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BY ALEXADER GARDIER MERCER, D.D.
But now thy kingdom shall not continue : Ihe Lord hzUi sought bint i
n after his own heart, and the Lord bath commanded him to be otptaii
:r hi* people. — i Samuei. liii., 14.
So Samuel the prophet said to the foolish king Saul
— that he would put him aside, for he was unfit, and put
David, a very different sort of king, in his place.
The expression, "a man after God's heart," has been
sadly abused, on the one hand by silly sneerers at the
Bible, and on the other hand by commentators, who
mean to defend the Bible, but know not how to do it.
The sneerers say that God when he spoke so committed
himself to the judgment that David was a perfect man ;
and the commentators answer : ot so ; the words were
used only of David as a king, that is, ofHcially, — that he
was a good ruler. But really all this is trifling. Igno-
rance of the spirit of these writings makes nine tenths
of the difficulties in them. When Samuel said that
David was a man after God's own heart, he was not
speaking as a mathematician, but in the ordinary manner.
I have known people after my own heart whose history,
if I went back through it, would show me some stains
not after my own heart, " for there is no man that sinneth
not." God is a just Judge, and if in the main be is
DA VID : HIS SI AD REPETACE. 1 1 S
pleased with a man, he will in friendly moments call him
*'a man after his own heart,'* though afterward, when
the man has sinned, he will resent and punish deeply
If we are to take each expression of the Bible, and give
it all the force of which it is capable, not judging it by
the usages of human speech and of Jewish speech, we
shall not read one page without meeting some glaring
But here there is at least a high encomium of David ;
yes, and it is true. I have spoken of the glories of David.
But I will now change my text, and show you the other
side, — show you that though he was worthy of love and
praise it is in the face of deep and almost inexpiable
crime. My text now is : ''Thou hast killed Uriah the
Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy
wife," a sad theme, — shocking, — still it will be useful to
speak of it.
In David's career there are acts questionable and bad,
but this stands alone. He is enchanted with the beauty
of a woman, and takes her to himself with a high hand.
But that is only the beginning. He then attempts
meanly to cover up his crime, but, failing in that, he
commands that her husband, Uriah, be set in the hottest
place of the battle, and so secures his destruction. And,
beyond this, when the order was given he had just seen
the most affecting proof of Uriah's noble character, and
devotion to himself. An awful baseness ! " Let this
man die, and quickly ! "
Il6 BIBLE CHARACTERS.
But we must do justice. There are two g^at dangers
I in speaking of crime generally, — the danger of harshly
judging, and that of weakly excusing, — and I hardly know
which is worse. As to this case, the very worst and
harshest aspect of it is presented in the narrative, and
left entirely unexplained. So, as I wish to do the crimi-
nal no injustice, I must state it as it is.
There are three things to be said which may be pal-
liatives ; at least they will enable us to understand the
j||i matter as it is. First, we must remember the old
superstition as to kings, especially in the countries east
of Judea. There kings were men set above moral rules;
their wish was law ; the king was a human god, and his
wish made wrong things right. We have seen the same
[||i in our own race, and as late as two or three hundred
fl years ago. It was actually reduced to a philosophy by
jj Hobbes, and sanctioned, or winked at, even by the Eng-
jji lish church dignitaries. ow the Jews, we ought never
to forget, partook deeply of the spirit of the East. The
Jew was an oriental, and, in some respects, an oriental of
the orientals. But, besides, they were at this time di-
!¦ I rectly influenced, in all their ideas and feelings about
I^Jj royalty, by the example of those great Eastern empires
to which this little nation now looked up. The new-
made Jewish kings took at once, and keenly, the spirit
of those old dynasties. According to that spirit, the sub-
\ ject was the absolute property of the monarch. The
|[; king took very much what he wished, and sacrificed what
DAVID; HIS SI AD REPETACE. II7
life he chose, as his natural prerogative. Man, even now,
easily confuses power with right, but to primitive man the
things are hardly separated, hardly separable. If these
things are remembered, and, besides, if you think how
many crimes are prevented by prudence and fear, — how
much of what is called virtue consists in different forms
of prudence and fear, — you will be better able to judge
of the crimes of Eastern kings, — men set above prudence
and fear, set in the situation of gods, without the virtue
Second, our present ideas of the Bible, and of what we
call the Old-Testament saints, give us false expectations.
We think of them as half-divine. But we know that the
Old-Testament truth is a dawning day, and so we should
remember that the Old-Testament men, also, are men of
the dawn. Fresher, sublimer, no men can be than some
of them at times, — but they are fine statues, only yet
half-hewn, — one half of the face may be divine, as of a
god ; the other half, as yet, in block.
The religious man of that day and the religious man of
this day are two persons ; and, if we do not think of this,
we must do injustice to the great but irregular characters
of those early times.
So, particularly as to David. In an age of polygamy,
and in an age of blood, the two great crimes of David
were great enough, to be sure, but not at all as the same
crimes to-day. To-day, the same sense of God would be
utterly inconsistent with the same crimes. The two
Il8 BIBLE CHARACTERS.
things could not go together. But the sneerer, ignorant
of this, settles it at once, in his ignorance, and by one
word, hypocrisy ! ow, if there ever breathed a man un-
tainted by hypocrisy, it was this man. o such explana-
tion is possible.
But some one will say : " We do not judge David by the
ideas of Christianity, but we judge him by his own writ-
ings." Ah ! to be sure, there is an awful disparity. This
man, and the man who wrote the Psalms, seem at first
like two beings. O the gulf ! But when we judge hhn
by the highest ideas of his own age, much more by
these Psalms, which were far above his own age or
any age, we are too severe. For to judge any man by
his own familiar letters is often to apply a severe test;
to judge him by his formal writings is more severe ; but
when, beyond this, we place side by side the solitary
aspirations, in his best moments, of one period of a man's
life, with the passionate and passing faults of one dark
hour ; when we condemn as a hypocrite a most fervid
soul, because he could overflow with divine feeling and
yet, on one occasion, fall into a mean and devilish act, —
then we become ignorant, unjust, cruel.
In the third place, we should remember the possession,
the exclusive occupation, of some hearts, by any intense
feeling which once takes hold of them, literally blinding
the soul to every thing else. This may be some pallia-
tion of crime or may not be, but at least it will be
well to remember it.
DAVID: HIS SI AD REPETACE. II9
ow this narrowness in the Hebrew race was so
peculiar that it is not only a proverb, but has been
so ever since they became known to the nations. And
what is the meaning of this Jewish narrowness ? It is not
the narrowness of ignorance, or of poor faculties, but the
narrowness of intensity, — such a contracting force in the
feelings as to shut out every thing but the one thing
before them ! There is a blinding effect in all sin, — what
the apostle calls the " deceivableness, or deceptiveness, of
unrighteousness.*' But a race so intense, when once set
wrong, trod the pathway down to death with as much
assurance as if it were walking upward in the path of
life. I say an intense heart must always, for the time,
be a narrow and blind heart. ow David was the most
intense man of his race. His life is aglow all through,
filled with intensities. But is this any palliation ? Per-
haps not, — but I state it. There are people whose
nature is such that the eyes once fixed are fascinated.
They are like horses with blinders on a public road,
literally shut up to every object but the road before
them. And this narrowness of intensity, you may
observe, is a source of great virtues, as well as of
crimes. I see it all through the Jewish history, now
working good, now working ill. I see it in Peter,
and John, and the first church of Jewish Christians. I
see it in David, as he now mounts up to heaven and now
goes down to hell.
One thing more will end my explanations for David.
I30 BIBLE CHARACTERS.
There may be no weight in the fact that he was like a
Eastern king, or that he shared the infirniities of tl
men of early times, or that he was of a peculiarly tmpa
sioned and intense nature. Whatever force all this ma
have, I put it aside, that I may just say this on
thing ; David's crime was great, but his repentance ws
as great as his crime. When you think of the wronf
when it mounts so Iiigh that you give up all defeno
then read over the fifty-first Psalm.
To any heart that truly enters into the feeling of tha
Psalm (perhaps not a living man can) I need not say on
word more to place David exactly where he ought to b
placed, not as excused (unspeakably far from that); nol
perhaps, as palliated, but as understood, as separate)
widely from the men capable of the same crimes but no
in the least capable of the same repentance.
This man seems to me, in his splendid genius, his bril
liant valor, his personal and kingly graces, but far abov<
these, in his native chivalry and generosity, his pity, his
magnanimity, and, at the top, in his sublime nearness t(
God, his trust in him, his powerful, yearning love to hi<
fathers' God, to his church and country, — that is, to
every thing good and divine, — in these things, in a soul
filled with the richest sensibilities of love, of sorrow, o(
agony, and pouring itself forth in those singular songs
which will touch and purify the human heart so long aa
it is human, this man seems to me half-divine, . yet
this same man was a robber, a murderer of his faithful
DAVID: HIS SI AD REPETACE, 121
servant. What shall I say of him? I shall say that
the prodigies and miracles of the heart are greater than
those of nature. I shall say that though David is in
history one of those great rivers which have watered the
earth, yet this splendid stream, while reflecting images of
heaven, is darkened also with the blackest shadows of
earth. But I shall add that his sin, which was black, is
forgiven, for he repented much, and loved much !
ow this history could suggest many thoughts. Let
me offer a few of them. For example, our idolatries and
contempts are corrected here. If a man ascends rather
high, we at once go to work to idealize him ; or, if a man
shocks us, we give him up, and think no good of him.
Both feelings are false, both pernicious. This singular
aptness of our imagination (if once inflamed), in turning
men into gods or devils, gives, indeed, the interest of a
strong light and shade to life, and to the records of his-
tory. But it is false, I repeat, and pernicious. I know
of no devils, even among men who are half-insane; and I
know of but One on whom the fervors of our admiration
and love may safely be spent.
Again : this story of the king and poet of the old
church, like the "denial of Peter" in the new church,
seems designed to shock us into a just sense of the frailty
of the best. We build on man, especially on our highest
men. But what ts man ? and " wherein is he to be
accounted of? "
I know that hero-worship has lifted the world, and led
122 BIBLE CHARACTERS,
It forward through all its history. But we must be made
to know that God is better than man, that we can build
only on God, that " God is our Rock, and the high God
our Redeemer." ** Cease ye from man."
ote here the use God makes of sin. He manufac-
tures, we know, light out of the blackness. The most
exquisite souls are formed over again, either out of their
own sins, like David, or out of others* sins, like the Son
of David. We may be created anew, I say, either from
the wrongs we do, as David was, or from the wrongs we
suffer, as Christ was (the new David), who " learned obe-
dience by the things which he suffered." And there is
the same hope for all men through the same sad process,
— hope, that at last, far off, we may come like new silver
out of the furnace.
Some, if they have sinned, perish from discouragement
and hopelessness. But, whatever the sins, if there is
left one living point in the heart, there is hope. In the
cellars and depths of a great building consumed and re-
duced to ashes, and to bare fragments of wall ; at the
bottom of all this cold ruin, if there lies deep in the rub-
bish one smouldering spark, it may be blown into a world
of flame and heat. Hope then for sin. But, on the
other hand, let there be no self-complacency. We need
not spend our self-complacent astonishment on David.
It were better that we spent our astonishment on our-
selves, for we are but miniature pictures of him. Of
course, I do not mean that his crimes are our crimes.
DA VID : HIS SI AD REPETACE, 1 23
Each man has his own style of weakness. But I do
mean that we are all the same astonishing mixture, "of
different natures, marvellously mixed, — a worm, a god ! '*
As we share, then, in the weakness of David, my last
and pressing thought is, Do we share in his penitence ?
If there be any thing fit, becoming such creatures as we
are, so foolish, so inconsistent, so wrong, it is that we
stand and say : " I acknowledge my transgressions ; and
my sin is ever before me." Look back, I pray you, one
moment at his penitence. Opposite the very page which
makes David a monster, or side by side with' it, I wish
we could place the fifty-first Psalm, and let them stand
there fronting each other, — there the picture of a guilty
soul, here the picture of that soul in agonies! "Have
mercy upon me, O God ! " " Wash me throughly from
I have been trying to state the case justly for David*
But he did not care to state it so for himself. He never
says, ** It is bad enough, but " — not a word of it. All is
admitted, — the worst. He seems to himself guilty, even
from his very root, " Behold I was shapen in iniquity."
"Create in me a clean heart." ** Cast me not away from
thy presence." "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O
God." " I would give thee sacrifice, but thou wouldest
not ; but perhaps thou wilt not despise a broken heart ;
I lay it broken at thy feet ! "
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