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2 Samuel 12:1-14
And the Lord sent Nathan unto David.
Nathan reproving 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.)
Nathan sent to David
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? (C. Merry.)
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.)
David’s sin and Nathan’s parable
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.)
The parable of Nathan
The introduction to the parable must not be overlooked, for in it we are taught that the first step to repentance springs from the Divine favour. “The Lord sent Nathan.” The man who has fallen into a pit and broken his limbs must have help from without. It is useless for him to talk of climbing out unaided, somebody must come and lift him out and place him again upon the spot from which he fell. The first step towards recovery must come from above him. In considering the parable itself, notice:--
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.)
Awakened and awed
We see here--
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. Psalms 51:1-19., written twelve months after his sin, reveals his inmost thoughts at this time (as also Psalms 32:1-11.), 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.)
David’s great sin, and God’s greater grace
When Alexander, King of Macedon, and one of the few conquerors of the world, had his portrait taken, it is said, he sat with his face resting on his fingers, as though he were in a profound reverie, but really that he might hide from the observer’s vision an unsightly sear. Our Bible always keeps the sitter’s finger off the scars. It paints the full face with flawless detail--beauty and blotches, saintliness and scare, all, and in all. But, after all, is it not a true human instinct and a healthy canon of art that puts the finger on the scars of the face? Why perpetuate the: memorials of deformity? What need to recite the repulsive story of human wrongdoing? Is it not far saner, as our Emerson maintains, to sing the glories of the good, and sink the bad; to chant the praises of virtue, and cover vice with the mantle of concealment? Why should the artist dip his brush in undiluted ugliness, when so many pictures of finished beauty invite his skill? Surely it is no sign of force of intellect or kindliness of spirit to explore the warts on a lace radiant with beneficent expression! Besides, may you not multiply iniquity by exhibiting it, palliate wrong by disclosing its riotous growths in men of exceptional holiness, and weaken the yielding spirit in combat with temptation by supplying excuses for self-indulgent failure, and elastic resistance to desired defeat? All that depends first, upon the spirit in which the biographer conceives and carries out his design; and next, and mainly, upon the purpose which dominates every part of his painting. You may tell a man’s faults for the mean end of gratifying a prurient and debased curiosity; or to palliate and excuse a biting sense of personal wrong-doing; or to compel a low and despairing view of human life; or to give food to a jaundiced and self-condemned egotism that cannot sit still in the presence of greatness, but must, perforce, pelt it with any discoverable stones, picked up with facile fingers out of any mud, by that envy which finds such hospitable entertainment in most of our minds. But the Hebrew historian’s account of David’s great sin is at once lifted far away, and beyond the touch of all such criticism, by the strenuous and insistent moral purpose of the writer, by his clear consciousness that he is narrating a part of the real, though sad, history of the Kingdom of God; and so forcing a series of foul and atrocious crimes into the ranks of the preachers of righteousness, the beneficent angels of warning and rebuke, hope and courage; the trumpet-tongued heralds of human repentance and Divine forgiveness, perfected and crowned by merciful renewal and enlargment of soul.
(1) It has set in the irrefutable logic of facts the truth, that increasing and incredible mischiefs follow the violation of the laws of social purity, in monarch as well as subject, in the high-placed as well as the lowly, in the children of genius and of goodness as well as in the offspring of sensualists and vice.
(2) It has proclaimed that woman is not a satanic bait for man’s soul, but a minister to his purity and happiness, and that the saintliest men imperil their slowly built integrity, and fling into the depths of the sea the precious jewel of their character, if they fail to maintain an exalted conception of woman as woman, and to pay to her individual soul the homage of a genuine reverence and an inflexible justice.
(3) In the lengthened tale of the consequences of this trespass, and the series of awful tragedies crowded into David’s life from this fatal hour, it has revealed the essential falseness of the polygamous basis of family life, repeated the Divine decree that true marriage is of soul with soul, and not of flesh with flesh, and that disaster sooner or later must come to the home and the State of the people who fly in the face of that eternal rule.
(4) It is also a pathetic and powerful enforcement of the law discovered in the dawn of the world’s life; that it is “impossible to hush up a solitary lapse.” Sin finds us out, if only by dragging other sins in its train. David adds lying to lust; treachery to lying; and murder to all, and at the last, is all but drowned in the swine’s trough of sensualism and iniquity.
(5) But the principal message of this chapter m the life of Israel’s greatest hero is that David’s great sin is met and mastered by God’s greater grace. “Where sin abounded, grace much more abounds.” But after the best is said that can be said for these fruitful issues, effected by the dews and rains and sunshine of redemption, from such sorry seed by a wonder-working God, still the sin itself is so bad, so heinous, so despicable and aggravated, that it will not bear telling with any sort of patience and ordinary self-control. It makes one’s blood boil that a man such as he, so strong and self-disciplined in his youth, heroic and magnanimous in his manhood, fervid and original in his love and worship of the Eternal; wide in his culture, and clear in his vision--that he, David, the poet, the prophet, the patriot, the soldier-king, the saint, at fifty, or maybe at fifty-eight years of age, should slip back into such foul mire, and bedabble and bedraggle his soul through such diabolical vices! It fairly takes one’s breath away! Why! he breaks nearly all the commands of God at once! He, a man and a father, forgets his duty to himself as a ruler, and permits the furious steeds of passion to ride rough-shod over all the sanctities of the home! He, a king, commits treason against a subject he is bound to protect! He, a soldier, once so sensitive that he would not touch the skirt of the king with his sword, pens a letter that takes the life of one of his most chivalrous comrades! He, the shepherd and leader of his people, lifted out of the sheepfold to the throne, to guide God’s flock, plunges headlong into the lowest of villanies! Oh! “how are the mighty fallen!” “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” Undisturbed prosperity for a score years has relaxed the king’s vigilance, shrivelled and shrunk his moral fibre, lulled his conscience to sleep, enervated his dedicated and disciplined will. “He has had no changes,” and so has forgotten God and his vocation. Ease has made him effeminate. Luxury has generated idleness, for even now he is exposing himself to temptation by “tarrying at Jerusalem,” when he should be at the “wars.” Reiterated excuses for slight neglects of duty, and satisfaction with a withered ideal, have prepared for this awful catastrophe. It is not well for any of us to escape difficulty, combat, and criticism. We must not forget the perils of advancing years. Age has its dangers not less than youth. Necessity is a better servant to virtue than we usually imagine. Few of us can resist the seductions of ease and affluence, or conquer the fearful temptations born of having “nothing to do.” A man should bear the yoke in his youth, and if he is wise he will not be in a hurry to put it off, but will die under its tightening grip. The true soldier aims to be faithful unto death. Age is no dispensation from watchfulness, and length of years no guarantee of safety. The oldest of us must watch and pray, lest we blunt the spiritual sensibility, become the prey of vulgar ambitions, and allow the cleansing fires of self-risking enthusiasms to die down and die out. If David falls after half-a-century’s experience of God’s mercy, who is safe? But sad as all this is--and we make no apology whatever for David’s sin; he does not; Nathan does not; the most distressing and deadly feature of these revolting transgressions is not the plot to murder; the cold-blooded treachery; the gross lust; black and hideous as they are, but his callosity, his hardness of heart, his seeming supercilious consciousness of no sin. Think of it. For a whole year the guilty monarch lives on and on, face to face with the memorials of his sin; remorse mostly asleep; dull torpor occupying the contested throne of his heart: his bruised soul unrelieved by the throes of a genuine repentance and a full confession. Surely the heart is deceitful above all things, and capable of desperate wickedness, and inexpungable stolidity! Who call: know it! Its self-delusions are unsearchable, and its devious diabolical ways past finding out! But David’s superficial apathy and coveted hardness cannot last, God will not let it. He will bring the evil to the light, and pierce the sinner’s soul through and through with the two-edged sword of many sorrows, that He may east out the deadly iniquity. The king’s secret crime leaks out. That much decried Minister of Justice, “Gossip,” passes along the bazaars, and on to the palace, and to the schools of the seers, until it startles and shocks the soul of the young prophet of God, Nathan. He cannot rest, The bitter tidings till hint with sorrow. The burden of the Lord is upon him. God’s anointed must be rebuked, and his fearful doom declared. There can be no paltering with evil because it is done by a king, no truckling to wrongdoing because he who commits it has the power of life and death, no veiling a monstrous iniquity from sight because it is committed by one of exalted place and of exalted character. God and His prophets are no respectors of persons. They witness for stern justice and for rigid and inflexible law; and the higher the rank of the sinner the more urgent the swift exposure of his sin. Strange brain-book this of ours! It seems as though we wrote a page in our life, and then the wind of circumstance rose high and blew it over, and hid it from our sight, never again to be read by us or ours; but God comes by His prophet, His Nathan, His “gift” of Revelation, and His strong fingers open the sealed leaves and turn them back, and the blotted register is held before our startled eyes, and we are compelled to look Straight on what we have written, until it seems as though the flashing light of God would burn it into our souls, and make us feel the horrible meanness and bald baseness of our low lives. That penitence was no cheap and easy lip-cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” It was the agony of all inexorably tortured soul; incensed against himself as one who had nourished a serpent in his heart, only that it might discharge its full venom upon him. Bitterly he cries and sobs out his grief, writhes and groans under the intolerable pressure of his sin, reels and staggers from the successive shocks of his anguish, his very bones wasting away amidst his moaning, his life-juices drying up through the burning fevers of ms soul, his days wretched, his nights sleepless, his prayer one moan; O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this sill and death. God creates such penitence for sin by Revelation. Sin does not of itself generate repentance. It warps the judgment, hardens the heart, distorts the vision, shrivels the will, slays the man. It is not in sin to cure itself. Nor will penalties redeem and restore. Punishments do not of themselves beget soul-agony for sin as sin--for sins of the thought and the imagination, the will and the affections. George Eliot says in “Daniel Deronda”: “Lives are enlarged in different ways. I daresay some would never get their, eyes opened if it were not for a violent shock from the consequences of their own actions.” Thank God that does happen sometimes, but human story tells us they are extremely few who are chastened and enriched merely by suffering the penalties of their own wrongdoing. Such issues beget despair, and lead a Judas to suicide; but alone, they rarely, if ever, lead to life. They may accumulate self-reproach, discover the blundering stupidity of all sin, sour and embitter the temper, and crush and grind the man to powder; but it is God in His prophets Who begets a divinely cleansing repentance, a fierce and pure hatred of wrong as wrong, and a renewed dedication to goodness and righteousness. It always takes a gospel to make a penitent. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses.” The vision of Divine love breaks the hardest heart. The infinite pathos of the Cross touches the spirit with softer power for contrition and for comfort than the song of the angels at Bethlehem. God quickens and enlarges a thorough repentance with His free and instant forgiveness, and crowns it with swift peace, soul enlargement, and hallowed progress. “A broken and a contrite spirit” is His most coveted home, and the souls of the penitent have been His chosen dwelling-place in all generations. “There is icy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth;” then how glad and full and deep the delight, when the heart of a David sobs with grief over his sin; the long estrangement from God is ended, and the right spirit is once more supreme! “The Lord hath also put away thy sin.” But note, although God forgives the sin, He does not remit the penalty. He cannot. Infinite in power and resistless in will, He does not He cannot cut off, at once and for ever, the issues of David’s iniquities. Wrong has an indestructible vitality, and a prodigious reproductiveness independently of him who did it. Most appalling is this tragic feature of our mysterious life! Never is that penalty lifted wholly out, of David’s career. It dogs him to the very end. It is there in the death of Bathsheba’s child. It is there in the thickening plots of the palace; in the crime of Ammon; in the revolt of Absalom; and in the wickedness of his children. It is there ill the air of the court laden with his infecting impurity; there in the “whips” to scourge him, made of the knotted cords of his “pleasant vices.” But forgiveness is not all David seeks; nor is it all he obtains. The greater grace of God triumphs over the great sin of David in making it contributive to his spiritual enlargement, the clearing and expansion of his conceptions of sin, of responsibility, of personality, of God, and of holiness. He recovers his original attitude of sincerity and simplicity, of uprightness of purpose, and of straight and steadfast vision; and from his own failure gains the clearest expressions of personal and individual sin the Bible contains. His sin accentuates his sense of personality in God and in self. “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight.” Let us adore the grace of God that carries on the upbuilding of men, not alone by shepherds’ tasks and patriots’ perils, courtiers’ duties and singers’ psalms, but also, and surprisingly by the ministry of sin, converting failures in human purpose and foibles in human lives, into goads and beacons, and transmuting even the victories of low animalism and blinding sense into whips and thongs driving the offending Adam out of the swine’s field and into the pastures of the flock of God. The fact is as undeniable as it is glorious. Speaking to M. de Lesseps on the occasion of his admission to the Academy, M. Renan said: “You have that supreme gift that, like faith, works miracles. And the reason of your ascendancy is this--that men see in you a heart that sympathises with all that is human, and a veritable passion for ameliorating the lot of all mankind. They find in you that pity for the multitude which is the mainspring in all men of great practical talent . . . You are a master of the supreme art which consists in knowing how to do good with evil, and get the great out of the little.” And is it not also one of the chief problems of science to convert the waste products of the world into the service of mankind? Has not chemistry, within the last thirty years, coaxed a whole world of beautiful colours out of the refuse of coal-tar? But in all this, man is only the imitator of Him Who makes the wrath of men to praise Him. “He sayeth to the uttermost.” Limit, there is none to His forgiveness. Barrier does not exist to His conquering grace. David is the Saul of Tarsus of the Hebrew Church. It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that turn to Him with a broken and contrite heart, showing mercy to the penitent, be they never so guilty; and saving David, that in him as chief, God might show forth His long-suffering for an ensample to them that should hereafter believe on Him to eternal life. Let no man despair. (J. Clifford.)
Self-examination may be called an arraignment of ourselves at our own bar, according to that word of our Eucharist Service: “Judge, therefore, yourselves, brethren, that ye be not judged of the Lord.” It is easy--fatally easy--with self-examination as with prayer, to allow the exercise to be drawn down from its high moral and spiritual aim to the level of a form. But while we continue it, let us strive to throw reality and life into it by regarding the great duty on a large, comprehensive, and spiritual scale. Consider, first, the necessity for all of us, in respect both of our sins and of our good works, of an exercise of like self-examination. This necessity arises from the fact, so distinctly stated in Scripture, that “the heart is deceitful above all things,” and that “he that trusteth in his own heart”--in its dictates respecting himself and his own spiritual condition--“is a fool.” It has pleased God to illustrate this cardinal truth by two grand examples, one in the Old and one in the New Testament. It must have been by trust in the subtle evasions and plausible shifts of his own heart that David, after committing two of the worst crimes of which our nature is capable, so long contrived to keep his conscience quiet, but at length was convicted of the desperate folly of severely condemning in another man the very faults which, in an infinitely aggravated form, he had been palliating and excusing in himself. And it was by trusting in the assurances which his heart gave him of his own strong attachment to his Master, that St. Peter, secure of himself, was betrayed into the weakness and folly of denying Christ. May we say that, while all characters are liable to the snare of self-deception, those are more particularly exposed to it who, like St. Peter and David, are persons of keen sensibilities, warm temperaments, quick affections? But bow shall we bring home to ourselves the dangerousness of trusting, without due examination, to the verdict of our own hearts? We will do so by supposing a parallel ease ins matter, where we are all peculiarly apt to be cautious and suspicious--the goods of this world. Suppose, then, that the chief agent in some great speculation is a man wire, though most untrustworthy, has all the art of conciliating trust. Suppose him to be fluent, fair-spoken, prepossessing in manners and appearance, and to be especially plausible in glossing over a financial difficulty. Advance one more step in the hypothesis, and suppose him to be a private friend of many of those who are embarked with him in the same speculation; allied to some of them by marriage, and, more or less, in habits of intimacy with all. If such a person is at the head of affairs, and entrusted with the administration of the funds contributed by all, it is evident that he might impose upon the contributors to almost any extent. Now the peril of such trust in worldly matters supplies a very fair image of the peril of a still more foolish and groundless trust in spiritual things. Our hearts are notoriously most untrustworthy informants ill any case where we are ourselves interested. It is not only Scripture which assevers this. We confess it ourselves, and re-echo the verdict of Scripture, when we say of any slight matter, with which we happen to be mixed up, “I am an interested party, and therefore I had better not be a judge.” What frightful arrears may we be running up, unawares to ourselves, if we do not sharply check and suspiciously watch this heart, who administers for us the account between us and God! The first step in real self-examination is to be fully aware of the deceitfulness of the heart, and to pray against it, watch against it, and use every possible method of counteracting it. But what means can we use? We offer a few practical suggestions in answer to this question.
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.)
Nathan as a true prophet
Nathan here presents the image of a prophet in its noblest and most attractive form. Boldness, tenderness, inventiveness, and tact were combined in such admirable proportions that a prophet’s functions, if always discharged in a similar manner with equal discretion, would have been acknowledged by all to be purely beneficent. In his; interposition there is a kind of ideal moral beauty. In the schools of the prophets he doubtless held the place which St. Ambrose afterwards held in the minds of priests for the exclusion of the Emperor Theodosius from the church of Milan after the massacre of Thessalonica. (W. Smith, D. D.)
Nathan the parabolist
Krummacher tells us how the wise Nathan learned the benefit of parables. He sought to instruct men by putting on coarse garments, and using harsh words; but men ran from him and left him vexed and alone. After a miserable night he was led by the spirit of God to a pomegranate tree, bearing flowers and fruit at the same time. He contemplated it, and saw the fruit concealed among the leaves. Then the word of the Lord came from the pomegranate tree, saying: Behold, Nathan! thus nature promises the delicious fruits by the simple flower, and offers it from the shade of the leaves concealing her hand.” Nathan was cheered, and henceforth taught by parables, winning many to the ways of truth.
Reproof by portrait
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. (Sunday Companion.)
The force of private admonition
Great is the benefit of conference and private admonition. Luther was much helped this way by Staupicius; Galeacius by Peter Martyr, Junius by a countryman of his not far from Florence; Senarclaeus by John Diazius; Latimer by blessed St. Bilney, as he styleth him; Dr. Taylor by that angel of God, John Bradford, who counted that hour lost wherein he had not done some good with his hand, pen, or tongue. Private admonition, saith one, is the pastor’s privy purse, as princes have theirs, besides their public disbursements. It repented good Mr. Hiron, and troubled him on his deathbed, that he had been so backward to it, and barren of it. (J. Trapp.)
Definite teaching as to sin
Delivering publicly a charge to a newly-ordained minister, Robert Hall said to him: “Be not afraid of devoting whole sermons to particular parts of moral conduct and religious duty. It is impossible to give right views of them unless you dissect characters, and describe particular virtues and vices. The works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit must be distinctly pointed out. To preach against sin in general without descending to particulars may lead many to complain of the evil in their hearts, while at the same time they are awfully inattentive to the evil of their conduct.” How wise is this! We need to be specific as to home-sins, business-sins, social-sins, church-sins, pew-sins, and pulpit-sins; for to lay bare definite evil is half-way towards its removing. No preaching was ever more pointed and personal and practical than that of our Lord Jesus Christ, and those who heard Him knew He meant themselves if no other. (H. O. Mackey.)
Reproving without offending
It is told us of Henry Martyn that lie was a man with a wonderful power of telling men of their faults, and bringing them to a right mind, and yet never offending them. Someone said to him: “How do you manage to tell them their faults without offending them?” He replied, “I never go to another to tell him his fault, until I have been down on my knees before God, and seen that, but for His present grace, I should be in the same fault myself.” That is the spirit of meekness. Yes, blessed are the meek who will get down, just as Henry Martyn did; he got down on to his knees, and that is the best way to get to tim ground, and then from that level lie spoke to the one who was in fault. When he got up he lifted his brother with him. (H. Brooke, M. A.)
Preaching to the conscience
Robert Wodrow tells a story of a certain merchant who “came from London to St. Andrew’s in Fife, where he heard first the great and worthy Mr. Blair preach, next he heard the great Rutherford preach, and afterward Mr. Dickson. When lie came back to London his friends asked him what news he had from Scotland. He answered, he had very great and good news to tell them. They wondered much what they could be, for tie was before that time a man altogether a stranger to true religion. He told them he heard one Mr. Blair preach at St. Andrew’s; and describing his features and the stature of his body, he said, “That man showed me the majesty of God”--which was Mr. Robert Blair’s peculiar talent. “Then,” added he, “I afterwards heard a little fair man preach”--Mr. Rutherford “and that man showed me the loveliness of Christ. Then I came and heard at Irvine a well-favoured, proper old man, with a long beard”--which was the famous Mr. Dickson--“and that man showed me all my heart;” for he was most famed of any man of his time to speak to cases of conscience. (Alexander Smellie.)
2 Samuel 12:5
David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man.
The self-deception of sin
You do not know the strength and poison of sin till you resist it. It was this want of resistance that bed David into such depths of humiliation and degradation. He was allowed, of course, by the law of Moses to have as many wives as he pleased. His great victories over the Syrians at Helam had given him an inflated sense of self-importance and power. He had slain the men of 700 chariots of the Syrians and 40,000 horsemen, and had killed Shobach himself, the general of King Hadarezer. The shepherd-boy who had become king was delighted with himself. He thought he could do anything. His conscience was lulled to sleep. He broke the seventh commandment. But he went on in his easy slipping away from rectitude. He resisted nothing. So it was with St. Augustine of Hippo, the greatest of the Fathers of the Church. He had a Christian mother of eminent piety and noble character, and the idea of God and the love of the name of Christ never entirely left him; but all through his youth he behaved as he saw Others doing. He resisted no inclination. He gave himself up to all tire sins of his heathen companions, and placed no restraint on himself of any kind; not till long years afterwards did he see the hideousness of his conduct. “Woe is me,” he cries in his Confessions, “and dare I say that Thou didst hold Thy peace, O my God, while I was straying further from Thee? Didst Thou, then, indeed hold Thy peace from me? And whose but Thine were those words which by my mother, Thy faithful one, Thou didst chant in my ears? Nothing whereof sank into my heart so as to do it. They seemed to me womanish advices, which I should blush to obey. But they were Thine, and I knew it not; and I thought Thou didst hold Thy peace, and it was she who spoke; by whom Thou didst not hold Thy peace; and in her Thou wast despised by me, I knew it not; and ran headlong with such blindness that among my equals I was ashamed of being less vicious, when I heard them boast of their vices, yea, boasting the more the baser they were; and I took pleasure not only in a wicked act, but in the praise of it.” And again in another place:--“I have loved Thee late, Thou Divine Beauty, so old and so new; I have loved Thee late! And lo! Thou wast within, but I was without, and was seeking Thee there. And into Thy fair creation I plunged myself in my ugliness; for Thou wast with me, and I was not with Thee Those things kept me away from Thee, which had not been except they had been in Thee. Thou didst call, and didst cry aloud, and break through my deafness. Thou didst glimmer, Thou didst shine, and didst drive away my blindness. Thou didst breathe, and I drew breath, and breathed in Thee. I tasted Thee, and I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burn for Thy peace. If I, with all that is within me, may once live in Thee, then shall pain and trouble forsake me; entirely filled with Thee all shall be life to me.” Not till he resisted sin in the strength of the grace of his conversion and baptism did Augustine see the enormities of his past life, which till then had seemed excusable as the life of other young men of his age and time. “It is impossible to estimate the strength of the principle of evil in the soul till we begin to struggle with it; and the careless or sinful man--the man who is not striving with sin, but succumbing to it--cannot know its force.” It is a law of Nature that resistance is the best measure of force. Look at the stream of that calm, majestic river; it is sweeping along silently, with hardly a ripple. Its surface is so smooth that you would hardly know that it was moving at all. Suddenly it comes along its course to a place where rocks stand up from its bed and oppose it, current. At once it is torn by resistance into waves and foam. All its strength and swiftness are revealed as it lashes itself against the opposing masses. Think of the wind rushing over a wide plain. As long as it meets no obstacles, you cannot measure its strength. But as soon as it leaps on the trees of the forest, and wrestles with their giant arms, and tosses and writhes them about in the air; as soon as it flings itself upon houses and streets and towns, as soon as it reaches the sea, and beats and pushes its deep waters into towering mountains of top-heavy billows; then you hear it shriek and howl, and you know its power by its results. Think, again, of some still, ice-bound region, locked in silence, over which the long months of a sunless winter have lain heavy. There is a quiet as of death. But at length the warmer currents of spring make themselves felt below the deep vast covering of ice that seemed so immovable; and the sun comes up at last from his protracted exile, and then the forces of nature burst forth, the ice is cracked and torn with a thousand fissures, as by the invisible blows of giants, the boom and roar of breaking and colliding masses deafen the whole air with ceaseless thunder, and you know at length the strength of that long tyranny that has been overthrown. So it is in the moral and spiritual world. The power and nature of sin are only seen when you begin to resist it. You only know what you are escaping from when you begin to wrestle against the ropes that bind you. That is the reason why so many men and women of the world, with a low standard of conduct, seem to have no remorse. They make no struggle. They have little or no happiness, because the consequences of sin are so unsatisfying. But they do not at present know anything better. Wordliness and evil sweep over their natures like the smooth current of the river, like the silent wind over the unresisting plain, like the deadly frost crushing the life out of the Arctic Sea. It is astonishing how far men will go in these unconventional aspects of conduct. A Neapolitan shepherd came in great anguish to his priest. “Father,” he cried, “have mercy on a miserable sinner! I should have fasted, but, while I was busy at work, some whey, spurting from the cheese-press, flew into my mouth, and--wretched man--I swallowed it! Free my distressed conscience by absolving me from my guilt!” “Have you no other sin to confess?” said his spiritual guide. “No, I do not know that I have committed any other.” “There are,” said the priest, “many robberies and murders from time to time committed on your mountains, and I have reason to believe you are one of the persons concerned in them.” “Yes,” he replied, “I am; but these are never accounted a crime; it is a thing practised by us all, and there needs no confession on that account.” That is only an instance of the low depths to which conventionality may sink. No doubt his adviser taught him to begin to resist his robbing and murderous habits. The man seemed innocent enough, because he only compared himself with his comrades, not with the law of God. He, and such as he--and how many there are in similar case!--are like the snowdrift when it has levelled the churchyard mounds, and, glistening in the winter sun, lies so pure and fair and beautiful. And yet the dead are rotting and festering below. A very plausible profession, wearing the look of confidence and innocence, may conceal from human eyes the foulest corruption of the heart. In whatever way sin has prevailed over an individual--whether in avarice, injustice, ill-temper, pride, vanity, sensuality, untruthfulness, dishonesty, deceitfulness, guile, envy, malice, spite, vindictiveness, selfishness, worldliness, ambition, covetousness, party spirit, self-will--it generally reigns as powerful as the mighty stream, as withering as the icy frost. The soul is hardly aware of its bondage, it is so complete. “The Sanskrit word for ‘serpent,’” says Max Muller, “was Ahi, the throttler. The root of the word means to press together, to choke, to throttle. This word was chosen with great truth as the proper name for sin. Evil, though presented under various aspects to the mind, having also many names, had none so expressive as that derived from the root, to throttle.” Anhas, sin, was throttling, consciousness of sin, the grasp of sin on the throat of his victim. The statue of Laocoon and his sons, with the serpents coiled round them from head to foot, realises what the ancients felt and saw when they called sin Anhas, the ‘throttler.’ And it does more than choke--it blinds.” “It is amongst the most potent of the energies of sin,” says Archer Butler, “that it leads astray by blinding, and blinds by leading astray; that the soul of man, like the strong champion of Israel, must ‘have its eyes put out’ when it is to be ‘bound with fetters of brass,’ and condemned to grind in the prison-house.” “Often,” it has been said, the sense of guilt breaks upon the awakened spirit with all the strangeness of a discovery.” So it was with St. Augustine of Hippo. So it was with Thomas Scott the commentator, the great saint of the end of the last century. When he left school he was bound as an apprentice to a surgeon. He behaved in such a manner that at the end of two months his master dismissed him, and he returned home in deep disgrace. “Yet,” he said, “I must always regard that short season of my apprenticeship as one of the choicest mercies of my life. My master, though himself irreligious, first excited in my mind a serious conviction of sin committed against God. Remonstrating with me on my misconduct, he said I ought to recollect that it was not only displeasing to him but wicked in the sight of God. This remark proved the primary means of my conversion.” You cannot tell when the voice will come or how; but depend upon it God will not leave you alone, and your salvation may depend on your discerning His warning or remonstrance and listening to it, There is a wholesome and significant legend in the Koran of the dwellers by the Dead Sea, to whom Moses was sent. They scoffed and sneered at him; they saw no message in what he said, and so he withdrew. But Nature and her rigorous veracities did not withdraw. When next we find the dwellers by the Dead Sea, says the legend, they had all become changed into apes. By not using their souls they lost them. The voice of conscience can be stifled. Light can be rejected. God’s spirit ever striving can be resisted by the rebellious freewill of man. (W. M. Sinclair.)
The partiality and blindness of self-love
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.)
On the deceitfulness of sin
There are many circumstances in this narration which may and ought to remind us of truth in which we are too nearly interested. But the principal of them will be comprehended if we learn from it the following points of doctrine.
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. (T. Secker.)
The self-deceitfulness, of sin
Butler points out that, portentous as David’s internal hypocrisy and self-deceit was, it was all the time local and limited in David. That is to say, his self-decit did not as yet spread over and corrupt his whole life and character. There was real honesty in David all this self-deceiving time. David gave scope, in Butler’s words, to his affections of compassion and goodwill, as well as to his passions of another kind. And, while this is some comfort to us to hear, there is a great danger for us in this direction also. The whited sepulchres fasted twice in the week, and they gave tithes of all that they possessed. They made broad their phylacteries, and made long prayers, and were always to be seen in the synagogues, with their mint and anise and cumin. They made clean, no men made so clean, the outside of the cup and platter. Many of them had begun, like David, with only one thing wrong in their life; but it was a thing which they hushed up in their own consciences, till by that time the self-deceit was spreading and was well-nigh covering with death and damnation their whole life and character. David was rescued from that apparent end; but he was fast on the way to that end when the Lord arrested him. David all the time was administering justice and judgment as boldly, and With as much anger at evil-doers, as if there had never been a man of the name of Uriah on the face of the earth. And just because he was making men who had no pity restore the lamb fourfold; just because of that he was more and more confirmed in his own self-deceit. We would need Nathan and his parable at this point. Only your self-deceit would make you miss his point, till he drove it home into your bleeding heart. You are the men. (Alex. Whyte, D. D.)
2 Samuel 12:7
And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.
His natural face in a glass
Mr. Moody somewhere tells the story of a little child who had fallen into the gutter, but would not submit quietly to be washed, till his mother, finding persuasion useless, caught up the rebellious boy in her arms and turned him before a looking-glass. So here the righteous prophet brings the guilty king before the mirror of a lustrous parable; in a moment the blackness of the royal transgressor’s misdeeds was seen, and he cried out, with full conviction of his sin--“Unclean! Unclean! wash me, O God, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression!” Nathan by his parable brings David the offender unawares before David the judge. The solemn subject suggested by these words is the blinding of self. Here was a man who was deeply incensed at an abstract story of injustice, with which he personally, as he thought, had no concern, but apparently insensible to the gravity of the crimes, far more abominable, which he himself had perpetrated, How is it that we have such open ears and quick eyes and sharp tongues for the misdeeds of others, while we are so blind and gentle to our own? Why are we such severe judges on our very own crimes seen on others? Let us try to answer these questions OH the lines of the Old Testament episode.
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.)
In this lurid sentence the prophet of God condemned the guilty king out of his own month. It was no mild utterance, this, but one charged with moral passion and righteous anger. The circumstances called for the word, too. The wretched man upon the throne now saw, and for the first time, what ms sin really was. It was guilt calculated upon and persisted in, guilt covered up even in David’s own mind by sophistry and self-excuse. Now comes the moment of revelation, when the true state of things is declared to David’s consciousness just as it had long ago been declared unconsciously, though he never dared to face the truth. Imagine the scene that is hinted at in this chapter rather than described. David sits upon the throne in the day of his splendour, surrounded by his mighty men, and the plain-garbed figure of the prophet of God appears on the scene. He is made welcome--why should it not be so? This victorious king is the chosen of the Lord. What message can Nathan have to bring but a message of good? The court is hushed to listen. The wisdom and righteousness of David respond eagerly to the demand of the prophet. Thus and such the rich man has done. Thus and such vengeance is called for, retribution to be awarded. What saith the king? “And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man.” The court is silent, waiting for the prophet to speak. One sentence it is which issues from his lips, how terrible only David knew though the awe-stricken listeners must have felt, too, something of the impact of the tremendous utterance, “Thou art the man.” Self-deception is never very difficult. Men are curiously averse to calling things by the right name. There is no kind of hypocrisy so subtle and so dangerous as the hypocrisy which is hypocrite to itself and will not acknowledge its own presence. We can cheat ourselves as David did that because the world knows nothing and because there is a euphemistic word to describe a foul thing, that therefore God is deceived too. He is not, and heaven is not. The world of truth interpenetrates this, the world of glory is not a handbreadth off. You cannot hide from the eternal right. As Arthur Hugh Clough hath it in one of his most familiar lines, “Listen before I die, one word. In old times you called me pleasure; my name is guilt.” What a dark name, what a foul name, what an unpronounceable shuddering word you would have to apply if you were honest, some of you, to the things you have done! God, you see, applies the right word--“Thou art the man.” In God’s economy, in God’s moral world, the meaning of punishment is that the soul is compelled to see itself as it is, and to acknowledge the eternal justice. Come it soon or come it late, God’s verdict upon sin is written large in the experience of the sinner. I was reading recently in one of Maurice Maeterlinck’s books, I think the last, a paragraph something to this effect. I do not quote, I only paraphrase--If a man hath done a guilty deed, if a man hath been betrayed by himself, dragged down by evil propensity, and hath the courage and the faith to rise again, the day comes, the moment is his when he can say, It was not I that did it. Of course you see the paradox of the mystic. Yes, but it was a truth stated in paradox. A man may so rise above the habitual level of his own character that deeds are forgotten. It is not so much the deeds that matter, it is the climate of the soul, it is the moral atmosphere in which you live that is telling out the truth. A man’s real fall often antedates by long the fall that the world can see and judge him by. But, look you, if a man has risen so far by virtue of his penitence that he reaches the heart of God; so exalting himself, by true humility that he is no longer capable of that old sin, it is, as it were, blotted out of the book of remembrance. To such a man I would be entitled to say in the name of the Lord of Hosts, “Thou art not the man,” the man that was, but another, redeemed, purified, made holy by the Spirit of God. There are some people who are morbid in their retrospection and their view of their own moral delinquencies. Remorse is not repentance. Morbidness is by no means humility. There is another way and a higher. It is impossible for you to contend with God. Once you have realised that there is no longer need for you to remain in the prison-house. If any man is hopeless concerning the past I call him to a deeper as well as a higher life. An old mediaeval mystic once wrote, “In every man there is a godly will which never consented to sin nor ever shall.” You know what that signifies. It tells you that the deepest self in every man is Christ. What? Yes, I mean it. Until conscience is dead Christ is not gone from the soul of any man but that Christ you may be crucifying. (R. J. Campbell.)
Conviction, confession, and forgiveness
The king was confounded! So sharp, so sudden, so altogether unexpected was the charge, he could not resist it. Like a well-appointed shaft flying from a practised archer it transfixed his heart.
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.)
David’s conscience seems to have been deranged, to have forgotten its function; and it is with our moral as with our physical being--when any of our natural organs are diseased and suffered to continue in that state, the character of the organic action becomes gradually changed, and a complete departure from healthy action succeeds, and perhaps the reparation of the organ becomes impossible after a time. David is excessive in pronouncing sentence upon the imaginary transgressor. Now, here is an indirect testimony of conscience to the law, that it was good; but here is a solemn lesson. It is one thing to agree with the general correctness of a principle, and it is quite another thing to apply practically that principle to our own life and conversation. Every one is ready to admit that it is a practical duty to relieve distress; and yet, if you compare the numbers of those who act upon the conviction with the multitudes of those who are ready to admit the principle, it is to be feared that a lamentable failing will often be discovered. Or take some of our every-day principles. We are ready enough to admit the uncertainty of life, and the goodness of God, and there are certain principles of practice that follow as directly from the admission as night succeeds to day; and yet bring men to the touchstone of practice, and they will be found as practical deniers of their own principles. No; you find men eager in the pursuit of shadows still. We are ready to admit the goodness and long-suffering of God, that we are dependent for everything upon Him, and yet where is the man that can examine his own conscience without being compelled to admit that his affections have been given to things with which it would be blasphemous to speak of God as having divided allegiance? Therefore, we have, in dealing with ourselves, a mighty enemy to guard against--our tendency to deceive ourselves. The wisest statesman of antiquity has said, “It is the easiest thing possible to deceive oneself.” The wish is too often parent of the thought. If, by succeeding to deceive ourselves as to our actual state, we were able to cancel the reality of that state and to remove the fearful consequences that unrepented sin entails upon is, then indeed “the preacher’s task were one of wanton cruelty, to disturb the calm repose of the life that now is, if, by suffering it to continue, it could possibly issue in the repose of the life that is to come. But what would be thought of one who would see a fellow-creature moving blindfolded to the brink of a precipice, one step after the arrival at which precipitated his doom? Perceive how the prophet advances. “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul.” The prophet here enumerates the mercies of God which had been vouchsafed to David from his earliest history. It is well, when the Christian habitually enumerates God’s mercies, and widen the recollection serves to keep alive the flame of gratitude that ought to burn there. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” But it is a very different state when the conscience is dead, when the memory of past mercies is lost, when it produces no response in the seared heart--when the man of God is constrained, as Nathan is here, to enter into a recapitulation of the mercies of God, and the forgetfulness of him who was sustained by them, and who had so long forgotten them. “Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword.” It would, humanly speaking, have been impossible to have brought the murder home to David; but “God seeth not as man seeth; man judgeth by the outward appearance, but God regardeth the heart.” Just as David is here arraigned by God for the murder which he had not with his own hand perpetrated, so are multitudes found guilty before God of that which man can never substantiate or bring home to them. This is the penetrating character of God’s Word; it is thus that we are to read it--as entering into our inmost thoughts and conceptions--as high and holy in its requirements. It is in the life and language of Jesus Christ that we see this law reflected. Here the prophet dealt faithfully with the royal transgressor; and there seems to have come a flood of light upon David’s slumbering mind. He seems as one awakened from a dream of sin. And now we hear the psalmist humbling himself. “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord.” These are blessed words; they are the response that God requires to His expostulation--“Only acknowledge thine iniquity.” And simultaneous with the confession is the offer of mercy. “The Lord hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” Here we have the law and the Gospel forcibly contrasted. We have the unbending rigour of the law speaking in this wise. The law says, “Thou shalt surely die,” and there is no help or escape; but the Gospel says, “Thou shalt not die.” How otherwise than in Christ can these statements be reconciled? How can we vindicate the stern requirements of God’s holy law, and yet offer to the transgressor of that law unqualified pardon and free acceptance, except in the name of Jesus Christ? This is exactly the Gospel; and would it not be strange, were the Bible of any other source than that whence it came? We have no eye to appreciate the beauty of God, until it is reflected in the face of Jesus Christ; we cannot understand “the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely,” until the Spirit, whose office is to glorify Jesus, takes of the things of Christ and shows them to our wondering souls. Then there is amazement, then there is gratitude, then there is love, and the heart going forth earnestly to God, in conscious acknowledgement of all that God hath clone for us. Observe, then, what a fund of comfort is opened here to the distressed mourner. He looks to his Bible, and there he finds encouragement to believe that no degree of guilt, however black, can militate against his free acceptance, if he cast himself only on the free mercy of God in Christ. Then the sinner asks, “How is it consistent with the justice of God? How is it consistent with the maintenance in their perfection of the other attributes of God, to extend pardon to the sinner upon his confessing, his sin?” Then the Gospel interposes; then all that Jesus undertook, all that Jesus accomplished, and the value of Jesus’ work comes in upon his mind, convinces him that God can be just, even when He is the justifer, and that if he confesses and forsakes his sin, God is not only merciful, but even righteous and just in forgiving his sin, and in cleansing him from all unrighteousness. The very attributes that were before arrayed against the sinner, and clamoured, trumpet-tongued, for his destruction, are now arrayed on the other side, and speak as powerfully for his acceptance and sanctification. There is another feature connected with this. David was a man after God’s own heart, and David’s sin was calculated from its very nature to throw a greater discredit upon the profession of religion than the sins of those who were not so remarkable for having previously walked with God. (T. Nolan, M. A.)
No man impeccable
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. Styles.)
Tenderness of conscience
We should have naturally thought that every word of Nathan’s parable would have stabbed David to the heart, would have cut him to the quick, covered him with the deepest shame, and melted him into a repentant state. And vet David’s conscience smote him not as the touching tale was told; he saw nothing, he felt nothing, bearing on himself or his own case. He had no thought that the arrow was meant for him, or that he was designed to read out, by the light of the parable, his own great guilt to his own blackened heart Nathan had with his own hands to tear off the veil, beneath which it was thought David would have caught the dark features of his own transgression; and it was not till he plainly said, “Thou art the man,” that the sinner felt his sin, and was convinced that the messenger of God was sent to condemn him for his own evil ways. Now, doubtless, as we have read this passage of God’s Word, we have often wondered at David’s blindness, his want of perception, his strange dulness and slowness of mind, which prevented him catching at once the meaning of what was said; but the truth is, what seems strange in another, is all the while common among ourselves; the same thing continually goes on. Blind and unobserving as regards our faults, too ready to dismiss any shameful doings from our minds, we are slow to apply warnings or reproaches to ourselves. We see easily, and with quick eyes, how such a sentence strikes our neighbour, how our neigh-hour’s faults are hit, our neighbour’s sins condemned. Messages sent from God often come to us without effect, do not even graze the conscience, pass by unnoticed and unapplied; and it needs often home-thrusts of the sharpest, plainest kind, to convince us that we are spoken to by God at all. How much there is of warning, of reproof, of condemnation, mercifully uttered in our ears, mercifully addressed to us especially. These warnings are often very strong, very decided, very plain; and yet we do not fit the cap to the head; they seem to us to be meant, for others, to be meant for the world at large, or at any rate not to be particularly meant for us. Thus the proud hear the proud condemned by prophets whom God has sent, condemned by apostles whose mouths breathe forth words of the Holy Ghost, condemned by Christ Himself, condemned fearlessly in such awful terms as this, “that God resisteth the proud;” and vet they get used to all these sayings about pride; they do not stop and weigh them, and take them home to their own hearts, and see themselves condemned. So the covetous hear of covetousness condemned at every turn, stamped as idolatry, blackened with terrible denunciations, and vet the covetous go on saving money, grudging to give it, making excuses for not giving it, slaving and toiling for it, without any strong self-condemnation, without any quick perception that they are in a perilous state. So the lovers of pleasure get used to the threatenings hurled against those that love pleasure more than God, without stopping to hear their own individual reproof. We do not see how the Spirit of God, how the Lord Jesus in His love pleads with us individually, sets before us our own falls, our own pride, our own covetousness, or our own lusts, our own worldliness, our own swearing and drinking. Yet God deals with us one by one. He speaks to each; to each He sends His messengers and message. If, then, we are dull of heart, slow to hear what is for our own ears, we are, in neglecting and failing to apply reproofs and condemnations, neglecting mercies, loving-kindnesses, forgiveness, the longings of the Father for our salvation, the pardon purchased by His Son. Often is there a voice which says, “Thou art the man,” and even their we hear it not. One comes in choken with the cares of the world, and a passage of God’s Word describes his state, shows his sin, reveals his peril, and yet he goes forth unmoved, untouched, caring still about worldly things; another comes in fond of money, and the love of money is denounced in many fearful texts, and yet he seems not to hear the inspired writer say to him, “Thou art the man.” Another comes in to offer lip-service, to lounge away an hour drowsily in his seat, and Scripture straightway speaks stern words concerning those who draw near with their lips while their heart is far away, or who behave irreverently in God’s House; yet he too fails to think that he is the one pointed at in the text. Another comes in given to drink, or given to oaths, and he hears the Scripture awfully pronounce the guilt of those who do such things without fear or dread, or awe. The least that we can do is to pray for a more tender, quick-eared conscience, that the heaviness and drowsiness of the heart may give way to a readier, more open mind, a mind more keenly intent to hear what the Lord doth say, whether through things done in the world, or through His written Word, or through the example of others, or through the counsels of His ministers, or through the movements of grace within our hearts, those inward calls, those inward warnings that rise up within us, when no speech nor language is to be heard. (J. Armstrong, D. D.)
The awakening to the sophistry of sin
David is no longer the ingenuous youth on whose cheek glows the blush of modesty; he is the hardened voluptuary, blind to his own failings, careless of the welfare of his subjects, engrossed by selfishness. The prophet of God was come unto him no longer to bless, but to rebuke. While the accents of justice thus rushed to his lip, did no hidden pang tell him of his own unworthiness? He Himself hath guided, the sword that laid Uriah in the dust. This was the enormous transgression which even now hung, unconfessed and unrepented, upon the soul of David. He sinks not beneath its weight. He seems scarcely to feel the pressure. His countenance glows not with the blush of shame, but with the indignation of virtue. On his lips is the language of proud and conscious worth. The sacred Scriptures have not informed us by what artifices David had concealed this wickedness from himself, or so palliated it as to prevent in such a remarkable degree the power of conscience from exerting its authority. The experience of ordinary life may, in part, unfold the mystery. When we find men unconscious of their own defects, detecting these very faults in another, and censuring them with unsparing severity; when we find the vainest eager to deride the foibles of vanity; when we hear the ambitions declaim against the folly of ambition; when we hear the miser loud to censure an avarice less conspicuous than his own, it is obvious that these men have either hid from themselves the knowledge of their own transgressions, or have, by some sophistry, explained their sinfulness away. The king of Israel’s ignorance of his own crime may then, in one view, have been wilful. When a subject is disagreeable, we naturally avoid it. The spendthrift feels at times the presage of approaching ruin; but be flies from the thought while he may, and opens not his eyes till ruin is inevitable. Self-disapprobation being painful, the same infirmity makes us wish to escape it--makes us to indulge the dangerous palliative of biding our sin even from ourselves. What avails it that the means of information are in our power, if we obstinately refuse to employ them? Bright and varied, to the attentive gaze, are the charms of external nature; but he who shuts his eyes against the light, cannot distinguish even deformity and loveliness. Strong are the attractions of music to them who court their power, but to him who stops his ear against their melody, the voice of the charmer can never reach. David may at times have had transient glances of his crime, but if he expelled them by the cares of empire, or drowned them amidst the riot of gaiety, their impression would become ever fainter and fainter. Had not the voice of rebuke or the stroke of adversity reached him, he might have lost all knowledge of his own character for ever. But the king of Israel’s ignorance of his own crime may also have been in a great measure involuntary. The prejudices which various situations inspire, and the sophistry with which passion argues, have incredible power in perverting our views of good and evil. Even the most candid cannot view in precisely the same light, the same action committed by himself and by another man. A thousand little selfish considerations bind him. The very emotion which roused him against the oppressor whose history Nathan had told, if permitted to operate fairly, would have guarded himself from committing an act of cruelty yet more atrocious. But when self-interest mingled its enchantment we see how totally his perceptions were changed. The situation which he filled in life was one of those which are the most peculiarly trying, unfavourable to disinterested and impartial views of conduct. Exalted so far above his brethren, he seems at times to consider them as made only for his pleasure, and to estimate actions only by their tendency to promote it. If he applied his standard only to the case of Uriah, he would find in it little to regret. In the particular case of David, too, the pleadings of passion would exert all their artifice to blind the conscience and judgment. For the first guilty act he would plead, as every succeeding voluptuary has pleaded, the natural force of passion, unmindful that the passions were given to be the handmaids, not the tyrants of reason and conscience. For every succeeding step in his guilty progress he had something like the plea of necessity to urge. But now, by the sophistry of passion, the circumstances of the case were entirely changed. What would otherwise have been seen to be the foulest murder was now an act of self-defence; what would otherwise have been seen to be the meanest treachery was now interpreted as considerate and merciful tenderness--softening the blow which it was forced to inflict; and, since the victim must fall, kindly allowing him to die a soldier’s death. What would otherwise have been seen to be base ingratitude was now interpreted as an unavoidable though painful effort to screen the fame and the life of a helpless confiding woman. Uriah must fall, or Bathsheba must die. The choice is too clear for hesitation, and David almost imagines he does a wise and a generous deed when, to screen the guilty, lie devotes the unsuspecting to sure and speedy destruction. By whichever of these delusions David had permitted himself to be blinded, its power seems to have been strongly fixed in his mind. His danger was dreadful. If God had not interposed in mercy, what was to rouse him from his fatal dream? Would not the sleep of death have found him unconverted, and horror inexpressible attended his awakening? Nathan with skilful and happy art raised first the better feelings of David into action, and then tore the veil of self-delusion at once asunder; taxing him loudly with his guilt, upbraiding him with those mercies of heaven which he abused, and denouncing against him the judgments of the Lord. Let me recommend to your most attentive performance the duty of self-examination, not merely when you are called to join in the solemn festivals of religion, but at regular and frequent periods. Examine, with keen and prejudiced suspicion, every excuse that is offered for acknowledged defects. Think nothing trivial that misleads from duty. Who can tell where the labyrinth of sin shall end? (A. Brunton. D. D.)
A bold preacher
Pulpit power comes of holy boldness. In 1670, Bourdaloue, “the founder of genuine pulpit eloquence in France,” preached before his sovereign. Having described a sinner of the first magnitude, lie turned to Louis XIV. and in a voice of thunder cried, “Thou art the man!” The effect on all was electrical. After the sermon the preacher went and fell at the feet of the king, saying: “Sire, behold one of the most devoted of your servants. Punish him not because that in the pulpit he owns no other master than the King of kings.”
Preaching to the heart
A great admirer of Bramwell once invited a scholarly German friend to accompany him to hear ,.the fervent Methodist. At the close of the service, anxious to know the impression produced, he said: “Well, Mr. Troubner, how do you like him? Do you think he wanders too much from the subject?” “Ah! yes,” said the German, wiping his moistened eyes, “be do wander most delightfully from the subject to the heart.” Exposition needs personal application, the mind enlightened must advance to the heart moved. (H. O. Mackey.)
The fearless preacher
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!” (Christian Commonwealth.)
Faithfulness to God and the king
Bishop Latimer, having one day preached before King Henry VIII. a sermon which displeased his Majesty, he was ordered to preach again on the next Sabbath, and to make an apology for the offence lie had given. After reading his text, the bishop then began his sermon: “Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou art this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king’s most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life if thou offendest; therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease; but then consider, well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou comest; upon whose message thou art sent? Even by the great and mighty God, who is all-present, and who beholdeth all thy ways and who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully.” He then proceeded with the same sermon he had preached the preceding Sunday, but with considerably more energy. The sermon ended, the court were full of expectation to know what would be the fate of this honest and plain-dealing bishop; After dinner, the king called for Latimer, and, with a stern countenance, asked him how he dared to be so bold as to preach in such a manner. He, falling on his knees, replied that his duty to his God and his prince had enforced him thereto, and that he had merely discharged his duty and his conscience in what he had spoken. Upon which the king, rising from his seat, and taking the good man by the hand, embraced him, saying, “Blessed be God I have so honest a servant.”
Many sermons, ingenious of their kind, may be compared to a letter put into the post-office without a direction. It is addressed to nobody, it is owned by nobody, and if a hundred people were to read it, not one of them would think himself concerned in the contents. Such a sermon, whatever excellencies it may have, lacks the chief requisite of a sermon. It is like a sword which has a polished blade, a jewelled hilt, and a gorgeous scabbard, but yet will not cut, and, therefore, as to all real use, is no sword. The truth, properly presented, has an edge; it pierces to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit; it is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (J. Newton.)
A parishioner of Whately said to the Archbishop that he did not believe that the occupant of the pulpit had a right to make those in the pew uncomfortable. Whately agreed, but added, “Whether the sermon is to be altered or the man’s life depends on whether the doctrine is right or wrong.” Said Robert Morris to Dr. Rush, “I like that preaching best which drives a man into the corner of his pew and makes him think the devil is after him.” (E. P. Thwing.)
2 Samuel 12:9
Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord.
The sinner’s treatment of God’s law
Some men treat the law and testimony of the Lord as if it were like plaster of Paris, to be poured over their features to take the cast of their own boasted loveliness. Religion is to them a matter of opinion and not of fact; they talk about their “views,” and their ideas, as if Christians were no longer believers but inventors, and no more disciples but masters. This cometh of evil, and leadeth on to worse consequences. Our sentiments are like a tree, which must be trained to the wall of Scripture; but too many go about to bow the wall to their tree, and cut and trim texts to shape them to their mind. Let us never be guilty of this. Reverence for the perfect word should prevent our altering even a syllable of it. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;” let it convert us, but never let us try to pervert it. Our ideas must take the mould of Scripture--this is wisdom: to endeavour to mould Scripture to our ideas would be presumption. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
2 Samuel 12:13
And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord.
The repentance of David
If we wish to draw any lessons from the repentance of any one, it is a great assistance to us to know something of the character of the man, something of the sin from which he repented, something of the mode by which he was roused to repentance, something of the nature of the repentance itself. All these we have given to us in the case of David.
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.)
David’s fall and recovery
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.)
Conviction of sin and recovery
The history of the past is the parable of the present. The shadows of the dead are the representatives of the living. Scripture history is a perpetual illustration of passing life. The sins of different ages may not be exactly the same, and yet the illustration may be very complete.
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.
God and the sinner
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. (H. Townsend.)
The effect of pardon
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 cheerfully 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. (E. Monro.)
David forgiven; a source of comfort to sinners
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.)
2 Samuel 12:14
By this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.
Sins of Scripture saints
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.)
The sin of giving occasion of blasphemy
You will observe that this signal misfortune is denounced against David because he had “given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.” Here is at once an answer to all the cavils of unbelievers, and a satisfaction for all the scruples of weaker brethren. So far from any justification of the conduct of David in this particular, we find it expressly condemned; the sacred writer is perfectly aware of the tendency of this passage of David’s history; and yet he is not directed by the Holy Spirit to suppress it.
(1) It is only to the enemies of the Lord that they afford occasion to blaspheme. They, indeed, never will want occasion; and we are not to be denied the salutary examples which the Scriptures hold forth to us, because there are those who wrest them to their own destruction. But it is chiefly in the failings of the good, that the enemies of the Lord find cause of triumph.
(2) The occasion of blasphemy given by David to the enemies of the Lord has been amply improved.
(3) Giving occasion of blasphemy to the enemies of the Lord is, therefore, a sin of vast magnitude, even separately considered. All conduct of ours, which tends in the slightest degree to strengthen that system of false reasoning by which sinners confirm themselves in their sins, and undermine the faith and practice of others, is sin of the deepest dye.
(4) I am only aware of one objection which has been raised against the authority of Scripture from this portion of the life of David. It has been represented as inconsistent with the justice of God, to punish David by inflicting death on an innocent being. But scarcely a moment’s consideration is necessary to shew the fallacy of this objection, for it never could be made by any person recollecting that there is a future world. Death, in the course of that nature to which the child was subject, must necessarily have arrived; and at no time could it have arrived with so little risk and such cheering prospects, as in that age, whose happy and highly favoured possessors compose, with those who most resemble them, the kingdom of heaven. And this circumstance may teach us to admire the wonderful economy of goodness which characterizes all the acts of divine Providence. (H. Thompson, M. A.)
The faults of others no excuse for evading the claims of Christ
How can you make the excuse that because there are some hypocrites you will refuse Christ Himself? I heard a friend tell a good story in reference to that matter. An Irishman had found a sovereign which was short in weight, so that he could only get eighteen shillings for it. The next time he saw a sovereign lying on the ground he would not pick it up, for, he said, he had lost two shillings by the other. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Hindering the Gospel.
If the sun be eclipsed one day, it attracts more spectators than if it shone a whole year. So if you commit one sin, it will cause you many sorrows and the world many triumphs. Dr. Whitaker, on reading the fifth of Matthew, broke out saying, “Either this is not the Gospel or we are not of the Gospel.” The cruelty of the Spaniards to the Indians made them refuse Christian baptism. “For,” said they, “He must be a wicked God who has such wicked servants.” (W. Secker.)
Evildoers discredit others also
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.”--(Weekly Pulpit.)
Judging all by unworthy examples
It was an amusing distortion of a good hymn, but there was not a little sound philosophy in it, when the old negro preacher sang, “Judge not the Lord by feeble saints.” And yet this is precisely what the great majority of unconverted men are doing all the time. They will not go to the Bible and give heed to what God Himself says. They have no ear for His voice of mercy that offers them salvation for the taking. They do not pay any attention to the solemn warnings that the Scriptures utter. They judge the Lord by “feeble saints.” They attempt to feed their starving souls on the imperfections of Christians--poor food enough they find it! Because God’s people are not all that they ought to be, therefore these cavillers will keep aloof from the religion which they profess. Because God’s believing followers are not perfect--they do not claim to be--therefore, say these unbelievers, there is no power in religion. Christians cannot claim exemption from criticism. They do not expect it. They know that the eyes of the world are upon them. But they say to the unbeliever, “If you would know the truth, go to the Word; go to Him Who is the truth; judge not the Lord by feeble saints.”
How to judge the merits of religion
A man said to me in a railway train, “What is religion? Judging from the character of many professors of religion, I do not admire religion.” I said: “Now, suppose we went to an artist in the city of Rome, and while in his gallery asked him, ‘What is the art of painting?’ would he take us out to a low alley, and show us the mere daub of a pretender at painting? or would he take us into the corridors, and show us the Rubens and the Raphaels and the Michael Angelos? When we asked him ‘What is the art of painting?’ he would point to the works of these great masters, and say, ‘This is painting!’ Now, you propose to find the mere caricatures of religion, to seek that which is the mere pretension of a holy life, and you call that religion. I point you to the magnificent men and women whom this Gospel has blessed and lifted and crowned. Look at the masterpieces of Divine grace if you want to know what religion is.” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Christianity a holy religion
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.” (Weekly Pulpit.)
2 Samuel 12:14-25
The child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.
Great troubles following great transgressions
David became a backslider. Men sometimes speak, not of David’s great sins, but of his great sin, as if he were guilty of only one flagrant transgression. Such language is lenient at the expense of truth. A great sin seldom stands altogether alone. It is most frequently found in the midst of kindred company, like a high Alpine peak--a region of desolation and death, surrounded by other desolate peaks only a little lower than itself. In David’s case it was not one monster transgression, but several which lifted themselves in colossal defiance of God’s law. The offender against man and God might plead, that at first he was swept into transgression by a sudden gust of passion; but he could not urge any such extenuation of his sins when he tempted Uriah to drunkenness; when he sent the patriotic soldier back to the camp with a letter containing a plan whereby his fidelity and courage might be taken advantage of to accomplish his destruction; and when he used his kingly power in commanding Joab to help him in this murderous policy. There are few things in history more appalling than the awful completeness of David’s transgressions. Having brought himself into difficulties by his crime, he grappled with the difficulties with a masterful energy, and a terrible recklessness, as if he would shrink from nothing and spare nobody, in his endeavour to hide his own shame. The ravages made by sin in his nature, in a short season, were incredibly great. How utterly unlike himself David was when he tried to cover his delight at Uriah’s death with canting words about the chances of war and the duty of resignation! What a pitiable pretence it was to send a message to Joab, exhorting him not to be too much distressed and discouraged by the calamity which had befallen the army. Can this be David? Is this what sin does with a man when he suffers it to have place and power in his heart? The sight of such havoc wrought in one who was a king amongst the great and good, might well dim the brightness and disturb the joy of heaven itself. Our present object is not to set forth either the repentance or the forgiveness of David, but to show that, though he was penitent and pardoned, he sustained great loss and damage by reason of his sins. Punishment for his sin preceded his penitence and forgiveness. For a whole year David remained in that strangest greatest guilt of all an unconsciousness of guilt. His spiritual sensibilities were so deadened he did not imagine there was any reference to him in the story Nathan told. With great beams in both his own eyes, he was yet determined to put another man to death for having a mote in one of his. While David was forgetting his transgressions God was setting them in the light of His countenance--the light that most reveals the sinfulness of sin. When at length David acknowledged his sins, and cried for mercy, he was met by God with wondrous grace. The promptness of the pardon proves that God does, indeed, delight in mercy. As in the case of the returning prodigal, David was scarcely allowed to finish his confession before the prophet exclaimed: “The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” What we say of fire or water might have been truly said of Joab, David’s commander-in-chief. He was a good servant, but a bad master. One of the evil results of the sins in the matter of Uriah was that it changed the position of Joab. Henceforth he was more like David’s master than David’s servant. For the sake of his dignity and honour and peace it was of first importance that the King should have full control over his impulsive and unscrupulous general; but how could he retain that control after the scene in front of the walls of Rabbah? From the moment that fatal letter was put into Joab’s hand he must have felt that David was utterly in his power. What a secret for a servant to possess concerning his master! A proper control over Joab could not have been the only power David lost through his sins. The power of rebuke was most essential to him. As a father, how much need there was for him to use it over his subjects; and, as a prophet, what need for him to use it in the Church! But, when he sinned so fearfully, he must have sinned away well-nigh all his force for rebuking others. We learn from several Psalms that David suffered much from slander. He was a successful man, and his success excited envy, and envy gave birth to calumny. Hence we hear him complaining of false accusations, and appealing from the aspersions of men to the judgment of God. It is not possible to fix the dates of all the Psalms in which he refers to these slanders, but we may be sure he was likely to suffer most from this cause after his backslidings. This would be especially true of such calumnies as those of which he complains so piteously in the forty-first Psalm. David prayed for pardon, for purity, and for a restoration of spiritual joy. It does not appear that this side the grave he received a large answer to the last request. Traces of the mischief which had been wrought were visible down to the latest hour of life. The splendour of his reputation and the exulting gladness of his spirit were never fully recovered. It was impossible, for, though God had forgiven, David could not forget. The life-long memory of his sins must have been a lifelong trouble. The more he realised that God had forgiven him the less he could forgive himself. It mattered not in what fair scenes and prosperous circumstances he was placed, his thoughts would be travelling back to that dark and doleful region, and fetching thence materials for present gloom and grief. (C. Vince.)
Divine correction consistent with Divine forgiveness
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 (2 Samuel 12:14.)
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. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Forgiveness not impunity
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.)
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. (Homiletic Magazine.)
The stripes of the children of men
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.)
Sin and its consequences
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. Augustine, “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” (2 Samuel 12:14).
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.
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. (The Thinker.)
2 Samuel 12:22-23
While the child was yet alive I fasted and wept.
The loss of children
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. (W. Jay.)
The philosophy of death
A most beautiful picture, and representation of parental sorrow and of rational, manly piety.
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.” (T. Binney.)
On the death of children
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.” (Bishop Dehon.)
Parental sorrow and parental submission
Those who distinguish themselves by sin God will distinguish by suffering. David would not have been so conspicuous a mourner if he had not been so conspicuous in his rebellion against the Lord. His chastisement was therefore just and compassionate, and though the form it took was common, it was to him one of the most painful he could have endured.
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 eases 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. (S. Hillyard.)
David’s conduct in affliction
The point of transition from the state of awful impenitence in which David had for so long a period continued, to a consciousness of his true position and to contrition for his crime, resembled the crisis of some perilous malady. The sovereign mercy and free grace of a faithful God brought him safely through the trial; and the result was “life from the dead.” A well known, but not a less marvellous phenomenon of the natural world may serve to shadow forth the further stage of experience involved in David’s complete restoration to a state of grace. When the blasts of winter have set in, and the sound of its unkindly storms sweeps over the listening ear--when mist and fog cloud the cheering light, and intercept the genial warmth of heaven--who has not felt it a sad and sickening task, to trace the change which even the fairest earthly paradise will present, as compared with its blooming spring, its fragrant summer, or its fruitful autumn? We walk amidst the drear and silent scene, like lingering mourners in nature’s cemetery. The melody of the woods is hushed; the woods themselves are dressed in funeral garb; the streams hurry black and moodily through the bare and blighted scene--or else, arrested in their course, are held frost-bound in the chain of winter. Days, weeks, months pass on, and still the landscape frowns in sackcloth, amidst the gloom and chill and death which seems unalterable and fixed. At length there comes a wondrous and more than magic transformation. The sun walks forth in glory from his heavenly tabernacle, “as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.” Such and so great--yea, rather, greater and far more blessed--was the revival wrought in the soul of David, after the beams of Divine grace had once more visited it with light, and love. The streams of godly sorrow were unloosed, and the waters flowed: “the fruits of the Spirit,” which seem to have sprung from a ground “nigh unto cursing,” appear in all their former beauty; the Word of the Lord had gone forth with power. The passage immediately before us contains the penitent monarch’s own account of that which, in the eyes of his sympathising servants, appeared mysterious and paradoxical. The explanation relates to two distinct periods; and accordingly, our consideration of it will lead us to notice David’s conduct and the ground thereof.
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.)
Salvation of infants
Millions of the descendants of Adam expire in infancy. They just open their eyes upon the world, excite the hopes and affections of their parents, and then are convulsed, and in agonies sink into the tomb. While fastening our eyes on their little corpses, or hanging over their graves, there are two questions which we naturally ask: Why did these infants die? and, what is their present state? Unassisted reason is equally unable to decide what is the state in which the spirits of infants enter at their death. The universality of the salvation has been denied, not only by individuals of distinguished reputation, but also by whole churches. And, besides, in those who embrace the doctrine that I am about to establish, I have generally found that their belief was rather the expression of their wishes and their hopes than the result of a cool examination of the testimony of God. And nothing is more common than to hear even Christian parents defending infant salvation on grounds inconsistent with the Scriptures; on principles that oppose not only the doctrine of original sin which is so plainly taught in the word of of God, but that also overtook the absolute necessity of the atonement and sacrifice of Jesus for the salvation of every child of Adam. It is in perfect consistence with both these doctrines that we maintain that God has ordained to confer eternal life on all whom he has ordained to remove from this world before they arrived at the years of discretion. The following are the chief sources of argument in defence of this doctrine:--
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.)
Uselessness of unavailing regret
One of Kant’s biographers dilates upon what he considers a singular feature in the Konigsberg philosopher’s; way of expressing his sympathy with his friends in sickness. So long as the danger was imminent he is said to have testified a restless anxiety, making perpetual inquiries, waiting with impatience for the crisis, and sometimes unable to pursue his customary labours from agitation of mind. But no sooner was the patient’s death announced than he recovered his composure and assumed an air of stern tranquillity, almost of indifference.” (Francis Jacox.)
2 Samuel 12:23
I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.
Recognition of friends in heaven
The doctrine of our future meeting and recognition is intimated in the earlier records of Scripture. We are told that Abraham was gathered to his people, that Jacob was gathered to his people, that Moses was commanded to go up to Mount Pisgah and be gathered to his people, as Aaron had died on Mount Hot and was gathered to his people. It may be said that this was simply a peculiar idiom of language signifying that they died. This, however, cannot be the case, inasmuch as in some instances it is expressly said they died, and then it is added, were “gathered to their fathers.” Nor does it mean that they were buried with their fathers; for in several instances the phrase is employed when they were interred at a distance Of hundreds of miles. Abraham was not buried with his fathers. Moses was not buried with his fathers. Aaron was not buried with his fathers. There would seem to be in the very heart of the expression some recognition that the fathers were still in existence in some state or other. As we advance to the New Testament we find that the twilight is broadening into the perfect day. It is not merely that we are told this in so many words. But it is that so many things are said which would not have been said, unless the doctrine had been true. It forms so much of the very warp of the teaching of our Saviour and His apostles. Like so many other doctrines, it is implied where it is not expressed; and is all the more significantly taught because it appears in this indirect manner. It is taught, for example, that in eternity and in Heaven we shall retain our personal identity. Death does not make us new men. It effects no change of personalities. By the aid of memory we can realise the fact that we are the same we have ever been. The subtle, solemn thread of consciousness binds together all the moments of our past life. We must also remember another fact, and that is that the departed just are not diffused through the universe, but are gathered in one place. It is where Christ is. They are with the Lord. They see His face; they are like Him. And they are not only with the Lord, but they are there in a family relation. We read of the whole family in earth and Heaven. It is a general assembly and church of the first-born; it is a well-ordered household. The saints are brethren, with one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Their Father is One. Now it is only needful to appreciate fully this fact in order to see that recognition, mutual recognition, is indispensable and inevitable. The saints will know at least that they are the redeemed from among men. They will be distinguished from angels who never fell. We do not dream that the spirits of the “just made perfect,” dwelling in our Father’s house, will sit in silent reserve side by side; and as little do we dream that their speech will never be concerned with the way by which the Lord has led them. They will inspire each other with a more glowing fervour of gratitude as they recount the history of their lives. Given--an eternity which we are to spend in Heaven, a memory which recalls the past with minute and infallible faithfulness, a gratitude quick and never-ending for all the mercies which have followed us all the days of our life; given--too, the love of saint for saint, a social fellowship closer and less reserved than even the most intimate fellowships of earth, and even though at the beginning of our celestial existence we knew not one of the innumerable throng, we should, with the flowing ages, grow into each other’s knowledge; friend would find out friend; parents would some day have the ecstasy of embracing their children, partakers with them of a common salvation. You may be perplexed to know in what manner those who will be so changed by the very fact of their not dwelling in houses of clay will be able to recognise each other. Our whole earthly, human life is the learning at one stage the how of what was a mystery to us at an earlier stage. Who knows but that within the tenement of clay there are folded up powers and capacities winch death is needed to release? The dull, creeping chrysalis which you are in danger of treading beneath your feet contains secret wings which one day will soar up into the heavens beyond your reach or sight; and so we may have within us powers which are now imprisoned, and which will be emancipated in the hour of death. And among these may be the power of seeing spirits as well, or even better, than we can now see the bodies. There are, moreover, passages in the New Testament which seem incapable of explanation, except on the supposition of mutual recognition in Heaven. What, for example, shall we make of the language of our Lord, “Many, I say unto you, shall come from the east and the west, the north and the south, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven?” If we sit down at the same banquet of love with them, and yet know them not, why the distinct specification which is here given of their names? Would our Saviour mock us with the promise of giving us admission into an unknown company? His promises are not mockeries, but assurances that shalt be verified to the full. When our Saviour was on the Mount of Transfiguration there appeared unto Him Moses and Elias. What were the circumstances which enabled the three apostles to identify these glorified companions of our Lord we are not informed, but in some way or other they knew them. And if there were mutual recognition between these prophets of God there can surely be no reason for supposing that the same recognition may not subsist among other spirits of the just made perfect. The apostle tells us that he preaches Christ, “Warning every man, and teaching every man that he may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Again he says, “What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing, are not even ye in the presence of the Lord Jesus at His coming? for ye are our glory and joy.” Now, it would be impossible to find any meaning in these words, except on the supposition that he would see and know his converts at the last great day. And what meaning other than this of mutual recognition can we extract from the words in which St. Paul pours the balm of consolation into the souls of the Thessalonians who had lost their Christian friends? “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then shall we be for ever with the Lord; wherefore, comfort one another with these words.” You cannot for moment imagine that we shall be in ignorance of each other in Heaven without turning these words into mockery. (E: Mellor, D. D.)
The recognition of departed friends
If we part on earth shall we meet in Heaven? Two men are going to London or New York, and, not having appointed a special moment and a special place of meeting, they might wander about for months and years and never find each other; and how is it possible that we are going to find our departed friends in heaven when that city is larger than all the Londons and New Yorks and Cantons on earth put together? St. John went up on a mount of inspiration, and he, looked off upon that city, and he said, “Thousands and thousands.” Then he went up on a higher altitude of inspiration, and he looked off again, and he said, “Ten thousand times ten thousand.” Then he came on a greater height of inspiration and he looked off and said, “A hundred and forty-four thousand and thousands of thousands.” And then coming to a still greater height of inspiration, he looked off again and he said, “a great multitude that no man can number.” Now, how are we going to find our departed loved ones in such a city as that, so vast, so infinite? Is this hope of meeting our departed friends in heaven a whim, a guess, a falsity, or is it a granitic foundation on which the soul may come and build a glorious hope? Now, when you are going to build a ship, you want the best timber, you want good stanchions, and planks and timber counter-knee, all of solid oak. You may build a ship out of lighter material, and may get along very well while the sea is smooth; but when the cyclone comes the ship will founder. And we may build a great many ideas of heaven out of our own fancy, and they will do very well while everything is smooth in life; but when the disasters of death come, and the hurricanes of the last hour, then we shall want a theory of future recognition built out of the solid oak of God’s Word.
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.)
Whenever it pleases God to take away front us one whom we love there are several sources of consolation open to us.
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.)
Individual Recognition in Eternity
The question very often rises to the mind, whether the intercourse of Christian friends separated by death, shall be renewed in heaven--whether there will be any recollection of past attachments, and of their attendant circumstances. This is an enquiry which flows from the warmest feelings of the heart, and frequently presents itself at seasons when the individual is iii fitted to answer it for himself. You know it has always been held that the concurrence of general opinion among mankind is entitled to considerable weight. If Socrates delighted himself in the prospect of conversation with Hesiod and Homer; if Cicero anticipated an interview with Cato amid the assembly of the gods; if the Greeks and Romans peopled their Tartarus and Elysium with spirits retaining all their ancient remembrances; if untutored heathens entertain sentiments in unison with this at the present day (and does not the mother in the Islands of the Pacific, mourning over her child, comfort herself with the belief that after her own death she shall rejoin it?--why does the Gentoo widow burn upon the funeral pile, but that she may be replaced with her husband?--why does the Indian of North America stretch his hands with joy towards the world beyond the summits of the blue mountains; is it not because he is confident that he shall renew his present existence in the society of cotemporary and kindred chieftains, and in conjunction with the spirits of his fathers?) may we not then suppose that one of the earliest presumptions of reason respecting futurity, would be, that Christian friendship should be revived beyond the grave, and with the endearing consciousness that the attachment had commenced on earth? But I will dismiss the considerations arising from reason; because it must be admitted that the suggestions of reason, well founded as they may appear, are not enough of themselves, to satisfy the mind of the believer in the revealed will of God, upon this momentous subject.
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.)
Meeting in Heaven
There is also a great deal of comfort in the fact that there will be a family reconstruction in a better place. From Scotland, or England, or Ireland, a child emigrates to America. It is very hard parting, but he comes, after awhile writing home as to what a good land it is. Another brother comes, a sister comes, and another, and after a while the mother comes, and after a while the father comes, and now they are all here, and they have a time of great congratulation and a very pleasant reunion. Well, it is just so with our families: they are emigrating towards a better land. Now, one goes out. Oh, how hard it is to part with him! Another goes. Oh, how hard it is to part with her! And another, and another, and we ourselves will, after a while, go over, and then we will be together. Oh, what a reunion! Do you believe that? “Yes,” you say. Oh! you do not. You do not believe it as you believe other things. If you do, and with the same emphasis, why it would’ take nine-tenths of your trouble off your heart. The fact is, heaven to many of us in a great fog. It is away off somewhere, filled with an uncertain and indefinite population. That is the kind of heaven that many of us dream about; but it is the most tremendous fact in all the universe--this heaven of the Gospel. Our departed friends are not afloat. The residence in which you live is not so real as the residence in which they stay. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
A father’s thought over his child’s grave
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) How foolish it is to set our hearts upon it.
(2) How important to finish its work as we go on.
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) He believed that his child was happy.
(2) He believed that he was safe, He felt that he should go to him, be with him in that happy world.
Let these thoughts of death aid us to fulfil the mission of life. (Homilist.)
On the due improvement of domestic bereavements
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.
The living go to the dead
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.
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.)
Consolations under Bereavement
The text presents us with a noble model of what should be a Christian’s conduct under bereavement.
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. (F. Greeves.)
The believer’s comfort under bereavement
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.
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.)
Deceased children not lost
Years before Robert Leighton retired to Broadhurst, death had entered the mansion in spite of the struggles of love to keep him out, and had carried away a child altogether dear. Nothing could be tenderer than his words of solace to his brother-in-law, words which uttered the home sickness in his own breast. “Indeed it was a sharp stroke of the pen that told me your little Johnny was dead . . . Tell my dear sister she is now so much more akin to the other world, and this will quickly be past to us all. John is but gone an hour or two sooner to bed as children used to do, and we are undressing to follow.” There, and not here, Leighton confessed, is the morning without clouds, and the perfect day, and the life which is life indeed; and our Father unclothes us that he may deck body and brain with the better garment of everlastingness. (Alexander Smellie.)
Reunion beyond the grave a comfort to the bereaved
God will give me back my friends who have reached the shore in advance of me. By His guiding hand I shall come, as Henry Montague, the Earl of Manchester, wrote, “into my own country, into paradise, where I shall meet, not as in the Elysium of the poets, Cato, Scipio and Scaevola, but Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs my fathers, the saints my brothers, the angels my friends: my wife, children and kinsfolk that are gone before me, and do attend me, looking and longing for my arrival there.” Thus the dews of sorrow are lustred by His love. (Alexander Smellie.)
Associations with the land beyond
On a narrow, rugged ledge of rock, called Chicken Rock, a lighthouse has been built. But in consequence of the lack of space there is no accommodation for other than the actual keepers themselves. Their wives and families have therefore to live in cottages on the mainland, separated from the lighthouse. But these people have a pretty custom by which the fathers and children keep in touch with one another. On Sunday mornings, after they have dressed the little ones all in their best, the mothers take them down to the edge of the sea, and they all stand there, looking and waving towards the lighthouse out on the rock. And there high up in the lighthouse stand the fathers, and through their telescopes they look down to the little bay oil those whom they love dearest in all the world. And as I read this story, I thought how it was a picture of those who, doing their duty from day to day, look through the telescope of faith to that pleasant shore where their loved ones have gone before, and go bravely on with their work till the time when they not only see them, but will be with them. (Alexander Smellie.)
“All is well now”
Those who have lost a loved child, perhaps an only one, cannot but, derive some comfort from words which 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.” (Quiver.)
Divine revelation alone gives certainty of an after life
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! (Christian Commonwealth.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Samuel 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent