"For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth He devise means, that His banished be not expelled from Him." (2 Samuel 14:14)
WE have today stood by an open grave. We have seen one who has been loved and respected by this Church laid low in the grave--and there is nothing very pleasant either about death or the grave--and while we stood there, we thought upon these words, "Yet doth He devise means that His banished be not expelled from Him."
The doctrine of the resurrection is a very difficult doctrine for reason to accept, and yet it is true. Faith believes it, though to nature it seems utterly impossible. Absalom was an exile; he had murdered his brother, he had fled, and David's heart now seems to be reconciled to Absalom his son, for he longed after him, and his heart went forth unto him. Joab was a man of observation, and he noticed David and saw that David longed for Absalom, and hence he practices deceit. He engaged a woman of the court, and she approached David and craftily entangled him with her parable. Our text is one of a series of her powerful arguments: "For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground which cannot be gathered up again." You can bring Absalom back, you can punish Absalom; but whatever you inflict upon Absalom, it will never restore Amnon, for he is as water spilt on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. Then there seems to be a gentle hint of the way in which God has frequently decided that those who have been banished might not be altogether expelled from Him. Your minds goes right away back to your first parents, and you see them banished from Eden, and you ask, "Can they ever be brought back to God?" They are dead in trespasses and sins; shall they ever be restored to the favor of God? And then your mind runs back towards those lepers who were banished from the congregation of Israel, who dwelt in a separate camp. You say in your mind, "Shall they ever be restored? is it possible to devise a means whereby they shall be restored?" And then you see all Abraham's seed in Egypt. You see them in their low estate; you see how utterly helpless they are, and you wonder, can they ever be restored? And then you see all Israel in exile in Babylon, their harps on the willows, and again you say of the people who are banished, "Can they ever be restored?" And in your own heart you often feel as though you yourself are in exile. You realize your bonds; and then when you lay in the grave your loved ones you say, "Can they ever be restored?" And then, it maybe, you turn to the covenant of grace, that you may peradventure find if there has been means devised whereby one, or many, or all, of these may be restored.
Then you hear the word, "The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that he should not die in the pit." (Isa. 51:14) I have often wished I could hear some godly minister preach from that text. Some of us have been captives, and some of us have known what it was to be in exile, and some of us have had a very ardent desire for liberty. We wanted to be loosed from our bonds, and some of us have been afraid lest we should die in the pit, and at other times feel as though our bread would fail us. I have never heard any man speak of it, any man open it up; neither have I ever dared to attempt it myself; and yet what a field of experience, what a glorious truth is here! And then, maybe, you hear the word: "Thy dead men shall live; together with My dead body shall they arise." (Isa. 26:19) As you see Adam banished from Eden, as you hear the various curses pronounced, you wonder, can there be a possibility of any divine person finding out a way to return? Realizing in some measure that God is just, you say, "How shall He find a way of justifying a sinner, and yet retain His justice and His glorious Majesty?" And then you turn to the gospel as you search the Scriptures, and you find there is such a plan, there has been a plan devised; none but God could have devised such a plan. It passes all human comprehension. There is divinity stamped upon every clause of it. The Three enter into a contract, and a glorious covenant is drawn up; and the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father engages to come, "Lo, I come; in the volume of the Book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will, O My God." (Heb. 10:7) And His will was that the law might be restored; and His will was that somebody must be punished. There must be a surety, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself became surety, and "He that is surety for a stranger shalt smart for it." (Prov. 11:13) He felt the curse, He felt the wrath, He mourned an absent God as He cried, "My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?" There you have your Surety; He is fulfilling the law. He is paying the debt, paying the penalty; He is bearing what you must have borne throughout a never-ending eternity. God has devised a way whereby all the election of grace may return, for they have all been banished, and they have all to be restored.
That is a grand type that you have in the Old Testament where, in His great mercy, God ordained six cities to be Cities of Refuge, so that if a man desired the life of another man, the pursued could hasten to the City of Refuge; for the law was that if the pursuer should overtake him, he had authority to slay him. The man must hasten to the City of Refuge, and hastening there and finding safety, he was secure till the High Priest died; and at the death of the High Priest he regained his liberty, and his land and his possessions were restored to him.
Do not you sometimes sit down and just look at that, meditate upon it? Do not you see the man striving to reach the city of Refuge? Do not you see his enemy gaining upon him? Do not you hear the law saying this road must be kept open; there must have every opportunity of reaching a place of safety, and then no hand must touch him? Do not you see your own case? assuming that you have been quickened, assuming that you desire salvation, assuming that you are the captive exile, and that you are fleeing from the wrath to come. You are hastening that you may not be lost; you do not want to die in the pit, and you believe there is a way made, a plan devised. The way is open, the only barrier is your own sin, your own inability; and if you reach the Refuge, you are absolved from all sin by the death of your High Priest. I want an interest in that High Priest, and in His death, because I have been a banished one.
And then you see how the Lord devised a plan that even a leper might be restored, his leprosy might be cleansed; the miracle might be wrought, and he again brought back to the congregation of Israel. Thus, as we look upon all these things, believing they are recorded there for our instruction, it confirms our faith that God will also devise a way whereby those who are hid from our sight, those even who return to dust, as shortly we ourselves shall die, shall be raised from the dead, impossible though it seems to nature. The great thing that matters is the salvation of the soul. That being secure, all other things are secured with it.
There is a being banished in our feelings. There are those who are described as "the outcasts of Israel." (Ps. 147:2; Isa. 11:12) Though they are thus banished, they are still His, they are spoken of as His; and though they are outcasts, they are the outcasts of Israel. Maybe you know something of the feeling of an outcast. The Word of God is full of very strong figures. Imagine a person cast out of society! Imagine a person barred from a family! He is a wanderer. No man hardly will speak to him; nobody wants to have any conversation with him. He seems to be the lowest of the low, and that is exactly the feelings of a person under the conviction of sin. He was dead; he is now alive. There has been a plan devised. The Holy Spirit has breathed upon him. We were as so many dry bones. Not only dry, but separate bone from bone; and one clause in that devised plan was that the Holy Spirit should breathe upon them and quicken them into divine life. He should bring them to realize their condition. That was one clause in this devised plan, and thus when we have our eyes opened we wonder if God ever saved such a wretch, and we begin to read the Word, to see if there is any encouragement to be found there. The law says, "Expel;" justice says, "Slay;" but mercy cries, "Spare," and infinite wisdom devises the plan.
You sometimes think of those who are a long way from God, maybe, as far as sheep can run. It does seem as if they are almost out of the reach of infinite mercy, and you wonder if the law will ever reach their hearts. You have children, maybe, of your own. They have manifested no sign of divine life; they have come to the house of God, and while they are in the house of God, maybe, your fear does not run very high. There is a hope, there is a "Who can tell?" while they are under the sound of the gospel. They seem to be within reach. But imagine a son afar off; imagine a son who has disobeyed his father's authority, who has set at nought his example, who has turned his back upon all moral instruction, and who has determined to have his fill of iniquity--and still you cry. Let me tell you, if his name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life, God will devise some means whereby either he shall be brought under the sound of the truth again, or the truth shall be carried upon him. The plan is devised and we thank God for that.
Then there is yourself. Your own life, your own backsliding, your won declension, and you feel sometimes as though you will never revive again, as though it will never be as it was in the days of your youth, when the candle of the Lord was round your head; and as you look upon this, it may be there is just life enough to bring you to the house of God, but there are scarcely any other desires. There is a fear rising in your heart, as you sometimes wonder what means the Lord will adopt to bring you back, and you dread the means. I have been there; I have had that trial; I know that fear, and I wondered what God would do. Will it be bringing you into straits? Will it be to strip you of all you possess? Will it be to turn your prosperity into adversity? because as surely as you once tasted His love, so surely will He devise means whereby you, His banished one, be not expelled from Him for ever; and sometimes the means seem harsh and hard, and they are to nature.
There is such a thing as a fire in Zion, and there is such a thing as a furnace in Jerusalem, which one would have thought to be in the world. No, for the most part the world goes on easily. The fire is in Zion; it is in Jerusalem. "You only have I known amongst all the families of the earth," (Amos 3:2) and therefore will I punish you. You see your great danger, and you realize the solemnity of eternity, and feel what a terrible thing it must be to be lost for ever. There is, after all, a something rising up in your heart, that you would suffer anything rather than be banished eternally from His presence.
There is an absolute necessity that we die; there is no escaping it. It is the one thing from which there is no discharge. In this respect, God is no respecter of persons. The king must die, the beggar must die; the emperor must die, the most worthy man must die. They are writing very foolish things about death today. Some claim ability to lengthen man's life, and one has gone so far as to say he can restore life after death has taken place. When we die we become as water spilt. Let them first try to gather up water. Pour water on the ground, and the next moment all you can see is a dark patch. Try to get it again into a bucket, pick it up, collect it, gather it, and you cannot. So is man. He must needs die, and men are "as water spilt on the ground which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person." We all must die. Death is universal. The babe dies, the young man dies, the maiden dies, the man of vigor dies, the wise man dies, the careful man dies, the doctor dies, he cannot save himself. The strongest Samson that ever lived must die, and be as water spilt on the ground. And these thoughts, friends, ought to awaken some desire in our hearts to escape, not the penalty of the first death, but rather the penalty of the second death.
These thoughts surely, attended by the Spirit of God, will incite us to seek for the means which God may adopt to restore us, and especially if once we have tasted of His mercy. Then there will always be an uneasiness because of an absent God, and we want Him to devise means whereby we may be brought back.
The means thus devised in this case were successful, and Absalom was restored; and when you see David again in exile, when you see him banished from his home, you wonder, Did David do wisely in restoring Absalom? You hear him cry, "O Absalom, my son! would God I had died for thee!" As though there was something in the cry of David that reminded him that, maybe, he had not been quite so strict with Absalom as he might have been. Anyhow, he was restored to the favor of David; and just as this plan was successful, and Absalom was restored to him, so surely shall all the church of God be restored to the favor of God; so shall every chosen vessel of the Lord be brought into His presence, be partaker of His joy, be clothed in His righteousness, be washed in His fountain, be sanctified by His grace, and be justified and be glorified.
We praise our God that a plan has been devised. We thank Him for that gospel that brings life and immortality to light. Now that is the only consolation, and the only comfort that one has in laying people in graves. To feel that they had an interest in Christ, that they had been quickened by the Spirit of God. There is a city, the inhabitants whereof shall not say, "I am sick, and they that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity." There are two qualifications absolutely necessary before a man can enter that glorious city. One is repentance towards God; the other is faith towards our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and our beloved sister had these two qualifications. And when you come to think, friends, it is absolutely necessary that repentance should be towards God, because God is the offended party, because our sins were against God, and therefore repentance must always be towards God, the offended party; whilst, on the other hand, it seems most appropriate that faith should always center in the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is the fulfilling of the devised plan; here is the Lamb of God, here is the spotless One; here is the Lord of life and glory; here is One who has made full satisfaction, who has paid every mite, who has healed all breaches, who has overcome the law, who has appointed a new and living way whereby we might come to God, and our faith centers there. We cling there, we hang there, we have no other hope.
"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness."
And no man will be saved without it, friends. Now that is the fulfilling of the plan that God devised whereby His banished ones should not be expelled from Him. What a terrible thing expulsion is! A man expelled from his family; a man expelled from his employment; a man expelled from his native land. What a terrible thing it is to be expelled for ever! What does thy faith build on? Are thy hopes built here? Hast thou ever seen one ray of Divine light shine on the plan, the glorious plan of the gospel, where God accepts Another in thy room, in thy place, so that thou shalt not be expelled?
May He draw us to Him. May He more and more unfold this plan. Nearly every time that I open my Bible, I feel I have to confess there is something undiscovered, something unrevealed, something desirable, and so it will be down to the end. "That which thou knowest not now, thou shalt know hereafter." May He add His blessing and He shall have all the praise. Amen.