Reading: 1 Sam. 3:19-21; 4:1-11.
This portion of 1 Samuel 3 verse 19 and onwards brings into clear view something which is vitally related to the whole matter of spiritual growth. In the last section of chapter 3 we read: "And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh; for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord." This indicates where the Lord commits Himself and to what the Lord commits Himself. Spiritual growth is entirely a matter of the Lord giving Himself. If the Lord is not with us we shall not grow, and if the Lord does not continually give Himself to us, we shall not grow. Spiritual enlargement is all a matter of the Lord continually allying and associating Himself, and here we find the Lord giving Himself, committing Himself.
And what is it to which the Lord gives Himself that makes for this kind of growth? Well, you have to go back to the beginning and say that it is to sonship. In a word, God was going on with what was of Christ. The word 'sonship', of course, sums that up, but it is very important that we realise and make this discrimination that God is not going on with a man or with any man or with any thing; He is only going on with what is of Christ. That is why I read on into chapter 4. The ark brings in what is of Christ. The ark, as you know, is a type of Christ, and that is brought right to the fore. Samuel and the ark in principle are one. Samuel's birth as the miracle of God (sonship brought out of death by resurrection) is in principle Christ. The ark is Christ in type, and God is committing Himself to, and going on with what is of Christ.
You notice two things about Samuel and about Israel. Firstly, God is not going on with Israel as Israel; and there will come a time when Samuel grows old, and spiritual weakness will come in, and it will be said, "Samuel was old... and his sons walked not in his ways" (1 Sam. 8:1,3). It is a repetition of Eli and his sons again; a picture of spiritual decline. And then, when that happens, even in the case of such a one as Samuel, it is found that something is lost and the Lord is not going on with that, and things go from bad to worse. The Lord does not go on even with Samuel as Samuel the man. He is going on with Samuel as Samuel really expresses Christ and is the embodiment of sonship, of Christ. Israel has an association with the ark and they think that, because they bring the ark in, God is going on with that. They discover He is not. Theirs is a purely superstitious association with the ark. With them, it is a charm, a magic thing that they think will produce some miraculous results irrespective of their spiritual condition, but it does not happen. God is not going on with that. He will go on with no one and nothing but Christ. If Christ is truly there, God is going on with that.
God is not going on with Christianity. He is not going on with anybody because they are professing Christians, because they have joined a Christian church, because they bear the name of a Christian. God is not going on with them on that ground. There may be a good deal of superstition about that, quite hidden and undetected. The idea is that if you are a Christian and belong to a Christian church, well, it is all right; but we find that God is not going on with Christianity as such; He is not going on with Christian churches, so-called, as such; He is not going on with anything that is merely of that external order of things when the people themselves concerned do not correspond to His own thought and represent Christ. God is looking everywhere for what is of Christ, and He allies Himself to that. God is not going on with anything that is other than, or extra to, Christ; even a kind of association with Christ, like Israel's association with the ark, which is not a living one, which is not marked by the very character of Christ. As Christians we do lots of things, we think, for the Lord, but find the Lord is not going on with them. We get a whole tremendous structure of Christian activity and work and Christian things, but find the Lord is not committing Himself at all. It is some thing; it is, if you like, Christianity in some form or another, but it may not be Christ.
It was the most devastating thing to Israel to see that when they brought the ark in, that it was captured by the Philistines. We see as the story goes on, that God was with the ark, but He was not with Israel. God had committed Himself to the ark, and its capture by the Philistines was only His sovereign way of showing He was with the ark, not with the people. He will smite Israel for a wrong relationship to the ark. He will smite the Philistines because of their being out of harmony with what the ark represents.
The point is, that when it says that all Israel knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord, when from Dan to Beer-sheba they took account of this and they had to say, 'God is with this man when he speaks; God upholds him and stands by him; you meet God when you meet this man'. When God made people take note of Samuel, drew their attention to Samuel, it was because of what was of Christ there - Sonship. Later in his life it seems that the glory is departing even from Samuel and his house, but that is how all types and figures are. All that is in the Old Testament is imperfect and at last fails. If it was not so, there was no need for Christ to come at all; but that is another matter.
What we must understand is that the Lord is committing Himself to His Son, to Sonship, and it is just the measure of Christ in us and among us that draws out God and finds out how much God is with us. Samuel's growing was real spiritual growing in the knowledge of the Lord. It was, in New Testament thought, the increase of Christ, the increase of spiritual Christ-like stature, and that was the thing that they had to take account of. The Lord made them take account of that.
So the whole matter of spiritual influence, spiritual position, spiritual recognition, is not a matter of the realisation of ambitions at all, or of our becoming something important in the religious world. From God's standpoint, if you have a measure of Christ, He is going to make people take account of that; He is going to bring people to that. If you have an extra measure of Christ, He will bring people to that, He will go on with that, stand by that, and the people who need the Lord will be directed to where the Lord is in proportion to their need, so the Lord will direct them to where that need can be met.
The Lord will stand by Christ. He will not stand by you, He will not stand by me. We may work very hard and be active Christian workers and all that sort of thing, but the Lord is not going on with us, and He is not going on with our work and our system of things. He is only going on with Christ, and the next section in 1 Samuel is a wonderful revelation concerning that with which God goes on, and that with which He does not go on. Although it may be something of tradition, even Israel with all the great tradition, God is not going on even with Israel. The whole Bible shows that God does not go on with Israel just as Israel. He is looking for His Christ, and goes on with Him. God goes on with no one and nothing in itself. He has committed Himself to His Son, and when He finds Him, He says, 'This is where I am; take note of this.' So all Israel, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, knew that where Samuel was, Christ was; here is where God is - with His Son. It is the Spirit of Sonship and the Spirit of His Son that God is looking for in order to commit Himself.