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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

David - in His Vices

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BUTLER has a sermon on self-deceit which you should all read till you have it by heart. If you will listen to him, Butler will prove to you and will convince you that self-deceit, or internal hypocrisy, as he sometimes calls it, is the greatest of all your guilt, and is, in addition, the corruption of your whole moral character. He will show you also, in a way that will startle you, that David was guilty of this worst of all sins beyond any other saint or sinner in all the Bible. In Butler's sober, but most convincing and most solemnising words, David's is the most prodigious instance of the very wickedest and the very deadliest of all the vices of the vicious heart of man. All David's other vices were but skin wounds and surface sores that might soon have been bound up; at their worst, to borrow David's own words about them, they were but so many broken bones. But David's self-deceit was deep-seated, and it would have been deadly to David but for Nathan, or, rather, but for the Lord. As for David's fall, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints. But, past speaking about as David's fall was, it was what followed his fall that so displeased the Lord. In the words of Butler's latest editor, 'it is safer to be wicked in the ordinary way than from this corruption lying at the root.' As Thomas Goodwin points out in his great treatise on the Aggravation of Sin, it was the 'matter of Uriah,' even more than the matter of Bathsheba, that awakened the anger of the Lord against David. That is to say, it was David's sin of deliberation and determination, rather than his sin of sudden and intoxicating passion. It was both matters; it was both sins; but it cannot be overlooked that it was after a twelvemonth of self-deceit, internal hypocrisy, and self-forgiving silence on David's part that Nathan was sent to David in such divine indignation. How a man like David could have lived all that time soaked to the eyes in adultery and murder and not go mad is simply inconceivable. That is to say, it would be inconceivable if we had not ourselves out of which to parallel and illustrate David, and thus to make David both possible and natural to us. Before you begin to read and think; as long as you confine your reading and thinking to the reading and thinking of children and fools, you will think it impossible that all the self-deceit-fulness and internal hypocrisy that could possibly be in David and in the devil taken together, could have so blinded David to the blackness of his sin, and to the absolute certainty of God's dreadful judgments. But when you become a man in the books you read, and in the matters of your own heart; and especially in the superlative deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of your own heart, you will stop all your childish exclamations over David, and will say to yourself, I myself am David; I myself am that self-deceiving man. 'What the particular circumstances were with which David extenuated his crimes, and quieted and deceived himself, is not related.' No. They are not related; but we may guess at some of them to our own self-discovery and self-advantage. David would say to himself such things as these: 'I am the king, and Uriah and his wife are both my servants. All that he has is mine. She is not for such as he. She should be a queen, and she shall be. And I can make it up to him, and I will.' And then, after that, there was Uriah's disobedience and insolence to his king; his open disloyalty and his boasted indifference to his king's discovery and disgrace. 'Yes, the sword devoureth one as well as another,' David would say. 'And it might have devoured Uriah even if I had not written that letter.' And then, to repay, and repair, and cover it all up, David fetched the woman to his house, and she became his wife, and bare him a son. And, besides all that, it was all past: and why go back upon the past? David, you may be sure, had all these, and many more than all these, 'distinctions to fence with.' And then, what was wanting in all that, himself came in to complete and carry off the case; self, 'the most disingenuous and abominable principle that ever was.' self, that utterly ungodly, diabolical, inhuman, inconceivably wicked, and detestable thing that was so strong in David and is so strong in you and in me. He who watches the workings of self in his own mind and heart he will not be forward to throw a stone at David: he will not be surprised at anything he reads about David or any other man. He will not wonder either at David's fall or at his subsequent self-deceit. I can fully, and down to the bottom, study the curse and shame and pain of self in no other heart but in my own; not even in David's heart. And I am warned of God that, with all my study and all my watchfulness and all my prayerfulness, the deceitfulness and the internal hypocrisy of my own heart will still deceive me. Well, all I shall say in answer to that is this, that if my heart is worse than I know it to be, then the God of all grace, with all the blood of His Son, and with all the patience and power of His Spirit, help me! Me, and all men like me; if there is another man like me in this matter on earth or in hell. My brethren, beware how you shield yourself from yourself, and use 'distinctions' when you are conversing with your conscience about yourself. To be pointed at, and told to his face that he was unclean, and cruel, and cowardly, and guilty of blood, was David's salvation. And to have some one injured enough and angry enough; or friendly and honest and kind enough, to call you to your face false, or cruel, or envious, or malicious, or hard-hearted, or ignorant and narrow-minded and full of prejudice and party-spirit, or sycophantic to the great, and supercilious and harsh to the poor, or all that together, might be the beginning of your salvation. And would he then be your enemy who first told you that saving truth? Surely you will not think it. Let the righteous smite me, and it shall be a kindness. Let him reprove me, and it shall be an excellent oil that shall not break my head. But, far best of all, let my conscience smite me, and about my self-love and my self-deceit in me.

Butler points out at the same time that, portentous as David's internal hypocrisy and self-deceit was, it was all the time local and limited in David. That is to say, his self-deceit had not as yet spread over and corrupted his whole life and character. There was real honesty in David all this self-deceiving time. David gave scope, in Butler's words, to his affections of compassion and goodwill, as well as to his passions of another kind. And, while this is some comfort to us to hear, there is a great danger to us in this direction also. The whited sepulchres fasted twice in the week, and they gave tithes of all that they possessed. They made broad their phylacteries, and made long prayers, and were always to be seen in the synagogues, with their mint and anise and cumin. They made clean, no men made so clean, the outside of the cup and platter. Many of them had begun, like David, with only one thing wrong in their life; but it was a thing that they hushed up in their own consciences, till by that time the self-deceit was spreading and was well-nigh covering with death and damnation their whole life and character. David was rescued from that appalling end; but he was fast on the way to that end when the Lord arrested him, David all the time was administering justice and judgment as boldly, and with as much anger at evil-doers, as if there had never been a man of the name of Uriah on the face of the earth. And just because he was making men who had no pity restore the lamb fourfold; just because of that he was more and more confirmed in his own self-deceit. We would need Nathan and his parable at this point. Only, your self-deceit would make you miss his point, till he drove it home into your deceitful heart. You are the man. You are all the more severe with one class of sinners that you sin yourself so much with another and opposite class. You are terrible to see and hear on the sins of the flesh, because you are up to the eyes in the far more fatal sins of the mind. You despise and detest publicans and sinners, while you dine and sup and plot against Christ with Pharisees and internal hypocrites. We all turn away our eyes and our ears from parables like that. Yes, but Butler warns us that it is as easy to close the eyes of the mind as those of the body, as, also, that though a man has the best eyes in the world, he cannot see in any direction but in that to which he turns his eyes. Let the man, then, who would discover his own self-deceit, if there is one such here, let him turn his eyes in upon his own heart, and especially let him turn his eyes in the opposite direction in his own heart to that in which his easy and untempted virtue displays itself.

But so bold, and towering, and self-deceived is our self-deceit, that it invades and entrenches itself, not in the matters of morals only; it comes to its fulness and to a positive grandeur in our devotions; in our daily dealings with God Himself. Nothing can be more open and notorious than the self-deceit and utter hypocrisy of our psalms and our prayers. David says, and he says it, no doubt, from his own devotional experience, that if he regards iniquity in his heart, the Lord will not hear him. How much less would the Lord have heard him if he had carried out his iniquity openly, and had put all the deepest deceit of his heart into his psalms and his prayers, as we do. I do not read that David composed any penitential psalms during those self-deceiving twelve months. And yet there is no saying. There is no limit to the sacrilege and profanity of an internal hypocrisy. Be that as it may, if David did not, we do. What could be more self-deceitful than our public worship in this house? Stop and think over the next psalm that is given out, and say if you have forehead enough to sing it after you understand it. And, whether you do that or no, let any man venture to accept your psalm as sincere, and attempt to deal with you accordingly, and you will open his eyes. Let him venture with a counsel, or a correction, or a warning, or a reproof, and he will not take you at your word in the church or in the prayer-meeting again. Woe to the man who believes that you are in earnest as you prostrate yourself before God and man in your psalms and prayers. You will soon undeceive him if he thinks that you are broken and contrite in heart, or meek and lowly in heart, or that you lack wisdom, love the cross, wait for light, and are the little children of the kingdom of heaven. 'Julius goes to prayers, he confesses himself to be a miserable sinner, he accuses himself to God with all the aggravations that can be, as having no health in him; yet Julius cannot bear to be informed of any imperfection, or suspected to be wanting in any degree of virtue. Now, can there be stronger proof that Julius is wanting in the sincerity of his devotions? Is not this a plain sign that his confessions to God are only words of course, an humble civility of speech to his Maker, in which his heart has no share? If a man was to confess that his eyes were bad, his hands weak, his feet feeble, and his body helpless, he would not be angry with those that supposed he was not in perfect strength, or that he might stand in need of some assistance. Yet Julius confesses himself to be in great weakness, corruption, disorder, and infirmity, and yet is angry at any one that does but suppose his defection in any virtue. Is it not the same thing as if he had said, You must not imagine that I am in earnest in my devotion?'

He was a happy preacher whose pulpit awakened David and brought David back to God. Nathan took his life in his hand that day. But he had his reward. And what a reward it was! Think of having David's soul set down to your account at the great day! What shall we ourselves owe to Nathan at that day for that sermon? We would never have had David's psalms but for Nathan's sermon. And what should we have done, I cannot conceive, without David's psalms. Preaching is magnificent work if only we could get preachers like Nathan. If our preachers had only something of Nathan's courage, skill, serpent-like wisdom, and evangelical instancy. But even Nathan himself would be helpless with some of you. You would have turned upon Nathan; you would have taken his good name and his life; you would have written a letter about him to Joab at Rabbah. Brutus never read a book but to make himself a better man. When will that be said about your coming to church? Happy the preacher who has so much as one Brutus a Sabbath day among his heavers! Happy the preacher who has a David among his hearers from time to time, so that he can pass on and say to him, The Lord also hath put away thy sin! We ministers must far more study Nathan's method; especially when we are sent to preach awakening sermons. Too much skill cannot be expended in laying down our approaches to the consciences of our people. Nathan's sword was within an inch of David's conscience before David knew that Nathan had a sword, One sudden thrust, and the king was at Nathan's feet. What a rebuke of our slovenly, unskilful, blundering work! When we go back to Nathan and David, we forget and forgive everything that had been evil in David. The only thing wanting to make that day in David's life perfect was that Nathan should have had to come to David, Now, what will make this the most perfect day in all your life will be this, if you will save the Lord and His prophet all that trouble, so to speak, and be both the Lord and His prophet to yourself. Read Nathan's parable to yourself till you say, I am the man! And so ever after with every parable, and with every psalm, and with every prayer, and with everything of that kind. When we preach anything of that kind, all the time we are preaching, be you fast kindling your own anger against yourself. And as soon as we are done preaching, speak you out in yourself and at yourself, and say, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die. And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. And, always, when the thirty-second psalm is announced to be sung, and when innocent men and women and children are getting their instruments of music ready, be you getting yourself ready till you cannot wait for them. Blessed is the man!-lead the congregation, and sing. And, when, by a happy inspiration the fifty-first psalm is again given out, do you ejaculate up to David's God your daily thankfulness that there is such a psalm in existence. For it is new to you every morning and every night. Just hear a verse of it, and say if it is not. 'Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part Thou shalt make me to know wisdom. 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.' 'I conceal nothing,' sobbed out Bishop Lancelot Andrewes every Lord's Day morning before he could face his congregation and his clergy. 'I make no excuses. I denounce against myself my sins. Indeed, I have sinned against the Lord, and thus and thus have I done. O Lord, I have destroyed myself. And Thou art just in all that has come upon me. I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. I abhor and bruise myself that my penitence, Lord, O Lord, is not deeper. Help Thou mine impenitence, and more, and still more, pierce Thou, rend, and crush my heart. Magnify Thy mercies toward the chief of sinners, and say to me, Thy sins are forgiven thee. Say, O God, unto my soul, I am thy salvation!'

And, then, David's 'way of lying.' Did any of you ever suppress and keep silent about your principles, say, at an election time? did you ever hedge and double in your public life in order to get a post, or in order to stand well with those who have posts and pieces of bread to give away? did you ever tune a speech or a sermon or a prayer to turn away the anger of a man whose anger you feared, or with an eye to a man yon wished to stand well with? Or, did you ever 'tell a vain lie upon yourself,' ascribing something falsely or exaggeratingly to yourself through vanity or other self-interest? And, alongside of that, when and where did you last put forward, or allow another to put forward, a detracting word about your friend or about your rival, and hold back what you felt would be for his advantage? Then, the story of David and the priest of Nob is, in that case, written for your learning. You will see in that chapter how David obtained hallowed bread of Ahimelech, and what that bread cost Ahimelech and his house. Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Thy law graciously. He points to the sore of his guileful heart,' says Goodwin, 'wherein his grief lay. David, among other corruptions, had a lying spirit sometimes.'

Or, again, were you ever driven to simulate sickness, or even madness, in order to get out of some dreadful crime or scrape you had fallen into? See, then, God's compassion for you at David's cost, in His having had that so humiliating chapter put into your Bible. What a state of mind must David have been in that day when the servants of King Achish led David like a madman or a wild beast to the borders of their land, and then let him loose, as you would let loose and hound out a madman or a wild beast you were terrified at! O what a bottomless mystery and misery and agony of sin and shame the heart of man is, and most of all the heart of a man after God's own heart! From the same fountain will spring forth, on sufficient temptation and opportunity, the noblest deeds, and the most debasing and despicable. Had it not been in the Bible, we would have denounced that chapter as the cruelest, the most blasphemous, and the most utterly impossible slander. And, then, to have two splendid psalms as the immediate outcome of that sickening chapter! Truly they would need to be men in understanding, and not children, who read the Bible. For,

Not in their brightness, but their earthly stains,
Are the true seed vouchsafed to earthly eyes,
And saints are lowered that the world may rise.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'David - in His Vices'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. 1901.

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