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2 Sam. xi.-xix. " HE restoreth my soul,” says David, while recounting in the twenty-third Psalm, the wonderful ways of his Divine Shepherd. And who, among all the sacred penmen, could be better prepared than David, to sing of restoring grace? Precious was the grace that had chosen him when least in his father's house, and taken him from the sheep-fold to be ruler over God's people, Israel. But surely the grace which restored his soul, when, through his own sin and folly, he had fallen from the eminence on which he had been placed, shines more brightly still. May our hearts be humbled and refreshed while we meditate a little on the above scripture, unfolding to us, as it does, a part of the process by which the Lord restored the psalmist's soul; as well as revealing something of the tone of his soul when thus restored.
Nothing can be more solemn than the proof afforded us by David's history, of what our poor hearts are. Does it not rehearse to us the serious lesson which, alas ! we are so slow to learn, that no past experience of the Lord's goodness, no measure of communion with Him in bygone days, no amount of favour shewn us by the Lord, is any safeguard against present temptation ? Nay, that without the present exercise of His gracious, preserving power, to keep and to uphold us, all the blessing we have enjoyed in the past, is in danger of being perverted by our wretched hearts into an occasion of self-complacency and self-indulgence. It was when David had been brought by the hand of God, through all the dangers and trials of his exile under Saul, when he had obtained undisputed possession of the throne, to which God had appointed him;-it was after he had celebrated the Lord's dealings with him thus in a number of those wondrous Psalms in which we may see how his soul had been leaning on God, and learning God, amid the many trials which had
marked his path;—it was after all this, when God had given him rest and prosperity on every side, that he forgat God, and was left of Him to experience the meaning of that word, " Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin! And sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James. i. 14, 15).
Not to dwell on the well known circumstances of David's fall, there is one fact claiming special notice, as shewing that there is no more natural or inherent power of recovery in a saint, than there is in an unconverted sinner. A saint when fallen, can no more restore himself, than a poor sinner can save himself at first. The alone Saviour is the alone Restorer too. When David's eye had enkindled the unholy flame in David's heart, and when, left to himself, he had plunged headlong into sin, were there immediate risings of compunction in his breast? Did he at once perceive how deeply he had fallen, and how terribly he had dishonoured God? Did he at once confess his sin, and return to the Lord with weeping and supplication? Alas! no; we read of no such thing. So far from this, when David had defiled himself, and dishonoured his God, his only thought seems to have been how he could shield his own character from infamy by the concealment of his sin. And it was thus he was led into still greater enormities. If, by pretended kindness, he could have made Uriah the instrument of hiding the wrong which had been done to him, as well as the dishonour done to God, David was willing enough that it should be so; and he tried this plan first. But at any cost his character must be maintained, and his shame concealed. And hence, when Uriah's fidelity to his master, and his deep sense of the honour put upon him, as a soldier of Israel, leads him to decline the king's offers, and prefer fellowship with his comrades in the hardships they were enduring in the open field, to resting comfortably in his own house, and in his own bed, this noble, self-renouncing fidelity makes him the victim of David's pride. Uriah's life must be sacrificed rather than David's character be stained. He is to be slain too by the sword of the children of Ammon. And as a stiil
further illustration of the hardening effect of sin upon the conscience, Joab is selected as the agent to execute the king's will. As I remember another to have observed, when David's heart was right, the sons of Zeruiah were too hard for him; but now the most crafty and cruel of Zeruiah's sons is the instrument well suited to the work in which it was in David's heart to employ him. And all was permitted, for the time being, to succeed. Everything occurred exactly to his mind. The voice of the only one, as he thought, who could bear witness against him, was hushed in death. His faithless wife, when she hears that her husband is dead, mourns for him. when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife, and bare him a
“But,” adds the sacred penmen (and how it falls upon the ear like the death-knell of all David's prospective enjoyment)"the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” Better for us, infinitely better, to be wading through deepest waters of trial, with the smile of God upon our ways, than in circumstances of ease and prosperity, to have it recorded of us, “ the thing that he had done displeased the Lord.”
Nearly twelve months, at least, had elapsed, and there was not the slightest symptom of contrition on the part of David. Nay, so deep was the slumber into which he had sunk, that when Nathan, commissioned of the Lord, had addressed to him the parable of the rich man who passed by his own flocks and herds, to regale himself and his friends on the one ewe lamb of his poor neighbour, the indignation of the monarch arose, and he passed immediate sentence on the wretch who had done this; never perceiving that he was thus passing sentence on himself. It was requisite for the prophet to apply the parable as well as to speak it, before the least vitality was manifest in David's conscience. " Thou art the man,” however, comes home to his conscience; and David at once acknowledges “ I have sinned against the Lord.” As immediate is the response to this confession, the Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” Thus does the Lord meet in full grace the first motion of the wanderer's heart towards Him; yea, knowing as he
did, that that heart would never have moved towards Him at all, if left to itself. It was the Shepherd who had sought the sheep, not the sheep that had sought the Shepherd. And now that the first bleat of penitential sorrow bears witness that the stray one had been not only sought but found, how does the joy of the Shepherd's heart flow out, in the consolatory assurance
• The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." Would that this touching display of the perfect grace of God might be used of the Holy Spirit, both to break and to comfort the heart of some stray sheep of His flock, whose eye may rest upon these pages.
. Here then let us pause for a moment, and contemplate the first stage in the restoring process. Bitter and heavy, and long continued chastenings from the hand of God, are to follow this first step; but before a single stripe is inflicted, the soul is brought to perfect rest before God in the assurance that it is for edification, not for destruction, that it is thus dealt with. A ministry is needed, it is true, to make David sensible of his sin, and willing to acknowledge it; but the moment that ministry is successful, and David acknowledges his iniquity, that moment he is assured of full forgiveness. “The Lord hath put away thy sin.” All the chastening follows in the train of this. “ Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Grace rescues David, so that he dies ot; but the child must die. The Lord's enemies have had fearful occasion given them to blaspheme; and before all the Lord must make it manifest that He neither sanctions David's sin, nor winks at it. David himself, moreover, has to learn through all this, what an evil and bitter thing it is to forsake God. All these, and other objects, have to be accomplished; and in order to them, the sword is never to depart from David's house. The indignity and wrong he had done to Uriah secretly, has to be done to him openly before the sun. But needful, yea, indispensable, as all this is, 'ere a single stroke of the rod descends, David is assured that his sin is put away, he shall not die. And is not this the Lord's way with us still, beloved ? Many a question He may have to settle with us in detail; He may have, as it were, to disown our ways in the sight
of all; that so His name be not dishonoured; but is it not still his way to strengthen us to endure all this, by assuring us of free forgiveness for all; and that, however he may have to sift and chasten us, it is not in anger,
but in love; that it is because he is for us, and not against
Yea; and the heart, thus strengthened, can take God's side against our own crooked ways, when his grace has assured us that it is against our ways, not our persons, that His dealings are directed.
And yet let us give ear to the exhortation which speaketh unto us as unto children, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord.” It is no trifling matter to be under the chastening hand of God. He is not like the soft and indulgent parent, who spares the rod and spoils the child. True, he afflicts not willingly; nor does he administer a single stroke that is not absolutely needed. But then on the other hand, He does not withhold a single stroke that is needed. He has no false tenderness. Think of what David passed through-the death of his child, after all his fastings and prayers, and wearing of sackcloth, in the vain hope of turning aside the stroke : the dishonour of another child of his, leading as it did to the slaughter of the guilty Amnon, by his brother and hers, the wilful Absalom. What a voice must all this have had in David's conscience! How, at every turn, it must have reminded him of his own sin. And then, after the lapse of years, Absalom, first exiled, and now restored, rebels against his father. Having stolen the hearts of the people, the conspiracy being ripe, he gets himself proclaimed king, and David has to flee for his life from Jerusalem. His long tried and hitherto faithful counsellor, Ahithophel, is banded with his own son to destroy him. And when Ahithophel advises to pursue after the hoary-headed king, and come upon him while he is weary and weak-handed; "and I will smite," says he, “the king only;" — this infernal counsel meets with the warmest response from Absalom and his followers. “And the saying pleased Absalom well, and all the elders of Israel." What must David's heart have felt, when, in banishment from his beloved Jerusalem and the house of his God, he hears of Absalom's thirst for his blood. And Israel, too,