“Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker.”- 2 SAM. iii. I.
EVERYTHING changes by degrees. The spring glides into summer, the summer into autumn, the autumn into winter. This is done so gradually that it is difficult to say when the one ends and the other begins. So when the morning breaks, how slowly does darkness give way to dawn! Like a dissolving view the light gradually blends with shade, and the day emerges; but by such faint changes that all flows peacefully on, and nature sustains no shock. With the first faint streaks of light you hear the first chirps of the early birds, and these with the increase of day pour forth a livelier song; but only when the sun appears, in all its splendour, does the full gush of harmony salute the ear. It is so with all growth, natural and spiritual. By little and little does Divine Providence work out its benign operations, whether in robing the earth with beauty, or in restoring and regenerating the soul. It is “first the blade then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear” (Mark iv. 28). What amazing love there is in this! what adorable wisdom ! A man to whom religion is yet a stranger, is little better than a savage, covered more or less completely with a superficial polish, and frequently disclosing the vicious nature underneath. For this unhallowed soul to become a full image and likeness of God one who loves everything good and true purely for the sake of goodness and truth, what a vast change must be effected! All the aims of life need to be transformed, He must learn to love what he once hated, and hate what he once loved. Pride power, fame, applause, pleasure, those deities which allure and attract the worldly, must cease to be objects of concern and attachment, and give place to humility, charity, piety, wisdom, and the love of use. How can it be done? By what strange and wonderful process can the fiend be transformed into the angel, the hell of a vile heart be changed into the heaven of a breast beating only with sentiments of purity, integrity and peace? With men this is impossible, but with God-God who desires the salvation of everyone of His children-all things are possible. The gradual mode by which Divine mercy accomplishes this, is the subject treated of in the inner sense of that part of the Word which describes the warfare between the house of Saul and the house of David.
It will be well, however, at the outset, to consider the wonderful arrangement of the mind, by which the Lord has provided, in our fallen nature, for the regeneration of every soul which is not obstinately bent on rebellion. The lower animals have instincts which are their affections for objects proper to their nature; and they cannot go against them. Upon some of them a certain discipline in obedience to man can be induced; but this makes no radical change: and when the authority of their trainer is absent, the cultivation vanishes, and their own instincts invariably triumph. Their intellectual parts and their voluntary or will parts are indissolubly united. What they will and desire they must think and do. No real inward change is possible. The tiger, the wolf, the hawk, the shark, must lust for their prey. No conscience, no sense of right can be formed to check them. They are inevitably what they ever will be. They may be extirpated, but not changed. It is quite otherwise with man, and with every man. Even the idiot has the human part slumbering beneath his tangled and imperfect nervous system, preserved for the future. Man has, in his fallen voluntary part, impulses far more terrible than those of any wild beast; a “heart that is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” A beast of prey destroys for food: but the man who has not checked but pandered to his worst propensities will destroy for caprice, for malice, for sport, to glut a depraved imagination. Swine are by nature filthy; but there are men who blend the fiend and the swine together, and gorge themselves with brutality and impurity, Such horrid impulses are contained in the fallen heart, out of which are the ISSUES OF DEATH.
If the intellectual part of man had been closely joined with his voluntary part, as in animals, he never would have thought otherwise than he lusted. His mind would have been totally taken up with schemes to secure the gratification of his propensities; and he must invariably have gone, like the devil-possessed swine of old, headlong into the deep. But, with infinite mercy, and inscrutable skill, the Lord has provided for man’s salvation. He has separated the intellect from the heart. We can learn the truth, and delight in its beauty and order, as if we had nothing in us that loved darkness rather than light. The imagination, the head in a man, may glow with sublime sentiments, while his habits, the result of his lower voluntary nature, are degraded below those of the beast. The higher part of his mind may be like a golden harp, often touched by angelic fingers, and filling the air with music fresh from heaven; while the real man, the voluntary and actual conduct making man, is mean, sordid, heartless, brutal. The whole being in that case is like those fabled creatures of old, the centaurs, half-man, half-beast, and probably to convey this truth the ancients so pictured, sculptured and described them, But how great is the mercy, that to the human beast is adjoined the man, and that the man may not only acquire the mastery, but transform the beast into a man! In nature there are many marvellous changes; the ugly seed becomes a glorious flower, the grub becomes a moth, the caterpillar a butterfly: but these are faint and shadowy transformations compared to that most wonderful one in which the world-in-ruins of the human soul, full of horrid monsters, is changed by the wonder-working power of the merciful Saviour, into a new heaven and a new earth, full of celestial affections, thoughts and virtues; the desert made like Eden, and the wilderness like the garden of God, with an angel to tenant and enjoy it.
The first part of this divine operation is the implantation of truth into the memory. The memory is a wonderful storehouse, capable of containing great stores, and into this treasure-house, among other knowledge, can be received the knowledge of the Word of God, At first it is little prized; but by circumstances and the leadings of Divine Providence the intellect is awakened. The rational faculty is more or less stirred up. Immortality, and man’s relations to his Maker, and his future life, startle and awaken him. Unless he resist obstinately, he begins to feel the vast concerns of everlasting life, and he cries, “What must I do to be saved?” The Spirit of the Lord Jesus visits him, as He visited the world, and new hopes dawn within him. He feels himself a lost sheep, but the Good Shepherd has come, and carries him home rejoicing. He feels himself a prodigal; but his Father has seen his penitence, and his yearning to return, and while he is yet very far off, has run and fallen on his neck and kissed him. He who was lost is found; he who was dead is alive again. He is placed under government now; but it is the government of Saul, or the religion of the letter of the Word. He is yet only a child in divine things, and he thinks as a child, and speaks as a child. His is the religion of fear, but it is also the religion of hope. He has repented earnestly, and changed his conduct, and saved his soul alive. He obeys the law of God from the spirit of obedience. “Thus saith the Lord” is enough for him. He shuns whatever he understands to be forbidden; but he does not understand very much. He delights in being saved, and in anticipating the glories of heaven; but he has not much conception of heaven except as a grand reward, or of hell except as a horrible and everlasting punishment.
There is much of self mixed with this state; much of self-complacency and self-conceit. Although there is often zeal and joy connected with it, there is not much deep insight either into the soul or into divine things. The law is a burden; and at times a burden very grievous to be borne. When the experience of life brings severe trials, when the revealings of the soul unfold evil impulses which were mercifully concealed from view at first, the joyous confidence felt in days gone by becomes dim, and the soul sad. Various tossings and troubles come, a sense of defects, sins of thought and feeling, and gradually that rigid sense of obedience connected with the religion of fear becomes less firm and vigorous, and revelations are made of the worthlessness of outward obedience, if defiled, by self-righteousness and destitute of love. There are glimpses now and then of a higher state, of a religion of the spirit of the Word, of light and of pure affection; but this only at fitful intervals, like the appearances of David in the history of Saul. His religion of exact observance, the Christian begins to learn, is of no value if it does not yield him heavenly light and heavenly charity. God is not a God of terror, but of light and love. He should not obey from fear, but from perceiving that the Lord’s commandments are essentially right, are the laws of happiness, and therefore the laws of heaven. The spirit of the Word grows upon him, and the letter becomes more and more subordinate. He comes into the delight of truth, and he sees the Lord Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. There is awakened in him quite a new series of heavenly states, quickening a thousand affections that lay dormant before, and giving him meat to eat, of which before he knew not.
This is the state in which David reigns; and as Divine Truth becomes more and, more effulgent in the soul, the house of David becomes stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul, or the external and imperfect condition of religion, becomes weaker and weaker. The religion of fear must precede, for the wicked man can form little conception indeed of the blessedness of being true and being good. He must fear, when he cannot restrain himself except from dread of the eternal consequences of disobedience; but happy is it when the time shall come that perfect love will cast out fear. The house of Saul will become weaker and weaker, and the house of David will become stronger and stronger.
When we are in the external states of our early religion, the letter of the Bible is everything. If we have heard of the spirit, it has been as of something distant, vague, and mysterious. We must have everything literal, nothing but the letter. We know there are many things hard to comprehend, but we would rather take everything as we find it, and ask no questions. We have a vague sort of notion that the Lord will be better pleased if we take it unhesitatingly, although we may take it wrongly. But when the Spirit of the Gospel opens in us, we become “merchantmen seeking goodly pearls” (Matt. xiii, 45). We prize the Word not less, but more. We dig deep and find the jewels. We view the letter as the lowest step of the ladder to heaven, which enables us to place our feet on another and another. We hunger and thirst after righteousness. We already see a bright heaven of delight in toe grand truths which, like streams from the light of the blessed, teach us to think as angels think, and love the truths of’ heaven for their own dear sakes. Thus, the house of Saul waxes ‘weaker and weaker, and the house of David waxes stronger and stronger.
In the days of our Saul-state, when our duties were brought before us, we thought only of the letter of the law; and if we had done no wrong against that, many a bitter taunt and many an inconsiderate act. escaped us. We were strong for our sect, but weak for our loving-kindness. We let the faults or failings of others form often the subjects of conversation: we were more ready to blame than to palliate or to excuse. We were hard, like Saul. Now, however, when the Spirit of the Lord Jesus has entered into us, we look very strictly upon our own shortcomings, but very tenderly on the weaknesses of others. We hope for the best. “Charity never faileth.” We love and labour on. We look at the spirit that pervades the acts of others, and accept a well-meant endeavour, even if the performance has been much short of what might have been wished. For ourselves we do not ask what the letter commands that we should do, but what the spirit and intention of the Divine Law require; for we see that he who knows to do good, and has the talent, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. In this respect the house of Saul waxeth weaker and weaker, and the house of David waxeth stronger and stronger.
In the Saul-state we dread evil, but it has for us a strong attraction. If sin had been allowed, it would have been our delight. There is a secret yearning for the forbidden fruit, though we restrain ourselves with a strong hand and many a struggling prayer. The tradesman is strongly induced to think it would be useful to lie; but conscience forbids. To take what belongs to another, seems to many a greedy soul delightful if he durst. There are evils called pleasant sins, which stir the natural man with strangely tempting influences, although the strong redeeming power of truth from the Saviour binds and restrains the fiend within. In this sense there is a skeleton in every house, a weak place in every mind. But when the David-state, when the spirit of religion has begun, sin comes to be more and more regarded as detestable in itself. We come to regard dishonesty in word or deed as the necessary destroyer of confidence, the corrupter of mind and life, the treacherous betrayer of commerce, the murderer of sympathy, the bane of peace. We find growing in ourselves a loathing of impurity in all its phases. We know it is forbidden, but we begin to see and to feel why it is forbidden. We see the impure man sinking lower and lower into a defiled abyss tainting his whole soul, destroying all the sweet sympathies, delicacies, purities, and sanctities of higher humanity, and filling soul and body with curse and corruption. We begin faintly to see sin as the Lord sees it, and to groan, as the apostle did, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom, vii. 24.) It is not the punishment we fear, now j but the iniquity itself. We now dread not that we shall be found out in our wrong-doing; but we dread to do wrong. We do not complain that perhaps the Lord will condemn us after all; but we lament that we do not love Him enough, that we are ever cold to Him who loads us with benefits. We want to bless Him, who has always blessed us; to praise Him with our whole being. A holy tenderness comes over us, a gush of love, a perception of ever-increasing splendour in our communion with the Lord. His face shines, as the sun shining in its strength; and His garments are white as the light. The old shades are dying away, the new splendours are ever brightening. ” The house of Saul is becoming weaker and weaker, the house of David waxing stronger and stronger.”
This dying and rising again was strongly exemplified in the case of Paul. “I die,” he said, ” daily.” He was also rising daily. Yet, though he wrote his epistle to the Romans 25 years after his conversion, he still describes the struggle within him of two classes of feelings and sentiments. ‘ “I find then,” he says, “a law, that, when I would do good, EVIL IS PRESENT with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members…. So then with the (higher) mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh (the lower mind) the law of sin” (Rom, vii. 21-23). This is precisely the war between Saul and David. Four years later, when he wrote to the Philippians, we find still the same struggle not yet completed. “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained; either were already perfect. . . . Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (iv. 8-14). Here we have not only a description of the same, struggle, and by struggle, progress; but also an intimation of the real cause of it. The interiors of the soul are in harmony and communion with heaven; the exterior or body of the soul, is a vile body, all tangled and disordered by sin, ugly and evil, full of “wounds and bruises and putrifying sores” (Isaiah i. 6). It is the change of this spiritual body-a change as great, or we may even say far greater, than the change of a natural body full of disease, saturated with leprous ulcers, into a renovated and lovely form, all joyous and beautiful, radiant with health and joy, which correctly illustrates the transformation which religion has to effect. Die unto sin, live unto righteousness. Glorious words! Change priceless, unspeakably great! By little and little the defilement disappears, and by little and little the angelic nature discloses its glorious beauty. The old man dies, and dies hard. His deeds, his dreams, and his lusts, by the wonder-working power of the Lord Jesus working within us, are subdued and removed ; while the new man is put all, which after God and from God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. iv. 22-24).
What, then, are the heavenly lessons we may gather from the teachings of our text concerning the long war of the house of Saul and the house of David? Are they not these? Firstly, the work of regeneration is vast, complicated, and momentous, it involves toils and triumphs, it requires faithfulness and perseverance; but the Lord is our Great Saviour and Helper; and if we are humble and obedient, He will transform us into the image of Himself. We may begin more or less suddenly, and having set out, we are on His side, and so far all safe. But only by walking on, and working steadily, do we enter into our grand inheritance thoroughly, and realize the heights and depths and blessings of the inner spiritual life. Secondly, Let us not be surprised if our progress occasionally appears slow. We know not the depth and the number of the ulcers in our spiritual being which need to be probed and healed. Through changes like the chilly days and the warm bright days of spring, through storm and sunshine, through pain and peace, the Divine Work in us is achieved, and he who was blind and lame and leprous, is brought to the feet of Jesus, healed and lovely and in his right mind, a child of the King of kings, clothed with the garments of salvation. Lastly, Let us never tire, or lack faith and loving trust in the Lord Jesus. Confide in Him, He will finish His work. The fears and weaknesses of your early states, the dim gropings of your early days, and the shades of the letter of the Word, so needful to you then, may cling to you long; but the house of Saul will become weaker and weaker, and the house of David will become stronger and stronger, until He altogether reigns over you who said, “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the Bright and the Morning Star.” Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)