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2 Samuel 22:1-51
David spake unto the Lord the word of this song.
The song of thanksgiving
Some of David’s actions are very characteristic of himself; there are other actions quite out of harmony with his character. This psalm of thanksgiving belongs to the former order. It is quite like David, at the conclusion of his military enterprises, to cast his eye gratefully over the whole, and acknowledge the goodness and mercy that had followed him all along. The date of this song is not to be determined by the place which it occupies in the history. It is likely that this psalm was written considerably before the end of David’s reign. Two considerations make it all but certain that its date is earlier than Absalom’s rebellion. In the first place, the mention of the name of Saul in the first verse would seem to imply that the deliverance from Saul was somewhat recent, certainly not so remote as it would have been at the end of David’s reign. And secondly, while the affirmation of David’s sincerity and honesty in serving God might doubtless have been made at any period of his life, yet some of his expressions would not have been likely to be used after his deplorable fall.
I. The leading thought of the song, an adoring acknowledgment of what God had been and was to David (2 Samuel 22:2-4.)
1. The feeling that recognised God as the Author of all his deliverances was intensely strong, for every expression that can denote it is heaped together: “My rock, my portion, my deliverer; the God of my rock, my shield; the horn of my salvation, my high tower, my refuge, my Saviour.” He takes no credit to himself; he gives no glory to his captains; the glory is all the Lord’s. He sees God so supremely the Author of his deliverance that the human instruments that helped him are for the moment quite out of view. He who, in the depths of his penitence, sees but one supremely injured Being,. and says, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned,” at the height of his prosperity sees but one gracious Being, and adores Him, who only is his rock and his salvation. In an ago when all the stress is apt to be laid on the human instruments, and God left out of view, this habit of mind is instructive and refreshing. It was a touching incident in English history when, after the battle of Agincourt, Henry V. of England directed the hundred and fifteenth Psalm to be sung; prostrating himself on the ground, and causing his whole army to do the same, when the words were sounded out, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name give glory.”
2. The emphatic use of the pronoun “my” by the Psalmist is very instructive. It is so easy to speak in general terms of what God is, and what God does; but it is quite another thing to be able to appropriate Him as ours, and rejoice in that relation. The use of the “my” indicates a personal transaction, a covenant relation into which the parties have solemnly entered.
3. One other point has to be noticed in this introduction--when David comes to express his dependence on God, he very specially sets Him before his mind as “worthy to be praised.”
II. Trials and God’s deliverance in his times of danger (2 Samuel 22:5-20.) That description is eminently poetical. First, there is a vivid picture of his troubles. “The waves of death compassed me, and the floods vi ungodly men made me afraid; the sorrows of hell compassed me; the snares of death prevented me.” (“The cords of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodliness made me afraid; the cords of sheol were round about me; the snares of death came upon me,” R.V.) It is no overcharged picture. With Saul’s javelins flying at his head in the palace, or his best troops scouring the wilderness in search of him; with Syrian hosts bearing down on him like the waves of the sea, and a confederacy of nations conspiring to swallow him up, he might well speak of the waves Of death and the cords of Hades. Then, after a brief account of his calling upon God, comes a most animated description of God coming to his help. The description is ideal, but it gives a vivid view how the Divine energy is roused when any of God’s children are in distress. Faith saw God bestirring Himself for his deliverance, as if every agency of nature had been set in motion on his behalf. And this being done, his deliverance was conspicuous and corn-plebe. He saw God’s hand stretched out with remarkable distinctness. And what a blessed thing to have accumulated through life a store of such providences--to have Ebenezers reared along the whole line of one’s history!
III. The grounds on which the Divine protection was thus enjoyed by David. Substantially these grounds were the uprightness and faithfulness with which he had served God. The expressions are strong, and at first sight they have a flavour of self-righteousness. “The Lord rewarded me according to my self-righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath He recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.” But it is impossible to read this Psalm without feeling that it is not pervaded by the spirit of the self-righteous man. It is pervaded by a profound sense of dependence on God, and of obligation to His mercy and love. Now that is the very opposite of the self-righteous spirit. What he here celebrates is not any personal righteousness that might enable him as an individual to claim the favour and reward of God, but the ground on which he, as the public champion of God’s cause before the world, enjoyed God’s countenance and obtained His protection. There would be no self-righteousness in an inferior officer of the navy or the army who had been sent on some expedition, saying, “I obeyed your instructions in every particular; I never deviated from the course you prescribed.”
IV. His providential mercies, for which he specially praises God. One of the earliest appears to be recalled in the words, “By my God have I leaped over a wall” the wall, it may be supposed, of Gibeah, down which Michal let him when Saul sent to take him in his house. Still further back: perhaps, in his life is the allusion in another expression--“Thy gentleness hath made me great.” He seems to go back to his shepherd life, and in the gentleness with which he dealt with the feeble lamb that might have perished in rougher hands, to find an emblem of God’s method with himself. If God had not, dealt gently with him, he never would have become what he was. But what? Can David praise God’s gentleness and in the next words utter such terrible words against his foes? How can he extol God’s gentleness to him and immediately dwell on his tremendous severity to them? We cannot but regard it as the spirit of one who was imperfectly enlightened. We rejoice in the Christian spirit that teaches us to regard even public enemies as our brothers, for whom individually kindly and brotherly feelings are to be cherished. In the closing verses of the Psalm, the views of the Psalmist seem to sweep beyond the limits of an earthly kingdom. His eye seems to embrace the wide-spreading dominion of Messiah; at all events, he dwells on those features of his own kingdom that were typical of the all-embracing kingdom of the Gospel. “It is beyond doubt,” says Luther, “that the wars and victories of David prefigured the passion and resurrection of Christ.” At the same time, he admits that it is very doubtful how far the Psalm applies to Christ, anal how far to David,. and he declines to press the type to particulars. But we may surely apply the concluding words to David’s son: “He showeth loving-kindness to his anointed, to David and to his seed for evermore.” (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
Would you know? asks William Law, in his beautiful chapter on singing psalms--would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? Well, it is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, and who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness, and has a heart always ready to praise God for His goodness. And then Law winds up with this, and I wish it would send you all to the golden works of that grace-laden writer: Sometimes, he adds, imagine to yourselves that you saw holy David with his hands upon his harp, and his eyes fixed” upon heaven, calling in transport upon all creation, sun and moon, light and darkness, day and night, men and angels, to join with his rapturous soul in praising the Lord of heaven. Dwell upon this imagination till you think you are singing with this Divine musician; and let such a companion teach you to exalt your heart unto God every new morning in his thanksgiving psalms. Or make a morning psalm suitable to your own circumstance out of David’s great thanksgiving psalms. You should take the finest and the selectest parts of David’s finest and selectest psalms, and adding them together make them every morning more and more fit to express your own thankful hearts. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
Abundant cause for thanksgiving
Max O’Rell has well and wittily said that people are divided into two classes--those who complain that roses have thorns and those who rejoice that thorns have roses. We know to which class we ought to belong. Let us make most of our mercies. God is a great God, and His gifts are like Himself, and more than can be numbered. The Rev. Mark Guy Pearse tells us that, when going home from a meeting once on a starlit night, and wishing to have a little quiet to think, he gave his little girl, who was with him, the task of counting the stars, knowing this would be a task long enough until they reached home, and longer. He heard her count into the third hundred, then she stopped, and he heard her say, “Dear me! I never thought they were so many!” “And so,” he said--and we can say it with him--“when I begin to count” my mercies and the kindnesses of my God, I am surprised, and have to say I never thought they were so many until I began to count them.” (Christian Endeavour Times.)
2 Samuel 22:2-3
The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress.
God our Rock
A great mountain lifts itself up, with perpendicular face, over against some quiet valley; and when summer thunders with great storms, the cliff echoes the thunder, and rolls it forth a second time, with majesty increased; and we think that, to be sublime, storms should awaken mountain echoes, and that then cause and effect are worthy of each other. But so, too, an oriole, or a song-sparrow, singing before it, hears its own little song sung back again. A little child, lost and crying in the valley, hears the great cliff weeping just as it weeps; and, in sooth, the mountains repeats whatever is sounded, from the sublimest notes of the tempest to the sweetest bird-whisper or child-weeping; and it is just as easy to do the little as the great, and more beautiful. Now God is our rock, and from His heart is inflected every experience, every feeling of joy or grief that any human soul utters or knows. (H. W. Beecher.)
2 Samuel 22:10-14
He bowed the heavens also and came down.
In 1808 there was a meeting of the Emperors of France and Russia at Erfurt. There were distinguished men there from other lands. It was so arranged that when any of the Emperors arrived at the door of the reception-room the drum should beat three times; but when a lesser dignitary should come, then the drum would sound but twice. After a while the people in the audience-chamber heard two taps of the drum. They said, “A prince is coming.” But after a while there were three taps, and they cried, “The Emperor!” Oh, there is a more glorious arrival at your soul to-night. The drum beats twice at the coming of the lesser joys and congratulations of your soul; but it beats once, twice, thrice, at the coming in of a glorious King--Jesus the Saviour, Jesus the God. I congratulate you. All are yours--things present and things to come. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God comes, to our succour
“God lives,” that is the armour that David had. You cannot see it; it does not glisten in the sun; but he has it; God is with him. There are two sovereigns who never move from their capitals. The Pope sticks to the Vatican--it is papal etiquette; and the Sultan, he has remained for fifteen years within the bounds of his capital--it is Mahommedan etiquette. But God is not like that. God, as it were, leaves high heaven, and He has betaken” Himself to this young David’s side. Oh, warrior for Christ, why should you be downhearted? Why should you be sad? Why should not your vision be glorified so that you can behold the horses and the chariots of the living God? In the battle against sin: the armour you have is the consciousness of the living God. David knows God. (J. Robertson.)
2 Samuel 22:17
He sent from above, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.
Progress from above
All real progress is from God. There is no little truth in the observation of Mephistopheles “that the human mind merely advances spirally, and reverts to a spot close to its origin.” Dr. R. D. Hitch-cock says: “In all human advancement, the motive power has not been a force in man, lifting him upward, or on the earthward side, driving him onward, but the movement has been along an inclined plane, due to an engine drawing from the top. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
Christ a deliverer
I have heard of the following story of a Chinaman who had become a disciple of the Lord Jesus. In explaining to others what Christ had done for him, he put it thus: “It seemed as if I was at the bottom of a pit in great distress crying for help. Buddha passed and said, ‘If you crawl up, never get clown again.’ Confucius then came to the pit’s mouth, and said, ‘I have a rope at home that will go two-thirds down the pit, if you can crawl up one-third,’ but he left me; then the Lord Jesus, hearing my cry, came quickly to my rescue, put His hand down and helped me out of the pit; put my feet upon a rock, and established my goings; that is what Christ has done for me.” (Newton Jones.)
2 Samuel 22:26-27
With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful.
God does not forgive the unforgiving
You say that the desert is a desert, because no rain falls upon it; but this is only half the truth. No rain falls upon it because it is a desert. The heated air rushing up from its arid surface disperses the vapours that would descend in rain. Some moisture there must be on the earth, else there cannot be rain from heaven. So in your heart this forgiving disposition must be, else you cannot rejoice in the fulness of God’s forgiving grace. The pardon may wait in the sky for you, but it cannot descend to you until that spirit is in you which was also in Christ Jesus.
2 Samuel 22:29
For Thou art my lamp, O Lord; and the Lord will lighten my darkness.
Rejoicing in the light of God
The Rev. Dr. Horton, who, after a period of seclusion through trouble with his eyesight, recently returned to his church at Hampstead, related in one of his Sabbath sermons how one day he was in the oculist’s consulting-room at Wiesbaden, and as he waited he put his hand into his pocket and drew out his little Bible--not to read it, but to see if he could--and as he opened it his eyes tell on the text in 2 Samuel., “For Thou art my lamp, O Lord: and the Lord will lighten my darkness.” “I had not been aware of the very existence of this text, and do not know who but an angel could have led me to it; but I felt that whether I received my sight or not, those words were enough for me, and from that time I seemed to know that I should not die, but live to proclaim the words of this life.”
Christians’ love of the light
It is worth noting how plants and trees turn to the light; how bleached vegetation becomes if it be shut up in darkness. The utter dark is dreadful to men, it may even be felt, so does it press upon the mind. The dimness of a foggy day depresses many spirits more than trouble or pain. The cry of the sick man, “Would God it were morning!” is the groan of all healthy life when gloom surrounds it. What, then, can be said, if there be light, and we refuse it? He must have ill work on hand who loves the darkness. Only bats, and owls, and unclean and ravenous things are fond of the night. Children of light walk in the light, and reflect the light. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Light essential for vigorous life
What a wonderful effect the light of God’s countenance has upon men who have the Divine life in them, but who have been living in the dark! Travellers tell us that, in the vast forests of the Amazon and the Orinoco, you may sometimes see, on a grand scale, the influence Of light in the colouring of the plants when the leaf-buds are developing One says:--“Clouds and rain sometimes obscure the atmosphere for several days together, and during this time the buds expand themselves into leaves. But these leaves have a pallid hue till the sun appears, when in a few hours of dear sky and splendid sunshine, their colour is changed to a vivid green. It has been related that, during twenty days of dark, dull weather, the sun not once making his appearance, the leaves were expanded to their full size, but were almost white. One forenoon the sun began to shine in full brightness, when the colour of the forest changed so rapidly that its progress might be marked. By the middle of the afternoon, the whole, for many miles, presented the usual summer dress.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Turn your face to the light
It had been one of those days on which everything goes contrary, and I had come home tired and discouraged. As I sank into a chair, I groaned, “Everything looks dark, dark.” “Why don’t you turn your face to the light, auntie, dear?” said my little niece, who was standing unperceived beside me. “Turn your face to the light!” The word sot me thinking. That was just what I had not been doing. I had persistently kept nay face in the opposite direction, refusing to see the faintest glimmer of brightness. Artless little comforter I She did not know what healing she had brought. Years had gone by since then, but the simple words have never been forgotten, “Turn your face to the light.”
Light and health
Sir James Wylie, late physician to the Emperor of Russia, attentively studied the effects of light as a curative agent in the hospital of St. Petersburg, and he discovered that the number of patients who were cured in rosins properly lighted was four times that of those confined in dark room. These different results are due to the agency of light, without a full supply of which plants and animals maintain but a sickly and feeble existence. Light is the cheapest and best of all medicines. Nervous ailments yield to the power of sunshine. Pallid faces grow fresh and ruddy beneath its glow. The sun’s rays have wonderful purifying power. (H. L. Hastings.)
2 Samuel 22:31
As for God, His way is perfect; the Word of the Lord is tried; He is a Buckler to all them that trust in Him.
God’s way perfect, His Word tried, Himself the believer’s Buckler
We have, in the words of our text--first, the perfection of God’s way--next, the purity of God’s Word--and, lastly, the privilege of God’s people.
I. The essential perfection of a “way” is the accomplishment of its end; the contingent or relative perfection is the accomplishment of the end, with the utmost attainable extent of benefit, and with the least practicable amount of difficulty. Of the first, so far as both God and man are concerned, we are competent to judge; on the second, we can only form a judgment of beings endued and encumbered with like passions as ourselves. It is of the first that David speaks. He found himself, after the lapse of many years, after the endurance of many privations and persecutions, in full possession of all that the Lord had promised, delivered out of the hand of all His enemies, and exalted, from following the sheep, to be governor over God’s people Israel. He remembers and records, indeed, that “the waves of death compassed him, the floods of ungodly men made him afraid.” But this is a grateful commemoration, not an insinuated complaint. Hence, then, we infer, that we are in danger of falling into error, when we look upon the dispensations of God as an insulated or individual case. With the destinies of David, we cannot doubt, were interwoven those of many others, with whose instruction, deliverance, or confirmation in the faith, his trials and persecutions might be intimately and indissolubly connected. Whatever portion may be allotted to those who serve God, of that chastening, which “for the present seemeth not to be joyous, but grievous,” they possess, if not a clue to all God’s dealings, that which will be at least a balm, and a solace, and a support, under all trials, in the single emphatic assurance “As for God, His way is perfect.” He proportions the endurance to the issue, and adapts the way to the end--to many ends, for “we are members one of another.”
II. The purity of God’s word. We do not here speak, however, of moral purity in its application to man’s righteousness, but of the abiding excellence, the inviolable faithfulness of the Word, in reference to God Himself. None of God’s people will, on reflection, ever find cause to question the purity of His Word, the integrity of His promise. And the principle on which I ground the assertion, is simply this--“The end of faith “is” “the salvation of the soul;” this is the one great object, which must be pursued through all difficulties and accomplished at all sacrifices; a true believer, therefore, can only then begin to doubt--on reflection, at least--when he is placed in circumstances, of which he can positively say, “These cannot minister either to my salvation, or to the salvation of any other living soul.” Now, this cannot be affirmed even of entanglement in sin; for, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another,” exhorted the apostle James, “that ye may be healed”--the inference from which is that the acknowledgment of a fault may instrumentally confer a great benefit upon another than the commission of it has inflicted injury upon the believer himself.
III. What is the necessary conclusion from such premises--the privilege of God’s people. “He is a buckler to all them that trust in Him.” Nothing, it would appear, could be more simple, nothing could be more reasonable than the essential condition, imposed on all such as would be saved, of an entire and implicit trust in God; nothing more simple, from the very nature of the case--nothing more reasonable, from the impossibility of the opposite. “Hath God said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” Who can even conceive of a God all power, unable--or of a God all love, unwilling--to redeem His pledge, and to accomplish His purpose? We are called, however, on the present occasion to consider the gain, the incalculable gain of those who trust God. Trust is active. The proof of it lies in action. Action is the element which is essential to its existence. He who trusts God must try at least to serve Him; otherwise trust were nothing better than presumption. And there are some who do not trust because they do not try. Religion is with them no effort, no struggle, no conflict, no sacrifice. They recite articles of faith, they respond to the utterance of prayer, they listen to the preaching of the Gospel; and then they return into the world with undiminished relish of its vanities--not, as they ought, with a livelier perception of its emptiness, and an increased repugnance to its pollutions, and a more settled abhorrence of its sins. Such men do not trust God--men whose religion is but a Sabbath parade. They cannot trust Him. They have no right to trust Him; there are no portions of His Word on which to ground their trust; for the tenour of the Scripture promises supposes consistency of life. Let me, then, exhort you to settle at once the unspeakably momentous point whether you trust God; and not only so, but whether you are warranted in trusting Him--whether it is your endeavour to walk in His “perfect way,” and your desire to repose full confidence in His pure and inviolable Word. It is no time to commence all this when we are involved in calamity. Then is the time to profit by what we have already learnt--not to enter upon that lesson for the acquirement of which a whole life might be far too brief. It rests with every individual hearer to “examine himself whether he be in the faith,” to “prove his own self,” (T. Dale, M. A.)
The Lord the Christian’s Buckler
It suggests a perfect equipment. A soldier may be endowed with strength and robustness, and yet may have most ineffective armour. During the recent war our soldiers in South Africa were possessed by a spirit of splendid courage; their strength and nerve were irreproachable; but many of their weapons were comparatively useless. What is the use of a strong arm with a flimsy sword? Or what is the use of a keen eye with an imperfect gun? On the other hand, a soldier may have a perfect weapon, and yet be possessed of most inadequate strength. A besieged garrison may have splendid military equipment, and yet in the process of a long siege they may be so impoverished in body as to be reduced to absolute impotence, And so I say a soldier needs the two-fold gift; he requires health and armour, the strength and the shield. And so the Psalmist magnifies his God, because He endows the soul with a full sufficiency both of strength and armour. There is nothing which I require which I cannot find in God. In Him my defence and security are complete. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
I. The “way” he prescribes is “perfect.” He prescribes a way, a course of action, for all the creatures He has made, animate and inanimate, rational and irrational. The stars, the oceans, insects, brutes, and souls of every kind, from the least to the greatest, have each their “way” marked out, and the highest science attests that the way is “perfect.” But the course or the way which is prescribed for man is what the writer refers to.
1. The way which is prescribed for our moral conduct is “perfect.”
2. The way that is prescribed for our spiritual restoration is “perfect.” What is the way? Here it is: “What the law could not do,” etc.; “God so loved the world,” etc. Faith in Christ is the prescribed way. This way is “perfect” in its wisdom; it is in every way adapted ”Perfect” in its justice; it honours the righteousness of God. “Perfect” in its sufficiency; it is adequate to the needs of each man, and all.
II. The way he pursues is “perfect.” God has a method of action. He acts not by caprice or impulse, but by a settled eternal plan.
1. His method of procedure is “perfect” in conception. We have not the full draft of this plan--an infinitesimal section only comes under our eye. The architect of the great building presents you with a whole plan, and you may understand it and see the superstructure on the paper. Thus God has not acted; and if He had given us the whole plan we could not have scanned the millionth part. What we see, however, we feel to be “perfect.”
2. His method of procedure is “perfect in execution.” What His infinite benevolence promoted and His infinite wisdom conceived, His almightiness carries out with almost perfection. A conviction of the perfection of God’s way
(1) Is essential to our well-being. Without this we cannot supremely love and trust Him.
(2) Is the most attainable of beliefs. Our reason,, conscience, Bible, observation, and experience all concur in urging on the soul this the grandest of all conclusions.
(3) Must flash on every sinner’s nature sooner or later. If not here in the day of grace, yonder in the period of retribution. This conviction flashing on the corrupt soul in eternity, is the hell of the lost. The soul burns with anguish as it rolls and rolls in the great thought, “As for God, His ways are perfect.” (Homilist.)
God’s way perfect
This chapter is almost identical word for word with the eighteenth psalm. We may regard this chapter, and the eighteenth Psalm, as a vocal Ebenezer; and in this way it is very touching to give heed to the testimonies of an aged saint of God as he thus erects his Ebenezer, and in the second and third verse pours forth the rapturous utterances of a grateful heart. Among the conclusions to which David had been drawn, is that which is presented to us in the simple but pregnant words of the text.
I. The works of god regarded as the creator. In this respect we hesitate not to affirm that the words of the Psalmist are fully applicable, and that “His way is perfect.” Now, of course, in affirming that God’s way as Creator is perfect, we must bear in mind that we are not in a position to see into the whole of this matter. Unquestionably, before we can utter this sentiment with our hearts we must have learned the lesson of faith. Our knowledge of creation is very limited. Our philosophers are still arguing as to the plurality or the non-plurality of worlds; they are still discussing such fundamental subjects as the antiquity of man and the origin of species; and with regard to our own world, it is a common proverb among us that nothing on earth is perfect. And yet the searches and the conclusions of modern science are only revealing, we hesitate not to affirm, greater wonders, and those wonders are increasingly exhibiting the perfection of God s laws. And thus, whether we take the eye or whether we take the hand, we have the meat striking evidences of design and of adaptation--evidences enough to lead us, if we are modest and candid and reverent, to this conclusion--that if we knew more, and if other organs of the body and if other elements of man’s nature were as clearly opened up to us as have been the organ of the eye, and the member of the hand, we should be still more strikingly and irresistibly brought to the conclusion with regard even to the creation, “As for God, His way is perfect.”
II. But the declaration of our text is not less true in reference to God as the God of Providence. In reference to His providential dealings, most unquestionably David’s testimony was that God’s way is perfect; and indeed this is the point in the psalm. Now consider this for a few moments in connection with the world. The aspect in which a man of faith and a man of this world regard all that is passing around them is as different as light can be from darkness. But “as for God, His way is perfect” in the Church. We do not see the bearing of the means upon the end. We do not, for instance, understand how it is that the tares and the wheat are permitted to grow together. We do not understand how it is that from the very beginning, from the very earliest years down to the days in which we live, whenever there has been the slightest activity or energy put forth on the part of God’s people, when the Church has not been fast asleep, there have arisen grave and deadly heresies, and the Church of Christ is constantly witnessing it. In our own land, even in the lifetime of most of the persons to whom I am preaching, at the very time when everything seemed ready for the Church to advance on her great aggressive work against the heathenism that was around her, to rise to her position as the evangelist of distant nations, and to delve into the courts and alleys, and to go down into the cellars and to climb the garrets in our own heathen England; when the Church seemed ready to gird herself to this work, and faithful ministers were raised up, there has come some blight, of deadly heresy upon us, and we have been constrained to enter into controversy even with our own brethren, with men bearing the ministry of our own Church. All this is most mysterious; we do not understand it; we cannot justify the ways of God to man fully. All we can say is this, that the anticipation of faith which enables us to bear a testimony even now in the words of David, is, that when all is wound up we shall assuredly discern that in dealing with His Church, as the God of Providence, the way of God has been perfect.
III. Lastly, His way is perfect as a way of salvation. Here again faith must come in. We are surrounded by depths on every side. What is the mystery at the bottom of it all? Archbishop Whately has said, and said truly, that the entrance of moral evil into the world is very nearly the only difficulty in theology. If you and I could understand how it is that there can be moral evil, and, as its result, physical evil, in the world of a perfect God, and an Almighty God, we should be able to cut pretty nearly every knot; but we cannot understand it. We do not understand the ruin; we do not understand the entrance of sin. But let faith lay hold of this; nothing but faith can lay hold of it; reason cannot defend it, reason can only put her hand upon her mouth. God’s salvation is provided, on the one hand, fully for the vindication of His own glory, while on the other hand He has adapted His salvation fully to the need of men. There is the fullest adaptation to the need of the sinner, and there is the most glorious illustration of the glory of God. (Canon Miller, D.D.)
God’s way inscrutable but right
The mind of a pious workman, named Thierney, was much occupied with the ways of God, which appeared to him full of inscrutable mysteries. The two questions, “How?” and “Why?” were constantly in his thoughts--whether he considered his own life, or the dispensations of Providence in the government of the world. One day, in visiting a ribbon manufactory, his attention was attracted by an extraordinary piece of machinery. Countless wheels and thousands of threads were twirling in all directions; he could understand nothing of its movements. He was informed, however, that all this motion was connected with the centre, where there was a chest which was kept shut. Anxious to understand the principle of the machine, he asked permission to see the interior. “The master has the key,” was the reply. The words were like a flash of light. Here was the answer to all the perplexed thoughts. Yes; the Master has the key. He governs and directs all. It is enough. What need I know more? “He hath also established them for ever and ever; He hath made a decree which shall not pass.” (Psalms 118:6.)
God makes no mistakes
I once experienced a great bereavement, which tested my trust in God’s providence beyond any previous trial of my Life. One night I was seated, with my little boy on my knee, mourning over my loss, when my eye rested on a favourite text over the mantelpiece. The eye of the child also turned in the same direction, and, without any request on my part, he read the text aloud: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” As I heard the words from my dear boy’s lips, they seemed to sink into my heart with a power they had never done before. To my surprise, the child asked the question, “Papa, what does ‘perfect’ mean?” My heart was too full to make any reply for a few moments; and before I could break the silence, my little one supplied the answer by saying, “Papa, doesn’t it mean that God makes no mistakes?”
The Word of the Lord is tried.
The Word of God a proved word
Things of acknowledged and intrinsic value are ever liable to be counterfeited. Valueless things tempt no imitation. That which is excellent and of good report never lacks its counterfeit. This fact makes necessary tile application of some reliable test to those things, whether material, intellectual, or moral, that come to us with high claims of value, The gold or silver that has been tried and stamped as genuine is that which the jeweller alone accepts as genuine. The words, or works, or systems of thought of men come to be generally accepted only when tested and proved to be worthy. A man’s character and reputation only become established when in a variety of circumstances they have been found to be genuine and trustworthy. In the same way the Bible must be and has been “tried.” It comes to us, claiming to be “the Word of God,” to contain the highest revelation of God and His will, to give a “knowledge able to make wise unto salvation.” It is of the highest consequence, therefore, that it should be tested, and prove itself genuine, and so establish its high claims. That it has been subjected to the severest tests, few will doubt. It is “a tried Word.” Into all the manifold forms in which that trial has been successfully borne, we cannot now enter. But there are one or two lines of thought that will serve to show the Divine character of that revelation contained in the Holy Scriptures.
I. That we have in these records the genuine Word of God is seen when we subject their main teachings to the test of the highest standards of truth and duty among men. Outside the Scriptures themselves these are found in the human conscience, judgment, and reason. The Apostle Paul declares that by the light within even the heathen are capable of seeing the grand distinction between right and wrong, and of feeling the charm of moral beauty and truth. Even a race so utterly degraded as the Terra del Fuegians have proved to be not wholly devoid of moral instinct and power; while among heathen philosophers not a few have reached sublime moral conceptions and truths. Following the light within them, men like Socrates, Plato, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Buddha, arid Confucius have attained to marvellous views of truth, and have given utterance to teaching the moral beauty and Divine character of which we cannot deny. Now, when we test the teachings of the Bible by these, and ask, “What is the result?” the answer is ready and complete. Among the choicest, the flower of heathen philosophy and religious teaching there is nothing that is equal in sustained loftiness of character, in quantity and beauty, to that of the New Testament.
2. But we may look at it in another light. Tested by our own modern conceptions and ideas of what is truly noble and Divine, what is the result? We, living to-day, are the heirs of all the knowledge, civilisation, and religion of the past. At no previous age of the world’s history has knowledge of so universal a kind been possessed. Not only has science laid her treasures at our feet, but the stores of knowledge gathered and garnered of old by such nations of antiquity as the Babylonian, Egyptian, Chaldean, Hindu, Grecian, and Roman have been opened to us in wonderful ways. We know far more of the religious teaching and moral ideas of these great peoples than was possible before. Our civilisation and knowledge, based upon and including all that was best in these byegone ages, is richer than any previous. Moreover, we have come into possession of eighteen hundred years of Christian thought and influence, and all that means in raising the tone of moral feeling and judgment. Judging, then, of the character of Biblical teaching as a whole, what is the verdict? Simply this-, men all admit that the precepts of Christ embodied in daily life would regenerate the world; the golden age would no longer be a dream, but a sober reality; and Jesus Christ enthroned as King would make a worm of purity, moral glory, and blessedness.
3. There is another point of view from which we may look at and test this subject in the present connection. Not only is the Bible proved to be Divine in view of our best judgment, but also according to the evidence of the greatest among sceptical writers. What is the testimony of many of these, men of sceptical, but deeply, reverent minds? While they reject the Bible as the supreme and all-commanding revelation of God and religious truth, they all agree that in the records of the life and character of Jesus Christ in the Gospels we have the grandest and most complete presentation of moral beauty the world has seen.
II. One of the severest tests of the value of a thing is the way in which it withstands the effects of time and change. If it he spurious, time, sooner or later, will show it. If it be genuine, time will only make its true character the more manifest. The false jewel, the counterfeit coin, the imitation bric-a-brac, the insincere character, the false teaching or unsound reasoning, needs only time to discover the worthlessness that attaches to it. But that which is the “truth and of the truth” becomes more and more clearly revealed as genuine and precious. In nothing has this been more fully shown than in the history of the sacred Scriptures. See how long and severe the trial to which they have been subjected! Age after age has rolled away, many things have passed out of mind and existence since many parts of the Bible were first spoken or written, but its records and teachings remain. In the darkest days of the Middle Ages, when the Church became a great world-power, its greatest foes became those of its own household, and every effort was made to destroy the Book, and to consign to oblivion its glorious, life-giving, liberty-producing truth, and to substitute a system of ecclesiastical tyranny and tradition. In still more modern days its teachings and records have been assailed by the fierce fire of criticism, hostile and mighty. Battery after battery of the most powerful and perfected artillery has been placed in position, and threatened by its presence and force to destroy the fortress of truth. So certain has been the issue in the estimation of some that they have boldly avowed that the days of Christianity were numbered. Voltaire declared that ten years after his attack on the Christian system it would cease to be. But, instead of such an issue, Christianity has come forth as from a refining furnace, like gold purified seven times. The dross and alloy have been destroyed; the precious gold of truth shines the more brightly.
III. The method by which almost everything may be surely tested is that of experience. It seldom fails. In ordinary life and with some of the most material things it is of highest value. The article we purchase, the word era neighbour, the work of the artisan, the professed friendship of an acquaintance, the soundness of a theory, the wisdom or folly of any step taken in business--all are proved and their true worth discovered by experience. The manner in which they stand the wear and tear of actual life is the infallible sign of their genuineness. It is perfectly scientific. It is the only safe method. Now, the Scriptures have been subject, during thousands of years, to this conclusive test. Their teachings are proved to be genuine and Divine because they bear infallibly the critical force of experience. The unbelief and sinful disregard of Christ and His Gospel, the rebellion against conscience and morality, against Christian light and leading, in their consequences and effects fulfil the utterances of Holy Writ. Men’s experience of sin and its penalty is but a testimony to the reality and Divine character of that Book that declares: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” But equally true is the opposite experience: What is the testimony of those who have put its teachings to the test of practice--who have not merely tried them by reason and the moral judgment, but subjected them to the experiment of actual obedience? They have proved the truth of the Divine Master’s statement: “If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God.” It has verified itself to them by its power over their hearts, consciences, characters, and lives. It has brought peace, hope, comfort, strength, purity, and quickening of soul. The “Gospel has” proved “the power of God unto salvation.” They have found: ‘Great peace have they that love Thy law.” (W. Bishop.)
The tried word
We usually do not trust anything until it is tried. Boys dare not skate across the river until they have tried the new ice. The swing just put up on the tree is not deemed safe for the children until the rope is tried. A tried friend is a friend worth having. The Bible tells us, “The Word of the Lord is tried.” It declares that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” It promises, “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.” John Bunyan, the wild, wicked tinker-boy, went and found it so. John Newton, the swearing slave captain, went and found it so, and thousands are ready to testify that they went to the Son of God and found Him to be a precious Saviour.
The word of God tried in the crucible of personal experience
The famous singer, Jenny Lind (Madame Goldschmidt), writing after her retirement from public life to one of her friends, said: “My Bible was never more necessary to me than now; never more truly my stay. I drink therein rest, self-knowledge, hope, faith, love, carefulness (circumspection), and the fear of God, so that I look at life and the world in quite another fashion than what I did before. Would that all men came to this knowledge, and that we all daily feasted on that Divine Book! Then should we all know how to taste the true life.”
2 Samuel 22:32
For who is God, save the Lord?
and who is a Rock, save our God?
Jehovah owned and honoured
If these questions were proposed from the throne of God amidst the surrounding glorified spirits, there would be but a single word of answer echoed through the glorious realm, “None! none is is God, save Jehovah. None! none a Rock, save our God.” If that echo were caught by the adjacent circle of angels within the sphere of bliss, and they were asked one by one, or in the mass, “Who is God, save the Lord?” the reply would but reiterate the answer which sounds upon the harps of the glorified spirits, “None! none is God, save the Lord!” If the question were put by Beelzebub, in the bottomless pit, among his infernal crew, “Who is a God, save the Lord?” the howling of their despair, the anguish of their spirits, the horror of their damnation, would all echo, “None but Jehovah is God, and we feel his power. Put the question, here upon earth, to the ears of poor, win, proud mortals, “Who is God, save the Lord?” and we shall find the reply in that solemn Scripture, “There are Gods many, and Lords many,” and all owned by poor sinners in rebellion against the Most High God. But put the question in the Church of the living God, to those who stand upon the same ground that David did when he wrote this song. Put the question to those who have experienced delivering grace by the mighty hand of Jehovah, who have been subdued at the foot of the cross by omnipotent power, and of whose hearts the Holy Ghost has taken possession, and commanded them to submit to the sway of King Jesus; and they, with one voice, would exclaim, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is our God.”
I. The appeal. Fallen man has made many gods, and, consequently, the world is full of idoltary. I need not go to the millions of avowed Pagans and Mahometants for examples of idolatry, and of bowing down to stocks and stones. I need not go to what are called Popish countries for examples of unmitigated idolatry. There are cases constantly coming before our notice in wretched Ireland, aye, and in dear old England too, in which the grossest idolatry is transacted. Men make unto themselves gods of materials. They make unto themselves gods of mortals. They make unto themselves gods of meal. I wonder who, in the possession of the meanest common sense, would worship such gods--gods of mortals; gods of materials, and gods of meal, gods of wafers. These are specimens of the brutish ignorance, the worse than brutish ignorance, into which man has fallen.
II. A challenge. In the 41st chapter of Isaiah the Lord is reproving these idolators, and says, “If ye be gods, show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods; ye, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.” If ye be gods, show us the things that are to come. And let these idols--these material gods, and mortal gods--show us “the things that are to come hereafter.” Then we wilt own them to be gods. Now the great matter of fact, with relation to our covenant God, is that He has told us “the things that are to come hereafter.” He has set down in His own most precious word what is to take place in time, at the judgment and in eternity. He has shown tile “things that are to come hereafter” to the faith of many of us, and we do not and cannot dispute them. Faith has discerned and received them, and has acknowledged that God hath shown them unto us.
III. The triumph. (J. Irons.)
2 Samuel 22:33-34
He maketh my way perfect.
The perfect way indicated
A gentleman crossing the English Channel stood near the helmsman. It was a calm and pleasant evening, and no one dreamed of a possible danger to their good ship. But a sudden flapping of a sail, as if the wind had shifted, caught the ear of the officer on watch, and he sprang at once to the wheel, examining closely the compass. “You are half a point off the course,” he said sharply to the man at the wheel. The deviation was corrected, and the officer returned to his post. “You must steer very accurately,” said the looker-on, “when only half a point is so much thought of.” “Ah! half a point in many places might bring us directly on the rocks,” he said. What avails being almost right, if destruction is the end? Many, it is to be feared, have missed eternal life by “half a point.” Alas, many Christians allow slight deviations from the law of Christ in their lives. He is daily with us to correct us, and we attain to the perfect way only by implicit obedience to the word of the Captain of our Salvation.
The perfect rule for the path of life
“The Bible is so strict and old-fashioned,” said a young man to a greyhaired friend who was advising him to study God’s Word if he would learn how to live. “There are plenty of books written nowadays that are moral enough in their teaching, and don’t bind me down as the Bible does.” The old merchant turned to his desk and took down a couple of rulers, one of which was slightly bent. With each of these he ruled a line, and silently handed the ruled paper to his companion. “Well,” said the lad, “what do you mean?” One line is straight and true, is it not? Now, my young friend, when you mark your path in life, do not use a crooked ruler!”
God made ways for our feet
God does not make straight even paths all alike, as in great cities now. There is infinite variety in the paths He makes, and He can make them anywhere. Think you not that He who made the spider able to drop anywhere, and to spin its own path as it goes, is not able to spin a path for you through every blank or perplexity, or depression? (C. A. Fox.)
Go straight and keep steady
While walking in the country with several relatives, a little girl came to a deep ditch which could only be crossed by a narrow plank. Though for a time she feared to cross, she suddenly looked round and exclaimed: “Grandpa, you go first; you are the heaviest, and I want to see how you do it.” After watching her grandparent safely over the plank, the child said: “Oh, I can do that; you have only to go straight and keep steady.” May we net learn that if we would go the way that God has opened, we have but to follow His Word, go straight, and keep our faith steady? Our difficulties may be overcome if we will but allow God to clear the way, instead of attempting to do so in our own strength. (The Advertiser.)
Our way perfected by the hand of another
I sometimes think of it as of a child sitting in a boat. The child does not know the coast, and it very little understands how to row. If the child were left to itself, pulling upon the oars, its right hand being a little stronger than the other, it would be all the time veering the boat to the right, and the boat would be constantly turning round and round. The child would, perhaps, make its way out of the harbour and into the ocean, and it would be carried away and lost if there were no guiding power in the boat except its own. But there in the stern sits the father. The uneven strokes of the child would carry the boat this way or that way out of its course; but the steady hand of the father overcomes those uneven strokes; and all the mistakes with the oars are rectified by the rudder, and the boat keeps the right course. So that the force exerted by the child, though misdirected, all works for good when the father guides. (H. W. Beecher.)
2 Samuel 22:35-43
He maketh my hands to war.
Faith winning victories
Dr. Campbell Morgan told me at Northfield of an instance of the kind. A poor man came to him after a service on Round Top, where the body of Mr. Moody lies, and said, “Do you believe that when you are tempted, and say, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’ the victory is won?” Dr. Morgan, after a moment said, “No, I do not.” “Then,” said his interlocutor, “you stop preaching Christ and deliverance from sin: for I have a temptation. I don’t want to live with it; I don’t want to be defeated; I would do the best I knew if I had the power, but I have not. If I can’t say, ‘Get thee behind me,’ and be sure of victory, what am I to do?” Dr. Morgan said, “Do you believe that Christ said it, and won?” “Yes, I believe He is the only One who could ever say it, and win.” “Then you go, and in the name of Christ say, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan,’ when your hour of torture comes, and see which gets the victory.” “The next morning,” says Dr. Morgan, “as I drove up I met this man standing in the middle of the pathway in front of me. He looked at me with radiant face, standing square on his two feet, and said, ‘Man, it works!’” He had found the Christ a present Deliverer as well as an abstract Saviour.
2 Samuel 22:36
Thy gentleness has made me great.
The real greatness of man
David spake unto the Lord the words of this song on the day when he had emerged victorious from all his struggles. It is the story of a life written and set to music by the man who lived it. It is not a piping song of peace, green pastures, and still waters, like some of those tender lyrics which came from the same pen. It deals with rougher and fiercer scenes, and resounds with the clash of arms and noise of battle. It is such a song as St. Paul might have sung, and did sing, when, on the eve of martyrdom, he looked back on his ministry; such a song as every Christian would wish to raise when life’s little day is near its close, and he is waiting in the shadows for another and fairer morning. Now these are the words of every man who takes a truthful reading of the facts of life, who views his life’s doings and gains in vile searching light of God. The great mind always clothes itself in humility, because it takes a true estimate of self, and disdains to walk in a vain show. In spite of his sins, awful blunders, and moral falls, David stands out in huge bulk as one of the world’s master minds; a far-seeing statesman, a gifted thinker and poet, a brilliant soldier, a man of charming personality and winsome attractiveness, a man of infinite patience and unwearying energy, and every inch a king. If he had been a vain man, what a loud story he would have told of his own mighty doings and conquest of difficulties; how loftily he would have carried himself among his throngs of courtiers and flatterers. If there is genius it is heaven-born, not self-wrought. If there is the weighty brain and the keen, far-reaching vision and the indomitable will, they are talents bestowed upon us unasked for, and not digged and coined by our own hands. If your stature is six feet are you to look down with supercilious disdain upon that other piece of humanity which is six inches lower, as if you yourself had manufactured the extra six inches? Ii you have had a brilliant career and succeeded in everything to which you have set your hands, are you to strut about as a little god, forgetting whence came all the powers and gifts of fortune which carried you to victory? A man of David’s build knows better than this, because his eyes are opened. The Bible has the greatest contempt for self-important people. Think how it lashes them with the whip of scorn. Its Pharaohs in their Egyptian palaces; its Rabshakehs, with their insolent bravado, boasting as if all the world belonged to them, and as if they could defy omnipotence; its Nebuchadnezzars walking about Babylon and calling upon all men to behold the grandeur of their doings and the majesty of their wisdom; its Herods arrayed in gorgeous robes and flaunting themselves in unholy pride as if they sat on the throne of God. How the Bible scouts and scorns these marionettes that dance for a moment on the world’s tawdry stage and mouth-inflated speeches as if they were hardly less than the Almighty. The saints of God were always like David in this one thing. There is not a man in the Bible story worth reading of who was not stamped with this characteristic feature. They had a hundred faults, but the sin of over-estimating their importance was never one of them. They had measured themselves, not with human tape-lines, but with God’s larger rule. And this was the language in which they all wrote the story of their lives--“I am not, worthy of the least of all the mercies which the Lord my God has bestowed upon me. Thou hast given me the shield of Thy salvation, and Thy gentleness hath made me great.” The gentleness of God: what is it? It is almost indefinable, but something which the heart can feel and understand. The gentleness of man is the most winsome of human attributes. It is strength forgetting its strength and becoming tender as a kiss and soft as a sunbeam. You see it in the old oft-told story of Hector, the Greek warrior, doffing the helmet which frightens the child, and stooping down with smiling face and velvet touch to caress and bless the child. You see it in the soldier with iron arm and mighty heart kneeling over the feeblest wounded thing and soothing it with touches soft and tearful as a child’s. You see it in the mother’s face as she bends over her sick and helpless infant. You see it more than all in the picture of Christ’s healing ministry when He lays His mighty hand, soothing and calming, upon the diseases and sicknesses of men. There is always something of unconscious stooping and condescension in it; something very high, and perhaps mighty, that puts off it, s mightiness to help and bless. That is human gentleness, and that is the gentleness of God, which makes us great. Infinitely more than all this to you is the fact that God is lowly enough to think of you, to care for you, to follow you with watchful eyes, to take any trouble with you at all. If we possessed the whole world, if we had each the genius of a Shakespeare or Milton or David, it would not give us as much right to exalt ourselves as the simple fact that we can pray to God, that it is not a waste of words, a flinging out of something into the dark, a piece of self-deceiving, but that prayer is a reality, the real talk of a real man with a real Almighty God. Think of it! It almost transcends thought. The wonder of it is unspeakable. And our greatness, if we have any, is in the fact that, He thinks us worth caring for, worth teaching and training and leading on to all goodness that we may dwell with Him and enjoy Him for ever. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
Life’s most honourable distinction
The writer is reviewing the experiences of an eventful career, and uttering his thankfulness in song as he traces the work of God’s hand in all the tumultuous and trying scenes that went before the day of kingly rest. He teaches us what should be:
I. The peaceful reflection rewarding every earnest life. “Thy gentleness hath multiplied me.” The words are not spoken in the midst of strife, yet with the vivid recollection of many toils and sorrows attending on the career of one who spared not himself in seeking to gain an object which he considered to be of God. He had been in earnest, not afraid to sacrifice considerations of momentary ease for future and wider good; not erecting the boundary wall of personal advantage so high as to darken the heaven-born interests of the people. In commending sacrifice he had known how to be a sacrifice. The man after God’s own heart and given himself for the attainment of what he knew to be dear to God’s heart, and the reward came to him, as all real and spiritual rewards do come to faithful man, in the form of his own reflections upon what he had been or had tried to be. Happy are they who, on looking down the avenue of an eventful life, can trace all strength to resist and to achieve, all wisdom to choose and to avoid, all victory and honour, all wealth and distinction and blessing, to their proper source, and say, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.”
II. A correct explanation of life’s best success. When common battles are won, and ordinary mountain paths climbed, and men are seen standing high above their fellows who are still contending with difficulty and toiling hard to carry burdens, the question is asked, “What made them great?” And to such a question the world about us is generally ready with its answer. “Fortune made this man great. It was a mere accident, a stroke of chance over which he had no control.” Or, “It was natural perseverance. He had no temporal advantage or native brilliance, but he was nature’s tortoise, who kept right on and won the race.” The secret of another’s distinction is given as “Self-reliance. With almost unlimited belief in himself, he contrived by force of will to make others accept him at his own valuation. He made himself great.” Another “was born to greatness. Inherited wealth and courtly favour caused his earliest footprints to be made on flowers, and all the world seems to have conspired to lift him upward into radiance and honour. He is great because he could not possibly be otherwise.” Either one of these sayings may account for something which is seen in the lives of men, but the further question arises, “Is it greatness that is here explained? Do these by virtue of any position thus achieved or held, really possess greatness?” It is very possible for those who live in the eastern counties to think they reside amongst hills, until they go to Cumberland or Wales, and for these to boast of mountains until they have seen Switzerland or Northern India. Is there not an ennobling of the whole idea of greatness in human life which is possible to us after the manner of such experience? May not the popular conception be dwarfed by admitting a Divine thought just as sandhills become insignificant and poor to him who looks on Alps and Himalayahs? The Christian’s hope for the world is in the adoption of a corrected estimate. He sees that fortune, perseverance, self-reliance, wealth, and favour, good and right, as each one in its place must be, give, when they are alone, only sandhills, and that towering far above them all there is a snow-capped mountain life; spiritually more noble, and eternally beautiful, in love to God, and reliance on his gentle favour.
III. The loftiest principle on which to build our life. When David’s throne was established in the hearts of a united and loyal people, he began to seek a worthy place for God’s tabernacle. His heart was set on the noble height of Zion, and he obtained it. How much of life’s sorrow and humiliation might remain untasted, if we were as careful in choosing a foundation on which to build our character and life! Of all the claims asserted in our hearts, one stands supreme. It is the need of our nature to lay the beginnings of its strength on the rock of Divine security. Human life needs that God should give it a resting-place.
IV. The old Gospel of the Church. It is old. It is older than Israel’s march through the wilderness, or Abraham’s declaration of faith, or Noah’s gentle preaching of a righteous life; it dates from before the mission of the angel who guarded the tree of life. The “old, old story” is the compassion of Jebovah, the gentleness of the Eternal. It is the old Gospel. And yet how delightfully, sadly, strangely new! How vast the field of human life where “there is no speech or language” setting it forth convincingly! God apparently speaking an unknown tongue, and man untouched by the sweetest music that ever tried to charm and elevate his life! (W. H. Jackson.)
The work of gentleness
These words look back to the pasture lands of Bethlehem; to the fights with the bear and the lion; to the valley of Elah, where he met Goliath; to the palace of Saul, where his friendship with Jonathan grew, and to the caves and fastnesses where he hid from Saul, and to Ziglag and Hebron. They look back over all his troubles, and upon all the deliverances which the Lord wrought out for him, and over all the way by which the Lord had brought him. They gather up into their brief utterance all the song of the great King David, when he recounted his greatness, and reveal at once the secret of his greatness and the heart of his song. The “gentleness” of God: that was the secret of his greatness. “Thy gentleness hath made me great”: that was the heart of his song. David was well acquainted with God. He knew Him as few human souls have done. He knew Him out to the length and breadth of what the human soul can grasp of God. He knew Him as the Judge who doeth terrible things in righteousness. He knew Him as the Creator, by whose might the heavens were built, and the everlasting mountains rooted to the earth. In this very psalm he refers to powers and manifestations of God which make man tremble: “There went up a smoke out of his nostrils and fire out of his mouth devoured. He thundered. He sent out arrows and lightnings. The channels of the sea appeared. The foundations of the world were discovered at the rebuke of the Lord.” David knew all that. He had seen all that. But when he comes to consider his own life, and all the way he had been led, it is to the gentleness of God he turns. His gentleness, not his strength; his gentleness, not his terrors, had made him what he was.
I. The gentleness of god! It is the secret spring of all the worth to which the great ones of God’s kingdom have ever reached. It nourished the life of Abraham in all his wanderings, and was in his thoughts when he told how the God of heaven took him from his father’s house, and promised tile land in which he was a stranger, to his seed. It sustained Moses in his, mighty enterprise, and was in his teaching when be told the Israelites that “God was the Rock of their salvation,” and when he recited in their hearing the beneficent wonders which had been wrought for their deliverance. And, long centuries after, it is to the same rich spring the peerless life of the Apostle Paul is traced: “I am what I am by the grace of God.” Great Paul! Great David! Great lawgiver of Israel! Great father of the faithful! Great as men, great as ministers of God; great in thought and word and deed! But, lo! they cast their crowns at the feet of God. The summing up of the life of each is this: “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” In our studies of saintly life we are apt to think that we have come on the secrets of spiritual greatness when we find faith, or prayer, or zeal for God, or deep acquaintance with His Word, or lips eloquent in His Gospel, or self-denial, or love. But these very qualities are results. Above them and underneath them all are the clews and fountain springs of the gentleness of God. Consider also the greatness of the men whose names are associated with the mighty developments of thought and life in the Church--men like Augustine, Bernard, Huss, and Luther; in our own country, like Anselm, Wiclift Knox, and Wesley--and the thousand thousands, whose names were never named on earth for greatness, who yet were as great in God’s sight as these. What faith in God, what love for souls, what perseverance in tasks for which there was no praise on earth, what unquailing courage, what hoping against hope, as fellow-workers sank exhausted at their side; and, greater than all, what lowliness and meekness of heart! What was the secret of such manifold greatness? Not one would say: “My genius, or my learning, or my eloquence, or my creed.” But one and all, with an irrepressible throb of gratitude, would exclaim, “Worthy is the Lamb!” And for souls truly great, whether as workers on earth, or worshippers in heaven, this is and must be the everlasting song. For it is this gentleness of God, this mercy He shows to men, this generosity, pity, forbearance, and love of the Divine heart, which is the source of all the excellence, worth calling great, to which human beings have ever reached. It is, indeed, the very beginning and possibility of spiritual life itself. Not one of all that multitude could have risen into the Divine presence, or attained the position of a worshipper, if God had marked iniquity against him. He had to bear with them, pardon them, again pardon them, thousands of times pardon each one of them. He had to fence them in by ordinances, laws, and spiritual helps. But do I require to appeal to the histories of the redeemed in heaven, or to the lives of saintly thinkers and workers in former centuries, to illustrate this fact?
II. I shall appeal to the experience and testimony of Christ’s people. To be what you arc Christian men and women--is the greatest attainment of human life. Except Christ’s own, there is no greatness to be named by its side. And in a sense it is Christ’s greatness. Can you reveal the mystery of your possession of it? What force separated you from the world and the life of the world, and drew you to the side of Christ, and filled you with that life in Him in which you are rejoicing now? The very instincts of Christian life within you make you impatient to say: “Not unto us, O Lord: to Thee be all the glory: in Thee are the springs of our life: it is Thy gentleness which has made us great.” Can you ever forget, that hour when the fact first flashed in upon your spirit that you were a lost soul? You recollect the horror of great darkness which fell upon you then. But you also remember the vision of gentleness in tile cross, and how, little by little, it was borne in upon your spirit that there was forgiveness with God, forgiveness even for you. Speak next, you who have been smitten by great affliction. What is your testimony respecting the mystery of Christian life? No one knows better than you how near despair the human heart can be driven by sorrow; nor how unbelief, black and terrible, can come on the wings of a great despair. You have felt the cold touch of that despair. Who shall describe the black thoughts, or the rebellious impulses of despair like that? Shadows of spiritual death, ghastly fancies from the pit, rising, swelling, spreading over the whole life and darkening and eating it up, as clouds of locusts darken and eat up the joy of harvest! You felt all that: you gave way to all that. And vet--here is the gentleness of God to you--you are still on God’s side; you are still believers in his love. The evil thoughts were not permitted to triumph over you: the black despair was not allowed to suck out your life. A healing hand was laid on your wounds. Your very sorrows have made you cleave more closely to his love. By the very things you have suffered you have climbed higher into his kingdom, and from the height to which his mercy has raised you, your daily song is, “O Thou Helper of the helpless: Thy gentleness hath made us great.”
III. Of this gentleness which maketh great, Christ is the manifestation to us. He is that very gentleness itself. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” He is a God so gentle that He would not leave the sin-filled world to perish. Out of His gentleness He gave us Christ. What men first saw in Him was “the Lamb of God, Who taketh away the sin of the world.” The very symbol by which He was revealed is one which at once expresses His gentleness, and the depths into which that gentleness led Him for our sakes. The work Christ came to accomplish was the bestowal of gentleness on a world, which had lost the very elements of it. He came to put away a life of pride and unbelief and hatred from the human heart, and put his own life of humility, faith, and love in its place. Christ’s coming into the world, therefore, was the advent of gentleness. It was heaven stooping to the earth to heal the wounds which sin had made. It was the great God taking up His home among the creatures who had rebelled against Him, that He might raise them and bring them back to His love. It is this quality of gentleness which makes Christ’s earthly life so beautiful. The death of Christ is the most touching exhibition of gentleness the world has ever known. The light, which shines from the cross is the gentleness of God. One of the gentlest deeds recorded in the Old Testament is David’s dirge over the dead Saul. He folded in beautiful words the memory of the man who sought his death, and taught the people to remember him as “the beauty of Israel.” But the gentleness of Jesus sounded a profounder deep. In the yearning pity of His heart He wrapped His living enemies in His prayers, and carried them up and laid them on the breast of mercy: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” A poor prodigal once went out into the glooms of evil and made himself base with the base, and vile with the vile, and hateful, and irreverent, and cruel. And all the world turned from him, and put his name, away from their lips. All but one. She still clung to his name, she still interested herself in his life. She followed him into the darkness. She went in and down into the deepest, thickest, foulest darkness, and owned him there, and laid her hands on him, and her lips to his lips, and her heart to his heart, that she might lead him back. Oh, the gentleness of a mother! But the gentleness of Jesus transcends even that of a mother. The prodigal He came to save would have none of His love. His sins were an insult to Him: his merciless speeches stabbed Him: he filled the air with the cruel demand to “Crucify Him.” It lay in the work Christ came to fulfil, that it could only be finished in the shadow of death. Into that shadow, therefore, He passed. Through the insults, through the hatred, through the shame and the agony, through the very jaws of hell, into the fires of a most painful death. He passed;--and there, with the gentleness of a Divine mother, laid His hand on the hand, His heart on the heart, of the very race which crucified Him, that He might overcome their enmity and bring them back to God.
IV. And this is still the greatness of Christ as a Saviour, and His power over the hearts of men. He is strong to save because he is long-suffering and merciful and generous. We are surprised when we read, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us;” but it is the same wonder of mercy, the same manifestation of gentleness, that lie still lives to save His enemies. Christ is still the same in His gentleness. On the throne as on the cross, He is the gentleness of God towards men. His reign is the reign of gentleness. His intercession within the veil is the appeal of gentleness. It is because He is the gentle Jesus that He intercedes with God for man and with man for God. Exalted though Christ now is, His works as a Saviour are still the same in their gentleness as when He ministered on earth. Still, by the ministries of His Word and Spirit, and by the hands and lives of His people, He works those works of healing and mercy which made his life on earth sublime. I saw a picture once which went to my very heart. It was the interior of a humble cottage on a lonely wild. A poor old man, a travelling pedlar, worn with exhaustion, ghastly pale and cold, is seated in the centre. You can see that he has had the very narrowest escape from death. The father of the house, casting anxious glances towards the stranger, is pouring out some cordial to revive him; the mother is bringing warm wraps, and doing it with the prompt energy of one who knows that life may depend on the haste she makes. It is only a moment since the poor man entered. The door is not yet closed. The children are peering out awe-struck into the night. The snow-flakes, falling through the light, reveal and measure back the terrible gloom outside. A wild night is upon the earth; a night of blackness and blinding snow! And this old man had been caught in the storm, and had to fight, with death in the darkness, and, at the very eleventh hour of the conflict, exhausted and utterly worn, had sunk against the door of this hospitable home. “He was a stranger, and they took hint in.” It was the picture of a gentle deed. But the gentleness of Jesus, in saving the souls of men, no human picture could portray. He goes out into the darkness, out into the snows and wastes and storms of sin, to seek the wanderers and the lost, to lift them, in his arms and bring them in. It is this gentleness which has been laid on the heart of the Church in the command. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” What are all the ministries of mercy in Christian life, but the outflow of this gentleness? The gentle Saviour still lives, and in His gentleness is the very life and mercy of God to men. He is near to each of us. O hearts of men and women, Christ is the Saviour for you! Open wide your doors, and let the King of Glory in. He is the gentlest, lovingest, helpfulest Friend we can have. He will not break the bruised reed; He will not quench the smoking flax! (A. Macleod, D. D.)
The gentleness of God
Life holds no motive for stimulating gentleness in man like the thought of the gentleness of God. Unfortunately, it seems difficult for man to associate delicacy and gentleness with vastness and strength. It was the misfortune of Greek philosophers, and is, indeed, that of nearly all the modern theologians, to suppose that a perfect being cannot suffer. Both schools of thought conceive of God as sitting upon a marble throne, eternally young, eternally beautiful, beholding with quiet, indifference from afar how man, with infinite blunderings, sufferings, and tears, makes his way forward. Yet He who holds the sun in the hollow of His hand, who takes up the isles, as a very little thing, who counts the nations but as the dust in the balance, is also the gentle One. Like the wide, deep ocean, that pulsates into every bay and creek, and blesses the distant isles with its dew and rain, so God’s heart, throbs and pulsates into the uttermost parts of the universe, having a parent’s sympathy for His children who suffer. Indeed, the seer ranges through all nature, searching out images for interpreting His all-comprehending gentleness. “Even the bruised reed He will not break.” Lifting itself high in the air, a mere lead-pencil for size, weighted with a heavy top, a very little injury shatters a reed. Some rude beast, in wild pursuit of prey, plunges through the swamp, shatters the reed, leaves it lying upon the ground, all bruised and bleeding, and ready to die. Such is God’s gentleness that, though man make himself as worthless as a bruised reed, though by his ignorance, frailty, and sin he expel all the manhood from his heart and life, and make himself of no more value than one of the myriad reeds in the world’s swamps, still doth God say, “My gentleness is such that I will direct upon this wounded life thoughts that shall recuperate and heal, until at last the bruised reed shall rise up in strength, and judgment shall issue in victory.” (N. D. Hillis.)
The need for gentleness
When a candle is newly lighted and needs to be moved, it must be carried at a slow pace or it will be extinguished. A fire which is almost expiring may be revived by a gentle breath, but it will be blown out if the bellows are plied at their full force. You can drown a little plant by watering it too much, and destroy a lovely flower by exposing it to too much sun.
God’s gentleness restraining
A lady visiting Germany was surprised to find in the midst of a city a lovely little garden of flowers, quite unprotected, at the base of a huge equestrian statue. Remarking that here in England such an experiment would be very tempting to the children, the startling answer was given, “Why, the reason the flowers were planted was to save the statue from the children’s destructive attentions. They were constantly mounting the back of the horse, and occasionally falling off from it; but since the flowers have been here there has been no more trouble. Such is the German child’s love for flowers, and fear to hurt anything living, that they form a perfectly sure protection to anything round which they are planted.” When our hearts are right with God, it is His very gentleness and love that saves us from sin and folly; the thought that He might be grieved is an effectual barrier against offences. Thus His gentleness makes us jealously careful, as well as great. (H. O. Mackay.)
2 Samuel 22:45
As soon as they hear they shall be obedient unto me.
The magnetism of a great personality
William Wetmore Story tells an interesting tale of James Russell Lowell and himself. It was when they were young men, and they were very angry with Daniel Webster for staying in Tyler’s cabinet, and, as he was to speak in Faneuil Hall one evening, they determined to go in from the Harvard Law School and hoot at him, and shew him that he bad incurred their displeasure. The house was packed with people, and the young men felt sure that the crowd would hoot with them, young as they were. But they reckoned without their host. Mr. Story says: “Mr. Webster, beautifully dressed, stepped forward. His great eyes looked, as I shall always think, straight at me. I pulled off my hat; James pulled off his. We both became as cold as ice, and as respectful as Indian coolies. I saw James turn pale; he said I was livid. And when the great orator began that most beautiful exordium, our scorn turned to deepest admiration, from abject contempt to belief and approbation.”
2 Samuel 22:47
The Lord liveth.
A live Christ
One day the late Dr. Dale, of Birmingham, was writing a sermon, and when half-way through, the thought of the living and risen Lord broke in upon him as it had never done before. “Christ is alive!” I said to myself. “Alive!” and then I paused. “Alive!” And then I paused again. “Alive! Can that really be true? Living as really as I myself am? I got up and walked about, repeating, “Christ is living! Christ is living!” At first it seemed strange and hardly true, but at last it came upon me as a burst of sudden glory. It was to me a new discovery. I thought all along I had believed it, but not until that morning did I feel sure about it. For months afterwards the one great theme of his preaching was the living Christ.
2 Samuel 22:48
The people under me.
Majesty of the people
The word people has, by the French, been long applied to the lowest order only; it was considered by many members of the first National Assembly as lowering the Deputies to denominate them “Representans du Peuple Francais.” Mirabeau, in one of his discourses, made the following energetic observation:--“I give no weight to the signification of words, according to the absurd language of prejudice. I here speak the language of liberty, and am supported by the example of the English and of the Americans, who have always respected the name of the “People,” and have always adopted it in their declarations, in their laws, and in their politics. When Chatham compressed the charter of nations in a single expression, and pronounced the “Majesty of the People”; when the Americana opposed the natural rights of the “People,” to all the trash published against them; they showed that they understood the true signification and full energy of an expression, to which freedom gives so great a value.” (Christian Weekly.)
2 Samuel 22:49-50
And that bringeth me forth from mine enemies.
Passing through an opposing medium
Those meteoric stones, which sometimes fall to the earth, but which much more frequently, at certain seasons of the year, are seen shooting across the midnight sky, may also be fragments of the aforesaid world which has perished. These blocks of meteoric matter are flying through space, and when they get within the range of our atmosphere, there is an opposing medium, they have to drive through it at an enormous rapidity, and so they become burning hot, and thus they become visible. And, in like manner, I believe that there are plenty of good men in the world who are invisible till they get to be opposed, and being opposed, and having the love of God driving them on with tremendous momentum, they become red-hot with holy fervour, they overcome all opposition, and then they become visible to the eye of mankind. For my part, I rather like to pass through an opposing medium. I think that we all want to travel in that kind of atmosphere just to give us the sacred friction that will fully develop the powers with which we have been entrusted. If God has given us force, it is not at all a bad thing for us to be put where there is opposition, because we shall not be stopped by it, but shall by that very process be made to shine all the brighter as lights in the world. (The Sciences as Sources of Illustration.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Samuel 22". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent