slay him. The man refused and Saul fell on his own sword and went unprepared and unbidden into the presence of the God whose favor and honors he had not appreciated, whose commands he had broken, and whose patience and long suffering he had exhausted.
When in the Holy Land a few years ago, I stood on the brow of a mountain range in Samaria and, looking across the plain of Jezreel, eight or ten miles wide at that point, rested my eyes on Mt. Gilboa, where the battle was fought, Jonathan was killed, and Saul slew himself. The shadow of a large cloud was brooding on it when I looked, while other mountains in the neighborhood were in the clear sunlight. The cloud–shadow peculiarly affected me. It looked like a mourning badge on the door, or a pall flung forgotten on a chair after the funeral. Anyhow, it was a fitting badge, as the shadow of a cloud, of a life which, beginning so hopefully, had ended so disastrously.
More than once I have seen fallen Christians who have most powerfully brought back to mind the unhappy king of Israel. They had enjoyed divine favor and honor, and yet began to go astray. They went deeper and still deeper, in spite of all that God could do, until at last any one could see that the Lord had given them up. They lingered around for years, trying to imitate old–time methods and motions, and give the appearance of other days, but all could see the failure, hear the hollowness of the voice, feel the deadness of the heart, witness the jealousy and rage against rising Davids, behold the moody brow, the restless life, and, finally, the sinking out of sight into obscurity, or the more tragic way of being taken off by a sudden crash into complete moral ruin and death.
About one of these men, a minister of the Gospel said to the writer, in regard to the man's unhappiness and restless wanderings about: "He reminds me of Saul in his last days of wretchedness and forsakenness."
It is a fearful thing to be cast off of God. May we not tamper with those things which bring about this calamity.
Many of us have seen the difficulty with which men get back to God after having sinned grossly against Him. Others tell us that, although taken back, they never feel the same, that something has been lost by their unfaithfulness which is not restored by repentance and amendment of life. Still others never get back. They seem to be and doubtless are doomed men. They have provoked God to such a degree that the Spirit is recalled. Some are handed over to Satan. Some are given up to believe a lie. Some are allowed to rot, and the balance of their days is a kind of superannuation of usefulness and influence, so that no matter what they say or do, people pay no attention to them. And some by the hands of other people, and some by their own hands end their wretched existence and break through the crust of time and fall headlong into eternity.
May we all be saved from the immeasurable woe of being cast off by the Lord.