THE GHASTLY TRAGEDY OF SAUL
A Sermon by B.H. Carroll
TEXT: I forced myself. – 1 SAMUEL 12:12.
I read a long time ago a little story of this kind: There were two princes, the elder one the rightful heir to the throne and well deserving of that position. The younger had evil affections. He was envious, jealous and ambitious, selfish and unworthy to rule. He had no positive qualification for the high position which he desired to occupy, but he coveted it, and so, taking advantage on a certain occasion of his elder brother, he bound him, put out his eyes, locked him up and reported that he was dead. When visitors came, he would put a gag in his brother’s mouth so that he could not cry out. And when he heard that search was about to be made, he immured him in a dungeon, a secret place, and sealed it up. And when there would come up strange, mournful sounds from that dungeon, he had it opened and went in and by all kinds of maltreatment sought to silence the voice of the brother crying for help.
But after a while exposure came, the prince was brought up from the pit where he had been immured, and the clear light of day was turned upon the whole transaction in all of its details. The blind brother gave his testimony, reciting how he had been overpowered when asleep; how he had been gagged, so that his voice could not be heard; how imprisoned; how maltreated and subjected to every kind of indignity. On that testimony the younger brother was put to death.
Now that serves as an illustration. There is in every man a dual nature. There is an inner and an outer man. The one entitled to rule is the inner man. The outer man has no qualifications for ruling. He has no judgment. He has no conscience. He is governed by appetite. You may hurt the outer man and the individuality of the inner man is not impaired. You may destroy both the eyes of the outer man, and the eyes of the inner man can see. You may cut off both hands of the outer man, and the inner man will feel. You may kill the outer man, and the inner man is alive. But any wound to the inner man, the outer man cannot sustain. The inner man can sustain anything put upon the outer one, but it is not so if you reverse it. The spirit of a man sustaineth his infirmities, but a wounded spirit, who can bear?
As an illustration of that Scripture, consider the case of Saul. I have a very special desire in my mind tonight to make a lasting impression upon the minds of some that are here. These two natures were in Saul, king of Israel. He had been instructed that he could not approach God, being a sinner, except through a mediator. He had been assured that if he would follow the divine commandments his kingdom would be established. And yet, in this struggle between the external Saul and the internal Saul he allowed the outer Saul to triumph.
And this text is a confession of what took place. He admits here that God gave him no commandment to offer this sacrifice; that it was not his place. He admits here that he knew he was doing wrong. But he says, “I forced myself.” Now, that is very strange language. You see, there is a difference between the “I” and the “myself.” There must be two persons or personalities involved in that speech, just as Paul presents it when he says, “That which I would allow not.” Now, in this case Saul allowed the outer man to take violent possession of the inner man; forced him. Here was a suppression of the one who alone had a right to rule. “I forced myself.”
And there comes up now the question: What considerations induced Saul to do violence to his spiritual nature? What reasons operated? For evidently he had reasons. Well, he states his reasons. He shows what it was that led him in this instance to force himself to commit a sin. As he states it, three causes conspired to put him in the strait. In the first place, the Philistines, the enemies of Israel, had massed themselves as a countless multitude-thirty thousand chariots, six thousand horses, and people as the sands of the seashore.
In the next place, when that formidable host, equipped for war and conquest, pitched their camp over against him, his own people were seized with a panic. They fled as birds fly away from the pursuit and downward swoop of a hawk. They fled as smaller beasts run away when they hear the roar of the lion. Every man sought a hiding place. Some went up to the very mountaintops. Some went into the deepest valleys and caves, some into the woods, and some fled clear out of the land across the Jordan. So when Saul looked around, the people had well-nigh deserted him. So it doubled his embarrassment that his crowd was not with him, and the enemy were present in great numbers, most formidable in their array. It certainly was an occasion that called for superb courage.
Notice the third element, the representative of God was absent. God’s prophet-God’s mouth-piece, and therefore you may say God himself-had directed him to go to this place where he now was, a place, as you may observe on the map, of peculiar exposedness, one with few defenses, one which, without a very strong army to stand by him, seemed to put him entirely in the hands of his enemies. God had said: “You go there and wait till I come. Seven days had been appointed. You wait seven days.” Now, the man’s courage seemed to hold out the first day and the second day, though his fears were rising, and the third, though his fears mounted still higher, and the fourth, though his heart was up in his mouth; and the fifth, and the sixth, but the seventh reduced him to despair.
God was testing him. As if he said: “I will test you to the very last minutes of the seventh day. I will see what is your trust in God. I will place you where your foes are in number like the leaves of the forest trees. I will place you where all human resources have been dissipated, as dead leaves are scattered by an autumn blast. I will place you in an exposed situation, where your only help is God, and then I will see if you will rely on God.”
It seems that Saul was counting the time, not by days only, but by hours; and before the time fully expired, he succumbed. But it had almost expired, so that he was within a very few minutes of deliverance, so that if his patience had held out just a bit longer, he would live a king, and his children would succeed him upon the throne, and his dynasty would be perpetuated. Almost victorious. But the shout of the Philistine hosts terrified him. The continually diminishing numbers of his adherents filled him with fears, and at last, without a mediator, and in express violation of a divine commandment, he himself offered the sacrifice, and sought God directly face to face.
The inner man protested; the inner man said, “Wait, the time is not altogether expired. God keeps his appointments. The inner man stoutly resisted, for when you use the term “force,” then you imply not merely a verbal protest, but an actual wrestling for supremacy. There was fought a battle. That inner man and that outer man grappled, and one said, “Wait on God.” And the other said: The enemy is coming; I cannot wait.” And, as in the story I cited, the younger brother, the one without any qualifications of ruling, the one who had no reason and no judgment, bound the elder and forced him to subordination, and Saul was lost. The spirit of the man was maltreated. The cowardly body was triumphant. The carnal man reigned and the soul went down in the conflict.
And, ah! sad commentary upon the situation – no sooner had the act of violence been perpetrated than the representative of God stepped upon the scene. “I am here on time. This is the seventh day; it is not all gone. I am here to deliver you. And what is that host of Philistines before the Almighty? And what signifies the fewness of human supporters to God? Have you forgotten the facts of the history of your people? Have you not seen one slay a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight when God was with them? Have you forgotten how Gideon with his lamps and pitchers discomfited a mighty host of the enemy? Have you forgotten God’s deliverance in Egypt, in the wilderness, in the establishment of his people here in this land, in the history of Joshua and the records of the Judges? Oh, Saul, why could you not have held out just a little while longer? What is this that thou hast done?” says Samuel.
“I forced myself. Fear came on me, fear of the enemy, fear on account of the few that stood with me, fear that you would not come. I forced myself.” And now comes the dreadful question, the wounded spirit-for the spirit was wounded in that overthrow – who can bear it?
The sequel is sad indeed. See how that spirit was left alone. God recalled his Spirit. God refused to communicate with him. The oracle was dumb when he stood before it, and on his own unaided resources he had to meet situations with which he could not cope. And at last that wounded spirit began to turn in other directions for help; called superstition to its aid; tried to raise the dead and bring from the silence of the grave the voice of a buried Samuel.
That wounded spirit said, “Bring me music that hath charms to soothe the savage breast. Play skillfully on the harp. Let me hear the sweet melody of poesy. Let me hear the rhythm and harmony of sweet sounds. Oh, beguile this evil spirit. Bring something that can make my wounded spirit whole.” “A wounded spirit; who can bear it?”
We trace the history of the man until we see him die on the field of battle, and with him, his sons; and so perished his dynasty. His body is gibbeted and exposed. The birds of carrion come down and fatten upon his flesh. Good men mourned over him as Samuel had grieved over him before he died. The old man wept until God called him home, for Saul had been a kingly man. It was an awful ruin. It was enough to excite commiseration and melancholy and provoke tears and grief, to look upon the mighty fallen.
David, Saul’s successor, wept. He bemoaned in matchless pathos how that mighty one had fallen. And how piteous to think that, having withstood the temptation one day, two days, three, four, five, six, seven days almost, but the last few moments he allowed his fears to triumph, “and, wrestling with his soul, threw it, and forced it.”
Let us look at this subject in some of its general features. That is the history of that case. Whoever is lost in this world is lost somewhat in that way. I do not say that in every case it is fear that causes a man to force himself to sin. Some men are forced that way. Some men lose their self-poise and become panic-stricken, and in the midst of great emergencies, fail to show themselves worthy and succumb to pressure and lose an opportunity of immortality.
But it is not always just that way. Mark you the element of unbelief that made such fear possible. And there you get at the secret of the fall. Why had he not faith in God? Why did his soul accuse God of lying in not keeping his appointment? Why did he think God was trifling when he gave a positive commandment as to how he should be approached? Why did he sit in judgment on God’s method of a sinner’s coming into his presence? Oh, the infidelity and the presumption that weakened his spirit, so that when fear came, his soul was not able to stand in its wrestling with the outer man.
Unbelief! And I venture to say that, whatever may be the immediate or proximate cause of any man’s downfall, the prime cause, the one that made the other possible, is unbelief in God. See a youth fall. See him force himself. Not this time through fear, but because the devil has presented to him pleasure in its most alluring guise: “Here, look at this. This is present; this is real; see this. Why will you not reach out your hand and pluck such luscious fruit within your grasp?”
And the inner man says, “No; God has forbidden me to eat that fruit. God has said that whosoever eateth of the fruit of that tree shall die.” “But it is beautiful to the sight and it is sweet to the taste and,” says the tempter, “it has power to make one wise that eats it. It will open your eyes and give you knowledge, experimental knowledge of the difference between the good and evil.” Shall I not take God’s word that there is a deep and dark chasm between good and evil?” Says Satan “Pluck the fruit and eat it, and you will know by experience the difference between good and evil.” So he yielded to the voice of the devil and fell.
And there comes in unbelief. “Has God said that you will die? You will not surely die. God will not slay you. Believe it not. Doubt it, doubt it. Doubt and pluck and eat.” And so unbelief opens the gate through which inordinate desire comes in like a flood and sweeps away every barrier of resistance, and he forces himself. The spirit is wounded, and then who can bear that wounded spirit?
Another time temptation comes with love of money, and so it comes with any other form with which Satan proposes to tempt and wreck a soul, and when it does come, mark you, the wail of that soul can never reproach the Philistines, nor justify itself by saying, “My friends left me, and thereby they slew me.” Never. It is always, “I forced myself. I put the dagger to my heart. I put the torch to the beautiful structure of hope and burnt it down and found only despair in its ashes. I doubted.”
And therefore the declaration of God is, “Thou hast destroyed thyself.” There must be your consent, your yielding, and though ten thousand oceans join, and all the storms that ever rocked their waves had come in one tempest to stir them and roll their mountainous and thunderous tides against your heart, no wave could enter in unless you got scared and opened the floodgate, unless you forced yourself. That is the indictment.
I will refer to only two other points. Are there not at least two ways in which this destruction may come upon me and in which I will be guiltless? Suppose I am but one of thousands, a vast multitude, and but one impulse moves it and that impulse contravenes a commandment of God; am I not guiltless if such a tide carries me away? May I not innocently refuse to hear the voice of the inner man which says, “Don’t! Don’t! Don’t follow a multitude to evil”? Never imagine you can lose your individuality in a crowd. God Almighty holds you responsible and his judgment isolates you from the crowd, segregates you from your companions. Suffer not yourselves to be deceived by such a device of Satan.
I refer to only one other point. Can I not lose responsibility in corporate capacity? May I not, when comes the issue, refer responsibility to the corporation which has no soul? God says, “Come out; be separate. Touch not the unclean thing,” for if your soul goes down in that wrestling, when the story is told, when the inscription is written, when your obituary notice is penned by the unerring angel who, under God’s direction, records the facts, it will be just like it was before” – You forced yourself.” And surely, if there are any cases known to men where a spirit may divest itself of individual responsibility, it is where a multitude is pursuing evil, or it is where, on account of some complicated association, the conscience is stifled. Oh, the depths of Satan, the depths of Satan!
And now, having given you the case, I want to tell you something about what a wounded spirit is. I want you to see in what somber hues it is painted. When you see it in gospel colors, you will shudder; you will shiver here in your seat tonight. It will be like uncapping a pit. It is an awful sight to look upon a wounded spirit.
Let us see then. That wounded spirit has memory. It always recollects, not merely the facts in the case, but the possible facts. When you come to look back upon a sin like Saul’s, you see at last how unnecessary it was. You had reached the very rim of success without it and there was just a thin line between you and victory. You had lifted your foot to place it on the last round of the ladder between you and the portal of heaven, and from that great height you fell and fell forever. And oh, that burning reflection, “It might have been, it might have been!” Forever does that refrain smite you with sadness: “It might have been.”
Oh, heaven, heaven! I saw you once, almost touched your portals. I had reached out my hand; I had lifted my foot, and there, when so near the kingdom, the devil, climbing after, made a suggestion to me; and there, wrestling, the outer man threw the spirit on the very verge of redemption and I was lost. “Son,” says Abraham to the rich man in hell, “remember, remember.”
Then look at this: I know that some people never seem to realize why one is summoned to the bar of judgment after his spirit has been in heaven or hell a long time. Well, let me bring out that thought to you a little. Here is this man, lost, suffering immeasurably, and yet not knowing some things, not realizing some things yet. And the judgment day comes and death and hell give up the dead that are in them, and they are gathered before the bar of God – not so much to be tried as that it is the day of revelation of the past righteous judgment of God – the day when God vindicates himself, the day when God extorts from each lost man a full confession of the justice of the demand; the day when all secret things shall be brought to light. The wounded spirit! How it did devote itself to covering up! Oh, how many efforts it put forth to divert attention from the place where the proof of sin was deposited! Cover up, cover up!
Now, that judgment uncovers, that judgment brings out with exactness every offense committed against God, every one. Every idle word, every thought, every imagination of the heart.
There they are, brought out, a long, dreadful record of offenses. And mark you, they were there before, but the light didn’t shine on them to make even that lost soul see them, not even in hell. But he sees them now, because that record is held up and the light of God’s holy law shines on it and brings out its lack of conformity to that law, measures, surveys it in length and breadth, fathoms its depth.
There it is, now you see it! Not through disordered vision as on earth, not under the guise with which Satan presented it. Seen as God’s law revealed it. Oh, lost soul, look at that, and then dare to look at God! Hide! Mountains, come and fall on me! Bury me out of sight! I can’t see the face of the King, having seen my sins exposed as they are in the sight of God.
Oh, that wounded spirit! Wounded with such wounds! These javelins, these darts, these poisons, these swords of sin! Oh, how they do wound! Pierced through with darts a thousand times. Wounded, and who can bear it?
Yonder on earth where you were covering up and diverting attention, there still was that Spirit of God who could change all, but now, never, never. No change now, none, forever. Can’t somebody pray for me? No, not now. Is there no mercy seat in hell? None, none. What are these things that rise up yonder? What are they that blacken all the skies of hope? Clouds of apprehension, fearful looking, foreboding the wrath of God. Wrath, and I have known it. This is eternal, the wrath of God. Oh, why does my spirit go back into the past? Oh, that I had no memory! And what is this that gnaws me? Remorse, undying remorse.
And what is this that keeps echoing in my ear, “I might have been in heaven”? God called me. God held out to me pleading hands and bade me come, but I forced myself. My outer man took possession of my soul and bound it hand and foot and put out its eyes, and now when I stand before the judgment bar of God, my conscience, that had been gagged, my conscience that had been immured in a dark dungeon, my conscience that had been seared, is called up before that place where I had bound it and imprisoned it.
God says, “Bring on the witnesses,” and here comes the brother whose eyes had been put out; here comes the one that should reign, and God says, “Speak and let the court hear thy voice.” And the conscience says, “True and righteous altogether, Lord God, are thy judgments.”
The heart condemns it, echoing the thunders of the divine law – “I destroyed myself.” To me it becomes more awful every time I think about it. Any battle where great interests hinge upon its issue is a wonderful thing to study, to see that striving for the mastery, the soul and the carnal man in desperate conflict for supremacy, and at last they totter here and there and one falls. O which? Which is down? Which is on top? Which is overpowered? What a question!
Now the remedy is just this, just what it was to Saul, that God is coming at the appointed time. Do not doubt. God is coming with power of deliverance. Believe him. God is mightier than the Philistines. Never question. God is more than a multitude of men to stand by you as a friend. Never raise the slightest question as to the truth of it. If God be for us, who can be against us? Who? Who from down yonder? Who from here? What force in nature? Lord, thy word, that is law. Lord, thy presence, that is power. Lord, thy promise, that is rescue. Thy blood of redemption, that is salvation. Come to it tonight.