Expositor's Bible Commentary
And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them.CHAPTER XXIII.
ABSALOM'S DEFEAT AND DEATH.
2 Samuel 18:1-18.
WHATEVER fears of defeat and destruction might occasionally flit across David's soul between his flight from Jerusalem and the battle in the wood of Ephraim, it is plain both from his actions and from his songs that his habitual frame was one of serenity and trust. The number of psalms ascribed to this period of his life may be in excess of the truth; but that his heart was in near communion with God all the time we cannot doubt. Situated as his present refuge was not far from Peniel, where Jacob had wrestled with the angel, we may believe that there were wrestlings again in the neighbourhood not unworthy to be classed with that from which Peniel derived its memorable name.
In the present emergency .the answer to prayer consisted, first, in the breathing-time secured by the success of Hushai's counsel; second, in the countenance and support of the friends raised up to David near Mahanaim; and last, not least, in the spirit of wisdom and harmony with which all the arrangements were made for the inevitable encounter. Every step was taken with prudence, while every movement of his opponents seems to have been a blunder. It was wise in David, as we have already seen, to cross the Jordan and retire into Gilead; it was wise in him to make Mahanaim his headquarters; it was wise to divide his army into three parts, for a reason that will presently be seen; and it was wise to have a wood in the neighbourhood of the battlefield, though it could not have been foreseen how this was to bear on the individual on whose behalf the insurrection had taken place.
By this time the followers of David had grown to the dimensions of an army. We are furnished with no means of knowing its actual number. Josephus puts it at four thousand, but, judging from some casual expressions ("David set captains of hundreds and captains of thousands over them," 2 Samuel 18:1; "Now thou art worth ten thousand of us," 2 Samuel 18:3; "The people came by thousands," 2 Samuel 18:4), we should infer that David's force amounted to a good many thousands. The division of the army into three parts, however, reminding us, as it does, of Gideon's division of his little force into three, would seem to imply that David's force was far inferior in number to Absalom's. The insurrectionary army must have been very large, and stretching over a great breadth of country, would have presented far too wide a line to be effectually dealt with by a single body of troops, comparatively small. Gideon had divided his handful into three that he might make a simultaneous impression on three different parts of the Midianite host, and thus contribute the better to the defeat of the whole. So David divided his army into three, that, meeting Absalom's at three different points, he might prevent a concentration of the enemy that would have swallowed up his whole force. David had the advantage of choosing his ground, and his military instinct and long experience would doubtless enable him to do this with great effect. His three generals were able and valuable leaders. The aged king was prepared to take part in the battle, believing that his presence would be helpful to his men; but the people would not allow him to run the risk. Aged and somewhat infirm as he seems to have been, wearied with his flight, and weakened with the anxieties of so distressing an occasion, the excitement of the battle might have proved too much for him, even if he had escaped the enemy's sword. Besides, everything depended on him; if his place were discovered by the enemy, their hottest assault would be directed to it; and if he should fall, there would be left no cause to fight for. "It is better," they said to him, "that thou succour us out of the city." What kind of succour could he render there? Only the succour that Moses and his two attendants rendered to Israel in the fight with Amalek in the wilderness, when Moses held up his hands, and Aaron and Hur propped them up. He might pray for them; he could do no more.
By this time Absalom had probably obtained the great object of his ambition; he had mustered Israel from Dan to Beersheba, and found himself at the head of an array very magnificent in appearance, but, like most Oriental gatherings of the kind, somewhat unwieldy and unworkable. This great conglomeration was now in the immediate neighbourhood of Mahanaim, and must have seemed as if by sheer weight of material it would crush any force that could be brought against it. We read that the battle took place "in the wood of Ephraim." This could not be a wood in the tribe of Ephraim, for that was on the other side of Jordan, but a wood in Gilead, that for some reason unknown to us had been called by that name. The whole region is still richly wooded, and among its prominent trees is one called the prickly oak. A dense wood would obviously be unsuitable for battle, but a wooded district, with clumps here and there, especially on the hill-sides, and occasional trees and brushwood scattered over the plains, would present many advantages to a smaller force opposing the onset of a larger. In the American war of 1755 some of the best troops of England were nearly annihilated in a wood near Pittsburg in Pennsylvania, the Indians leveling their rifles unseen from behind the trees, and discharging them with yells that were even more terrible than their weapons. We may fancy the three battalions of David making a vigorous onslaught on Absalom's troops as they advanced into the wooded country, and when they began to retreat through the woods, and got entangled in brushwood, or jammed together by thickset trees, discharging arrows at them, or falling on them with the sword, with most disastrous effect. "There was a great slaughter that day of twenty thousand men. For the battle there was scattered over the face of all the country, and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured." Many of David's men were probably natives of the country, and in their many encounters with the neighbouring nations had become familiar with the warfare of "the bush." Here was one benefit of the choice of Mahanaim by David as his rallying-ground. The people that joined him from that quarter knew the ground, and knew how to adapt it to fighting purposes; the most of Absalom's forces had been accustomed to the bare wadies and limestone rocks of Western Palestine, and, when caught in the thickets, could neither use their weapons nor save themselves by flight.
Very touching, if not very business-like, had been David's instructions to his generals about Absalom: "The king commanded Joab and Abishai and Ittai saying, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains charge concerning Absalom." It is interesting to observe that David fully expects to win. There is no hint of any alternative, as if Absalom would not fall into their hands. David knows that he is going to conquer, as well as he knew it when he went against the giant. The confidence which is breathed in the third Psalm is apparent here. Faith saw his enemies already defeated. "Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheekbone; Thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth unto the Lord; Thy blessing is upon Thy people." In a pitched battle, God could not give success to a godless crew, whose whole enterprise was undertaken to drive God's anointed one from his throne. Temporary and partial successes they might have, but final success it was morally impossible for God to accord. It was not the spirit of his own troops, nor the undisciplined condition of the opposing host, that inspired this confidence, but the knowledge that there was a God in Israel, who would not suffer His anointed to perish, nor the impious usurper to triumph over him.
We cannot tell whether Absalom was visited with any misgivings as to the result before the battle began. Very probably he was not. Having no faith in God, he would make no account whatever of what David regarded as the Divine palladium of his cause. But if he entered on the battle confident of success, his anguish is not to be conceived when he saw his troops yield to panic, and, in wild disorder, try to dash through the wood. Dreadful miseries must have overwhelmed him. He does not appear to have made any attempt to rally his troops. Riding on a mule, in his haste to escape, he probably plunged into some thick part of the wood, where his head came in contact with a mass of prickly oak; struggling to make a way through it, he only entangled his hair more hopelessly in the thicket; then, raising himself in the saddle to attack it with his hands, his mule went from under him, and left him hanging between heaven and earth, maddened by pain, enraged at the absurdity of his plight, and storming against his attendants, none of whom was near him in his time of need. Nor was this the worst of it. Absalom was probably among the foremost of the fugitives, and we can hardly suppose but that many of his own people fled that way after him. Could it be that all of them were so eager to escape that not one of them would stop to help their king? What a contrast the condition of Absalom when fortune turned against him to that of his father! Dark though David's trials had been, and seemingly desperate his position, he had not been left alone in its sudden horrors; the devotion of strangers, as well as the fidelity of a few attached friends, had cheered him, and had the worst disaster befallen him, had his troops been routed and his cause ruined, there were warm and bold hearts that would not have deserted him in his extremity, that would have formed a wall around him, and with their lives defended his grey hairs. But when the hour of calamity came to Absalom it found him alone. Even Saul had his armour-bearer at his side when he fled over Gilboa; but neither armour-bearer nor friend attended Absalom as he fled from the battle of the wood of Ephraim. It would have been well for him if he had really gained a few of the many hearts he stole. Much though moralists tell us of the heartlessness of the world in the hour of adversity, we should not have expected to light on so extreme a case of it. We can hardly withhold a tear at the sight of the unhappy youth, an hour ago with thousands eager to obey him, and a throne before him, apparently secure from danger; now hanging helpless between earth and heaven, with no companion but an evil conscience, and no prospect but the judgment of an offended God.
A recent writer, in his "History of the English People" (Green), when narrating the fall of Cardinal Wolsey, powerfully describes the way of Providence in suffering a career of unexampled wickedness and ambition to go on from one degree of prosperity to another, till the moment of doom arrives, when all is shattered by a single blow. There was long delay, but "the hour of reckoning at length arrived. Slowly the hand had crawled along the dial-plate, slowly as if the event would never come; and wrong was heaped on wrong, and oppression cried, and it seemed as if no ear had heard its voice, till the measure of the wickedness was at length fulfilled. The finger touched the hour; and as the strokes of the great hammer rang out above the nation, in an instant the whole fabric of iniquity was shivered to ruins."
This hour had now come to Absalom. He had often been reproved, but had hardened his heart, and was now to be destroyed, and that without remedy. In the person of Joab, God found a fitting instrument for carrying His purpose into effect. The character of Joab is something of a riddle. We cannot say that he was altogether bad man, or altogether without the fear of God. Though David bitterly complained of him in some things, he must have valued him on the whole, for during the whole of his reign Joab had been his principal general. That he wanted all tenderness of heart seems very plain. That he was subject to vehement and uncontrollable impulses, in the heat of which fearful deeds of blood were done by him, but done in what seemed to him the interest of the public, is also clear. There is no evidence that he was habitually savage or grossly selfish. When David charged him and the other generals to deal tenderly with the young man Absalom, it is quite possible that he was minded to do so. But in the excitement of the battle, that uncontrollable impulse seized him which urged him to the slaughter of Amasa and Abner. The chance of executing judgment on the arch-rebel who had caused all this misery, and been guilty of crimes never before heard of in Israel, and thus ending for ever an insurrection that might have dragged its slow length along for harassing years to come, was too much for him. "How could you see Absalom hanging in an oak and not put an end to his mischievous life?" he asks the man that tells him he had seen him in that plight. And he has no patience with the man's elaborate apology. Seizing three darts, he rushes to the place, and thrusts them through Absalom's heart. And his ten armour-bearers finish the business with their swords. We need not suppose that he was altogether indifferent to the feelings of David; but he may have been seized by an overwhelming conviction that Absalom's death was the only effectual way of ending this most guilty and pernicious insurrection, and so preserving the country from ruin. Absalom living, whether banished or imprisoned, would be a constant and fearful danger. Absalom dead, great though the king's distress for the time might be, would be the very salvation of the country. Under the influence of this conviction he thrust the three darts through his heart, and he allowed his attendants to hew that comely body to pieces, till the fair form that all had admired so much became a mere mass of hacked and bleeding flesh. But whatever may have been the process by which Joab found himself constrained to disregard the king's order respecting Absalom, it is plain that to his dying day David never forgave him.
The mode of Absalom's death, and also the mode of his burial, were very significant. It had probably never happened to any warrior, or to any prince, to die from a similar cause. And but for the vanity that made him think so much of his bodily appearance, and especially of his hair, death would never have come to him in such a form. Vanity of one's personal appearance is indeed a weakness rather than a crime. It would be somewhat hard to punish it directly, but it is just the right way of treating it, to make it punish itself. And so it was in the case of Absalom. His bitterest enemy could have desired nothing more ludicrously tragical than to see those beautiful locks fastening him as with a chain of gold to the arm of the scaffold, and leaving him dangling there like the most abject malefactor. And what of the beautiful face and handsome figure that often, doubtless, led his admirers to pronounce him every inch a king? So slashed and mutilated under the swords of Joab's ten men, that no one could have told that it was Absalom that lay there. This was God's judgment on the young man's vanity.
The mode of his burial is particularly specified. "They took Absalom and cast him into a great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon him; and all Israel fled everyone to his tent." The purpose of this seems to have been to show that Absalom was deemed worthy of the punishment of the rebellious son, as appointed by Moses; and a more significant expression of opinion could not have been given. The punishment for the son who remained incorrigibly rebellious was to be taken beyond the walls of the city, and stoned to death. It is said by Jewish writers that this punishment was never actually inflicted, but the mode of Absalom's burial was fitted to show that he at least was counted as deserving of it. The ignominious treatment of that graceful body, which he adorned and set off" with such care, did not cease even after it was gashed by the weapons of the young men; no place was found for it in the venerable cave of Machpelah; it was not even laid in the family sepulcher at Jerusalem, but cast ignominiously into a pit in the wood; it was bruised and pounded by stones, and left to rot there, like the memory of its possessor, and entail eternal infamy on the place. What a lesson to all who disown the authority of parents! What a warning to all who cast away the cords of self-restraint! It is said by Jewish writers that every by-passer was accustomed to throw a stone on the heap that covered the remains of Absalom, and as he threw it to say, "Cursed be the memory of rebellious Absalom; and cursed for ever be all wicked children that rise up in rebellion against their parents!"
And here it may be well to say a word to children. You all see the lesson that is taught by the doom of Absalom, and you all feel that in that doom, terrible though it was, he just reaped what he had sowed. You see the seed of his offence, disobedience to parents, bringing forth the most hideous fruit, and receiving in God's providence a most frightful punishment. You see it without excuse and without palliation; for David had been a kind father, and had treated Absalom better than he deserved. Mark, then, that this is the final fruit of that spirit of disobedience to parents which often begins with very little offences. These little offences are big enough to show that you prefer your own will to the will of your parents. If you had a just and true respect for their authority, you would guard against little transgressions - you would make conscience of obeying in all things great and small. Then remember that every evil habit must have a beginning, and very often it is a small beginning. By imperceptible stages it may grow and grow, till it becomes a hideous vice, like this rebellion of Absalom. Nip it in the bud; if you don't, who can tell whether it may not grow to something terrible, and at last brand you with the brand of Absalom?
If this be the lesson to children from the doom of Absalom, the lesson to parents is not less manifest from the case of David. The early battle between the child's will and the parent's is often very difficult and trying; but God is on the parent's side, and will give him the victory if he seeks it aright. It certainly needs great vigilance, wisdom, patience, firmness, and affection. If you are careless and unwatchful, the child's will will speedily assert itself If you are foolish, and carry discipline too far, if you thwart the child at every point, instead of insisting on one thing, or perhaps a few things, at a time, you will weary him and weary yourself without success. If you are fitful, insisting at one time and taking no heed at another, you will convey the impression of a very elastic law, not entitled to much respect. If you lose your temper, and speak unadvisedly, instead of mildly and lovingly, you will most effectually set the child's temper up against the very thing you wish him to do. If you forget that you are not independent agents, but have got the care of your beloved child from God, and ought to bring him up as in God's stead, and in the most humble and careful dependence on God's grace, you may look for blunder upon blunder in sad succession, with results in the end that will greatly disappoint you. How close every Christian needs to lie to God in the exercise of this sacred trust! And how much, when conscious of weakness and fearing the consequences, ought he to prize the promise - "My grace is sufficient for thee!"
Then said Ahimaaz the son of Zadok, Let me now run, and bear the king tidings, how that the LORD hath avenged him of his enemies.CHAPTER XXIV.
DAVID'S GRIEF FOR ABSALOM.
2 Samuel 18:19-33; 2 Samuel 19:1-4.
"NEXT to the calamity of losing a battle," a great general used to say, "is that of gaining a victory." The battle in the wood of Ephraim left twenty thousand of King David's subjects dead or dying on the field. It is remarkable how little is made of this dismal fact. Men's lives count for little in time of war, and death, even with its worst horrors, is just the common fate of warriors. Yet surely David and his friends could not think lightly of a calamity that cut down more of the sons of Israel than any battle since the fatal day of Mount Gilboa. Nor could they form a light estimate of the guilt of the man whose inordinate vanity and ambition had cost the nation such a fearful loss.
But all thoughts of this kind were for the moment brushed aside by the crowning fact that Absalom himself was dead. And this fact, as well as the tidings of the victory, must at once be carried to David. Mahanaim, where David was, was probably but a little distance from the field of battle. A friend offered to Joab to carry the news - Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok the priest. He had formerly been engaged in the same way, for he was one of those that had brought word to David of the result of Absalom's council, and of other things that were going on in Jerusalem. But Joab did not wish that Ahimaaz should be the bearer of the news. He would not deprive him of the character of king's messenger, but he would employ him as such another time. Meanwhile the matter was entrusted to another man, called in the Authorized Version Cushi, but in the Revised Version the Cushite. Whoever this may have been, he was a simple official, not like Ahimaaz, a personal friend of David. And this seems to have been Joab's reason for employing him. It is evident that physically he was not better adapted to the task than Ahimaaz, for when the latter at last got leave to go he overran the Cushite. But Joab appears to have felt that it would be better that David should receive his first news from a mere official than from a personal friend. The personal friend would be likely to enter into details that the other would not give. It is clear that Joab was ill at ease in reference to his own share in the death of Absalom. He would fain keep that back from David, at least for a time; it would be enough for him at the first to know that the battle had been gained, and that Absalom was dead.
But Ahimaaz was persistent, and after the Cushite had been despatched he carried his point, and was allowed to go. Very graphic is the description of the running of the two men and of their arrival at Mahanaim. The king had taken his place at the gate of the city, and stationed a watchman on the wall above to look out eagerly lest anyone should come bringing news of the battle. In those primitive times there was no more rapid way of dispatching important news than by a swift well-trained runner on foot. In the clear atmosphere of the East first one man, then another, was seen running alone. By-and-bye, the watchman surmised that the foremost of the two was Ahimaaz; and when the king heard it, remembering his former message, he concluded that such a man must be the bearer of good tidings. As soon as he came within hearing of the king, he shouted out, "All is well." Coming close, he fell on his face and blessed God for delivering the rebels into David's hands. Before thanking him or thanking God, the king showed what was uppermost in his heart by asking, "Is the young man Absalom safe?" And here the moral courage of Ahimaaz failed him, and he gave an evasive answer: "When Joab sent the king's servant, and me thy servant, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was." When he heard this the king bade him stand aside, till he should hear what the other messenger had to say. And the official messenger was more frank than the personal friend. For when the king repeated the question about Absalom, the answer was, "The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is." The answer was couched in skilful words. It suggested the enormity of Absalom's guilt, and of the danger to the king and the state which he had plotted, and the magnitude of the deliverance, seeing that he was now beyond the power of doing further evil.
But such soothing expressions were lost upon the king. The worst fears of his heart were realized - Absalom was dead. Gone from earth forever, beyond reach of the yearnings of his heart; gone to answer for crimes that were revolting in the sight of God and man. "The king was much moved; and he went up to the chamber over the gate and wept; and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"
He had been a man of war, a man of the sword; he had been familiar with death, and had seen it once and again in his own family; but the tidings of Absalom's death fell upon him with all the force of a first bereavement. Not more piercing is the wail of the young widow when suddenly the corpse of her beloved is borne into the house, not more overwhelming is her sensation, as if the solid earth were giving way beneath her, than the emotion that now prostrated King David.
Grief for the dead is always sacred; and however unworthy we may regard the object of it, we cannot but respect it in King David. Viewed simply as an expression of his unquenched affection for his son, and separated from its bearing on the interests of the kingdom, and from the air of repining it seemed to carry against the dispensation of God, it showed a marvelously tender and forgiving heart. In the midst of an odious and disgusting rebellion, and with the one object of seeking out his father and putting him to death, the heartless youth had been arrested and had met his deserved fate. Yet so far from showing satisfaction that the arm that had been raised to crush him was laid low in death, David could express no feelings but those of love and longing. Was it not a very wonderful love, coming very near to the feeling of Him who prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," like that "love Divine, all love excelling," that follows the sinner through all his wanderings, and clings to him amid all his rebellions; the love of Him that not merely wished in a moment of excitement that He could die for His guilty children but did die for them, and in dying bore their guilt and took it away, and of which the brief but matchless record is that "having once loved His own that were with Him in the world, He loved them even unto the end?"
The elements of David's intense agony, when he heard of Absalom's death, were mainly three. In the first place, there was the loss of his son, of whom he could say that, with all his faults, he loved him still. A dear object had been plucked from his heart, and left it sick, vacant, desolate. A face he had often gazed on with delight lay cold in death. He had not been a good son, he had been very wicked; but affection has always its visions of a better future, and is ready to forgive unto seventy times seven. And then death is so dreadful when it fastens on the young. It seems so cruel to fell to the ground a bright young form; to extinguish by one blow his every joy, every hope, every dream; to reduce him to nothingness, so far as this life is concerned. An infinite pathos, in a father's experience, surrounds a young man's death. The regret, the longing, the conflict with the inevitable, seem to drain him of all energy, and leave him helpless in his sorrow.
Secondly, there was the terrible fact that Absalom had died in rebellion, without expressing one word of regret, without one request for forgiveness, without one act or word that it would be pleasant to recall in time to come, as a foil to the bitterness caused by his unnatural rebellion. Oh, if he had had but an hour to think of his position, to realize the lesson of his defeat, to ask his father's forgiveness, to curse the infatuation of the last few years! How would one such word have softened the sting of his rebellion in his father's breast! What a change it would have given to the aspect of his evil life! But not even the faint vestige of such a thing was ever shown; the unmitigated glare of that evil life must haunt his father evermore!
Thirdly, there was the fact that in this rebellious condition he had passed to the judgment of God. What hope could there be for such a man, living and dying as he had done? Where could he be now? Was not "the great pit in the wood," into which his unhonoured carcase had been flung, a type of another pit, the receptacle of his soul? What agony to the Christian heart is like that of thinking of the misery of dear ones who have died impenitent and unpardoned?
To these and similar elements of grief David appears to have abandoned himself without a struggle. But was this right? Ought he not to have made some acknowledgment of the Divine hand in his trial, as he did when Bathsheba's child died? Ought he not to have acted as he did on another occasion, when he said, "I was dumb with silence, I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it"? We have seen that in domestic matters he was not accustomed to place himself so thoroughly under the control of the Divine will as in the more public business of his life; and now we see that, when his parental feelings are crushed, he is left without the steadying influence of submission to the will of God. And in the agony of his private grief he forgets the public welfare of the nation. Noble and generous though the wish be, "Would God I had died for thee," it was on public grounds out of the question. Let us imagine for one moment the wish realized. David has fallen and Absalom survives. What sort of kingdom would it have been? What would have been the fate of the gallant men who had defended David? What would have been the condition of God's servants throughout the kingdom? What would have been the influence of so godless a monarch upon the interests of truth and the cause of God? It was a rash and unadvised utterance of affection. But for the rough faithfulness of Joab, the consequences would have been disastrous. "The victory that day was turned into mourning, for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son." Everyone was discouraged. The man for whom they had risked their lives had not a word of thanks to any of them, and could think of no one but that vile son of his, who was now dead. In the evening Joab came to him, and in his blunt way swore to him that if he was not more affable to the people they would not remain a night longer in his service. Roused by the reproaches and threatenings of his general, the king did now present himself among them. The people responded and came before him, and the effort he made to show himself agreeable kept them to their allegiance, and led on to the steps for his restoration that soon took place.
But it must have been an effort to abstract his attention from Absalom, and fix it on the brighter results of the battle. And not only that night, in the silence of his chamber, but for many a night, and perhaps many a day, during the rest of his life, the thought of that battle and its crowning catastrophe must have haunted David like an ugly dream. We seem to see him in some still hour of reverie recalling early days; - happy scenes rise around him; lovely children gambol at his side; he hears again the merry laugh of little Tamar, and smiles as he recalls some childish saying of Absalom; he is beginning, as of old, to forecast the future and shape out for them careers of honour and happiness; when, horror of horrors! the spell breaks; the bright vision gives way to dismal realities - Tamar's dishonour, Amnon's murder, Absalom's insurrection, and, last not least, Absalom's death, glare in the field of memory! Who will venture to say that David did not smart for his sins? Who that reflects would be willing to take the cup of sinful indulgence from his hands, sweet though it was in his mouth, when he sees it so bitter in the belly?
Two remarks may appropriately conclude this chapter, one with reference to grief from bereavements in general, the other with reference to the grief that may arise to Christians in connection with the spiritual condition of departed children.
1. With reference to grief from bereavements in general, it is to be observed that they will prove either a blessing or an evil according to the use to which they are turned. All grief in itself is a weakening thing - weakening both to the body and the mind, and it were a great error to suppose that it must do good in the end. There are some who seem to think that to resign themselves to overwhelming grief is a token of regard to the memory of the departed, and they take no pains to counteract the depressing influence. It is a painful thing to say, yet it is true, that a long-continued manifestation of overwhelming grief, instead of exciting sympathy, is more apt to cause annoyance. Not only does it depress the mourner himself, and unfit him for his duties to the living, but it depresses those that come in contact with him, and makes them think of him with a measure of impatience. And this suggests another remark. It is not right to obtrude our grief overmuch on others, especially if we are in a public position. Let us take example in this respect from our blessed Lord. Was any sorrow like unto His sorrow? Yet how little did He obtrude it even on the notice of His disciples! It was towards the end of His ministry before He even began to tell them of the dark scenes through which He was to pass; and even when He did tell them how He was to be betrayed and crucified, it was not to court their sympathy, but to prepare them for their part of the trial. And when the overwhelming agony of Gethsemane drew on, it was only three of the twelve that were permitted to be with Him. All such considerations show that it is a more Christian thing to conceal our griefs than to make others uncomfortable by obtruding them upon their notice. David was on the very eve of losing the affections of those who had risked everything for him, by abandoning himself to anguish for his private loss, and letting his distress for the dead interfere with his duty to the living.
And how many things are there to a Christian mind fitted to abate the first sharpness even of a great bereavement. Is it not the doing of a Father, infinitely kind? Is it not the doing of Him "who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all"? You say you can see no light through it, - it is dark, all dark, fearfully dark. Then you ought to fall back on the inscrutability of God. Hear Him saying, "What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter." Resign yourself patiently to His hands, till He make the needed revelation, and rest assured that when it is made it will be worthy of God. "Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy." Meanwhile, be impressed with the vanity of this life, and the infinite need of a higher portion. "Set your affection on things above, and not on the things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your Life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory."
2. The other remark that falls to be made here concerns the grief that may arise to Christians in connection with the spiritual condition of departed children.
When the parent is either in doubt as to the happiness of a beloved one, or has cause to apprehend that the portion of that child is with the unbelievers, the pang which he experiences is one of the most acute which the human heart can know. Now here is a species of suffering which, if not peculiar to believers, falls on them far the most heavily, and is, in many cases, a haunting spectre of misery. The question naturally arises. Is it not strange that their very beliefs, as Christians, subject them to such acute sufferings? If one were a careless, unbelieving man, and one's child died without evidence of grace, one would probably think nothing of it, because the things that are unseen and eternal are never in one's thoughts. But just because one believes the testimony of God on this great subject, one becomes liable to a peculiar agony. Is this not strange indeed?
Yes, there is a mystery in it which we cannot wholly solve. But we must remember that it is in thorough accordance with a great law of Providence, the operation of which, in other matters, we cannot overlook. That law is, that the cultivation and refinement of any organ or faculty, while it greatly increases your capacity of enjoyment, increases at the same time your capacity, and it may be your occasions, of suffering. Let us take, for example, the habit of cleanliness. Where this habit prevails, there is much more enjoyment in life; but let a person of great cleanliness be surrounded by filth, his suffering is infinitely greater. Or take the cultivation of taste, and let us say of musical taste. It adds to life an immense capacity of enjoyment, but also a great capacity and often much occasion of suffering, because bad music or tasteless music, such as one may often have to endure, creates a misery unknown to the man of no musical culture. To a man of classical taste, bad writing or bad speaking, such as is met with every day, is likewise a source of irritation and suffering. If we advance to a moral and spiritual region, we may see that the cultivation of one's ordinary affections, apart from religion, while on the whole it increases enjoyment, does also increase sorrow. If I lived and felt as a Stoic, I should enjoy family life much less than if I were tender-hearted and affectionate; but when I suffered a family bereavement I should suffer much less. These are simply illustrations of the great law of Providence that culture, while it increases happiness, increases suffering too. It is a higher application of the same law, that gracious culture, the culture of our spiritual affections under the power of the Spirit of God, in increasing our enjoyment does also increase our capacity of suffering. In reference to that great problem of natural religion, Why should a God of infinite benevolence have created creatures capable of suffering? one answer that has often been given is, that if they had not been capable of suffering they might not have been capable of enjoyment. But in pursuing these inquiries we get into an obscure region, in reference to which it is surely our duty patiently to wait for that increase of light which is promised to us in the second stage of our existence.
Yet still it remains to be asked. What comfort can there possibly be for Christian parents in such a cast as David's? What possible consideration can ever reconcile them to the thought that their beloved ones have gone to the world of woe? Are not their children parts of themselves, and how is it possible for them to be completely saved if those who are so identified with them are lost? How can they ever be happy in a future life if eternally separated from those who were their nearest and dearest on earth? On such matters it has pleased God to allow a great cloud to rest which our eyes cannot pierce. We cannot solve this problem. We cannot reconcile perfect personal happiness, even in heaven, with the knowledge I hat beloved ones are lost. But God must have some way, worthy of Himself, of solving the problem. And we must just wait for His time of revelation. "God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain." The Judge of all the earth must act justly. And the song which will express the deepest feelings of the redeemed, when from the sea of glass, mingled with fire, they look back on the ways of Providence toward them, will be this: "Great and marvelous are Thy works. Lord God Almighty; just and true are all Thy ways, Thou King of saints. Who would not fear Thee and glorify Thy name, for Thou only art holy?"