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David, part 15

God's Message and Nathan's Parable.

2 Samuel 12

It is not perhaps desirable to enter into the particulars of this painful history, the bare mention of which is sufficient to rend our hearts, and impel us, like the lepers of old, to cry, Unclean, unclean. For the moral leprous spot, which broke out in this representative man, is exhibited in Scripture, not only to warn us against such uncleanness, but to remind us that we all inherit the propensity to which he yielded in temptation. We will consider David's double crime as so expressively described in the parable of Nathan, when that prophet was sent by the Lord to reprove David for his sin, and pronounce the judgement of Divine justice against him. The exposition has appeared elsewhere, but this is the place it originally occupied.

David had now accomplished his object. Bathsheba had become his wife. This was more than he originally intended. But this result of his sinful indulgence had been forced upon him by the self-denial of a faithful servant, who had forfeited his life to his continency. Whether David's conscience was entirely at ease we know not. He had added iniquity to his sin. But he had done it secretly. No one knew of his dark device but Joab. And he was too faithful a representative of the rational faculty, which easily becomes the servile instrument of an overmastering passion. Had David's crime been generally known, he might have been pricked by the stings of that social or conventional conscience which we call shame. But as it was hid from men, David seems to have felt as if his were hid in his own heart. But there was an eye, that eye to which all things lie open, that was ever upon him, and that looked through him, in the motions of his criminal passion, and in the schemings of his fertile brain. "The thing that David had done displeased the Lord. And the Lord sent Nathan to David." The presence of Nathan did not call David's sin to his remembrance, and it was not the prophet's purpose to charge him directly with it. He adopted a more prudent course, and one that was eminently successful, not only of convicting but convincing the king of his guilt.

The kings of Israel, like those of most other nations of that period, were the judges as well as the rulers of their people. The prophet availed himself of this circumstance to perform his important but delicate mission with the greatest certainty of success. He appeared in the presence of the Israelitish monarch as a claimant for justice to an injured Israelite. Addressing the royal judge, he took up his parable, and said, " There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: but the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together 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 to him as a daughter. And there came a traveller to the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him." On hearing the recital of this heartless act of cruelty and oppression, David's anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, "As the Lord lives, the man that has done this thing shall surely die: and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity." By this righteous decree the first object of the prophet was attained. The royal judge had admitted the justice of the poor man's cause, and had pronounced sentence against his rich oppressor. While David's zeal for justice and his generous indignation against the rich man were yet hot, the prophet, with the authority and power of a messenger from the Judge of all the earth, pronounced in his ears the awful words, "you are the man. Thus says the Lord God of Israel, I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul; and I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. Wherefore have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah with the sword, and taken his wife to be your wife."

No case could more strikingly point the moral delivered in the writings of the Apostle, "He that judges another judges himself when he does the same things." All men have a perception of abstract justice. In some it may be clearer than in others, but in none is it entirely wanting. In a certain sense, and to a certain extent, the Divine law is still written on the human mind, though unhappily not now upon the human heart; and written too with the finger of God; for He is the Author of every perception which the mind has of right and wrong, of justice and injustice. And not only has every one a perception of abstract justice, but he is able, almost unerringly, to apply it for the regulation of his own conduct. By the power of reflex judgement he can see that, in condemning any evil in another, he condemns that evil in himself. The same power enables him to apply a still more comprehensive law, the law of equity, "Whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them." This, it is true, is not only a natural but a revealed law: it is "the law and the prophets." But the laws of nature and of revelation are in harmony; for the same God is the Author of both. Were man in a state of nature, by which we mean a state of order, such as that in which he was created, he would have the law of his nature, which is the law of God, written in his heart, and would require no outward revelation. But having departed from his original state, the law, which he had effaced from the table of his heart, was written for his use upon tables of stone. And even now, by the united operation of the Lord's Spirit from within, and of His written law from without, every man of sound mind has the power of discerning between right and wrong, and of applying the law of equity, both in judging and in acting. But in the practical part, how often and gravely do we fail! Clearly as we can see justice in the abstract, our passions and prejudices seriously warp our judgement in its application, making us lynx-eyed in detecting others' faults, but strangely blind to our own, and greatly indisposing us to do to others as we would that others should do to us.

Strikingly and painfully was this exemplified in the case of David, when, in the name of the God of justice, he pronounced the decree of death and restitution against the rich man who had deprived his poor neighbour of his one ewe lamb, while he himself was stained with the crimes of adultery and murder, for which he had made no restitution either to God or man.

We cannot plead, in behalf of the Israelitish king, that, while he knew the moral law, he had not the means of acquiring the moral principle. At the time his judgement and his actions were so much at variance, he recognised the moral law as the law of God. Nor can we, on the other hand, plead that he only fell through the weakness of sinful flesh, and that his sin was but a momentary spot on the purity of his saintly character. At the same time, in judging of David's sin, we must not forget that he lived under a dispensation far more obscure than that of the Gospel. We enjoy a clearer light; but its demands upon us are proportionately greater. Under the Christian dispensation, "Whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart; "and "Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement," having made one step towards the crime of murder. Such being the case, we have reason to tremble in the presence of the holy prophet when he pleads for judgement; and even when our zeal for justice leads us to condemn another, we may only have to listen to the voice of the Eternal Truth to hear the words pronounced in our internal ear— "You are the man."

But the spiritual sense reveals the origin both of the evil prohibited by the law, and of the intention condemned by the Gospel.

Marriage is at once an effect and a type of the heavenly marriage of goodness and truth, or of love and faith. In this marriage the man represents truth and the wife good. To violate the good which any truth of religion teaches is the spiritual evil which David's first sin represented. But as his first sin led to the second, so does the violation of good lead to the falsification and destruction of its truth. When we have done violence to any good of religion, its truth rises up in our thoughts, and haunts us with visions of a coming judgement. It is Uriah, whom we have spoiled of his best treasure—the poor man, whose ewe lamb we have torn from his bosom, and dressed to satisfy our wandering lusts and depraved appetites. Our first endeavour is to draw the truth over to the evil side; but it consents not, and lies like sin at our door, filling us with alarm and apprehension. But when the truth will not consent, it must be made to yield; and so it is perverted and falsified, and thus practically destroyed. This is the history of every spiritual-moral declension. First the will corrupts the good, and then the understanding falsifies and destroys the truth. The falsification and consequent practical destruction of the truth is especially represented by the second criminal act of David. For Nathan lays particular stress on the fact, not simply that David had slain Uriah, but that he had slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Moab and Ammon were the two sons of Lot by his daughters, and represented, as the Moabites and Ammonites did after them, the profaning of goodness and truth. We are spiritually guilty of David's crime in killing Uriah, when we put such a false construction upon any truth as to destroy its real meaning and practical utility, and so remove it as an obstacle to selfish or sensual indulgence.

When the reproving voice of truth is hushed into silence, the troubled mind finds peace; but it is the peace which is no peace—the stillness of corruption, the calm of spiritual deadness. Happy is it if the conscience, though silenced, is not seared. It may yet be awakened by the voice of the Eternal Truth, speaking to it through its sense of right. So it was with David. When the grave had closed over Uriah, and Bathsheba was in the king's palace, David sat upon the throne of judgement, with a conscience stifled, if not at rest. But when the Lord's prophet turned upon the guilty judge the sword of justice, which he had raised over one less guilty than himself, it entered into his soul, piercing even to the dividing to pieces of soul and spirit, and proving a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Smitten with a sense of sin, he sat, a conscience-stricken and a humbled man, uttering before the man of God, and in the presence of his assembled court, the unreserved confession, "I have sinned against the Lord."

David's ready confession received as ready a forgiveness: "Nathan said to David, The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die."

It may seem at variance with strict justice that so serious a sin should have met with so ready a forgiveness. But it is in strict accordance with the Scripture law upon the subject. In both Testaments pardon is promised on repentance. If David's repentance was sincere, his sin could not consistently remain unpardoned. At the same time we are to reflect that David's punishment, repentance, and forgiveness were natural and temporal, while those of the Christian are spiritual and eternal. Christian forgiveness can only, therefore, be secured by Christian repentance.

But while repentance never fails to receive forgiveness, sin, once committed, entails certain consequences on him who commits it. Although David's life was spared, he did not escape unscathed. Having slain Uriah with the sword, the sword was never to depart from his house; having divided the house of another, his own house was to be divided; having taken his neighbour's wife, his own wives were to be given to his neighbour; having sinned secretly, he was to be punished in kind openly; and having given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child that was born to him was to die.

The law of retaliation, which forms the ground of this judgement, had its origin in the law of equity—" Do to others as you would that others should do to you." In heaven, and among the heavenly minded, this law is only known as the rule for measuring out good to one another; but when it descends into the lower world, and among natural men in whom heavenly order is inverted, it becomes the rule for measuring out evil, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." Still it is the same Divine law, being the law of providence in the one case, and the law of permission in the other. When God permits the employment of the law of retaliation, it is to teach us that every evil has within itself its own punishment, and that every evil act ultimately returns on the head of him who commits it. In the present instance we are instructed that, even when sins have been confessed and forgiven, the evil condition of mind in which they have originated cannot be corrected, and the mind restored to a right state, without conflict with the very evils from which our sins have proceeded. We are not to suppose that repentance and forgiveness wipe our sins at once and for ever away. Repentance turns our faces Zionwards; but in our journey to the holy city we have to encounter the very evils that have led us away from its gates; and unless we overcome them, we can never gain that place of security and peace. The life of the spiritual man is one of conflict; the sword never departs from his house; the foes against whom he has to contend are those of his own household—the evils of his own heart; the sin he has committed in secret is to return upon him openly, and the fruit of sin itself is to die. We may humbly trust that the purer principles of Christianity and the grace of its Divine Author will preserve us from sinning after the similitude of David's transgression. Yet the contemplation of his transgression is profitable. We inherit the same nature, and are of like passions, and are exposed to the same temptations, as the Israelitish king. Do we not, then, need to regard his sin as a warning? But we need to be warned against more than the deeds themselves which he committed. Impurity of thought and intention is the unclean sin in its beginning, and to cherish is to commit. Anger and revenge are more than the seeds of murder: they are the branches of the evil tree that bears the deadly fruit. These we have to learn, from David's double crime, to shun. But we may learn from it to look still deeper into our hearts and minds. We may see both evils in their first origin in the violation of any spiritual principle of good whatever, and in perverting the truth that teaches, guards, and defends it. Knowing that every part of the Holy Word is divinely inspired, and is given for correction, for reproof, for instruction in righteousness, let us remember the end for which it is given—that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works.

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