David answered, "While the child was alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let him live.'
I. THE CHILD'S FATAL SICKNESS.
1. The cause of it. The sufferings and deaths of little children are painful to witness, and awaken many questionings. Why should these innocent lambs suffer? Why should the sinless die? To which we may reply, Why should they not, seeing that to them death is an escape from a world of sin and misery, with its awful possibilities of evil, into the world of perfect and eternal purity, safety, and bliss? Resides, he who gave life may take it at his pleasure. Holy Scripture throws some further light upon the mystery. It teaches us in general, that, death came into the world through sin. Children die because they belong to a sinful, dying race. Their deaths are part of the penalty of the sins of men. In them the innocent suffer for the guilty, because of their guilt, and to promote their deliverance from sin. Amongst the forces at work to promote repentance and holiness, not the least powerful are the deaths of little children. God thus finds a way to the hearts of parents and their surviving children. In the case of David we have express Divine explanation of the death of the babe (ver. 14). It was inflicted on account of the sin to which it owed its existence, and to vindicate the justice of God as against the blasphemies of his enemies. And not unfrequently now the child's death is the direct consequence and penalty of the sins of its father or mother. But in such cases, as in David's, love is revealed as well as righteousness. "The Lord struck" David's child, not only to show his displeasure at David's sin, but to deepen his penitence, and promote his godliness and holiness.
2. Its effect on David. It might have seemed probable that, when the babe was taken ill, the father, while not actually desiring its death, would at least not have been much grieved at the prospect of it. For it was a child of shame, and as long as it lived would be a perpetual reminder of the dreadful past, and would keep alive the memory of it in the court and nation. And it is a striking proof of the tenderness and strength of the monarch's affections that the prospect of the death of his little boy was so distressing to him. Partly, however, his intense longing that the child's life should be spared sprang probably from the feeling that this would be a fresh assurance to him that his sins were forgiven. In his distress he resorted to prayer for the child's restoration. How could he do this, seeing Nathan had expressly told him that it should certainly die? It seems that Divine announcements of punishments were not regarded as irrevocable, however positive their terms. Compare the eases of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:1-6) and of Nineveh (Jonah 3:4-10). So David said, "Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live?" and he persevered in prayer and fasting and self-humiliation until the death of the child extinguished all hope. He "went in" to a retired part of his palace, and east himself on the ground, beseeching God for the child, and fasting (ver. 16); and in these exercises he continued day and night, until on the seventh day the child died (ver. 18). Doubtless, during that period of solitary communion with God, not only (lid he pray for the child's life, but reflected much on his sins, indulged anew his peuitential grief, prayed for forgiveness and a cleansed heart, surrendered himself and his babe to the Divine will, sought strength to endure whatever might be before him, and grace to derive lasting profit from all that he was passing through, whatever the issue might be. In all which we do well to take him as an example.
II. THE CHILD'S DEATH. The prayers offered for the restoration of the child were sincere, importunate, persevering; but they were offered in vain. "The child died." Yet not in vain. No. true. prayer is in vain. It brings blessing to him who offers it greater than that which is denied to him. God gives "more than we ask," better than we ask. The effect of his child's death on David astonished his servants. He "arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped," etc. (ver. 20).
1. He laid aside all signs of mourning.
2. He went into the holy tent, and worshipped. His worship would now be of a different character from that which he had offered in his own privacy. No longer entreaties for the life of the child, but expressions of submission to the will of God at length made plain; acknowledgment of God's righteousness and loving kindness in what he had done; prayers for support and consolation and sanctifying grace, for himself and the sorrowing mother, and that God would, through this painful stroke, glorify his own Name.
3. He explained and justified his conduct to his astonished servants. They expressed their perplexity. He explains by reminding them of the utter uselessness of further fasting and weeping. The dead cannot be recalled to life. The living will go to the dead; the dead will not come back to the living. It is true that this consideration has often a terrible effect in increasing the anguish of bereavement. It adds despair to sorrow. The feeling that it is impossible to recall the departed; that no more will the loved one be seen, or heard, or embraced; that the rest of life must be spent without the society that was so dear and seemed so essential to happiness, is overpowering. Nevertheless, the sense of the unalterableness of the fact, and the utter uselessness of prolonged sorrow, has ultimately a calming effect. Men come at length to reconcile themselves to the unchangeable. But there is greater peace and consolation in the truth that the unchangeable is the expression of the will of the infinitely Wise and Good. Believing this, we reconcile our minds, not to a mere hard, stern fact, but to the will of our Father in heaven, who loves us, and pains us because he loves us. The second expression employed by David in reference to the impossibility of regaining his child is worthy of notice. "He shall not return to me." It reminds us that when our friends are dead all opportunity, not only of enjoying their presence and society, but of benefiting them, and otherwise doing our duty to them, is gone. A cause for regret and penitential sorrow if we have failed in our duty to them; and a reason for greater care in doing our duty to those that remain, and for seeking their forgiveness while we may for any wrong we have done to them. There is consolation, too, in reference to those who have been taken from us, that they cannot return, when we have good assurance that they are in heaven. We cannot wish them to return from heaven to earth. We thank God for their complete deliverance from sin and sorrow, and all liability to those evils.
4. He expressed his own expectations as to the future. "I shall go to him" (ver. 23). Whither? To the grave? to Sheol (equivalent to Hades)? or to heaven? The precise thought of David in these words is hardly ascertainable. He may have intended to say only that he must join the child in the region of death. Probably, however, he expressed a hope of conscious reunion in the future world; and the Christian, taking up the words, can express by them a fuller and more confident hope of rejoining his little children and Christian relatives and friends in a state of blessedness than was possible to Old Testament believers, though glimpses of the glorious future were at times enjoyed by them. "Not lost, but gone before" is a thought that is daily comforting thousands. And it is felt how much better it is that the desire for reunion should be fulfilled yonder rather than here - that we should go to our departed friends into that world of perfection and joy, not they come back to us into this world of imperfection and trouble. Only let us take care so to live that such hopes may be reasonable. Think how terrible the thought, "I shall go to him," as cherished by one impenitent sinner in respect to another who has gone to his doom! How dreadful the reunions hereafter of those who have lived together in ungodliness and sin here, and encouraged and helped each other in the practice of them! Better to have died in infancy! Better not to have been born! - G.W.
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.
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."
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.)
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