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William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

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

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his guilt, or to raise himself from the degradation into which
he had fallen. What, really, is the distinction between the
people of God and the wicked on the earth ? Is it that the
one class commit no sins, while the other fall into iniquity ?
No ; the godly man does sin. No one will be more ready
to acknowledge that than himself. The difference, therefore,
is not there. It lies in this : that when the child of God falls
into sin, he rises out of it and leaves it, and cries to God for
pardon, purity, and help ; but when the ungodly man falls
into sin, he continues in it, and delights in it, as does the sow
in her wallowing in the mire. It is a poor, shallow philoso-
phy, therefore, that sneers at such a history as this of David ;
nay, it is worse even than that : it is the very spirit of Sa-
tan, rejoicing, as it does, in the iniquity of others. On this
point, however, I gladly avail myself of the language of a
living writer, not usually considered to have any very strong
bias in favor of the Scriptural views of men and things I
mean Thomas Carlyle. " Faults !" says this author, in his
"Lecture on the Hero as Prophet ;" "the greatest of faults, I
should say, is to be conscious of none. Readers of the Bi-



THE GREAT TRANSGRESSION. 275

ble, above all, one would think, might know better. Who is
called there the man according to God's own heart ? David,
the Hebrew king, had fallen into sins enough ; blackest
crimes ; there was no want of sins. And thereupon unbe-
lievers sneer and ask, ' Is this your man according to God's
heart?' The sneer, I must say, seems to me but a shallow
one. What are faults ? what are the outward details of a
life, if the inner secret of it the remorse, temptations, true,
often-baffled, never-ending struggle of it be forgotten ? ' It
is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.' Of all acts,
is not, for a man, repentance the most divine ? The deadli-
est sin, I say, were that same supercilious consciousness of
no sin. That is death. The heart so conscious is divorced
from sincerity, humility, and fact is dead. It is pure, as
dead, dry sand is pure. David's life and history, as written
for us in those Psalms of his, I consider to be the truest em-
blem ever given of a man's moral progress and warfare here
below. All earnest souls will ever discern in it the faithful
struggle of an earnest human soul toward what is good and
best. Struggle often baffled sore, baffled down into entire
wreck, yet a struggle never ended ; ever with tears, repent-
ance, true, unconquerable purpose begun anew. Poor hu-
man nature ! Is not a man's walking in truth always that
* a succession of falls ?' Man can do no other. In this wild
element of a life, he has to struggle upward : now fallen, now
abased ; and ever with tears, repentance, and bleeding heart,
he has to rise again, struggle again, still onward. That his
struggle be a faithful, unconquerable one, that is the question
of questions."

We have now to look, very briefly, at the consequences of
this trespass, as they developed themselves in David's after-
history and that of his family. One sin destroyeth much
good, and terrible evils sprung out of this iniquity. True,
David received forgiveness, but forgiveness does not arrest



276 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

the consequences of the deeds which we have committed.
It does not prevent the operation of the natural law where-
by sin works ever toward misery and retribution. It re-
stricts the punishment of iniquity, in the case of the forgiven
one, to the present life; but within that limit the conse-
quences of sin, even to a child of God, as David was, are oft-
en very dreadful. What a series of tragedies is comprised
in the history of David, from this point on till his death ! all
of them, too, more or less immediately connected with this
sin. First, there is the death of Bath^sheba's child ; then
there comes back upon him, in an intenser form, his own
wickedness, as we see his guilt repeated in the sin of Am-
non, and his murder by the hand of Absalom ; then there is
the rebellion of Absalom, which never could have gained
any headway in the land without the adherence to it of
Ahithophel ; and he, as I shall hope to show you afterward,
was the grandfather of Bath-sheba ; so that the very strength
of the revolt, which so nearly hurled David from his throne,
came as a direct result of the wickedness which to-night we
have been considering ; then there was the death of Absa-
lom, inflicted by Joab, who, from this point on, becomes more
arrogant and overbearing than ever, because he is conscious
that, in the possession of the secret of the manner of Uriah's
death, he has his sovereign thoroughly in his power; then,
last of all, there came another revolt to disturb the peaceful-
ness of David's death-bed, and to give a sad significance to
his latest words, "Though my house be not so with God."
Most awfully were Nathan's words fulfilled : " Now, there-
fore, the sword shall not depart from thine house." These
are the sheaves of that harvest of sorrow which David reap-
ed from the field whereon he sowed "to the flesh." But
sadder even than these desolating things is the change
which, from this point, we observe in David himself. Hence-
forth he is no longer the man he was. He goes about



THE GREAT TRANSGRESSION. 277

crushed in spirit, humiliated before his people, and degraded
even in his own estimation. The nobler features of his char-
acter seem to have become eclipsed ; and infirmities of tem-
per, weakness of will, and even dimness of judgment, begin
to appear. The spring of his life seems to have gone. The
elasticity and bound of his character are seen no more. He
trusts, indeed, in God to the last, but it is not with the joyful
confidence of one who is rich in the consciousness of his fa-
ther's complacency, but rather with the dull and heavy grasp
of one who knows that he has deeply wounded his father's
heart. "Alas ! for him," says Kitto, " the bird which once
rose to heights unattained before by mortal wing, filling the
air with its joyful songs, now lies, with maimed wing, upon
the ground, pouring forth its doleful cries to God."*

We can not read such a history as that which we have
been considering to-night, without remarking on the honesty
of the biographies which the Word of God contains. The
sacred writers draw no veil over the errors and imperfections
of those whom they describe. They tell of the falsehood of
Abraham ; the cunning selfishness of Jacob.; the petulant
hastiness of Moses ; the weakness of Aaron ; the vacillation
of Peter ; and the sharp contention between Paul and Bar-
nabas, with the same unvarnished truthfulness as they de-
scribe the excellences for which these great men were re-
markable ; and the same historian who records that David
was called the "man according to God's own heart," relates
also this terrible story of wickedness; while, at the same time,
there is no attempt at extenuation or excuse. Have we not
in all this a corroboration of the inspiration of the sacred
penman ? And when, as in the instance of our Lord Jesus
Christ, they set before us a pure and perfect life, with as lit-
tle attempt at elaboration, and as little effort at exaggeration

* " Daily Bible Illustrations," vol. iii., p. 431.



278 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

as there is of apology in the case before us, may we not con-
clude that in both they are painting simply and only from
reality? There was only one man who could be described
as "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners,"
and He was more than man. " Cease ye from man, whose
breath is in his nostrils ; for wherein is he to be accounted
of?" This is the exclamation which rises from our lips, as
we ponder over this biography. " The best of men are but
men at the best," and need equally with others to be wash-
ed in the fountain which has been opened for sin and for
uncleanness.

But we must not overlook the practical purpose which
the record of the sins of good men was designed to serve.
"Whatsoever was written aforetime was written for our
learning ;" and even the dullest scholar can be at no loss to
discover the moral of such a history as that of David's fall.
It bids us be continually on our guard, lest we enter into
temptation ; for if even a David fell so fearfully, who among
us can be secure ? Here was a man of pre-eminent ability,
of great piety, and of extensive usefulness, and yet he was
guilty of most revolting sin. Surely the practical inference
is, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he
fall." No station in society, no eminence in the church, no
excellence in character, no mere inspiration of genius, can
keep a man from sin ; nay, not even the gift of divine inspi-
ration can preserve its possessor from a fall. Nothing can
do that but the grace of God working in him through prayer,
and persevering watchfulness. I say persevering watchful-
ness, for our vigilance must be continued so long as life on
earth shall last.

We often speak of youth as the most dangerous time of
life ; and indeed, when one has regard to the new nature
which begins to assert itself in the opening years of man-
hood ; to the inexperience with which those who are at that



THE GREAT TRANSGRESSION. 279

stage of existence are characterized; and to the self-suffi-
ciency by which, for the most part, they are distinguished, it
would be difficult to exaggerate the dangers which, especially
in our great cities, beset the years of youth. But that is not
the only dangerous time. It might often seem as if we be-
lieved that it was ; and for a hundred lectures addressed to
young men, there is hardly one delivered to those in middle
life, or who are verging toward the period of old age. Yet,
if we take the Word of God for our guide, it would almost
appear as if these latter stages of existence were more trying
and dangerous even than that of youth. This at least is
true, that the saddest moral catastrophes of which the Bible
tells occurred in the history of men who were no longer
young. Noah and Lot were far from youth when they fell
before the influence of strong drink : and Demas was not by
any means a " novice " when he forsook Paul, " having loved
this present world." So David here was past the mid-time
of his days when he committed these great transgressions.
Moreover, against these instances we have those of Joseph,
of Moses, and of Daniel, who in the opening time of life stood
true to duty and to God. I say not these things, however, to
make young men less watchful, but to make men in middle
life, and all through life, continue vigilant. So long as we
are in the world, we are in an enemy's country ; and if we
are not particularly on our guard, we shall be sure to suffer.
The world is full of defilement ; and in passing through it we
must gather our garments tightly round us, if we would keep
ourselves unspotted from it. Even Paul could say that he
"kept his body under, bringing it into subjection, lest that by
any means, having preached to others, he should be a cast-
away ;" and if all this self-control and vigilance was necessa-
ry for him, how much more for us ! Watch, therefore, lest ye
enter into temptation. Give no parley to the tempter. Make
a covenant with your eyes, that they will not look upon in-



280 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

iquity, and realizing at all times the peril in which you stand,
clothe yourselves in the panoply of God. But watching alone
will not suffice. " Watch and pray," the Saviour said ; not
watch, and then pray ; not pray, and then watch ; but watch
and pray at once. While the eye is eagerly searching out the
danger, let the heart at the same time be sending up the
earnest supplication, " Hold thou up my goings in thy path,
that my footsteps slip not." Thus shall we be kept in safe-
ty, until at length we enter into that land where our purity
and our reward shall be alike indestructible.

But while David's sin forbids any saint to presume on his
infallibility, his reception by God, when he returned to him
in penitence, equally forbids any backslider to despair. If
after such iniquity he was so graciously received, and had
from Nathan the assurance that " the Lord had put away his
sin," surely any one may return, and find forgiveness from
the Lord. Is there any one here to-night who is carrying on
his conscience the load of unforgiven sin ? He may be look-
ing back to the time when, in his father's home, he bent his
knees in prayer to God ; or to the days when, in the Sunday-
school, he loved to labor among the children for Christ ; or
to the years wherein he used to enjoy sweet seasons of com-
munion at the table of the Lord ; and as in thought he con-
trasts these with the depths to which he has fallen, he may
be tempted to say, " There is no hope for me ; I have been
too ungrateful and abandoned to be forgiven." Let such an
one hear the voice that comes to-night from David's history,
saying to him, " Return !" " Let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts : and let him return
unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him ; and to our
God, for he will abundantly pardon." Let him ponder well
the 5ist Psalm, pouring his own soul into its confessions and
petitions, and soon light will break in upon his soul, like the
sunbeam from behind a cloud, and he will be made to sing



THE GREAT TRANSGRESSION. 281

the joyful strain with which the 320! Psalm opens. " Blessed
is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not in-
iquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile." Thus, though
the fall of David has undeniably caused many to blaspheme,
it may prove a warning to many, so that they shall stand up-
right, and may save from the depths of utter despair those
who remember that, aggravated as his guilt was, he was re-
ceived back into the favor of God when he cried to him in
penitential sincerity for forgiving mercy.

Finally : we can not but note " what an evil thing and a
bitter it is to forsake the Lord." Recall for a moment to
your recollection the consequences of David's sins. Behold
how, by reproducing themselves in darker and intenser forms,
these iniquities of his returned upon his head. He caused
the death of Uriah, and the sword departed not from his
house all his after-days ; he was guilty of impurity, and his
son Amnon bettered the example which his father set : he
committed murder ; Absalom committed fratricide : he rebel-
led against the Lord; Absalom rebelled against himself; and
all this, though the sins themselves were forgiven. But if
this were the case with pardoned iniquities, what must it be
with those which are unforgiven ? If this were the retribu-
tion of the present life, what must be that of the life that
is to come, to those who have felt no penitence, and asked
no mercy ? Oh, my friends, will you continue to live in such
a way as to draw down eternal misery upon your heads?
Do not, I beseech you, that abominable thing which God
hates. Come now, if you have never come before, and seek
for pardon -and regeneration through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let the time past of your lives be sufficient " to have wrought
the will of the flesh." Begin now to live for God. " Be it
known unto you, men and brethren, that through Jesus Christ
is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins ; but beware,



282 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

lest that come upon you which is spoken of in the prophets :
' Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish ; for I work a
work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe,
though a man declare it unto you.' " " Knowing the terror
of the Lord," we would persuade you now to embrace the
salvation which he has provided. Why will ye rush upon
destruction, with this great deliverance in your offer ?



XVI.

THE BE RE A VEMENT.

2 SAMUEL xii., 15-23.

THE penal consequences of David's sin took the form
of family trials and national troubles, and were of such
a nature as to wring his heart with the severest anguish, not
only by their own bitterness, but also, and perhaps especial-
ly, by the vividness with which they brought back upon his
conscience the remembrance of his own iniquity. To-night
we shall restrict ourselves to the first of his domestic sor-
rows, and seek to draw from its consideration such lessons
as shall prove both wholesome and instructive.

After his pointed and impressive exhortation to the king,
and his parting words of tender consolation, conveying in
them the assurance of the Divine forgiveness, Nathan with-
drew from the palace. He had perforated a difficult and
delicate duty with signal wisdom ; he had succeeded in
arousing the conscience of David without forfeiting his
friendship ; he had been able, in a spirit of love to the mon-
arch, to preserve his fidelity to the monarch's God ; and
now, with a heart heaving with an emotion that resembled
the after-swell which a storm always leaves behind, he re-
tired, we may believe, to pray to his heavenly Master for the
poor spirit-stricken penitent whom he had left in such dis-
tress. To the same God, we may be sure, David himself
repaired ; and perhaps it was just then, in the first access of
his deep self-abasement and shame, that he wrote that Psalm
which has come weeping down through the centuries, and
been in them all the liturgy of repenting sinners. Begin-



284 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

ning with a cry for mercy, he makes the most unqualified
acknowledgment of his sin; and realizing more than he
had ever done before the deep depravity of heart which his
transgression revealed, he makes this earnest request, " Cre-
ate in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit
within me." He longs for a restoration of the joy of salva-
tion, and at last, as if his prayer had been already answer-
ed, he concludes with a strain of chastened joy, which seems
to me like the sunshine streaming through the departing
shower, and forming to the eye the many-colored bow of an-
cient promise.

In this spirit, probably, David came forth from his closet
with deep humility indeed, yet with the fond anticipation of
coming brightness. But not long was he permitted to be at
rest. Nathan's last words to him had a forecast of evil, as
well as an assurance of pardon. Here they are : "The Lord
also hath put away thy sin ; thou shalt not die. Howbeit,
because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the
enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born
unto thee shall surely die." Speedily was this prediction ful-
filled. "The Lord 'struck the child." Not that there was any
miracle here ; but with startling suddenness some one of
those ailments to which little ones are so liable came upon
him, and he was very sick. Tender-hearted to a fault, and
dotingly fond at all times of his children, David was greatly
distressed by this event. The light which had begun to play
upon his countenance disappeared, and he was filled with the
deepest grief. Nor is it difficult to account for this. The
sufferings of an infant are always most saddening to witness.
The helpless look of the little patient ; the pitiful wail ; the
labored breathing ; the constant restlessness ; all combine
to make the spectacle of its anguish most affecting to any
beholder : how much more to those who call him their own ?
Nor is this all. In the case of little children, we are well-



THE BEREAVEMENT. 285

nigh powerless to relieve them. They can not tell us how
they feel. We are largely in the dark as to the meaning of
the symptoms that appear ; and medical science, always a
matter of considerable uncertainty, is peculiarly experiment-
al in infantile diseases. Hence the agony of a parent beside
a dying infant's cot. Each pleading look of the upturned
eye goes like a dart to the mother's heart, while the con-
vulsive start or tremor sends a thrill of anguish through the
father's frame. But over and above these natural and or-
dinary causes of sorrow for an infant's sufferings, there were
in David's case certain peculiar ingredients of bitterness.
Nathan had specially connected all the pangs of his child
with his own sin. It is a mystery that any infant, innocent
as it is of actual transgression, should suffer at all ; and some-
times the dark shadow which that mystery projects may in-
crease the sadness of the afflicted parent. But in David's
case, whatever mystery there might be about the question
why the child was made to suffer for his guilt, there was
none about the fact. Nathan had made that perfectly plain
to him. Hence every quiver of pain the infant gave would
be a new needle-point thrust into his own conscience, sting-
ing him with sharpest remorse. For seven days this illness
lasted, and David betook himself to his old solace : he pray-
ed to God ; yea, he " fasted, and went in, and lay all night
upon the earth." We like to read these words, for they tell
us that David, though an erring son of God, was yet a son.
A godless man would have been driven farther from Jehovah
by these troubles, and might have been led to make procla-
mation of his utter atheism ; but David went to God. The
more heavily he felt the rod, the nearer he crept to him who
used it. He fled from God to God. He hid himself from God
in God. This shows that his sin was out of the usual course
of his nature. It was like the deflection of the needle, due to
certain causes, which at the time he permitted to have influ-



286 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

ence over him ; but, these causes removed, his old polarity
of soul returned, and in his time of trouble he called on Je-
hovah. This was his habit. Repeatedly in his Psalms has
he employed language which clearly indicates that God was
regarded by him as a strong rock, whereunto, in time of trial,
he continually resorted. Thus we have him saying, on one
occasion, of his enemies : " For my love they are my adver-
saries : but I give myself unto prayer ;" and again, " From
the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is
overwhelmed : lead me to the rock that is higher than I."

It does not seem that any one of his Psalms was com-
posed on this occasion, yet there are in some of them strains
which might well enough have arisen from the recollection
of his experiences in connection with this infant's death.
Such, for example, are these : "O Lord, rebuke me not in thine
anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure ! Have
mercy upon me, O Lord ; for I am weak. O Lord, heal
me ; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed :
but thou, O Lord, how long? Return, O Lord, deliver my
soul : oh ! save me for thy mercies' sake."* But not for him-
self alone did he thus make supplication. He besought God
for the child. Here is a great boldness of faith and of
request, which startles us almost by its importunity. Had
not Nathan said the child should surely die ? yet here David
pleads for his life, saying, " Who can tell whether God will be
gracious to me, that the child may live ?" Why is this ? Was
it because David did not believe Nathan's words ? No, but
because he had unbounded faith in the efficacy of prayer ;
and though in the present instance the specific object which
he asked was denied him, we must not suppose that it was so
because his prayer was displeasing to God ; for just a simi-
lar prayer offered by Hezekiah, after his death was solemnly

* Fsa. vi., 1-4.



THE BEREAVEMENT. 287

foretold by Isaiah, was the means of lengthening out his days
by fifteen years. So, too, after Jonah's unqualified procla-
mation of Nineveh's destruction, the inhabitants rose and be-
took themselves to prayer, saying, just like David here, "Who
can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his
fierce anger, that we perish not ?" and their cry was heard.
Hence we dare not say that David was wrong in making this
request. And we can only marvel at the faith and child-like
regard for God which the making of it evinced. Modern
men of science make great difficulty about offering prayer,
the granting of which seems to go against the physical laws
of God's universe. But these ancient suppliants felt no such
difficulty. They were not afraid even to pray against the
coming of that which God had affirmed would come. Not
even moral difficulties stood in their way. And they were
right, for there is always this "Who can tell;" and there is,
besides, in God the fatherly heart to which no real son of his
can ever make appeal entirely in vain.

The child died, and the servants of the king, with a real
delicacy of heart, and with genuine consideration for his feel-



Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 22 of 36)