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ous enough, on the top of the house. The act is done in the sight of all Israel. The filthiness of the sin was not so great, as the impudency of the man

When the prophet Nathan came with that heavy message of reproof, and menace to David, after his sin with Bathsheba, he could say from God, “Behold I will raise up evil against thee, out of thine own house, and will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun: for thou didst it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before this sun.” The counsel of Ahithophel, and the lust of Absalom, have fulfilled the judgment of God. O the wisdom of the Almighty, that can use the worst evils well; and most justly make the sins of men his executioners !

It was the sin of Reuben that he defiled his father's bed; yet not in the same height of lewdness. What Reuben did in a youthful wantonness, Absalom did in a malicious despite : Reuben sinned with one, Absalom with ten: Reuben secretly, Absalom in the open eyes of heaven and earth; yet old Jacob could say of Reuben, " Thou shalt not excel; thy dignity is gone:” while Ahithophel says to Absalom, " Thy dignity shall arise from incest; climb up to thy father's bed, if thou wilt sit in his throne.” If Ahithophel were a politician, Jacob was a prophet; if the one spake from carnal sense, the other from divine revelation. Certainly, to sin is not the way to prosper : whatever vain fools promise to themselves, there is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.

After the rebellion is secured for continuance, the next care is, that it may end in victory; this also hath the working head of Ahithophel projected. Wit and experience told him, that, in these cases of assault, celerity uses to bring forth the happiest dispatch; whereas protraction is no small advantage to the defendant. “Let me (saith he) choose out now

twelve thousand men, and I will up, and follow after

61

Ahithophel.

CONT. 11.]

David this night; and I will come

upon him while he
is weary and weak-handed.” No advice could be
more pernicious; for, besides the weariness and un-
readiness of David and his army, the spirits of that
worthy leader were daunted, and dejected with sor-
row, and offered way to the violence of a sudden as-
sault. The field had been half won ere any blow
stricken. Ahithophel could not have been reputed
so wise, if he had not learned the due proportion
betwixt actions and times. He that observeth every
wind, shall never sow; but he that observes no wind
at all, shall never reap.

The likeliest devices do not always succeed. The
God that had appointed to establish David's throne,
and determined Solomon to his succession, finds
means to cross the plot of Ahithophel by a less pro-
bable advice. Hushai was not sent back for nothing.
Where God hath, in his secret will, decreed any
event, he inclines the wills of men to approve that
which may promote his own purposes. Neither had
Hushai so deep a head, neither was his counsel so
sure as that of Abithophel, yet his tongue shall
refell Ahithophel, and divert Absalom. The pre-
tences were fairer, though the grounds were un-
sound; first to sweeten his opposition, he yields the
praise of wisdom to his adversary in all other coun-
sels, that he may have leave to deny it in this; his
very contradiction in the present insinuates a general
allowance. Then he suggests certain apparent truths
concerning David's valour and skill, to give coun-
tenance to the inferences of his improbabilities.
Lastly, he cunningly feeds the proud humour of Ab-
salom, in magnifying the power and extent of his
commands, and ends in the glorious boasts of his
fore-promised victory. As it is with faces, so with
counsels, that is fair that pleaseth. He that gives
the utterance to words, gives also their speed. Fa-
vour, both of speech and men, is not ever accord-

ing to desert, but according to fore-ordination. The tongue of Hushai, and the heart of Absalom is guided by a power above their own; Hushai shall therefore prevail with Absalom, that the treason of Absalom may not prevail. He that worketh all in all things, so disposeth of wicked men and spirits, that, while they do most oppose his revealed will, they execute his secret, and, while they think most to please, they overthrow themselves.

When Absalom first met Hushai returned to Jerusalem, he upbraided him pleasantly with the scoff of his professed friendship to David, “Is this thy kindness to thy friend ?” Sometimes there is more truth in the mouth than in the heart; more in jest than in earnest. Hushai was a friend, his stay was his kindness; and now he hath done that for which he was left at Jerusalem, disappointed Ahithophel, preserved David; neither did his kindness to his friend rest here, but as one that was justly jealous of him with whom he was allowed to temporize, he mistrusts the approbation of Absalom; and, not daring to put the life of his master upon such a hazard, he gives charge to Zadok and Abiathar of this intelligence unto David.

We cannot be too suspicious, when we have to do with those that are faithless. We cannot be too curious of the safety of good princes.

Hushai fears not to descry the secrets of Absalom's counsel: to betray a traitor is no other than a commendable work. Zadok and Abiathar are fast within the gates of Jerusalem ; their sons lay purposely abroad in the fields; this message, that concerned no less than the life of David, and the whole kingdom of Israel, must be trusted with a maid. Sometimes it pleaseth the wisdom of God, who hath the variety of heaven and earth before him, to single out weak instruments for great services; and they shall serve his turn, as well as the best. No counsellor of state could have made this

dispatch more effectual: Jonathan and Ahimaaz are sent, descried, pursued, preserved. The fidelity of a maid instructed them in their message, the subtlety of a woman saved their lives. At the well of Rogel they received their message, in the well of Bahurim was their life saved ; the sudden wit of a woman hath choked the mouth of her well with dried corn, that it might not bewray the messengers; and now David hears safely of his danger, and prevents it; and though weary with travel, and laden with sorrow, he must spend the night in his remove. God's promises of his deliverance, and the confirmation of his kingdom, may not make him neglect the means of his safety. If he be faithful, we may not be careless, since our diligence and care are appointed for the factors of that divine Providence: the acts of God must abate nothing of ours; rather must we labour, by doing that which he requireth, to further that which he decreeth.

There are those that have great wits for the public, none for themselves. Such was Ahithophel, who while he had the power to govern a state, could not tell how to rule his own passions; never till now do we find his counsel balked, neither was it now rejected as ill, only Hushai's was allowed for better : he can live no longer now, that he is beaten at own weapon; this alone is cause enough to saddle his ass, and to go home, and put the halter about his own neck. Pride causes men both to misinterpret disgraces, and to over-rate them. Now is David's prayer heard. “Ahithophel's counsel is turned into foolishness." Desperate Ahithophel ! what if thou be not the wisest man of all Israel ? Even those that have not attained to the highest pitch of wisdom have found contentment in a mediocrity: what if thy counsel were despised ? A wise man knows to live happily, in spite of an unjust contempt: what madness is this, to revenge another man's reputation upon thyself? and, while

thou strivest for the highest room of wisdom, to run into the grossest extremity of folly? Worldly wisdom is no protection from shame and ruin. How easily may a man, though naturally, wise, be made weary of life! A little pain, a little shame, a little loss, a small affront, can soon rob a man of all comfort, and cause his own hands to rob him of himself. If there be not higher respects than the world can yield, to maintain us in being, it should be a miracle, if indignation did not kill more than disease. Now that God, by whose appointment we live here, for his most wise and holy purposes, hath found means to make life sweet, and death terrible.

What a mixture do we find here of wisdom and madness! Ahithophel will needs hang himself; there is madness: he will yet set his house in order; there is an act of wisdom. And could it be possible that he, who was so wise as to set his house in order, should be so mad as to hang himself! that he should be careful to order his house, who regarded not to order his impotent passions; that he should care for his house, who cared not for either body or soul. How vain it is for a man to be wise, if he be not wise in God! How prosperous are the cares of idle worldlings, that prefer all other things to themselves, and while they look at what they have in their coffers, forget what they have in their breasts !

CONTEMPLATION III.

THE DEATH OF ABSALOM.

The same God that raised enmity to David from his own loins, procured him favour from foreigners ; strangers shall relieve him, whom his own son persecutes; here is not a loss, but an exchange of love.

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