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Among the thirty-seven officers of the royal life-guards, we find the name of Eliam, the son of Ahitophel the Gilonite, and beside it, that of Uriah the Hittite, who had for his wife, Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam. No wonder, then, that Absalom knew what he was about, when he sent to Ahitophel to strengthen, by his name and influence, the conspiracy against the wretched king.
While David, on one hand, had alienated the wise old counsellor, on the other he had put himself completely in the power of his general, and was obliged tamely to submit to Joab's arrogance, as well as his direct disobedience in not sparing the young man, Absalom. So did not David yield when Joab assassinated Abner. Then he compelled Joab himself to put on sackcloth, and join in the funeral procession after Abner's bier. But now he submits to his servant's insolence, and passively complies with his directions. He had made Joab his confidant and accomplice in the matter of Uriah, and he never was his own man afterwards.
"Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
But if David smarted in his person and his family, he was made to suffer yet more severely in his own soul. Of the bitterness of his remorseful feelings, the fifty-first Psalm is a faithful record. What depths of self-abasement, what tender regrets, what penitential sorrow it breathes! He represents himself as incessantly haunted by the gaunt spectre of his guilt, without repose, night and day. "My sin is ever before me." Raised above the reach of the law by his regal station, he the more freely bewailed his vileness in the sight of his heavenly Judge. "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight." Ardently he longs for the purifying hyssop, and envies the whiteness of the snow. Nathan had told him, "by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme;" and, conscious of the reproach he had brought upon religion, he desires reinstatement in the divine favor, that he may, as far as possible, repair the great wrong he had done, and once more resume those active duties which his torpid conscience had so long intermitted. Therefore he prays, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee."
It is evident that David's chagrin for the shame and scandal his conduct had cast upon religion, was at least as keen as his personal mortification; and this is still further evinced by his fervent desire, in the close of the psalm, that God would do good, in his good pleasure, unto Zion, and build the walls of Jerusalem.
The sentiment to which the psalmist was led to give utterance, is weighty, and deserves to be pondered. It is a truth which the professed people of God, in every age, should seriously lay to heart. A clean conscience, and a lively enjoyment of religion, are necessary to extensive usefulness and influence in the cause of God, and in winning souls to Him.
This will appear from three reasons, embracing the elements on which a successful result depends-Experience, Confidence, and Joy.
I. Only an experimental acquaintance with religion can qualify any one to speak of it to edification.
A blind man has been known to lecture on colors; but a blind man could not teach the art of painting. In like manner. Religion is not a mere theory, but a practice also. Its vitality and excellence consist in action. It is a life and a power. Hence the apostle speaks of the power of godliness, and distinguishes between the power and the form. Without the former, the latter is but an empty shell. It is no better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
Notions picked up at second-hand must necessarily be crude, superficial, and inadequate. What a man learns by hearsay, he may, parrot-like, prate about, but his conceptions lack clearness and solidity. No description can give the same vivid idea of a thing as an actual acquaintance with it. Describe to any one the flavor of some tropical fruit which he has never seen, or some charming landscape which he has never visited; what distinct impression will be left on his mind? But, on the contrary, let him taste the fruit himself, and he has an accurate idea of its flavor at once. Let him see the landscape with his own eyes, and though he should have but a single glimpse, and his sight should be from that moment irreparably lost, yet that momentary glimpse has sufficed to reveal to him, and to daguerreotype ineffaceably upon his memory, glories and beauties which fancy never could have conjured up. Such is the infinite superiority of knowledge gained by experience over that obtained from the description of others. Doubtless it is in allusion to the clearness and distinctness of an experimental knowledge of religion, that the exhortation is addressed to us by the sacred writers, "O, taste and see that the Lord is good!" "Come and see!" "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."
Acting upon this principle, the apostle Paul charged Timothy, when employed as an evangelist, and ordaining elders in every city, "the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." He was persuaded that an experimental knowledge of the trials and supports of the Christian life was necessary to furnish the pastor for his work, and enlarge his usefulness and efficiency among the children of sorrow. How could he who had never mourned enter into the feelings of the
mourner, or be qualified to administer either soothing sympathy or scriptural consolation? Therefore he used the language, "who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."
Luther was of this opinion when he said that there are three things that make a divine-temptation, meditation, and prayer. He believed that none was competent to give saving advice to souls plunged in melancholy, agitated by stormy trials, and abandoned to despair, except one who had gone through deep waters himself, and who was familiar with like tempestuous emotions. Should a person, laboring under great anxiety and distress of mind on account of sin, and ignorant how to be rid of his burden, come to an inexperienced pastor, instead of directing him to the blessed Saviour and his atoning blood, he would very likely (as unhappily has been done) content himself with telling the distressed person to take medicine, or go into cheerful society, and try to get rid of his melancholy by diverting his mind from serious subjects. Such are the blind leaders of the blind; and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
People have a wonderful instinct and sagacity in determining who is likely to benefit them. As the Babylonians brought their sick to the market-place, and asked such of the passers-by as had had the same disease, to tell the remedy that cured them, so the conscience-stricken will turn away from the learned and profound preacher, who is deficient in a wide experience, to hang with breathless eagerness upon the lips of him who can say, "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul." Men want those that have suffered and sorrowed like themselves, to show the way of relief for their burdened hearts. Just so in a battle, it is the veteran, in a shipwreck it is the old mariner, to whom all eyes are turned with expectation, because they have been in such scenes before. They have not acquired their knowledge at second hand.
II. This leads us to notice another element of success-Confidence. Without confidence we cannot undertake to guide others.
A guide must have the confidence of those who follow him ; and, in order to command it, he must have confidence in himself. Hesitation is most undesirable. Time is lost by pausing to study the path, or by retracing one's steps. Guessing and doubt awaken well-founded distrust and alarm. No wonder if men abandon such a guide for their own conjectures. They are at least no worse off.
But how can a man have satisfaction in his own mind, and confidence in his own judgment, when he is disturbed by doubts and fears? Fear is the natural concomitant of a guilty con
science. A conscience ill at ease will transform the bravest into cowards. Why else did Adam and his consort hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Always before had they been glad to observe the tokens of his walking in the garden in the cool of the day, but then they were innocent. Now they skulked like guilty culprits, and sought concealment for their shame. David, after Joab's complicity in that dreadful affair before the walls of Rabbah, cowered before his general, and bore his rebukes without reply; nay, he was completely unmanned, even before that dead dog Shimei, "let him alone, and let him curse," said he, "for the Lord hath bidden him." Would you have another instance? See those two disciples, at early dawn, passing to the sepulchre to ascertain the resurrection of their Master. "So they ran both together, and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre." When before did Peter suffer John to outrun him? When before did he allow another to be first in any duty? Who would recognize in him the same Peter who was always foremost to speak, foremost to build tabernacles on the Mount, foremost to plunge into the sea, foremost to draw the sword, now lagging behind, his impetuosity checked, his ardor chilled? What a sad change! It is an effort to drag along his weary feet, for guilt, like a weight of lead, clogs them; the remembrance of the oath, and the denial, of the cock-crow, and the look of reproach, retards his steps.
Not otherwise was it with the Israelites at Hormah, and on various occasions before their Syrian enemies. "How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up ?" How differently they acted when, sustained by a righteous cause, and animated by a good conscience, they discomfited the armies of the aliens, and, under the Maccabees vindicated the independence of their country. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion." They that are conscious of being forsaken of the Lord shall be subject to the most dreadful panics, as was predicted, "Upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies, and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth," Lev. xxvi. 36.
It needs not that we look abroad, or summon from the infernal world, the Furies that shall lash the guilty conscience. "Every one that finds me shall slay me," said the first homicide, trembling with undissembled cowardice. 'My sin is ever before me," exclaimed David, with sack cloth on his loins. Before Belshazzar understood what the handwriting meant, as soon as he saw the flaming letters on the wall, "his countenance changed, and his knees smote together." Ahab exclaimed in undisguised agitation, when he met Elijah in the way, "hast
thou found me, oh, mine enemy ?" Who told him that Elijah was in search of him, or that he was his enemy? So also Herod's first thought, when he heard of Christ's miracles, was, that "John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded, was risen from the dead." Thus doth every culprit, like Pashur, who insulted the Lord's prophet, become a Magor-missibib, a terror to himself. "Terrors shall make him afraid on every side, and shall drive him to his feet. His strength shall be hunger-bitten, and destruction shall be ready at his side," Job xviii. 11, 12. "A dreadful sound is in his ears," Job xv. 21. "The first-born of Death shall devour his strength. His confidence shall be rooted out of his tabernacle, and it shall bring him to the king of Terrors. They that come after him shall be astonied at his day; as they that went before were affrighted," Job xviii, 13, 14, 20.
"'Tis not the babbling of a busy world,
Where praise and censure are at random hurled,
Free and at large might their wild curses roam,
No! 'tis the tale which angry Conscience tells,
Arm'd at all points, bids scorpion vengeance pass,
The mind which, starting, heaves the heartfelt groan,
Wretched, most wretched is the condition of the sinner laboring under poignant convictions. If his guilt has been detected and exposed to the world, the consciousness of that exposure, and the dread of scorn's slow moving finger, weigh him down. And even if he feels secure against detection, he knows that God is privy to it, and has "set all his sins before him, his secret sins in the light of his countenance." How cutting his self-upbraidings! how prompt his remorse! how bitter his loathing of himself! No position seems too humble for him to take, no penance too heavy to undergo. He drowns his pillow in hot tears; he rises at midnight from a sleepless couch, and flings himself upon his knees at his bedside, praying in the anguish of his soul for mercy-that mercy that was extended to the publican-and longing for the peace of God to cool and soothe his distracted bosom. His soul is a desolate waste, whose bleakness no verdure refreshes. His proud heart is nigh to bursting, and a fever parches his veins. And then comes a disconsolate wringing of the hands, and a compressure of the quivering lip,