In this issue we give thanks to and pay tribute to brother Don Styles, who served as editor of The Christadelphian Tidings for 20 years. In this his second “retirement” (his first being from his workaday job some time ago), he now serves in an interim capacity as assistant editor. We may hope, also, to see some other writings (books, articles) from brother Don in the times to come.
The prophet Samuel served Israel in several capacities for a considerable time: he was prophet, “priest” of a sort (although not of exactly the correct lineage for that role), and also judge — which was the closest thing to a king in Israel until there were actual, God-appointed kings.
After anointing Saul as king, Samuel prepared to “retire” — at least in part — from the duties he had assumed, as a young man, many years earlier.
In 1 Samuel 12 Samuel gives his farewell speech to the nation. His speech consists of several portions — which, at this juncture, are worth examining in the light of brother Don’s “retirement”. Perhaps Samuel’s speech is worth examining in this broader sense also: that, all around us, in ecclesias and families and Christadelphian organizations as well as secular ones, “time and change are busy ever… man decays and ages move”.
Brother Robert Roberts wrote, well over a century ago, “The contrast between now and [thirty years ago] is great and striking. In the presence of it, most men realize the vanity of human life. The pity is, they don’t see it sooner. The truth teaches us to discern it in the steady current of things beforehand.”
Speaking of a prominent English political leader who had recently passed off the scene, he adds, “The change from the political brightness of thirty years ago to eclipse… has been in progress all the time, like the slowly shifting sky at night. It is so with us all… Wise men note the fact and adjust themselves to it; and in this there is no gloom.”
At every transition (retirement, birth, death, baptism, marriage, succession in positions either spiritual or secular), it is well to remind ourselves that nothing in our present circumstances lasts forever, nor even really for very long. Sooner or later — in the “here and now” perhaps, but surely in the “hereafter” — we all will give accounts of our “stewardship”, in whatever capacities we have acted and served.
And so it was with Samuel’s farewell.
(1) “Whose ox have I taken?” “‘Here I stand [said Samuel to the nation of Israel]. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these, I will make it right.’ ‘You have not cheated or oppressed us,’ [the people] replied. ‘You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.’”
“Samuel said to them, ‘The LORD is witness against you, and also his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.’ ‘He is witness,’ they said” (1 Sam. 12:3-5).
Here Samuel recalls the words of Moses in answer to the false accusations of Korah (Samuel’s ancestor): “I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them” (Num. 16:15).
And these words also seem to point forward to Pilate’s statement to the Jews who brought false charges against Jesus: “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 19:4).
Finally, there is Paul, who asserts the possibility that apostles, or even ecclesial elders and leaders, might “receive their living from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:1-14). Nevertheless, his words elsewhere echo the warning implicit in Samuel’s farewell: “An overseer [‘bishop’: KJV]… must not be… a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:1-3), and “deacons [‘serving brothers’], likewise… must not pursue dishonest gain” (v. 8).
It is good when a man can leave a position of public (or ecclesial) trust, saying truthfully, “I have not lined my own pockets with others’ money. I have not benefited materially in any way from my situation. I have worked for my daily bread. And my own hands have ministered to the needs of others as well as those of my own family. I have been a shepherd and not a wolf.”
(2) “I am going to confront you…” “Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your fathers… If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God — good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers” (1 Sam. 12:7,14,15).
Samuel was a divinely-ordained prophet. We have no such men (or women) in our company today. But, as one brother pointed out to me recently, we do have “editors” (as we also have exhorting and speaking brothers)! And in some measure — and with all due regard for our limitations, in the absence of divine appointment and Holy Spirit gifts and powers — it must be the duty of the editor (and the other brothers) to “declare… all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
To declare the whole counsel of God means, sometimes, to speak or write those things that are uncomfortable, not just to console and uplift (good things in themselves, it is true) but also to confront and warn. It means, sometimes, articulating the concerns of the unseen and unheard majority. Again, it may mean working carefully to preserve and protect the heritage of Bible truth that is our most precious possession. It may mean, other times, cajoling and urging the complacent out of their lethargy and on to better things.
It was the portion of the faithful prophet in Bible times that sometimes he met opposition (perhaps even anger and bitterness and physical threats) from those he tried to serve because he was compelled to say or write something unpopular. And so it can be with editors (as — let’s face it — it may also be with exhorting, lecturing, and teaching brothers, and even sisters teaching Sunday school).
The man who always says the pleasant thing, the smooth thing (Isa. 30:10; Jer. 5:31), will surely be more popular. However, he may have to answer in a day of reckoning, if he knowingly had the opportunity to sound the “trumpet”, to point out a better course, but declined to do so for the sake of his “reputation”.
(3) “The LORD will not reject His people!” And surely also, with any leader, there is a time for comfort — and it should be offered. “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Prov. 11:25). “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land” (Prov. 25:25).
When the nation saw the great miracle brought before their eyes (the only recorded miracle by Samuel) — the sending of thunder and rain at the prophet’s word — they “stood in awe” (1 Sam. 12:18). What they saw, along with what they had heard, led them to repentance.
And Samuel did not hesitate to show them the way back into the favor of God. “For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own” (v. 22).
Samuel offered the repentant nation a drink from the deep wells of refreshing and salvation. He did not obscure God’s promises, and he did not keep a lid on God’s blessings. When affliction and sorrow were followed by repentance, then Samuel showed the people the way to renewal and regeneration.
Sometimes days are dark, and fears abound for the cause of the Truth, and some can only play one tune: “The foundations are being destroyed; what can the righteous do?” (Psa. 11:3). At such times, the wise man ought to remember — and remind those who will listen — that “the LORD is in his holy temple” (Psa. 11:4).
At such a time, when Paul was in prison, and men like Hymeneus and Philetus were undermining the doctrine of the resurrection and destroying the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:17,18), when it seemed that the foundations of the truth were crumbling all around, the apostle himself wrote, “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his’” (v. 19).
There are times when we can do something of great benefit for the Truth, and then there are times when we can do very little. It is then that we need to be reminded that God is in control, and that while He may work slowly and in unseen ways, He works surely. He knows the ones who belong to Him, He finds them with unerring vision, and He lifts them up with omnipotent hands. He will shelter them under the shadow of His wings, and He will spare them as a mother hen spares her young.
So with Samuel here, it can also be the editor’s role (or the exhorting brother’s) to encourage others, even when disappointments and difficulties abound — and sometimes they will.
Thus he reminds everyone that dangers or even apparent failures do not necessarily mean God has abandoned His people, but rather that the present situation is a part of the divine wisdom of trial and probation. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
(4) “I will pray for you!” “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you” (1 Sam. 12:23).
This was the last point in Samuel’s “farewell address”. He had labored as a shepherd and not a predator — he had cared for the flock at great cost to himself. He had warned AND encouraged, challenged AND comforted, those who would listen to him.
Now, finally, when it was time to go, he reiterated his pledge: ‘I will continue to pray for you!’
Here is a job that we need never leave behind. If we cannot, for whatever reason, continue in some other job where we can be of service, there is nothing — no law, no rule, no situation, so long as life remains — in which we cannot continue to pray: for individuals, for ecclesias, for groups of brothers and sisters. For those who teach, for those who preach, for those who write. For those who tend and care for others, for those who are ill, for those who struggle with infirmities of every kind. For those who fall away, for those who seek to learn. And for God’s purpose to be realized speedily in the earth.
None of us can render a full assessment of brother Don’s work. And for that matter, neither can we truly assess the work of ANY of our fellow servants. There is One alone who does that, now and at the Last Day.
But we can observe and acknowledge what we see. In general, we can observe how others have discharged their responsibilities according to Scriptural criteria, such as outlined in Samuel’s speech. And — knowing that final assessments are in the hands of Another, and are a burden we are glad we do not have to shoulder! — we can still thank those who labor in the Lord’s vineyard… for what we see them do.
Brother Don, it is little enough for the work of twenty years, but… thank you!
(And to Sister Ellen — Bible student, wife, mother, counselor, proofreader, and friend — a special thanks also!)