Made perfect through sufferings.--HEBREWS ii. 10.
That is my text; and a very fit one for another sermon about David, the king after God's own heart. And a very fit one too, for any sermon preached to people living in this world now or at any time. "A melancholy text," you will say. But what if it be melancholy? That is not the fault of me, the preacher. The preacher did not make suffering, did not make disappointment, doubt, ignorance, mistakes, oppression, poverty, sickness. There they are, whether we like it or not. You have only to go on to the common here, or any other common or town in England, to see too much of them--enough to break one's heart if--, but I will not hurry on too fast in what I have to say. What I want to make you recollect is, that misery is here round us, IN us. A great deal which we bring on ourselves; and a great deal more misery which we do not, as far as we can see, bring on ourselves; but which comes, nevertheless, and lets us know plainly enough that it is close to us. Every man and woman of us have their sorrows. There is no use shutting our eyes just when we ourselves happen to feel tolerably easy, and saying, as too many do, "I don't see so very much sorrow; I am happy enough!" Are you, friend, happy enough? So much the worse for you, perhaps. But at all events your neighbours are not happy enough; most of them are only too miserable. It is a sad world. A sad world, and full of tears. It is. And you must not be angry with the preacher for reminding you of what is.
True; you would have a right to quarrel with the preacher or anyone else who made you sorrowful with the thoughts of the sorrow round you, and then gave you no explanation of it--told you of no use, no blessing in it, no deliverance from it. That would be enough to break any man's heart, if all the preacher could say was: "This wretchedness, and sickness, and death, must go on as long as the world lasts, and yet it does no good, for God or man." That thought would drive any feeling man to despair, tempt him to lie down and die, tempt him to fancy that God was not God at all, not the God whose name is Love, not the God who is our Father, but only a cruel taskmaster, and Lord of a miserable hell on earth, where men and women, and worst of all, little children, were tortured daily by tens of thousands without reason, or use, or hope of deliverance, except in a future world, where not one in ten of them will be saved and happy. That is many people's notion of the world--religious people's even. How they can believe, in the face of such notions, "that God is love;" how they can help going mad with pity, if that is all the hope they have for poor human beings, is more than I can tell. Not that I judge them--to their own master they stand or fall: but this I do say, that if the preacher has no better hope to give you about this poor earth, then I cannot tell what right he has to call himself a preacher of the gospel--that is, a preacher of good news; then I do not know what Jesus Christ's dying to take away the sins of the world means; then I do not know what the kingdom of God means; then I do not know why the Lord taught us to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven," if the only way in which that can be brought about is by His sending ninety-nine hundredths of mankind to endless torture, over and above all the lesser misery which they have suffered in this life. What will be the end of the greater part of mankind we do not know; we were not intended to know. God is love, and God is justice, and His justice is utterly loving, as well as His love utterly just; so we may very safely leave the world in the hands of Him who made the world, and be sure that the Judge of all the earth will do right, and that what is right is certain never to be cruel, but rather merciful. But to every one of you who are here now, a preacher has a right, ay, and a bounden duty, to say much more than that. He is bound to tell you good news, because God has called you into His church, and sent you here this day, to hear good news. He has a right to tell you, as I tell you now, that, strange as it may seem, whatsoever sufferings you endure are sent to make you perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect; even as the blessed Lord, whom may you all love, and trust, and worship, for ever and ever, was made perfect by sufferings, even though He was the sinless Son of God. Consider that. "It behoved Him," says St. Paul, "the Captain of our salvation, to be made perfect through sufferings." And why? "Because," answers St. Paul, "it was proper for Him to be made in all things like His brothers"-- like us, the children of God--"that He might be a faithful and merciful high priest;" for, just "because He has suffered being tempted, He is able to succour us who are tempted." A strange text, but one which, I think, this very history of David's troubles will help us to understand. For it was by suffering, long and bitter, that God trained up David to be a true king, a king over the Jews, "after God's own heart."
You all know, I hope, something at least of David's psalms. Many of them, seven of them at least, were written during David's wanderings in the mountains, when Saul was persecuting him to kill him, day after day, month after month, as you may read in the First Book of Samuel, from chapters xix. to xxviii. Bitter enough these troubles of David would have been to any man, but what must have made them especially bitter and confusing to him was, that they all arose out of his righteousness. Because he had conquered the giant, Saul envied him--broke his promise of giving David his daughter Merab--put his life into extreme danger from the Philistines, before he would give him his second daughter Michal; the more he saw that the Lord was with David, and that the young man won respect and admiration by behaving himself wisely, the more afraid of him Saul was; again and again he tried to kill him; as David was sitting harmless in Saul's house, soothing the poor madman by the music of his harp, Saul tries to stab him unawares; and not content with that proceeds deliberately to hunt him down, from town to town, and wilderness to wilderness; sends soldiers after him to murder him; at last goes out after him himself with his guards. Was not all this enough to try David's faith? Hardly any man, I suppose, since the world was made, had found righteousness pay him less; no man was ever more tempted to turn round and do evil, since doing good only brought him deeper and deeper into the mire. But no, we know that he did not lose his trust in God; for we have seven psalms, at least, which he wrote during these very wanderings of his; the fifty-second, when Doeg had betrayed him to Saul; the fifty-fourth, when Ziphim betrayed him; the fifty-sixth, when the Philistines took him in Gath; the fifty- seventh, "when he fled from Saul in the cave;" the fifty-ninth, "when they watched the house to kill him;" the sixty-third, "when he was in the wilderness of Judah;" the thirty-fourth, "when he was driven away by Abimelech;" and several more which appear to have been written about the same time.
Now, what strikes us first, or ought to strike us, in these psalms, is David's utter faith in God. I do not mean to say that David had not his sad days, when he gave himself up for lost, and when God seemed to have forsaken him, and forgotten his promise. He was a man of like passions with ourselves; and therefore he was, as we should have been, terrified and faint-hearted at times. But exactly what God was teaching and training him to be, was not to be fainthearted-- not to be terrified. He began in his youth by trusting God. That made him the man after God's own heart, just as it was the want of trust in God which made Saul not the man after God's own heart, and lost him his kingdom. In all those wanderings and dangers of David's in the wilderness, God was training, and educating, and strengthening David's faith according to His great law: To whomsoever hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly; but from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he seems to have. And the first great fruit of David's firm trust in God was his patience.
He learned to wait God's time, and take God's way, and be sure that the same God who had promised that he should be king, would make him king when he saw fit. He knew, as he says himself, that the Strength of Israel could not lie or repent. He had sworn that He would not fail David. And he learned that God had sworn by His holiness. He was a holy, just, righteous God; and David and David's country now were safe in His hands. It was his firm trust in God which gave him strength of mind to use no unfair means to right himself. Twice Saul, his enemy, was in his power. What a temptation to him to kill Saul, rid himself of his tormentor, and perhaps get the kingdom at once! But no. He felt: "This Saul is a wicked, devil-tormented murderer, a cruel tyrant and oppressor; but the same God who chose me to be king next, chose him to be king now. He is the Lord's anointed. God put him where he is, and leaves him there for some good purpose; and when God has done with him, God will take him away, and free this poor oppressed people; and in the meantime, I, as a private man, have no right to touch him. I must not do evil that good may come. If I am to be a true king, a true man at all hereafter, I must keep true now; if I am to be a righteous lawgiver hereafter, I must respect and obey law myself now. The Lord be judge between me and Saul; for He is Judge, and He will right me better than I can ever right myself." And thus did trust in God bring out in David that true respect for law, without which a king, let him be as kind-hearted as he will, is but too likely to become at last a tyrant and an oppressor.
But another thing which strikes any thinking man in David's psalms, is his strong feeling for the poor, and the afflicted, and the oppressed. That is what makes the Psalms, above all, the poor man's book, the afflicted man's book. But how did he get that fellow- feeling for the fallen? By having fallen himself, and tasted affliction and oppression. That was how he was educated to be a true king. That was how he became a picture and pattern--a "type," as some call it, of Jesus Christ, the man of sorrows. That is why so many of David's psalms apply so well to the Lord; why the Lord fulfilled those psalms when He was on earth. David was truly a man of sorrows; for he had not only the burden of his own sorrows to bear, but that of many others. His parents had to escape, and to be placed in safety at the court of a heathen prince. His friend Abimelech the priest, because he gave David bread when he was starving, and Goliath's sword--which, after all, was David's own--was murdered by Saul's hired ruffians, at Saul's command, and with him his whole family, and all the priests of the town, with their wives and children, even to the baby at the breast. And when David was in the mountains, everyone who was distressed, and in debt, and discontented, gathered themselves to him, and he became their captain; so that he had on him all the responsibility, care, and anxiety of managing all those wild, starving men, many of them, perhaps, reckless and wicked men, ready every day to quarrel among themselves, or to break out in open riot and robbery against the people who had oppressed them; for--(and this, too, we may see from David's psalms, was not the smallest part of his anxiety)--the nation of the Jews seems to have been in a very wretched state in David's time. The poor seem in general to have lost their land, and to have become all but slaves to rich nobles, who were grinding them down, not only by luxury and covetousness, but often by open robbery and bloodshed. The sight of the misrule and misery, as well as of the bloody and ruinous border inroads which were kept up by the Philistines and other neighbouring tribes, seems for years to have been the uppermost, as well as the deepest thought in David's mind, if we may judge from those psalms of his, of which this is the key- note; and it was not likely to make him care and feel less about all that misery when he remembered (as we see from his psalms he remembered daily) that God had set him, the wandering outlaw, no less a task than to mend it all; to put down all that oppression, to raise up that degradation, to train all that cowardice into self-respect and valour, to knit into one united nation, bound together by fellow- feeling and common faith in God, that mob of fierce, and greedy, and (hardest task of all, as he himself felt) utterly deceitful men. No wonder that his psalms begin often enough with sadness, even though they may end in hope and trust. He had a work around him and before him which ought to have made his heart sad, which was a great part of his appointed education, and helped to make him perfect by sufferings.
And so, upon the bare hill-side, in woods and caves of the earth, in cold and hunger, in weariness and dread of death, did David learn to be the poor man's king, the poor man's poet, the singer of those psalms which shall endure as long as the world endures, and be the comfort and the utterance of all sad hearts for evermore. Agony it was, deep and bitter, and for the moment more hopeless than the grave itself, which crushed out of the very depths of his heart that most awful and yet most blessed psalm, the twenty-second, which we read in church every Good Friday. The "Hind of the Morning" is its title; some mournful air to which David sang it, giving, perhaps, the notion of a timorous deer roused in the morning by the hunters and the hounds. We read that psalm on Good Friday, and all say that our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled it. What do we mean hereby?
We mean hereby, that we believe that our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled all sorrows which man can taste. He filled the cup of misery to the brim, and drained it to the dregs. He was afflicted in all David's afflictions, in the afflictions of all mankind. He bare all their sicknesses, and carried all their infirmities; and therefore we read this psalm upon Good Friday, upon the day in which He tasted death for every man, and went down into the lowest depths of terror, and shame, and agony, and death; and, worst of all, into the feeling that God had forsaken Him, that there was no help or hope for Him in heaven, as well as earth--no care or love in the great God, whose Son He was--went down, in a word, into hell; that hell whereof David and Heman, and Hezekiah after them, had said, "Shall the dust give thanks unto thee? and shall it declare thy truth?"--"Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption."--"My life draweth nigh unto hell. . . I am like one stript among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more; and they are cut off from thy hand. . . . Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? and shall the dead arise and praise thee? Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of destruction?"--"For the grave cannot praise thee; death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down to the pit cannot hope for thy truth."
Even into that lowest darkness, where man feels, even for one moment, that God is nothing to him, and he is nothing to God--even into that Jesus condescended to go down for us. That worst of all temptations, of which David only tasted a drop when he cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Jesus drained to the very dregs for us.-- He went down into hell for us, and conquered hell and death, and the darkness of the unknown world, and rose again glorious from them, that He might teach us not to fear death and hell; that He might know how to comfort us in the hour of death: and in the day of judgment, when on our sick bed, or in some bitter shame and trouble, the lying devil is telling us that we are damned and lost, and forsaken by God, and every sin we ever did rises up and stares us in the face.
Truly He is a king!--a king for rich and poor, young and old, Englishmen and negro; all alike He knows them, He feels for them, He has tasted sorrow for them, far more than David did for those poor, oppressed, sinful Jews of his. Read those Psalms of David; for they speak not only of David, now long since dead and gone, but of the blessed Jesus, who lives and reigns over us now at this very moment. Read them, for they are inspired; the honest words of a servant of God crying out to the same God, the same Saviour and Deliverer as we have. And His love has not changed. His arm is not shortened that He cannot save. Your words need not change. The words of those psalms in which David prayed, in them you and I may pray. Right out of the depths of his poor distracted heart they came. Let them come out of our hearts too. They belong to us more than even they did to the Jews, for whom David wrote them--more than even they did to David himself; for Jesus has fulfilled them--filled them full--given them boundlessly more meaning than ever they had before, and given us more hope in using them than ever David had: for now that love and righteousness of God, in which David only trusted beforehand, has come down and walked on this earth in the shape of a poor man, Jesus Christ, the Son of the maiden of Bethlehem.
Oh, you who are afflicted, pray to God in those psalms; not merely in the words of them, but in the spirit of them. And to do that, you must get from God the spirit in which David wrote them--the Spirit of God. Pray for that Spirit; for the spirit of patience, which made David wait God's good time to right him, instead of trying, as too many do, to right himself by wrong means; for the spirit of love, which taught David to return good for evil; for the spirit of fellow- feeling, which taught David to care for others as well as himself; and in that spirit of love, do you pray for others while you are praying for yourself. Pray for that Spirit which taught David to help and comfort those who were weaker than himself, that you in your time may be able and willing to comfort and help those who are weaker than yourselves. And above all, pray for the Spirit of faith, which made David certain that oppression and wrong-doing could not stand; that the day must surely come when God would judge the world righteously, and hear the cry of the afflicted, and deliver the outcast and poor, that the man of the world might be no more exalted against them. Pray, in short, for the Spirit of Christ; and then be sure He will hear your prayers, and answer them, and show Himself a better friend, and a truer King to you, than ever David showed himself to those poor Jews of old. He will deliver you out of all your troubles--if not in this life, yet surely in the life to come; and though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, yet the peace of God shall keep your hearts and minds in Him who loved you, and gave Himself for you, that you might inherit all heaven and earth in Him.
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