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once is enough for the soul. Unadvised zeal may be more prejudicial than a cold remissness.
What if the Lord, for the correction of his servant, had said unto Shimei, Curse David; yet is Shimei's curse no less worthy of Abishai's sword: the sin of Shimei's curse was his own, the smart of the curse was God's. God wills that as David's chastisement, which he hates as Shimei's wickedness; that lewd tongue moved from God, it moved lewdly from Satan. Wicked men are never the freer from guilt or punishment, for that hand which the holy God hath in their offensive actions; yet David can say, him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him;" as meaning to give a reason of his own patience, rather than Shimei's impunity. The issue showed, how well David could distinguish betwixt the act of God, and of a traitor; how he could both kiss the rod, and burn it. There can be none so strong motive of our meek submission to evils, as the acknowledgment of their original. He, that can see the hand of God striking him by the hand or tongue of an enemy, shall more awe the first mover of his arm, than malign the instrument. Even while David laments the rebellion of his son, he gains by it, and makes that the argument of his patience, which was the exercise of it.
66 Behold, my son, which came forth of my bowels, seeketh my life: how much more now may this Benjamite do it?” The wickedness of an Absalom may rob his father of comfort, but shall help to add to his father's good
It is the advantage of great crosses, that they swallow
the less. One man's sin cannot be excused by another's, the lesser by the greater. If Absalom be a traitor, Shimei may not curse and rebel: but the passion conceived from the indignity of a stranger, may be abated by the harder measure of our own: if we can therefore suffer, because we have suffered, we have profited by our affliction. A weak heart faints with every addition of succeeding
trouble; the strong recollects itself, and is grown so skilful, that it bears off one mischief with another.
It is not either the unnatural insurrection of Absalom, nor the unjust curses of Shimei, that can put David quite out of heart; “It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and will requite good for his cursing, this day.” So well was David acquainted with the proceedings of God, that he knew cherishing was ever wont to follow stripes; after vehement evacuation, cordials; after a dark night, the clear light of the morning. Hope therefore doth not only uphold, but cheer up his heart, in the midst of his sorrow. If we can look beyond the cloud of our affliction, and see the sunshine of comfort on the other side of it, we cannot be so discouraged with the presence of evil, as heartened with the issue: as, on the contrary, let a man be never so merry within, and see pain and misery waiting for him at the door, his expectation of evil shall easily daunt all the sense of his pleasure. The retributions of temporal favours go but by peradventures; “it may be the Lord will look on mine affliction;" of eternal, are certain and infallible; if we suffer, we shall reign; Why should not the assurance of reigning make us triumph in suffering?
David's patience draws on the insolence of Shimei. Evil natures grow presumptuous upon forbearance. In good dispositions, injury unanswered grows weary of itself, and dies in a voluntary remorse ; but in those dogged stomachs, which are only capable of the restraints of fear, the silent digestion of a former wrong provokes a second. Mercy had need to be guided with wisdom, lest it prove cruel to itself.
O the base minds of inconstant time-servers ! Stay but a while, till the wheel be a little turned, you
shall see humble Shimei fall down on his face before David, in his return over Jordan: now his submission shall equal his former rudeness; his prayers shall requite his curses, his tears make amends for
his stones: “Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me; neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely, the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem that the king should take it to heart: for thy servant doth know that I have sinned." False-hearted Shimei, had Absalom prospered, thou hadst not sinned, thou hadst not repented; then hadst thou bragged of thine insultation over his miseries, whose pardon thou now beggest with tears. The changes of worldly minds are thankless, since they are neither wrought out of conscience nor love, but only by slavish fear of just punishment.
David could say no more to testify his sorrow, for his heinous sins against God, to Nathan, than Shimei says of himself to David, whereto may be added the advantage of a voluntary confession in this offender, which in David was extorted by the reproof of a prophet; yet is David's confession seriously penitent, Shimei's craftily hypocritical. Those alterations are justly suspected, which are shaped according to the times and outward occasions. The true penitent looks only at God and his sin, and is changed when all other things are themselves.
Great offences had need of answerable satisfaction. As Shimei was the only man, of the house of Benjamin, that came forth and cursed David in his flight, so is he the first man (even before those of the house of Joseph, though nearer in situation) that comes to meet David in his return with prayers and gratulations. Notorious offenders may not think to sit down with the task of ordinary services; the retributions of their obedience must be proportionable to their crimes.
So soon as David heard of Ahithophel's hand in that conspiracy, he falls to his prayers, “O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Āhithophel into foolishness.” The known wisdom of his revolted counsellor made him a dangerous and dreadful adversary. Great parts misemployed cannot but prove most mischievous. When wickedness is armed with wit and power, none but a God can defeat it; when we are matched with a strong and subtle enemy, it is high time, if ever, to be devout. If the bounty of God have thought good to furnish his creatures with powers to war against himself, his wisdom knows how to turn the abuse of those powers to the shame of the owners, and the glory of the giver.
O the policy of this Machiavel of Israel, no less deep than hell itself! “Go in to thy father's concubines, which he hath left to keep the house; and when all Israel shall hear that thou art abhorred of thy father, the hands of all that are with thee shall be strong
The first care must be to secure the faction. There can be no safety in siding with a doubtful rebel. If Absalom be a traitor, yet he is a son. Nature may return to itself, Absalom may relent, David may remit; where then are we that have helped to promote the conspiracy? the danger is ours, while this breach may be pieced. There is no way but to engage Absalom in some further act, incapable of forgiveness: besides the throne, let him violate the bed of his father ; unto his treason let him add an incest no less unnatural: now shall the world see that Absalom neither hopes nor cares for the reconciliation of a father. Our quarrel can never have
any safe end but victory, the hope whereof depends upon the resolution of our followers; they cannot be resolute, but upon the unpardonable wickedness of their leader: neither can this villainy be shameful enough, if it be secret. The closeness of evil argues fear, or modesty ; neither of which can beseem him that would be a successful traitor. Set up a tent on the top of the house, and let all Israel be witnesses of thy sin, and thy father's shame. Ordinary crimes are for vulgar offenders. Let Absalom sin eminently, and do that which may make the world at once to blush and wonder.
Who would ever have thought that Ahithophel had lived at court, at the council-table of a David ? Who would think that mouth had ever spoken well? Yet had he been no other than as the oracle of God to the religious court of Israel, even while he was not wise enough to be good. Policy and grace are not always lodged under one roof. This man, while he was one of David's deep counsellors, was one of David's fools, that said in their hearts, " There is no God; else he could not have hoped to make good an evil with worse, to build the success of treason
Profane hearts do so contrive the plots of their wickedness, as if there were no overruling power to cross their designs, or to revenge
He that sits in heaven laughs them to scorn, and so far gives way to their sins, as their sins may prove plagues unto themselves.
These two sons of David met with pestilent counsel; Amnon is advised to incest with his sister, Absalom is advised to incest with his father's concubines, that by Jonadab, this by Ahithophel: both prevail. It is as easy at least to take ill counsel, as to give it. Proneness to villainy in the great, cannot want either projectors to devise, or parasites to execute the most odious sins.
The tent is spread, lest it should not be conspicu