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II. That we cannot draw conclusions in favour of any crime, so as to justify it in ourselves, from its having been committed by a “ man after God's own heart.” Because, though his conformity to the divine will, in some very material instances, did justly entitle him to that appellation ; yet every vicious excess was in him, (as it must be in every human creature) the object of God's utter detestation, and very often too of his severest vengeance.
III. That they who have taken so much pains to ridicule and vilify the character of David, with a view of wounding the authority of the Scriptures through his sides, have only shown their malevolence, without affecting their purpose. Because their whole reasoning being founded on a presumption, that David was selected by God, on account of some peculiar moral excellency; this foundation being withdrawn, the whole superstructure of cavils and calumnies raised upon it falls entirely to the ground.
Let it not, however, be inferred from any thing here said, that king David's character ought, by any means, to be viewed in that odious light in which these writers have
endeavoured to place it. For although it must be confessed, that his moral conduct is far from being irreproachable, yet it is no less true, that (excepting those known and acknowledged crimes, which no one pretends to palliate or deny, and which he himself deplored with the deepest penitence and contrition) every stain which has with so much malevolent industry been thrown upon his name, may be, to a great degree, if not completely done away. It is not my design to enter here into a particular confutation of all the calumnies and accusations which have been brought against him. It would not be suitable to the nature, or reducible to the usual bounds of a discourse of this kind. But as the heaviest, and, indeed the only plausible charge, which has been urged, not only against David, but the whole Jewish nation, is that of cruelty, a charge which, without any of those exaggerations it has received, is of itself apt to make the deepest impressions on the honestest minds; for these reasons, I shall suggest a few considerations in regard to this particular, which may serve to put the unwary a little upon their guard, to remove all unnecessary and invidious aggravations, and account, in some measure, for what, perhaps, can neither be wholly justified nor excused.
We who live in these enlightened and polished times, when our manners are softened by the liberal arts, and our souls humanized by the benevolent spirit of Christianity, are shocked beyond measure at many things, which, in the ruder ages of antiquity, were not looked upon with so much abhorrence as they deserve. We cannot help bringing those transactions home to ourselves, referring them to our own age and nation, supposing them to be done under the same advantages which we at present enjoy, and consequently as involving the same degree of guilt that we ourselves should incur by the commission of the same crimes. But though this is a very natural, it is by no means an equitable way of judging. In deciding on the merit or demerit of any men, or society of men, in a remote period, we ought certainly to take into consideration the general character of
the times in which they lived, the peculiar modes of thinking and rules of acting, which then prevailed. If we apply this observation to king David, we shall find, that he lived in an age when the world was sunk in ignorance and barbarity; when men were divided into a number of petty kingdoms, and small communities ; when they shut themselves up in “ fenced cities,” and seldom went out of them but to fight with their neighbours; for every neighbour was of course an enemy.* Scarce any other art was then known but the art of war, which consisted in destroying as many as they possibly could, and enslaving the rest. In such a state of things it must necessarily follow, that men familiarized to blood, and trained up to slaughter, would become insensibly steeled against the impressions of humanity, and contract a habit of cruelty, which would give a tinge to the whole current of their lives, impart even to the face of peace itself too sanguine a complexion, and discolour the whole intercourse of civil,
* The state of our own kingdom under the Saxon heptarchy, may, perhaps, give us some faint idea of the barbarity of all kingdoms in the early ages of the world.
social, and domestic offices. We are not then to wonder, that the Jews themselves were infected with this epidemical ferocity of manners. We are not to charge them with more than their share of the common guilt, we are not to represent them as a people distinguished by their cruelty, but as constituting a consistent part of a barbarous world.
It may be thought, perhaps, that though this way of reasoning is to be admitted in general, yet it has not the same force in regard to the Jews as when applied to any other nation ; because they being God's chosen and peculiar people, ought to be found superior in benevolence, as well as every other virtue, to the rest of mankind. But it must ever be remembered, (what God himself frequently declares*,) that it was not for their“own sakes,” for their own o righteousness,” that they were chosen, but (as in the particular case of king David above stated) for other reasons; for preserving the knowledge, and promoting the worship, of the one true God; for manifesting his divine power in working mira
* Deut. ix. 4, 5.