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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
David - in His Races
A MAN AFTER MINE OWN HEART
DR. THOMAS GOODWIN says that David's youthful virtues differed from his old-age graces somewhat as wild marjoram differs from sweet. Now, the wild marjoram is little better to begin with than a useless wandering weed; whereas the sweet is a planted, a protected, and a most precious herb. Your meekness, and your humility, and your industry, and so on, proceeds the incomparable Puritan preacher, must spring up, not only out of your constitution and your temperament; it must spring up out of your heart, as your heart is more and more softened, and tamed, and humbled, and sweetened by the grace of God and by the indwelling Spirit of Christ, Many a man, the sometime President of Magdalene is continually warning us, may live and die a model and a praise of 'civil virtues,' who never all his days comes within sight of the first principles of gospel holiness. At the same time, marjoram is marjoram, whether it is found running wild on the sides of the hills, or is watched over, and weeded, and watered, and gathered till it makes our whole house full of sweetness and health with its odorous fragrance. And teachableness, and meekness, and gentleness, and submissiveness, and thankfulness, and suchlike, are what they are, even before they are engrafted on Him who is the true and original root both of our wild and fast-fading flowers, as well as of our most fragrant and most fruitful herbs.
I would fain begin David's shining graces by saying that faith in God is the true and real and living root of them all. I would fain begin with David's faith, were it not that there is no word in all our tongue that carries less meaning and less vision to most people's minds and hearts than just this so frequent sound-faith. As Pascal says, We all believe in that dead word God; but there is only one here and another there who really and truly believes in the living, ever-present, and all-present God. But this is David's shining distinction above all God's saints-unless there are two or three in the New Testament who equal and excel David. In his pure, courageous, noble youth; all through his hunted-down days; fallen and broken and full of the pains of hell; filling up his dreary gift of years,-David is always the same unconquered miracle of faith in God. Take and read and hear what David says to the Philistine giant about God, and you will see somewhat of his youthful faith in God. Then pass on to far on in his life, and open the hundred and thirty-ninth psalm; and I am safe to say that David, the author of that psalm, and Jesus of Nazareth, whom I may call the finisher of it, have been the only two saints and sons of God on the face of this earth who have ever taken, up, understood, and imaginatively and unceasingly employed in their prayers that great believing psalm. And therefore it has been that they are the only two, father and son, to whom a voice came from heaven saying, Thou art a man after Mine own heart, and, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Jesus Christ was out of sight the greatest and the best believer this earth has ever seen. But the best of it is that He was beholden to David's psalms of faith, and trust, and resignation, and assurance to support and to give utterance to His faith in His Father. The psalms of David, says Isaac Williams, were our Lord's constant prayer-book. When, therefore, you begin to ask after and to enter on the life of faith, open and read David's life and David's psalms, comparing them together; and then pass on to Jesus Christ, and then to the Apostle Paul. 'Faith is the modestest of all the graces,' says the princely preacher I began with, 'and, at the same time, it is the most masterful. Wherever true faith is, it frameth the heart to the most childlike and friendlike dispositions towards God. Faith, my brethren, is a passion; it is a strong and a commanding instinct of our hearts after Christ, and after mystical union with Christ, so that we cannot be at peace and satisfied without Him.'
But, who is that roaring all the day long on the murderous wheel? Who is that stretched and stretched again on the rack all night till all his bones are out of joint-out of joint and broken in pieces with the hammer and the anger of God? The voice of whose roaring is that-According to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions? And that-For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me? Do you ask who that is? Do you not know? That is the prodigal son of the Old Testament. That is the same man who sometime went out against the giant, and against the bear, and against the lion in the name and in the strength of God. That is the anointed of the Lord. That is the King of Israel. That is the man after God's own heart. And he lies roaring on the rack-
Thus on us to impress
The portent of a blood-stained holiness.
For, holiness it still is; a true, a great, and an ever-growing holiness, though a holiness ever after to be stained with blood; but, also, to the end to be washed whiter than the snow in better blood. And a holiness, too, with a height, and a depth, and a fire, and an inwardness, and a solemnity, and a far-sounding psalmody in it, all of which would seem scarcely to be attainable in this life unless under the stain of blood, or of something that stains still worse than blood. Dreadful sin! that can only be propitiated by blood, and then washed off heart and life by blood upon blood! Dreadful holiness! that can only be attained through tears and blood! But, blessed holiness that is still attainable by us all at that, or at any other price possible to be paid by God or man! As David's holiness was, and as all their holiness is, to whom David is set forth as a portent, and at the same time as an encouragement.
I was always exceedingly pleased with that saying of Chrysostom, says Calvin, 'The foundation of our philosophy is humility.' And yet more pleased with that of Augustine: 'As,' says he, 'the rhetorician being asked what was the first thing in the rules of eloquence, he answered, Delivery. What was the second? Delivery. What was the third? still he answered, Delivery. So if you ask me concerning the graces of the Christian character, I would answer firstly, secondly, and thirdly, and for ever, Humility.' And thus it is that God sets open His school for teaching us humility every day. Humility is the grace of graces for us sinners to learn. There is nothing again like it, and we must have a continual training and exercise in it. You learn to pronounce by your patrons complaining that they cannot hear you, and that they must carry their cases to another advocate unless you learn to speak better. And, as you must either please your patrons or die of starvation, you put pebbles in your mouth and you go out to recite to yourself by the river-side till your rhetoric is fit for a Greek judge and jury to sit and hear. And so with humility, which is harder to learn than the best Greek accent. You must go to all the schools, and put yourself under all the disciplines that the great experts practise, if you would put on true humility. And the schools of God to which He puts His great saints are such as these. You will be set second to other men every day. Other men will be put over your head every day. Rude men will ride roughshod over your head every day. God will set his rudest men, of whom He has whole armies, upon you every day to judge you, and to find fault with you, and to correct you, and to blame you, and to take their business away from you to a better-to a better than you can ever be with the best pebbles that ever river rolled. Ay, He will take you in hand Himself, and He will set you and will keep you in a low place. He will set your sins in battle-array before your face. He will exact silence, and your mouth in the dust, and a rope on your head, and your heart a pool of tears, long after you had thought that you were to be set in a wealthy place. But let me say David at once. For it is David who rises before me as I speak of injuries, and insults, and detractions, and depreciations, and threats, and yet sorer, and yet severer and more immediate handlings by God Himself. David might have put Joab, and Shimei, and all the rest of his tutors and governors, in the front of the battle as he put Uriah; but he could not cast a piece of a millstone on his Maker from the walls of Rabbah, and he would not now if he could. And no more will he seek to silence a single one of his many reminders and accusers; no, not the most malignant, insolent, and unceasing of them all.
Once let David, or any other man, begin to taste the heavenly sweetness of true humility over against pride, and over against rebellion, and over against retaliation, and he will become positively enamoured and intoxicated with his humiliations. What once was death and hell to him will now be life and peace and salvation to him. What at one time he had almost committed murder to cover up, he will now hearken for from every housetop. When I was a child I used every Sabbath-day to read David's challenge to the giant, and I thought I was sanctifying the Sabbath over that Scripture. But for many years now, and more and more of late years, my Bible opens of itself to me at the place where Shimei casts stones and dirt at David, till David says, So let him curse, because the Lord hath said to him, Curse David. My children still read Goliath on Sabbath evenings, but I am on the watch to see how soon I can safely introduce them to Shimei. Shimei is the man for me and mine! Only, may I endure my schoolmaster to the bitter end better than even David did. Let me take insults, and injuries, and slights, and slings from men, and God's hand itself, as David that day took Shimei's curses. Nay, things that would seem to you to have nothing in the world to do either with my past sins or with my present sinfulness-let me have David's holy instinct, let me lay down David's holy rule, to look at everything of that kind that comes to me as so many divine calls and divinely opened doors to a deeper humility. Graces also grow by what they feed on; and humility grows by deliberately dieting itself on such humiliations as these, both human and divine. And evangelical humility grows by being fed, and by feeding itself on evangelical humiliations. If any one has the steadiness of eye and the strength of head, and the spiritual ambition and enterprise, to penetrate into this region of things, he will find a field rich in these and in many suchlike spiritual blessings in Jonathan Edwards's Religious Affections. I shall close up this grace of David by this specimen of mighty Edwards: 'Evangelical humiliation is the sense that a Christian man has of his own utter despicableness and odiousness, with an always answerable frame of heart. This humiliation is peculiar to true saints, for it is always accompanied with a sight of the transcendent beauty of divine things. And then, God's true saints all see, more or less, their own odiousness on account of sin, and the exceedingly hateful nature of all sin. Evangelical humiliation consists in a mean esteem of ourselves, as in ourselves nothing, and altogether contemptible and odious. This, indeed,' Edwards goes so far as to say, 'is the greatest and the most essential thing in all true religion.'
'The grey-haired saint may fail at last'; and the last sight we see of David is his deathbed shipwreck on that very same sunken rock he had steered past so often in the stormy voyage of his life. On his deathbed, David failed in that very grace which had been such a strength and such an ornament to his character on till now, and such a pride and such a boast to us. But the truth is, the only saint whose path has ever been as the shining light was not David, but David's far-off Son. And it was exactly where David so sadly struck and sank that his divine Son touched and attained to the top of His obedience, and gave to Himself the finishing touch of His full sanctification. Father, forgive them, He said, and gave up the ghost. I do not know that of all the bad blood of which all our hearts are full there is any that lasts longer than anger, and resentment, and ill-will at our enemies, at our detractors, and at those who despise and deride us. It is only the cold, firm fingers of death that will squeeze the last dregs of that worst of all bad blood out of our hearts. We would draw the curtains of David's deathbed if we dared. But we dare not, and we would not if we could. For, after all, David is not our surety. David is not our righteousness. David did not die the just for the unjust. Nor at his very youngest and best is David set forward as an example to the disciples of Jesus Christ. David at his best, as at his worst, is one of ourselves. David is a man of like passions with ourselves. David was cut out of the same web, and he was shaped out of the same substance as ourselves. He was a man of like passions with us, and, like our passions, his were sometimes at his heel, but more often at his throat. David held back his bad passions at Saul, and at Shimei, and at Joab, occasion after occasion, till we were almost worshipping David. But, all the time, and all unknown to us, they were there. Till, of all times and of all places in the world, David's banked-up passions burst out on his deathbed, that no flesh might glory in God's presence. But that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. And, like David, we sometimes master somewhat and smother down our passions of resentment and retaliation and ill-will. But with us as with David, at our best it is only a semblance and a surface of self-mastery. The bad blood is there still. And if it is not roaring in every vein as it used to do, the thick pestiferous dregs of it are all the more settled deep down in our hearts. Jeremiah is entirely right about us. He is divinely and entirely right about us. He is divinely and entirely right about the resentment, and the hatred, and the ill-will of our hearts at all who have ever hindered us, or injured us, or detracted from us, or rebuked us, or refused to flatter us. Yes, we will put our mouth in the dust, and a rope upon our head; and, as at the day of judgment, we will tell the truth, and will say it in words which the Holy Ghost teacheth: Yes, we will say, my injured and resentful heart is desperately and deceivingly wicked. Desperately, and deceivingly, and down to death wicked. But no longer than that. No longer after death. After death we shall be done both with death and hell; and after death we shall awake in His likeness who died, not cursing Judas, and Annas, and Caiaphas, and Herod, and the soldier with the spear, but saying over them all with His last breath, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. For even hereunto were we called.
There is one thing, so far as I remember, that David never failed or came short in. 'My honest scholar,' says Isaac Walton, when he is giving his companion a lesson in making a line and in colouring a rod, 'all this is told you to incline you to thankfulness; and, to incline you the more, let me tell you that though the prophet David was guilty of murder and adultery, and many others of the most deadly sins, yet he was said to be a man after God's own heart, because he abounded more and more with thankfulness than any other that is mentioned in Holy Scripture. As may appear in his book of Psalms, where there is such a commixture of his confessing of his sins and unworthiness, and such thankfulness for God's pardon and mercies as did make him to be accounted, and that by God Himself, to be a man after His own heart. And let us, in that, labour to be as like David as we can. Let us not forget to praise Him for the innocent mirth and pleasure we have met with since we met together.' Would you know? asks William Law in his beautiful chapter on singing psalms-would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? Well, it is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, and who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness, and has a heart always ready to praise God for His goodness. And then Law winds up with this, and I wish it would send you all to the golden works of that holiness-laden writer-Sometimes, he adds, imagine to yourselves that you saw holy David with his hands upon his harp, and his eyes fixed upon heaven, calling in transport upon all creation, sun and moon, light and darkness, day and night, men and angels, to join with his rapturous soul in praising the Lord of heaven. Dwell upon this imagination till you think you are singing with this divine musician; and let such a companion teach you to exalt your heart unto God every new morning in his thanksgiving psalms. Or make a morning psalm suitable to your own circumstance out of David's great thanksgiving psalms. You should take the finest and the selectest parts of David's finest and selectest psalms, and adding them together make them every morning more and more fit to express your own thankful hearts. And, till you have had time to compose a psalm exactly suitable to your own standing in grace, you might meantime sing this psalm of David every morning with a spiritual mind and a thankful heart:
Bless, O my soul, the Lord thy God,
And not forgetful be
Of all His gracious benefits
He hath bestow'd on thee.
For Thou art God that dost
To me salvation send,
And I upon Thee all the day
Expecting do attend.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'David - in His Races'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wbc/d/david---in-his-races.html. 1901.