By T. De Witt Talmage
"And Samson went down to Timnath."--JUDGES xiv: 1.
There are two sides to the character of Samson. The one phase of his life, if followed into the particulars, would administer to the grotesque and the mirthful; but there is a phase of his character fraught with lessons of solemn and eternal import. To these graver lessons we devote our morning sermon.
This giant no doubt in early life gave evidences of what he was to be. It is almost always so. There were two Napoleons--the boy Napoleon and the man Napoleon--but both alike; two Howards--the boy Howard and the man Howard--but both alike; two Samsons--the boy Samson and the man Samson--but both alike. This giant was no doubt the hero of the playground, and nothing could stand before his exhibitions of youthful prowess. At eighteen years of age he was betrothed to the daughter of a Philistine. Going down toward Timnath, a lion came out upon him, and, although this young giant was weaponless, he seized the monster by the long mane and shook him as a hungry hound shakes a March hare, and made his bones crack, and left him by the wayside bleeding under the smiting of his fist and the grinding heft of his heel.
There he stands, looming up above other men, a mountain of flesh, his arms bunched with muscle that can lift the gate of a city, taking an attitude defiant of everything. His hair had never been cut, and it rolled down in seven great plaits over his shoulders, adding to his bulk, fierceness, and terror. The Philistines want to conquer him, and therefore they must find out where the secret of his strength lies.
There is a dissolute woman living in the valley of Sorek by the name of Delilah. They appoint her the agent in the case. The Philistines are secreted in the same building, and then Delilah goes to work and coaxes Samson to tell what is the secret of his strength. "Well," he says, "if you should take seven green withes such as they fasten wild beasts with and put them around me I should be perfectly powerless." So she binds him with the seven green withes. Then she claps her hands and says: "They come--the Philistines!" and he walks out as though they were no impediment. She coaxes him again, and says: "Now tell me the secret of this great strength?" and he replies: "If you should take some ropes that have never been used and tie me with them I should be just like other men." She ties him with the ropes, claps her hands, and shouts: "They come--the Philistines!" He walks out as easily as he did before--not a single obstruction. She coaxes him again, and he says: "Now, if you should take these seven long plaits of hair, and by this house-loom weave them into a web, I could not get away." So the house-loom is rolled up, and the shuttle flies backward and forward and the long plaits of hair are woven into a web. Then she claps her hands, and says: "They come--the Philistines!" He walks out as easily as he did before, dragging a part of the loom with him.
But after awhile she persuades him to tell the truth. He says: "If you should take a razor or shears and cut off this long hair, I should be powerless and in the hands of my enemies." Samson sleeps, and that she may not wake him up during the process of shearing, help is called in. You know that the barbers of the East have such a skillful way of manipulating the head to this very day that, instead of waking up a sleeping man, they will put a man wide awake sound asleep. I hear the blades of the shears grinding against each other, and I see the long locks falling off. The shears or razor accomplishes what green withes and new ropes and house-loom could not do. Suddenly she claps her hands, and says: "The Philistines be upon thee, Samson!" He rouses up with a struggle, but his strength is all gone. He is in the hands of his enemies.
I hear the groan of the giant as they take his eyes out, and then I see him staggering on in his blindness, feeling his way as he goes on toward Gaza. The prison door is open, and the giant is thrust in. He sits down and puts his hands on the mill-crank, which, with exhausting horizontal motion, goes day after day, week after week, month after month--work, work, work! The consternation of the world in captivity, his locks shorn, his eyes punctured, grinding corn in Gaza!
I. First of all, behold in this giant of the text that physical power is not always an index of moral power. He was a huge man--the lion found it out, and the three thousand men whom he slew found it out; yet he was the subject of petty revenges and out-gianted by low passion. I am far from throwing any discredit upon physical stamina. There are those who seem to have great admiration for delicacy and sickliness of constitution. I never could see any glory in weak nerves or sick headache. Whatever effort in our day is made to make the men and women more robust should have the favor of every good citizen as well as of every Christian. Gymnastics may be positively religious.
Good people sometimes ascribe to a wicked heart what they ought to ascribe to a slow liver. The body and the soul are such near neighbors that they often catch each other's diseases. Those who never saw a sick day, and who, like Hercules, show the giant in the cradle, have more to answer for than those who are the subjects of life-long infirmities. He who can lift twice as much as you can, and walk twice as far, and work twice as long, will have a double account to meet in the judgment.
How often it is that you do not find physical energy indicative of spiritual power! If a clear head is worth more than one dizzy with perpetual vertigo--if muscles with the play of health in them are worth more than those drawn up in chronic "rheumatics"--if an eye quick to catch passing objects is better than one with vision dim and uncertain--then God will require of us efficiency just in proportion to what he has given us. Physical energy ought to be a type of moral power. We ought to have as good digestion of truth as we have capacity to assimilate food. Our spiritual hearing ought to be as good as our physical hearing. Our spiritual taste ought to be as clear as our tongue. Samsons in body, we ought to be giants in moral power.
But while you find a great many men who realize that they ought to use their money aright, and use their intelligence aright, how few men you find aware of the fact that they ought to use their physical organism aright! With every thump of the heart there is something saying, "Work! work!" and, lest we should complain that we have no tools to work with, God gives us our hands and feet, with every knuckle, and with every joint, and with every muscle saying to us, "Lay hold and do something."
But how often it is that men with physical strength do not serve Christ! They are like a ship full manned and full rigged, capable of vast tonnage, able to endure all stress of weather, yet swinging idly at the docks, when these men ought to be crossing and recrossing the great ocean of human suffering and sin with God's supplies of mercy. How often it is that physical strength is used in doing positive damage, or in luxurious ease, when, with sleeves rolled up and bronzed bosom, fearless of the shafts of opposition, it ought to be laying hold with all its might, and tugging away to lift up this sunken wreck of a world.
It is a most shameful fact that much of the business of the Church and of the world must be done by those comparatively invalid. Richard Baxter, by reason of his diseases, all his days sitting in the door of the tomb, yet writing more than a hundred volumes, and sending out an influence for God that will endure as long as the "Saints' Everlasting Rest." Edward Payson, never knowing a well day, yet how he preached, and how he wrote, helping thousands of dying souls like himself to swim in a sea of glory! And Robert M'Cheyne, a walking skeleton, yet you know what he did in Dundee, and how he shook Scotland with zeal for God. Philip Doddridge, advised by his friends, because of his illness, not to enter the ministry, yet you know what he did for the "rise and progress of religion" in the Church and in the world.
Wilberforce was told by his doctors that he could not live a fortnight, yet at that very time entering upon philanthropic enterprises that demanded the greatest endurance and persistence. Robert Hall, suffering excruciations, so that often in his pulpit while preaching he would stop and lie down on a sofa, then getting up again to preach about heaven until the glories of the celestial city dropped on the multitude, doing more work, perhaps, than almost any well man in his day.
Oh, how often it is that men with great physical endurance are not as great in moral and spiritual stature! While there are achievements for those who are bent all their days with sickness--achievements of patience, achievements of Christian endurance--I call upon men of health to-day, men of muscle, men of nerve, men of physical power, to devote themselves to the Lord. Giants in body, you ought to be giants in soul.
II. Behold also, in the story of my text, illustration of the fact of the damage that strength can do if it be misguided. It seems to me that this man spent a great deal of his time in doing evil--this Samson of my text. To pay a bet which he had lost by guessing of his riddle he robs and kills thirty people. He was not only gigantic in strength, but gigantic in mischief, and a type of those men in all ages of the world who, powerful in body or mind, or any faculty of social position or wealth, have used their strength for iniquitous purposes.
It is not the small, weak men of the day who do the damage. These small men who go swearing and loafing about your stores and shops and banking-houses, assailing Christ and the Bible and the Church--they do not do the damage. They have no influence. They are vermin that you crush with your foot. But it is the giants of the day, the misguided giants, giants in physical power, or giants in mental acumen, or giants in social position, or giants in wealth, who do the damage.
The men with sharp pens that stab religion and throw their poison all through our literature; the men who use the power of wealth to sanction iniquity, and bribe justice, and make truth and honor bow to their golden scepter.
Misguided giants--look out for them! In the middle and the latter part of the last century no doubt there were thousands of men in Paris and Edinburgh and London who hated God and blasphemed the name of the Almighty; but they did but little mischief--they were small men, insignificant men. Yet there were giants in those days.
Who can calculate the soul-havoc of a Rousseau, going on with a very enthusiasm of iniquity, with fiery imagination seizing upon all the impulsive natures of his day? or David Hume, who employed his life as a spider employs its summer, in spinning out silken webs to trap the unwary? or Voltaire, the most learned man of his day, marshaling a great host of skeptics, and leading them out in the dark land of infidelity? or Gibbon, who showed an uncontrollable grudge against religion in his history of one of the most fascinating periods of the world's existence--the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire--a book in which, with all the splendors of his genius, he magnified the errors of Christian disciples, while, with a sparseness of notice that never can be forgiven, he treated of the Christian heroes of whom the world was not worthy?
Oh, men of stout physical health, men of great mental stature, men of high social position, men of great power of any sort, I want you to understand your power, and I want you to know that that power devoted to God will be a crown on earth, to you typical of a crown in heaven; but misguided, bedraggled in sin, administrative of evil, God will thunder against you with His condemnation in the day when millionaire and pauper, master and slave, king and subject, shall stand side by side in the judgment, and money-bags, and judicial ermine, and royal robe shall be riven with the lightnings.
Behold also, how a giant may be slain of a woman. Delilah started the train of circumstances that pulled down the temple of Dagon about Samson's ears. And tens of thousands of giants have gone down to death and hell through the same impure fascinations. It seems to me that it is high time that pulpit and platform and printing-press speak out against the impurities of modern society. Fastidiousness and Prudery say: "Better not speak--you will rouse up adverse criticism; you will make worse what you want to make better; better deal in glittering generalities; the subject is too delicate for polite ears." But there comes a voice from heaven overpowering the mincing sentimentalities of the day, saying: "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgressions and the house of Jacob their sins."
The trouble is that when people write or speak upon this theme they are apt to cover it up with the graces of belles-lettres, so that the crime is made attractive instead of repulsive. Lord Byron in "Don Juan" adorns this crime until it smiles like a May queen. Michelet, the great French writer, covers it up with bewitching rhetoric until it glows like the rising sun, when it ought to be made loathsome as a small-pox hospital. There are to-day influences abroad which, if unresisted by the pulpit and the printing-press, will turn New York and Brooklyn into Sodom and Gomorrah, fit only for the storm of fire and brimstone that whelmed the cities of the plain.
You who are seated in your Christian homes, compassed by moral and religious restraints, do not realize the gulf of iniquity that bounds you on the north and the south and the east and the west. While I speak there are tens of thousands of men and women going over the awful plunge of an impure life; and while I cry to God for mercy upon their souls, I call upon you to marshal in the defense of your homes, your Church and your nation. There is a banqueting hall that you have never heard described. You know all about the feast of Ahasuerus, where a thousand lords sat. You know all about Belshazzar's carousal, where the blood of the murdered king spurted into the faces of the banqueters. You may know of the scene of riot and wassail, when there was set before Esopus one dish of food that cost $400,000. But I speak now of a different banqueting hall. Its roof is fretted with fire. Its floor is tesselated with fire. Its chalices are chased with fire. Its song is a song of fire. Its walls are buttresses of fire. Solomon refers to it when he says: "Her guests are in the depths of hell."
Our American communities are suffering from the gospel of Free Loveism, which, fifteen or twenty years ago, was preached on the platform and in some of the churches of this country. I charge upon Free Loveism that it has blighted innumerable homes, and that it has sent innumerable souls to ruin. Free Loveism is bestial; it is worse--it is infernal! It has furnished this land with about one thousand divorces annually. In one county in the State of Indiana it furnished eleven divorces in one day before dinner. It has roused up elopements, North, South, East, and West. You can hardly take up a paper but you read of an elopement. As far as I can understand the doctrine of Free Loveism it is this: That every man ought to have somebody else's wife, and every wife somebody else's husband. They do not like our Christian organization of society, and I wish they would all elope, the wretches of one sex taking the wretches of the other, and start to-morrow morning for the great Sahara Desert, until the simoom shall sweep seven feet of sand all over them, and not one passing caravan for the next five hundred years bring back one miserable bone of their carcasses! Free Loveism! It is the double-distilled extract of nux vomica, ratsbane, and adder's tongue. Never until society goes back to the old Bible, and hears its eulogy of purity and its anathema of uncleanness--never until then will this evil be extirpated.
IV. Behold also in this giant of the text and in the giant of our own century that great physical power must crumble and expire. The Samson of the text long ago went away. He fought the lion. He fought the Philistines. He could fight anything, but death was too much for him. He may have required a longer grave and a broader grave; but the tomb nevertheless was his terminus.
If, then, we are to be compelled to go out of this world, where are we to go to? This body and soul must soon part. What shall be the destiny of the former I know--dust to dust. But what shall be the destiny of the latter? Shall it rise into the companionship of the white-robed, whose sins Christ has slain? or will it go down among the unbelieving, who tried to gain the world and save their souls, but were swindled out of both? Blessed be God, we have a Champion! He is so styled in the Bible: A Champion who has conquered death and hell, and he is ready to fight all our battles from the first to the last. "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah, mighty to save?" If we follow in the wake of that Champion death has no power and the grave no victory. The worst man trusting in Him shall have his dying pangs alleviated and his future illumined.
V. In the light of this subject I want to call your attention to a fact which may not have been rightly considered by five men in this house, and that is the fact that we must be brought into judgment for the employment of our physical organism. Shoulder, brain, hand, foot--we must answer in judgment for the use we have made of them. Have they been used for the elevation of society or for its depression? In proportion as our arm is strong and our step elastic will our account at last be intensified. Thousands of sermons are preached to invalids. I preach this sermon this morning to stout men and healthful women. We must give to God an account for the right use of this physical organism.
These invalids have comparatively little to account for, perhaps. They could not lift twenty pounds. They could not walk half a mile without sitting down to rest. In the preparation of this subject I have said to myself, how shall I account to God in judgment for the use of a body which never knew one moment of real sickness? Rising up in judgment, standing beside the men and women who had only little physical energy, and yet consumed that energy in a conflagration of religious enthusiasm, how will we feel abashed!
Oh, men of the strong arm and the stout heart, what use are you making of your physical forces? Will you be able to stand the test of that day when we must answer for the use of every talent, whether it were a physical energy, or a mental acumen, or a spiritual power?
The day approaches, and I see one who in this world was an invalid, and as she stands before the throne of God to answer she says, "I was sick all my days. I had but very little strength, but I did as well as I could in being kind to those who were more sick and more suffering." And Christ will say, "Well done, faithful servant."
And then a little child will stand before the throne, and she will say, "On earth I had a curvature of the spine, and I was very weak, and I was very sick; but I used to gather flowers out of the wild-wood and bring them to my sick mother, and she was comforted when she saw the sweet flowers out of the wild-wood. I didn't do much, but I did something." And Christ shall say, as He takes her up in His arm and kisses her, "Well done, well done, faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
What, then, will be said to us--we to whom the Lord gave physical strength and continuous health? Hark! it thunders again. The judgment! the judgment!
I said to an old Scotch minister, who was one of the best friends I ever had, "Doctor, did you ever know Robert Pollock, the Scotch poet, who wrote 'The Course of Time'?" "Oh, yes," he replied, "I knew him well; I was his classmate." And then the doctor went on to tell me how that the writing of "The Course of Time" exhausted the health of Robert Pollock, and he expired. It seems as if no man could have such a glimpse of the day for which all other days were made as Robert Pollock had, and long survive that glimpse. In the description of that day he says, among other things:
"Begin the woe, ye woods, and tell it to the doleful winds
And doleful winds wail to the howling hills,
And howling hills mourn to the dismal vales,
And dismal vales sigh to the sorrowing brooks,
And sorrowing brooks weep to the weeping stream,
And weeping stream awake the groaning deep;
Ye heavens, great archway of the universe, put sack-cloth on;
And ocean, robe thyself in garb of widowhood,
And gather all thy waves into a groan, and utter it.
Long, loud, deep, piercing, dolorous, immense.
The occasion asks it, Nature dies, and angels come to lay
her in her grave."
What Robert Pollock saw in poetic dream, you and I will see in positive reality--the judgment! the judgment!