The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth for Absalom.Pine Traits In the Character of David
2 Samuel 17-19
IT will have been observed that we have not spared king David in our judgment of the evil which he wrought in Israel. We have been careful to mete out to him the full penalty, so that the scoffer should have no advantage over the Christian in condemning the iniquity of the king. We ourselves have trembled under the thunders of the judgment which has been pronounced upon him. Sometimes as the hot sentences fell we almost cried out, Spare the king! Let pity have some place in judgment! But we did not spare him; for we thought of the dead soldier—the frank-hearted and valiant Uriah. But is it not time to inquire if there were any fine traits in the king's character? Was he all corruption? Is it not legitimate, not to say generous, to arrest the process of judgment for a little while that we may inquire whether there was in David—so base, so guilty—anything that should excite our imagination and draw forth commendatory and righteous words?
Absalom has been killed. Notwithstanding the king's injunctions respecting his rebel son, three darts have been delivered from the hand of Joab, and Absalom is dead. He was a faithless, most unworthy son; and now that three darts are quivering in his dead flesh, will the king rejoice that the rebel is no more? If so, his character has changed since king Saul died. Saul did not use David generously or justly, yet when he was killed we were present at the great cry of lamentation. Has king David changed? When the tidings were brought to him of Absalom's fate he was utterly crushed: he "was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (xviii. 33). If these words had been found alone we should have said, This is a species of parental selfishness, the expression of a natural instinct. But they are all but identical with the words which were uttered respecting king Saul: they were the expression of a great generous heart, they were the poetry of a just and noble spirit. And again:—"The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2Samuel 19:4). He cried in a great wilderness. His lamentation sounded hollow in the dreary void. So long as a man can feel distress in this way, there is hope of him; he is not an utterly dead and lost man. Wherever human feeling exhibits itself we may take hope. A tear shows that the door of the heart is still open. If we catch from the worst of men one word of penitence, one sigh of contrition, one utterance of deep genuine grief, let us not blot the man's name out of the record: he yet may entertain the Son of God. Woe be unto him who is past feeling, who takes all tidings with equal indifference, who cares not whether the king be dead or the king be alive, how the battle has gone! He is past feeling; he has become a fool in Israel, and over his burial none will weep. Now that the judgment is passed, or that the clouds have ceased to pour down their wrath for one little moment, it is beautiful to see that the man who has been thus condemned, and justly so, still has a heart—a great, responsive, sensitive heart. Let thus much at least be put down to his credit.
The king was swallowed up of grief; he could do nothing more; his state duties were suspended, his imperial relations were all but ignored. The people felt this most deeply:—
"And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, Thou hast shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy concubines; in that thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends. For thou hast declared this day, that thou regardest neither princes nor servants: for this day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well. Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants: for I swear by the Lord, if thou go not forth, there will not tarry one with thee this night: and that will be worse unto thee than all the evil that befell thee from thy youth until now" (2Samuel 19:5-7).
Joab was an arrogant and imperious man, full of "the insolence of office"; a murderer, and one who could take mean advantage of another man's humiliation. Yet he was a statesman, longheaded and shrewd,—the very Iscariot of the Old Testament! He was right as to his appraisement of the circumstances in which Israel was placed; and David, who was a longer-headed man, knew it quite as well as Joab: so he "arose, and sat in the gate" (2Samuel 19:8). He shook off his sorrow, and became the king again. He said: A king must not give way to private grief too long; the king has imperial duties, royal obligations, and his place is not the chamber of solitude for ever; he must go out now and again, and sit in the gate, and show himself to the people. So there the king sat.
"And they told unto all the people saying, Behold the king doth sit in the gate. And all the people came before the king: for Israel had fled every man to his tent" (2Samuel 19:8).
This is the right exercise of influence. We must not allow personal griefs to last so long as to injure public or general responsibility. Sorrow may degenerate into a species of selfishness. We may urge that we are still mourning,—and the mourning in itself is not condemned: it may be right and proper; but life is larger than one hour of its duration; life has its duties; life is a battle-field; life is a continual controversy, and we miss the captain's presence, the eldest soldier's strong hand: we pine and perish because our leader is away. Thus the Bible has lessons for all circumstances and conditions of life: let those who need those lessons lay them wisely to heart.
Now the king was king again. The rebellion of Absalom was over, and the way was quite clear to the throne of Israel. Now it is the king's turn to avenge himself. We have just heard Shimei curse and rave and foam with madness; we have seen that base man throwing stones at the king and dust upon the king's servants;—now the king will be avenged. What does Shimei do now?
"And Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite, which was of Bahurim, hasted and came down with the men of Judah to meet king David;.... And said unto the king, Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me, neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem, that the king should take it to his heart. For thy servant doth know that I have sinned: therefore, behold, I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king" (2Samuel 19:16, 2Samuel 19:19-20).
"But Abishai the son of Zeruiah, answered and said, Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord's anointed?" (2Samuel 19:21).
Abishai would have gone forth, sword in hand, and decapitated the contrite coward, suspecting his contrition, and suspecting it justly. And David would say—Yes; this is our opportunity: the wheel goes round, the whirligig of time keeps moving: now let the hands of my friends be upon this son of Gera and blot him out from the earth? But David did not speak so: said he,—
"Shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over Israel? Therefore the king said unto Shimei, Thou shalt not die. And the king sware unto him" (2Samuel 19:22-23).
Was he not worth killing? Was he a sincere man? In a little time we shall see. Judgment overtook him, and crushed him, and he lives in history as a rebel and a liar. Let us not presume too much upon God's clemency. We have done evil to our King: we have defiled his house; we have abandoned his altar; we have spent our spite and contempt upon his servants; we have said, Who is the Lord that we should serve him, or the Almighty that we should come unto him? The whole white heaven is empty, and we will do as we please upon the earth. Whilst we are talking so, let us refresh our memory with some historical instances. Shimei had his day: he cursed the king and threw stones at the head that was crowned; but he came and crawled before the same king, and asked for that king's pity. And David spared him. May it not be so with us spiritually? Are there not times when we feel very independent; when we are, indeed, quite defiant from the religious point of view, when we say, The earth is ours and the fulness thereof: we will sow when we please and reap when we like; we will pull down our barns and build greater, and our profits shall be redundant, and the latter end shall be more than the first? And then we forget to pray and sing and do all the sweet duties of worship. But the Lord sitteth in the heavens; he will not willingly slay the children of men. He spares even blasphemers. But "kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little." There is no escape from the final judgment. Shimei lives a day or two, but presently the fate he has invoked and deserved will swallow him up. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." There are threatenings as well as promises, and the threatenings are not the petulant words of defiance, but the solemn declarations of eternal righteousness. Sad is the lot of the enemy! He shall be dashed to pieces like a potter's vessel.
Then there was a supposed enemy as well as a real one:—
"And Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king, and had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came again in peace" (2Samuel 19:24).
Ziba had told lies to the king about Mephibosheth. Ziba had said: The lame dog tarries in Jerusalem, saying his chance has come now: the house of Saul will return to power; and Mephibosheth lies there in ambush, ready to seize the golden chance; I told thee before, at least suggestively, that he, the son of Saul, was of the quality of Saul (xvi. 3). David simply said to the lame man, "Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth?" (2Samuel 19:25). A beautiful inquiry! The king is calm. His equanimity assists the expression of his justice. He is nobly generous. See him: fair, wrinkled, grave: grief written all over his face; a man who has seen life in its most troubled aspects, yet chastened, subdued, mellowed: a shepherd-boy turned into a comparatively and prematurely old man. Observe how he looks down upon the lame son of Jonathan, and says, "Wherefore wentest not thou with me, Mephibosheth? "I expected to have found thee in my train: wherefore didst thou not come?
"And he answered, My lord, O king, my servant deceived me: for thy servant said, I will saddle me an ass, that I may ride thereon, and go to the king; because thy servant is lame. And he hath slandered thy servant unto my lord the king; but my lord the king is as an angel of God: do therefore what is good in thine eyes" (2Samuel 19:26-27).
And the king was generous to Mephibosheth. He seemed to understand the case. He knew the plots of liars, the plans of astute and selfish empirics and adventurers, and he saw in the face of the son of Jonathan some flash of sincerity that reminded him of his fastest friend and of his own oath. These qualities are not to be overlooked in estimating the character of king David. It was right that he should be thundered upon, and that the darts of God's lightning should strike him; at the same time, it is right that we should depict all the finer features, all the more exquisite lineaments of this manifold character. "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." So said the Son of David! Surely the historical father, the lineal ancestor, was not short of the quality which expresses itself in these noble exhortations. Let us quicken our eyes to see fine features, noble excellences; as well as quicken our judgment to criticise with exasperating severity.
David was tender-hearted. In his following there was an old man, eighty years old he said he was; "a very great man;" one of the three rich men who ministered to David when he came to Mahanaim (2Samuel 17:27). He was one of those who
"Brought beds, and basons, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and flour, and parched corn, and beans, and lentiles, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness" (2Samuel 17:28-29).
"And when the king was come over, the king kissed Barzillai, and blessed him; and he returned unto his own place" (2Samuel 19:39).
"But behold thy servant Chimham; let him go over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem good unto thee. And the king answered, Chimham shall go over with me, and I will do to him that which shall seem good unto thee: and whatsoever thou shalt require of me, that will I do for thee" (2Samuel 19:37-38).
A sudden temptation seized king David. A great wind smote his little boat on the lake and overturned it as it were without notice. The adversary the devil, who goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, sprang upon king David, and the king gave way. He who killed the lion and the bear and the uncircumcised Philistine; he who was valiant beyond all soldiers and wise beyond all kings had his "vulnerable heel," and was brought to the dust of humiliation. But his good qualities were many and strong. Some of his critics are not so good as their victim. They should at least restrain judgment, and be made sorrowfully quiet in the presence of much of his iniquity. Let us hand the case over to the living God.
But character is not a question of points, and particular excellences, or special defects: character is a matter of spirit, purpose, aim, and tone of life. Separate actions are not to be viewed as if they included the whole case: the question is, What would you do if you could? What is your supreme desire and purpose? What is the main current of your motive, impulse, and action? If the inquiry be met with words of self-condemnation, you give me an opportunity of declaring the eternal gospel. We are rejoiced wherein any man condemns himself, because the measure of his condemnation gives the exact degree in which the door of his heart is open to receive messages from heaven. There is only one cure for human iniquity; there is only one way by which human character can be purified and ennobled: "Ye must be born again." "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." Then those sweet words, namely: "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Then this gracious challenge: "What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?" Then this final assurance; "According to your faith be it unto you." The transaction is between man and God, between the sinner and the Saviour, between the man who can do nothing for himself, and a Saviour who has died to redeem him. So do not go into despair because of wickedness, and do not go into presumption because of occasional good qualities; but remember that the question is a vital one, that the matter rests entirely with the condition of the heart: "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." These are David's prayers, and they well become our sinful lips.
Almighty God, thou dost turn our mourning into joy, and make our tears blessings. Thou dost abolish death and set the grave on the road to heaven. All this thou dost in Jesus Christ, thy dear Son, our one and only Saviour, infinite in his sufficiency, tender beyond all human love in his inexhaustible compassion. In ourselves we die, we wither away and are no more, but in Christ we have resurrection and immortality and heaven, yea, we have unsearchable riches; because he lives, we shall live also, and in his eternity we shall find the continuance of our being. This is our Christian hope; we received this hope at the cross, at the vacant sepulchre, in the ascension hour when Jesus went up far above all principality and power and dominion to plead for us and prepare for his saints a place. We bless thee for all Christian hope; it chases away the deepest shadows; it fills the inmost recesses of our being with a tender light: it floods the firmament with ineffable glory. We bless thee that no longer do we die—death is abolished in Christ and by him: we now sleep unto rest, we are numbered with the mightiest of the Church of the firstborn: we now pass no grim monster, we are taken up into heaven. If thou wilt increase our faith so that we may lay hold of these truths more intelligently and more firmly, the earth shall charm us no more by its fascinations, its temptings shall be spurned as cruel mockeries, and whilst we are yet in the world we shall be in heaven with God.
We rejoice in the Christian sanctuary, in the calm Sabbath, in the open volume of revelation, in the communion of saints, in common prayer and praise, and in the mutual study of thy holy word. We pray that the light may come down from heaven, that there may be no darkness on the inspired page. May this opportunity be to us full of gladness, may it open as a gate upon heaven, may it come to us as liberty, the opening of the prison to them that are bound. May thy disquieted ones have rest, may thy troubled ones dry their tears and see beyond the clouds, may the weariest find rest and the most sinful feel the efficacy of the holy blood of sacrifice, and thus may every soul be blest, liberated, enriched, sanctified, and made content with the satisfaction of peace.
We mourn our sin: it is always before us, it overshadows our brightest gladness, it makes our feast a trouble, it turns our night into a time of judgment. O that we might know the cleansing of the blood of Christ, the liberty of complete pardon, the joy of final release from the burden and the torment of guilt. We are unequal to this task: for this wound we have no balm, for this sorrow we have no healing given by man. But there is balm in Gilead, there is blood on Calvary, there is a Sacrifice for sin—O that our faith might answer the privileges that are given unto us in Christ, that so we might be made free and pure and glad for ever. Enable us by the ministry of thy Holy Spirit to know the truth, to love it, to hold it fast, to manifest it in all needful speech, in all beautifulness of behaviour, in all nobility of temper, so that by gentleness, pureness, charity and honourableness among men we may evermore preach the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. May thy truth dwell in us, touching every point of our life, making us glad even in the midst of sorrow, giving us outlook and mighty reach over all interior things in the time of trial and dismay.
We bless thee that we know what life is in Christ. We know that we must have trial, we must be weary, we must feel occasional darkness, but these are light afflictions: they endure but for a moment while we look at eternal things. Help us to fix our wandering vision upon the abiding realities, upon the infinite spaces, yea, upon the throne of God and the cross of Christ,—then shall no enemy be able to trouble the depths of our peace.
Regard us as those who long to see thee and know thee and love thee with fuller love. Why else are we here? The world could please our senses and we could listen with momentary pleasure to the lying flatteries of time. Thou hast enabled us to outlive these, to know their true value, and to encounter them with sacred contempt. We yearn for true satisfaction—we would find our contentment only in God. We humbly beseech thee, therefore, seeing that this is our yearning, to meet us and make us glad. Thy servants have come from the market place, from positions of responsibility, danger, anxiety and temptation: from the study and the closet. Thine handmaidens have come from the house and from the nursery, and from the sick chamber, and from manifold conditions of life. These dear little children, too, are here, hardly knowing why: they have come for explanation—may that explanation give them joy. Regard us then as fathers, mothers, children, men and women who have responsibilities to sustain in life, and according to the necessity of each heart and the trouble of each spirit, according to the depth of the wound which gives us agony, and the height of the joy which makes us triumphant, do thou command thy fatherly blessing to rest upon us all. Thine are no partial showers, they are great rich rains that make the hills soft, and the rivers overflow. O that we might feel the impartiality of thy favour and grace, and all be blest according to our souls' capacity.
We pray that thy word may enrich us, teach us somewhat, humble us, correct our estimates and views of life, give a new tone to our whole purpose and being, and thus be fraught with manifold blessings to us, as those who are living a life of probation and hope. Again we own our sin, again we ask for pardon; now and evermore, till the delivering angel come and set us free from time, will we—must we each for himself—say "God be merciful to me a sinner." Amen.
And the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people: for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son.Victory Turned Into Mourning
"And the victory that day was turned into mourning." (2Samuel 19:2)
THE victory spoken of is a victory that was longed for, and yet when it came it was as intolerable as the sting of an adder. How is it that we are always wanting things, and often when we get them they are bitterness itself? We should think a little about this, and try to be wiser to-morrow than we are today. But this seems to be impossible. It would seem to be a kind of law of this rude and incoherent life of ours, that we must, in the majority of instances, play the fool.
David wanted to be rid of his enemies—he was in this case challenged to vindicate his own throne. This was no fight of his own forcing—he was obliged to meet the insubordination and the revolt of his own son. All his arrangements were made, and the king, half hoping, half fearing, living that divided life of ours of which we never can get the two parts wholly together, was waiting at home. Messengers came: he wanted to see them—he hated their very shadow: he longed for them—he could have cursed them. He watched their eyes and their lips ere yet they fully came into his presence. He could have bribed them to tell lies, and yet he must hear the truth: he wants to know the fact, and yet he would have given half his kingdom if he could make that fact correspond with his own wishes. Strange life—sad, tragic, comic, wild, multitudinous, unmanageable: and that life is ours, if it be other than a superficial existence, a throb, and a flutter without solemnity and completeness. The messengers came to the king, and they told David that his enemies had been overcome: he might now be at rest—the troublers of his kingdom were, for the time being at least, despoiled, and were able no long to trouble the good king's reign. "And," said he, "the young man...?" "The young man? The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is." "And the king was much moved." Is a king a man? Is the humanity deeper than the officialism? Do Pharaoh's daughters weep? Does a lump come into a queen's throat when she hears her children prayed for? "The king was much moved." There is a time when our crowns are baubles, when our furniture and stablings, and estates trouble us and hurt us and disquiet us and mock us by their very brilliance and value. "And he went up to the chamber over the gate and wept." Sometimes that is all a man wants—just room enough to cry in, for his is a broken heart, the world is a deceitful place, time is a liar, victories are defeats. And as he went, not after he had gotten to the place, but on the road, when he did not mean to do it, and he wanted nobody to hear him,—on the road he broke down and said, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" Not the traitor, not the revolter—the son still: and it is just so with us and the great Father-King. He might call us rebels, revolters, anarchists, leaders of rebellion, heads of confusion, traitors unfit to live: but that infinite heart of his finds better expression—in tender words and kind speeches; and pathos deeper than our mother's pity.
David, mighty king—you wanted to be rid of your enemies: they are dead: how now? "Yes," said he, "I wanted to be rid of my enemies, but not in that way." There it is again—it is always in some other way that we want our desire granted. "The end is good, that is to say, it is exactly what I wanted: my enemies are cleared out of the field, the clouds have gone from round about my throne, my kingdom is now established in peace and quietness—but there is a great emptiness in the house, a feeling of awful hollowness in the kingdom, for my troubling son, but son still, is killed." You want to get clear of that son of yours? You don't. And you have said how much you would give if he were only out of the way. But all the while you made a great fatherly reservation when you said so, and a great motherly emphasis unexpressed was in your heart when you talked about his being out of the way. You meant somewhere—more comfortable, more useful, more happy. You did not mean out of the way in any tragic sense. O strange man—wild, tumultuous life. We want, and we don't want; we pray, and we don't want the answer, at least, not so—but thus, a crooked answer to a straight request. We want the man to hear our curses on his deeds, and yet we would be the first to put out both hands to save him from the smiting lightning. How is that? Bethink you whether it is not better to keep some troubles, than to have some joys, and let us say whether it is not better for our souls' health to keep the ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of. We want to be rid of our pains and troubles and difficulties, and the Lord will not remove them; he knows that if they were gone, something worse would come in their place, so he quiets us by saying, "What thou knowest not now, thou shalt know hereafter. This is very humbling to thee and trying, and I know this affliction bites clean through to the bone, yea, and toucheth the very marrow itself, and I know this shadow makes even June's longest day a kind of night in thy soul—but 'tis well for thee: better than thou dost suppose; pray on, hope on, the end will explain the road." If we could accept this word and rest in it, we should be wise, and pious, and true—but the flesh, our vanity, our incomplete nature will not do so, and thus we are afflicting ourselves with rods the Lord never intended us to use upon our poor lives.
We are all trying for victory. See if that be not true. Every man, even the poorest, is aiming at some kind of victory in life. Think if this be not so, father, mother, child, man of business, man of letters, boy challenging schoolmate to a marble encounter—through and through life, every section of it, we are trying in some way to get the promised end. Life is a competitive examination from the moment we can put two words together to the moment when we lay down the old man's staff for the last time.
But we are taught here that there are occasions upon which the victory is not worth winning. Is that not so in most cases? What do men want? One says: Riches. He heapeth up riches and knoweth not who shall gather them—is the victory worth the winning? Another says: Well, I want to conquer that human heart, and make it mine—man's heart, woman's heart—saith the young. Is it worth doing? It may be, it may not be. I want that apple on the bough above—not that one, but the one higher. Is it worth fetching a ladder for? Try: you get it, but the worm had it first, and you spurn it with keen disappointment from your hand. It is well, therefore, for men before they go out to battle, to answer the question—if I win, is it worth doing?—because there are victories that are defeats, there are triumphs that are stings, there are achievements that have nothing in them but graves and horrors and mockeries.
Shall we say, without any desire to be too gloomy, that there is nothing upon earth out of God, out of Christ, that is worth doing, worth having? Once we did not think so, and no book could have so taught us, and no preacher, fervent in exhortation, could have forced it upon us: we should have called him dyspeptic, mistaken: but we know it now. And yet the very things that in themselves are not worth having, may, when used in the spirit of Christ, and enjoyed under the responsibility of personal stewardship to God, become pleasures, satisfactions, joys, means of good, means of usefulness to others. Solomon was right—we did not think so at the time, but we have lived to reverse our judgment—when he said, after having swept the curriculum of the university of time and the university of the devil, "Vanity of vanities—a veering, veering, hollow wind, saith the preacher." David felt on the day to which the text refers that some victories may be bought too dearly. Why, if you have paid too much for the house you live in, you feel as if you had a controversy with the walls, and feel half ashamed of the place. It is even so with some victories: we may be paying too much for them. Here is a man who is determined to achieve his end. He boasts that he never yet did fail to carry out his purpose. It is a fool's boast—that, parenthetically—but he has come to a strait place where progress is difficult: to a turnstile, and there is a severe overlooker, and the overlooker says, "What you pay to go through here is honour." "Nothing less?" "Nothing." "Take it." He is through, he will come back no more—he has gone through into a wilderness, trackless, boundless, into which, if a man get, he can never come out again.
You are determined to carry your point in business, in the school, in the church, in the street—you will realise your point, and you have now reached a very particularly critical spot. Can you get through there? No. Under it? No. Over it? No. Something must be done before you can move. The devil keeps the stile, and you say, "What is it that you demand of passers by?" And the answer is, "Conscience. We take souls here. Silver and gold, none of it: every man passing this counter lays down his soul." "His soul?" say you in reproachful soliloquy. "It is a high price. May I not go through for less?" "Not a whit." Some one behind touches you on the shoulder and says "What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" You call him a fanatical preacher, an embodiment of the sentimental conditions of life—you say, "That is very well in theory, and if this had been Sunday and this a church I could have listened to you for decency's sake; but I am on the road to my purpose, to my victory, and I must have it. Here------" and the price is paid. Well, you have carried your point; was it worth carrying? The great difficulty is this, that a man does not know how much he has paid until he has really got hold of his victory, and felt how comparatively valueless it is. Could we have had a short trial trip over the lines of life, it might have been well for some of us, but there are no trial trips, no rehearsals of this great drama—you go in and do what you can. Could I have had some twenty years' preliminary experience before beginning life in earnest, some say, there had been fewer blots upon the page, fewer crookednesses in the line: I should have done better. But there is no such rehearsal permitted in the government of God. You began at the cradle; you pass on to the tomb. Where the tree falls it must lie for ever. It fell there and no help can change it. And thou, poor scribbler, throwing down thy pen, without Christ, can only say, "What is writ, is writ—would it were worthier." Seeing, therefore, that we are well warned there is no rehearsal, no preliminary trial or testing of life, but that it is a solemn transaction, complete in itself, and only to be performed once for all, it becomes us to think which is the right end of things, which is the right key in which to set life, what are the things worth doing and what are the things, how tempting soever, that are not worth accomplishing. It is the purpose of the Church, it is the business of the ministry, it is the object of Christ, it is the mission of the Holy Ghost to teach these things, and surely we need to learn them.
Are there any victories that cannot be turned into mourning? Blessed be God, there are victories that are followed by no compunction, no humiliation—blessings that have no sorrow in them. What is your complaint before God? What is the disease that is poisoning your blood, and burning in your marrow, and consuming your soul—your own peculiar disease? Jealousy? Conquer it by the Spirit of God, pray about it, shut thyself up long months and have it out with heaven. This kind cometh not out but by prayer and fasting, prayer a month long, fasting to the point of famine. Though thou go into thy religious solitude a young man thirty, and dost come out a month after, an old man seventy, if thou canst say, "God has enabled me to strangle the serpent, to tear its fang out of its throat and thrust it into eternal flames;" thou shalt have no mourning—it will be a victory for ever, unimpaired, complete, full of joyous self-content.
What is thy disease, thou who dost say that jealousy is no element in thy constitution—what is thy plague? Self-indulgence, self-gratification, self-delight—self, self, self, morning, noon, and night—none beside—only myself: I alone, I am the world, think of me, comfort me, let me have my way, satisfy my want—is the key of thy life so struck? Conquer thyself. "If any man would be my disciple," saith Christ, "let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, not periodically, not with occasional heroism, but with steady, constant self-crucifixion, and let him follow me." You have gone out to the battle; we will wait for you; you come back older, yet younger; bruised, yet healed with immortality, shaken, yet firm as a rock. You say, "Let others be thought of." If you say it not, so much the better, if you but do it. Men will take notice of you, who have known you aforetime, that there is a deeper gentleness in your spirit than they ever suspected before, a larger charity, a nobler feeling, a more lovely willingness to give way and concede, and they will own possibly that even you may have a new heart. Hast thou won that battle? There is no other battle to be won; fight yourself—beat yourself—set the standard of a new being upon the fortressess and citadels of your own obstinacy, and then you may beat your sword into a plough-share, and make a pruning-hook of your spear, for in your case there is no more war to be done.
How is all this to be accomplished? some poor earnest soul may ask. The answer is as complete as the question is earnest and emphatic. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." They are poor victories that are wrought by the hands: other hands may overcome these, and turn them into defeats. Moral victories, spiritual triumphs, accomplishments of the soul through the patience and might of Christ—these abide. Time writes no wrinkles on their brow—they are fair with immortal youth. Lord, increase our faith. It is by faith we overcome the present, and the present truly is the great enemy and besieger of our souls, simply because it is the present: it is so near, so large, so clamorous, so importunate: all its supposed blessings are here on the spot, and are offered instantaneously—and not having far and keen outlook over things boundless, we may be tempted to snatch the immediate prize. Then shall our eyes be opened, and we shall flee away from the light because we are ashamed.
We sometimes celebrate a mourning that shall be turned into victory, even the mourning of Christ, the crucified Man, who said, "My soul is troubled, even unto death. Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" These are the words of mourning. "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth—Go ye therefore, and teach all nations." These are the words of victory. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted."
Unless we have known the bitterness of this mourning we never can know the joy of true victory. If we examine the keenest, the most solid joys of life, we shall find that they go back into shadow, melancholy, gloom, and Gethsemane. Other joys are external, flippant, momentary: "snowflakes on the river—a moment seen and gone for ever." Have no joy that is not shaded with a mysterious melancholy: highest joys touch the profoundest sensitiveness; it is hardly to be distinguished as to where one ends and the other begins. There is a mourning that hath no joy, there is a mourning that seems to be joy at its very climax, its highest point an acme point.
Are you crucified with Christ? You shall rise with him. Have you known the fellowship of his sufferings? You shall know the power of his resurrection. If we suffer we shall also reign with him. You want the enjoyment without the suffering, you cannot have it; this is God's law, it is out of agony we pluck our keenest joys. If you have godly sorrow which worketh repentance, it will not need to be repented of, it will end in joy unspeakable and full of glory. Are you in deep distress of soul? I will not sympathise with you in the sense of wishing that distress less: I wish that distress to get deeper, more complete, to include your life of life, every drop of your rebellious blood, and then I have a gospel for you; I shall be as an angel breaking through the midnight gloom, singing to you on the plains of your distress, "Glory to God in the highest; on earth peace, goodwill toward men. I bring you good tidings of great joy, a Christ-day, that shall turn your mourning into joy. The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, for he hath sent me to proclaim liberty to the captive, the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to preach the acceptable year of the Lord, to appoint a feast for those afflicted with famine, and to give the oil of gladness for the ashes of mourning." This is what the gospel has to do in the world: it cannot do more, for this is pardon, this is heaven.
David's fondness for Absalom was unextinguished by all that had passed; and as he sat, awaiting tidings of the battle, at the gate of Mahanaim, he was probably more anxious to learn that his son lived, than that the battle was gained; and no sooner did he hear that Absalom was dead, than he retired to the chamber above the gate, to give vent to his paternal anguish. The victors as they returned, slunk into the town like criminals, when they heard the bitter wailings of the king:—"O my son, Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" The consequences of this weakness—not in his feeling, but in the inability to control it—might have been most dangerous, had not Joab gone up to him, and after sharply rebuking him for thus discouraging those who had risked their lives in his cause, induced him to go down and cheer the returning warriors by his presence (2Sa 13:1 to 2Samuel 19:8).