So Saul died for his unfaithfulness to the LORD, because he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance,
and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it; and inquired not of the Lord. Consider not the many and grievous faults of Saul, but one, and that his last. In modern language, the witch of Endor was a "medium," and Saul's act simply one of those acts of consulting the dead which many believe to be at once practicable and proper. It is not part of my province to defend what some deem the severity of the Mosaic laws against all manner of witchcraft in all its forms. I only remark that a defence of the law which inflicted death upon such might be made by men of tenderest charity; that such would only need to indicate the universal tendency of magic to become "the black art" - a means of revenge, prolific in murder and in crime - to justify the severest measures necessary to repress it. It is easy for the sorcerer to destroy, difficult for him to save life. So in all ages and lands, from the astrologers of Europe, in the Middle Ages, down to the Obeamen of the West Indies to-day, the sorcerers have been the instruments of revenge, at once ready to commit and able to conceal the greatest crimes. Even the English law, with its nineteenth-century indifferentism, finds it necessary to punish the common and vulgar forms of fortune-telling. I prefer to take not the forensic but the personal side of this question; and to deal with it, not in its darker phases, in which it would appear as a superstition, enslaving the mind, tempting to by offering facilities for crime, investing life with awful horrors, but rather in the lighter form in which it seems harmless, in which a few years ago in this country and America it was somewhat fashionable, in which it might even seem to be a means of grace, furnishing some proof of the existence of the soul after death to a gainsaying and materialistic age. I would make two or three preliminary observations.
1. That in the nature of things one would expect a great deal of deception to be practised in connection with spiritualism. Even if a large substratum of fact is in it, yet there will always be a temptation to guess when the oracle provokes by its silence - a reluctance to be caught at a loss; and the tendency to eke out the oracles by guesses will be all the greater when (as usually happens) it would be impossible to convict immediately of error.
2. That we are at a loss in this matter from not knowing exactly how many senses we have. To the five commonly recognized, one has been added - a sense of heat and cold. But probably we have a great many more senses than six: powers of perception, too subtle to be tabulated, but, in some natures of fine sensibility, quite strong enough to perceive by direct and natural but subtle apprehension what lies outside of the knowledge of the five homely senses that are merely the strong, rough ones, common to us all.
3. That whatever be the explanation (and probably a simple scientific one is possible), the existence and practices of clairvoyants in every age and country, and the record of undoubted wonders done by them, make it almost impossible to doubt that some persons in some circumstances can perceive more than comes within the range of ordinary perception. From Apollonius of Tyana down to Swedenborg; from the Delphic oracle, which told what Croesus was doing on a certain day, several hundreds of miles away, to the instances of second sight still at least supposed to exist in the Scottish Highlands, - you get strange facts, too numerous to be met by a universal denial, for which we should, if possible, find some explanation consistent with natural science. But the more of truth there is in the claim of power to reveal the distant or the future, the less, in my judgment, will any wise man have to do with such practices. I therefore urge on many grounds the danger and wrong of spiritualism. Perhaps the following heads may sum up what is material on this matter: -
I. WE DO NOT NEED ANY SUPERNATURAL HELP BEYOND THAT OF GOD. For ordinary life the ordinary senses and faculties of man suffice. For all work it is a mistake if the tool be too fine, as well as if it is too coarse. Finer faculties than we have would be too fine for the work of life; would be a source, not of strength, but only of pain and torment. That knowledge of the unseen and future, which we always crave for, would have been given us had it been good for us. But God has concluded that, as regards the unknowable, faith is better than sight, and, as regards the future, hope is better than foreknowledge. For common life, common sense is requisite and is sufficient, especially as we all have within reach aids of grace and enlightenment, that will make our steps safe, if it do not altogether satisfy our curiosity. If we pray to God for guidance, he will answer that prayer, not in some strange and supernatural way, but by calming our over-anxiety, by fortifying our judgment, by presenting in clear light the determining considerations which should weigh with us, by restraining the temptation that might mislead us, by ordering our circumstances so that the only open path is the path of wisdom and of duty. More than this no one needs, and the imagination that the knowledge of the concealed would benefit us is misleading and worrying. Beyond that of God we need no supernatural help or light.
II. SUCH LIGHT IS USELESS AS WELL. There are some things not essential but still soothing, comforting, and helpful. But the knowledge of the concealed is not only not essential - it is useless in any shape in which it can come to us. And that for one reason - It is never capable of being verified. You are at the mercy of any "tricksy sprite" that likes to play with your solicitude. If ghosts are free to report themselves, any one of them could simulate Samuel, and, instead of the sober oracle you expect, could give you something with just that shade of error in it that would make it fatally seductive. You cannot apply rule-and-compass argument or faculty to the verification of the message. You must "trust them all or not at all." You cannot prove the spirits in any of the matters on which you seek their light. I say therefore it is valueless. Such oracles are unsigned cheques, which you cannot treat as money. Seeking to escape from the painful necessity of relying on your own judgment, you (like Roman Catholics) have still to rely on your private judgment on the most momentous question of the whole, viz. whether they are worthy to be your guides. Therefore "pick no locks;" be content to be in the dark where God has left you in the dark. It will be safer for you to travel the unknown road by God's moonlight or starlight, than to have a blazing gleam thrown round you, which comes you know not whence and leads you know not whither.
III. THERE IS MANIFOLD INJURY IN HAVING RECOURSE TO SUCH
1. There is injury to the body. There are few whose nervous systems can stand either real or imaginary communion with the unseen world. Converse with fellow men and women has no exciting element; but spirits either find or leave the nerves unstrung. Fancy takes reason's throne. Man lives in two worlds, instead of in one bright with the presence of God and man. There can hardly be enjoyment of the friendship without solicitude as to the enmity of the spirits; so that calmness of nerve and that fine physical health which furthers all good growth is generally seriously impaired.
2. There is injury to the mind. The proper self-reliance which dignifies and develops man is interfered with by this reference of all things to a mysterious oracle. The faculties grow strong by being trusted. Judgment inspired and brightened by God, the more it is used the more it grows. Subordinate it to mysterious oracles, and the whole mental energy deteriorates and slackens. Above all:
3. The soul suffers. We cannot well have two guides - two oracles. We can leave God, and be guided by the dubious light which mediums may find for us; or we may leave them, and take God's light and God's darkness as he sees fit to give it; but we cannot very well have both. Even the devoutest we imagine will find the simplicity of their dependence on God somewhat impaired by resorting to other guides; and their simple acceptance of the Saviour's teaching impaired by their sitting at the feet of those whose suggestions do not always concur with his. So the writer speaks of Saul's act as of a backsliding, pointing the despair into which he had sunk. Keep your heart free of all that enfeebles it and of all that divides it from the Lord. Poor Saul got nothing but a deeper despair that drove him to his doom. Take Isaiah's exhortation, therefore, to the spiritualists of his day: "When they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits,... should not a people seek unto their God?" (Isaiah 8:19). - G.
I. THE POSSIBILITY THAT A MAN MAY FALL FROM SPIRITUAL COMMUNION WITH THE DIVINE AND INVISIBLE.
So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord.
1. His sacrificing to the Lord (1 Samuel 13:9). Self-will was at the root of this act — that self-will which poisoned all Saul's after-life.
2. The rash vow by which he forbade the people to taste any food (1 Samuel 14:24). This showed the same unchecked impetuosity, reckless in its self-willed way of honouring God.
3. His sparing the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:9) These earlier acts of Saul's rebellion were but the precursors of what was worse.
4. His yielding himself up to the one master passion of envy (1 Samuel 18:7-9). The king obviously is lost now, and there is no compunction, for he cherishes his sin.
5. The atrocious massacre of the priests (1 Samuel 22:17, 18). And now his own life hurries to its miserable close. He feels that he is deserted of God, and that nothing prospers with him. Forsaken of God? Why? Because of unrepented sin. No wonder that the degraded king seeks death by his own hand, when life has become intolerable. Read here the melancholy end of the self-will and evil passions long indulged, till the soul becomes their slave, and all hope is gone, and God with it. The reckless self-willed life must lead to a death without hope.
(Bp. Archibald Campbell.)
And also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit
I. You are carefully to observe THAT SAUL, WHO HERE HAD RECOURSE TO WITCHCRAFT, HAD BEFORE TAKEN MEASURES, VIGOROUS MEASURES, FOR EXTERMINATING WITCHCRAFT; and it was at once a proof that he was far gone in iniquity, and an evidence that his ruin came on apace, when he could thus become the patron of a sin of which he had before been the opponent. There is no greater moral peril than that which surrounds an individual who, after he has given up a sinful practice, again betakes himself to it. "The last state of that man is worse than the first." We cannot doubt of numbers amongst you, that they have had, and still have, their seasons of spiritual disquietude, when, obeying a mighty impulse, which is not of this earth, they break away from associations and customs which they feel to be injurious, and become, if not altogether, yet almost, Christians. Now our business with such is to announce to them their immeasurable peril, if, after being convinced of the sinfulness of a practice, and proving their conviction by temporary abstinence, they again indulge in what they profess to forsake. To resume a renounced habit is to give tenfold energy to the tyranny from which you broke loose. Are you then seared by the visit of Saul to the sorceress? do you marvel at the infatuation of the monarch as you mark him, under cover of the night, stealthily approaching the scene of foul arts and unhallowed incantations? are you ready with the sentence of stern condemnation, prepared to find Saul given over to destruction, now that you behold him tampering with witchcraft, and seeking to invade the repose of the dead? But what, after all, is the king of Israel doing, but that with which yourselves may be justly charged? He is only returning to that which he had forsaken; and the worst feature in his case (the worst, because it proves a seared conscience, and the absence of deep-wrought impressions) is just that with which your own conduct is marked — the seeking comfort where you had detected sin. If men have felt the evil of covetousness, for example, and if he have set himself vigorously against the love of money, and if, after a while, he yield himself once more to the passion for gold, what is he, if he returns to the dominion of avarice, but Saul hurrying to the cave of the enchantress? He was originally beguiled by the witchery of money, and he escaped from the witchery; and now he is again giving himself up to that witchery. If a man have been the slave of his appetites, and if he have felt the degradation, and acted on the resolve of "keeping under the body," and if he then plunge back into sensuality, what is he, if he allow his passions to re-assume the lost sovereignty, but Saul consorting with the wizard? He was originally under the spell of voluptuousness, and he broke that spell; and now is again weaving that spell. If a man have lived in utter carelessness with regard to another world, and if he have been stirred from his insensibility, so that he have set himself in good earnest to the making provision for death and for judgment; and if, after awhile, he relapse into moral apathy, what is he, as he goes back to his stupor, but Saul seeking out a woman with a familiar spirit? Observe, we entreat of you, that it was not until Saul had consulted God, and God had refused to answer him by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets, that he took the fatal resolve of applying to the necromancer. We fear for those of you on whose minds some serious impressions may have been wrought, and who have been made uneasy as to their spiritual condition, lest, not finding much comfort in religion, they should seek it once more in the world. Men are apt to forget, when roused to anxiety as to the soul, how long they have made God wait for them, and how justly, therefore, they might expect that the peace and happiness of the gospel will not be imparted at the first moment they are sought; and then there is great danger of their being quickly wearied, and turning to other and worthless sources of comfort. They have consulted God, and they have received no answer, "whether by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets"; and therefore they seek peace in earthly fascinations, and strive to lull the conscience by enchantments of the sorceress. Oh! if there be any amongst you who, in order to get rid of uneasy thoughts about their souls, would bury themselves in the occupations and pleasures of the world, we stand here to arrest them in their fatal determination.
II. THERE IS SOMETHING VERY TOUCHING IN THE FACT THAT IT WAS SAMUEL WHOM SAUL DESIRED THE WITCH TO CALL UP. Samuel had boldly reproved Saul, and, as it would appear, offended him by his faithfulness. And yet Saul said, "Bring up Samuel." And herein is an instance of what frequently occurs. How many who have despised the advice of a father or a mother, and grieved their parents by opposition and disobedience, long bitterly to bring them back, when they have gone down to the grave, that they may have the benefit of the counsel which they once slighted and scorned I If they could go to the necromancer in the hour of their distress, it would not be, "Bring me up the companion who cheered me in my gaieties, who was with me at the revel, and the dance, and the public show," but "Bring me up the father, with his grey hairs, who solemnly told me that 'the way of transgressors was hard'; or the mother who, with weeping eyes and broken voice, admonished me against sinful indulgences." Yet if you neglect the Lord, and continue to resist the strivings of His Spirit, so that at length He departs from you as He departed from Saul, what would it avail that the grave should give up its inhabitants — that the parent, or the friend, or the minister should return at your bidding? The father or the mother could only say, "Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up? and wherefore dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord has departed from thee, and become thine enemy?" And thus also is it with your minister. He has reproved and admonished week by week, and year after year, and you have been either indifferent to his offended at their pleadings, or urgency. And then he dies; and you are, perhaps, almost pleased to be freed from his pointed remonstrances. But you may think of him again when you feel that this world is slipping from your grasp, and you have not laid hold on eternal life. You shall have your wish. "An old man cometh up, and he is covered with a mantle." But what can you expect to hear from his lips? Your wretchedness is of your own making. If you have no hope, it is because God hath called a thousand times and you would not answer. If you are oppressed with terror, it is because Christ hath entreated you for many years to receive pardon through His blood; and you have set at nought the Mediator. What then, shall the minister say to you, when you exclaim with Saul, "I am sore distressed, for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets nor by dreams"? what shall he say to you if not what Samuel said to Saul — "Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up? Wherefore dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?"
(H. Melvll, B. D.)
II. THE RAPIDITY WITH WHICH A MAN MAY FALL FROM THE HIGHEST EMINENCE.
III. THE CERTAINTY THAT ONE DAY THE IMPENITENT WILL WANT THEIR OLD TEACHERS.
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