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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE QUESTION. An ANSWER to a “DISCOURSE on the CHARACTER of Davin),” by
Mr. Wm. Maccall. In a paper published in the Christian Pioneer for August, a gentleman, announcing himself Mr. William Maccall, has favoured the public with a discourse, entitled “The Character of David." He certainly has an indisputable right to call his discourse what he pleases, but to prove that it is in very truth the character of the great King of Israel, is not, we think, quite so easily done.
[He tells us, that David was a cruel king, selfish, remorseless, unscrupulous; that his vice was regular and systematic; that his mind natively belonged to no high moral class. Further, this writer says, We can easily suppose a man the slave alike of Mammon and of temperament, capable of all those things for which David is commended. We can easily suppose him capable of possessing a friend, and of being occasionally generous. Again; he was, as the ruler of Israel, what he had been when the guardian of his father's flock, immoderately self-seeking. A man whose goodness is not won and maintained by struggle, by self-denial, and by endurance, bas no God but his convenience, and no guide but his selfishness; and, beyond this, David in his best days, the days of his buoyant and innocent youth, never went.]
We have summed up together, and placed between brackets, the most prominent objections made against David; reserving only one other, which shall come in
We shall endeavour to reply to them in the order in which we find them; and hope to do so in all candour and truthfulness of heart—not being prepared to vindicate his crimes, but only to prove, that as a man, and as a servant of Jehovah, he has been harshly dealt with.
First, “ David was a cruel king, selfish, remorseless, unscrupulous.” In the general, we are obliged to allow that he was cruel to his enemies; but there are some noble exceptions. Saul's death, by the appointment of God, not by any worldly scheming of his own, raises him to be ruler of the people. His first appointment is, that mourning be made both for him who without cause was his enemy, and for him who might have been a rival in the way of his preferment. Should we for a moment suppose this appointment of public mourning to have been one of mere heartless propriety, let us read that elegy, which stands yet unrivalled for its beauty and its pathos.
His first judicial act was, to condemn that man to death who, judging of the king's heart by his own, hoped to have won some great reward for having slain the Lord's anointed. Hemourned the untimely death of Abner, though he had disturbed his peace at the commencement of his reign. He condemned the men who slew his rival, Ishbosheth, and caused him to be honourably buried. He subdued, indeed, his enemies, the heathens around him; but in this, wbat was he worse than many nearer oor own times, who were styled “ Most Catholic,” or “ Most Christian Kings,” who employed the carnal' weapons of this world, instead of the sword of the spirit, to convince the enemies of God? What was he worse than he,* the great compiler of the “Complutensian Polyglot,” who, when he had gained some power and a little leisure, himself, though a cardinal, and not a king or a general, headed an army to hunt the poor injured Moors, even to their homes in Africa, that he might destroy the enemies of the Lord? But with respect to David's war with the Ammonites, they drew on themselves the vengeance of the king, and made an enemy of a friend.
Of course, when we speak of a king, we speak of him as he was in his own dominions. “ A cruel king! selfish! remorseless!”—assuredly no. Let us see what was his appeal to Jehovah, when he sent an affliction on his people as a punishment of a sin committed by their ruler: is And David spake unto the Lord, when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo! I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father's house.” He was in the character of king as well as father to Absalom. Was he remorseless to that most unworthy of sons and most rebellious of subjects? Did not his patience toward him exceed that of either father or king? So his officer Joab thought, for, when the king with a father's heart mourned for Absalom, Joab said, “I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well.” Yes, Joab rebuked him sharply; and this cruel king took the rebuke of his servant, not only in meekness, but with an obedient spirit! His message to the men of Judah, who had joined with his son, was so mild and forgiving, that "he bowed the hearts of the men of Judah as one man.” He forgave Shimei, we do believe at the time with sincerity, though he afterwards went back from his oath; which we are not prepared to justify, but only to maintain, that in David's character, such failures of honour form exceptions, not habits. How mild and tender was his conduct to all who clave to him as he went out from Jerusalem, fleeing before his ungodly
* Cardinal Ximenes.
Not a word of railing against that son. It has always appeared to us, at this period of David's history, that he showed more of the disposition of an humble and penitent Christian (if we may so speak) than of a Jew. There was nothing remorseless and unscrupulous here. How kind were his words to Ittai and to Zadok! how lovely and humble toward his Maker, “ Behold, here I am, let him do to me as seemeth to him good;" and in the case of Shimei, “ Let him curse, for the Lord hath said unto him, curse David.” Now, here is the man of whom we are told, that “his vice was regular and systematic," whose mind belonged “to no high moral class”!
But, Mr. Maccall allows him to have been “occasionally generous." We assert, that he was more than occaSIONALLY generous. He was generous, yea, and ofttimes forgiving too, with profound and pure feeling. Though a king, we have seen that he bore rebuke from a subject; that he was not too proud to confess himself justly re
2 Sam. xxiv. 17.
buked both by God and man. When Joab reproved him, we have seen how he yielded. When the prophet brought home to his heart and conscience the enormity of his sin, he did not harden himself as one to whom sin and shame are habitual, as Ahab carried himself toward Elijah; nor did he resent the hardihood of God's messenger, and throw him into prison, as Herod did the Baptist. No; he prostrated his own soul, as well he might, for, alas! he had done a great wrong. But, if he made the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme by his crimes, he did not do so by his obduracy. Here he is an example to all sinners; and God has set his seal that he repented acceptably, holily, for the Saviour was descended from him. Why should man blaspheme or be astonished, if a pure God, who reads the anguish of a prostrate heart, sometimes pardons sin? Though we ay be unrelenting to our fellow-dust, God, foreseeing that David's crimes would be made a handle against religion, has caused to be minutely recorded, both his private penitence and his public sufferings, with a record also of the meekness and humility with which he bore the latter. He, therefore, who would think it a light thing to sin like David, must pause, and consider whether it would be a light thing to bear his silent agonies and his outward punishment.
With respect to David's generosity, we cannot help going back to his early youth, when persecuted by Saul. He bore his injustice meekly; he never thought of lifting his hand against the Lord's anointed, even when he had ample opportunity. We are told by Mr. Maccall, that in his youth he was “immoderately self-seeking." He felt within himself the genius and the power
with which he was endowed by Heaven; he used these powers, and he did well. God inspired bim with faith and energy to come out against the “uncircumcised Philistine who defied the armies of the living God.” And though his brethren, who envied him, charged him with pride, and would have held him back, Jehovah signally rewarded and approved. And here, let us observe in passing, that it is not an uncommon thing for those who themselves shrink from a duty, to show themselves irritable toward those who are ready to fulfil it, for so did David's breth
God intended for David, and afterwards bestowed upon him, ten thousand-fold more than he sought for himself. In all his trials through the unkindness of the king, his faith in God never forsook him, as we may learn both from the Psalms and history. He did not seek for himself the kingdom. He did not seek for himself his introduction to the king—the high praises of the singing women-bis home at the court—his marriage with the king's daughter, for “ Michal, Saul's daughter, loved him;" nor his friendship with the king's son, " for from that day the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David.” He did not seek these honours, but, having well performed his duty, he won them, and deserved them. It is no proof of a self-seeking and presumptuous spirit, to appreciate and to use with energy the talents which the Lord has given us. For these and all his blessings he was ever thankful, and constantly acknowledged from whom they came, and led his people to glorify, by public acts of thanksgiving, the source of all good. He ever testified a holy reverence for sacred things; and in this respect he was indeed preserved, according to his
prayer at the close of the nineteenth Psalm, from the "great transgression," the sin of idolatry. Yes, he had a God, and a guide, other than bis convenience and his selfishness.
This brings us to the consideration of his qualities for inspiring and returning true friendship. And on this subject, what can we do better than quote the words of a wise man, a competent writer of our own day:
“ Neither can friendship subsist between men who have only a negative claim to the reputation of virtue;
for this intimate and tender relation must be formed by principle, and maintained by the exercise of decided and manly virtue; and it also requires a degree of firmness, resolution, and consistency, that can be expected only from the man who is guided by principle, and inspired by generous affections."*
Friendship is not here represented as requiring only "common-place qualities." By no means: he who is blessed with a truly virtuous friend, must himself be truly virtuous; and Jonathan's willingness to see David succeed to that throne, of which he might have naturally
See “ Erasmus,” in the Bible Christian for Oct. 1833.