By Samuel Ridout
Samson: His Closing Days
We have had before us the brightest part of Samson's life, although it was a brightness not undimmed with weakness at the very time, and with intimations of further failure unless he really turned to God more fully than ever. Yet, in spite of the partial deliverance granted, because of his dependence upon God and his crying to Him for help, there really was only an approach to what we could call a corporate movement among the people of God.
All that Samson did before this time was personal. It was his own individual will, though we could hardly add, to his own individual profit, for he did not seem to reap any true benefit from his feats of strength, and his overthrowing of various Philistines. All that comes after this period of national movement, (and that is to occupy us tonight,) is also individual, so that, as I have already indicated, Samson was — in great measure — a failure as a national leader. Even in that part he does not put himself at the head of the people and lead them to victory, but wins a victory for them. He still keeps his individuality, and, if I may say it, wherever there is a measure of strong individuality that excludes the people of God, just that far there is a measure of selfishness, and wherever there is selfishness there is weakness and failure.
He never associated the people with him, as Gideon, for instance, or Jephthah even. All that he did was out on the platform for others to see, as you might say, how he acted all alone. Partial, therefore, as it is, it is in connection with this period that his judgeship is spoken of. You cannot think of his being judge when he was dallying with the Philistines.
Such men have not been unknown in the history of the Church — men of brilliant gift, but who never seem to have fallen into their place as members of the Body of Christ. They have dazzled by their eloquence, perhaps, and have attracted attention to themselves. But for abiding work they have been largely valueless. No doubt, at each period of the life of the Church's history there have been such men, nor are they wanting today.
Will we not find, too, that the secret of this is in a violated Nazariteship? There is some dalliance with Philistine principles, some failure to maintain a rigid and spiritual separation from all that would mar the fullest communion. Is not the temptation, for instance, for a man gifted with great eloquence to be intoxicated with a success which does not speak of the absence of the wine of nature's exhilaration? Such persons find it difficult to obliterate self, and to take a lowly place of service. The Philistine Abimelech will obtrude his personality. This is a principle of wide and deep application it is most searching. Any movement, no matter how excellent and scriptural it may be in many of its features, if it fail to awaken and identify itself with the people of God corporately, on the lines laid down in the word of God, never leaves the sphere of what is individual, and is, therefore, partial.
But we must leave this bright gleam in his life, and go down into the gloom of his later history. If the lesson is a sad one, we may rest assured that its darkness is not overdrawn, and that God Himself has painted the picture for us, in order that we may understand how things look in His eyes. What we have here, if it is a humbling lesson, is a needed one, a lesson that will act as a spiritual tonic for our souls, as the bitter does. God's medicines must be bitter, as medicines usually are, if they are to act upon the soul, and nerve us for that which is a real conflict, and show whether we are to stand for God or not.
There is quite a striking resemblance between what we have in the first part of this sixteenth chapter, and that which occurred at the beginning of Samson's public life. This shows, however, a moral declension, for he does not even go through the forms of regularity, but now gratifies his own desires, in spite of the blot upon his own moral character that it leaves. Samson goes down unto Gaza for the gratification of his own appetites, little caring what blot there might be left upon the name of God, and upon the name of his people, in so doing. He goes down there a victim to the flesh, and, beloved brethren, if one is a victim to the flesh within, it is only a matter of time when he will be a victim externally, visibly, too.
We have in this first part, Samson's going down unto Gaza, that which surely shows a state of soul that required the most vigorous and unsparing judgment of oneself, and yet there seems to be nothing of the kind. It may seem strange that a man could have any power at all who had so completely sacrificed his conscience, as Samson had, but it is a sad fact that the strength remains for a little season after conscience has gone. It seems to be, as it were, the lingering mercy of God that would hold one back, where even conscience is asleep, where it has been prevented from acting. God in His mercy would still have a word for the soul in the strength being yet preserved to a certain extent.
So, in spite of Samson's wretched state of soul that made this possible, he can rise during the night of his indulgence and carry off the gates of Gaza, that would have held him in captivity. He can carry off those gates, can carry them up the hill toward Hebron, in a sort of defiance of the people, who thought they held him surely because the gates were barred.
No doubt Samson thought he had done a great thing when he carried those gates off, and broke loose from the power that held him. He did not really break loose from it. It was only God's mercy speaking to him and showing him that he had the power to break loose if he would, even now. But from the fact that he did not do that, but simply used his strength, we have an illustration of how God's warning was unheeded, and so there was nothing to hinder further failure.
After all, it was a retreat this man of might was beating. He was running away from the Philistines. Even supposing he did carry their gates on his shoulders, he was running away from them. He was not facing them. He had no power to face them. How could he have power when his own conscience was not right with God? How can anyone have power whose conscience in the presence of God is not right?
It says he carried the gates up to the top of a hill that is before Hebron, or, as the meaning is, the hill that looketh toward Hebron. It looks as if he were going toward Hebron, but Hebron is many a mile away from that place. Gaza is down by the seashore, and Hebron is away off in the hill country of Judea, many a mile away. There might be a hill that looked toward it, and Samson might be apparently on his way toward it. Hebron means communion, and it takes something more than shaking off a power for the time being, for the soul to get back to God, to communion.
Suppose one is ensnared, entrapped in something that is contrary to God, something that holds him down, as it were, but he still has power, quite power enough to get rid of that thing and he shows you that he has power by shaking it off, turning his back upon it, and goes on toward Hebron, toward communion. He does not reach it. He carries the gates up the hill and drops them, but he goes no further. Very likely this partial victory is a snare to him, for if he had learnt his weakness fully, he would have been brought on his face to God, and his further humiliation might have been prevented. The partially recovered soul goes, as it were, toward the place of communion with God, but does not reach it he stops short of it, and you may rest assured that the next time he is ensnared it will be worse for him, because God does not permit us to trifle with conscience, or to trifle with His word.
If it was wrong to be in Gaza, and if it was only God's mercy and power that delivered him from Gaza, we may be certain that it was to bring him back to what Hebron answers to, to communion with God. And if he does not come back to the full place, his subsequent failure must teach him what his need truly is. For us what a needed lesson that is. One feels tempted to dwell upon it a little, for how oftentime there is a measure of recovery to God, at least in the way of giving up this or that indulgence, or this or that association, something is given up partially but it is only cut off above the root. The outward fruit is cut off, but we do not cut clearly loose from the root of the thing itself, and above all, we do not get clearly back to God. "If ye will return, return unto Me," is what God says, and there is a great danger in partial restoration to communion, in traveling the road part of the way to Hebron and coming short of it. We want to be restored to communion, and being restored to communion means more than the carrying of Gaza's gates up the hill a little way it means getting back to God, and getting back to God means a judgment of the principle which has ensnared me, and of the root which has led me astray, and when I judge the root of it, I judge all the branches too.
That is the lesson that we learn from this act of Samson's. Such acts bring nothing but sorrow to our hearts. Surely you could not think of his boasting of having done such a thing as that. You might well ask him, How did you get in Gaza, and how far did you go away from Gaza when you left it? And so, when a man talks about his strength in giving up this or that habit or association, you might well ask him, How did you get into it first, and how far have you got away from it now? Have you got the distance back to communion with God?
Just in passing might one speak a word of the gospel truth right here? There is a great deal of preaching nowadays which would bring a sinner, as it were, out of Gaza up the hill toward Hebron without bringing him there. There is a great deal about giving up this or that, about cutting off this or that evil association, judging this or that wrong state of soul in the heart, and yet not going to the bottom of things, which is — what? The bottom is to reach the end of self. It is to see myself, not as a sinner who can shake himself loose from the shackles of his sins, but as a helpless and guilty soul in the presence of God. It is to see myself a ruined worthless object that can only cast itself in its sins, and in its unworthiness, at the feet of infinite grace, and find in the cross of Christ deliverance, not from Gaza, not from this or that bad habit, or this or that wrong state, but to find forgiveness and deliverance by grace from self through the cross of Christ.
That brings me right into the presence of God. Right into Hebron right into the place where I know my association with God, and that, dear friends, is what the gospel of God's grace does, as contrasted with any preaching of reformation, any improvement of the old man, only to be like the sow that is washed returning to her wallowing in the mire. The gospel delivers one completely in the grace of God from every place in which he was held captive, sets him free to enjoy fellowship with God.
What a comfort it is to have a gospel like that to preach. What a comfort, dear friends, that you do not have to point souls to a hill a little way outside of Gaza, and say, Well, we will bring you that far on your way to Hebron, to the house of God, to communion with Him, and then leave you to yourself. It is rather our happy privilege to declare that through the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord the soul is fully freed, to be at home in the presence of God. That is what the cross, the blood of Christ means. It means that through His death the way of access into the presence of God is perfectly open, so that we draw near in full assurance of faith into God's presence, to have the happiest and holiest association with Him. Not brought half way to God, but brought all the way to God. "Ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ."
Though as Christians we do not need to be saved over again, yet we do delight to speak of the way how one can be saved. We are saved once and forever ourselves, but that gives us the capacity, in a spiritual sense, to enjoy the precious truth of salvation, and above all, lovingly and earnestly to commend it to any heart that is a stranger to the love of God. The grace of God takes you out from your place of bondage, and from your place of servitude to your lusts, and it puts even you in the home of God, through the work of Christ, and makes you at peace forever with Him. What a precious gospel! It is the ministry of reconciliation, the ministry of bringing the distant soul, the soul that is at enmity, estranged from God, back to Him in full confidence, and in the full peace of His own blessed, holy presence.
That is by way of contrast to what Samson has done. Samson did nothing of the sort, as we have abundantly seen, and therefore, one would not link our Lord's holy name with such a history of shame as that. One would not take notice of a mere external resemblance, as some have even done, and illustrate from it the gospel, that our Blessed Lord carried off the gates of Gaza, and opened the way for our souls to come out. I would not link His holy Name with such a history of shame as you find there. It is a contrast to what Christ has done. It was simply for Samson an incomplete and partial deliverance in the mercy of God from a thing that was still his master, and which was still going to ensnare him. Let us never link our holy Lord's name with such a record of shame.
There was a man who got out of a city in a very different way. It was the apostle Paul. What had kept him in the city was loyalty to Christ, and the Jews watched the gates of Damascus day and night lest he should escape in that way. All the power of God was on his side, all the strength of Christ risen, but what did he do? There was no such foolish exhibition of his strength, no miracle was interposed between him and his enemies that watched the gates. Paul in perfect weakness was let down in a basket, and flees from his enemies. He was a true Nazarite, whose very weakness was a constant witness of another power that wrought through his weakness, and that did not make him, as one might say, either a physical or a spiritual athlete, but made him a lowly man.
I think it is very striking that you have an allusion to that letting down in a basket in the eleventh chapter of second Corinthians, which is followed in the twelfth by the record of his taking up into glory, where he has unfolded to him things that it is not possible for a man to utter. If Paul had nothing but weakness here, so that he had to get out of the city in a basket, let down from the wall, he was caught up into glory, there to see what was really his, and really ours, dear brethren. Then, when he comes down from that height, the Lord explains to him, as you might say, how it is that he is not to be allowed strength of his own. It is in order that Christ's strength may be for him, and that strength is made perfect in weakness.
Which would you rather be, Samson, with a great deal of wonderful power of your own, or that poor, feeble servant, who was hunted, like a timid deer is hunted in the forest, by remorseless enemies, and is let down out of the city, going off in his weakness to prove that the everlasting strength of Christ is for him? Which would you rather be? But, beloved, to be Paul means to learn Paul's lesson, just as to be Samson means to fail to have learnt the very lesson for which he stood.
But now we pass on to the next part of the chapter, which is even darker yet, a part that surely has a voice for our consciences. We find that Samson goes off again, as we saw that he would go off. You may be sure that for one who is not truly restored to God, it is simply a question of time that he is going in the same way that he went before, only worse. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man — our Lord gives us the example. The unclean spirit leaves the man, and leaves him empty. He is, as it were, partially delivered, he is delivered from that one evil spirit. But what is the use of being delivered from one evil spirit, if the empty heart is made, as it were, to open its doors in invitation to the sevenfold power of evil, more wicked than the first? What is the use of deliverance even from the first evil spirit?
Samson does not heed God's warning, a warning expressed in mercy; and, dear brethren, in passing, I might say for us in a corporate way, God gives us little seasons of lifting up. He gives us little seasons of recovery from the results of our wrongdoings when we rise out of the Gazas where we had brought ourselves, corporately speaking, into Philistine strongholds, and we get out of them in an amazing way. We find the very gates no barriers at all, and we can carry them off. But for an assembly of God, as well as for an individual Christian, this partial deliverance may be the signal for a fresh downward course, unless there is true judging of the roots of things, as we have seen. So He gives us warnings in this tender way. It is a needed thing for us to take these warnings, as He intends that we should, — not as though everything were now all right, and there were no need for further watchfulness and more deep self-judgment — but to take the warning and to go to the root of things, whether it be as an assembly of God, or as a single individual.
Now Samson goes back, just as an assembly, or as an individual saint would, back to the thing from which he thought he was delivered. We find presently that he gets literally back there, even to Gaza itself. He is ensnared by a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. The valley of a "snare." He loves a woman in the valley, and when you come to Philistine valleys, you do not have that spirit of lowliness that a valley in the land speaks of. A Philistine valley means a moral descent, you go down morally, spiritually. He went down into the valley where his trap was set, the very name of the valley speaking in that way of a snare, or entanglement. It is that which is going to entangle his feet, how effectually we shall soon learn.
He is attracted there. He is not brought there by any external power. What is it that brings us under the power of evil? It is not a mighty outward constraining force that does it. It is an attraction that brings God's people under the power of evil. It is something that allures, that appeals to the taste and desire of one's own heart. You may be certain that God would never let all the hosts of evil prevail against a soul who was loyal in heart to Himself. The weakest and most pliable naturally, the most helpless naturally, are as strong as Christ Himself, because they have His strength, if their heart is true and loyal to Him. All the snares that the enemy can set, all the valleys of Sorek that there may be, can have no power over a saint whose heart first of all is not ensnared with some of the allurements that are in the valley.
Here is Delilah, a Philistine woman again, which reminds us how Samson was constantly led astray by these principles which were not of God, things of nature which can never answer to the will of God. You know that, figuratively speaking, the woman reminds us of principles of conduct, principles of testimony which are not true, or according to God, which come short of God's truth. Samson is attracted in this way by some principle of evil, which is not according to God. He is attracted by it, and he wants to link himself with that. There is the strong man taken in the snare, and the weak woman, — whose very name seems to mean "weakness" or helplessness, — that very woman in her weakness and helplessness is the one that draws and holds him by a power which nothing can deliver him from, for his own heart is brought under that power.
He goes down there and puts himself in association with her. And you find that the Philistines make full use of that. You find that if he has put himself under the power of the principle that is not according to God, he will soon be brought under a visible power, something more than that over his heart. They offer this woman pay. Philistines are not very scrupulous in their way of doing things. The first time that they appealed to one of Samson's friends was with a threat that they would burn her and her father's house with fire, and now they appeal to this one with silver, I10o pieces of silver, if she will only entice from him what he had never yet disclosed, the secret of his strength.
The citadel of his heart was yet inviolate. It seems a strange thing, an almost unthinkable thing, that a person who had failed so conspicuously as Samson, should yet have a heart whose citadel was on the right side. It was not in the hands of the enemy, although it had been unfaithful time and again. But the stronghold, the inmost soul of the man was still for God, who in mercy had thus far providentially interfered in his behalf. Now it is that citadel of his heart to which Delilah is to lay siege, and to extract from him the key to that citadel, in order that the enemy may rush in and take full possession.
I have thought much of this telling the secret of his strength to the Philistines, and of what it means for us. What spiritual lesson are we to learn as to telling the secret of our strength to God's enemies? Is it not the fact that we have a secret? It is not so much what the secret is, though it is a very real one, but it is the fact that the heart is willing to tell a secret to the world. We meet people, for instance, in our business, and we are polite to them, and that ends the matter. We are thrown casually with persons to whom we are introduced, a temporary acquaintance, or a permanent acquaintance springs up, but it is simply external, there is nothing to compromise one in it. But now the friendship grows more intimate, and some of the springs of the life are gone into; and then it gets still more intimate, until the very secrets of the heart are laid bare, and there is • nothing but what one soul has in common with the other. That would be telling the secrets. It is telling out everything that marks one's separation from another.
As long as I keep my own counsels, I am separate from the person who may touch my elbow. I am entirely distinct from him. But if I open my thoughts, if I tell out the secret purposes of my mind, and everything of that kind, then we are blended, we are friends, and there is no separation any further. I am in that person's power, for the simple reason that my heart has been given. A simple illustration would be a Christian woman giving her heart's affection to an unsaved man. But there are numberless applications, individual and corporate.
And it was so with Samson. This telling of the secret of his strength was breaking down the wall that separated him from the Philistines. It was giving up the very citadel of his soul, which, at least, had been kept inviolate up to this time. You will at once think of illustrations of this, and I want to point out how in a threefold way there is just this danger for the Lord's people individually; for the Lord's servants particularly; and for the Church of Christ in its corporate testimony before God, and before the world.
The individual Christian is in constant danger of breaking down the wall of separation between his soul and the world. Ah, how often you have seen the young Christian, with a heart filled with love to Christ, rejoicing in the Lord, assailed by subtle temptations to break down that narrowness, to break down that which would separate him from the world. It is not put in an ugly way, nor in a wicked way. Satan does not present the wicked world to a Christian. He presents the harmless world, the attractive side of the world, not the wicked side. And ah, if there is the sense of giving way in the soul, if there is the sense of having things in common, of telling out, as it were, the secrets of the heart, the soul has surrendered. I do not mean necessarily in word, but of practically telling out that which is to distinguish that soul from the world. There is the yielding up of the secret if there is the breaking down of the soul's separation from the spirit of the world. You have yielded your secret into the hands of the enemy, and just as surely as you have, you have lost your strength, you have lost all spiritual power.
How often have you seen Samsons shorn of their strength in just this way. They dally with a little thing, it seems harmless, it seems a trifle. Something else comes along, for Satan always gives something more and more attractive, that takes possession of the mind. Then something further, until at last, as Delilah says, he has told me all his heart.
It is like the lock in a canal, if you have ever seen one. There are the gates that keep the waters back, keep them separate from the waters below. There is a great difference in height between the waters above and the waters below. But a man goes to the gates and opens hidden doors down near the bottom of the canal, and the water simply passes through those doors, until finally it is on a level on both sides, and the gates swing open with perfect ease.
Ah, beloved, are there not hidden doors of intercourse with this world, are there not hidden doors of association with evil principles, and with the thoughts of this world? I am not speaking of immorality, but O brethren, how many of us have known what it is to have these doors opened until the difference in level between the child of God and the world has been lost, the distinction between the saint and the worldling. They are on the same level, and what hinders now the opening wide of the floodgates, and letting everything in that is of the world?
There is the individual Nazariteship lost. You apply the same to the servant of Christ. If there is anyone that has to be in his soul separate from the spirit of the world, from the spirit of the Philistine, it is the servant of Christ. The secret of his strength is what we have been seeing all through. It is the secret of self being judged, of weakness, utter helplessness that leans on almighty strength. If he has not learnt that lesson, if he has not taken that place, he is not a true servant of Christ and if he has taken that place, there is no power that he need fear so much as the hidden alliances with what is not according to God. Those hidden doors, which would gradually lead him to tell out the secrets of his heart, gradually lead him to take common ground with the world, will sap his strength, and no ability of gift, no eloquence, nothing of any kind can ever take the place of those long locks that speak of a separate life for God.
Apply it to the Church of God. Alas, she is shorn of her locks of weakness, which were her glory, and you see a Church today which is on the same level as the world. You see a world-church at large, and I need not dwell upon that, for we all mourn over it. But you apply it to any united corporate testimony for God, and, dear friends, do we not have the same thing? Do we not have the same dangers, the world constantly, insidiously appealing, the danger of telling out the precious things of God, not in the way of gospel, but of simply opening the heart and opening the mind of the saints to take common ground with what is all about us.
How easily we imitate that by which we are surrounded. How it leaks into even the most carefully-guarded company of God's people, if there is not constant watchfulness and constant care. How we will find that the enemy has all that we have, that there is no secret between us, that there is nothing between our souls and that which surrounds us. Thus people sometimes actually say, Why are we making such a trouble about separation, for there is no difference between us? What do we make such a trouble about separation for? Ah, brethren, the very fact that we can ask such a question as that, shows that already there is no distinction. The secret is told — nothing remains.
Let us now look very briefly at the steps in this telling out his secrets, as we have it here in Samson. He first of all tells her an untruth, when she asks to know the secret of his strength and how he might be bound. What he first of all tells her is evidently in trifling, and he apparently has no intention of letting her know the real secret of things. He says, If they will bind me with seven green withs, or, as you will notice in the margin, seven new cords, that were never dried, then shall I be as weak as another man, or, as one man. I have thought that Samson must have had in his mind how the men of Judah had bound him with cords when they handed him over to the Philistines. No doubt he remembered that when he was bound with those cords, he simply broke them like tow. So he does again. When she says, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson, he simply snapped the cords, just as tow when it touches the fire.
Have you boasted of some past victory in such a way that it has become the beginning of a fresh snare? Samson here is thinking of his past victory over the Philistines, how he snapped the cords. He says, I will do it over again. I will snap the cords, I will tell her just what the men of Judah did to me, and then I will show what wonderful power I have. And so he did have he broke the cords, but, beloved, he had a fresh cord around his soul. It was just that boasting in a past victory in the presence of one who had no business to know anything about it, and in whose presence he had no business at all. He did not tell her the truth, nor did he give her the real secret of his strength but he tampered with her, and the result was that in a little while she knows more.
So wherever there is the tampering with evil, wherever there is having to do with it in any way answering it at all, even if wrongfully, keeping a certain measure of separation in the soul, and yet at the same time linked with it, dear brethren, the step has been taken, and the soul is really in the hands of the enemy.
I wish that I could put it more clearly. I think your consciences must see what is meant here. I mean to say, dear brethren, that any dalliance with what is not of God, which is not a help in my communion with him, anything like trifling with it, anything like linking the things of God with the things of the world, is going eventually to end in shipwreck and ruin, just as Samson found it.
The next time he gets a little stronger. Let them bind me with ropes. He is getting stronger, and, if he only knew it, he is simply adding another cord to those with which he was to be bound. He has got on further in the downward way, and I think that we see in that God's mercy laying His hand on him to bring him back and restore him, even though he refuses to hearken to God's mercy. Instead of that, we find that he takes a deeper step into evil. So here with these ropes he is now bound, and if he breaks himself loose again, he is more tightly held than he was before. This tampering a second time, after conscience has been awakened, and, above all, a conscience that has been awakened by the mercy of God a second time, and still going on with the thing, shows the man to be in greater danger than ever before.
Beloved brethren, I would speak with all tenderness. It is an intensely earnest and solemn subject. Has your conscience ever been used of God to deliver you from a snare, and yet you have gone back to that same snare again? Then I know your conscience is less sensitive than it was before, even as Samson's was less so. It applies to the Church in every way that I spoke of before.
Then comes his third answer to her. He is still trifling with her, but the moth is drawing ever closer to the candle, and now he touches what is the secret of his strength. He says, If thou wilt weave the seven locks of my head with the web. He is speaking about his hair; he is not going to tell her that if they shave off that hair, or anything of that kind. But the hair was the source of his strength, and now you can see how near he had drawn to disclosing the secret of it. He is talking about his own spiritual strength, and he is telling her, as it were, how that strength can be taken from him. He is telling her falsely, but he is talking about the very thing. It is as though a man were talking to the world about his faith. He may not quite give out the very secret. He may not be fully identified with the world, but he is talking about the one thing that separates him from the world. What right had Samson to talk to a Philistine about his Nazariteship? Ah, none. It reminds us of Eve talking with the serpent.
So he takes the last step. She will have it all out of him. You may rest assured, dear brethren, that any person who dallies, who tampers with evil, will go on to the full extent of it, just as poor Samson did here, unless God in His mercy interpose. Yes, he says, take my hair. That is the point. He has got to the end, and if my hair goes, if my Nazariteship is lost, I shall be as weak as another man.
Is it not significant that he does not speak of his abstinence from wine, or separation from death? His past life would indicate that he had not been careful as to those parts of his Nazarite separation. Conscious weakness, a spirit of dependence on God, was suggested by the long hair. Is it not possible for these to remain after the holy separation of heart has been lost?
Dependence finds its natural and normal expression in prayer. The only perfect Nazarite was a Man of prayer. Let us be assured that there is no greater peril than losing a sense of the need of prayer. A neglected closet means the loss of the dependent spirit — the long hair. I do not need to multiply words here, rather let conscience speak to us all. Is prayer an absolute necessity? Is it the habit of our lives? It is possible for even the knowledge of grace to be used by the enemy to lessen the sense of dependence and so to cause prayer to become less constant. My brother, if you neglect prayer, you are indeed in imminent danger of losing your Nazariteship.
The same is true of a corporate testimony. Whenever a knowledge of divine truth ceases to humble us, and begins to make us careless as to united prayer, we may be certain that "the Philistines be upon" us. If you see the prayer-meeting neglected by the many, or a feebleness in prayer, few participating — these are certain marks that the testimony, no matter how it may have been used of God in times past, is slipping from its true position. Unless it be recovered, all will lapse into Philistine formalism. May we give earnest heed to these things. But let us return to the sad narrative of Samson.
He had told her so many lies, that the Philistines did not believe him any more, but, dear friends, she believed him. This wretched harlot of a world knows when you have told your secret. This wretched world knows well when the Christian has given up the separation from it, and when all is broken down. After that it is simply a little more sleeping, a little more of the sloth into which he had long since fallen, he puts his head on this poor wretched world's lap, and then all is gone, and he wakes but to find his strength forever departed. Gone, not to be restored in any true sense. His strength is gone, and gone by his own fault.
How solemn it is how we need to take it to heart, lest we also fall after the same example and warning that God has given us. She says, "The Philistines are upon thee," and he, poor man, thinks he will do over what he has done a good many times before. "I will go out and shake myself;" and, dear brethren, he did not even know that his power had gone. How many a soul has tampered with the world, and continued to tamper with it, and who does not know that his spiritual strength is gone. He wist not that the Lord was not with him, and he goes out. He may shake himself, but, ah, if he has lost the secret of his strength, his dependence on God, he is as weak as the weakest.
Many an one will go through the forms of activity, long after the power has gone out of their lives. They may "shake themselves" in the busy activity of religious work — the preacher may "shake himself" in his pulpit, the visitor in his or her ministrations, the Sunday school teacher in his class — but, brethren, the power is gone! Oh the sadness and the shame of it!
Here is a Nazarite testimony — previously owned of God, which has put its head in the Philistine lap and lost its locks. It may boast of its past prowess, of its knowledge, attainments and all that — it may "shake itself," but alas, alas, — Ichabod. The Lord keep us humble, prayerful, dependent, It is for us, the danger is. We need to be alert and on our guard, else we may awake from our dream of ease and find ourselves irretrievably in the hands of the Philistines.
The world would call it getting strength. He had laid aside, they say, his unmanly narrowness, his rigid exclusiveness, his strict adherence to the letter. He had ceased to be the woman, and can now take his place amongst men, and be of some use. So says the world, and the world church, but faith mourns over the lost Nazarite, and will not be comforted. "Her Nazarites were purer than snow . . . their visage is blacker than a coal."
The Philistines take Samson and bring him down to that very city of Gaza, where in folly he had disported himself. They bind him and bring him down there where he had gone willingly, and the place of his own willing bondage is the scene also of his unwilling bondage. Now he has to grind corn the very strength which he has left is used simply to grind corn for the Philistines, instead of being God's freeman to judge his beloved people. What an awful warning, what an awful lesson it is for us tonight.
Samson first loses his strength that is his own folly. Next, his eyes are put out by the Philistines, for formalism cannot endure open eyes. He has lost his discernment, and this he never regains. What a humiliation! What an irreparable loss. One has described this threefold degradation as "the binding, blinding, grinding" bondage of sin.
I have left room for the widest application of all this sorrowful lesson. It refers in the widest way to any form of dalliance with evil. But remembering what Philistinism is — a carnal, worldly religion in the church — the lesson is doubly solemn.
Nor let us forget that such lapses as that of Samson, translated into spiritual language, would not mean open and flagrant moral evil, but something far more insidious, and, in the world's eyes, eminently respectable. I have already hinted at this. There are religious systems, doctrines, practices that are clearly carnal, just as Judaism was, after the introduction of Christianity. Any going back to that is dalliance with the Philistines. I may say the Church of Christ is largely there today.
Apply it to any testimony. God raises up a Nazarite testimony like Philadelphia in the midst of a corrupt Philistine Thyatira and a dead formal Sardis. Is it not significant that after Philadelphia comes Laodicea, as though God would warn of the danger of lapsing back into something that is as bad or worse than what we have been rescued from? Oh, brethren, let us beware let us watch and be sober.
I would remind you, too, that a testimony may "judge Israel." Any movement that is of God acts upon the whole Church. Who today can measure the influence of that testimony, which, while separate and often despised, has shed the light of divine truth upon the masses of saints who are still in greater or less bondage to the Philistines? Let us not, in any measure, lose that place of dignity, by consorting with principles which would rob us of strength and eyesight, and turn God's freemen into grinders of corn for the world church.
We will have just a few words as to what measure of recovery God grants. There are two things to notice, one is as to Samson, and the other as to God. As to Samson, his hair began to grow again. Ah, he had learnt. He was learning over again that there was no strength in himself. The badge of dependence, the badge of separation and Nazariteship is coming again, but he has lost something that will never come again. He has lost his eyesight, he can never regain it, for God never restores fully that which has been once forfeited by one's own deliberate and oft-repeated fault. He may partially restore. The Church today should be a Nazarite for God. We see a certain measure of recovery from time to time in the Church's history, but do you see anything like getting back to apostolic, Pentecostal days? Ah, the Church has lost her eyes, even if she has regained a little of her outward dependence, and, like Samson, the measure of strength which she has is as nothing compared with that which God would have had for her, if she had never departed.
Some of us can speak of God's recovering mercy. Beloved, do you think lightly of the sin that led you away? Some of us can speak of how He has brought us back has it not been with the loss of something that will answer to the loss of eyesight? Have we been brought back as fully and completely as if we had never departed? What about all that lost time, those lost talents that might have been so fully developed for Him? They have gone, they have not returned again, and so the very strength that one has recovered is accompanied by the loss of the eyesight, that is not recovered here again. We cannot as a church look the world in the face any more. We cannot take our stand in that way. We are, after all, only a poor recovered remnant in the mercy of God, with but limited vision.
But as to Samson, his dependence grows. He gets his weakness, and so he gets his strength. Then as to God's side of it. Ah, the Philistines always make mistakes; Satan overreaches himself always; the Philistines are now going to give credit to some one else. They are going to give credit to Dagon their god, and now it becomes, not a question between poor failing Samson and the Philistines, but a question between Dagon and God.
When God's ark was taken from Israel, so long as it was a question between Israel and the Philistines, God lets His ark go, for they were an apostate and sinful people, they had no right to the ark. When the ark is carried into the house of Dagon, and set before Dagon, as acknowledging Dagon's supremacy, then God must speak for Himself, as He always will, and Dagon falls. So, when they would make a great celebration for Dagon, and attribute to him the victory over Samson, they are simply defying God, casting in His face that which they had done, and, therefore, God must speak. He does speak; how effectually.
They gather in great multitudes to hold a feast to Dagon, and they want Samson to make sport for them. Oh how low has that man Samson sunk, to make sport for the Philistines! Beloved, I see a gifted man, a man with abilities of eloquence, and all that, a man with a knowledge of Scripture, I see him, — shall I say? — toadying to a worldly spirit in the professing church. I see him using his eloquence, using his knowledge of Scripture, all these things, for what purpose? Oh, it does seem to me that it is either grinding corn for the Philistines, or it is making sport for them. Ah, brethren, many a man who looks a veritable Samson is really a poor, blinded slave of the Philistines.
May I just here say a few words which may be unpleasant to us all, but which are none the less true? In His great mercy God has recovered for us, in these last days, a mass of most precious truth. I will not specify, beyond reminding you that this truth has practically opened to us our Bibles. Things new and old have been brought out of its treasure house, to the edification and delight of the saints of God. The whole Church has, directly and indirectly profited by this ministry of truth.
At the beginning the truth suffered the reproach of the position in connection with which God brought it out. But things have changed. The truth of the Lord's coming, the perfection of the believer's standing in Christ, the various judgments, the two natures — these have become — shall I say? — popular. A literature has been scattered broadcast, and multitudes who know nothing of the ecclesiastical source from whence that literature has sprung, have profited by it. For this we can, and must unfeignedly thank God.
But the effect of this truth, at the beginning, was to separate those who received it, from the world and the world church. It led persons to see that they were outside the system which, as a system, was Philistine; it was a carnal religion. I ask humbly — does the truth so separate now? And if it does not, is not God-given strength being used to grind corn for the Philistines?
You understand, I am not speaking of the Lord's own people, but of the systems which too often hold them in bondage. Have we not a responsibility here? We are not to obtrude ecclesiastical truth, nor are we to refuse to give the truth of God wherever there is an ear to hear; but surely we are not to forget that the truth, if properly received will emancipate from Philistine error. Let us remember this, and in our prayers seek God's delivering power for His own. Let us not be content to build up a worldly system by making the truth popular.
But then God is going to intervene, and He does it through this very man whose weakness is now so apparent. He has been crushed, he has been brought to the end of himself, and there, as he is showing acts of prowess before the Philistines, he says, as it were, I must get clear of this bondage. But there is only one way, and that is by getting clear of himself. Samson gets to the end of his bondage when he gets to the end of himself. He takes those pillars, for the Philistines have no Jachin or Boaz at their temple which will hold it up, as God's temple is upheld by the everlasting truth of "He will establish," and "In Him is strength." He takes hold of the two pillars of the Philistine house, and then, bowing himself, as if in acknowledgement of his own utter folly, he tears down the whole wretched fabric. He is crushed beneath the load which crushes his enemies too.
But, beloved, how solemn it is that a man's whole life has to be sacrificed. He is shipwrecked. He is saved as by fire. Everything is gone, and he only truly conquers the Philistines in his own death. That which slaughters them, slaughters him completely.
But to go back. We have at the very end the lesson emphasized over again for us, that if we are to be true victors, we must be victors over self, and it was when Samson had done with Samson — alas, it was at the end of his life — he was done with the power of the enemy too. What is it that makes a happy deathbed for a Christian rather rare? Why is it such a remarkable thing? People speak of a happy deathbed as a remarkable thing. It ought to be an ordinary thing for God's people going home to Him. I believe that you will often find that a Christian never gets to the end of himself until he gets to his deathbed. Really, his whole life has been spent more or less in temporizing with the world, until he gets face to face with eternal issues, and there is an end of self as there is an end of life. His liberated soul flashes before us just as it goes up to God.
It ought to have been before. We ought to reach our deathbed long before that. We ought to reach the end of self long before that; surely so. The end of self should be reached at the cross, and there we should abide, always counting ourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus. Let us reach the end, not in the providence of God, not under His chastening hand. Let us reach the end, not merely as Samson did, in crushing the life out of ourselves, but calmly and deliberately, applying the cross in faith to all that is of the old man, so that it may be not I that live, but Christ that liveth in me. Then for us the history would be inverted, as it were, and we would begin where Samson ended. We would begin with the death of self, and, as a result, we would end by true Nazariteship according to the purposes of God.
We have traced this poor man from the counsels of God as to what he ought to be, right through his history, and we find that it was failure to carry out the will of God in separation from the world, and now at the end we see the very reason for it all; he had not reached the end of himself. Do not let it be an earthquake that brings you to an end of yourself. Go to your room, go to your heart's own chamber, and there take the truth of the cross of Christ, and ask God by the Holy Ghost to make that a practical reality in your soul, that you may not learn by bitter experience, but that you may learn by the truth of God what it is to say, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."