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1 Samuel 15:8-11 -

The limits of patience.

The facts are—

1 . Saul, in disobedience to the command of God, spares Agag and the best of the spoil.

2 . God declares to Samuel that he can endure with Saul as king no longer.

3 . Samuel, in his grief, cries unto God all night. It is never said that God changes his purpose absolutely. Where promises are given conditional on conduct they are revoked when conduct fails. We cannot ascribe human feelings to God; yet it is only by the analogy of human feelings that we can know anything of the mind of God. The setting aside from kingly office of Saul was an act of the Divine mind conformable with the original purpose of making him king, since the condition of permanence had not been fulfilled. Saul had been borne with so long; now he is to be borne with no longer. Patience yields to judgment.

I. THERE IS A LIMIT TO DIVINE PATIENCE . Patience bears relation to wrongdoing, or the sufferance of ill. In God it relates to the restraint he puts on himself in the presence of that which merits his displeasure. That there is such a limit to Divine patience is clear.

1 . The language of Scripture indicates it. The heart of God is represented as being under pressure of a moral force which can scarcely be resisted. "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?" ( Hosea 11:8 ). The retrospect of the past brings into view the overpowering considerations which withheld good and allowed calamity to come. "He should have fed them with the finest of the wheat" ( Psalms 81:16 ). "O that my people had hearkened unto me!" ( ibid. 1 Samuel 15:13 ). The persistence of men in sin, despite all counsel and mercy, raises the question of the length of time during which the hand of justice can be stayed. "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation?" ( Numbers 14:27 ). A reference to love, tenderness, and care is set in sad contrast with the doom which the ingratitude so long endured is about to bring ( Matthew 23:37 , Matthew 23:38 ).

2 . Recorded facts illustrate it. The vices of the antediluvians were long endured, and it was after the Spirit had striven long with men, and they had refused the warnings of Noah, that patience yielded to the execution of judgment ( 1 Peter 3:20 ). The repeated warnings given to Pharaoh reveal a patience which terminated in the overthrow in the Red Sea. Patience was "grieved" with the perverse generation in the wilderness, but grief gave place to a "wrath" which barred their entrance into rest ( Hebrews 3:9-12 ). God endured long with some of the seven Churches in Asia, but at last judgment came, and the candlesticks were removed from their place.

3 . The close of the Christian dispensation in a day of judgment is the most awful illustration of the limit to God's patience. The plain teaching of that great event is that here men have time to repent and obtain through Christ all that will qualify for a perfect life—that for the term of our earthly life God bears with our sins and provocations, and proves by thousands of favours that he "is slow to anger;" but that the end of all this must come, and judgment on the whole life ensue. His long suffering is great. But "it is appointed to men once to die, and after this the judgment" ( Hebrews 9:27 ).

II. THE GROUND OF THE LIMIT OF GOD 'S PATIENCE . The yielding of patience to judgment in the case of Saul was on the occasion of his clear and deliberate breach of the command ( 1 Samuel 15:1-3 , 1 Samuel 15:8 , 1 Samuel 15:9 ), and this too after other opportunities of obedience had been abused. But the question arises how it is that a certain degree or persistence in wrong is the occasion of the cessation of patience. There is a vague impression in some minds that because God is perfectly tender and loving his patience need and ought never to fail. This kind of thinking springs from very defective views of the character of God and of his relation to a moral order. It may not be possible for us to give a perfect rationale of Divine procedure; but there is perhaps light enough to indicate the wisdom and goodness of even a limit to God's patience.

1 . The privileges of responsible beings imply a probation for their use. The primary notion of a responsible being is one blessed with privilege, and able to use or abuse it at will But men are constituted so as to derive much wisdom from experience, and hence failure in the use of privilege, in a few instances, may possibly create an experience that will constrain to a more careful observance of duty when newly imposed. Life is full of helps to obedience as well as of hindrances. But as time is required for the development of responsibility, so it is obvious that the possession of privilege involves a limit to the period for use or abuse. Government without a reckoning would be no government. Everlasting patience is inconsistent with responsibility attendant on privilege.

2 . In a moral order, where beings are closely interrelated, breach of duty affects others. Saul's conduct could not end in himself. He, as fount of authority and influence, would damage his people by every act of disobedience to the Divine command. The repeated sins of men are so many attacks on the common welfare of the universe. God "desireth not the death of a sinner," but that he should "turn and live;" but he is the Guardian of right, of good, of peace, and of all that enters into the true welfare of the entire universe, and hence there is a love most deep and a wisdom unsearchable in not allowing the wilful sinner any longer to be exempt from the restraints which judgment imposes.

3 . Repeated acts of disobedience reveal to God a state of mind which will not benefit by further favours. Every act of sin brings man lower in the moral scale. But while mercy and gentleness afford the sinner every possible chance to recover what is lost, it is possible for the habit of sin to gain such power over the entire man that to the eye of the Eternal his last chance of improving additional opportunities is clean gone. Samuel's distress at the abandonment of Saul ( 1 Samuel 15:11 ) was natural, and if his cry all night Was intercession, it was only what might be expected of a good man who knows only in part. The intercession of Moses ( Numbers 14:15-23 ) was for pardon, and was partially successful. Samuel's would appear to have been for pardon in the form of Saul's continuance in the kingly office with the usual Divine sanctions. It is, however, obvious that the judgment of God was based on his perfect knowledge that the heart of Saul was too far gone to be trusted any further. It is an awful fact that a man may, by transgression, work himself into such a condition that all is lost on him, and will be lost. God, knowing this, may cease to be long suffering, and reject him as "nigh unto cursing" ( Hebrews 6:6-8 ) .

4 . The holiness of God requires vindication. Every pang which followed Saul s earlier sins and every rebuke from Samuel was some vindication of the holiness of God. The private and subjective recognition by the sinner of an insulted holiness is not all that the government of God requires. He is a jealous God; he will be honoured in the eyes of all people. Continued long suffering followed by judgment renders holiness more conspicuous than when judgment forestalls long suffering.

General lessons :

1 . We should never forget that every day affords us new opportunities of keeping God's commands.

2 . It will repay the effort if we endeavour to form an estimate of the privileges conferred on us in the past, and the extent to which we have drawn on the patience of God.

3 . If we are deliberately disobedient in any office of trust, we may some day look for a grave judgment.

4 . We are not always competent to see the wisdom of God's severity, and may possibly pray for what is not to be granted.

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