"We Have Sinned"

Notes of an address on 1 Samuel 7 at Sutton, 1939

"Then Samuel took a stone, and set it up between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto has the Lord helped us" (1 Samuel 7:12).

This bit of divinely-given history of the people of Israel may be a help to us in this time of distress. They were God's chosen people, He had redeemed them out of Egyptian bondage and given them the land of Canaan for a national home and a possession, but they had turned their backs upon Him and had chosen to worship and serve the gods of the heathen, with their unspeakable abominations, and God had left them to their own devices and the mercy of their foes: and bitterly they suffered for their folly. But now they had begun to yearn for the former days and to "lament after the Lord." Samuel's faithful ministry among them and his intercession for them coupled with Philistine tyranny had done its work in their souls. Then Samuel spake to them on God's behalf. "If ye turn to the Lord with all your heart, put away the strange gods from among you, and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistine. And the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth and served the Lord only." The Lord did not turn from them when they turned to Him, for His mercy endureth for ever; He is the much-neglected but ever patient God, very pitiful and of tender mercy, and He is the same today for us as He was for those ancient people in their day; and we shall prove this as they did if we turn wholeheartedly to Him.

We cannot call any nation Christian in the vital sense of the word, for vital Christianity is intensely individual, the result of the new birth by the Holy Ghost, and personal faith in the Lord Jesus our Saviour. Yet the British nation professes the Christian religion. The heads of the German and Russian peoples have abandoned this position, but we may be thankful that the King of these realms in Privy Council has ordained this 1st day of October for a day of public prayer. The result may be largely formal, but we may be sure that thousands of sincere and sorely burdened hearts are sending up their cries to God this day. It would have been well if a call to repentance and confession had been joined to the call for prayer, for these are sorely needed. In our chapter it was when Israel repented of their idolatry and put away their false gods and confessed with repentance "we have sinned against the Lord" that Samuel interceded for them and God heard his prayer and delivered them.

If the question arises as to why repentance and confession are called for at this time in this land I will answer by reading from 2 Timothy. "This know, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; HAVING THE FORM OF GODLINESS BUT DENYING THE POWER THEREOF."

We may plead that we have to look across the North Sea for "truce-breakers", but where upon this earth are men lovers of themselves and of pleasure more than lovers of God than in this land? What a man loves more than God is his idol; and if God has not the first place in a man's life He has no place. But there is one charge in this heavy indictment and another in chapter 4 that I must put together and stress. "Having the form of godliness but denying the power thereof", and "the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but after their own lusts shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears." Here is not man's treachery to his fellows but a state of things in which religion is fashionable but God unreal and unwanted? The first is, broadly speaking, ritualism, and the second religious rationalism, and the second is worse than the first. In ritualism the profession is kept up, there are forms, ceremonies, sacraments and the outward parade of religion but the power is not there. "These people draw near with the lip but the heart as far from Me." But rationalism — modernism, is the proud denial of God as He has revealed Himself in Christ, the record of which we have in the Holy Bible, and that by men who claim to lead the religious life of the people. The fable and farce of evolution has dispensed with the Creator, and since man is laboriously but successfully climbing out of the slime to a godlike stature and character, what need has he of a Redeemer? The blood that cleanses from sin is an insult to him; he is his own Saviour and needs none other, and all this while still holding to the name of Christian.

These are the Ashtaroth and Baalim of modem Christendom, and must not God be against them? Surely because these false gods have been set up in this land there should be deep heart searching and confession and repentance in the church of God.

How do we stand in relation to these things? Hear what the word says, "Having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: FROM SUCH TURN AWAY." Have we done that? Do we separate ourselves in faithfulness to the Lord from all that is pretentious and false, and by standing for the truth bear witness against the false? How are we to intercede with God in this hour of need if we tolerate or sanction that which is obnoxious to Him? And how have we acted in regard to the inrush of modernism, bold criticism of God's holy Word, and the rejection of His great salvation secured for men by the blood of His dear Son? Hear what we ought to have done. "Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine." Have we done that, and endured afflictions in doing it, (many have in Germany) or have we sought the easier path of bearing witness only among those who appreciate and applaud us?

There is surely need for repentance. "Be zealous therefore, and repent" is the Lord's own word to all who have ears to hear. But will the mass repent? I fear not, "for evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Tim. 3:13). The darkness will deepen and the evil increase until the Lord comes forth to judge the world in righteousness.

But the challenge is to every one of us. Are there no idols in our hearts and lives? We may not spurn God's holy gospel, but having believed it, are we governed by it? The last of the Apostles after discoursing on the blessedness of knowing the true God and Eternal life, and all the favour that has come to us as those who are born of God through Him, closes his Epistle with this solemn charge, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." God is sifting out the hearts of men, let us be swift to answer Him; let us yield our hearts to Him, and say, "Search me, O God." Whatever challenges the supremacy of Christ in our lives is an idol, it is iniquity, and "if I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me" (Ps. 66:18). We cannot pray with sincerity if the eye is not single, or if the heart is divided, and because this is so it would be well for us if in the presence of God we went over these nineteen solemn features of these last days, beginning with "men shall be lovers of their own selves", and ending with "having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" and discovered how we stand in regard to them.

The way that Israel travelled from their deep degradation to their triumphant Ebenezer is full of interest and instruction; let us consider the steps they took in this journey.

They lamented after the Lord and put away Baalim and Ashtaroth.

Most surely these days are like those of our chapter and if we are to have God as our helper and deliverer in days of darkness and distress we must begin where Israel began, and 2nd Timothy confirms this thought and helps us, for there we read, "Let every one that nameth the Name of Christ [the Lord] depart from iniquity" (chap. 2:19). "If a man purge himself from these he shall be a vessel to honour" (v. 21). "Free also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (v. 22).

They gathered to Samuel at Mizpeh.

They were united in their misery, but also in their search after God, and it was to Samuel they gathered, he was their hope, for he was the one great intercessor of his day, a type and foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus who ever lives to make intercession for those who come to God through Him. It was to Mizpeh they came, and Mizpeh means the watch tower and reminds us of the words of the prophet Habakkuk, who at another crisis in Israel's history said, "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon my tower, and see what He will say to me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved." If we draw near to God in prayer we must heed His word to us. For His word is a light and lamp for our feet in the darkest of days, and there is no other.

They poured water out before the Lord and confessed, we have sinned against the Lord.

They owned in this dramatic way their helplessness and nothingness. Their sin and departure from God had brought them to their wits' end. It would be a blessed thing if this spirit of humility and confession spread among the people of God. "Humble yourselves in the sight of God and He shall lift you up." "God resisteth the proud, and gives grace to the humble." "Submit yourselves therefore to God" (Jas. 4). To God we must look, our confidence must not be in mighty munitions and fearless battalions but in God. He fights for the humble, and approves of those who in their weakness look only to Him.

And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly to the Lord.

The confession of sin and helplessness on the part of the people was right, their repentance was a proof of God's work within them, but more was necessary. God is holy and righteous, and on what ground could He meet them and bless them? Only on the ground of a spotless, sinless sacrifice. The eyes of all Israel were turned to the lamb that was sacrificed for them. Of course it spoke of Christ. The first word of public testimony that was given to Him when He appeared amongst men was, "Behold the Lamb of God." He offered Himself without spot to God, and it was for us, for we read, "Christ also loved us, and has given Himself FOR US, an offering and a sacrifice TO GOD for a sweet smelling savour" (Eph. 5:2). The testimony of John the Baptist is our testimony. If any feel the burden of sin, we say, "Behold the Lamb of God"; if any are longing to be rid of the idols that have oppressed them and to be right with God, we say, "Behold the Lamb of God"; if any are looking on to the future with fear and uncertainty, we say, "Behold the Lamb of God." In Him alone is salvation; His blood cleanses from all sin. It is because of His perfect offering, and the efficacy of His blood that God can bless us and meet us when we turn to Him. God has set Jesus forth "a propitiation [meeting place] through faith in His blood."

The blood of the Lamb of God has not only made complete atonement for the sins of all who believe, but it is to them the proof and measure of God's love, for He commends His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us, and if this love is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost who is given to us, the Baalim and Ashtaroth must be swept out. What attraction could the fictions of Rome and the "vain babblings and opposition of science, falsely so called" have for those whose faith has grasped the meaning of the blood of the Lamb? and what place could dead forms and all the ceremonies that please the fleshly mind have with those who have seen God revealed in Jesus?

"And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines and discomfitted them."

We cannot say whether the war will be long or short; we make our requests known to God, and tell Him all our fears, and desire nothing that would be contrary to His holy will. We may have to suffer deprivations, but He is able to sustain us in trials and carry us through. Spiritual victories against spiritual darkness and the rulers of it are greater than victories in the air or on the land or sea, for they are eternal in their issue, and these victories God will give us if we turn to Him. His eyes "run to and fro in the whole earth to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him", and "If God be for us, who can be against us?"

"Then Samuel took a stone… and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto has the Lord helped us."

We may leave the issue of the great conflict now raging with God. He has said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay" (Rom. 12:9), and not one word of His will fail, but we may pray that His chastening hand may not be in vain on this greatly favoured land, but that many may turn to Him wholly and find their strength and solace in Him whatever the future may hold. He is good, a very present help in time of trouble and He knows them that trust in Him, and all such will surely build their Ebenezer to His glory, for none ever trusted Him in vain.

A Christian who had had fifty years' experience of the goodness of God said that if she had raised a stone of remembrance every time the Lord had helped her, she would have built a solid wall fifty years in length. She had found the Lord ever by her side, a very present help, renewing His mercies every morning, and never failing in His compassions. And many can say, and we among them, "there has not failed one good word that He has spoken, " and if in our wall of Ebenezers there are gaps, they mark the times when in self-sufficiency and pride we thought we could manage our own affairs without reference to God; then we had to learn sore lessons as to our folly, and own that independence of the Lord meant disaster for us. But even then He was not far from us, and as when He arose from the dead He appeared to defeated Simon (Luke 24), so has He often proved to us that His grace is greater than our failure. And because of all this we can say, as we look back on the past, "Hitherto has the Lord helped us." We have been kept by the power of God, and with confidence we can look on to the future when He will present us "faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy." To Him be thanksgiving and praise both now and for ever!