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William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

David, king of Israel: his life and its lessons online

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nation, monarchical or republican, has ever stood, unless it
has been founded on the moral excellence of the people.
The Roman republic became an easy prey to the ambitious
grasp of Caesar, when the virtues of its ancient worthies gave



262 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

place to luxury, lasciviousness, and dishonesty ; and the re-
peated failures of France in modern times to rise to the re-
sponsibility of self-government have been due to the absence
among the people of those solid qualities which religion fos-
ters, and the presence in the midst of them of every vilest sort
of abomination. Let us be instructed by such melancholy
instances, and improve the opportunity which God' has given
us, by seeking to form the character of the people on the
basis of the Word of God. No law upon the statute-book,
no formal insertion of the name of Deity in the Constitution,
will make a nation Christian ; nothing can do that but the
Christianity of the people themselves ; and every man who is
laboring to make the masses Christian is in the highest and
the purest sense a patriot. Let each citizen-king be ani-
mated with the public-spiritedness and deep religious fervor
which the Gospel produces ; and then " all nations shall call
us blessed, for we shall be a delightsome land."

Finally: let us take note of the principle on which the
honors of the kingdom of Christ are distributed, as distin-
guished from that on which David proceeded, in the found-
ing of his order of merit. The men whom he exalted were
warriors, who had done daring deeds upon the field of bat-
tle. Of one it is told that " he slew eight hundred at one
time ;" of another it is said that " he smote the Philistines
until his hand was weary, and clave unto his sword ;" of an-
other, that " he lifted up his spear against three hundred, and
slew them." Nor would I seek to disparage such deeds ;
for when war becomes a necessity, as it sometimes does,
every man's heart glows with admiration of such dauntless
courage. But there is a nobler heroism even than that the
heroism of love ; and this it is that Jesus evermore delights
to honor. To "drink of his cup," and to be "baptized with his
baptism," is the road to this renown, and it is to be won, not
by destroying men's lives, but by saving them, if need be,



DAVID'S ADMINISTRATION. 263

even by the sacrifice of our own. The field on which this
heroism is to be shown is that of daily life, and the insignia
of this knighthood not withering and perishable like those
of earth, but enduring as immortality itself may be gained
even by the lowliest follower of the Lamb. He who in his
own character shall approximate the nearest to the Lord,
he who, in his self-sacrificing devotion to the salvation of
men, shall come the closest to the death of Christ upon the
cross, shall be the greatest ; while the humble believer who
gives a cup of cold water to a disciple in the name of a dis-
ciple shall in no wise be forgotten. This is the law of the
kingdom, as sanctioned and illustrated by the example of
the King himself.

" For He before whose sceptre

The nations rise or fall,
Who gives no least commandment

But come to pass it shall,
Said that he who would be greatest

Should be servant unto all.

" And in conflict with the evils

Which his bright creation mars,

Laid he not aside the sceptre
Which can reach to all the stars ?

Of the service which he rendered
See on his hand the scars !"

Forth, then, my hearers, and seek this deathless honor.
You may find opportunities of winning it, at every corner of
the streets, in every home, in any place. Lift up the fallen ;
comfort the mourner ; relieve the destitute ; remember the
forgotten ; nurse the sick ; wipe the death-damp from the
brow of the sufferer in his last agony ; tell the ignorant of
Jesus, and sacrifice yourself, if need be, for the good of oth-
ers. So shall you win a place in the peerage of the skies,
and obtain honorable mention among the worthies of the ce-
lestial kingdom.



XV.

THE GREAT TRANSGRESSION.

2 SAMUEL xi., 27.

NOT without the deepest reluctance do I compel my-
self to-night to make public allusion to the great blem-
ish of David's career. Willingly would I have passed it over
in silence, or attempted, like Noah's sons, to go backward
and drop over it the mantle of concealment. But to have
done that would only have been to leave out of the Psalm-
ist's history its most solemn lesson, while it would have ren-
dered all but unintelligible to you the appalling calamities
that came upon him in his later days. Hence, I can see no
way of evading the consideration of this painful subject, and
my earnest prayer is that the God of purity may so guide
me that I shall speak only words of wisdom.

The details of the matter are so fully given in the narra-
tive, that I need not enter upon them. I shall, therefore,
keeping our own spiritual profit in view, endeavor to set be-
fore you the precursors of David's fall, the aggravations of
his sin, the penitence he manifested, the forgiveness he re-
ceived, and the consequences which flowed from his iniquity.

Let us look, first, at the precursors of David's fall. You
never find in a man's history such a sin as this was, without
discovering that certain things have gone before which help
to explain its commission. You will generally discover that
a variety of circumstances combined to put him into a state
of heart which was, if I may so express it, just ready for re-
ceiving and yielding to the temptation by which he was as-
sailed. At another time the evil suggestion would have



THE GREAT TRANSGRESSION. 265

been at once repelled ; but then, in consequence of certain
foregoing things, he had so weakened himself, that he yield-
ed almost without a struggle. This, at least, appears to have
been the case with David, and it may greatly help to stir us
up to watchfulness, if we can find out how such a man as he
undoubtedly was, came to fall so easy a prey to the great
Tempter.

Now, in searching for an answer to this inquiry, let us note,
in the first place, that for a long course of years he had en-
joyed, virtually, unbroken prosperity. Ever since he had
come to the throne of united Israel, things seem to have
gone well with him. He had hardly known what it was, as
a warrior, to suffer a defeat ; or, as a monarch, to endure un-
popularity and the antagonism of his people. But all this
was highly dangerous to him ; for the influence of such an
experience, even on the best of men, is to weaken their spir-
itual character, and make them more tolerant of evil both in
themselves and others. Like Moab, David during these
years had not been " emptied from vessel to vessel," and
so he had "settled upon his lees." "Because he had no
changes," his will became more feeble, his conscience weak-
er, and his whole nature less sensitive to sin.

Again, let it be observed that this sad episode occurred
during a period of idleness. The army, with which he should
have been, was at Rabbah, seeking to consummate the de-
struction of Ammon, which in a former campaign had been
begun ; " but David tarried still at Jerusalem." This was
hardly like the warrior-king. It seemed almost as if effemi-
nacy was beginning in him, and he was preferring, for no
good reason which one can see, the luxury of the palace to
the hardship and peril of the camp. Besides this, in the ab-
sence of his mighty men, he would be deprived -of his usual
companions, and left very much to himself. Hence it is
natural to suppose that he was living, just then, an aimless,

12



266 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

idle, and luxurious life, and was consequently peculiarly open
to the suggestions of the adversary. Satan tempts other
men ; but the idle man tempts Satan, and very soon the evil
one finds him something to do.

Once more let it be noted, that when at such a time Satan
comes to a man, he makes his appeal to that particular part
of his nature where passion is strongest and principle is
weakest. Now in David what that was might be very easily
discovered. From an early period of his career, he had been
especially susceptible in the very matter in which now he
fell. This fs evident from his marriage of Abigail, and also
from the great latitude in which he allowed himself, after his
settlement in Jerusalem, in respect to his harem. Polyga-
my, though not forbidden by the Mosaic law, was regulated
and discouraged ; but David proceeded as if it had been a
perfectly warrantable and legitimate thing, and this conduct
on his part undoubtedly tended to weaken his impression of
the sanctity of marriage. That sense of delicacy and chas-
tity, which has such a purifying and preserving influence on
the life, could not flourish side by side with the polygamy in
which he permitted himself ; and so, though he thought not
of it at the time, his taking of many wives to himself pre-
pared the way for the revolting iniquity which he committed.*
Here, then, in the moral weakness which constant prosper-
ity had created, in the opportunity which idleness afforded
to temptation, and in the blunted sensibility which polygamy
had superinduced, we see how David was so easily overcome.



* It is a strong verification of this view of the case that, as indeed
Blaikie has remarked (" David, King of Israel : the Divine Plan, and
Lessons of his Life," p. 145), while, in the confession of the 5ist Psalm,
" he specifies the sin of blood-guiltiness, and seems to have been over-
whelmed with a sense of his meanness, injustice, and selfishness, there is
no special allusion to the sin of adultery, and no special indication of
that sin pressing heavy on his conscience."



THE GREAT TRANSGRESSION. 267

But let us turn now to look at the aggravations by which
this iniquity was accompanied. No one great sin ever stands
alone. Either other sins of less apparent enormity have led
up to it, or additional transgressions have been committed
for the purpose of concealing it from public view. This last
was true in the present instance ; for, after having unsuccess-
fully attempted, in the meanest possible manner, to use Uri-
ah himself for the purpose of hiding the consequences of
his iniquity, David wrote that diabolical letter to Joab, which,
though it was virtually Uriah's death-warrant, he asked the
victim to deliver with his own hand. Alas ! alas ! "how are
the mighty fallen !" Is this the man according to God's own
heart ? The time was when, in tenderness of conscience, he
upbraided himself for cutting off the skirt of Saul's robe ;
but here he is compassing the destruction of one of the
bravest and most devoted of his own officers. One might
have thought that his very application to the cunning, treach-
erous, and unscrupulous Joab might have roused the torpid
moral sense of David, for there was nothing in common be-
tween them, at least so far as David's better nature was con-
cerned ; but in the present instance, it was Joab's very wick-
edness that commended him to the king as the most fitting
instrument for carrying out his infamous design. Nay, per-
haps the fact that Joab was there may have suggested to
him this particular method of getting rid of the Hittite, for
"oft the sight of means to do ill deeds makes ill deeds
done ;" and so it may well have been that David is reaping
here the pestilential fruits of his sparing Joab, when justice
demanded his execution for the murder of Abner. In any
case, here is David, whom God had honored and blessed,
who had every thing that was necessary to comfort and hap-
piness, and who had reached a time of life when he could no
longer plead either the inexperience or the passion of youth,
betrayed into all this terrible wickedness. The sin which



268 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

was committed in the moment of passion prepares the way
for the premeditated villainy of murder; for murder the
slaughter of Uriah was, just as really as if David himself
had stabbed him under the fifth rib. " Lord, what is man ?"
If this be true, who among us is safe if he should remit his
watchfulness for but a single hour ?

But it may be asked, How can you account for such enor-
mous iniquity in such a man as we have seen that David
was ? To this I answer, that we may explain it by the ab-
sence for the time being of that restraining influence which
his better nature was wont to exercise over his life. Passion
had dethroned conscience ; and then, owing to the intensity
of his character, and the general greatness of the man, his
sins became as much blacker than those of others as his
good qualities were greater than theirs. In every good man
there are still two natures striving for the mastery. " The
flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the
flesh." The new nature is generally in the ascendant, but
sometimes the old evil nature will re-assert its supremacy,
and the effect of this temporary revolution will be deter-
mined by the temperament and characteristics of the indi-
vidual. Now there are some men in whom every thing is
on a large scale. When their good nature is uppermost,
they overtop all others in holiness ; but if, unhappily, they
should be thrown off their guard, and the old man should
gain the mastery, some dreadful wickedness may be expect-
ed. This is all the more likely to be the case if the quality
of intensity be added to their greatness; for a man with
such a temperament is never any thing by half. But it was
just thus with David. He was a man of great intensity and
pre-eminent energy. He was in every respect above ordi-
nary men ; and so when, for the time, the fleshly nature was
the stronger within him, the sins which he committed were
as much greater than those of common men, as in other cir-



THE GREAT TRANSGRESSION. 269

cumstances his excellencies were nobler than theirs. We
often make great mistakes in judging of the characters of
others, because we ignore all these considerations ; and
many well-conducted persons among us get great credit for
their good moral character, while the truth is that they are
blameless not so much because they have higher-toned prin-
ciple than others, as because they have feeble, timid natures,
that are too cautious or too weak to let them go very far
either into holiness or into sin. But David was not one
of these. Every thing about him was intense ; and hence,
when he sinned, he did it in such a way as to make well-
nigh the most hardened shudder. In all this, observe, I am
not extenuating David's guilt. It is one thing to explain, it
is another thing to excuse. A man of David's nature ought
to be more peculiarly on his guard than other men. The
express train, dashing along at furious speed, will do more
mischief if it runs off the line than the slow-going horse-car
in our city streets. Every one understands that ; but every
one demands, in consequence, that the driver of the one
shall be proportionately more watchful than that of the oth-
er. Now with such a nature as David had, and knew that
he had, he ought to have been supremely on his guard, while
again the privileges which he had received from God render-
ed it both easy and practicable for him to be vigilant. To
sum up all, then, taking David's nature as it is here set be-
fore us, I can perfectly well understand how, when he sin-
ned, he sinned so terribly ; while having regard to his privi-
leges and position, his sin appears to be utterly inexcusable.
Nothing can be said either in its vindication or extenuation.
From first to last, it illustrates the climax of the apostle ; and
as we trace its course we call it "earthly, sensual, devilish."
May the analysis of it at this time lead us to keep a good
outlook, so that we may not go down upon the rocks on
which he struck.



270 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

But now let us look briefly at his penitence. This was a
long time in making its appearance. For at least a year, if
not more, David carried on his conscience, unconfessed and
unforgiven, the burden of these heinous iniquities. During
that time Uriah had been slain ; he had added Bath-sheba
to the number of his wives ; the child of guilt and shame
had been born ; and yet there was no token of sorrow or re-
gret about the king ; nay, perhaps, during that time he had
even continued the formal observance of God's worship, both
in the sacred tent and in his household ; but there was no
acknowledgment of his transgression. It must not be sup-
posed, however, that he was quite happy. On the contrary,
he must have been ill at ease, and there are not wanting in-
dications that he was really miserable ; for the campaign
against Rabbah, of which we have the record in the twelfth
chapter of 2 Samuel, must be held as having occurred before
Nathan's visit to him ; and in his conduct in connection with
that siege there are evidences that there was some irritating
thing within him which disturbed his usual magnanimity of
disposition. Thus, in ordinary circumstances, when he re-
ceived the message of Joab, asking him to come and take
the city in person, the chivalrous spirit of the king would
have prompted him to say that he who had so efficiently
conducted the expedition thus far should not be robbed by
him of the honor of bringing it to a successful issue ; but as
it was, the enterprise promised him an opportunity for a time
of escaping from himself, and he probably went thither in
the maddest of all attempts, that, namely, of outrunning a
guilty conscience. Then, in his treatment of the fallen foe,
we trace the haughty and vindictive spirit of one who was
suffering from some hidden remorse. Nothing will make
the temper so sour, or the heart so cruel, as a conscience ill
at ease ; hence, when we read that he put the people un-
der saws and under harrows of iron, and made them to pass



THE GREAT TRANSGRESSION. 271

through the brick-kiln, we instinctively understand that the
inner gnawing of remorse had made him for the time dead
to the promptings of generosity, and disposed him to the
commission of the most capricious cruelty. But this condi-
tion of heart was not to be perpetual. " The thing that Da-
vid had done displeased the Lord ;" and just because, in
spite of all he had done, he was one of the Lord's own, he
must be brought to a better mind. This was accomplished
by the visit of Nathan, and the bold, manly application which
he made to the king himself of the exquisite parable of the
ewe lamb. On that parable we dare hardly presume to offer
a remark. It is so finished in its beauty, so admirable in its
construction, so perfect in its adaptation to the end which
the divine messenger had in view, as to stand out incompa-
rably the finest thing of its kind which the Old Testament
contains. We can picture to ourselves the interview. Na-
than, passing through the palace of cedar, leaves warriors
and statesmen in the outer chamber, and, with a heart heavy
with the burden of the Lord, enters the royal closet. He
tells his touching story with simple pathos, his voice, may-
hap, quivering with emotion, as he says, " It grew up togeth-
er with him, and with his children ; it did eat of his own
meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and
was unto him as a daughter." Then, with an eye flashing
with honest indignation, he speaks of the rich man's unfeel-
ing covetousness and cruelty ; and ere he has well ceased,
the king, in the impatience of his anger, exclaims, "As the
Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely
die : and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did
this thing, and because he had no pity." Then, with the
faithful directness of a man of God, the prophet makes reply,
" Thou art the man." In a moment David sees all that he
had done ; and as one article after another of Nathan's sol-
emn indictment falls upon his ear, he acknowledges the



272 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

truth of each, until, humbled to the very dust, he cries, in se-
verest agony, " I have sinned against the Lord."

It may seem to some, that a penitence thus suddenly pro-
duced could be neither very deep nor very thorough. But
to those who think thus, three things must be said.

First : an impression may be produced in a moment which
will remain indelible. We have heard, for example, of one
who, as he was traveling in an Alpine region at midnight,
saw for an instant, by the brilliancy of a flash of lightning,
that he was in such a position that another step would have
been over a fearful precipice, and the effect upon him was
that he started back and waited for the morning dawn.
Now such a flash of lightning into the darkness of David's
soul, this " Thou art the man," of Nathan's, was to him. It
revealed to him, by its momentary brilliance, the full aggra-
vation of his iniquity. He did not need or desire a second
sight of it. That was enough to stir him up to hatred of his
sin, and of himself.

But, second : we must, in connection with this narrative,
read the Psalms to which David's penitence gave birth, name-
ly, the 5ist and the 320! ; and if these are not the genuine
utterances of a passionate sincerity, where shall we find that
quality in any literature ? Admirably has Chandler said of
the 5ist Psalm : " The heart appears in every line ; and the
bitter anguish of a wounded conscience discovers itself by
the most natural and convincing symbols. Let but the
Psalm be read without prejudice, and with a view only to col-
lect the real sentiments expressed in it, and the disposition
of heart that appears throughout the whole of it, and no
man of candor, I am confident, will ever suspect that it was
the dictate of hypocrisy, or could be penned from any other
motive but a strong conviction of the heinousness of his of-
fense, and the earnest desire of God's forgiveness, and being
restrained from the commission of the like transgressions for



THE GREAT TRANSGRESSION. 273

the future."* But lest the testimony of this author should
be accounted as partial, let me put before you another of a
different sort. Voltaire once attempted to burlesque this
Psalm, and what was the result ? While carefully perusing
it, that he might familiarize himself with the train of senti-
ment which he designed to caricature, he became so op-
pressed and overawed by its solemn devotional tone, that he
threw down the pen and fell back half senseless on his
couch, in an agony of remorse. This is told as an un-
doubted fact by Dr. Leander Van Ess. Hence we can not
but admit the depth and fervor of the penitence out of which
such a prayer arose ; and though the 32d Psalm is more ju-
bilant in its tone, as referring to forgiveness in actual posses-
sion, the very gladness which it expresses is a witness to the
sadness for sin which had gone before.

Furthermore, as another evidence of the genuineness of
David's repentance, we point to the words of Nathan, " The
Lord also hath put away thy sin," and ask if the prophet, as
Jehovah's representative, would have said any thing like that,
if the penitence of David had been insincere. On the whole,
therefore, while we mourn over the grievous iniquity of which
David was guilty, let us be thankful that we have, along with
the record of his sin, the account of his repentance a re-
pentance, let us say, as much more intense than that of ordi-
nary men as his sin was more heinous. There was no at-
tempt at self-vindication ; there was no plea in palliation ;
there was nothing but the frank confession, " I acknowledge
my transgression ;" " I have sinned ;" " My sin is ever before
me." Nor was it the shame of his iniquity before men, or
the fear of the punishment which he had incurred, that dis-
tressed him. His deepest anguish was that he had displeased
the Lord : "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done

* Chandler's " Life of David," p. 427.
12*



274 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

this evil in thy sight." This was the burden of his confes-
sion, and the earnest longing of his soul was expressed in
these words : " Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation."
It were well that these considerations were more frequently
remembered. Many make a mock at David's sin, who say
nothing of his repentance. It is enough for them to read in
one place that he was the man according to God's own heart,
and in another that he committed these great sins, and forth-
with they turn the battery of their scorn on the religion of
the Bible. But all such procedure is unreasonable. David
did not sin because he was the man according to God's own
heart, but in spite of his being so ; while if he had not been
in the main a godly man he would have remained in his sin,
and would have taken no step of any sort to acknowledge



Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 21 of 36)