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Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach. Wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? Then will the Lord be jealous for his land, and pity his people :” “He will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing."
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CHILDREN IN RELIGIOUS HOUSEHOLDS. “O my son Absalom ! my son, my son Absalom ! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”—was the exceeding bitter cry of David as he went up to vent his grief in the chamber of the watch-tower over the gate of Mahanaim. It would not be easy, even in the compass of Holy Writ, to find a parallel to the intensity of this lamentation; unless, indeed, we advert to yet more sorrowful cries bursting from the lips of the Saviour; but they are of far more mysterious import. The sufferings of Him, who was God manifest in the flesh, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and when suspended on the cross, admit of no comparison with any utterance of mortal man; they were exceptional in their nature, as also in the depth of agony which they reveal. Beyond them we seek a counterpart in vain. And yet every species of indignity which the subtlest malice could suggest, had been heaped upon David by the unblushing profligacy of his rebellious son. His life had been singled out for destruction, with animosity as relentless as when he was fleeing from the face of Saul ; still, when the hosts were going forth to battle, his charge had been to his captains, "Deal gently, for my sake, with the young man, even with Absalom.” So true it is that “many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it”! Past frowardness, persistent obstinacy, shameful sin, foul rebellion, personal danger, and national disaster, pass away from the soul of David like a dream with the morning light. The disobedient son, the secret murderer, the intriguing plotter, the grasping usurper, the shameless adulterer, the remorseless parricide, if not in act, yet in intent, are utterly lost sight of; his bowels yearn over the fair child, the goodly youth, from the sole of whose foot to the crown of whose head there was no blemish, upon whom his eyes had rested in past years with such delight, and in the bundle of whose life his soul was still bound up; bygone thoughts crowd in upon his imagination, till reason well-nigh tottered upon her throne.
It would be interesting to dwell upon, and analyze, those masterful emotions which on so many occasions seem to have carried David beyond the bounds of self-control, and to watch the influence which for good and evil they exercised upon his fortunes in many most critical periods ; but it would be foreign to our present purpose. We can only remind our readers how strikingly it is impressed upon us by such incidents, that holy men of old were of like passions and infirmities with ourselves, and hence the extreme value of their examples to believers in all'ages of the Church. Had the Word of God been, as some would imagine, “cunningly devised fables," it is in the last degree improbable that such incidents in the life of David, and such revelations of the career of Absalom, would have been embodied in its records. Faultless models of unattainable excellence, such as the world has not seen, would have met us at every turn; not a great company of those who, after coming out of great tribulation, and washing their foul and sin-bedabbled robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb, had struggled upwards to the throne of God. In the Bible, too, we have beacons set up to warn, as well as lights furnished for our guidance; a pillar of salt lifts itself up above the ruined cities of the plain, and “ Absalom's place” is reared up in the King's dale.
The bitter lamentation of David is, however, in itself suggestive of thoughts of the deepest and most absorbing interest. Himself “the man after God's own heart," who did so many things for Israel and Judah, according to His will; endowed with most brilliant natural qualities, and gifted with most eminent spiritual graces; yet when we view him in his family relations, how much there is to sadden and bewilder. The circumstances are too familiar to need recalling; ere now they have proved a stumbling block in the path of weak faith, and have served as a pretext for the impiety of the scoffer and the infidel; yet, read aright and studied attentively, they are fraught with instruction and admonition.
What, for instance, is more common to meet with than assertions that children trained up in religious families constantly run to excess of riot; or if they continue to make any kind of religious profession, are to be found amongst the most conspicuous perverters of the simplicity of the truth as it is in Jesus? Sometimes well-known names are paraded in support of such statements, and in a measure serve to bear them out. Now it is our belief, and we conceive that we are justified in it, that such assertions partake largely of undue exaggeration, and are recklessly flung about, not unfrequently as much through hostility to religion itself as from any other cause. We are convinced that the ranks of loose and ungodly lives, of empty
and vain professors of religion, of the enemies of the Cross of Christ, are mainly recruited and officered from families where God is not honoured and served at all, or where religion is a mere name and accident, devoid of all reality, influencing neither belief nor practice. Neither father nor mother, neither spiritual pastor nor master, has at any period given serious attention to the spiritual nature and edification of by far the larger majority of those who by the sinfulness of their lives crucify afresh a Saviour whom from childhood they have been practically ignorant of, and who do despite to a Holy Ghost of whom they have never realized any adequate conception. While convinced, however, that such statements are essentially injurious and erroneous in their main features, and still more convinced that the promise to parents, “Train up a child in the way in which he shall go, and when he is old he shall not depart from it,” has an inherent vitality, and meets with abundant falfilment, there yet remain instances where the statement is true, and where the promise at first sight seems to fail. It falls fairly within the scope of the Christian Observer to take up such considerations, and see what light may be thrown upon them by the Word of God. Assuredly David is not the only parent with whom true religion has been a living guide and principle, who has been constrained to cry out, in the extremity of his anguish, “Oh, my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom, would God that I had died for thee! Oh, Absalom, my son, my son !”
What intimations, then, can we gather from Scripture explanatory of this fearful casting away of Absalom? We think we see manifest traces of David's having been a fond father. There is an old English meaning attaching to this word, of which we still find traces in our Articles, which explains the sense in which we would use it here. The natural affections of David were warm and impulsive, and unduly warped his judgment. In the first chapter of the First Book of Kings there is a remarkable instance recorded of this. “Adonijah the son of Haggith,” we are told, “exalted himself, saying, I will be king. And his father had not displeased him at any time, saying, Why hast thou done so ? and he was a very goodly man; and his mother bare him after Absalom.” Have we not in this striking verse a clue to the evil which brought both these young men to an untimely end. David seems hardly to have got the length of the over-indulgent Eli, who did manage to say to Hophni and Phinehas, “Why do ye such things ? for I hear of your evil tidings by the people," and very probably thereby " displeased them," although he did not restrain them further. Now, it may be conceded that it is no easy matter, when
Vol. 68.–No. 374.
A little child, a limber elf,
As fills a father's eyes with light,presents itself before one, to deny it aught, or to restrain it even in its waywardness and wilfulness. While remembering always that it is to be played with, and has a right to be amused, it requires steadfastness of resolution and fixedness of purpose to keep in mind that yet more is required from those to whom God has entrusted it; and that fondness, unless duly guarded against, is often apt to degenerate into what our forefathers held it to be foolishness. As years pass on, it becomes no easy thing for a child which, upon just and sufficient grounds, when need so requires, has not been “displeased” in its youth, to understand why, when it grows older, and its senses have been more exercised in judging for itself, it should be displeased then. A very little child, almost in the dawn of existence, can learn obedience even in very little things, when it can learn, and need learn, absolutely nothing else; and it has learned a great deal if it has been taught that lesson lovingly and thoroughly. There is high warrant for this; for He “who is love" displeases his children, nay, he chastens them, but only that they may in due season yield peaceable fruits of righteousness. They are wise who begin this training
“Dum faciles animi juvenum dum mobilis ætas.” Had David so acted with Absalom and Adonijah, it might have been that the sharp sword would not have pierced into his own soul. Because he failed in doing so, we have no just grounds for concluding that in his case God's promise failed him. Nor if we fail in this duty when it devolves upon us, have we any right or title for concluding that the failure is with God, but rather with ourselves.
Again, we have not far to seek for another most natural cause for Absalom's declension from the paths of righteousness and consequent ruin. David's own conduct was inconsistent with his profession. To cite no further instance, there is the awful story of Uriah. The thousands of Israel may have been ignorant of the facts of the case; nay, multitudes who thronged the court may only have been perplexed with uncertain rumours when Bathsheba was fetched in. But in the innermost circle of all, in the family itself of David, they could not have remained concealed. Even then, when the king's self-abasement was most complete, and his repentance most acceptable, he could not readily have “displeased” Absalom by comments on his conduct, supposing the time for such not already past. “ Conscience makes cowards of us all,” and David's was doubtless no exception to the rule. But what Christian parent is there who, though preserved from such grievous sin, is not more or less inconsistent with his profession? If wise, he sets up for his great exemplar the Saviour whose disciple he is, and will seek to be conformed to his likeness; but in how many ways, and how immeasurably, he will come short! Infirmities of speech, infirmities of temper, infirmities of conduct, if not more grievous failings, will be conspicuous. Sharp eyes will be ever on the watch, ears ever open will be listening to and drinking in every unguarded expression. It was an old Roman saying, “Maxima debetur pueris reverentia ;" but how often, in religious families, it is lost sight of. And even with the utmost care, how difficult it is to keep injudicious friends and acquaintances, or worldly relatives, from bringing up subjects to be avoided, or still worse, canvassing religious topics in a manner the reverse of edifying, and alienating instead of winning the affections and sympathy of youthful listeners. It would be painful, and perhaps unwise, to press this point too closely, and to furnish illustrations; but probably many of our readers will, out of their own recollections, supply deficiency of statement, and make the application of it from their own individual experience.
Another proximate cause of Absalom's ruin may have been what we may perhaps term devolution of responsibility upon the part of David. Engaged as he was in perpetual wars, with all the anxieties and responsibilities of sovereignty attaching to him, it must have been well-nigh impossible for him to bestow personal attention upon the training of his children. It was one of the penalties of his greatness that he was compelled to forego the constant intercourse which such training would demand. This charge, if undertaken by either parent, must have devolved upon Haggith, and of her we know nothing, nor of her competency for such a task. And how many would there be ministering in such a court as David's only too ready to pamper every last, and to foster every foolish and violent temper which the wayward youth might be tempted to indulge in. Much of his training was probably due to creatures and parasites, to the servants and maidens, to the men-singers and women-singers, of whom Solomon speaks as swarming around him in the days of his greatness; little probably to the personal influence and sage counsels of the sweet Psalmist of Israel. There is a passage in Sir W. Scott, startling in its quaintness, but so full of shrewd common sense, and so immediately applicable to the matter in hand, that we cannot forbear transcribing it; it is years ago since we read it, but it made an impression deep and lasting :