Then the LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he arrived, he said, "There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor.
2 Samuel 12:1. - (JERUSALEM.)2 Samuel 11:4) and to Joab; it must have been surmised by many from his hasty marriage; and now it was fully manifest (2 Samuel 11:27). About a year had elapsed. "What a year for David to have spent! What a joyless, sunless, godless year! Were God's words still sweet to his taste? Were they still the rejoicing of his heart? or had he come to hate the threatening of the Law?" (J. Wright). At length Nathan (2 Samuel 7:3) came - an example of a faithful reprover (Psalm 141:5; Proverbs 27:6; 1 Samuel 1:13; 1 Samuel 2:22). Consider -
I. HIS DIVINE COMMISSION. He came, not because he was sent for by David, nor because he was prompted by natural reason or impulse (2 Samuel 7:3), but in obedience to the word of the Lord (ver. 7), and in fulfilment of his prophetic calling. "It was the true mission of the prophets, as champions of the oppressed in the courts of kings; it was the true prophetic spirit that spoke through Nathan's mouth" (Stanley).
1. Reproof should be administered only according to the will of God. It is not forevery one to assume the office of reprover (Psalm 50:16); nor to administer reproof to every one who may deserve it, especially when holding a position of authority. In this matter men are apt to run before they are sent. The duty is a relative one, and demands careful consideration before it is undertaken.
2. The will of God concerning the administration of reproof is indicated in various ways; such as the authority given to parents, magistrates, pastors, and teachers - "reprove, rebuke," etc. (2 Timothy 4:2; 5:1); the teachings of the Divine Word; the guidance of the Divine Spirit.
3. When the will of God is clearly made known, it should be humbly, readily, and diligently obeyed; both when it requires his servants to testify his favour (2 Samuel 7:4, 25) and his displeasure (2 Samuel 11:27).
II. HIS CONSUMMATE WISDOM. In nothing are wisdom and prudence more needed than in reproof. If given unwisely it is likely to excite opposition, produce equivocation, repel and harden. "A word fitly spoken," etc. (Proverbs 25:11, 12). It should be given:
1. At a proper time - when the proof of wrong doing admits of no denial, and the mind of the wrong doer is duly prepared. It is not probable that Nathan came immediately after he first heard of David's transgression. "His task was not to gain a confession, but only to facilitate it. He was appointed by God to await the time of the internal crisis of David" (Hengstenberg).
2. When the offender is alone (Matthew 18:15), and is likely to pay greater heed to it and to be less influenced by what others think. Sometimes, however, sinners must be "rebuked before all, that others also may fear" (1 Timothy 5:20).
(1) A respectful, courteous, and conciliatory bearing. To begin with rude reproaches is to ensure failure.
(2) An ingenious invention of a "form of speech" (2 Samuel 14:20) and illustration suitable to the case.
(3) A generous recognition of the better qualities in men. "David's goodness is not denied because of his sin, nor is David's sin denied because of his goodness."
(4) A clear statement of the truth, avoiding exaggeration and everything that may hinder its illuminating force.
(5) A strong appeal to the conscience, so as to quicken its action as a witness and judge.
(6) A dexterous application of admitted principles and expressed judgments and emotions.
(7) An effectual removal of the mists of self-deception, so as to enable the evil doer to see his actual character and conduct, and constrain him to reprove and condemn himself. The wisdom of the prophet in fulfilling his mission to the king was "inimitably admirable." "Observing that this direct road (the recommendation of self-knowledge) which led to it (the reformation of mankind) was guarded on all sides by self-love, and consequently very difficult to open access, public instructors soon found out that a different and more artful course was requisite. As they had not strength to remove this flattering passion which stood in their way and blocked up the passages to the heart, they endeavoured by stratagem to get beyond it, and, by a skilful address, if possible to deceive it. This gave rise to the only manner of conveying their instructions in parables, fables, and such sort of indirect applications; which, though they could not conquer this principle of self-love, yet often laid it asleep, or at least overreached it for a few moments, till a just judgment could be procured. The Prophet Nathan seems to have been a great master in this art of address" (Laurence Sterne).
III. HIS HOLY COURAGE. His mission was as perilous as it was painful; and might, if it failed, have cost him his life. But he feared not "the wrath of the king" (Proverbs 16:14; Proverbs 19:12; Hebrews 11:27). Such moral courage as he exhibited:
1. Is inspired by faith in God, whose face it beholds, and on whose might it relies.
2. Consists in the fearless fulfilment of duty, whatever consequences it may involve - the loss of friendship or other earthly good; the endurance of bonds, suffering, and death. "None of these things move me," etc. (Acts 20:24).
3. Appears in simple, bold, direct, and unreserved utterance of God's Word (Ezekiel 33:7). At the proper moment the prophet changed his style of address; gave it a particular application, "the very life of doctrine;" and, in the name of the supreme King and Judge, arraigned the offender, declared his guilt, and pronounced his sentence. "His example is especially to be noted by all whose office is to 'rebuke with all authority'" ('Speaker's Commentary').
IV. HIS BENEVOLEST AIM. He came not only to testify against sin, to maintain the authority of the Law, etc.; but also (in connection therewith) to benefit the sinner, by:
1. Leading him to repentance.
2. Assuring him of forgiveness.
3. Restoring him to righteousness, peace, and joy (ver. 13; Psalm 51:12). Reproofs of instruction are the way of life (Proverbs 6:23; Proverbs 13:18; Proverbs 17:10). Sympathy with the holy love of God toward sinners is an essential qualification of a faithful reprover of sin; and as it is God's mercy that employs agents and means for their restoration, so it is his grace alone that makes them effectual (John 16:8).
"And so wide arms
I. THE PERIL OF SELF-INDULGENCE. The heart-rotted tree may stand long in the golden light and summer calm, and crowned with some garniture of green its true condition be unguessed. But let the stormy wind blow and beat upon it, and quickly it will fall. For many years David hail been "like a tree planted by the rivers of water than bringeth forth his fruit in his season." He had stood many a blast of temptation unroofed, the more deeply rooted. But self-indulgence, like a permitted rot, had slowly, insidiously, wrought ruin within him, and the strength of his soul became weakness and succumbed to sudden tempestuous temptation. There is ever a sad though secret preparation for such a fall as David's. There is an inner before an outer fall.
And the Lord sent Nathan unto David.I. DAVID'S SIN. David, it appears, to avenge the outrage which bad been perpetrated on his ambassadors by Hanun, the king of the Ammonites, invaded that king's dominions, and, in two pitched battles, defeated both him and his allies with great slaughter. In the following year, as soon as the season permitted, David renewed the war, and followed up his successes still further by sending Joab, and all Israel with him, to lay siege to the royal city of Rabbah, the metropolis of Hanun's kingdom. Instead, however, of accompanying his army on this occasion, according to his usual custom, David unhappily "tarried still at Jerusalem;" and, whilst there, he appears to have given himself up to a life of sloth and sinful indulgence. "For it came to pass," says the sacred historian, "in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed," where, perhaps, he had been dozing away the afternoon in idleness, instead of spending it in some useful occupation, "and walked upon the roof of the king's house." From this elevated position, David saw a woman of great beauty washing herself. But instead of "turning away his eyes from beholding vanity," and thus acting the part of an honourable and a modest man, he allowed lust to gain an entrance into his heart, and at last to take full possession of it. Oh, such is the seductive influence, such the tyrannical nature of sin, that, let a man give it but the least encouragement, and it is sure to lead him on, step by step, almost imperceptibly, till at last it compels him, whether he wills or not, to do its bidding. Do you, then, take the advice of a friend, and have nothing to do with "the accursed thing." Leave it off, before it be meddled with. For now, mark the next step in his downward career. He sent and inquired after the woman. And although he was plainly told that she was already a married woman; the wife, too, of one of his own best and ablest generals, Uriah the Hittite, and who was actually, at that very moment, jeopardising his own life in the high places of the field to sustain the safety and honour of David's crown; yet such was the hold which sin had now taken of him that he persisted in sending for her, and at last, after a brief interview, persuades her to forsake the guide of her youth, and to forget the covenant of her God. Oh, who could have thought that David, the mall after God's own heart, would ever have been guilty of such a crime as this. Little did David think, when he was committing this shocking crime, that his sin would so soon find him out. But so it was; for scarcely had a few months rolled by before Bathsheba perceived that she could no longer conceal her disgrace, and consequently she sends to David, acquainting him with her situation, and in all probability, reminding him of his promise to protect her; for, according to the law of Moses, the adulterer and the adulteress were, both to be put to death. And now, what is to be done? The same evil spirit that prompted him to commit the crime soon suggests a plan for concealing it.
II. WHAT WERE THE MEANS WHICH GOD TOOK TO AWAKEN DAVID TO A SENSE OF HIS WICKEDNESS AND DANGER? Did He raise up enemies round about him to lay waste his country and destroy his people? or did He rain down fire and brimstone from heaven, as He once did upon the guilty cities of the plain, in order that He might sweep this wretched monarch from off the earth? Or did He send terrors to take hold of him, and the messengers ,of death to arrest him? No; He sent to him one of his own humble and faithful ministers, in order that he might reason the matter over with him, call his sin to remembrance, and convince him of his guilt. For nearly two full years David appears to have thought nothing more about Uriah. Perhaps he may have thought that, as he had since married the widow, he had made nil the reparation that was required of him. Or he may have supposed that as no other person beside himself was privy to the part which he had taken in Uriah's death, there was no use troubling himself further about the matter. If so, David was greatly mistaken. Yes, there was One Witness to the whole transaction, whom David seems to have lost sight of altogether.
III. WHAT EFFECT GOD'S MESSAGE PRODUCED ON DAVID. Did he fly into a rage with the man of God for thus faithfully discharging his duty? Did he exclaim, with an outburst of angry passion, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" Or did be call to the governor of the city, and say unto him, "Take this fellow away, and put him in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and water of affliction?" Or did he, like his father Adam, try to shift the blame from himself, and lay it upon the woman? David was so horrified at the picture which Nathan had drawn of his own conduct, and so convinced of its truth, that he exclaimed without a moment's hesitation, "I have sinned against the Lord."
IV. WHAT LESSONS WE OURSELVES MAY GATHER UP FROM THE CONTEMPLATION OF THIS PAINFUL SUBJECT.
1. In the first place, then, we may learn that there is no sin beyond the reach of God's mercy.
2. And, lastly, let no notorious sinner be emboldened, from David's unhappy fall, to presume on God's mercy. Let such a one remember that David's sin was committed but once: he was no habitual transgressor.
(E. Harper, B. A.)
1. When he had fallen into grievous sin — such sin as, we might well suppose, if we did not know how "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" is the human heart, he would have been incapable of committing.
2. When he was blind, and insensible to his sin. And I think this is something more surprising than even the sin itself. It seems to prove more convincingly the deep depravity of our nature. It is the stamp of a lower humiliation.
II. WHEREFORE? What was the object of his mission?
1. What might have been expected? Why, surely, that it would be to declare the Divine displeasure — to announce God's sentence of condemnation against the royal transgressor — to warn him of approaching retribution — to tell him that he had sinned beyond the hope of mercy, and the possibility of restoration, and that there was nothing for him now but a prospect of changeless despair. Gracious and longsuffering as the Lord is, as He is always declared to be in His Word; much as He delights in messages of mercy to His creatures, there have not been wanting in the history of mankind instances of the other kind.
2. But no: it was not as a herald of vengeance that Nathan was sent to David, but as a reprover and convincer of sin, to bring him to repentance, by showing him the baseness of his conduct, the aggravation of his crimes, and the danger to which they had justly exposed him.
III. WITH WHAT RESULT?
I. 1 answer, first, with but a more startling illustration of the blinding power of sin. We might have thought that, with his ordinarily quick apprehension, David would have perceived at once the point and force of Nathan's parable. We should have looked for an immediate self-application of it, and the proper effect thereof; but in doing so, we should only have miscalculated the influence of sinful indulgence in blunting the faculty of moral perception, and deadening all the sensibilities of the soul.
2. The bringing him to a sincere acknowledgment of his offence. This only followed, however, Upon the prophet's faithful home-thrust — "Thou art the man!" 'This story concerns thee. It needs but to put in the name, and it is then a narration of thy own guilty and heartless conduct towards thy faithful servant Uriah. Thus hast thou sinned against thy unoffending neighbour. Oh! wicked king, there is no excuse for thee.' And then David saw himself as the prophet saw him; as, at that moment, God saw him.
3. The leading him to an experience of God's pardoning grace. For no sooner had David acknowledged his sin, taken to himself the blame of his guilty acts, and prostrated himself a weeping penitent at God's footstool, than the prophet was commissioned to absolve him from his offences by a declaration of the Divine forgiveness. "A God ready to pardon." That is one of the names given to the Lord in the Bible. Was there ever a completer illustration of it than is here supplied?
II. THE IMPERATIVE IMPORTANCE OF WATCHFULNESS. Surely, if any man could have dispensed with watchfulness David was the man. And. yet he — patriarch, prophet, saint — fell into the defiling pool of sensuality. We have watchful against us a malignant and pitiless enemy. He has no reverence for the silvered head; for the honour that has gathered to the hoar-haired believer. We need all — and the aged saint, too — to watch against him. We need well to know ourselves. Our physical and mental temperament may expose us to special dangers. Our very excellencies may become our snares. We must watch over them. We dare not glory in them.
III. THE DREADFUL CONNECTION OF SIN WITH SIN. If David had made a covenant with his eyes he had not looked. But he looked, and the look was sin. And that one sin opened the way for many. To lust he added craft, to craft treason, to treason murder. And this is David! "Lord, what is man?" No sin stands alone. Admit one, a whole brood presses urgent, irresistible upon its heels. It is the "little rift" that widens till the music of a holy life is mute. It is the "little pitted speck" that, rotting inwards, slowly spoils the fruit of useful character. Lie darkens into lies. The one theft into another. David's one sin into many.
IV. THE AWFUL POSSIBILITIES OF SELF-DECEPTION. For mouths, for a year, David went on unconscious of his guilt. How blinding is self-partiality! "It is really prodigious," as Bishop Butler says, "to see a man, before so remarkable for virtue and piety, going on deliberately from adultery to murder with the same cool contrivance, and, from what appears, with as little disturbance, as a man would endeavour to prevent the ill consequences of a mistake he had made in any common matter. That total insensibility of mind with respect to those horrid crimes, after the commission of them, manifestly shows that he did some way or other delude himself, and this could not be with respect to the crimes themselves, they were so manifestly of the grossest kind." Oh, the possibilities of self-deception! The liar may appear true, the dishonest honest, the vile pure. So for awhile; but not for long. The day of self-revelation is at hand. "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid that shall not be known."
V. THE BLESSEDNESS OF TRUE REPENTANCE. "The Lord sent Nathan unto David." By a touching apologue the wise prophet drew David to pass unconscious verdict upon himself.
VI. THE IRREVOCABLE CHARACTER OF A SINFUL DEED. David was forgiven. But he could not escape the bitter temporal fruit of his sin. To life's very end it was as gravel in his teeth, as acrid ashes in his mouth. A sinful deed may be pardoned; but it cannot be recalled, and on it will go its desolating way. No tears of David could wash away the guilty past. Dad deeds live when the doer is dead. This Sill of David has caused from age to age the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. "Stand in awe and sin not." "The lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death."
(G. T. Coster.)
III. THE EXPLICATION OF HIS SKILFUL PARABLE WAS INSTANTANEOUS: "And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man." The king must have been startled beyond all power of self-control. How rapid was the transition of feeling through which he passed! One minute he was on his feet in all the flush of indignation at another's sin, fairly exulting in the proud sense of unutterable contempt at injustice so apparent and so unmitigated in its foul stroke. The next minute he perceived the countenance of Nathan changing towards him. Around came that long scornful finger, which had been pointing at an imaginary offender; and now in reply to the implied inquiry for that offender's name, its index slowly reached his own face, and then the sober words were spoken: "Thou art the man." Could his discomfiture have been more complete? Could Nathan's triumph of rebuke have been more successful?
IV. LESSONS OF PRESENT INSTRUCTION FROM THIS PARABLE. Sin levels the loftiest man to the lowest rank. Zeal for God lifts the lowliest man into a vantage unquestioned.
1. Observe, then, that in all cases conscience is the arbiter in the wrong, and must be the centre of aim in the reproof.
2. Observe, that absolute rectitude is the only standard to be admitted in all processes of rebuke.
3. In the third place, observe that tenderness is the dominant spirit in all truly Scriptural, or even successful, rebuke.
4. Observe, in the fourth place, that courageous fidelity is the measure of all Christian duty in administering rebuke. Are we up to this standard in helping each other? Has not the day of honest fraternal rebuke pretty much passed by? And are we not ourselves to blame for many of those detections to the common cause which make such sudden scandal? Another question, quite akin to this, is likewise suggested by this theme: What ought to be expected of every faithful ministry in a time like that we live in? Is there any sin so peculiarly delicate that the messenger of God is debarred from saying, "Thou art the man?"
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. THE ANALOGY AND CONTRAST WHICH IT SETS FORTH AS EXISTING BETWEEN DAVID AND URIAH.
1. The analogy.(1) The men in the parable were on an equality; in some respects they were fellow-men and fellow-citizens. "There were two men in one city." So David and Uriah, although one was a king and the other a subject, were on a level on the common ground of humanity, and were both subject to the laws, political, social, and religious, which had been given by God to the nation which regarded Jerusalem as the seat of government.(2) David was by birth a member of the highly-favoured nation to whom God had given laws, and Uriah, by choice, was a citizen of the city where dwelt David the king, who, more than any other man, was bound to obey the law of his nation and of his God.(3) There is analogy in their qualities. They were both courageous, valiant men. David had, from his youth, been noted for this characteristic; from his shepherd-day when he slew the lion and the bear, up to the present time his bravery had been unquestioned. Uriah the Hittite was a man of like spirit in this respect, and his very bravery had been used by his master to compass his death. It was well known to David that if Uriah was placed in the forefront of the battle he would hold his post or die.
2. The parable also sets forth the contrast in the two men — "the one rich and the other poor."(1) The king's position made it possible for him to indulge his unlawful desires without hindrance. The position of Uriah obliged him to submit to his master's will. This inequality aggravated David's crime.(2) The parable seems to hint at a further contrast. "The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: but the poor man had nothing save one little ewe lamb." David had many wives; the narrative implies that Uriah had but one. His love was therefore deeper, because purer, than that of David. His strong affection was an emotion to which the king was a comparative stranger, even as the rich man in the parable could not estimate, his poor neighbour's affection for his only lamb. For the lawless passion of David cannot be placed upon a level with the pure love of Uriah. The one is life and the other death. The river which keeps within its channel is a blessing to the country through which it flows; but the same river, when it bursts its banks and overflows the land, becomes a means of desolation and destruction. So it is with lawful affection and lawless passion.
II. THE EFFECT OF THE PARABLE AND ITS APPLICATION UPON DAVID.
1. It awakened strong emotion: "David's anger was greatly kindled against the man." (v. 5.) This effect was the result of looking at the crime from a distance.
2. It revealed great self-ignorance. The knowledge most indispensable in life is self-knowledge; a man who does not possess this is an ignorant man, whatever are his other requirements. Knowledge is said to be power, and the knowledge of oneself is the greatest power.
3. But the effect of the application of the parable is a remarkable illustration of the power of conscience. Some men do everything upon a large scale. Their emotions are deep, their sins are great, and so are their virtues. The captain of a vessel of large dimensions which carries a rich cargo, has a heavier weight of responsibility than he has who has only the charge of a small craft. If he pilot the vessel safely into harbour he has the more honour, but if she gets wrecked the disaster makes a deeper impression.
III. THE EFFECT OF DAVID'S CONFESSION UPON GOD. Confession of sin to a human friend against whom we have offended will often bring an assurance of forgiveness. The good parent makes it indispensable before the child is restored to its position and favour. So is it in the government of God. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (John 1:9.)
1. The path of duty is the path that "leads not into temptation." If David had been at the head of his army at this time it is likely that he would have escaped this dark stain upon his life. A brook is kept pure while it is in motion, but if its waters were to be stopped from flowing they would become stagnant.
2. That tendencies to sin, though not on the surface, are yet latent in the depths of the heart. To the eye of a stranger a powder-vessel may look very trim and clean and safe, but the black powder is there in the hold, only needing a single spark to make its awful power felt.
3. Impurities in the springs of thought will be revealed in the streams of action.
4. Although sin is forgiven, some of its consequences must remain. "The Lord hath put away thy sin," but "the sword shall never depart from thine house."
5. The parable, and the fact that gave rise to it, lead us to observe —(1) That impartial reason is ever ready to condemn any flagrant iniquity. There is as discernible a difference between good and evil as between white and black, when nothing interposes to obstruct the sight, or misrepresent the object.(2) The prejudices of interest and lust may, and do hinder men from discerning, or at least distinguishing in practice between right and wrong, even in the plainest cases. Such was most apparently the case with David.(3) Although men do sometimes suffer themselves to commit gross sins, in open contradiction to their own inward light, yet all notorious iniquity stands condemned by the universal verdict of mankind.
(R. Moss, D. D.)
I. THE MAN LEFT TO HIMSELF. Like other servants of God whose lives are recorded in the Scriptures, we find David in times of sin withdrawing from communion with God, loving his own way, hugging his pet sin. David estranged himself from his God, and he soon sinks lower and lower. Sinful weakness he had been shown before, but this is a mean, selfish crime. No one withdraws trust from God and prospers. As flowers live in and by the rays of the sun, so the graces of the soul need the favour of God. No agony of remorse is so keen as that of the child of God over sinful pleasures indulged. More helpless than a rudderless vessel in the Maelstrom is the Christian who abandons himself to serve sin even for a season.
1. David left to himself makes a sorry self indeed. A further evidence of increasing guilt is the manner of his treatment of the prisoners of war (v. 31.) It was cruel in the extreme, unnecessarily cruel. So unlike David. Ah! biting, goading him was that sense of sin which he could not shake off. Ill at ease, he cares not what suffering he causes. His temper unrestrained, any savage cruelty is possible. These excitements so eagerly sought only serve to show the unceasing demands conscience made upon him. Can any man venture to say David was happy? We are not left to conjecture. Psalm 51., written twelve months after his sin, reveals his inmost thoughts at this time (as also Psalm 32.), and this psalm was delivered to the chief musician for public use before the sacred history was written.
2. David is yet in his sin. How dulled his vision, or the parable had needed no explanatory application! How forcibly this fatal power of sin is brought home to us, and daily! Illustrations of this deceitfulness of sin abound. Judges pronounce sentence on poor fallen girls while indulging in the sin themselves! Workmen pronounce hard, biting sentences upon those who bring down prices by undue competition, yet go and take the situation offered by the foreign competitor without a thought of the inconsistency. Nothing blinds like self-love.
II. THE CURSE NATHAN UTTERS, AND CHASTISEMENT. Former gracious dealings are brought to mind. There was horsing which God withheld from David. He came to the kingdom when God saw wise, and with unsparing hand had God dealt out blessing. He had disregarded the responsibilities which his office brought and despised the commandment of the Lord!
1. The adaptation of the retribution to the offence is noticeable — a principle in the moral government of God of which there are many instances in Scripture. Jacob deceived his father, and his sons deceive him. He cheats his brother, and is cheated by his uncle Laban. This is remarkably seen in the after-days of David; and while the form of the chastisement appears arbitrary, it is not, for it comes by way of natural consequence of the sins itself.
2. "The babe dies." There was wise reason why it should. That David, whose parental love was strong, felt this blow keenly the history reveals. He watched the child die, knowing it would die, knowing it would die because of him.
(H. E. Stone.)
1. As regards, our acknowledged sins. We must remember that their hatefulness, and aggravations, if they were publicly confessed, might very probably be recognised by every one but ourselves, the perpetrators. There are certain loathsome diseases, which are offensive and repulsive in the highest degree to every one but the patient. And there is a close analogy between the spiritual frame of man and his natural; if the moral disease be your own — rooted in your character, clinging to your own heart, it never can affect you with the same disgust as if it were another man's.
2. But the probe of self-examination needs to be applied to the better, as well as to the worse parts of our conduct. The natural heart is an adept in flatteries, not only suggesting excuses for the evil, but also heightening the colours of the good which, by God's grace, is in us. Where conduct stands the test of self-examination, the motives of it should be called in question. We must do in regard of ourselves what we may never do in regard of others — suspect that an unsound motive may underlie a fair conduct. Certain proprieties and regularities of behaviour, whether devotional or moral, are secured by deference to the prevailing opinions and habits of society, as is shown sometimes by the fact that, when we are in foreign parts, and no longer under this restraint, those proprieties and regularities are not so carefully maintained. Many good actions are done, more or less, because they are in keeping with a man's position, conciliate credit to him, gain him the praise of others. Works of usefulness and social (and even religious) improvement may be undertaken, more or less, from that activity of mind which is inherent in some characters, because naturally we cannot bear to be standing still, and are constitutionally unfitted for a studious, contemplative life. To have probed their own wounds, and pored over their own inflamed and envenomed frames, would have availed the poisoned Israelites nothing, unless, after such a survey of their misery, they had lifted their eyes to the brazen serpent. "Look unto Him," therefore, "and be ye healed."
(E. M. Goulburn, D. D.)I. THE PARABLE AS BASED UPON FACT. There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds: the poor man had one ewe lamb. And the rich man, in a case of emergency, instead of taking a lamb out of his own flock, killed the one ewe lamb of the poor man. If that never occurred we must know it. Did it ever occur? It is the thing that is occurring every day. It is the infinite danger of wealth that it becomes oppressive, cruel, thoughtless, selfish. There is a sanctified wealth; there is a gracious social position; there is a condescending royalty. But why should it be remarked that such should be the case? Simply because of the almost innate tendency of men to use wealth with cruelty and selfishness. The poor man feels the cold wind first. The destruction of the poor man is his poverty. Wealth when it oppresses carries with it its own condemnation. Wealth when it is used as a means of succouring men, helping the true and the good is doing the work of God. But we are dealing with something below all that we now know as personal facts — namely, with principles, mysteries, with that whole region, almost undiscovered, of motive, passion, impulse that never can be explained adequately in words. On the other hand, a man is not necessarily a virtuous citizen because he has only one ewe lamb. Let us be impartial.
II. THE PARABLE AS A METHOD OF TEACHING. The parable was a favourite educational instrument in Eastern nations. There were many parable-makers in Oriental lands. But where are the parables equal to those which are to be found in the Bible? Balaam had a parable, Jotham had a parable; Nathan has a parable, and others in the Old Testament now and again come very near to the line of parable, but in proportion as we discover the parable to be beautiful and true we see in it the Spirit of the living God — the Eternal Force — the Divine Quantity. But when we come to the teaching of Jesus Christ all the other parables fall off into dim perspective; and after he laid down that instrument was it ever taken up again? Jesus Christ often fetched a compass — and he fetched it by such a sweep, by such a reach of mind, that the men upon whom his attention was fastened little suspected, until after the completion of the parable, that they were the objects of his judgment and condemnation. This is masterly preaching — to be personal without the individuals knowing that we are such; to get up a whole statement, coloured in every hue of heaven, sharp with all the pungency of criticism, and for men afterwards to wake up to the fact that the preacher was meaning none other than themselves. What applies to Christ's parables, and to all others of the same quality, applies to the whole revelation of God.
III. THE PARABLE AS A PRACTICAL REVELATION OF GOD'S JUSTICE. We have seen that the thing which David did "displeased the Lord." Does God treat the sin lightly? He says: "The sword shall never depart from thine house;" across every bright summer that shines upon thee there shall be a great bar of blackness; when the birds sing to thee thou shalt be constrained to punctuate their songs with memories of remorse; when thou dost lift the flagon to thy lips the wine shall leave behind it a poisonous taste; when thou liest down a thorn shall puncture thee: thou shalt never escape from this deed of wickedness. Whilst, therefore, the mocker is eager to quote as against the Bible the sin of David, if he be a just man as well as a jiber he ought to quote the judgment pronounced by God, and to see how true is the doctrine of eternal torment even in relation to this life. This parable, too, shows us man's responsibility. David is not allowed to escape on the ground of being overtaken in a fault. Kings ought to be their own subjects. The greater the man, the greater should be the saint. The greater the opportunities we have had of education and culture of every kind, the severer should be public criticism upon our lapses and iniquities, To whom much has been given, from him shall much be expected. He who knoweth his Lord's will and doeth it not shall be beaten with many stripes.
(J. Parker, D,D.)
(W. Smith, D. D.)
Sunday Companion.Leech, the, celebrated artist and caricaturist, is said to have had an effective method of reprimanding his children. If their faces were distorted with anger, or a rebellious temper, or a sullen mood, he took out his sketch-book, transferred their lineaments to paper, and showed them, to their own confusion, how ugly naughtiness was.
(H. O. Mackey.)
(H. Brooke, M. A.)
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