1 Kings 20:11
And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girds on his harness boast himself as he that puts it off.
I. THE GENERAL VIEW OF LIFE THAT IS IMPLIED IN THIS SAYING. There is nothing that the bulk of people are more unwilling to do than steadily to think about what life is as a whole, and in its deepest aspects is. And that disinclination is strong, as I suppose, in the average young man or young woman. That comes, plainly enough, from the very blessings of your stage of life. Physical, unworn health, a blessed inexperience of failures and limitations, the sense of undeveloped power within you, the natural buoyancy of early days, all tend to make you rather live by impulse than by reflection. There are some of us to whom, so far as we have thought at all, life presents itself mainly as a shop, a place where we are to buy and sell, and get gain, and use our evenings, after the day's work is over, for such recreation as suits us. But whilst there are many other noble metaphors under which we can set forth the essential character of this.mysterious, tremendous life of ours, I do not know that there is one that ought to appal slumbering heroism, which lies in every human soul, and the enthusiasms which unless you in your youth cherish you will be beggared indeed in your manhood, than this picture of my text suggests. After an, life is meant to be one long conflict. Even upon the lower levels of life that is so. No man learns a science or a trade without having to fight for it. But high above these lower levels there is the one on which we all are called to walk — the high level of duty — and no man does what his conscience tells him, or refrains from that which his conscience sternly forbids, without having to fight for it. We are in the lists compelled to draw the sword. You are a soldier, whether you will or not, and life is a fight, whether you understand the conditions or no.
II. NOTE THE BOASTFUL TEMPER WHICH IS SURE TO BE BEATEN. No doubt there is something inspiring in the spectacle of the young warrior standing there, chafing at the lists, eagerly pulling on his gauntlets, and fitting on his helmet, and longing to be in the thick of the fight. No doubt, there is something in your early days which makes such buoyant hopes and anticipations of success natural, and which gives you, as a great gift, that expectation of victory. So I ask, have you ever estimated, are you now estimating rightly, what it is that you have to fight for? To make yourselves pure, wise, strong, self-governing, Christlike men, such as God would have you to be. That is not a small thing for a man to set himself to do. Have you considered the forces that are arrayed against you? "What act is all its thought had been?" Hand and brain are never paired. There is always a gap between the conception and its realisation. The painter stands before his canvas, and, while others may see beauty in it, he only sees what a small fragment of the radiant vision that floated before his eye his hand has been able to preserve. Have you realised how different it is to dream things and to do them? In our dreams we are, as it were, working in vacuo. When we come to acts, the atmosphere has a resistance. It is easy to imagine ourselves victorious in circumstances where things are all going rightly, and are blending according to our own desires, but when we come to the grim world, where there are things that resist, and people are not plastic, it is a very different matter. I suppose that our colleges are full of students who are going to far outstrip their professors, that every life-school has a dozen lads who have just begun to handle easel and brush, that are going to put Raphael in the shade. I suppose that every lawyer's office has a budding Lord Chancellor or two in it. All us old people, whose deficiencies and limitations you see so clearly, had the same dreams, impossible as it may appear to you, fifty years ago. We were going to be the men, and wisdom was going to die with us, and you see what we have made of it. You will not do much better. Have you ever taken stock honestly of your own resources? You are not old enough to remember, as some of us do, the delirious enthusiasm with which, in the last Franco-German war, the emperor and the troops left Paris, and how, as the trains steamed out of the station, shouts were raised, "A Berlin!" Ay! and they never got further than Sedan, and there an emperor and an army were captured. Go into the fight bragging and you will come out of it beaten.
III. NOTE THE CONFIDENCE WHICH IS NOT BOASTING. If there is nothing more to be said about the fight than has been already said, that is the conclusion. "Let us eat and drink," not only for to-morrow we die, but "for to-day we are sure to be beaten." But I have only been speaking about this self-distrust as preliminary to what is the main thing that I desire to urge upon you now, and it is this: You do not need to be beaten. There is no room for boasting, but there is room for absolute confidence. "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." That was not the boast of a man putting on the harness, but the calm utterance of the conquering Christ when He was putting it off. He has conquered that you may conquer. There is possible a triumph which is not boasting for him who puts off the harness. The war-worn soldier has little heart for boasting, but he may be able to say, "I have not been beaten." The best of us, when we come to the end, will have to recognise in retrospect failures, deficiencies, palterings with evil, yieldings to temptation, sins of many sorts, that will take all boasting out of our heads. But, whilst that is so, there is sometimes granted to the man that has been faithful in his adherence to Jesus Christ gleam of sunshine at eventide which foretells Heaven's welcome and "well done" before it is uttered.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.