Philip P. Wells.

Bible Stories and Religious Classics online

. (page 12 of 36)
Online LibraryPhilip P. WellsBible Stories and Religious Classics → online text (page 12 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and was buried with his fathers. This David was an holy man and made the
holy psalter, which is an holy book and is contained therein the old law
and the new law. He was a great prophet, for he prophesied the coming of
Christ, his nativity, his passion, and resurrection, and also his
ascension, and was great with God, yet God would not suffer him to build
a temple for him, for he had shed man's blood. But God said to him, his
son that should reign after him should be a man peaceable, and he should
build the temple to God. And when David had reigned forty years king of
Jerusalem, over Judah and Israel, he died in good mind, and was buried
with his fathers in the city of David.


THE SONG OF DAVID


He sang of God, the mighty source
Of all things, the stupendous force
On which all strength depends;
From whose right arm, beneath whose eyes,
All period, power, and enterprise
Commences, reigns, and ends.

The world, the clustering spheres he made,
The glorious light, the soothing shade,
Dale, champaign, grove, and hill:
The multitudinous abyss,
Where secrecy remains in bliss,
And wisdom hides her skill.

Tell them, I AM, Jehovah said
To Moses: while Earth heard in dread,
And, smitten to the heart,
At once, above, beneath, around,
All Nature, without voice or sound,
Replied, "O Lord, THOU ART."

_ - C. Smart_


THE STORY OF A CUP OF WATER

BY THEODORE T. MUNGER

[From "Lamps and Paths," by courtesy of Houghton, Mifflin & Co.]

Be noble! and the nobleness that lies
In other men, sleeping, but never dead,
Will rise in majesty to meet thine own.

- James Russell Lowell: _Sonnet IV_

Restore to God his due in tithe and time:
A tithe purloined cankers the whole estate.
Sundays observe: think, when the bells do chime,
'Tis angels' music; therefore come not late.
God there deals blessings. If a king did so,
Who would not haste, nay give, to see the show?

- George Herbert

O Lord, that lends me life,
Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness!

_ - King Henry VI.,_ Part II.; i. I

_"And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the
water of the well of Bethlehem, that is at the gate! And the three brake
through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of
Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David:
but David would not drink of it, but poured it out to the Lord, and
said, My God forbid it me, that I should do this thing: shall I drink
the blood of these men that have put their lives in jeopardy? for with
the jeopardy of their lives they brought it. Therefore he would not
drink it."_ - I Chronicles xi. 17-19


If any of my young friends ask why I have read this long-time-ago
Bible-story as a text for a sermon to-day, I will not only answer, but
thank them for the question; for nothing helps a speaker at the start so
much as a straight, intelligent question. I have read this story from
the Chronicles, because I want to connect this beautiful occasion with
some beautiful thing in the Bible; for beautiful things go together.

My main object and desire in this service is to have everything
beautiful and pure and high. For I know how well you will remember this
day in after years; I know how every feature and incident is imprinting
itself upon your minds; I know how, twenty and forty years hence, when
we older ones will be dead and gone, and you will be scattered far and
wide, some in the great cities - New York, Chicago, St. Louis - some in
California, and some further off still - I know how, on quiet June
Sundays years hence, you will recall this Festival of Flowers in North
Adams. You may be in some of the great cities, or on the broad prairies,
or among the park-like forests of the Sierra, or in Puget Sound, but you
will never forget this day. These familiar walls; this pulpit and font
and chancel decked with flowers; this service, made _for_ you and in
part _by_ you - you will never forget it. And because you will always
remember it, I want to have it throughout just as beautiful, just as
pure and inspiring, as possible. The flowers will do their part; they
never fail to speak sweet, pure words to us. Your Superintendent always
does his part well, and I hope you will all thank him in your hearts, if
not in words, for his faithful and laborious interest in you. And your
teachers and others who have brought together this wealth of beauty,
this glory of color and perfume, this tribute of sweetness from
mountain-side and field and garden - they have done well; and you will
remember it all years hence, and when far away, and perhaps some tears
will start for "the days that are no more."

But this occasion would not be complete to my mind if there were not
linked with it some noble and inspiring trutn. I want to make all these
flowers and this music the setting of a truth, like a diamond set round
with emeralds, or an opal with pearls. _You_ have brought the pearls and
the emeralds; _I_ must bring a diamond or an opal to set in the midst of
them. I am very sure that I have one in this old story - a diamond very
brilliant if we brush away the old Hebrew dust, and cut away the sides
and let in a little more light upon it. I am not sure, however, but I
ought to call it a pearl rather than a diamond; for there is a chaste
and gentle modesty about it that reminds one of the soft lustre of a
pearl rather than of the flashing splendor of a diamond. St. John, in
naming the precious stones that make the foundation of the heavenly
city, omits the diamond - and for some good reason, I suspect - while the
twelve gates were all pearls. Now, I think David stood very near one of
those gates of pearl at the time of this story. To my mind, it is nearly
the most beautiful in all this Book; and I know you will listen while I
tell it more fully.

I have this impression of David - that if you had seen him when he was
young, you would have thought him the most glorious human being you had
ever looked on. He was one of those persons who fascinate all who come
near them. He bound everybody to him in a wonderful way. They not only
_liked_ him, but they became absorbed in him, and were ready to obey
him, and serve him, and to give themselves up to him in every way
possible. I am not at all surprised that Saul's son and daughter and
Saul himself fell in love with, and could hardly live without, him. It
was so all along; and even after he became an old man everybody was
fascinated by him - even his old uncles - and stood ready to do his
bidding and consult his wishes.

It was somewhat so with Richard Coeur de Lion and Napoleon and Mary
Stuart and Alexander and Julius Cæsar; but the personal fascination of
none of these persons was so great as that of David. In some respects he
was no greater than some of these; but he had a broader and more lovable
nature than any of them, for he had what not one of them had in anything
like the same degree - a great and noble generosity. David deserved all
the love that was lavished upon him, because - let men love him ever so
much - he loved more in return.

There was not apparently, at this early time of his life, one grain of
selfishness about him. You know that the word _chivalry_ was not used
till about a thousand years back, while David lived almost three times
as long ago; but he was one of the most _chivalrous_ men that ever
lived. By chivalry I mean a union of honor, purity, religion, nobleness,
bravery, and devotion to a cause or person. David excited this chivalric
devotion in others because he had so much of it in himself. And here I
will stop a moment just to say that if you want to awaken any feeling
in another toward yourself, you must first have it in yourself. I think
there is a very general notion that in order to awaken admiration and
love and regard in others one must have a fine appearance. There is a
great deal of misplaced faith in fine clothes and bright eyes and clear
complexions and pretty features; but I have yet to learn that these ever
win genuine love and admiration. And so far as I have observed, a true
sentiment only grows out of a corresponding sentiment; feeling comes
from feeling; in short, others come at last to feel toward us just about
as we feel toward them. And I never knew a person, young or old, to show
a kind, generous, hearty disposition to others who was not surrounded by
friends. And I have seen - I know not how many - selfish and unobliging
and unsympathetic persons go friendless all their days in spite of
wealth and fine appearance. Now, put this away in your memory to think
of hereafter.

It was David's great-heartedness that bound others to him. At the time
of this story he was a sort of outlaw, driven without any good reason
from the court of Saul. But he was a man of too much spirit to allow
himself to be tamely killed, and he loved Saul and his family too well
to actually make war upon him, and he was too good a patriot to give
trouble to his country - a pretty hard place he had to fill, I can assure
you. But he was equal to it, and simply bided his time, drawing off into
the wild and rocky regions where he could hide and also protect himself.
But he was not a man whom people would leave alone. The magnetic power
that was in him drew kindred spirits, and some that were not kindred who
found it pleasanter to follow a chief in the wilds than to live in the
dull quiet of their homes. But the greater part of them were brave,
generous, devoted souls, who had come to the conclusion that to live
with David and fight his battles and share his fortunes was more
enjoyable than to plod along under Saul and his petty tyrannies. There
were, in particular, eleven men of the tribe of Gad - mountaineers - fierce
as lions and swift as roes, terrible men in battle, and full of devotion
to David. In this way he got together quite a little army, which he used
to defend the borders from the Philistines, who were a thieving set, and
also to defend himself in case Saul troubled him. It was not exactly the
best sort of a life for a man to live; and had not David been a person
of very high principles, his followers would have been a band of robbers
living on the country. But David prevented that, and made them as useful
as was possible. His headquarters were at the cave of Adullam, or what
is now called Engedi. While here, the Philistines came on a foraging
expedition as far as Bethlehem, and with so large a force that David and
his few followers were shut up in their fortress - for how long we do not
know - probably for some days. It was very dull and wearisome business,
imprisoned in a rocky defile and unable to do anything, while the
Philistines were stealing the harvests that grew on the very spot where
he had spent his boyhood.

It was then that what has always seemed to me a very touching and
beautiful trait of David's character showed itself, and that is - _a
feeling of homesickness_. Now, there is very little respect to be had
for a person who is not capable of homesickness. To give up to it may be
weak, but to be incapable of it is a bad sign. But in David it took a
very poetic form. Close by was the home where he was born. There, in
Bethlehem, he had passed the dreamy years of his childhood and youth
amid the love of his parents and brothers, whom he now had with him;
there he fed his sheep and sang to his harp; and there, morning and
evening, he gathered with others about the well - the meeting-place of
his companions - loved with all the passionate energy of his nature, and
still loved in spite of the troublous times that had come upon him. As
David broods over these memories, he longs with a yearning, homesick
feeling for Bethlehem and its well. And, like a poet as he was, he
conceives that if he could but drink of its water, it would relieve this
feverish unrest and longing for the past. It was a very natural feeling.
You are too young to know what it means; but we who are older think of
these little things in a strange, yearning way. It is the little things
of childhood that we long for - to lie under the roof on which we heard
the rain patter years and years ago; to gather fruit in the old orchard;
to fish in the same streams; to sit on the same rock, or under the same
elm or maple, and see the sun go down behind the same old hills; to
drink from the same spring that refreshed us in summer days that will
not come again - _you_ are too young for this, but we who are older know
well how David felt. He was not a man to hide his feelings, and so he
uttered his longing for the water of the well by the gate of Bethlehem.
His words are overheard; and three of these terrible followers of
his - fierce as lions and fleet as deer - took their swords and fought
their way through the Philistines, slaying we know not how many, and
brought back some of the water. It was enough for _them_ that David
wanted it.

Now, some people would say that it was very foolish and sentimental of
David to be indulging in such a whim, and still more foolish in these
men to gratify it at the risk of their lives; but I think there is a
better way of looking at it. If David had _required_ them to procure the
water at the risk of their lives, it would have been very wrong; but the
whole thing was unknown to him till the water was brought. I prefer to
regard it as an act of splendid heroism, prompted by chivalric devotion,
and I will not stop to consider whether or not it was sensible and
prudent. And I want to say to you that whenever you see or hear of an
action that has these qualities of heroism and generosity and devotion,
it is well to admire and praise it, whether it will bear the test of
cold reason or not. I hope your hearts will never get to be so dry and
hard that they will not beat responsive to brave and noble deeds, even
if they are not exactly prudent.

But David took even a higher view of this brave and tender act of his
lion-faced, deer-footed followers. It awoke his religious feelings; for
our sense of what is noble and generous and brave lies very close to
our religious sensibilities. The whole event passes, in David's mind,
into the field of religion; and so what does he do? Drink the water, and
praise his three mighty warriors, and bid them never again run such
risks to gratify his chance wishes? No. David looks a great deal further
into the matter than this. The act seemed to him to have a religious
character; its devotion was so complete and unselfish that it became
sacred. He felt what I have just said - that a brave and devoted act that
incurs danger is almost if not quite a religious act. And so he treats
it in a religious way. He is anxious to separate it from himself,
although done for him, and get it into a service done for God; and he
may have thought that he had himself been a little selfish. To his mind
it would have been a mean and low repayment to these men to drink their
water with loud praises of their valor. They had done a Godlike deed,
and so he will transfer it to God, and make it an act as between them
and God. I do not know that those lion-faced, deer-footed warriors
understood or appreciated his treatment of their act; but David himself
very well knew what he was about, and you can see that he acted in a
very high and true way. He will not drink the water, but pours it out
unto the Lord, and lets it sink into the ground unused, and, because
unused, a sort of sacrifice and offering to God. Water got with such
valor and risk was not for man, but for God. Much less was it right to
use it to gratify a dreamy whim that had in it perhaps just a touch of
selfishness. The bravery and danger had made the water sacred, and so
he will make a sacred use of it.

If any one thinks that David was carried away by sentimentality, or that
he was overscrupulous, one has only to recall how, when _actually_ in
want, he took the consecrated bread from the Tabernacle at Nob, and ate
it and gave it to his followers. His strong common-sense told him that
even consecrated bread was not too good for hungry men; but that same
fine common-sense told him that water procured at the risk of life, when
not actually wanted, had become sacred, and had better be turned into a
sort of prayer and offering to God than wantonly drunk.

And now, having the story well in mind, I will close by drawing out from
it one or two lessons that seem to me very practical.

Suppose we were to ask, Who acted in the noblest way - the three strong
men who got the water, or David, who made a sacrifice or libation of it?
It does not take us long to answer. The real greatness of the whole
affair was with the three men, though David put a beautiful meaning upon
it, and exalted it to its true place. Their act was very brave and
lofty; but David crowned it with its highest grace by carrying it on
into religion - that is, by setting it before God.

I see a great many people who are living worthy lives, doing a great
many kind acts and rendering beautiful services, but do not take God
into their thoughts, nor render their services as unto Him. I think
everybody must see that this act of these lion-faced men was more
complete when David took it before God than as rendered for himself.
Why, it might take long to tell; but, briefly, it was because the
nameless grace of religion has been added to it, and because it was
connected with that great, dear Name that hallows everything brought
under it.

Many of you have brought here offerings of flowers, sweet and fit for
this day and place and purpose. Some may have brought them simply with
the thought of helping out the occasion, or to please your teacher, or
because it is beautiful in itself to heap up beauty in this large way;
but if, as you worked here yesterday, or brought your flowers to-day,
your thoughts silently rose to God, saying, "These are for _Thy_
altars - this glory of tint and perfume is not for us, but for
_Thee_" - then, I think, every poet, every person of fine feeling, every
true thinker, would say that the latter is more beautiful than the
former. I hate to see a life that does not take hold of God; I hate to
see fine acts and brave lives and noble dispositions and generous
emotions that do not reach up into a sense of God; I hate to see
persons - and I see a great many such nowadays - striving after beautiful
lives and true sentiments and large thoughts without ever a word of
prayer, or thought of God, or anything to show they love and venerate
Christ. I hate to see it, both because they might rise so much higher
and because at last it fails; for God must enter into every thought and
sentiment and purpose in order to make it genuine, and truly beautiful,
and altogether right. That God may be in your thoughts; that you may
learn to confess Him in all your ways, to serve and fear and know and
love him - this is the wish with which I greet you to-day, and the prayer
that I offer in your behalf.

I found, the other day, some lines by Faber - a Catholic poet - so
beautifully giving this last thought of our sermon that I will read them
to you:

"Oh God! who wert my childhood's love,
My boyhood's pure delight,
A presence felt the livelong day,
A welcome fear at night,

"I know not what I thought of Thee;
What picture I had made
Of that Eternal Majesty
To whom my childhood prayed.

"With age Thou grewest more divine,
More glorious than before;
I feared Thee with a deeper fear,
Because I loved Thee more.

"Thou broadenest out with every year
Each breath of life to meet.
I scarce can think Thou art the same,
Thou art so much more sweet.

"Father! what hast Thou grown to now?
A joy all joys above,
Something more sacred than a fear,
More tender than a love.

"With gentle swiftness lead me on,
Dear God! to see Thy face;
And meanwhile in my narrow heart,
Oh, make Thyself more space."


THE HISTORY OF SOLOMON


After David, reigned Solomon his son, which was in the beginning a good
man and walked in the ways and laws of God. And all the kings about him
made peace with him and was king confirmed, obeyed and peaceable in his
possession, and according to his father's commandment did justice. First
on Joab that had been prince of his father's host, because he slew two
good men by treason and guile, that was Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa
the son of Ithra. And Joab was afeard and dreaded Solomon, and fled into
the Tabernacle of our Lord and held the end of the altar. And Solomon
sent Benaiah and slew him there, and after buried him in his house in
desert. And after this on a night as he lay in his bed after he had
sacrificed to our Lord in Gibeon, our Lord appeared to him in his sleep
saying to him: Ask and demand what thou wilt that I may give to thee.
And Solomon said: Lord, thou hast done to my father great mercy; because
he walked in thy ways in truth, justice, and a rightful heart, thou hast
always kept for him thy great mercy, and hast given to him a son sitting
upon this throne as it is this day. And now Lord thou hast made me thy
servant to reign for my father David. I am a little child and know not
my going out and entering in, and I thy servant am set in the middle of
the people that thou hast chosen which be infinite, and may not be
numbered for multitude; therefore Lord give to me thy servant a heart
docile and taught in wisdom that may judge thy people, and discern
between good and evil. Who may judge this people, thy people that be so
many? This request and demand pleased much unto God that Solomon had
asked such a thing. And God said to Solomon: Because thou hast required
and asked this and hast not asked long life, ne riches, ne the souls of
thine enemies, but hast asked sapience and wisdom to discern doom and
judgment, I have given to thee after thy desire and request, and I have
given to thee a wise heart and understanding insomuch that there was
never none such tofore, ne never after shall be. And also those things
that thou hast not asked I have given also to thee, that is to say
riches and glory, that no man shall be like to thee among all the kings
that shall be after thy days. If thou walk in my ways and keep my
precepts and observe my commandments as thy father walked, I shall make
thy days long. After this Solomon awoke and came to Jerusalem, and stood
tofore the Ark of our Lord and offered sacrifices and victims unto our
Lord, and made a great feast unto all his servants and household. Then
came tofore him two women, of which that one said: I beseech thee my
lord hear me; this woman and I dwelled together in one house, and I was
delivered of a child in my cubicle [sleeping room], and the third day
after she bare a child, and was also delivered, and we were together
and none other in the house but we twain, and it was so that this
woman's son was dead in the night; for she sleeping, overlaid and
oppressed him, and she arose in the darkest of the night privily, and
took my son from the side of me thy servant and laid him by her, and her
son that was dead she laid by me. When I arose in the morning for to
give milk to my son it appeared dead, whom I took beholding him
diligently in the clear light, understood well anon that it was not my
son that I had borne. The other woman answered and said: It was not so
as thou sayest, but my son liveth and thine is dead. And contrary that
other said: Thou liest: my son liveth and thine is dead. Thus in this
wise they strove tofore the king. Then the king said: This woman saith
my son liveth and thine is dead, and this answereth Nay, but thy son is
dead, and mine liveth. Then the king said: Bring to me here a sword.
When they had brought forth a sword the king said: Divide ye, said he,
the living child in two parts, and give that one half to that one, and
that other half to that other. Then said the woman that was mother of
the living child to the king, for all her members and bowels were moved
upon her son: I beseech and pray thee, my lord, give to her the child
alive, and slay him not, and contrary said that other woman: Let it not
be given to me ne to thee, but let it be divided. The king then answered
and said: Give the living child to this woman, and let it not be slain;
this is verily the mother. All Israel heard how wisely the king had
given this sentence and dreaded him, seeing that the wisdom of God was
in him in deeming of rightful dooms.

After this Solomon sent his messengers to divers kings for cedar trees
and for workmen, for to make and build a temple unto our Lord. Solomon
was rich and glorious, and all the realms from the river of the ends of
the Philistines unto the end of Egypt were accorded with him, and
offered to him gifts and to serve him all the days of his life. Solomon



Online LibraryPhilip P. WellsBible Stories and Religious Classics → online text (page 12 of 36)