Saul's Question Improved
James Smith, 1865
"Saul said to his servant: If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?" 1 Samuel 9:7
Thus inquired Saul, when about to present himself before Samuel, to whom it was customary to make a present; and thus ought we to inquire, who are about to appear before God's just tribunal. We are summoned — and we must obey. The warrant is ready, and nothing is wanting — but for the date of the day when we must appear to be affixed. That may be done at any moment, and then, however short the notice, the messenger sent will insist upon our going with him. We cannot hide from him, we cannot effectually resist him. The surgeon and the physician may try, the prayers of the godly may try — but the warrant once dated, all is over — and we must "appear before the judgment seat of Christ." But how shall we appear? What will be the result of our appearing? "What do we have?"
Have we a righteousness which will answer all the claims of God's holy law? If not, what shall we do? God is strictly just. He will by no means clear, or acquit, the guilty. If any one sin is chargeable upon us, he will not acquit us. He cannot consistently with his own word. One sin will sink us to the depths of Hell. We must be righteous — or we shall be eternally condemned. We must present to divine justice all that the law requires — or we are eternally undone. Have we, then, such a righteousness?
If so, how did we come by it? We could not produce it, for our hearts are both wicked and weak. Whatever comes from the heart answers to the nature of the heart from which it comes. Now, our hearts are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who, then, can bring a perfect righteousness out of such a polluted heart? Not one! Not one of our works by nature is good — much less every one of our works! But it takes the motives, thoughts, purposes, plans, words, and actions of a whole life — to make up a righteousness which God will accept.
Now, unless every motive that has influenced us,
every thought that has been conceived by us,
every purpose and plan that we have formed,
every word we have spoken, and
every action that we have performed
— has been perfectly holy, spotless as the driven snow — we have not the righteousness which God requires, and without which God cannot justify us!
How, then, can man be just before God? How can we be acquitted before God's bar? Is there a possibility of this? Yes, there is. God has devised a way, and the gospel reveals it. A way in which he can be just — and yet the justifier of any sinner who believes in Jesus. We could not produce the righteousness required — but Jesus could and has done so. His obedience unto death was in the sinner's stead. His righteousness was wrought as the sinner's substitute — and it was accepted by the Judge of all. It is now called the "righteousness of God," "the gift of righteousness," "the righteousness which is by faith." The gospel presents it to us — and faith receives and appropriates it. It is placed to the account of every one who believes.
Have you this righteousness? You cannot be justified without it — you cannot be condemned with it. "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). "What do we have?"
Have we a holy nature? We cannot enter Heaven without this; and if we could — we would never enjoy it. Sin is a disease — as well as a crime. We must not only be pardoned — but healed. We must be sanctified — as well as justified. Those two blessings are never separated. Nor can they be, for the one would be useless without the other. If only justified — we would be incapable of enjoying spiritual things; just as the sick man, confined to his bed by disease, is incapable of enjoying natural things. If only sanctified — we would have no title to life, or to Heavenly enjoyments; but would be like the healthy man, who stands charged with many crimes, and is consequently confined in a prison, and loaded with irons.
We must be born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. The heart must be turned against sin. The soul must be restored to God's image. Holiness must become our element, our delight, and our health. We must have a new nature, a new heart, a new disposition; for without this, we have no real religion.
We have nothing that will satisfy God's justice — except we have a perfect righteousness; and we have nothing that will please God's holiness — unless we are washed and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
God mercifully saves us — but it is by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit. "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord;" that is, with comfort and peace. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
Have we holiness?
Do we hate sin?
Do we mourn over sin?
Do we watch against sin?
Do we humbly confess sin?
Do we loathe ourselves on account of sin?
Do we feel at times as if we could not bear, or have patience with ourselves, on account of sin?
Do we pray for holiness daily, heartily, in downright earnest?
If so, the Spirit of God, as the spirit of holiness, dwells in us. If we have the righteousness of Jesus upon us, and the Spirit of holiness within us — then we may go before God with as little fear as Saul appeared before Samuel; and he will inform us of a kingdom, and confer on us a crown, far superior to that which Saul possessed, or Samuel made known.