And the Lord sent Nathan unto David.I. DAVID'S SIN. David, it appears, to avenge the outrage which bad been perpetrated on his ambassadors by Hanun, the king of the Ammonites, invaded that king's dominions, and, in two pitched battles, defeated both him and his allies with great slaughter. In the following year, as soon as the season permitted, David renewed the war, and followed up his successes still further by sending Joab, and all Israel with him, to lay siege to the royal city of Rabbah, the metropolis of Hanun's kingdom. Instead, however, of accompanying his army on this occasion, according to his usual custom, David unhappily "tarried still at Jerusalem;" and, whilst there, he appears to have given himself up to a life of sloth and sinful indulgence. "For it came to pass," says the sacred historian, "in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed," where, perhaps, he had been dozing away the afternoon in idleness, instead of spending it in some useful occupation, "and walked upon the roof of the king's house." From this elevated position, David saw a woman of great beauty washing herself. But instead of "turning away his eyes from beholding vanity," and thus acting the part of an honourable and a modest man, he allowed lust to gain an entrance into his heart, and at last to take full possession of it. Oh, such is the seductive influence, such the tyrannical nature of sin, that, let a man give it but the least encouragement, and it is sure to lead him on, step by step, almost imperceptibly, till at last it compels him, whether he wills or not, to do its bidding. Do you, then, take the advice of a friend, and have nothing to do with "the accursed thing." Leave it off, before it be meddled with. For now, mark the next step in his downward career. He sent and inquired after the woman. And although he was plainly told that she was already a married woman; the wife, too, of one of his own best and ablest generals, Uriah the Hittite, and who was actually, at that very moment, jeopardising his own life in the high places of the field to sustain the safety and honour of David's crown; yet such was the hold which sin had now taken of him that he persisted in sending for her, and at last, after a brief interview, persuades her to forsake the guide of her youth, and to forget the covenant of her God. Oh, who could have thought that David, the mall after God's own heart, would ever have been guilty of such a crime as this. Little did David think, when he was committing this shocking crime, that his sin would so soon find him out. But so it was; for scarcely had a few months rolled by before Bathsheba perceived that she could no longer conceal her disgrace, and consequently she sends to David, acquainting him with her situation, and in all probability, reminding him of his promise to protect her; for, according to the law of Moses, the adulterer and the adulteress were, both to be put to death. And now, what is to be done? The same evil spirit that prompted him to commit the crime soon suggests a plan for concealing it.
II. WHAT WERE THE MEANS WHICH GOD TOOK TO AWAKEN DAVID TO A SENSE OF HIS WICKEDNESS AND DANGER? Did He raise up enemies round about him to lay waste his country and destroy his people? or did He rain down fire and brimstone from heaven, as He once did upon the guilty cities of the plain, in order that He might sweep this wretched monarch from off the earth? Or did He send terrors to take hold of him, and the messengers ,of death to arrest him? No; He sent to him one of his own humble and faithful ministers, in order that he might reason the matter over with him, call his sin to remembrance, and convince him of his guilt. For nearly two full years David appears to have thought nothing more about Uriah. Perhaps he may have thought that, as he had since married the widow, he had made nil the reparation that was required of him. Or he may have supposed that as no other person beside himself was privy to the part which he had taken in Uriah's death, there was no use troubling himself further about the matter. If so, David was greatly mistaken. Yes, there was One Witness to the whole transaction, whom David seems to have lost sight of altogether.
III. WHAT EFFECT GOD'S MESSAGE PRODUCED ON DAVID. Did he fly into a rage with the man of God for thus faithfully discharging his duty? Did he exclaim, with an outburst of angry passion, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" Or did be call to the governor of the city, and say unto him, "Take this fellow away, and put him in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and water of affliction?" Or did he, like his father Adam, try to shift the blame from himself, and lay it upon the woman? David was so horrified at the picture which Nathan had drawn of his own conduct, and so convinced of its truth, that he exclaimed without a moment's hesitation, "I have sinned against the Lord."
IV. WHAT LESSONS WE OURSELVES MAY GATHER UP FROM THE CONTEMPLATION OF THIS PAINFUL SUBJECT.
1. In the first place, then, we may learn that there is no sin beyond the reach of God's mercy.
2. And, lastly, let no notorious sinner be emboldened, from David's unhappy fall, to presume on God's mercy. Let such a one remember that David's sin was committed but once: he was no habitual transgressor.
(E. Harper, B. A.)
1. When he had fallen into grievous sin — such sin as, we might well suppose, if we did not know how "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" is the human heart, he would have been incapable of committing.
2. When he was blind, and insensible to his sin. And I think this is something more surprising than even the sin itself. It seems to prove more convincingly the deep depravity of our nature. It is the stamp of a lower humiliation.
II. WHEREFORE? What was the object of his mission?
1. What might have been expected? Why, surely, that it would be to declare the Divine displeasure — to announce God's sentence of condemnation against the royal transgressor — to warn him of approaching retribution — to tell him that he had sinned beyond the hope of mercy, and the possibility of restoration, and that there was nothing for him now but a prospect of changeless despair. Gracious and longsuffering as the Lord is, as He is always declared to be in His Word; much as He delights in messages of mercy to His creatures, there have not been wanting in the history of mankind instances of the other kind.
2. But no: it was not as a herald of vengeance that Nathan was sent to David, but as a reprover and convincer of sin, to bring him to repentance, by showing him the baseness of his conduct, the aggravation of his crimes, and the danger to which they had justly exposed him.
III. WITH WHAT RESULT?
I. 1 answer, first, with but a more startling illustration of the blinding power of sin. We might have thought that, with his ordinarily quick apprehension, David would have perceived at once the point and force of Nathan's parable. We should have looked for an immediate self-application of it, and the proper effect thereof; but in doing so, we should only have miscalculated the influence of sinful indulgence in blunting the faculty of moral perception, and deadening all the sensibilities of the soul.
2. The bringing him to a sincere acknowledgment of his offence. This only followed, however, Upon the prophet's faithful home-thrust — "Thou art the man!" 'This story concerns thee. It needs but to put in the name, and it is then a narration of thy own guilty and heartless conduct towards thy faithful servant Uriah. Thus hast thou sinned against thy unoffending neighbour. Oh! wicked king, there is no excuse for thee.' And then David saw himself as the prophet saw him; as, at that moment, God saw him.
3. The leading him to an experience of God's pardoning grace. For no sooner had David acknowledged his sin, taken to himself the blame of his guilty acts, and prostrated himself a weeping penitent at God's footstool, than the prophet was commissioned to absolve him from his offences by a declaration of the Divine forgiveness. "A God ready to pardon." That is one of the names given to the Lord in the Bible. Was there ever a completer illustration of it than is here supplied?
I. THE PERIL OF SELF-INDULGENCE. The heart-rotted tree may stand long in the golden light and summer calm, and crowned with some garniture of green its true condition be unguessed. But let the stormy wind blow and beat upon it, and quickly it will fall. For many years David hail been "like a tree planted by the rivers of water than bringeth forth his fruit in his season." He had stood many a blast of temptation unroofed, the more deeply rooted. But self-indulgence, like a permitted rot, had slowly, insidiously, wrought ruin within him, and the strength of his soul became weakness and succumbed to sudden tempestuous temptation. There is ever a sad though secret preparation for such a fall as David's. There is an inner before an outer fall.
II. THE IMPERATIVE IMPORTANCE OF WATCHFULNESS. Surely, if any man could have dispensed with watchfulness David was the man. And. yet he — patriarch, prophet, saint — fell into the defiling pool of sensuality. We have watchful against us a malignant and pitiless enemy. He has no reverence for the silvered head; for the honour that has gathered to the hoar-haired believer. We need all — and the aged saint, too — to watch against him. We need well to know ourselves. Our physical and mental temperament may expose us to special dangers. Our very excellencies may become our snares. We must watch over them. We dare not glory in them.
III. THE DREADFUL CONNECTION OF SIN WITH SIN. If David had made a covenant with his eyes he had not looked. But he looked, and the look was sin. And that one sin opened the way for many. To lust he added craft, to craft treason, to treason murder. And this is David! "Lord, what is man?" No sin stands alone. Admit one, a whole brood presses urgent, irresistible upon its heels. It is the "little rift" that widens till the music of a holy life is mute. It is the "little pitted speck" that, rotting inwards, slowly spoils the fruit of useful character. Lie darkens into lies. The one theft into another. David's one sin into many.
IV. THE AWFUL POSSIBILITIES OF SELF-DECEPTION. For mouths, for a year, David went on unconscious of his guilt. How blinding is self-partiality! "It is really prodigious," as Bishop Butler says, "to see a man, before so remarkable for virtue and piety, going on deliberately from adultery to murder with the same cool contrivance, and, from what appears, with as little disturbance, as a man would endeavour to prevent the ill consequences of a mistake he had made in any common matter. That total insensibility of mind with respect to those horrid crimes, after the commission of them, manifestly shows that he did some way or other delude himself, and this could not be with respect to the crimes themselves, they were so manifestly of the grossest kind." Oh, the possibilities of self-deception! The liar may appear true, the dishonest honest, the vile pure. So for awhile; but not for long. The day of self-revelation is at hand. "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid that shall not be known."
V. THE BLESSEDNESS OF TRUE REPENTANCE. "The Lord sent Nathan unto David." By a touching apologue the wise prophet drew David to pass unconscious verdict upon himself.
VI. THE IRREVOCABLE CHARACTER OF A SINFUL DEED. David was forgiven. But he could not escape the bitter temporal fruit of his sin. To life's very end it was as gravel in his teeth, as acrid ashes in his mouth. A sinful deed may be pardoned; but it cannot be recalled, and on it will go its desolating way. No tears of David could wash away the guilty past. Dad deeds live when the doer is dead. This Sill of David has caused from age to age the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. "Stand in awe and sin not." "The lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death."
(G. T. Coster.)
I. THE OCCASION UPON WHICH THE MONARCH DISGRACED HIMSELF. II, THE UTTERANCE OF THE PARABLE. The touching beauty of this little apologue cannot be passed carelessly by. Its appeal forces its way to the most sensitive centres of our feeling. But the general shrewdness of its conception is heightened by the fact that it entered at once into the historic experience of this king. He knew what it was to be poor; he knew what it was to have and to love one little ewe-lamb. And when Nathan told him that the rich, mean neighbour had stolen and killed the creature which the poor man cherished in his bosom as a daughter his anger was at its height.
III. THE EXPLICATION OF HIS SKILFUL PARABLE WAS INSTANTANEOUS: "And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man." The king must have been startled beyond all power of self-control. How rapid was the transition of feeling through which he passed! One minute he was on his feet in all the flush of indignation at another's sin, fairly exulting in the proud sense of unutterable contempt at injustice so apparent and so unmitigated in its foul stroke. The next minute he perceived the countenance of Nathan changing towards him. Around came that long scornful finger, which had been pointing at an imaginary offender; and now in reply to the implied inquiry for that offender's name, its index slowly reached his own face, and then the sober words were spoken: "Thou art the man." Could his discomfiture have been more complete? Could Nathan's triumph of rebuke have been more successful?
IV. LESSONS OF PRESENT INSTRUCTION FROM THIS PARABLE. Sin levels the loftiest man to the lowest rank. Zeal for God lifts the lowliest man into a vantage unquestioned.
1. Observe, then, that in all cases conscience is the arbiter in the wrong, and must be the centre of aim in the reproof.
2. Observe, that absolute rectitude is the only standard to be admitted in all processes of rebuke.
3. In the third place, observe that tenderness is the dominant spirit in all truly Scriptural, or even successful, rebuke.
4. Observe, in the fourth place, that courageous fidelity is the measure of all Christian duty in administering rebuke. Are we up to this standard in helping each other? Has not the day of honest fraternal rebuke pretty much passed by? And are we not ourselves to blame for many of those detections to the common cause which make such sudden scandal? Another question, quite akin to this, is likewise suggested by this theme: What ought to be expected of every faithful ministry in a time like that we live in? Is there any sin so peculiarly delicate that the messenger of God is debarred from saying, "Thou art the man?"
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. THE ANALOGY AND CONTRAST WHICH IT SETS FORTH AS EXISTING BETWEEN DAVID AND URIAH.
1. The analogy.(1) The men in the parable were on an equality; in some respects they were fellow-men and fellow-citizens. "There were two men in one city." So David and Uriah, although one was a king and the other a subject, were on a level on the common ground of humanity, and were both subject to the laws, political, social, and religious, which had been given by God to the nation which regarded Jerusalem as the seat of government.(2) David was by birth a member of the highly-favoured nation to whom God had given laws, and Uriah, by choice, was a citizen of the city where dwelt David the king, who, more than any other man, was bound to obey the law of his nation and of his God.(3) There is analogy in their qualities. They were both courageous, valiant men. David had, from his youth, been noted for this characteristic; from his shepherd-day when he slew the lion and the bear, up to the present time his bravery had been unquestioned. Uriah the Hittite was a man of like spirit in this respect, and his very bravery had been used by his master to compass his death. It was well known to David that if Uriah was placed in the forefront of the battle he would hold his post or die.
2. The parable also sets forth the contrast in the two men — "the one rich and the other poor."(1) The king's position made it possible for him to indulge his unlawful desires without hindrance. The position of Uriah obliged him to submit to his master's will. This inequality aggravated David's crime.(2) The parable seems to hint at a further contrast. "The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: but the poor man had nothing save one little ewe lamb." David had many wives; the narrative implies that Uriah had but one. His love was therefore deeper, because purer, than that of David. His strong affection was an emotion to which the king was a comparative stranger, even as the rich man in the parable could not estimate, his poor neighbour's affection for his only lamb. For the lawless passion of David cannot be placed upon a level with the pure love of Uriah. The one is life and the other death. The river which keeps within its channel is a blessing to the country through which it flows; but the same river, when it bursts its banks and overflows the land, becomes a means of desolation and destruction. So it is with lawful affection and lawless passion.
II. THE EFFECT OF THE PARABLE AND ITS APPLICATION UPON DAVID.
1. It awakened strong emotion: "David's anger was greatly kindled against the man." (v. 5.) This effect was the result of looking at the crime from a distance.
2. It revealed great self-ignorance. The knowledge most indispensable in life is self-knowledge; a man who does not possess this is an ignorant man, whatever are his other requirements. Knowledge is said to be power, and the knowledge of oneself is the greatest power.
3. But the effect of the application of the parable is a remarkable illustration of the power of conscience. Some men do everything upon a large scale. Their emotions are deep, their sins are great, and so are their virtues. The captain of a vessel of large dimensions which carries a rich cargo, has a heavier weight of responsibility than he has who has only the charge of a small craft. If he pilot the vessel safely into harbour he has the more honour, but if she gets wrecked the disaster makes a deeper impression.
III. THE EFFECT OF DAVID'S CONFESSION UPON GOD. Confession of sin to a human friend against whom we have offended will often bring an assurance of forgiveness. The good parent makes it indispensable before the child is restored to its position and favour. So is it in the government of God. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (John 1:9.)
1. The path of duty is the path that "leads not into temptation." If David had been at the head of his army at this time it is likely that he would have escaped this dark stain upon his life. A brook is kept pure while it is in motion, but if its waters were to be stopped from flowing they would become stagnant.
2. That tendencies to sin, though not on the surface, are yet latent in the depths of the heart. To the eye of a stranger a powder-vessel may look very trim and clean and safe, but the black powder is there in the hold, only needing a single spark to make its awful power felt.
3. Impurities in the springs of thought will be revealed in the streams of action.
4. Although sin is forgiven, some of its consequences must remain. "The Lord hath put away thy sin," but "the sword shall never depart from thine house."
5. The parable, and the fact that gave rise to it, lead us to observe —(1) That impartial reason is ever ready to condemn any flagrant iniquity. There is as discernible a difference between good and evil as between white and black, when nothing interposes to obstruct the sight, or misrepresent the object.(2) The prejudices of interest and lust may, and do hinder men from discerning, or at least distinguishing in practice between right and wrong, even in the plainest cases. Such was most apparently the case with David.(3) Although men do sometimes suffer themselves to commit gross sins, in open contradiction to their own inward light, yet all notorious iniquity stands condemned by the universal verdict of mankind.
(R. Moss, D. D.)
I. THE MAN LEFT TO HIMSELF. Like other servants of God whose lives are recorded in the Scriptures, we find David in times of sin withdrawing from communion with God, loving his own way, hugging his pet sin. David estranged himself from his God, and he soon sinks lower and lower. Sinful weakness he had been shown before, but this is a mean, selfish crime. No one withdraws trust from God and prospers. As flowers live in and by the rays of the sun, so the graces of the soul need the favour of God. No agony of remorse is so keen as that of the child of God over sinful pleasures indulged. More helpless than a rudderless vessel in the Maelstrom is the Christian who abandons himself to serve sin even for a season.
1. David left to himself makes a sorry self indeed. A further evidence of increasing guilt is the manner of his treatment of the prisoners of war (v. 31.) It was cruel in the extreme, unnecessarily cruel. So unlike David. Ah! biting, goading him was that sense of sin which he could not shake off. Ill at ease, he cares not what suffering he causes. His temper unrestrained, any savage cruelty is possible. These excitements so eagerly sought only serve to show the unceasing demands conscience made upon him. Can any man venture to say David was happy? We are not left to conjecture. Psalm 51., written twelve months after his sin, reveals his inmost thoughts at this time (as also Psalm 32.), and this psalm was delivered to the chief musician for public use before the sacred history was written.
2. David is yet in his sin. How dulled his vision, or the parable had needed no explanatory application! How forcibly this fatal power of sin is brought home to us, and daily! Illustrations of this deceitfulness of sin abound. Judges pronounce sentence on poor fallen girls while indulging in the sin themselves! Workmen pronounce hard, biting sentences upon those who bring down prices by undue competition, yet go and take the situation offered by the foreign competitor without a thought of the inconsistency. Nothing blinds like self-love.
II. THE CURSE NATHAN UTTERS, AND CHASTISEMENT. Former gracious dealings are brought to mind. There was horsing which God withheld from David. He came to the kingdom when God saw wise, and with unsparing hand had God dealt out blessing. He had disregarded the responsibilities which his office brought and despised the commandment of the Lord!
1. The adaptation of the retribution to the offence is noticeable — a principle in the moral government of God of which there are many instances in Scripture. Jacob deceived his father, and his sons deceive him. He cheats his brother, and is cheated by his uncle Laban. This is remarkably seen in the after-days of David; and while the form of the chastisement appears arbitrary, it is not, for it comes by way of natural consequence of the sins itself.
2. "The babe dies." There was wise reason why it should. That David, whose parental love was strong, felt this blow keenly the history reveals. He watched the child die, knowing it would die, knowing it would die because of him.
(H. E. Stone.)
1. As regards, our acknowledged sins. We must remember that their hatefulness, and aggravations, if they were publicly confessed, might very probably be recognised by every one but ourselves, the perpetrators. There are certain loathsome diseases, which are offensive and repulsive in the highest degree to every one but the patient. And there is a close analogy between the spiritual frame of man and his natural; if the moral disease be your own — rooted in your character, clinging to your own heart, it never can affect you with the same disgust as if it were another man's.
2. But the probe of self-examination needs to be applied to the better, as well as to the worse parts of our conduct. The natural heart is an adept in flatteries, not only suggesting excuses for the evil, but also heightening the colours of the good which, by God's grace, is in us. Where conduct stands the test of self-examination, the motives of it should be called in question. We must do in regard of ourselves what we may never do in regard of others — suspect that an unsound motive may underlie a fair conduct. Certain proprieties and regularities of behaviour, whether devotional or moral, are secured by deference to the prevailing opinions and habits of society, as is shown sometimes by the fact that, when we are in foreign parts, and no longer under this restraint, those proprieties and regularities are not so carefully maintained. Many good actions are done, more or less, because they are in keeping with a man's position, conciliate credit to him, gain him the praise of others. Works of usefulness and social (and even religious) improvement may be undertaken, more or less, from that activity of mind which is inherent in some characters, because naturally we cannot bear to be standing still, and are constitutionally unfitted for a studious, contemplative life. To have probed their own wounds, and pored over their own inflamed and envenomed frames, would have availed the poisoned Israelites nothing, unless, after such a survey of their misery, they had lifted their eyes to the brazen serpent. "Look unto Him," therefore, "and be ye healed."
(E. M. Goulburn, D. D.)
I. THE PARABLE AS BASED UPON FACT. There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds: the poor man had one ewe lamb. And the rich man, in a case of emergency, instead of taking a lamb out of his own flock, killed the one ewe lamb of the poor man. If that never occurred we must know it. Did it ever occur? It is the thing that is occurring every day. It is the infinite danger of wealth that it becomes oppressive, cruel, thoughtless, selfish. There is a sanctified wealth; there is a gracious social position; there is a condescending royalty. But why should it be remarked that such should be the case? Simply because of the almost innate tendency of men to use wealth with cruelty and selfishness. The poor man feels the cold wind first. The destruction of the poor man is his poverty. Wealth when it oppresses carries with it its own condemnation. Wealth when it is used as a means of succouring men, helping the true and the good is doing the work of God. But we are dealing with something below all that we now know as personal facts — namely, with principles, mysteries, with that whole region, almost undiscovered, of motive, passion, impulse that never can be explained adequately in words. On the other hand, a man is not necessarily a virtuous citizen because he has only one ewe lamb. Let us be impartial.
II. THE PARABLE AS A METHOD OF TEACHING. The parable was a favourite educational instrument in Eastern nations. There were many parable-makers in Oriental lands. But where are the parables equal to those which are to be found in the Bible? Balaam had a parable, Jotham had a parable; Nathan has a parable, and others in the Old Testament now and again come very near to the line of parable, but in proportion as we discover the parable to be beautiful and true we see in it the Spirit of the living God — the Eternal Force — the Divine Quantity. But when we come to the teaching of Jesus Christ all the other parables fall off into dim perspective; and after he laid down that instrument was it ever taken up again? Jesus Christ often fetched a compass — and he fetched it by such a sweep, by such a reach of mind, that the men upon whom his attention was fastened little suspected, until after the completion of the parable, that they were the objects of his judgment and condemnation. This is masterly preaching — to be personal without the individuals knowing that we are such; to get up a whole statement, coloured in every hue of heaven, sharp with all the pungency of criticism, and for men afterwards to wake up to the fact that the preacher was meaning none other than themselves. What applies to Christ's parables, and to all others of the same quality, applies to the whole revelation of God.
III. THE PARABLE AS A PRACTICAL REVELATION OF GOD'S JUSTICE. We have seen that the thing which David did "displeased the Lord." Does God treat the sin lightly? He says: "The sword shall never depart from thine house;" across every bright summer that shines upon thee there shall be a great bar of blackness; when the birds sing to thee thou shalt be constrained to punctuate their songs with memories of remorse; when thou dost lift the flagon to thy lips the wine shall leave behind it a poisonous taste; when thou liest down a thorn shall puncture thee: thou shalt never escape from this deed of wickedness. Whilst, therefore, the mocker is eager to quote as against the Bible the sin of David, if he be a just man as well as a jiber he ought to quote the judgment pronounced by God, and to see how true is the doctrine of eternal torment even in relation to this life. This parable, too, shows us man's responsibility. David is not allowed to escape on the ground of being overtaken in a fault. Kings ought to be their own subjects. The greater the man, the greater should be the saint. The greater the opportunities we have had of education and culture of every kind, the severer should be public criticism upon our lapses and iniquities, To whom much has been given, from him shall much be expected. He who knoweth his Lord's will and doeth it not shall be beaten with many stripes.
(J. Parker, D,D.)
(W. Smith, D. D.)
Sunday Companion.Leech, the, celebrated artist and caricaturist, is said to have had an effective method of reprimanding his children. If their faces were distorted with anger, or a rebellious temper, or a sullen mood, he took out his sketch-book, transferred their lineaments to paper, and showed them, to their own confusion, how ugly naughtiness was.
(H. O. Mackey.)
(H. Brooke, M. A.)
David's anger was greatly kindled against the man.
(W. M. Sinclair.)
1. And we may observe that the readiest way to pass a true judgment upon any occasion is to be one's self disinterested and unconcerned, and to remove the cause to a third person. David here considered the case. The circumstances of his life were never such; nor such, at any time, his disposition. Therefore, he is very free to consider narrowly, how much injustice and cruelty were in this single act of oppression; and viewing it in all its most unsightly colours, as freely could condemn it. The reason why we refer our causes to the arbitrement of a third person is not because he understands them better than ourselves (for that is not always so), nor that he loves justice better, but because he has no interest or inclination to corrupt and bias him, one way or other, but will judge according to reason. It is the same case with ourselves, when either love or hate, hope or fear or any other passion possesses us; we are too much prejudiced to judge exactly righteous judgment; every inclination or aversion drives us from that steadiness of mind which is requisite to the being impartial: Every little slight appearance is an argument when our goodwill is on its side, and the most solid weighty reasons are light as the dust of the balance, when urged against our interest or our humour. Every man and woman looks well enough in their own glass, but that is not the way to judge of beauty; we stand too near ourselves to see ourselves exactly. In a word, we love ourselves too well to censure hardly, and the voice of slander is the other extreme, so that the common judgment oftenest hits the truth in judging of our public actions.
2. That we may therefore know ourselves the better, and judge impartially of offences, we may observe the prudent way of parables, which the Spirit of God uses, throughout the Scriptures, to bring men to a sense of their condition by transferring the cause to another person, and showing men themselves in another's image. Our Saviour, who was exceeding tender, where he could find the least degree of modesty, uses this way of parables most frequently, instructing and reproving the Jews, in the person of a stranger. The end our Saviour drived at was not their shame, but their amendment, and therefore if they would but apprehend his meaning he would press no farther. "When the Lord of the Vineyard cometh" (Matthew 21:40) "what will he do to those husbandmen" who had beaten and stoned his servants and killed at last his son? "They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men," etc. Thus, by this parable, he brought, them to acknowledge the justice of God in destroying the Jewish people for their great, infidelity and cruelty shown to himself, the true Messiah. Had Nathan come to David and told-him of a certain prince in the world who, having abundance of wives and concubines of his own, would not yet, in a fit of dissolution, satisfy those inclinations, where he might without offence or injury, but, would needs send to one, who was his neighbour and a nobleman, to have his wife, who had but one, and whom he loved most tenderly, and accordingly debauched her, bereaving the man of all the joy and satisfaction of his life. Had Nathan addressed David with this story the king had found out his drift immediately, but the rude application would have given him such distaste that, though he might have been convinced of his guilt, yet probably he would not so freely have confessed himself guilty. The bluntness of reproof does not well suit with the modesty of human nature; and downright coming upon a man puts him upon his guard, into whose good liking you might have insinuated yourself and gained your point by artificial soft approaches. And people who design the benefit of those they would reprove will be careful to do it in the most acceptable manner; their chiefest aim is to secure their end. and their next point of wisdom is to use such methods as are easiest and most useful. And this especially should be observed in dealing with perverse tempers or with great superiors. And therefore great discretion is to temper zeal, to prevent its excesses; and zeal is to come in and hinder our discretion from degenerating into fear and cowardice, and being corrupted by our interest or self-love, for no example can be an adequate sufficient rule in all cases, to all people.
3. We may observe from hence the great partiality and blindness of self-love, that will not let us see how heinous our own offences are, nor suffer us to condemn them with the rigour they deserve, when we do see them. If the cruel oppression of this rich man in the parable deserved death, in the opinion of David, what would the violation of the marriage-bed deserve? And what the murder of the husband? When one would do justice one should remove the cause to a third person, and be wholly unconcerned; but when we would show mercy, then let us bring it home and put ourselves in the condition. And we may see how transcendently great the mercies of God are to men above what men can afford with reason to one another. Violent theft is worthy of death, so is adultery, and so is murder. They are offences that overthrow society and good order. Now all these sins are no less heinous in the sight of God than they are mischievous to men; and yet God pardons them upon repentance. 'Tis a true plague, this wickedness! A man infects all he converses with, and gives them death, but dies himself also. David makes Joab guilty of Uriah's death, and many other officers and soldiers, hut is himself, after all that, the man that kills Uriah. Men must not, therefore, think they avoid the guilt of many crimes by avoiding the being concerned immediately in committing them; there is a murdering men by other people's swords than our own, and a swearing people out of their estates by other men's perjuries, and a doing violence by other people's hands, of which we may ourselves be guilty, and for which we shall one day answer, as well as our instruments. A man may contract guilt, even by intentions, wishes, and desires, although they never take effect. If one man persuades another, his equal, to a piece of wickedness he will be guilty of that wickedness himself, though it be not plain how far, nor in what degree or measure; but if he command, or use authority with arguments, to his son, or servant, to commit the same wickedness, he will be, in such case, more guilty, proportionately to the power and influence a father or a 'master is presumed to have over a son or servant, which he uses to so bad purpose. If David the king, or Joab the general, command a common soldier to retire from Uriah in the heat of battle, and leave him to perish, they will be somewhat more guilty of Uriah's death than a common officer would be, though counselling the same thing, because the authority and influence of the former was so much greater, and more like to take effect, and the soldier is presumed to be more at liberty to refuse his compliance with such unjust and villainous commands, when they come from one who is nearer to him, and whose displeasure he dreads not so much, nor hopes so much from his favour. Let the people, therefore, that are busied in this bad work of setting others upon wicked actions consider this, that, however innocent they appear to the world, and unconcerned, however wary to avoid the censure of people and the punishment of the laws, by keeping out of sight, and at a distance, they are nevertheless guilty before God, according to the power and influence they have had over the instruments of wickedness that they employed, and that it will avail them little at the .day of judgment to have kept their tongues from perjury and their hands from blood or other violence when their hearts have been deeply concerned in willing and desiring, and contriving and resolving, and their tongues employed in insinuating, persuading, threatening, or commanding wickedness, to other people.
4. Another use that we may make of Nathan's application may be, to use his words ourselves upon occasion, to be in earnest, and to let our consciences pronounce these words distinctly to us, "Thou art the man," when there is reason. A prophet will not always be at hand to tell us when we have offended, but every one's own heart will be to him a prophet, and speak it plainly to him, if he will but hear it. 'Twas a strange lethargy that David fell into, for the space of at least ten months, and one can hardly tell how a man so quick and tender as he was could possibly continua so long unmolested; the liberties of princes and great men in the East were always very great, and so continue to this day. David knew better than all the world besides that he was guilty of it. David knew his own intentions and his orders. We are therefore at liberty to think that, David was not, for ten whole months, perfectly ignorant and unconcerned, and without all troublesome reflection on what had passed, but that he was, like people half asleep, alarmed with a sort of distant noise, but not enough to waken them throughout; he lay, as it were, in pleasing slumbers, and was afraid of rising to a full recollection of what he had done, and yet not able quite to shake it off. When I say, therefore, that a man should use these words of Nathan and be a prophet to himself, I mean that he should use no shifts or wicked arts to stifle his remembrance of his former life, but let his conscience do its part in reflecting on what is past, and in applying faithfully what is heard or read, proper to his condition, and I make no doubt but he would often hear it say with Nathan, "Thou art the man." And truly, unless a man will do his heart this right, as to let it speak freely, upon fit occasions, without endeavouring to choke or silence it, by vicious habits and a constant succession of business, or diversions, it will be hard for him ever to be again renewed to repentance.
(W. Felwood, D. D.)
I. THAT, WITHOUT CONTINUAL CARE, THE BEST OF MEN MAY BE LED INTO THE WORST OF CRIMES. Every man hath within him the principles of every bad action that the worst man ever did. And though in some they are languid, and seem scarce alive, yet, if fostered by indulgence, they will soon grow to incredible strength; nay, if only left to themselves, will, in seasons favourable to them, shoot up, and overrun the heart, with such surprising quickness that all the good seed shall be choked on a sudden by tares, which we never imagined had been within us. And what increases the danger is that each of us hath some wrong inclination or other, it is well if not several, beyond the rest natural to us, and the growth of the soil. Then, besides all our inward weaknesses, the world about us is thick set round with snares, differently formed; some provoking us to immoderate passion, or envious malignity; some alluring us with forbidden pleasures or softening us into supineness and indolence. Not that with all this we have the least cause to be disheartened, but only on our guard. He that imagines himself to be safe never is so; but they, who keep in their minds a sense of their danger, and pray for, and trust in, help from God, will always be able to avoid or go through it. Temptation hath no power, the great tempter himself hath no power, but that of using persuasion. Forced we cannot be, so long as we are true to ourselves. David at first violated only the rules of decency, which he might easily have observed, and have turned away his eyes from an improper object. This, which doubtless he was willing to think a very pardonable gratification of nothing worse than curiosity, carried him on far beyond his first intention, to the heinous crime of adultery. There, undoubtedly, he designed to stop, and keep what had passed secret from all the world. But virtue hath ground to stand upon; vice hath not; and, if we give way at all, the tendency downward increases every moment. Sometimes the treacherous pleasantness of the path invites us to stray a little farther, though we are sensible it descends to the gates of hell. Sometimes the consciousness that we are guilty already tempts us to fancy it immaterial how much more we become so, without reflecting that by every sin which we add we diminish the hope of retreat, and augment thy weight of our condemnation. Sometimes, again, as in the case before us, one act of wickedness requires another, or many more, to cover it. Lesser instances of undue parsimony grow insensibly into the meanest and most sordid avarice; lesser instances of greediness of gain into the most hard-hearted rapaciousness, And On the other hand, little negligences in their affairs, little affectations of living above their ability, little, pieces of expensive vanity and extravagance, are the direct road to those confirmed habits of carelessness and prodigality by which people foolishly and wickedly ruin themselves and their families, and too commonly others besides their own. Always, therefore, beware of small sins.
II. THAT MEN ARE APT TO OVERLOOK THEIR OWN MISDEMEANOURS, AND YET TO BE EXTREMELY QUICK-SIGHTED AND SEVERE IN RELATION TO THOSE OF OTHERS. The facts which David had committed were the most palpable, the most crying sins, that could be; nothing, one should think, to excuse them; nothing to disguise them; no name but their own to call them by: adultery, falsehood, murder. Even after the murder many months appear to have passed before Nathan was sent to him: still David had not recollected himself, but seemed to go on in perfect tranquillity. Nay, which is more astonishing than the rest, when the prophet bad contrived a story on purpose to convict him of his guilt, representing the first part of it so exactly that nothing, which was not the same under different names, could be liker, it never once brought it, so far as appears, to his memory. Yet all this while he had not, in the least degree, lost the sense of what was right and wrong in general. We all know our duty, or easily may: we are all abundantly ready at seeing and censuring what others do amiss; and yet we all continue, more or less, to do amiss ourselves without, regarding it. The main precepts of life, such as we are most apt to fail in, are partly obvious to reason, partly taught with sufficient clearness by revelation. Let all the sophistry in the world recommend, let all the powers upon earth enjoin, irreligion, cruelty, fraud, promiscuous lewdness: it will, notwithstanding, be altogether impossible, either to make the practice of them tolerable to society, or to change in all the inward abhorrence of them which mankind in general are led by nature to entertain. But still the majority even of heathens, and surely then of Christians, do or may, for the most part, as clearly discern what is blameable and commendable as what is crooked and straight. Let it be tried in the conduct of an acquaintance or contemporary; the principal danger will be of a sentence too rigorous. For if the sin brought in question before us be one to which we have no inclination we shall be sure to censure it without the least mercy. And though it be one of which we have been guilty, provided our guilt be unknown or forgotten, we can usually declare against it as harshly as the most innocent person alive. Or how moderate soever the consciousness of our own past behaviour might otherwise dispose us to be: yet if once we come to be sufferers ourselves by the same kind of sins, which we have formerly indulged, and perhaps often made others suffer by them, then we can be immoderately loud in our complaints of what formerly we fancied, or pretended, had little or no hurt in it. Nay, without any such provocation, few things are commoner than to hear people condemn their own faults in those around them. Now these instances prove, we arc convinced, that all sorts of sins are wrong: only we err in the application of our conviction. No one's failings escape us but our own: and of them the most glaring escape us. Self-love persuades us to think favourably of our conduct in general. Then, in some things, the bounds between lawful and unlawful are hard to be exactly determined. Now, unfair minds lay hold on these difficulties with inexpressible eagerness: and choosing, not, as they should, the safer side, but that to which the bias within attracts them, proceed, under the cover of such doubts, to the most undoubted wickedness: as if, because it is not easy to say precisely, at what moment of the evening light ends and darkness begins, therefore midnight could not be distinguished from noonday. Thus, because it cannot be ascertained just how much every one ought to give in charity, too many will give nothing, or next to nothing. Because it cannot be exactly decided how much time is the most that we may allowably spend in recreation and amusement: therefore multitudes will consume almost the whole of their days in trifling instead of applying to the proper business of life, in order to give their account, with joy to him who shall judge the quick and the dead. These and the like things they will, some of them, defend and palliate with wonderful acuteness; designed partly to excuse them to others, but chiefly to deceive and pacify themselves. Not that they ever attain either of these ends. For their neighbours, after all, just as plainly perceive their faults, as they perceive those of their neighbours. And it is but a half deceit that they put upon their own souls. Yet this dream of security is but a very disturbed one: nothing like the clear and joyful perception that he hath, whose conscience is thoroughly awake, and assures him of his own innocence, or true repentance, and interest in the pardon which his Redeemer hath purchased. But in however strong delusion God may permit them to remain at present, how can they be sure but ere long remorse may seize them, an adversary expose them. Therefore, one of the happiest things imaginable is being made sensible of our sins in time: and the first step to that is reflecting how liable we are both to commit them and to overlook them.
III. THAT, AS SOON AS WE ARE, BY ANY MEANS, MADE SENSIBLE OF OUR OFFENCES WE OUGHT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THEM WITH DUE PENITENCE. Indeed, let the person that makes you known to yourselves be ever so little authorised to do it, still you are indispensably con-concerned to take notice of it. If he profess himself a friend, he hath given you the truest and boldest proof of his friendship that can be. If he be a mere acquaintance or a stranger, but appear to admonish you with good intention, you ought to esteem him for it as long as you live. And were you to believe him ever so much your enemy, never let that provoke you to become your own; think only if he speaks truth, and submit to it; amend, and disappoint him. Strive not to make yourself easy in what you feel is wrong, but quit it. Strive not to colour over and palliate matters, for this is deceiving no one but your own souls.
IV. THAT IF WE REPENT AS WE OUGHT THE GREATEST SINS WILL BE FORGIVEN US. This, indeed, our own reason cannot promise with any certainty at all. God we know is good. Man is frail. And hence we have cause to hope that his goodness will extend to the pardon of our frailties. But, then, in proportion as we go beyond frailties, to gross, deliberate, habitual transgressions, this hope diminishes continually, till at length it becomes exceedingly doubtful. And now, as we are strangely apt to apply everything wrong, too many, instead of the extreme of despondency, run into that of profane boldness: and are very near looking upon sin as nothing to be dreaded, and remission of sin as nothing to be thankful for. At least the certainty of it they conceive, they could easily have discovered of themselves, and therefore have little obligation to Christ, the publisher of a truth so obvious. Indeed, after all that hath been done to assure us it shall be exercised, there are some, of minds more tenderly sensible than ordinary, who, after committing great offences, or perhaps only such as to them appear very great, experience the utmost reluctance, either to be reconciled to themselves, or persuaded that God will be reconciled to them. How ill soever you may think of yourselves; though God requires you not in the least to think worse than the truth, and would have you judge calmly of your spiritual state, not under the disability of a fright; but whatever opinion you may form of your own defects, forbear to entertain all injurious one of him. When tie hath sent His blessed Son to make atonement for you, when He hath told you in His holy Word, when tie tells you by His ministers every day, that this atonement reaches to the very worst of cases, do not except your own in contradiction to Him, do not indulge doubts and scruples about what He hath plainly promised, in order to be miserable against His will, but, together with the sorrow of having offended, allow yourselves to feel the joy of being restored to favour.
V. THAT WICKEDNESS, EVEN AFTER IT IS FORSAKEN, AND AFTER IT IS FORGIVEN, PRODUCES NEVERTHELESS VERY OFTEN CONSEQUENCES SO LAMENTABLE THAT FOR THIS CAUSE, AMONGST OTHERS, INNOCENCE IS GREATLY PREFERRABLE TO THE SINCEREST AND COMPLETEST REPENTANCE THAT EVER WAS. Sometimes no immediate connection between the transgression and the suffering is visible, that it may seem to be the hand of God rather than a natural effect; though, indeed, would men consider, every effect proceeds from His hand, but commonly they are closely linked, to deter men from committing iniquity, by showing them beforehand what fruits they must expect it to produce.
(Alex. Whyte, D. D.)
And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.
I. IT CANNOT BE SAID THAT CONSCIENCE IS DEAD. For no sooner does David hear a story of oppression than his conscience rises majestically in con-detonation of the rich man's execrable tyranny. The conscience was quick and powerful; otherwise it could not have asserted itself so immediately and majestically. Conscience cannot die. There are certain moral truths which shine by their own light and need not that any should bear witness to them. These moral axioms require no proof: they abide for ever in the constitution of man. Just as mathematical axioms, such as "Things which are equal to the same are equal to one another," are accepted by all men as fundamental and final: so there are moral axioms, such as "Honesty is right," or "Truth is right," which require no laboured demonstration, but by their own intrinsic excellence command acceptance at once and by all. These moral intuitions cannot perish. They are a part of man's being. A man may mistake the application or resist the force of these moral certainties, but he never can deny their reality. In this fact lies the hope of the world's salvation. There is in every soul a sense of right and wrong. Prove to any one that he is a sinner, reach the conscience, and redemption is already begun. From this fact, those engaged in Christian work may gather great confidence. Every witness for Christ has a friend in the court of man's nature. A man may be so engrossed with the pursuit of what is merely pleasant or profitable that he may not hear at all, or hear but in a dim and confused way, the warnings and entreaties of the inner monitor, just as a member of the family circle, busy at some book or task, may be so preoccupied with his own thoughts and employment, that he hears and yet does not hear the conversation of those around him, and answers the questions even that may be addressed directly to him in that provokingly dreamy and abstracted manner, characteristic of absent-mindedness. So we hear, even though we may only vaguely heed, the voice of conscience. A man may even encase his conscience in a mailed coat of deliberate and hardened villany, but conscience is still there, a living, breathing immortal entity. At any moment a word, a glance of the eye, a pressure of the hand, may be an arrow to penetrate some joint of the harness. There are many ways of reaching the conscience, as there are many ways of touching the heart. It may be only a brief story, like Nathan's parable, or a single verse, or a child's sermon; but any one is sword enough to pierce the quick sense of right and wrong. Take comfort, then, my fellow-labourer, from this thought that in every man conscience lives, moves, and has its being; and that however closely confined it may be in the dungeon of ignorance or depravity, a word of God can shake the prison as with an earthquake, and wring from the sturdiest keeper's soul the cry, "What must I do to be saved?"
II. BUT LET US GO A LITTLE DEEPER AND ASK, HOW IS IT THAT THOUGH DAVID'S CONSCIENCE WAS IN ITSELF LIVING AND VIGOROUS, IT WAS ACTUALLY SO LONG IN MOVING AGAINST HIMSELF? In endeavouring to answer this question, we must remember that conscience is not an independent faculty. Its judgments are founded on the representations of the mind. The intellect furnishes the premises on which the moral faculty rests its conclusions. If the premises are wrong, the inferences must be erroneous, even though they are in themselves correctly drawn. To be a little more specific, conscience never undertakes to tell me what is honest in a particular case; my own intellect tells me that: but conscience, as soon as the intellect decides what is honest, authoritatively declares that the honest course is right and ought to be pursued. Conscience never says any more. than this, that "honesty, or purity, or veracity is right;" it is for the intellect to state what is honest, or pure, or truthful. Consequently, if the information furnished to the conscience by the intellect is defective, or exaggerated, or distorted, or wholly mistaken, the judgment of conscience will be proportionately in error. The moral axioms are in themselves infallibly correct, but they may be wrongly applied, just as the axioms of mathematics, while infallibly correct in themselves, may be wrongly applied. I turn my intellect to consider certain actions, and I carry, suppose, the assurance to my conscience that these are honest add those dishonest. Immediately conscience, acting on the information of the intellect, asserts that the former are right and the latter wrong. But if the intellect is mistaken, conscience must be correspondingly mistaken. Conscience is like an eye, which is round and good m itself, but which is compelled to look on men and things through the window of the understanding. If the intervening glass is not pure and spotless, if it is coloured or discoloured, the external world will, to my eye, be tinged or blurred accordingly; or if this pane is marred by a knot, that one by a bubble, that other by an abnormal curve, all by some defect, then my view will be distorted, nature will be twisted out of shape, in accordance with the character of the medium. Yet the fault is not in my organ of vision or in the outside world, but in the interposing panes of glass. Herein lies the possibility of two consciences, equally good and true in themselves, giving totally opposite, or widely diverse, decisions on the very same data. An easy conscience, therefore, is not always a safe guide. A man may fight even against God with a perfectly clear conscience: a man may go to hell with a perfectly clear conscience. There is a story told by John Foster in one of his essays of a wicked and traitorous naval captain, who, unable to coax or coerce his sailors into a vile surrender to the foe, concealed a large loadstone at a little distance from the needle. The sailors, unaware of the cruel trick played' upon them, steered their vessel faithfully by the compass, but to their degradation and destruction, for their misplaced confidence carried them directly into a hostile port and the enemy's pitiless hands. Yet all the while these misguided mariners thought that all was well because they were steering by the compass. And, indeed, the needle was right in itself, tremblingly sensitive, ready to point in the proper direction if it had not been tampered with, if it had not been turned aside from its true bearing by an influence that the hapless crew wot not of. Just so many a one is going to ruin, shaping his course, as he thinks, by conscience; but it is a conscience directed, or rather misdirected, by a darkened mind, an evil heart, a sinful will. Thus, many a man, who has not yet had his heart changed, manages to say to himself, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace. Certainly all should believe in Christ; but does not he believe in Christ? So he keeps interpreting or misinterpreting matters to his conscience; so conscience is soothed; so the sinner, often a respectable, well-clad, high-toned, pure-minded sinner, is lost. It is thus possible for us to keep saying, "Peace, peace," until by mere reiteration we come to believe our assertion. It is proverbial that a man may tell a lie so often that he comes at last to believe his own falsehood; and a soul may be at ease in Zion, the conscience reposing on a specious and comfortable falsehood or half truth, which frequent repetition clothes with an air of authority. What reason, then, in view of the awful possibility of being self-deceived, we have for scrutinising and re-scrutinising our outward conduct, and as for the inner man humbly and earnestly we should cry to God each for himself: "O Lord, teach me Thy way. Lead in a plain path, for I know nothing as I ought to know. Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
III. BUT STILL THE QUESTION RECURS, HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR A MAN LIKE DAVID TO BE GUILTY, LIKE DAVID, OF MOST ABOMINABLE CRIMES, AND YET SOOTHE HIS CONSCIENCE INTO QUIETNESS? We can understand a man misinterpreting actions that are not palpably and notoriously evil, where there may be room for mistake and misapprehension, and so furnishing his conscience with misleading information. But how is it possible for one, like David, to perpetrate the enormities of which he was guilty and yet remain easy in his mind? How could he by any chance so misreport the facts of such a glaring case to the impartial tribunal within? Here we enter on one of the most solemn subjects that could be considered, the blinding influence of the love of self. Love is notoriously blind: and self-love — the most subtle, ineradicable of all loves — is the blindest of all, so that even if our hands, like David's, be steeped in blood, we have still some excuse to offer for ourselves. It is this love of self that makes us very conscious of the changes that take place in our neighbour's appearance, but slow to note our own. We see the pallor of disease, the wrinkles of care, or the whitening of old age, far more readily in others than in ourselves. Loathsome diseases are far more bearable in ourselves than in others. What would be tedious and offensive in others is perfectly tolerable in ourselves. So in spiritual things, we can behold the motelike splinter in our neighbour's eye, but the weaver's beam in our own we may not discern. I knew two men, occupying good social positions, who were unhappily addicted to drink, They lived in the same town, and their families were very intimate. Each of them was blessed with an excellent wife. Again and again have I heard each of these men in turn, when he happened to be sober and his neighbour was indulging in a bout of drinking, railing at the drunken husband over the way, and pitying the splendid woman who had the misfortune-to be tied to such a soil all this in tones of unquestioned sincerity. What is the explanation of this? In judging ourselves we have the love of self on our side as a special pleader. David may have said to himself: "I was very idle, and Bathsheba was very beautiful. I was specially tempted." Or he may have flattered himself with the thought: " After all, I did not kill Uriah. I did indeed order him to be put in a place of danger, but some one had to stand in the forefront of the battle, and why not he as well as another? Moreover, is not Uriah a Hittite? Is he not one of a race that we are authorised to exterminate?" Or he may have soothed his conscience with the notion that if he had done wrong to Uriah it was for no merely selfish purpose, but in order as far as possible to recompense Bathsheba for the injury inflicted on her. Possibly by some such arguments, at all events by some subtle reasonings and excuses, dictated by the love of self and the pride of life, he succeeded in veiling the filthiness of his conduct from the clear eye of the moral faculty. What a commentary is all this on the blindness of man to his personal guilt! Here was one, who had been wont to live in close and happy fellowship with God, and vet yielded to and lived in flagrant sin for a long time, without apparently being conscious of its vileness. Ah, beloved, do we not stand sorely in need of some one who will tell us the truth about ourselves? Is Christ our enemy because He tells us the truth? There is in reality in every one of us the seeds of thoroughgoing depravity. If we say that we have not the principle of sin we simply deceive ourselves. The principle of sin may take divers forms, varying according to men's training, opportunities, hereditary tendencies, peculiar temptations, associates, and such like; but, whatever form it takes, the principle is there. What varied manifestations there are of matter in nature. There it is in the clouds, in the rushing wind, in the gas lighter than air, in the flowing river and the restless ocean, in the green field and the snow-capped mountain, in the pebble from the brook and the rock dug from the quarry. Analyse these multitudinous forms, and you will find all alike in essence; there is one elementary substance throughout all this manifoldness.
(G. Hanson, M. A.)
(R. J. Campbell.)
I. THE FORCE OF A DIRECT APPEAL TO THE CONSCIENCE. General allusions to human guilt, coupled though they may be with fervent exhortations to repentance, fail to produce conviction and compliance. Ordinary arguments, though derived from the Word of God, and based on the love of God, are ineffectual to melt and subdue. All the ordinary strivings of the Spirit are resisted and repelled.
II. MAN'S WEAKNESS WITH CONCEALED SIN IN HIS HEART. Of all the men of his age, up to this time, David was certainly, intellectually and spiritually considered, the strongest. Righteousness is man's strength, and the fear of God his courage. What wild and foolish fears affright the guilty one, who has covered his sin, who has hidden, as he thinks, from all mortal gaze every trace of the deed he has wrought, the exposure of which is his shame, but in whose heart, nevertheless, the horrid fact lies festering and pulsating! The weakest point in a wicked man's heart, after all, is his own conscience — that principle within that sits in judgment on all his doings, and pronounces which are right and which are wrong. And in a great wrong conscience will cry out with a loud voice.
III. OF THE LOVE OF GOD IN THE EXPOSURE OF GUILT OPENING UP TO THE GUILTY THE POSSIBILITY OF FORGIVENESS. NOW, what will God do with him? Will He inflict an instantaneous vengeance, and execute him as a criminal? He deserves it; it is the legal award of his crime. No, not the God of Love; not if it can be avoided; not if God can make a way to avoid it. He makes such a way. "The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion, slow to anger, and of great mercy. He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger for ever." So sang the psalmist hereafter, and well could he verify his song. "The Lord hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die," are the first words of mercy to revive hope in David's stricken heart. Not in wrath, but in love, sent the Lord His prophet unto David. The text is a sharp arrow, but it is tipped with honey, not with poison, It is a healing, not a killing dart. Its message is painful, but it is a message of mercy. Was it not Divine love that thus hung as a dense cloud charged with electric fire, threatening to smite him? Let us learn, then, that the judgments of God as well as His mercies embody and exhibit His love. Let us learn in it God's disciplinary and chastising dealings with ourselves. And in Christ we have the fullest revelation of His love. Beginning with the forgiveness of sins to the perfecting of our manhood in Christ — let us remember there is forgiveness with Him.
(W. J. Bull, B. A.)
(T. Nolan, M. A.)
I. THAT NO MAN IS PLACED BEYOND THE DANGER CF PERPETRATING THE MOST ATROCIOUS CRIMES — crimes which are equally offensive to God, injurious to society, and destructive to the criminal. This observation is strikingly confirmed in the instance of David, the king of Israel. There was no advantage on the side of virtue and religion which he did not possess. What ought to operate as a preventive of wickedness, which did not distinguish this man at the very moment when he consented to become the most guilty of his species?
1. Shall rank, wealth, and glory be pleaded as a security against the perpetration of evil? David possessed them all. How extensive was his range of lawful gratification! In the figurative language of the prophet, "he had exceeding many flocks and herds." The occupiers of thrones have too frequently been as notorious for their vices as conspicuous for their stations. Blessings tainted by depravity are curses in disguise.
2. Genius of the highest order, learning of the most useful kind, taste exquisitely refined, and capable of the purest satisfactions — will not these preserve the character, at least, from the foulest blots of iniquity? No; dead and living illustrations prove the contrary.
3. May we not confidently hope that the sobriety of mature age, no longer subject to the fervours of youthful passion, will present an effectual barrier against the inroads of crime? The time had long passed away when it was said of David that "he was a youth, and ruddy."
4. But surely long habits of the strictest virtue, founded on principles of genuine and long cultivated piety, will place an individual on a pinnacle too high for temptation to reach. This good man, even when grown old in religion, was guilty of deeds which many habitual sinners, though prompted by youthful passion and unrestrained by the fear of God, would still have abhorred, But, indeed, when once we allow ourselves to go wrong we can neither know nor guess the consequences. That sin, indeed, with which David began is peculiarly ensnaring and pernicious. The lower degrees of immodesty lead on imperceptibly to the most unlawful familiarities. These entangle in a variety of difficulties that ensure at last the commission of the vilest and cruellest acts imaginable. And to specify no more particulars, mere indolent omissions of religious duties, public or private, leave our sentiments of piety to languish till we become utterly unmindful of our eternal interest, and perhaps at last profane scoffers.
II. THAT MANY OF US, WHO LEAST SUSPECT OURSELVES, ARE CHARGEABLE WITH SIMILAR OFFENCES OR TENDENCIES TO THOSE OFFENCES WHICH WE MOST SEVERELY CONDEMN IN OTHERS. We lift up our voice, End justly, against the perjured, the ungenerous, the insulting adulterer; the wretch, who robs his neighbour, perhaps his friend, by one fatal act, of his dearest treasure, and his peace of mind; but have we pondered well the saying of him who declares, "Whoso looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his own heart?" The will, before God, is the deed. Do we regard with exemplary strictness the law of equity? If we do not grossly defraud, do we not go beyond our brother, and take advantage of his ignorance or weakness? In order to shorten human life, it is not necessary to employ the pistol and the dagger. Servants may be easily brought to an untimely grave by stinting them with respect to their necessary food, clothes, lodging, or fuel; or by a repetition of tasks unnecessarily burdensome. The pleadings in this case might be greatly extended, and the mask torn off from many whose criminality is perhaps still hidden from themselves.
(J. Armstrong, D. D.)
(A. Brunton. D. D.)
(H. O. Mackey.)
Christian Commonwealth.was a type. He has had many a successor. John Knox at the Court of Queen Mary, Bossuet preaching before the "Grand Monarque" of France, Savonarola thundering from his Florentine pub at the vices of "Lorengo the Magnificent" and the nobles, Martin Luther defying, in the name of righteousness, the conclave of princes and cardinals at Worms, Hugh Latimer preaching at Westminster in the days of fearful peril to the faithful, Peter exclaiming, "We must fear God rather than man!"
(E. P. Thwing.)
Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord.
I. HIS GENERAL CHARACTER. It is a character difficult, perhaps, to understand, but its very difficulty makes it instructive. It is full of variety, full of impulse, full of genius; it is like the characters of our own later times — complicated, intricate, vast; it covers a great range of characters amongst ourselves; it is not like one class or character only, but like many; it is like you, it is like me; it is like this man and that man. He is the shepherd, and the student, and the poet, and the soldier, and the King. He is the adventurous wanderer, strong and muscular, "his feet like steel." He is the silent observer of the heavens by night, "the moon and the stars which God has ordained." He is the devoted friend, the first example of youthful friendship, loving Jonathan "with a love passing the love of women." He is the generous enemy, sparing his rival. He is the father mourning with passionate grief the loss of his favourite child: "O my son Absalom." Again and again we feel that he is one of us — that his feelings, his pleasures, his sympathies, are such as we outwardly love and admire, even if we do not enter into them. But yet more than this, it is exactly that mixture of good and evil which is in ourselves; not all good nor all evil, but a mixture of both — of a higher good, and of a deeper evil, yet still both together. But it is the other side of his character that we are now called to consider; and yet, It is only by considering both sides together that we call draw its true lesson flora either. It was to this tender, and brave, and loving character that the Prophet Nathan came, with the Story of the hard-hearted, mean-spirited man. Every just and generous feeling in David's heart was roused by the story: its simple pathos, now worn through and through by much repetition, was then felt in all the freshness of its first utterance: his anger was kindled against the man. No lengthened comment can add anything to the startling effect of the disclosure of this sudden descent from all that was high and good to all that was base and miserable.
II. DAVID'S REPENTANCE AND OUR OWN.
1. Let us observe how the Scripture narrative deals with the case. It does not exaggerate — it does not extenuate. David's goodness is not denied because of his sin, nor his sin because of his goodness. The fact that he was the man after God's own heart is not thrust out of sight because he was the man of Nathan's parable. The fact of his sin is not denied, lest it should give occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme. This is the first lesson that we learn.
2. The sin of David, and his unconsciousness of his own sin, and so also his repentance through the disclosure to him of his own sin, are exactly what are most likely to take place in characters like his, like ours, made up of mixed forms of good and of evil. The hardened, depraved, worldly man is not ignorant of his sin — he knows it, he defends it, he is accustomed to it. But the good man, or the man who is half good and half bad — he overlooks his sin. His good deeds conceal his bad deeds, often even from others, more often still from himself. Even out of those very gifts which are most noble, most excellent in themselves, may come our chief temptations.
3. Let us observe both the exact point of Nathan's warning, and the exact point of David's repentance. It is most instructive to observe that Nathan in his parable calls attention, not to the sensuality and cruelty of David's crime, but simply to its intense and brutal selfishness. It is remarkable that even deeper than David's sense, when once aroused, of his injustice to man, was his sense of his guilt and shame before God: — "Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight." Dark as is the shade of the dark sin done to man, a yet darker shade falls over it when viewed in the unchanging light of the All-Pure and the All-Merciful. This is perhaps especially the case with these grosser sins. David is driven by the very fervour of his penitence to speak of this one sin as he would have spoken of all sins. Every one of us is in danger of falling into sins of which we have no expectation beforehand, of which, like David, we are ignorant even after we have committed them. Whatever be our special failing — self-indulgence, vanity, untruth, uncharitableness — and however it be made known to us — by friends, by preachers, by reflection, by sorrow, by the death of our firstborn, by the ruin of our house — let David's feeling respecting it be ours.
4. This leads us to see what is the door which God opens, in such cases as David's, for repentance and restoration. There is the general lesson, taught by this, as by a thousand ether passages both of the Old and the New Testaments — that, as far as human eye can judge, no case is too late or too bad to return, if only the heart can be truly roused to a sense of its own guilt and of God's holiness. "Thou desirest no sacrifice;" — consider the immense force of the words; how wise, how consoling, how vast in their reach of meaning — "Thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it Thee; Thou delightest not in burnt-offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." So spoke David in the fulness of his penitence. So taught the Son of David in the fulness of His grace and truth. Two final lessons we may learn from David's repentance. For others, it teaches us to regard with tenderness the faults, the sins, the crimes of those who, gifted with great and noble qualities, are, by that strange union of strength and weakness which we so often see, betrayed into acts which more ordinary, commonplace characters avoid or escape. And for ourselves, let us remember the still more important lesson that such a foundation of good as that which there was in David's character is never thrown away. If it is not. able to resist the trial altogether, it will at least be best able to recover from it.
(A. P. Stanley, M. A.)
I. AS THE SIN HAD BEEN PUBLIC, SO WAS HIS REPENTANCE, His penitent confession is recorded to the end of time, to be read by every child of God, and be made the vehicle of hearty confession by every penitent sinner until the day of judgment.
II. HE PUTS UTTERLY OUT OF THE ACCOUNT ALL HIS FORMER FAITHFUL SERVICE; there is not so much as a hint of it; and if a person did not know how David had hitherto walked before the Lord, and been his faithful minister on many trying occasions in the Church of God, he could not have guessed it from any expression here. The truly contrite heart gives glory to God for all the good, and takes shame to itself for all the evil. Here is one of the difficult things in true repentance; how unwilling is the heart to lose sight of any thing which it can set against its sin! Even when it sees the vanity and sinfulness of doing this, it still clings to a lurking comfort in the thought of some merit; it is unwilling to forego every support of self-righteousness, to place itself at the bar of God's judgment, and to be found speechless without one word of defence; yet so David did.
III. HIS REPENTANCE FOLLOWED UP BY ACTIONS. See the utter resignation with which he submits to the first instalment of his punishment in the death of the child; see, again, how humbly he bears the curse of Shimei, when he cries out, "Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial;" thus cruelly reminding him of the very sins which we have been considering. How utterly dead was the spirit of self-justification in the heart of the man who could speak and act thus!
IV. REPENTANCE IN ITS TRUE NATURE IS NOT THE WORK OF A CERTAIN NUMBER OF DAYS OR YEARS; IT LASTS THROUGH LIFE. As David says, "My sin is ever before me," and as David showed by his humbleness of heart to the end of his life.
V. THE SIGHT OF HIS FORGIVENESS. God, who seeth the heart of man, saw the real worth of Erase words, "I have sinned against the Lord." He saw in them the deeds which followed them; He knew that they were not showy blossoms, that would soon drop off, without any setting of fruit, like flowers in an unsuitable climate; He saw in them the earnest of much and good fruit, as in a tree that is in its proper soil and genuine climate. The beginning and the end are at once in the sight of God, and He knew that the words came from a heart which would make them good by the help of His grace; and therefore He accepted David's repentance, and commissioned the prophet Nathan to say unto him, "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die."
(B. W. Evans, B. D.)
1. The history of this pious and sincere servant of God is like a broken hull deeply imbedded in the sand, and the ragged masts emerging from the waves to tell others of the danger and to warn them to steer away from the shoal on which this gallant ship was wrecked. David's sad story has a voice to every open ear, "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall."
2. But this history illustrates David's character, while it brings out in parallel the character of God. Did God who has so fully recorded the particulars of his servant's crimes — did He wink at the crime? Did God dread the exposure of David, and care to hide the crime, because the criminal was one of His own family, and household? Let him who is disposed to sneer at David's fall, and to think that God may be partial, study well and carefully the record of David's punishment. But is that all that David's sin and David's fall should teach us and has taught us of judgment?
3. Does it tell us nothing of mercy? Does it bring out nothing further, both of God's character, and the character of His true, though fallen child? "I have sinned against the Lord:" That one thought spreads its sorrowful influence over his whole soul. "My base ingratitude against God, my foul dishonour done to God, the deep offence against his holiness, the sad requital of His unmerited goodness" — that one thought like a dark veil, shuts out all others.
4. And does not David's feeling as a child bring out and illustrate the feeling of God as a father? "If he commit iniquity, I will punish his offences with the rod and his sin with scourges; nevertheless I will not take away my loving kindness from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail." When the child who has sinned comes back with a broken spirit, and melting heart, to his wronged and injured, but still loving father, will that father refuse the pardon which is now all in all to his repenting child? Will he turn away coldly from the returning prodigal, and not forgive the offence so deeply felt, so fully acknowledged, and so evidently repeated? And so the broken-hearted David has scarcely sobbed out, "I have sinned against the Lord," when he who knew how true and deep that sorrow was that wrung his heart, replied by his prophet, "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die."
(W. W. Champneys, M. A.)
I. MEN OFTEN CORRECTLY UNDERSTAND A MESSAGE FROM THE LORD WITHOUT OBSERVING ITS PERSONAL APPLICATION TO THEMSELVES. David listens with interest and indignation to the words of the prophet. You do wonder, as you observe the appropriateness of the words, that he does not himself see the meaning of the parable. You feel in reading it as if it did not require any exposition. You understand Nathan as soon as you hear his tale. But David heard no interpreter, and in pronouncing judgment upon the unknown offender unconsciously condemned himself, the real culprit. Yet this is so like human nature that I feel the truthfulness of the account. Just like him many of you feel under a message from the Lord. You do not think of yourselves. How many times have some of you uttered your own condemnation, while you supposed you had been pronouncing righteous judgment upon others! To you he has opened his mouth in a parable, and uttered a dark saying; but only because you have not had the true interpretation. Yet often the interpreter was there, if you had consulted him.
II. THE BEGINNING OF RECOVERY FROM SINS TO PRODUCE IN THE HEART OF THE SINNER DEEP CONVICTIONS OF HIS OWN SINFULNESS. To send a messenger to David, though he brought from the Lord the most severe rebuke of the sin, was yet an auspicious omen and sign of mercy for the sinner. Notwithstanding the grievousness and aggravation of the sin, God had not utterly cast off His servant. In wrath He remembered mercy. Mercy he did obtain; but it is for you to observe the sorrowful way he had to travel in order to find mercy of the Lord. The words of Nathan were never forgotten. Let no man think he may sin with impunity. Let no backslider comfort himself with the thought that he will be restored in due time. Restored he may be; but he will retrace every step with many tears. He will be brought back with many stripes, and made to feel, in the sadness of his soul, the evil of his sin, that never, as long as he lives, he may think lightly of it any more.
III. FOR HEINOUS SINS A PROVISION OF MERCY IS MADE, BUT SO MADE AS WILL SECURE LONG AND HUMBLING RECOLLECTIONS OF THE AGGRAVATED GUILT. David was pardoned — freely pardoned — though his sin was very great upon him. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
(R. Halley, D. D.)
The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.I. THE LORD CONVINCING THE SINNER. We Observe that the impression which pierced most deeply was this — he had sinned against his God.
II. GOD PARDONING SIN. This appears particularly deserving of notice, as God's dealing with David may well be regarded as in the case of Paul, a pattern to those who should after believe upon him to life everlasting. It is plain that pardon was here bestowed as an act of God's free and royal grace; it was extended according to his will, at his own time, and in his appointed way. The way in which the Lord here forgave his guilty servant may appear to mere human reason as by no means the wisest; but to such a thought we may well reply, "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." A deeper view would convince us that no other way could have so well displayed the attributes of Jehovah, or so secured the heartfelt humiliation and subsequent holiness of David. Again, this mode of forgiveness must have melted the soul of David into that. union of self-loathing and gratitude, which constitutes genuine repentance, and gives hope and peace, without which there can be no willing obedience, while the memory of the past would ever keep alive self-distrust and watchfulness.
III. THE LORD CHASTENS THE RESTORED PENITENT. Nathan had previously declared that the sword should not depart from his house, but that in domestic trouble his own sin should return upon him; and now he pronounced that, to mark the injury his fall had done to the cause of God, the child of his sinful affection should die. We are not to think from this that any guilt still remained charged upon him before the Lord — no, for his sin was put away — but for his own good and for our admonition, he underwent this painful discipline. Applications:
1. I think this subject speaks a word to the careless or hardened sinner. Are you trying to hope as far as you think about it, that God will pass over your sins? Beware, they must be absolutely pardoned here, or absolutely punished hereafter.
2. There is much also here for the Christian to ponder on — he will reflect with joy and great consolation upon this gracious proof of the infinite mercy of the Lord — to many a soul it has furnished a successful reply to the infected doubts of the tempter; but it unfolds an awful picture of the heart of man. While we learn here that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, let us ever remember that our own strength is but weakness, and to trust in our own hearts foolishness; for that God alone is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.
1. We have two cases of sinners who have been entirely pardoned, and whose actions after the announcement of that pardon have been left on the record of Scripture — David and Mary Magdalene. Certain distinct features appear in their cases after forgiveness, which are separate from the features of their penitence; an intensity of love proportioned to the amount of remitted debt, a life of continual carefulness, and a pathway in which they trod more or less softly to the end el their days. And all this proceeding partly from the deepest gratitude, and partly from the encouragement afforded by knowing they were forgiven. We are all familiar with the glorious effects of the pronouncing of pardons in the case of earthly criminals and earthly punishments. These may as faint shadows symbolise to us the effect on our spiritual life of the pronounced pardon of sin.
2. Under the Jewish dispensation we frequently find that a certain bodily trial was annexed as a penalty to an act of rebellion against God; and when that act of rebellion was repented of the act was cancelled.(1) Thus Zacharias offended against God by the expression of unbelief in the promise of the angel; the penalty of speechlessness was immediately annexed to his crime.(2) The children of Israel rebelled against God by their constant desire to return to Egypt, their unwillingness to yield to the law of Sinai, which imposed a new curb on their stubborn dispositions, and a reluctance to go up and conquer the holy land, where the sons of Anak dwelt. The constant wandering in the wilderness was their punishment.(3) It would be highly dangerous to us to attempt to apply this rule rigidly to our own case. We are seldom certain of the connection between the cause and effect in the case of our own troubles, and even, where we might be able, we should find it hard to say in what cases the removal of infirmity is equivalent to the statement of pardon. But to a certain degree we may apply this rule.
3. But there are other conditions which we may take, as in some degree equivalent to a pronounced pardon. When a sin has bound us in its chains, and we lamenting over its dominion use every effort to subdue it and at last succeed, and form the contrary habit, we may naturally hope that that sin is forgiven. When we remain tied and bound by the chain of our sins in spite of every effort to overcome them, we may take for granted that He, Whose grace is all-sufficient, refuses on account of some lurking impenitence to grant the pardon. There is some goodly Babylonish garment hidden in the heart, and till that is given up the dark citadel will not yield. The moment the surrender is entire, God's hand will free the captive, and the stronger man will enter the strong man's house, take his spoils and the armour wherein he trusted. There are times when strong inward persuasions, feelings of inward joy, the witness of the Spirit may be indications of God's forgiveness. When these feelings are permanent, real, and healthy, we may fairly argue that they can proceed from no other source than the blessed Spirit of God.
4. We must consider the result of pardon on the penitent.(1) An intense, earnest, cheerful desire to follow God for the future would be the first impulse of the pardoned sinner. When the man of Gadara was released from Legion, his first impulse was to sit for ever at Jesu's feet. When. Mary's pardon had proceeded from the lips of Him Who never fails, wherever He was, there was she; at the cross, over against the sepulchre, and in the garden on Easter morning. When the blind man of Jericho received his sight from our Blessed Lord, his first impulse was to forsake every worldly consideration and follow Christ. The first impulse of the prodigal, under the hope of possible forgiveness from an offended father, was to work for the remainder of his life cheer. fully as a hired servant. When David had been assured of the forgiveness of God for his sin, his first impulse was to take, with the utmost patience, his punishment, and to rise up cheerfully to go about his religious and his secular duties.(2) Another result of the consciousness of forgiveness is the definiteness of a new beginning of a heavenly life. When a dreary past lies behind us, to which there is no definite end, a long waste of hazy night, an unascertained morning with no clear sunbeams to mark the border-land, we lack spirit and energy in our religious course. When the brilliance of that morning light wholly eclipses the night past we travel on like new beginners, briskly, and clearly and energetically.(3) A third result which arises from the pardoned state is the power to cast off the chains of a now past captivity. The mere consciousness of a sin clinging to us, because unpardoned, gives a continual sense of inconsistency, a constant dread lest the labour we are spending should be in vain.(4) The pardoned condition enables us to realise with a full and vivid power the objects both of faith and hope. These considerations with respect to the pardoned state should lead us to all the lawful investigation which we may follow of what are the trustworthy tokens of that condition; and while we should never rest satisfied for one moment with remaining on the border-land between doubtful and ascertained duty, we should surely also strive to ascertain as closely as we can the real nature and power of absolution-committed to the Church.
I. HEAVY AFFLICTIONS ARE NO SIGNS OF AN UNPARDONED CONDITION. There are times, perhaps, when we find it difficult to believe this truth. A light and short affliction seldom much depresses us, for we can easily reconcile it with a Father's faithfulness; but when succeeds blow to blow, when our troubles are peculiar, and long-continued, and harrowing, our hearts begin to fail us. We are tempted to think that a gracious God never can love the creatures whom He so sorely wounds. We could not so afflict our children; we are ready to conclude, therefore, that were we the children of a Heavenly Father, He would not so afflict us: our once peaceful assurance of His pardoning mercy gives way, and is succeeded by perplexity and doubt. Turn to the experience of David. It tells us as plainly as the most comfortless affliction can tell us that a want of spiritual consolation under calamities is no evidence of an unpardoned state. It is true the Gospel teaches us to expect special consolations in special sufferings. It is true also that the hour of affliction has oftentimes proved the happiest, though at the time the afflicted Christian has thought himself utterly forsaken. The feelings of mankind under afflictions have been as various as their afflictions themselves. An accusing conscience is not the scourge of an angry God: it is not the mark of His wrath. But an accusing conscience is a mark of nothing but this, that we are sinners, and that sin is a more evil and bitter thing than we once thought it.
II. A PAINFUL SENSE OF INWARD CORRUPTION IS NOT INCONSISTENT WITH PARDONING MERCY. If there is any one lust which, day by day and year after year, leads us captive; any ungodly practice in which we habitually indulge; if the sin which is our fear is at the same time our delight, ever committed with greediness, though sometimes repented of with anguish, the written testimony of God declares that we have no more reason to regard ourselves forgiven than a dying man has to think himself in health. But if sin is opposed, as well as felt; if through the Spirit the base passions of our nature are habitually overcome; if sin causes grief and abhorrence in our souls as well as terror; then, my brethren, we may be assured that God, who is ever waiting to be gracious, will accept of our imperfect services, He will hear our prayers and bless us for Christ's sake. LESSONS:
1. It points out to us the persons to whom the ministers of the Gospel are to speak peace.
2. The text holds out to the sinner the greatest encouragement not to despair, if he is truly sorry for his sins, and intends by God's help to walk in newness of life.
(A. J. Wolff, D. D.)
By this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.I. IT IS NOT OUR DUTY TO ATTEMPT TO PALLIATE THE CRIMES OF SCRIPTURE SAINTS. Some have laboured in their defence, as if our religion depended on their vindication, and, under their pleadings, that which is recorded as the grossest crime, has been made to appear as a very venial transgression. But against such ingenuity common sense will revolt, and though carried away for a while, as the judgment may be, by an eloquent plea for a criminal at the bar, the verdict will still be one of condemnation. And this is precisely the course which the Scriptures pursue. And this is the course which the Christian ought to pursue in speaking of these characters.
II. ALLOWING, THEN, ALL THE GUILT OF THESE SCRIPTURE CHARACTERS, DOES IT FURNISH ANY ARGUMENT AGAINST RELIGION? It has often been used for this end, but without reason. Will it be said that a religion which holds up such transgressors as the Saints of the Lord, cannot be from a holy God? But that religion does not commend their sins, if it did, we might well reject it. Their sins are held up to our abhorrence, and as proceeding from the want of more of the power of godliness. The record of their faults, so far from weighing against the truth of Scripture, is, indeed, one strong evidence in its support.
III. HAD ALL BEEN REPRESENTED AS FAULTLESS, WOULD THE BIBLE HAVE BEEN ANY MORE CREDIBLE? Then the question would have been asked, Why is it that no such perfect characters are formed under the power of the Gospel in the present day? Men would have looked around upon its professors, and seen that they were but imperfect, and they would have said either that religion had lost its power or that it never had any.
IV. WILL IT BE OBJECTED THAT RELIGION HAS BUT LITTLE POWER, IF IT LEAVES MEN TO FALL INTO SUCH SINS, AND THAT UNASSISTED REASON CAN PRODUCE AS PURE A MORALITY AS THE BIBLE? We are willing that the latter should be judged by its fruits, and if it does not yield more perfect fruits than philosophy or reason ever produced, then let it be rejected. But in judging of its effects we must take them as a whole, and not look at solitary instances of failure. David was one of the greatest kings of Scripture; let his whole reign be compared with that of Alexander, the greatest king of ancient profane history, and if it do not stand higher in a moral point of view, then we might acknowledge that David's religion was powerless. Every one acquainted with the private and public characters of these two monarchs, placed amid the temptations of power, must acknowledge that while there was one defiling blot on the character of David, that of Alexander was one whole blot, set off only by shining sins, and that while the subjects of the former were happy, those of the latter were but the slaves of ambition and the instruments of terror.
V. WHEN THE SCRIPTURES DESCRIBE THE FAILINGS OF GOOD MEN, WE SEE ALL THE SECRET GUILT OF THEIR SINS DROUGHT TO LIGHT.
VI. THE SEVERITY OF GOD'S JUSTICE TOWARDS THESE, HIS GUILTY SERVANTS. In the ordinary course of things, their crimes would have been in a great measure concealed. But God would not suffer these offenders so to escape. What would have been forgotten, he has engraved on an enduring monument to their shame. Does not this look like the confidence of truth?
VII. IF, THEN, ANY TAKE OCCASION FROM THE EVIL DEEDS OF THOSE MENTIONED IN SCRIPTURE TO BLASPHEME IT PROVES THAT THEY ARE ENEMIES OF THE LORD. An humble-minded person will see much in these records of sin to convince him of the truth of Scripture, and for his own edification.
VIII. THEY HAVE ENCOURAGED MANY A BELIEVER, OVERTAKEN IN A FAULT, TO SEEK FORGIVENESS. No doubt many have drawn encouragement from hence to sin, and because such crimes us those of David and Peter have been forgiven, some have been led to presume that they too should find forgiveness, however they might live. From the same plant poison and honey are extracted. But many a time also has the Christian been led by the deceitfulness of sin into some gross transgression, yet after long indulgence he awakens from his dream of pleasure, and finds the stings of conscience can still reach him.
IX. THESE RECORDED FAILINGS OF GOOD MEN HAVE ALSO MADE BELIEVERS OF SUCCEEDING AGES MORE CIRCUMSPECT. Many a one disposed to say, "I never will deny thee, Lord," has had presumptuous confidence checked by the recollection, how vain the boast was in the mouth Of an apostle. Probably every Christian can declare that he never reads these melancholy accounts without being made more humble, and distrustful of self; and thus they have their use. In a great naval contest of England, we are told that one ship ran aground so as to be entirely out of reach of the enemy, but contributed very much to the victory, by serving an a beacon to the other ships bearing down into action. It was not a way of contributing to victory which any brave captain would choose, but it would be a matter of rejoicing even in this way to serve one's country. And so, though we would not choose that holy men of old should have fallen into sins, we rejoice that the great Captain of our salvation is making use of their failures to swell the triumphs of his people, and to bring glory to his own great name.
X. THAT SALVATION CANNOT BE OF WORKS, BUT ONLY OF GOD'S FREE GRACE.
(W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
(H. Thompson, M. A.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Weekly Pulpit.A non-venomous snake one day met a venomous. "I wonder," said the non-venomous, "why men loathe and avoid me?" "Simply because they don't know which is which," answered the other; "very few can tell us one from the other; my poison fang, therefore, protects you also" "Yes." said the first, "and brings me into dreadful discredit too; your evil deeds are credited to our whole family, and keep us in disgrace." —
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
Weekly Pulpit.Dr. Mason Good, when arguing with a young infidel scoffer, well put the old error of making the faults of professors the fault of their profession. "Did you ever know an uproar made because an infidel had gone astray from the paths of morality?" The young man admitted that he had not. "Then you allow Christianity to be a holy religion by expecting its professors to be holy; and thus, by your very scoffing, you pay it the very highest compliment in your power."
The child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.
Essex Remembrancer.True excellence consists not so much in the singular display of one or more commendable dispositions, as in the combined and duly regulated exercise of the whole range of moral perfections. Here it is that the superlative excellence of the Divine character is discovered; and here is detected the imperfection by which the brightest specimens of human excellence are still marked. How difficult is it for man to combine a decided and appropriate expression of his dis, approbation of the crime with that forbearance and mercy which, on many grounds, may be due to the criminal. Stern severity which exaggerates the real nature of the error, and entirely overlooks the avowed and apparently sincere contrition of the offender, too often usurps the name and place of just and necessary correction. While, on the other hand, a weak and mistaken tenderness sometimes so far relaxes all correction as to appear like connivance at what is evil, and to leave it after all matter of just suspicion how far the conduct in question is regarded as really deserving condemnation. Here, as in every case, the Divine conduct exhibits a pattern which should ever be kept in mind, and to which our own should, as nearly as possible, be conformed; justice, holiness, and mercy, are all shown in harmonious exercise.
I. THE REPENTANCE AND PARDON OF DAVID.
1. The sincerity of David's repentance.
2. The assurance he received of Divine forgiveness: "the Lord also hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die." This may be intended to assure him of deliverance from the legal demerit of his crime.
3. The close and intimate connection between the repentance and forgiveness of David. Here two remarks suggest themselves(1) His repentance preceded the assurance of Divine forgiveness.(2) The assurance of Divine forgiveness followed immediately on the expression of David's repentance.
II. THE AFFLICTIVE DISCIPLINE TO WHICH DAVID WAS NOTWITHSTANDING SUBJECTED (ver. 14.)
1. The nature of the visitations he endured. In the manner in which God corrects his erring people, there is often so close an analogy between the sin and the punishment as cannot fail to make the connection evident to themselves, and to all aware of the real state of the case. This remark is strikingly illustrated in the case before us.
2. The reason assigned for the infliction of these visitations: by such conduct he "had given great occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme."
3. The consistency of these visitations with the full and free forgiveness of which David had been assured. That these points are consistent with each other we must feel assured, from the fact that God has connected them. God still corrects, even where he pardons his backsliding people.(1) To render distinctly apparent his own abhorrence of their sin. That there could be no just reason to think the contrary, even independently of their chastisement, is admitted; but sinners might be ready to pretend there was. There shall be no room for this; and therefore, while God will show that he loves and pities the offender, he will also show he hates the offence.(2) To warn other Christians from being beguiled by so fatal an example. For the parent to allow one member of his family to sin without correction is but preparing the way for the offences of others. The due exercise of discipline in one case may be the happy means of salutary caution to others.(3) As a probable means of preventing the hardening influence of his transgression on the minds of sinners.(4) As a preservative against further declension on the part of the same individual. In conclusion, let the humbled and penitent backslider be encouraged to hope for pardon while he views the grace that was shown to David.
I. FORGIVENESS DOES NOT MEAN IMPUNITY. A man may be pardoned, and nevertheless he may be punished. God forgave David, yet bereaved him. And this no exceptional case; simply a notable illustration of a general law. In all ages sins of penitent men are forgiven them; in all ages penitent men have to endure the punitive results of the very sins that have been forgiven. Whatsoever they sow, that they reap, however bitterly they may repent having mingled tares with the wheat. Abraham sinning by taking Hagar to wife — sin forgiven, but strife and discord in his tent. Jacob deceived his father, defrauded his brother. God forgave him his sin, yet he had to eat bitter fruit of it through long years of labour, and sorrow, and fear. Peter sinned: was forgiven; yet had to go softly many days, to brook the pain of the thrice-repeated reproach, to find his sin recoiling upon him years afterwards (Antioch).
II. THE MEANING AND MERCY OF PUNISHMENT. One very obvious reason why God does not detach their natural results from our sins even when He forgives them is that to do so would necessitate an incessant display of miraculous power, before which all law and certainty would be swept away, and our very conceptions of right and wrong confused. But though this familiar argument may prove a sufficient answer to reason, it has no balm for a wounded heart. To reach that we must consider the moral effects of punishment on the individual soul. And here David's experience will help us much. For it teaches how —
1. Punishment deepens both our sense of sin and our hatred of it. Before punishment David not conscious of his transgression, nor alive to its enormity, tie was blind to personal application of Nathan's parable until the prophet turned upon him. But then how deep his shame! Stands self-revealed, self-condemned. And this deep sense of personal guilt is a common and wholesome result of punishment.
2. Punishment deepens self-distrust and reliance upon God. David, who was but now so hot in his indignation against the wicked rich man, in whom he recognised no likeness to himself, finds that so far from having any right to judge or rule others, he has misjudged, he cannot rule himself. Now that he suffers the due reward of his deeds, he utterly distrusts himself; he can think no good thought, do no good act, offer no acceptable worship, save as God inspires and sustains him.
3. Punishment puts our repentance to the proof. It was not simply fear of judgment which led David to exhaust himself in confessions of guilt. It was rather shame and agony of finding himself out. Not even his child was foremost in his thoughts. It is not so much as mentioned in the psalm in which he poured out his soul before God. What touched him much was the awful estrangement which had crept in between his wilt and God's. It was this which lie sought God to remove. Hence, when the child dies, David bows to the will of God. His penitence is put to a decisive test, and surmounts it.
(Samuel Cox, D. D.)
Homiletic Magazine.God is a God of infinite mercy to forgive sin, and vet "He will by no means clear the guilty." He will surely visit iniquity by fixing its consequences upon the sinner, and even also upon others for his sake. But, stated in this way, the principle is not readily acceptable to us. The righteousness of it does not tie upon the face of it. If God forgives the sin, why does He not also clear away the punishments and all the evil consequences of it? Surely, we say, "The way of the Lord is not equal."
I. SIN PENALTIES THAT CAN BE REMOVED, SUCH AS REST ON THE SOUL. Sin has a twofold aspect, and calls for a twofold treatment by God. Every sin is both an act of transgression and a spirit of self-will. It has a sphere related to the body, and a sphere related to the soul. What, then, are the soul penalties which attach to sin inevitably? They are put into this expressive sentence, "The soul that sinneth it shall die." But this soul-penalty of sin can be remitted, put away, forgiven, lifted off the soul for ever. "The Lord hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die." The true sphere of the atonement made by our Lord Jesus, in His life and in His cross, is precisely this sphere of soul-penalties.
II. SIN PENALTIES THAT CANNOT NOW BE REMOVED — PENALTIES AND CONSEQUENCES OF SIN COMING ON OUR BODIES. In the Divine wisdom and goodness man's life on the earth has been arranged under certain conditions and with certain limitations.
1. Men and women are set together in family and social circles, so that the actions of any one of them shall affect the rest of them for good or for evil. No man is permitted to stand alone, the results of his conduct must reach to the good, or the misery, of somebody else.
2. God has appointed the order in which family and social life should be arranged and conducted. Keep the Divine order, and all will go well with us.
3. Sin, in its outward, aspect, is the infringement of this Divine order, the breaking of these gracious and holy laws.
4. To every such infringement a natural penalty is attached. "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." The redemption provided in Christ Jesus does not immediately touch these natural penalties of sin. The forgiving God "by no means clears the guilty." The child of the drunkard or the sensualist will not have the spirit of drink or of passion taken out of him, nor will he be renewed from his physical deterioration, because his father becomes a Christian. Consequences of sin stretch on until they get altogether beyond hand-grasp. Thick and heavy were the penalties which David had to pay for his sin. Can we vindicate the ways of God in this? Open two points.(1) If it were not thus, adequate impressions of the evil and hatefulness of sin could not be kept before the eyes of men.(2) These penalties which abide are not merely judicial, they have, in their own way, a gracious remedial power. The whole creation groans — "waiting for the redemption," full and final redemption, that is surely coming.
I. GOD'S CHASTISEMENTS. Bathsheba's little child was very sick; it was the child of sin and shame, but the parents hung over it; for seven days the mother watched it, and the father fasted and lay on the earth. Two years after one of his sons treated his sister as David had treated Uriah's wife. They say a man never hears his own voice till it comes back to him from the phonograph, Certainly a man never sees the worst of himself until it reappears in his child. When presently Absalom's rebellion broke out it received the immediate sanction and adherence of David's most trusty counsellor, whose advice was like the oracle of God. What swept Ahithophel into the ranks of that great conspiracy? The reason is given in the genealogical tables, which show that he was the grandfather of Bathsheba, and that his son Eliam was the comrade and friend of Uriah. The most disastrous and terrible blow of all was the rebellion of Absalom. Such were the strokes of the Father's rod that fell thick and fast upon his child. They appeared to emanate from the malignity and hate of man; but David looked into their very heart, and knew that the cup which they held to his lips had been mixed by heaven, and were not the punishment of a Judge, but the chastisement of a Father.
II. GOD'S ALLEVIATIONS. They came in many ways. The bitter hour of trial revealed a love on the part of his adherents to which the old king may have become a little oblivious. It was as though God stooped over that stricken soul, and as the blows of the rod cut long furrows in the sufferer's back, the balm of Gilead was poured into the gaping wounds. Voices spoke more gently; hands touched his more softly; pitiful compassion rained tender assurances about his path; and, better than all, the bright-harnessed angels of God's protection encamped about his path and his lying-down.
III. GOD'S DELIVERANCE. The raw troops that Absalom had so frostily mustered were unable to stand the shock of David's veterans, and fled. Absalom himself was despatched by the ruthless Joab, as he swayed from the arms of the huge terebinth. The pendulum of the people's loyalty swang back to its old allegiance, and they eagerly contended for the honour of bringing the king back. Many were the afflictions of God's servant, but out of them all he was delivered. When he had learnt the lesson, the rod was stayed. Thus always — the rod, the stripes, the chastisements; but amid all the love of God, carrying out His redemptive purpose, never hasting, never resting, never forgetting, but making all things work together till the evil is eliminated, and the soul purged. Then the after-glow of blessing, the calm ending of the life in a serene sundown.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The Thinker.1. The permission of evil is an insoluble mystery. Perhaps the only light which ran be thrown upon it is to be found in the words of St. , "God has judged it better to work good out of evil than to allow no evil. For seeing that He is supremely Good. He would in no way permit evil to be in His works, unless He were also Almighty as well as Good, so as to be able to bring good even out of evil. In dealing with evil, He manifests His perfections — as the light of the sun becomes the rainbow with its beauteous colours, when it falls on the dark, dissolving cloud. The wisdom of God, for instance, becomes visible in the way in which, notwithstanding the interruptions and collisions of sin, His purposes are worked out. "Any one can be a pilot on a calm sea."
2. Our thoughts are directed to a very remarkable instance of the permission of evil. It is remarkable, when we remember the description of David from the lips of Samuel, "The Lard hath sought Him a man after His own heart." Some take the expression in its widest extent — one who is in mind and will clearly and fully conformed to the mind and will of God; whilst others seem to interpret it of one trait in David's character — that of benevolence towards enemies. Perhaps the incongruity of the Divine estimate of David and his subsequent conduct is confined to his fall.
I. THE PUNISHMENT FOR SIN.
1. It is first to be noticed that the sin itself had been pardoned. The history shows us that pardoned sin may have penal consequences. The removal of the guilt (culpa) does not necessarily include the removal of the penalty (poena). David was pardoned for the breaches of the sixth and seventh commandments, although the guilt of sin is not transferable (Ezekiel 18:20), the penalty is. The death, which was the penalty of David's sin, was inflicted on the child.
3. Then the necessity for the punishment by the death of the child is traced by the Prophet not only to the intrinsic evil of the sin, but to the accidental aggravation which belonged to it from the circumstance that it was the king and prophet who had done this thing, and therefore had caused grievous scandal — "had given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" (ver. 14).
4. In this instance, the terrible list of calamities which were to befall David and his house are distinctly traceable to David's sin. They were its punishment and medicine. Suffering was necessary to show the Divine abhorrence of evil; and the Jew, who ever regarded sin and suffering as closely linked together, would be quick to read the signs of Divine wrath.
II. HOW DID DAVID BEAR IT?
1. The child is "very sick." For seven days the glow of life still lingered in the wasting form, and the king fasted and prayed, and fell prostrate upon the earth before his God, neither changing his apparel nor eating bread. This is not only a picture of natural affection, but also of evident anxiety for a sign that the wrath of God was stayed. Whilst we have here what Paley calls the "naturalness" of Scripture, we have also the penitent seeking a mark of restoration to Divine favour.
2. "While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept," etc. It has been asked whether it was right to pray for the continuance of the child's life, after the Prophet's declaration that the child should "surely die." In other words, whether David was trying to change or bend the Divine will into conformity with his will, after that will had been declared. Either David believed the wards of the Prophet, or he did not. If he believed them, and yet prayed, that would be madness; if he believed not, that would be sin (Tostatus). The answer seems to be this: David regarded the declaration of Nathan as minatory. He thought to avert its accomplishment by prayer and fasting and tears. He was not certain about the Divine will: and God's threatenings, like His promises, are conditional.
III. WHAT WAS HIS STAY?
1. Belief in another world. "I shall go to him."
2. No mock immortality could be this — the survival of matter, of fame, of ideas, of race, or of some vague, shadowy existence — a transient air-people." But a solid belief in a continuance of our personal existence, and in future personal recognition — "I shall go to him" — that alone could sustain the mourner in the presence of death.
IV. LESSONS: —
1. Here is an instance of the terrible truth, "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23), and that temporal penalties follow upon forgiven sin. Hate sin.
2. Let the sinner seek, as David, by prayer and self-affliction and tears, to avert sin's penalties, until there is some irrevocable manifestation of the Divine will.
3. Imitate His constant conformity, when that will has been made clearly known.
4. Let the hope "full of immortality" be our stay in our dark hour. .No "counterfeit immortality," but the continuance, in s higher sphere of being, of the conscious, complete, personal existence, now certified by Christ's resurrection. This can give patience in suffering and solace in death.
While the child was yet alive I fasted and wept.I. HIS AFFLICTION WAS THE DEATH OF HIS CHILD. The death of a child is by no means an uncommon event. If our offspring are spared, and appear like olive plants around our table, we ought to be thankful, and to rejoice; yet to rejoice with trembling. When we reflect on the tenderness of their frame, and consider to how many accidents and diseases they are liable; and that many of their earliest, complaints cannot be perfectly ascertained, and may be injured by the very means employed for their relief — the wonder is that they ever reach maturity. The death of David's child was predicted by Nathan, and was the consequence of the father's sin. "The landlord," says an old writer, "may distrain on any part of the premises he chooses." We would rather say that there are many cases in which he requires us to walk by faith, and not by sight: that he does all things well, even when clouds and darkness are round about him; we would say that he indemnified this child by taking it to himself — while the father was punished, and suffered more relatively than if he had died himself.
II. THE BEHAVIOUR OF DAVID WITH REGARD TO THE AFFLICTION.
1. It takes in prayer — "He besought God for the child." Prayer is always proper: but how seasonable, how soothing, how sanctifying, in the day of trouble! Blessed resource and refuge! may we always make use of thee.
2. He also humbled himself: "He fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth." Much of David's distress arose from reflection on his sin: his grief was the grief not only of affliction but of penitence.
III. HE DEEMED THE EVENT UNCERTAIN. It is obvious that he did not consider the threatening as absolute and irreversible. He knew that many things had been denounced conditionally; and he knew also that the goodness of God was beyond all his thoughts. But what led him to assuage his grief?
1. Continued grief was unavailing. "Now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again?"
2. He contemplates his own death as certain: "I shall go to him." By this he intends the grave: and this part of our subject is common to all mankind.
3. He expects to follow his child not only into the grave, but into glory; and anticipates a renewed union with him in heaven. This was unquestionably David's case.(1) First, as to the dead. We cannot join those in heaven who are not gone there; and all do not go there when they die.(2) The second limitation regards the living. You cannot join those who are gone to heaven if you do not go there yourselves. Remember they are not separated from you for ever — you are going to them. They are waiting to receive you into everlasting habitations. On your arrival there you will know them, and they will know you; even they will know you there who never knew you here.
I. A LITTLE CHILD SUFFERING ON ACCOUNT OF THE SIN OF ITS FATHER. Now, I do not mean to say that the cause of every little infant's suffering is the same as this. This is a peculiar case. But that little children do suffer as a consequence of their parents' sin is a simple matter of fact. By immorality and sin some parents ruin their health, and their constitution, and thus plant those seeds of disease and death which manifest themselves in their children: their offspring may suffer, agonize, and die in their infancy because of their parents' sin. In a great many other ways also, parents may so modify the condition under which their children live as to cause them much suffering and premature death. The sin of the father is visited upon the child. The Bible does not make that fact. If there was no Bible the fact. would be the same. It is affirmed by the Bible of Nature. If you get rid of the Book, you have the world, and you must read and interpret it. You must just do the best you can with the mystery. I do not know what you will do with it, but there it is. Sin introduced death, and death passed upon all men. But, observe, while the Bible thus associates death as a general fact with sin, it is not with the sin of an individual, not with the sin of the immediate parent of the child, but because of the sin of the first progenitor, because of that transgression which occurred at the commencement of the race.
II. THE PICTURE OF A FATHER DEEPLY AFFECTED THROUGH THE SUFFERING AND ILLNESS OF HIS CHILD; and in this case parental grief was aggravated .and increased by the consciousness which David must have felt that the stroke had fallen upon the child directly from the hand of God on his account. Children may, and do die, as we know on account of the sins of their parents, but in the great majority of cases this is not the fact; you have net your deep sorrow aggravated by the thought that. the stroke has fallen upon your child directly and immediately as a punishment for your sin. David, with that large heart of his, with that paternal temperament, — it is always a temperament of sensibility — and his devotion and love to God, experienced an aggravated sense of remorse on account of his sin. He would, doubtless, feel the most acute suffering.
III. AN AFFLICTED, GOOD MAN, EARNESTLY PRAYING TO GOD, BUT PRAYING IN VAIN. The circumstances were desperate. The sentence had gone forth — the prophet had spoken the word, that the child should die on account of the sin of its father — but he thought that his sin would be forgiven, and that the child might possibly live. We may pray earnestly unto God for a certain blessing, or to be saved from some special suffering, but our prayer may not be answered because God sees it to be necessary to inflict that against which we cry to be delivered. But we have authority here for pleading earnestly under the most hopeless circumstance, that affliction may be removed; but we are to remember that God has reasons for His conduct.
IV. THE CONDUCT OF DAVID; HIS BEHAVIOUR AFTER THE MATTER WAS DETERMINED. There are two or three points in this explanation of David which we shall do well to look at.
1. In the first place yon see how he distinguished between the possible and the certain. While the child lived he fasted and prayed, because he thought that God would possibly have mercy and spare the child. But when God had determined the matter, then it was inevitable; another class of feelings was then to be brought into play; another class of duties was then to be fulfilled.
2. But David distinguished the next place between means and ends. He fasted and prayed, and his tears flowed as lie laid upon the earth, he washed not his face, anointed not his head, and changed not his garments. His condition was becoming more and more sordid, because his grief was was so intense. His fasting was continued in order that it might agree with the inward state of his mind, and sustain his devotion.
3. David distinguished between the proper time for prayer, and the proper world to which it has application, This idea is suggested to us — that he did not pray for the child after it was dead — for the repose of the soul of the child — that he did not follow the soul into the next world to make it a subject of prayer.
4. David distinguished between miracle and mercy. He distinguished between irrational expectations and religious hope. He could not pray for the child after it was dead, because he did not expect God to work a miracle and give him the child back again. No; "He will not come back to me;" but he did indulge a religious hope; a hope of mercy — "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me."
I. THE GROUNDS OF DAVID'S RESIGNATION. "Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." The good Psalmist had bowed himself before the Most High God, and besought Him right humbly for his child. Death had signified it to be the Divine pleasure, that the child should be taken to another state of existence. To resist would be vain; to repine would be fruitless. It is true it would be a melancholy fortitude which these reflections produce if it were not strengthened and cheered by another consideration. Though fate forbade David to call back to his embrace his departed child, was lie separated from him for ever? Verily, to the tender heart of the affectionate king, the thought had been insupportable, But he was consoled with far other expectations. The spark of being which the Almighty had kindled in his child was kindled to burn for ever. The Messiah had consecrated it to immortality. "I shall go to him," though "he shall not return to me." Even in the prospect of being joined to our departed friends in the noiseless tomb, nature finds a solace, suited to the gloomy state of her feelings in the hour of her bereavement.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH IT MANIFESTED ITSELF. Behold, he, who careless of attire lay weeping on the earth, arises and washes himself, and changes his apparel. He, whom no consideration could draw from the place, where his child lay sick, goes forth spontaneously "into the house of the Lord, and worships." He, whom the elders of his house had entreated in vain to receive some sustenance, himself gives orders to set on bread. He, whom his servants "feared to tell that the child was dead," leaves their astonished minds below his fortitude, and discourses with them on the reasonableness and propriety of submission. How majestic in his affliction! What greatness and peace in resignation like this! It is worthy of particular observation that the first step of the Psalmist in the day of his sorrow is to "the house of the Lord." It is in the holiness of the sanctuary that that "beauty" is found, which the Prophet was to give instead of "ashes," to those "who mourned in Zion." It is in the sacred vessels of the temple that the "oil of joy" is kept, which God's people are to have "for mourning." And here, we trust, when we are assembled "in His name," Immanuel is "in the midst of us," who furnishes from the wardrobe of heaven "the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."
I. THE GRIEF OF A PIOUS PARENT OVER HIS DYING CHILD. Parental grief suggests to us: —
1. The considerations which lead us to desire the lives of our children. Among these are(1) Our comfort and help. Great as are the cares they bring, still greater are the comforts; nor do we fail to anticipate the time, when sinking into infirmities, we shall receive from them tokens of attachment in return for all our anxieties.(2) For the perpetuation of our name to posterity we desire the lives of our children; denied alike to those who are written childless and to those who are called to bury their offspring.(3) To succeed us in our possessions and pursuits, we are anxious our children may be spared.
2. His faith in the power and mercy of God. He was assured that power belonged to God, and that if he would he could recover the child.
3. His confidence in the efficacy of prayer is also exhibited, for prayer was the chief employment when he withdrew — "David, therefore, besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in and lay all night upon the earth." Fasting was united to prayer, and probably sackcloth. If in such cases the good effects of prayer have been seen, though the main object may have been denied; how are we encouraged in all those instances in which no declaration of discouragement or of absolute denial has been expressed! "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray." You cannot lose, but you may, you must gain.
II. A PIOUS PARENT'S SUBMISSION, NOW THAT HIS CHILD WAS DEAD. "But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." This submission is still more significantly expressed in the narrative. So great was David's grief during the illness of the child that the servants feared to inform him of its death; but when he ascertained that he was dead "he arose from the earth and washed, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord and worshipped; then he came to his own house, and when he required they set bread before him, and he did eat." When the servants expressed their surprise at this conduct, he condescended to explain it, as in the text. His submission would be promoted by the fact.
1. That the providence was of God. What can be better than the will of God; so wise, gracious, and holy? Let our hopes perish, but let His will be supreme.
2. That the child is taken away from the evil to come is calculated to promote the submission of a bereaved parent.
3. The inutility of grief is another consideration. "But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." He had besought the Lord to spare him; but he had now taken him, and neither prayer nor grief would avail, for the life that was taken away could not be recovered.
4. The future happiness of his child tends greatly to promote the submission of a pious parent when bereaved. And of this David appears to have had assurance. "I shall go to him." This, first of all, implies David's belief that the child still existed; consequently, that, the soul of infants are immortal;" and, as we know, he expected to be happy himself, and go to his child, he already considered it as possessing a happy immortality.
5. The thought of going to his child at death tended also to quiet the mind of David. "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." Heaven is presented ill a variety of attractive aspects. To be with Christ, to behold His glory, and be like Him, constitute an idea of blessedness sufficient to enrapture the most exalted piety; but it is sometimes invested with associations suited to our earthly predilections. Hence we are told of "the things which are above;" "the spirits of just men made perfect;" and of sitting down with "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." The exposure of children to death should prevent our cherishing toward them an overfond attachment, and should exercise a just influence over our affections. We may and must Jove them, but only as creatures. They must not be idols; must not rival in our regard that God who must ever be its supreme object. The same consideration should lead us, at the earliest dawn of reason, to attempt to instruct our children piously. Oh! had we known how soon that infant mind would have opened to the light and glory of the upper world, how would our assiduity in this respect have been quickened! We cannot too early fit them either for earth or heaven. How adapted to promote the eternal welfare of parents is the loss of children! Our earthly affections may, through the sanctifying grace of God, aid us in cultivating spirituality of mind. "Set your affection on things above" is an exhortation which powerfully recommends itself to such. "Lord, by these things men live, and these things are the life of our spirits." Young children should be made to consider their liability to death, whatever their health or strength, for it often happens that diseases incident to childhood act more powerfully on a robust than a slender frame. Little children, you are young and healthy, but you may soon die. Do not too certainly calculate on a long life.
I. DURING THE SICKNESS.
1. In the first place, we read in the sixteenth verse that "David besought God for the child." He carried the burden which oppressed him, the grief which consumed him, to that merciful God who had so often heard the voice of his weeping. Instead of seeking many physicians, he repaired at once to the all-wise and all-powerful Physician; so that in his case was anticipated the apostolic prescription — "Is any afflicted? let him pray."
2. It is further related that he accompanied his supplications with deep humiliation: "he fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth." Regarding his trial as a chastisement for his transgression, he "humbled himself under the mighty hand of God." Was there anything surprising in all this? King though he was, yet as a sinner we feel that the posture he assumed became him. It was meet to lay aside the crown of pure gold which God had put upon his head, and to exchange his soft raiment for sackcloth. One of the most painful and mischievous consequences of wilful sin is the difficulty it occasions in even the awakened and anxious soul to realise the love and trust in the confidence of our compassionate God. A sense of ill desert awakens the suspicion that He is "altogether such an one as ourselves;" and, by checking the hope of success, too often silences the voice of prayer. If David thus clung to hope, and persevered in wrestling with God for a temporal blessing, on a mere peradventure of success, how much rather should you, when you would trove the pardon of your guilt, the conversion of your heart, or the victory over your be, setting sins, cast yourselves upon His mercy, plead His promises, and resolve that you "will not let Him go, except He bless you!" In suing for these things you know that you are asking according to His will, and that He is "far more ready to hear than you to pray;" you honour Him most when you crave the most; you please Him best when you are most importunate.
II. HIS CONDUCT, AND THE GROUNDS OF IT, AFTER THE CHILD WAS DEAD. It is a genuine touch of nature, which represents that "when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead." His parental fears and tender solicitude anticipated the tidings which their silence communicated. And now begins the seeming paradox, which caused his servants so much perplexity. Though our immediate object in dwelling upon this passage is to present the portraiture of a genuine penitent, yet it seems profitable, in passing, to gather lessons of counsel and encouragement for that spirit which is almost sure to form a part in every audience — the spirit of the mourner. The Lord's children are often robbed of a noble opportunity of glorifying Him, and of much previous advantage to themselves, by the tyranny of that cruel custom which would have it believed that there is something indelicate when the bereaved is immediately seen in the Lord's house. The case, I admit, is quite conceivable in which, from weakness of body, tenderness of spirit, or want of self-control, the mourner may be really unfit to take part in the outward communion of saint. Nothing would be gained by any external violence done to the over-wrought system; but I refer to that artificial code of pharisaic decency which renders it incumbent on the bereaved mourner to abstain from the comfort and the consolation with which his Father's house abounds. I do think it an affectation of delicacy of sentiment which sound reason and genuine piety should force us to discountenance.
(C. F. Childe, M. A.)
1. The interesting history of which our text forms a part.
2. The conduct and discourses of the Saviour with regard to infants.
3. The attributes of God and His relation to infants.
4. The declarations that He has made concerning them.
5. The nature and extent of redemption through Christ.
6. The nature and design of the ordinance of baptism.
7. The mode of procedure at the final judgment.
8. The nature of the torments of hell.
9. The nature of the heavenly felicity, and the grounds of its conferment upon men.I must present to you a few inferences from this subject.
1. Learn from it the preciousness of the Word of God.
2. Praise God for His unutterable grace. This. is the occupation of these departed infants.
3. Bereaved parent, rejoice in the dignity and elevation of thy, child. To have this child in heaven is greater cause of triumph than if he swayed the sceptre over prostrate nations.
4. Bereaved: parent, art thou ready to meet this child? In thy name he has taken possession of heaven? Art thou following the Redeemer, and living devoted to him?
5. And: you who have passed through the period of infancy, remember, that to your salvation are required explicit acts of faith in Jesus, and lives devoted to him.
(H. Kollock, D. D.)
I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.
(E: Mellor, D. D.)
1. Now this theory of future recognition is not so positively asserted as it is implied; and you know that is the strongest kind of affirmation. Your friends come from travel in foreign parts; they tell you there is such a place as St. Petersburg. or Madras, or New York, or San Francisco. They do not begin by telling you of the existence of these cities; but all their conversation implies the existence of these cities. And so the doctrine of future recognition in the Bible is not so positively asserted as it is implied. What did David mean when he said in my text. "I shall go to him?" What was the use of going to his child if he would not know him?
2. In addition to the Bible argument, there are other reasons. I admit this theory of future acquaintanceship in heaven, because the rejection of it implies the entire obliteration of our memory. John Evans, the quaint Scotch minister, was seated in his study one day, and his wife came and said, "My dear, do you think we shall know each other in heaven? "Why, yes," said he. "Do you think we shall be greater fools there than we are here?"
3. Again, I admit this doctrine of future recognition, because we don't in this world have sufficient opportunity of telling to those to whom we are indebted how much we owe them. You who have prayed for the salvation of souls, you who have contributed to the great charities of the day, will never know in this world the full result of your work; there must be some place where you will find it out. Years ago there was a minister by the name of John Brattenberg, who preached the Gospel in Somerville, New Jersey. He was a faithful, godly man, but a characteristic of his ministry was no conversions, and when he came to die he died in despondency, because, though he had tried to serve the Lord, he had seen hardly any brought into the kingdom. But scarcely had the grass begun to grow on John Brattenberg's grave than the windows of heaven opened, and there came a great revival of religion, so that one day in the village church two hundred souls stood up and took the vows of the Christian — among them my own father and my own mother — and the peculiarity about it was that nearly all those souls dated their religious impressions back to the ministry of John Brattenberg. And shall he never know them?
4. Again, I accept this doctrine of future recognition, because there are so many who, in their last moments, have seen their departed friends.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
1. First of all, there is the thought which is expressed in the words of Eli: "It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him good." It is the will of God which is done, that will which has been for many a long year the subject of daily prayer whenever prayer has been offered, "Thy will be done."
2. But another topic of comfort is opened in such words as were borne from heaven to the listening ears of St. John the Divine: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labours." Here the prominent thought is not the will of God, but the blessed state of the departed, not God wills, but "they rest." In the former case the mourner is exhorted to resignation by the thought, "it is the will of God;" in the latter he is comforted by the assurance of the rest and peace which is the portion of his beloved.
3. It was, however, to yet another source of comfort that David betook himself in his bereavement when he gave utterance to the words of the text — "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." But it was not only submission to an inexorable law which made him yield to his lot. He was buoyed up by the thought of a blessed future. The words, however, appear to contain far more than a mere assurance of a future meeting of parted friends. The human heart, with its strong affections, craves for something more definite. The parting is so real, the void is so real, that it longs to know of a surety that the reunion will in like manner be a reality. There has been such a close, intimate knowledge of each other, such interchange, of thought, such an intense love, that nothing short of a renewal of these happy relations can satisfy the yearning of the soul. It is not enough to say, "You shall meet again." Still less bearable is that uncertain word of comfort which says, "It is possible we may know each other in heaven, but so little is known about that unseen world that none can say for certain that it will be so." One step further, and you hear it asserted as a fact that we shall not recognise each other in the future state. Christ, it is said, will be all in all, and we shall be as the angels in heaven, where they neither marry nor are given in marriage. But I often think that any uncertainty about this matter, and still more any such sad certainty as that to which I have referred, would add very greatly to the bitterness of parting from those we loved. True, Christ will be all in all to those who shall be counted worthy to enter into that kingdom, but surely it is because they are in Christ that these relationships are so true, and deep, and sacred. In Christ hearts are bound together; in Christ the members of His mystical body are joined not only to Him but to each other, so that when one member suffers or rejoices all the members suffer or rejoice with it. Living in Christ, they live one with another; parents are bound up in their children, and children in their parents; brethren and sisters love each other with a pure heart fervently, and when they fall asleep in Christ there is nothing to cause a severance in their love, but everything to intensify and deepen it. In Christ shall all be made alive, and who can for a moment imagine that love of the brethren, love of parents and children, of husband and wife, shall ever die out in those living ones? Death would indeed be a terrible thing if it had the power to put asunder and estrange from each other those who have been made one in Christ. True, "they shall be as the angels in heaven," but I have yet to learn that those holy beings who do the will of God are unconnected and unknown to each other, each one in his own separate isolated individuality doing his appointed service. —
(J. J. Blunt.)
I. THE DECLARATION OF SCRIPTURE: —
1. Now, may we not consider this an averment of David's conviction that he should regain, and recognize his child in a future world?
2. The next passage to which I shall refer you, is in the fifteenth chapter of St. Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians, and the fifty-fourth verse: "So when this corruptible," etc. Now mark it is here declared that the consequences of sin, constitute the sting of death, one of these consequences is the separation of relative from relative, and friend from friend. Now, if the victory of our Redeemer is to be complete, as undoubtedly it will be, must not all the consequences of sin be terminated and annihilated? Must not the associations of human friendship, with all their endearing consciousness and recollection, be replaced on that basis on which they would have rested for ever, if the ruin of man by the fall had not taken place?
3. Let me next point you to a few passages illustrative of the great interest which the holy angels have ever taken, and will continue to take in the welfare of man, and the permanent and blessed association which is to subsist in heaven between the angels and the righteous. "We are made," says the apostle, "a spectacle to angels." "I say unto you that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: but he that denieth me before men, shall be denied before the angels of God." "Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels." "Ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels." Is it not, then, in the highest degree probable that in heaven there shall be intercourse between particular angels, and those to whom they have ministered: that the righteous shall be able to know, that those angels have been their unseen guardians and protectors through all the trials and dangers of mortality; that the gratitude on the one side, and increased attachment on both sides, shall thus be an augmentation of bliss throughout eternity?
4. Our next quotations shall be from the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. First, from the eighth chapter of St. Matthew: "And I say unto you that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." And in the thirteenth chapter of St. Luke, "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out." Now, is it compatible with the lowest degree of probability to suppose that when Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, are sitting together in the kingdom of heaven, Abraham shall have no conscious recollection that he is actually beholding his beloved Isaac, the child of promise, the ancestor of the Messiah in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed; — that Isaac shall have no consciousness that he is dwelling in glory with his, revered earthly father; — that Jacob shall have no knowledge of his own parent, nor of "the father of the faithful," but that the three patriarchs shall be each to the other, as three individuals accidentally brought together from different countries, or from different planets?
5. The next passage bearing on this subject is connected with the transfiguration of our Lord: "And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias; who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." The discourse of our Lord indicated to the three apostles, who the gracious visitants were whom they beheld; and it tends, I think, to show, not merely that at the resurrection mutual recollection and consciousness will be revived, but that they experience no interruption from death; that memory suffers no fall.
6. Turn to the fourth chapter of St. Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians, from the thirteenth to the eighteenth verse: "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope; for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." Why were the Thessalonians not to sorrow as those who had no hope? Because they were fully warranted in having hope — but hope, not merely that their departed friends would rise again, or that holy men whom they had lost would be happy in a future existence — for on these points neither instruction nor consolation was required; but this was the question which depressed their hearts, whether at the resurrection they should regain their lost relations, whether friend should be restored to friend with retained remembrance and conscious affection.
II. And if we carry forward our thoughts to THE DAY OF JUDGMENT, we shall find a very strong argument arising out of the details of that great day — an argument of immense importance in our present investigation.
1. "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, to give an account of the things done in the body." Now can it be supposed that we shall not at the time of judgment, possess a clear and comprehensive recollection of the actions, the motives, and the principles, of which an account is then to be rendered, and upon which the sentence is then to be pronounced? And must not the recollection of our personal deeds and desires necessarily involve a recollection of other individuals? It is incontestably true that the recollection will be perfect, and the recognition complete, before the throne of judgment; and I come to this conclusion, that if they are not to be prolonged into eternity, they must be extinguished subsequently to the day of judgment by a special act of Omnipotence, that when a man remembers on that day he shall forget immediately after. And where is our warrant for expecting, that all which is in our remembrance at the final day of judgment, shall be forgotten in the day that succeeds it — in that eternal day?
2. There remains only one more passage illustrative of the interesting point now under consideration, and it shall be from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. —
(R. C. Dillon, M. A.)
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Homilist.The context shows David in two aspects. First: Suffering as a sinner. He had committed a great sin, and the loss of his child was a retribution. Secondly: Reasoning as a saint, "And he said, While the child was yet alive." The text implies David's belief in three things. I THE UNRETURNABLENESS OF THE DEAD. The dead return not again. "I shall behold man no more in the land of the living," said Hezekiah.
1. There is no returning to discharge neglected duties.
2. There is no returning to recover lost opportunities. If there is no return to the earth —
(1) (2) II. IN THE CERTAINTY OF HIS OWN DISSOLUTION. "I shall go to him." 1. The certainty of death is universally admitted with the understanding. There is no room left for questioning it. 2. The certainty of death is universally denied by the life. All men live as if they were immortal. How morally infatuated is our race! III. IN THE RE-UNION AFTER DEATH. "I shall go to him." 1. The re-union he believed in was spiritual. 2. The re-union he believed in was conscious. 3. The re-union he believed in was happy. (1) (2) (Homilist.)
(2) II. IN THE CERTAINTY OF HIS OWN DISSOLUTION. "I shall go to him." 1. The certainty of death is universally admitted with the understanding. There is no room left for questioning it. 2. The certainty of death is universally denied by the life. All men live as if they were immortal. How morally infatuated is our race! III. IN THE RE-UNION AFTER DEATH. "I shall go to him." 1. The re-union he believed in was spiritual. 2. The re-union he believed in was conscious. 3. The re-union he believed in was happy. (1) (2) (Homilist.)
II. IN THE CERTAINTY OF HIS OWN DISSOLUTION. "I shall go to him."
1. The certainty of death is universally admitted with the understanding. There is no room left for questioning it.
2. The certainty of death is universally denied by the life. All men live as if they were immortal. How morally infatuated is our race!
III. IN THE RE-UNION AFTER DEATH. "I shall go to him."
1. The re-union he believed in was spiritual.
2. The re-union he believed in was conscious.
3. The re-union he believed in was happy.
(1) (2) (Homilist.)
I. REMARKS DEDUCIBLE FROM THE NARRATIVE: —
1. That it is not sinful in any ease (with a reserve of the divine sovereignty, which is always implied or expressed) to deprecate the death of dear friends and beloved children.
2. God is pleased, in the course of his adorable providence, sometimes to visit the iniquity of fathers upon their children, of progenitors upon their posterity. You see a striking instance of this in the case before us.
3. Prayer is the proper exercise of the soul, amid afflictions and bereavements, felt or feared. "Is any man," saith James, "afflicted, let him pray." And to prayer David betook himself, on this very trying occasion.
4. Humiliation and fasting are exercises specially befitting times of trouble. To these also the afflicted monarch had recourse, at this time.
5. Submission to the will of God, under the loss of children or other bereavements, is the duty of all; and, when spiritual strength is ministered from on high, will be the attainment of the good.
6. The sanctuary of God is that place to which the bereaved mother may, most aptly, resort.
7. We should not only feel and cherish, but also exemplify submission to the divine dispensations. So did the son of Jesse; for when apprized that his son was dead; he rose from the earth, anointed himself, changed his apparel, and went into the house of God to worship.
8. The conduct of the children of God under painful bereavements, may often appear strange to others, though it be founded upon the best principles, and be capable of being justified by the best arguments.
II. THE VIEWS CONTAINED IN THE TEXT ITSELF, "I shall go to him; but he shall not return to me."
1. It is the sorrowful declaration of one who had just been bereft of a beloved son the only son of his mother.
2. The statement before us presents to our view a person, amid his sorrows, meditating solemnly upon eternity, and solacing his soul with this contemplation. This was the state into which the son of David had just entered.
3. The intimation of the text is the utterance of one who is anticipating the hour of his own departure. "I shall go to him." There is but one way, as there is only one event, for all mankind. "It is appointed to all men to die."
4. The bereaved mourner is here contemplating death as an irrevocable step in existence: "I shall go to him, but he cannot return to me."
5. David is here anticipating a happy re-union with his beloved child, in a better world. Nothing loss, doubtless, could have either satisfied his faith, or soothed his spirit.
III. FROM THIS SUBJECT WE MAY LEARN WHAT WE HAVE ALL TO EXPECT, IN SUCH A WORLD AS THIS.
1. It is, that death will, sooner or later, invade our families, and snatch from us the dearest objects of our affection.
2. The views that we have been taking also admonish us. that parents must do much good, or much ill, of the most influential kind, to their children.
3. We are taught, again, what reflection the disappearance of others from this earthly scene should suggest most naturally to our minds. It is the thought of our own departure. Finally. Amid dissolving assemblies, and the disruption of the dearest connections on earth, let us think upon that period and that state, when all the family of God shall meet, not one lacking, and the congregation of the redeemed shall be convened never to be broken up.
I. THE DEAD WILL NOT RETURN TO THE LIVING. God has placed a barrier between this and the other world; but what that barrier is we know not: we only know that it is completely sufficient to prevent all intercourse between the living and the dead. He says the dead shall not return, and he does not allow them to return. They have gone to their long home, where they must abide for ever; and where the living can never see them without going to them. And this,
II. THEY MUST ALL SOONER OR LATER DO. And it is said, "There is no man that hath power over-the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war." It does not depend upon the choice of the living whether they shall die and go to the dead. They are under a natural necessity of dying, either by disease, accident, violence, or the infirmities of old age, which none can escape who escape all other causes of death. And when the dust returns to the dust, the spirit must go to God who gave it. Though we cannot say anything upon this question to gratify curiosity; yet we may say some things which we all ought to know and realize. Here then it may be observed,
1. That for the living to go to the dead implies their passing through the change of death.
2. For the living to go to the dead, implies their committing their bodies to the dust from which they were taken. Whether their bodies are emaciated or full of vigour and activity When they leave them, they must see corruption, which is the natural and unavoidable effect of death.
3. For the living to go to the dead implies that they must follow them not only into the grave, but into eternity. The Bible gives abundant evidence of the existence and activity of the soul after it leaves the body.
4. The living must go to the dead, not merely to see where they are and what they are, but to dwell with them for ever.IMPROVEMENT.
1. If the living must go to the dead, then their separation from one another will not be of long duration.
2. If the living must go to the dead, it cannot be a matter of great importance whether the time be longer or shorter, before they go into the world where their departed friends have gone.
3. If those who die go immediately to the dead,-then every instance of mortality may be as affecting to the inhabitants of the other world as to those in this.
4. If the living will go to the dead in the manner that has been described, then we may see one reason why good men have often been willing to die. Job said, "I would not live alway; all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come." Good old Simeon said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word." Paul said in the name of Christians, "We are confident, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord."
5. If the living must go to the dead, then we may learn one reason why mankind in general are so loath to die. It is not always owing to men's reluctance to leaving this world, but their dread of going into another.
6. If the living must go to the dead, then a realising sense of this solemn truth would have a happy tendency to qualify the grief of mourners, and turn their thoughts into a proper channel. Finally, it is the immediate and indispensable duty of every person of every character, age and condition, to prepare to go to those who have gone from them and will never return.
(N. Emmons, D. D.)
I. THE CONSOLATIONS WHICH SHOULD ANIMATE A CHRISTIAN UNDER BEREAVEMENT.
1. And foremost among these is the recollection, that death is not the end of existence.
2. Remember, as a second consolation, that death is the commencement of an existence far more glorious than the present.
3. Further: as our consolation we have the assurance that death neither dissolves nor weakens the ties of relation or of love.
4. Further: we remark that, after a brief separation, we shall be re-united.
5. Once more: once re-united, we shall part no more.
II. THE LESSONS WHICH THESE BEREAVING PROVIDENCES SHOULD TEACH US.
I. THAT SURVIVORS MAY DERIVE COMFORT FROM THE REFLECTION THAT THEIR DEPARTED CHRISTIAN FRIENDS SHALL NO MORE RETURN TO THEM. "He shall not return to me." When men close their eyes in death, their connection with earth and the things of earth is dissolved for them. They go to the place "from whose bourn no traveller returns." We may be comforted by the truth, they "shall not return to us," when we are reminded: —
1. That at the gate of death the righteous bid adieu to sorrow. There is much in the present, world that harasses the children of God, and on account of which "rivers of waters run down their eyes."
2. That by death the righteous are taken away from approaching danger. "The righteous is taken away from the evil to come." What this "evil" may be, in any particular case, it is not for us to determine. It is their heavenly Father's account of the matter, and' therewith let us be content.
3. That by death God does not only take His children from evils to come, but He brings them also to their promised rest. It is thus He answers the Redeemer's prayer. "Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, that, they may behold My glory."
II. THAT AMIDST OUR SORROWS ON ACCOUNT OF DEPARTED CHRISTIAN FRIENDS, WE MAY BE EDIFIED AND COMFORTED BY THE SOLEMN, YET CHEERING TRUTH, THAT WE MUST SOON FOLLOW THEM.
1. We shall go to them in death. We also are mortal, and we too must die.(1) The same necessity to die lies on us, as was laid on those who have already passed through the portals of death. They died because they had been appointed unto death. We are under the same appointment, nor can we reverse the decree. Nor does the Divine decree apply only to the fact that man must die, the time of his departure is likewise appointed. Nay more, the immediate cause of our dissolution, and the very circumstances with which our death will be attended, appear also to have been arranged by Him who knoweth the "end from the beginning."(2) The same procuring cause of death operates in every mortal body. It has triumphed over those whose loss we deplore; it is accomplishing the same end in us; and we shall go to them in death.
2. We must go to them in their state of separate existence. Here we learn that though death shall decompose and separate every particle of the body, yet it shall leave the soul unscathed, in a state of conscious existence, capable of exercising its high and immortal faculties on the objects which shall then be spread before it, and susceptible of those exhaustless pleasures, or those never-ending pains, into the enjoyment or endurance of which it is immediately introduced. Admitting that while the body of the believer slumbers in the dust, his soul is in a state of active being, we must remember that when we die we too shall enter instantaneously on a new and untried state.
3. That if we die in the faith of Christ Jesus, we shall go to the sainted dead, and be enshrined with them in all the blessedness of the world of glory.Application
1. Are we mourners? then let the subject teach us piously to acquiesce in the dispensation with which we have been visited.
2. Are we mourners? then let us be deeply impressed with the nature of that moral and spiritual change which must have passed over us, before we can adopt the language of the text, and rejoice in the prospect of following departed friends. "We shall go to them."
3. Are we mourners? let the subject teach us to moderate our grief for those who have been removed by death.
(J. Gaskin, M. A.)
Luther spoke just after his daughter Madeleine's death. When she was placed in the coffin he gazed long at her and said, "Dear little Madeleine, all is well with thee now." And to his wife, "Think where she is gone. She has certainly made a happy journey. With children everything is simple. They die without anguish, without disputes, without bodily grief, without the temptations of death, as if they were falling asleep."
Christian Commonwealth.Cicero's letter to his friend Atticus, on informing him of the death of his darling little son, is one of the saddest memorials of family grief in the whole range of literature. The great orator and philosopher wails, without a note of consolation, over his woe. He will never see his dear little boy again. They have parted for all eternity. In the view of such sorrow, unmitigated by a single ray of comfort, how great is the contrast afforded by the light of the Gospel!