"And David said unto Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.' And Nathan said unto David, 'The lord also hath put away thy sin; then shalt not die.'"
The sin here referred to is that of David in the matter of Uriah. A strange and sad event -- taken in all its circumstances and connections, it is without a parallel. But the circumstance most to be lamented, is that mentioned by the prophet, in the close of his message -- "By this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme."
The justness of this remark, doubtless appeared at that day, in the triumph of sinners and exultations of scoffers; and the story brought down to us, "on whom the ends of the world are come" is still abused to keep vice in countenance.
"Look to David, your man of religion! Your man after God's own heart! and witness his complicated crimes! and his long continued security and unconcern under guilt, which cannot be charged on us, who view religion as a dream!" -- So the infidel.
While people of another description, wound God's cause yet more deeply, by the argument which they draw from this fall of David; namely, those who are allowedly vicious, yet call themselves "of the household of faith -- who are pure in their own eyes, though not cleansed from their filthiness." These, when reproved, especially if their piety is called in question, often recur to David for support -- tell us, that "though eminent for piety, he was guilty of greater sins than theirs, and long continued in them -- that he remained impenitent till visited by Nathan, after the birth of his child by Bathsheba. If, say they, be could continue so long secure and unconcerned, why not longer? And why may not others fall into sins and continue in them months and years after having received the grace of God, and after they are numbered among the saints?"
This, we conceive, to be the most baleful conclusion which is drawn from this history. And could it be made to appear that such was David's state, for so long a term, we see no way to avoid the conclusion -- see not but the idea which the scriptures give of religion as a holy principle, productive of a holy life, must be relinquished.
Such is the idea which the scriptures do give of religion -- they teach, that it changeth the heart, and forms the new creature -- that "in this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the Devil; that whomever doeth not righteousness is not of God; that by their fruits we are to know men."
Thus speaks that holy book which we believe to be from God, and to shew us the way of salvation. But if the children of God are not made to differ from others, if they may live in allowed disregard of the law of God, like others, these distinctions are idle and unworthy our regard. This matter demands our attention.
From the subject before us, the errors now mentioned draw their chief support.
We do not flatter ourselves that we can stop mouths of scoffers, or so clearly elucidate this dark part of the book of God, that it will no more be abused to the purposes of depravity; but believe that it may be made apparent that it hath been mistaken and perverted; and thereby rendered the more mischievous. This will now be attempted.
That David remained unconcerned and devoid of repentance for the sins which he committed in the matter of Uriah, till awakened to consideration by the ministry of Nathan, seems to have been taken for granted, and to have been the ground of these abuses. This may have been the common opinion. Whether it is founded in reality, we will now inquire.
Or those who argue from a supposition that this was the case, we ask evidence that it was so. That we have no express declaration that Nathan found him a penitent, we conceive to be all that can be alleged as evidence that he remained till that time impenitent. To which may be rejoined, that we have no express declaration that Nathan found him impenitent. The fact is, both scripture and profane history are silent respecting the state of David's mind from the commission of the sins, till he was visited by the prophet. We are left therefore to judge the matter on other grounds. And on what grounds can we form a more profitable opinion than by considering the general character of the man -- the nature and effects of renewing grace -- and the temper and conduct of the delinquent when he was reproved by the prophet? From a consideration of these we may derive the most probable solution of the question, or judge what was probably the state in which David was found by Nathan.
It may be proper to premise,
I. That good men, while in this state of imperfection, should be surprized by temptation into sins, and even heinous sins, is neither new nor strange. Many instances occur in the history of the saints recorded in the scriptures. "Aaron, the saint of the Lord," and Moses, whose general character was that of "a servant, faithful in all God's house," were both seduced into sins of such enormity that they were excluded the land of promise, in common with rebellious Israel. Among New Testament saints similar lapses are observable. Even the apostles forsook the Savior, and fled when Judas led forth the hostile band to apprehend him; and Peter, when under the influence of fear, with oaths and imprecations "denied the Lord that bought him!" The habitual temper of these good men could not be argued -- from these sudden acts. Neither is judgment to be formed of others, except by observing the general tenor of their lives. Strong and unexpected temptations may, and often do, seduce the best of those who remain in the body and retain the weakness of fallen creatures yet on trial.
II. There is something in each one's constitution which predisposes to certain sins. To every person there is a "sin which most easily besets him" -- from which he is liable to stronger temptation than from other sins -- and temptation to such sins may rise from concurring circumstances, above its natural state, and become almost invincible. Nor will any person who reads the history of David doubt to what particular sin he was naturally most disposed. Neither are we insensible how one sin prepares the way for another, and strengthens temptation to it.
David's sins on the occasion before us were complicated and exceeding sinful. But we know how he was seduced to the first, and how the others followed of course.
Respecting the state in which he was found by Nathan we may judge,
I. From his general character. This is so well known, that the bare mention is almost sufficient. The scriptures teach us that he was pious from his youth. When Samuel was sent to anoint him, sufficient intimation was given that his heart was right with God. When Elijah, the first born of Jesse palled before the prophet, pleased with his appearance, he supposed him to be the man whom God had chosen to rule his people -- "Surely the Lord's anointed is before him"' -- but God refused him with this declaration, "The Lord seeth not appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." David's after life justified the preference then given him.
No person acquainted with his history as contained in the sacred records, will scruple his general devotedness to the service of God.
Should doubt arise, we may refer to the charter given of him by the pen of inspiration, about half a century after his death. "David did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite." *
* 1 Kings xv.5.
In that matter he greatly erred. There is no need however to consider him as then fallen from grace. The remains of depravity which continues after renovation, are sufficient under existing circumstances to account for his fall on that occasion. But it is inconcievable that a person of established piety should remain for a whole year stupid and unconcerned under the guilt of such transgressions; and the utter improbability of such an event will be further apparent, if we attend,
II. To the nature and effects of renewing grace. It is no less true of holy than of unholy principles, that they are operative. The governing principle, whatever it may be, will bring forth fruit according to its nature. A GOOD man may be surprized into sin, as we have seen, but he will not go deliberately into the way of it, like the wicked. Neither do the two characters, when they have been seduced into sin, reflect upon it with similar feelings and views. When the good think on their ways, they are grieved and humbled for their faults, and turn their feet to God's testimonies; but the wicked bless themselves in their hearts, as fortunate in the accomplishment of their vicious desires. The good maintain a sense of God's presence -- "Thou God seeth me." The wicked forget God or doubt his attention to their temper and conduct -- "How doth God know? Is there knowledge in the most high?"
It is not strange if those whose only joys are the pleasures of sense, felicitate themselves when they attain them; but those who love and fear the Lord, and prefer his favor above all earthly joys, must have other views. If sensible that they have offended God, and incurred his displeasure, it greives them at their hearts, and fills them with deep concern.
Apart from all considerations of interest, the good see a baseness and deformity in sin, which render it the object of their aversion. They consider it the disgrace of their rational nature, and are humbled and abased when conscious that temptation hath prevailed to seduce them from the paths of rectitude. IT will not be imagined that David could banish thought, and drive away reflection, for a whole year after the commission of such enormous sin; as he committed in the matter now before us.
It is presumed that no man, retaining reason was ever able soon to forget any enormity, which he knew himself guilty. The remembrance always haunts the imagination, and conscience goads the mind with a thousand stings. The delinquent hath not power to prevent it. He cannot drive away thought, and turn off his attention to other objects.
It is further presumed, that every good man is formed to the habit of reflection; that he often enters into himself by a serious attention to his state; considers his temper; review's his conduct, and brings both to the divine standard, that he may know himself, and reform whatever is amiss.
A person of David's character, especially circumstanced as he was at that time, could not possibly have been destitute of considerations. The society of the woman who had been the occasion of the crimes which had so maimed his character, must have brought those crimes to his remembrance, and kept them on his mind. Every time she came into his presence, or cheered him by her smiles, a group of affecting thoughts must have rushed in upon him; his first offence, an offence which the law of his God would have obliged him to punish with death, in a subject, and his after, and still more enormous sins, which he had committed to hide the first, and possess the object which he was forbidden even to covet, would occur to his mind. From the lovely object in his presence, his mind would naturally revert to her late, first greatly injured, and then murdered husband; to his faithfulness and zeal for the honor of his king and country, which had torn him from the embraces of a lovely partner, and the society of a family dear to him, and would not even suffer him to visit them when liberty was given him of his prince; to his careful attention to deliver the letters, by which he had unsuspectingly borne the mandate for his own murder; to his heroism when ordered up to the walls of the besieged city, though not supported by the commander in chief; and his noble exertions to subdue the enemies of Israel, amidst which he had bravely fallen! Such reflexions must have filled his mind; nor was it possible that he should have driven them away.
Neither could he do other than condemn the part which he had acted and feel pain when he considered it. Surely such considerations must have racked his guilty soul, and made him tremble and mourn in bitterness of his spirit before God.
A graceless tyrant who neither fears God, nor regards man, may view, his subjects as made for him, and think himself entitled to deprive them at his pleasure, of every comfort, and even life. This hath been the avowed sentiment of many an eastern despot. But it is not supposeable of a good man -- "the man after God's own heart," though now seduced into certain heinous sins. Surely he could not think on his ways -- on his then late transgressions, but remorse must have harrowed up his soul! He must have been deeply affected, and led to cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" The feelings of a good man, who had been seduced into sin and reflected upon it with deep contrition, are pathetically described by the pen of this same person, in the thirty second psalm; and description is couched in the first person, as what himself had experienced. "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old by reason of my roaring all the days long. For day and night thy hand was heavy on me; my moisture is turned into the drought of summer." There is a strong probability that his feeling on this occasion, before he confessed his sin, and obtained a sense of pardon, are here expressed. They are the same which we should suppose he must feel while tormentedwith a sense of such enormous guilt.
III. We are to consider his temper and conduct when reproved by the prophet.
These are the same which we should expect, did we know him to have been then a penitent. He was indeed taken by guile, and made to condemn himself before he perceived that he was the guilty person of whom the prophet complained. But had he till that time continued impenitent, it is not probable that he would have been instantly humbled, and immediately confessed his sin with true contrition. It is much more probable that he would have resented the application to himself, as an affront offered to royalty, and avenged himself on the Lord's messenger.
God hath power instantly to change the sinner's heart without previous awakenings; but this is not the method of grace. Convictions, ordinarily, if not invariably, antecede conversion, prepare for it, and lead to it.
Neither is this the method of grace, only with the sinner at the first great change, termed the, new birth, but with the saint who falls into heinous sins, and thereby resembles the sinner. When a good man yields to temptation and falls from his stedfastness, God commonly hides his face from him -- for a term, and often for a considerable term, he sits in darkness -- is ready to give up his hope -- to conclude that he hath believed in vain -- never loved God or hated sin -- never passed from death into life. In fine, he feels similar pains, and passeth in many respects, a similar change, when renewed again by repentance, as when first made a new creature.
Do we ever see persons who have been seduced into great and heinous sins, brought back to God, and comforted with his presence without sensations of this kind? We presume the instance cannot be adduced. We should look with a jealous eye on one who pretended to be an example of it. From the methods of grace at present, we may judge of them in times past. God is the same -- sin equally his aversion, and sinners alike the objects of his displeasure.
The supposition that a person is one moment a hardened sinner; the next a thorough penitent, pardoned, restored and comforted of God, is so diverse from his common manner of treating great offenders, that it should not be admitted in a given case, without clear and strong evidence; and in the case before us there is no evidence; even circumstances have a different aspect.
No sooner was this offender reproved, than he discovered a humble penitent disposition. He, freely confessed his sin, both to God and man, as one who had thought on his ways and repented of his transgressions; which could not have been expected of one who after the commission of such crimes, remained thoughtless and secure, till the moment when his guilt and danger were set before him.
But if David was a penitent before he was visited by Nathan, why had he concealed his repentance? Why spread a veil over it and neglected to glorify God by a confession of his sins? Did he think it sufficient to confess to God, and humble himself in secret?
So some argue, and endeavor to cover the sins of which the world knows them to be guilty. But we are far from suspecting this of David.
To break the divine law is implicitly to condemn it. "What iniquity have your fathers found in me?" To conceal sorrow for sin, is in effect to justify it. Then only is God glorified by an offender, when he takes the blame and the shame of his sins on himself, acknowledging the law which he hath broken to be "holy, just and good." Of these things, this offender could not be insensible David was indeed under strong temptation to hide his sins. He was the head of a family, several members of which were abandoned characters. These he had doubtless often reproved. He was the head of a nation, numbers of which were children of Belial. These he had called to repentance, reproved, punished. He had long professed religion -- perhaps often declared its power to change the heart and mend the life. But if his crimes were now made public, he must appear "a sinner above all who dwelt at Jerusalem!" To have his conduct known would cover him with shame, and "give great occasion to the enemy to blaspheme, and speak reproachfully."
Did these considerations prevent him from confessing his sins, and induce him to cover his transgressions? They were mostly arguments for his proclaiming his repentance, had his sins been public.
By his sins he had countenanced wickedness, and set the example of it in a dignified station. By his confession he would condemn it, and justify the law of God, which forbids it; and by his return to duty, do every thing then in his power, to repair the injury he had done and prevent or remove the bad effects of his example. Why then had he neglected it?
There was only one consideration which could excuse him -- that, we apprehend, justified him. His sins in this affair were not public. It appears from several circumstances that they were kept out of sight till the prophet was sent to reprove and publish them, and his repentance of them. Joab knew indeed that the king wished the death of Uriah. It is not certain that he knew the cause. If he did, it is not probable that he had divulged it.
That these matters were not transacted openly, or generally known, maybe inferred from two considerations, namely, from Bathsheba's going into mourning for Uriah, and from Nathan's declaration, when he foretold the evils which would come on David and his family, to punish his sins on this occasion, notwithstanding his repentance. Mournings were very short among the Hebrews; but this adulteress would not have put on mourning, or David delayed to take her to his house, to be his wife, till her mourning was ended, had this affair been public. But, that it was not so, is put out of doubt by the language of the prophet in his address to the king -- "Thou didst it secretly."
If the matter was not public, the delinquent was not to be criminated because he did not make it so. Sins committed in secret are to be confessed and mourned only before him who sees in secret. Such seems to have been David's fixation from the time of his fall, till the publication of his guilt, by the prophet; during which term he felt all the horrors of conscious guilt; "God's hand lying heavy on him."
As it pleased God that both his fall and recovery should be made public, the prophet seems to have delivered his message before witnesses. This took away the ground of temptation longer to hide his fins, and cleared the way to a public renunciation, and return to duty. And the fallen prince waited no exhortations -- needed no entreaties -- "I acknowledged my sin unto thee; and mine iniquity have I not hid; I said I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou foregavest the iniquity of my sin." *
* Psalm xxxii.5.
Thus the opinion of those who suppose that David remained impenitent and secure, till awakened to consideration by the ministry of Nathan, is devoid of proof, and even of probability. David's well known character -- the nature of renewing grace; and the temper and conduct of this transgressor, when reproved by the prophet, concur to prove him then already a penitent; which is confirmed by the consolations forthwith administered to him by the Lord's messenger.
If in this instance God pardoned, and gave a sense of pardon, to so heinous an offender, without a moment intervening sense of guilt, and evidence of pardon and peace, it must have been a very singular divine treatment of so vile a sinner!
And if David, after having been long eminent for piety, lived a year of stupid unconcern, under such enormous guilt, it must have been a very strange event! A phenomenon in the history of man, unequalled in the annals of the world! Whether there is evidence to justify so strange a conclusion, judge ye.
If we have not mistaken our subject, this affair gives no countenance to those who pretend religion to be a thing of nought -- that it doth not change the heart and life, turning men from sin to holiness. Good people may be seduced into sin, but they are soon renewed by repentance -- soon turn again to the Lord in the way of duty, confessing their sins and renewing their purposes and engagements to serve the Lord -- "That which I know not teach thou me; and wherein I have done iniquity, I will do no more."
Neither doth this affair yield comfort and hope to those, who while they call themselves saints, live like sinners. If here, they find no comfort and support, where will they find it? The only example thought to have been found in "the footsteps of the flock," fails them; and we are left to conclude that sanctification is the principal evidence of justification -- "that by their fruits we are to know men."
It is a dark omen when professors paliate their errors and deviations from duty, by pleading those of saints of old. Those saints erred; but they did not long continue in sin -- "When they thought on their ways they turned by repentance." Neither did they flatter themselves in allowed wickedness.
If any allege the sins of former saints in excuse for their own, they allege not that which distinguished them as saints, but that which they retained as sinners -- not that which they possessed of the image of God, but that which remained to them of the image of Satan. This they may have in full, and yet be of their father the Devil. And such is the sad state of those who allowed serve sin, under whatever pretence.
Those who are born of God, favor the thing which are of God. Sin is odious in their view. They long for freedom from it -- "Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
The saints wish for heaven, not only that they may see "their father who is in heaven," and the divine Redeemer, "who loved them and gave himself for them;" but because there "the spirits of the just are made perfect" -- because there they expect to be holy as God is holy -- because there, to be "satisfied with God's likeness, and rejoice always before him." May God give us this temper, and keep us to his kingdom, for his mercy's sake in Christ. Amen.