"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)
ALTHOUGH the words of our text are not the words of God, yet they are in accordance with God's most holy Word about man, about his end, and about futurity.
David's son Absalom had gone away: fled from his home because of his conduct towards his father. Joab, the general of David's army and nephew of David--the wise, courageous warrior (and many things he said and did spoke well for him; yet upon the whole, I fear he did not know the Lord), was anxious that Absalom should return home. It appears that he was a great favorite, and, therefore, Joab put these words which we have read, with many others, into the mouth of a wise woman, that she was to repeat to the king. Look at her humility and how she exalted the king, how highly she spoke of him; but David perceived by her speech that she was sent by Joab to say these things. Then the king answered and said to the woman, "Hide not from me, I pray thee, the thing that I shall ask thee. And the woman said, Let my lord the king now speak. And the king said, Is not the hand of Joab with thee in all this? And the woman answered and said, As thy soul liveth my lord the king, none can turn to the right hand or to the left from ought that my lord the king hath spoken, for thy servant Joab he bade me, and he put all these words in the mouth of thine handmaid, to fetch about this form of speech, hath thy servant Joab done this thing."--and so on.
Now in the words of the text, there seem to be some very pointed terse sayings of this woman in regard to David and Absalom, and she said to the king, "we must needs die." Perhaps she meant by this, that the time would soon come that he must die, and if Absalom remained where he was, he would die there. "And are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person," not even the person of David himself, or any other. "Yet doth He devise means, that His banished be not expelled from Him." As if she had said, "Seeing the Lord has done this why should the king maintain his present behavior in regard to Absalom?" We read that in consequence of this, Absalom was called home again. We leave all this, and notice the text in regard to ourselves.
The first solemn declaration is, that we must die. Yes, we must die!
Secondly: The woman said we must needs die. It is necessary that we must die, "and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again."
Thirdly: The Lord has devised means by which His banished be not expelled from Him.
O what a sweet mercy to belong to the Lord! What a sweet mercy to hope that we are His! For we must die. All things around us teach us this. And yet sometimes, how carelessly and thoughtlessly we live, and what a clinging there is to life. But the decree has gone forth: it came from God before man had fallen. "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." One would suppose that men and women as rational creatures, to say nothing at all about religion, would consider their ways and keep this in mind, that the time will come, when "we must die!" All things around us seem to teach us the lesson as well as eternal truth. All things die and go away. Such is our present state; but I conceive the great difference is between two parties in regard to this.
The Christian dies in the Lord. "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth, yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours." The time is coming when, whether we are in the Lord or not, we must die, for as this woman said: "neither doth God respect any person." Now, when we are called to die, do we believe we shall die safely; that we shall die peacefully; that we shall die in the Lord? There is no hope unless the heart is changed; unless we are brought to hate the evil, and cleave to the good. O, be not deceived, my soul, in a matter so important as this, seeing that all must die!
Sometimes the subject will force itself upon us when busily engaged in worldly affairs and things. Whilst it is right in the sight of God to be "diligent in business," yet at the same time, we ought to be "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." What an end it will put to all these things that now occupy so much of our time, and so many of our thoughts; what folly it is to act as if we did not believe the declaration that "we must die;" and O! do we know our interest in Christ? Have we fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us? Is Jesus our only hope and expectation? My young friends, be not deceived. We that are old know that we must soon die, and it may be that soon you will die too. There is an appointed time for man upon the earth. There is a time to die, said the wise man. The departure of friends one after another from this vale of tears, seems to say to us "we must die;" but if we die unacquainted with Christ; if we die out of Christ; how can we hope for Heaven afterwards, or that we shall be found among the blessed there? There is no hope! I know man will make hope of some sort. Some think that they will change their conduct of life soon, and will seek the Lord; but without His grace there is nothing effective; we each pursue our course, hastening on to death, and yet so occupied with each other things, as if we did not believe the great fact that we must die.
But Christians die; believers pass away, whether they die on the mount of comfort or in the valley of sorrow they die safely, because they die in the Lord. God give us grace to consider our ways seeing we know this, we would not put it away from us, that the time is hastening on when each of us must die! Precious is the Gospel in the prospect of death! How dear are the promises of God when we set them before us, and know that we must pass away; how sweet the Gospel becomes to us then! What a blessed thing to feel that there is support from God's Word--supporting us in the prospect of death.
For secondly "We must needs die."
There is a necessity for it: it must be so. Some do not believe that; some we have read of who cursed death, and swore that they would not die: but they did die for all that! There is a necessity for death, because we read in the scriptures of death and judgment.
There is a necessity that unconverted sinners should die to hear their awful sentence. It will seem but a moment between death and the resurrection, because those that die have no knowledge of things transpiring in this life, for they are as in our text "As water spilt on the ground which cannot be gathered up again." And when we have crossed the bar of death, what shall we find there? There is a necessity for this, for Christ is the Judge of all, and His enemies must appear before Him, as well as His friends. There is a place of torment to which the wicked must go! We do not like to speak of it, for we know that alarming things will not regenerate the soul; but it is necessary that sinners must die.
We bless God that it is necessary that saints should die, hence the Apostle said, "According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness as always, so also now, Christ shall be magnified in my body whether it be by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ" (is to enjoy Him, is to live upon Him, is to trust Him, is to glorify Him: in preaching His Gospel, is to show forth His mighty power in a consistent life and walk, for the grace of God never teaches a man to sin, but leads him to holiness and good works in the Lord; and if any of us are living in sin and think we are Christians we are giving the lie to ourselves); "and to die is gain." There is a necessity for it then. But the apostle said, "If I live in the flesh this is the fruit of my labour, yet what I shall choose I wot not; for I am in a strait betwixt two" (sorely pressed). Did he want to get away from the world then? he seemed so set upon heavenly things that it became a strait to him; pressed on the one side having a desire to depart and be with Christ; and on the other side to abide in the flesh, which, he said, is more needful for you. It was necessary for him to die to be with Christ. O Christian, what will it be to be with Christ? Here we get some glimpses of His face, and God has appointed it so, that by faith we should sometimes enjoy a little heavenly light. That beautiful temple that Ezekiel saw in vision, had narrow windows, not wide ones; so that a little light streamed in from each side of the building: to show that believers on earth can have but glimpses of heavenly light.
"The little too that's known
Which, childrenlike, we boast."
And we may well boast if we know the light of heaven and are brought into this place with the Apostle to feel that the woman's saying is true, that "we must needs die." The Apostle knew that Christ was his Saviour; he knew that heaven was his home; and this created the desire in his soul, to go away and be with Him. "Nevertheless," he said, "to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." O, how he longed for the comfort of the saints; that the doubting ones might be assured of their safety, and that sinners might be turned to God! He would like to go to heaven, and yet he would stay in this world, with all its cares and sorrows, so that Christ might be glorified in the salvation of sinners, and in the building up of His Church. But it was necessary, and there is a needs be for all these things, the Scriptures tells us so, and so Elihu said (Job 34:12) "Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment....If He set His heart upon man, if He gather unto Himself his spirit and his breath" that is if God will take His children home, seeing there is a necessity for it--"All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust." Is that our state? The Lord hide pride from our eyes! The nearer we live to the Lord the less we are affected by cursed pride.
When Abraham had talked and reasoned with the Lord about the destruction of Sodom, the more the Lord listened, the more humility he manifested, till he said, "I who am but dust and ashes hath taken upon me to speak to the Lord." There is no pride in dust and ashes.
"Neither doth God respect any person." Christian or no Christian, believer or unbeliever, the poorest man upon the earth, or the most wealthy, we must all die. We read sometimes in the newspaper that some lord or lady has passed away; thousands of poor people die and you never see their names in the newspaper. We can understand the necessity for the Christian's dying, because he must be for ever with the Lord. It is necessary, because the body of Christ, His Church in heaven, must be complete; so the Apostle tells us in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "that they without us should not be made perfect." It must be a perfect body. And now let us see whether we are members of His body. It is wonderfully easy when the Lord gives us faith and spiritual discernment, to ascertain this. If we are in union with His Church now, we shall be there. We have a place in His Church now, for God hath set the members as it pleased Him; some are higher in the body than others; but the Apostle James said "Hearken, my beloved brethren, hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom?" (James 2:5) That is what God has done. If we feel in true union with the church (we do not mean any particular sect or denomination, but the Church of the living God) we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones, and it is necessary for these believers to die, to take their places in union with that Church in eternal glory! Who would wish to live here always, amidst all the cares of life? Perhaps some of you during the past week have been so over-burdened and troubled that you scarcely knew how to bear it. And you wish to stay amidst all this? and yet every day struggling to get away from it? And perhaps some of you have suffered great loss. What! wish to stay in this world where one trial succeeds another with its losses and poverty?
I was reading a letter the other day to a poor man that I knew years ago, an heir of God, a joint heir with Christ, and where did he die? in the union poorhouse. Wherever the child of God is, his God is with him; and it is necessary that he should die to go to glory, and be for ever with the Lord.
It is necessary that we should die or go away, that we may praise Him better than we can here. Have you not thought sometimes, as David did, "I will praise the Lord all the day long." I wonder if he did; I do not think so. I expect, just as his heart got warm and was in tune to praise the Lord, some affair of the nation was brought before the Lord, some affair of the nation was brought before him and stopped it all; and is it not so with us now?
It is necessary that God's people that love to praise Him here should die, that they may sing His praise above.
"Join in the everlasting song,
And crown Him Lord of all."
This is sweet to think of. I love to think of Heaven, and of being with Christ.
Thirdly. "Yet doth He devise means that His banished be not expelled from Him." And what wondrous means present themselves to our minds. He gave His Son that He might have sinners with Him in glory! He gave His Son to die that they might live! We bless His name for this. How shall we know that God has devised means that we ourselves shall not be expelled from Him? Because He is inviting us in His word to come to Him. We have been coming to Him now for many years, some of us; and you that are just seeking His face shall find that the Lord hath devised means (marvelous means), that though His people must die, though their bodies shall be like water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again, yet He hath devised means for their resurrection. We feel that those we once knew and loved, though they are gone, are as dear to us now as when they were here below. There is something very touching, I think, in the twenty-third chapter of Genesis. Sarah died in Hebron and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. And Abraham stood up from before his dead (my dead, he said), and this is repeated two or three times. Had he been sitting or kneeling beside his dead wife praying to God, I wonder? And do not we feel the same now?
"Must Abraham for Sarah weep,
Must Jacob's Rachel die?
Fond nature cease, they only sleep,
Their souls are safe on high."
They are ours still; death has certainly taken them away, but there is a necessity for it, though it did not appear so. You that have lost loved ones, did it not appear to you more necessary that they should stay with you? But it was the Lord's will, the time had come for them to go to the Lord, and be with Him. Let us expect to meet them as ours; the husband, wife, child, and parent, as the case may be, they are ours still, though they are gone away--if they died in the Lord. Oh their joy, their triumph, how wonderful! The Lord hath devised means that His banished be not expelled from Him. Though they seem to be banished, and sometimes felt so when here, and now their bodies are laid in the grave, yet He hath devised means by which they shall arise from the dead. Jesus, the firstfruits, has risen from the dead, and gone to Heaven as such. The Jews offered the firstfruits of their harvest unto God, and God gave them seasonable weather which secured all the harvest, and God has accepted Jesus as the firstfruits of the harvest of all His people.
He has loved them, blessed them, and is taking them home to glory; and the time is coming when you and I must die. The Lord give us grace to live to Him here, that we may die in the Lord. When on our beds sleepless sometimes we think we shall die here soon, but with the Lord's help all will be well; some perhaps suffer great pain, while others pass quietly away. Jesus has perfumed the chambers of the grave, and made even death a gain to the believer. Sleep on, dear saints of God! But suppose we are in darkness when we come to die. Beloved, if we are in union with Christ, no darkness can separate us from Him. Sometimes we triumph over death now in our songs of praise, and say, "O grave, where is thy victory?" We cannot gather up our own again; they are gone; the soul with God, the body safe in the grave until the Archangel's trump is heard, and Jesus comes to Judgment and brings them back again. Then it will be proved that "He doth devise means by which His banished be not expelled from Him." Oh may He give us grace now, and peace to succor us in our last moments.
Now in regard to our dear friend just laid in the grave. We know he always sat under the truth; he always cleaved to it, and contended for it; and we are pleased to hear that his dear wife is greatly encouraged from some things he said, to believe that he died in the Lord. Some scriptures were very sweet to him on his deathbed. If any of God's words are sweet to us, it is because we are quickened by God from the death in sin to a life of righteousness. We mourn with those that mourn, we sympathize with the bereaved ones; we pray that they may be supported and blessed, and be enabled to believe that the one gone from their sight will meet them again. A little while, and those that fear God here will meet those that are gone to rest, to praise Him, and to prove the meaning of our text, "That His banished are not expelled from Him."
Lift up your heads, ye that fear God, for your redemption draweth nigh! Death will be no king of terrors to you when you meet him, because the Master says He will meet you there, and take you through the river of death to glory. Come, Lord, dispel our gloom; come and take away the fear of death. May we rejoice in hope, and be looking forward to the time when we shall meet around His throne, to bless, praise, and adore Him for ever and ever. Amen.
"Death is no more a frightful foe
Since I with Christ shall reign;
With joy I leave this world of woe--
For me to die is gain.
To darkness, doubts, and fears adieu,
Adieu, this world so vain;
Then shall I know no more of you--
For me to die is gain.
Fain would my raptured soul depart,
Nor longer here remain;
But dwell, dear Jesus, where Thou art--
For me to die is gain."