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Sermons on National Subjects, 24 - DAVID'S VICTORY

By Charles Kingsley


      Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of armies, the God of Israel, whom thou hast defied.--1 SAMUEL xvii. 45.

      We have been reading to-day the story of David's victory over the Philistine giant, Goliath. Now I think the whole history of David may teach us more about the meaning of the Old Testament, and how it applies to us, than the history of any other single character. David was the great hero of the Jews; the greatest, in spite of great sins and follies, that has ever been among them; in every point the king after God's own heart. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself did not disdain to be called especially the Son of David. David was the author, too, of those wonderful psalms which are now in the mouths and the hearts of Christian people all over the world; and will last, as I believe, till the world's end, giving out fresh depths of meaning and spiritual experience.

      But to understand David's history, we must go back a little through the lessons which have been read in church the last few Sundays. We find in the eighth and in the twelfth chapters of this same book of Samuel, that the Jews asked Samuel for a king--for a king like the nations round them. Samuel consulted God, and by God's command chose Saul to be their king; at the same time warning them that in asking for a king they had committed a great and fearful sin, for "the Lord their God was their king." And the Lord said unto Samuel, that in asking for a king they had rejected God from reigning over them. Now what was this sin which the Jews committed? for the mere having a king cannot be wrong in itself; else God would not have anointed Saul and David kings, and blessed David and Solomon; much less would He have allowed the greater number of Christian nations to remain governed by kings unto this day, if a king had been a wrong thing in itself. I think if we look carefully at the words of the story we shall see what this great sin of the Jews was. In the first place, they asked Samuel to give them a king--not God. This was a sin, I think; but it was only the fruit of a deeper sin--a wrong way of looking at the whole question of kings and government. And that deeper sin was this: they were a free people, and they wanted to become slaves. God had made them a free people; He had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery to Pharaoh. He had given them a free constitution. He had given them laws to secure safety, and liberty, and equal justice to rich and poor, for themselves, their property, their children; to defend them from oppression, and over-taxation, and all the miseries of misgovernment. And now they were going to trample under foot God's inestimable gift of liberty. They wanted a king like the nations round them, they said. They did not see that it was just their glory NOT to be like the nations round them in that. We who live in a free country do not see the vast and inestimable difference between the Jews and the other nations. The Jews were then, perhaps, so far as I can make out, the only free people on the face of the earth. The nations round them were like the nations in the East, now governed by tyrants, without law or parliament, at the mercy of the will, the fancy, the lust, the ambition, and the cruelty of their despotic kings. In fact, they were as the Eastern people now are--slaves governed by tyrants. Samuel warned the Jews that it would be just the same with them; that neither their property, their families, nor their liberty would be safe under the despots for whom they wished. And yet, in spite of that warning, they would have a king. And why? Because they did not like the trouble of being free. They did not like the responsibility and the labour of taking care of themselves, and asking counsel of God as to how they were to govern themselves. So they were ready to sell themselves to a tyrant, that he might fight for them, and judge for them, and take care of them, while they just ate and drank, and made money, and lived like slaves, careless of what happened to them or their country, provided they could get food, and clothes, and money enough. And as long as they got that, if you will remark, they were utterly careless as to what sort of king they had. They said not one word to Samuel about how much power their king was to have. They made not the slightest inquiry as to whether Saul was wise or foolish, good or bad. They did not ask God's counsel, or trouble themselves about God; so they proved themselves unworthy of being free. They turned, like a dog to his vomit, and the sow to her wallowing in the mire, cowardly back again into slavery; and God gave them what they asked for. He gave them the sort of king they wanted; and bitterly they found out their mistake during several hundred years of continually increasing slavery and misery.

      There is a deep lesson for us, my friends, in all this. And that is, that God's gifts are not fit for us, unless we are more or less fit for them. That to him that makes use of what he has, more shall be given; but from him who does not, will be taken away even what he has. And so even the inestimable gift of freedom is no use unless men have free hearts in them. God sets a man free from his sins by faith in Jesus Christ; but unless that man uses His grace, unless he desires to be free inwardly as well as outwardly--to be free not only from the punishment of his sins, but from the sins themselves; unless he is willing to accept God's offer of freedom, and go boldly to the throne of grace, and there plead his cause with his heavenly Father face to face, without looking to any priest, or saint, or other third person to plead for him; if, in short, a man has not a free spirit in him, the grace of God will become of no effect in him, and he will receive the spirit of bondage (of slavery, that is), again to fear. Perhaps he will fall back more or less into popery and half-popish superstitions; perhaps, as we see daily round us, he will fall back again into antinomianism, into the slavery of those very sins from which God once delivered him. And just the same is it with a nation. When God has given a nation freedom, then, unless there be a free heart in the people and true independence, which is dependence on God and not on man; unless there be a spirit of justice, mercy, truth, trust of God in them, their freedom will be of no effect; they will only fall back into slavery, to be oppressed by fresh tyrants.

      So it was with the great Spanish colonies in South America a few years ago. God gave them freedom from the tyranny of Spain; but what advantage was it to them? Because there was no righteousness in them; because they were a cowardly, profligate, false, and cruel people, therefore they only became the slaves of their own lusts; they turned God's great grace of freedom into licentiousness, and have been ever since doing nothing but cutting each other's throats; every man's hand against his own brother; the slaves of tyrants far more cruel than those from whom they had escaped.

      Look at the French people, too. Three times in the last sixty years has God delivered them from evil rulers, and given them a chance of freedom; and three times have they fallen back into fresh slavery. And why? Because they will not be righteous; because they will be proud, boastful, lustful, godless, cruel, making a lie and loving it. God help them! We are not here to judge them, but to take warning ourselves. Now there is no use in boasting of our English freedom, unless we have free and righteous hearts in us; for it is not constitutions, and parliaments, and charters which make a nation free; they are only the shell, the outside of freedom. True freedom is of the heart and spirit, and comes down from above, from the Spirit of God; for where the Spirit of God is, there is liberty, and there only. Oh, every one of you! high and low, rich and poor, pray and struggle to get your own hearts free; free from the sins which beset us Englishmen in these days; free from pride, prejudice, and envy; free from selfishness and covetousness; free from unchastity and drunkenness; free from the conceit that England is safe, while all the rest of the world is shaking. Be sure that the spirit of freedom, like every other good and perfect gift, is from above, and comes down from God, the Father of lights; and that to keep that spirit with us, we must keep ourselves worthy of it, and not expect to remain free if we indulge ourselves in mean and slavish sins.

      So the Jews got the king they wanted--a king to look at and be proud of. Saul was, we read, a head taller than all the rest of the people, and very handsome to look at. And he was brave enough, too, in mere fighting, when he was awakened and stirred up to act now and then; but there was no wisdom in him; no real trust in God in him. He took God for an idol, like the heathens' false gods, which had to be pleased and kept in good humour by the smell of burnt sacrifices; and not for a living, righteous Person, who had to be obeyed. We read of Saul's misconduct in these respects, in the thirteenth and fifteenth chapters of the First Book of Samuel. That was only the beginning of his wickedness. The worst points in his character, as I shall show in my next sermon, came out afterwards. But still, his disobedience was enough to make God cast him off, and leave him to go his own way to ruin.

      But God was not going to cast off His people whom He loved. He deals not with mankind after their sins, neither rewards them according to their iniquities; and so he chose out for them a king after His own heart--a true king of God's making, not a mere sham one of man's making. You may think it strange why God should have given them a second king; why, as soon as Saul died, He did not let them return back to their old freedom. But that is not God's way. He brings good out of evil in His great mercy. But it is always by strange winding paths. His ways are not as our ways. First, God gives man what is perfectly proper for him at that time; sets man in his right place; and then when man falls from that, God brings him, not back to the place from which he fell, but on forward into something far higher and better than what he fell from. He put Adam into Paradise. Adam fell from it, and God made use of the fall to bring him into a state far better than Paradise--into the kingdom of God--into everlasting life--into the likeness of Christ, the new Adam, who is a quickening, life-giving spirit, while the old Adam was, at best, only a living soul.

      So with the church of Christian men. After the apostles' time, and even during the apostles' time, as we read from the Epistle to the Galatians, they fell away, step by step, from the liberty of the gospel, till they sunk entirely into popish superstition. And yet God brought good out of that evil. He made that very popery a means of bringing them back at the Reformation into clearer light than any of the first Christians ever had had. He is going on step by step still, bringing Christians into a clearer knowledge of the gospel than even the Reformers had.

      And so with the Jews. They fell from their liberty and chose a king. And yet God made use of those kings of theirs, of David, of Solomon, of Josiah, and Hezekiah, to teach them more and more about Himself and His law, and to teach all nations, by their example, what a nation should be, and how He deals with one.

      But now let us see what this true king, David, was like, whom God chose, that He might raise, by his means, the Jews higher than they ever yet had been, even in their days of freedom. Now remark, in the first place, that David was not the son of any very great man. His father seems to have been only a yeoman. He was not bred up in courts. We find that when Samuel was sent to anoint David king, he was out keeping his father's sheep in the field. And though, no doubt, he had shown signs of being a very remarkable youth from the first, yet his father thought so little of him, that he was going to pass him over, and caused all his seven elder sons to pass before Samuel for his choice first, though there seems to have been nothing particular in them, except that some of them were fine men and brave soldiers. So David seems to have been overlooked, and thought but little of in his youth--and a very good thing for him. It is a good thing for a young man to bear the yoke in his youth, that he may be kept humble and low; that he may learn to trust in God, and not in his own wit. And even when Samuel anointed David, he anointed him privately. His brothers did not know what a great honour was in store for him; for we find, in the lesson which we have just read, that when David came down to the camp, his elder brother spoke contemptuously to him, and treated him as a child. "I know thy pride," he said, "and the naughtiness of thy heart. Thou art come down to see the battle." While David answers humbly enough: "What have I done? is there not a cause?" feeling that there was more in him than his brother gave him credit for; though he dare not tell his brother, hardly, perhaps, dare believe himself, what great things God had prepared for him. So it is yet--a prophet has no honour in his own country. How many a noble-hearted man there is, who is looked down upon by those round him! How many a one is despised for a dreamer, or for a Methodist, by shallow worldly people, who in God's sight is of very great price! But God sees not as man sees. He makes use of the weak people of this world to confound the strong. He sends about His errands not many noble, not many mighty; but the poor man, rich in faith, like David. He puts down the mighty from their seat, and exalts the humble and meek. He takes the beggar from the dunghill, that He may set him among the princes of His people. So He has been doing in all ages. So He will do even now, in some measure, with everyone like David, let him be as low as he will in the opinion of this foolish world, who yet puts his trust utterly in God, and goes about all his work, as David did, in the name of the Lord of hosts. Oh! if a poor man feels that God has given him wit and wisdom--feels in him the desire to rise and better himself in life, let him be sure that the only way to rise is David's plan--to keep humble and quiet till God shall lift him up, trusting in God's righteousness and love to raise him, and deliver him, and put him in that station, be it high or low, in which he will be best able to do God's work, or serve God's glory.

      And now for the chapter from which the text is taken, which relates to us David's first great public triumph--his victory over Goliath the giant. I will not repeat it to you, because everyone here who has ears to hear or a heart to feel ought to have been struck with every word in that glorious story. All I will try to do is, to show you how the working of God's Spirit comes out in David in every action of his on that glorious day. We saw just now David's humbleness and gentleness, the fruits of God's Spirit in him, in his answer to his proud and harsh brother. Look next at David's spirit of trust in God, which, indeed, is the key to his whole life; that is the reason why he was the man after God's own heart--not for any virtues of his own, but for his unshaken continual faith in God. David saw in an instant why the Israelites were so afraid of the giant; because they had no faith in God. They forgot that they were the armies of the living God. David did not: "Who is this uncircumcised, that he shall defy the armies of the living God?" And therefore, when Saul tried to dissuade him from attacking the Philistine, his answer is still the same--full of faith in God. He knew well enough what a fearful undertaking it was to fight with this giant, nearly ten feet high, armed from head to foot with mail, which perhaps no sword or spear which he could use could pierce. It was no wonder, humanly speaking, that all the Jews fled from him--that his being there stopped the whole battle. In these days, fifty such men would make no difference in a battle; bullets and cannon-shot would mow down them like other men: but in those old times, before firearms were invented, when all battles were hand-to-hand fights, and depended so much on each man's strength and courage, that one champion would often decide the victory for a whole army, the amount of courage which was required in David is past our understanding; at least we may say, David would not have had it but for his trust in God, but for his feeling that he was on God's side, and Goliath on the devil's side, unjustly invading his country in self-conceit, and cruelty, and lawlessness. Therefore he tells Saul of his victory over the lion and the bear. You see again, here, the Spirit of God showing in his MODESTY. He does not boast or talk of his strength and courage in killing the lion and the bear; for he knew that that strength and courage came from God, not from himself; therefore he says that the Lord DELIVERED HIM from them. He knew that he had been only doing his duty in facing them when they attacked his father's sheep, and that it was God's mercy which had protected him in doing his duty. He felt now, that if no one else would face this brutal giant, it was HIS duty, poor, simple, weak youth as he was, and therefore he trusted in God to bring him safe through this danger also. But look again how the Spirit of God shows in his prudence. He would not use Saul's armour, good as it might be, because he was not accustomed to it. He would use his own experience, and fight with the weapons to which he had been accustomed--a sling and stone. You see he was none of those presumptuous and fanatical dreamers who tempt God by fancying that He is to go out of His way to work miracles for them. He used all the proper and prudent means to kill the giant, and trusted to God to bless them. If he had been presumptuous, he might have taken the first stone that came to hand, or taken only one, or taken none at all, and expected the giant to fall down dead by a miracle. But no; he CHOOSES FIVE SMOOTH stones out of the brook. He tried to get the best that he could, and have more ready if his first shot failed. He showed no distrust of God in that; for he trusted in God to keep him cool, and steady, and courageous in the fight, and that, he knew, God alone could do. The only place, perhaps, where he could strike Goliath to hurt him was on the face, because every other part of him was covered in metal armour. And he knew that, in such danger as he was, God's Spirit only could keep his eye clear and his hand steady for such a desperate chance as hitting that one place.

      So he went; and as he went his courage rose higher and higher; for unto him that hath shall more be given; and so he began to boast too-- but not of himself, like the giant. He boasted of the living God, who was with him. He ran boldly up to the Philistine, and at the first throw, struck on the forehead, and felled him dead.

      So it is; many a time the very blessing which we expect to get only with great difficulty, God gives us at our first trial, to show that He is the Giver, to cheer up our poor doubting hearts, and show us that He is able, and willing too, to give exceeding abundantly more than we can ask or think.

      So David triumphed: and yet that triumph was only the beginning of his troubles. Sad and weary years had he to struggle on before he gained the kingdom which God had promised him. So it is often with God's elect. He gives them blessings at first, to show them that He is really with them; and then He lets them be evil-entreated by tyrants, and suffer persecution, and wander out of the way in the wilderness, that they may be made perfect by suffering, and purified, as gold is in the refiner's fire, from all selfishness, conceit, ambition, cowardliness, till they learn to trust God utterly, to know their own weakness, and His strength, and to work only for Him, careless what becomes of their own poor worthless selves, provided they can help His kingdom to come, and get His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

      And now, my friends, surely there is a lesson in all this for you. Do you wish to rise like David? Of course not one in ten thousand can rise as high, but we may all rise somewhat, if not in rank, yet still, what is far better, in spirit, in wisdom, in usefulness, in manfulness. Do you wish to rise so? then follow David's example. Be truly brave, be truly modest, and in order to be truly brave and truly modest, that is, be truly manly, be truly godly. Trust in God; trust in God; that is the key to all greatness. Courage, modesty, truth, honesty, and gentleness; all things, which are noble, lovely, and of good report; all things, in short, which will make you men after God's own heart, are all only the different fruits of that one blessed life-giving root--FAITH IN GOD.

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