“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” 2nd Corinthians 7:10
Saul fails to carry out the Lord’s command, and so Samuel communicates God’s decision to remove him from the throne. Though he affects repentance, and indeed does regret his loss, we can see that he is grieved by his loss more than by his sin. Saul’s fingers remain clutched upon Israel, so God must tear the kingdom from him.
More terrible than the loss of the kingdom is the path which Saul’s life than takes.
He was a tall, handsome, valiant leader. It seemed he was a man born to be king. And perhaps this is what made the loss of the kingship so difficult for him. He may have believed that his position and prestige were his by right. It is probably this mindset that set him on the road to madness and destruction. By clinging to his rights, he became set against God.
On occasion, Saul would recall the truth. When the music of grace played in his ear, his madness would lift. When his life had been spared, the kingdom would look small and unimportant for a time. In such moments, he could briefly recall righteousness, but he could not keep himself in the way.
By cling to his own plans and desires, Saul created a division between himself and God.
Occasional moments of gracious, God-given sanity would find him, would raise him above his own precious meditations, but never could Saul make these an occasion to tear from himself the idols of his heart. His treasure was not in God alone. He forever held out his hope for the restoration of his kingship. Thus, like gravity, he would return to the ground of his obsession, and set himself against the Kingdom of God.
In his final act, a suicide, he displays the divisive nature of his madness, an obsession which ultimately set him against his Creator and his very self.
In Saul, we are warned by way of moral allegory, to guard our hearts.
We set up plans, goals, and purposes for ourselves. But if these prove not to be God’s, to cling to them is to cling to an idol and permit division between our heart and our hearts true Happiness. These idols rend us in twain and make it impossible to repent while we allow them to remain. We cannot serve two masters.
When grace comes, we see the futility and emptiness of such idols and delight in the peace and fellowship of God.
Let us not fail to take hold of Him; let us not fail to invite him to cleanse the temple. Let every moment of grace be an invitation to boldly name our sin as sin, and cast it away from ourselves.
For in Saul, we see that one can become so insensitive to such grace, so divided in the self, that one can no longer take hold of godly repentance.
Does this mean that God’s grace is insufficient? By no means! But God will not be mocked. Let us not (as in Hebrews six) make the cross of no effect. Let us not be like one, who not taking his medicine aright the first time, becomes more and insensitive, until one becomes immune to it power.
Yet, lest we despair (due to the number or persistence of our sin), let us avail ourselves of true faith, prayer, confession, fellowship, and the wisdom of the wise. Though regret is not a sufficient sign of grace, it is yet a sign that we have not so separated ourselves from God so completely as to become wholly insensitive to his word.
Though the Way be Difficult
By way of final encouragement and admonition, we have been told to “ask,” to “knock,” and to “seek.” From this it can be inferred that we are expected to go far in our pursuit of God’s power. We should not expect it to be the work of a day or even a year. It is more properly the work of an entire lifetime.
The Lord does not expect us to arrive at perfection in all things, but he expects all his children to have set themselves in the way of pursuit. Let us not presume upon grace, or lie to ourselves about our progress upon the way, when we have hardly even made a beginning.
May we by grace in faith persistent in this pursuit that others might see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven; “For from him and through him and for him are all things” (Matthew 5:16; Romans 11:36).
*Inspired in part by Talkative & the Man in an Iron Cage of Pilgrim’s Progress (I.3) & Jonathan Edward’s Religious Affections