"And Ittai answered the king, and said : As tUe Lord liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be."—2 Sam. rv. 21.
It was the darkest hour in David's life. No more pathetic page is found in the Old Testament than that which tells the story of his flight before Absalom. He is crushed by the consciousness that his punishment is deserved—the bitter fruit of the sin that filled, all his later life with darkness. His courage and his buoyancy have left him. He has no spirit to make a stand or strike a blow. If Shimei runs along the hillside abreast of him, shrieking curses as he goes, all he says is: "Let him curse ; for the Lord hath bidden him."
So, heartbroken and spiritless, he leaves Jerusalem. And as soon as he has got clear of the city he calls a halt, in order that he may muster his followers and see on whom he may depend. Foremost among the little band come six hundred men from Gath—Philistines—from Goliath's city. These men, singularly enough, the king had chosen as his body-guard; perhaps he \\as not altogether sure of the loyalty of his own subjects, and possibly felt safer with foreign mercenaries, who could
have no secret leanings to the deposed house of Saul. Be that as it may, the narrative tells us that these men had "come after him from Gath." He had been there twice in the old days, in his flight from Saul, and the second visit had extended over something more than a year. Probably during that period his personal attraction, and his reputation as a brilliant leader, had led these rough soldiers to attach themselves to his service, and to be ready to forsake home and kindred in order to fight beside him.
At all events here they are, "faithful among the faithless" as foreign soldiers surrounding a king often are; —notably, for instance, the Swiss guard in the French Revolution. Their strong arms might have been of great use to David, but his generosity cannot think of involving them in his fall, and so he says to them . "I am not going to fight; I have no plan. I am going where I can. You go back and 'worship the rising sun.' Absalom will take you and be glad of your help. And as for me, I thank you for your past loyalty. Mercy and peace be with you!"
It is a beautiful nature that in the depth of sorrow shrinks from dragging other people down with itself. Generosity breeds generosity, and this Philistine captain breaks out into a burst of passionate devotion, garnished, in soldier-fashion, with an unnecessary oath or two, but ringing very sincere and meaning a great deal. As for himself and his men, they have chosen their side. Whoever goes, they stay. Whatever befalls, they stick by David ; and if the worst come to the worst they can all die together, and their corpses lie in firm ranks round about their dead king. David's heart is touched and warmed by their outspoken loyalty; he yields and accepts their service. Ittai and his noble six hundred tramp on, out of our sight, and all their households behind them. Now what is there, in all that, to make a sermon out of?
I.—First, look /at the picture of that Philistine soldier, as teaching us w? /aat grand passionate self-sacrifice may be evolved out of if the roughest natures.
Analyse hi< Jb words, and do you not hear, ringing in them, these tvihree things, Avhich are the seed of all nobility and splendov •far in human character? First, a passionate personal att.'rp.chment; then, that love, issuing as such love always doe^is, in willing sacrifice that recks not for a moment of •Jpersonal consequences ; that is ready to accept anything ft wr itself if it can serve the object of its devotion, and f•Jsvill count life well expended if it is flung away in such a f *ervice. And we see, lastly, in these words a supreme r estful delight in the presence of him whom the heart lovef*. For Ittai and his men, the one thing needful was to be fbeside him in whose eye they had lived, from whose presence they had caught inspiration ; their trusted leader, before whom their souls bowed down. So then his vehement speech is the pure language of love.
Now theUse three things,—a passionate personal attachment, issuiing in spontaneous heroism of self-abandonment, and in supreme satisfaction in the beloved presence, —may sprang up in the rudest, roughest nature. A Philistine soldier was not a very likely man in whom to find refined and lofty emotion. He was hard by nature, hardened by his rough trade; and unconscious that he was doing anything at all heroic or great. Something had smitten this rock, and out of it there came the pure refreshing stream. And so I say to you, the weakest and the lowest, the roughest and the hardest, the most selfishly absorbed man and woman among us, has lying in him and her, dormant capacities for flaming up into such a splendour of devotion and magnificence of heroic selfsacrifice as is represented in these words of my text. A mother will do it for her child, and never think that she has done anything extraordinary; husbands will do such things for wives ; wives for husbands ; i^URiends and lovers for one another. All who know the sweet tbtness and power of the bond of affection know that there it^eea nothing more gladsome than to fling one's self away for thMde sake of those whom we love. And the capacity for s\ tuch love and sacrifice lies in all of us ; prosaic, commonplace people as we are, with no great field on which to wtfork out our heroisms ; yet it is in us to love and give ouijirselves away thus if once the heart be stirred. i'
And lastly, this capacity which lies dorma tgnt in all of us, if once it is roused to action will make a uuian blessed
and dignified as nothing else will. The joy love is the purest joy that man can taste ; the
f unselfish joy of per
fect self-sacrifice is the highest joy that huiinanity can possess, and they lie open for us all.
And wherever, in some humble measure, the? e emotions of which I have been speaking are realised, the re you get weakness springing up into strength, and the i Ignoble into loftiness. Astronomers tell us that, someti, mes, a star that has shone inconspicuous, and stood lo W down in their catalogues as of fifth or sixth magnitude! will all at once flame out, having kindled and caught fto fe somehow, and will blaze in the heavens, outshining Jupiter and Venus. And so some poor, vulgar, narrow nature, touched by this Promethean fire of pure love •that leads to perfect sacrifice, will "flame in the forehead of the morning sky," an undying splendour, and a light for ever more.
Brethren 1 My appeal to you is a very plain and simple one, founded on these facts :—You have all that capacity in you, and you are al 1 responible for the use of it. What have you done with it? Is there any person or thing in this world that has ever been able to lift you up out of your miserable selves? Is there any magnet that has provod strong enough to raise you from the low levels
aloug which you'^p life creeps? Have you ever known the thrill of resoVv' ^ng to become the bondservant and the slave of some f. great cause not your own? Or are you, as so many of yo jo. are, like spiders living in the midst of your web, ma^ inly intent upon what you can catch in it? Yon have tlie •Ise capacities slumbering in you. Have you ever set a lig^fnt to that inert mass of enthusiasm that lies in you? H.<fa,ve you ever woke up the sleeper i Look •at this rough. *soldier of my text, and learn from him the lesson that4 there is nothing that so ennobles and dignifies a commonplace nature as enthusiasm for a great cause, or self-sacrificjing love for a worthy heart.
II.—The second remark which I make is this :—These possibilities of love and sacrifice point plainly to God in Christ as their true object. "Whose image and superscription faath it?" said Christ, looking at the Roman denarius tlhat they brought and laid on His palm. If the Emperor's .head is on it, why, then, he has a right to it as tribute. Aaid then He went on to say, "Render, therefore, unto (Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." So there are things that have God's image and superscription stamped on them, and such are our hearts, our whole constitution and nature. As plainly as the penny had the head of Augustus on it, and therefore proclaimed that he was Emperor where it was current, so plainly does every soul carry in the image of God, the witness that He is its owner and that it should be rendered in tribute to Him.
And amongst all these marks of a Divine possession and a Divine destination printed upon human nature, it seems to me that none are plainer than this fact, that we can all of us thus give ourselves away in the abandonment of a profound and all surrendering-love. That capacity unmistakably proclaims that it is destined to be directed towards God and to find its rest in Him. As distinctly as
some silver cup, with its owner's initials ai^d arms engraved upon it, declares itself to be " meet for thews master's use," so distinctly does your soul, by reason otwthis capacity, proclaim that it is meant to be turned to talim in Whom alone all love can find its perfect satisfactior%; for Whom alone it is supremely blessed and great to shcTid life itself: and Who only has the authority over our hunlaan spirits.
We are made with hearts that need to rest iiipon an absolute love ; we are made with understandings that need to grasp a pure, a perfect, and, as I believe, ^paradoxical though it may sound, a personal Truth. Wee are made with wills that crave for an absolute authoritative command, and we are made with a moral nature Hhat needs a perfect holiness. And we need all that iWe, truth, authority, purity, to be gathered into one, for Ahe misery of the world is that when we set out to! look for treasures we have to go into many lands and to many merchants to buy many goodly pearls. But wo need One of great price, in which all our wealth may l»e invested. We need that One to be an undying ancl perpetual possession. There is One to Whom our love can ever cleave, and fear none of the sorrows or imperfections that make earthward-turned love a rose with ma•.ny a thorn, One for Whom it is pure gain to lose ourselve•s, One Who is plainly the only worthy recipient of the whole love and self-surrender of the heart.
That One is God, revealed and brought near to us in Jesus Christ. In that great Saviour we have a love at once Divine and human, we have the great transcendent instance of love leading to sacrifice. On that love and sacrifice for us Christ builds His claim on us for our hearts, and our all. Life alone can communicate life ; it is only light that can diffuse light. It is only love that can kindle love ; it is only sacrifice that can inspire sacrifice. And so He comes to us, and asks that we should just love Him b•^ck again as He has loved us. He first
gives Himself Bitterly for and to us, and then asks us to
give ourselves: I wholly to Him. He first yields up His
own life, and / then He says : " He that loseth his life for
my sake shal:/l find it." The object, the true object for
all this dept•fti of love which lies slumbering in our hearts,
is God in Criirist, the Christ that died for us.
III.—AnTd now, lastly, observe that the terrible misdirection o/f these capacities is the sin and the misery of the -world. /
I will n•ot say that such emotions, even when expended on creator es, are ever wasted. For however unworthy may be the obj ects on which they are lavished, the man himself is th e better and the higher for having cherished them. The mother, when she forgets self in her child, though her love and self-forgetfulness and self-sacrifice may, in some respects, be called but an animal instinct, is elevated and ennobled by the exercise of them. The patriot and the thinker, the philanthropist, ay! even— although J take him to be the lowest of the scale—the soldier who, in some cause which he thinks to be a good one, and not merely in the tigerish madness of the battlefield, throws away his life—are lifted in the scale of being by their self-abnegation.
And so I am not going to say that when men love each other passionately and deeply, and sacrifice themselves for one another, or for some cause or purpose affecting only temporal matters, the precious elixir of love is wasted. God forbid! But I do say that all these objects, sweet and gracious as some of them are, ennobling and elevating as some of them are, if they are taken apart from God, are insufficient to fill your hearts: and that if they are slipped in between you and God, as they often are, then they birng sin and sorrow. There is nothing more tragic in this world than the misdirection of man's capacity for lo Jasye and sacrifice•. It is like the old story in the Book of Da.Jhflie], which tella how the heathen monarch made a great f ;%east, and when the wine began to inflame the guests, sent \for the sacred vessels taken from the Temple of Jerusalem, that had been used for Jehovah's worship; and (as "*the narrative says, with a kind of shudder at the profanation), "They brought the golden vessels that were takei^a out of the temple of the House of God, which was at I Jerusalem, and the king and his princes, his wives and> his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine and Ipraised the gods." So this heart of mine, which, as I sajid, has the Master's initials and His arms engraven upon *it, in token that it is His cup, I too often fill with the poisonous and intoxicating draught of earthly pleasure arAd earthly affections; and as I drink it, the madness goe is through my veins, and I praise gods of my own making• instead of Him Whom alone I ought to love. j
Ah ! brethren, we should be our own rebulsres in this matter, and the heroism of the world should pxjit to shame the cowardice and the selfishness of the Chujch. Contrast the depth of your affection for your household with the tepidity of your love for your Saviour. Contrast the willingness with which you sacrifice yourself for some dear one with the grudgingness with which you yield yourselves to Him. Contrast the rest and the sense of satisfaction in the presence of those you love, and your desolation when they are absent, with the indifference whether you have Christ beside you or not. And remember that the measure of your power of loving is the measure of your obligation to love your Lord; and that if you are all frost to Him and all fervour to them, then in a very solemn sense "a man's foes shall be they of his own household." "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me 1"
A.nd so let me JFgather all that I have been saying into the one earnest •^beseeching of you that you would bring that power of w uncalculating love and self-sacrificing affection whier I is in you, and would fasten it where it ought to fix—f An Christ who died on the cross for you. Such a love wf ill bring blessedness to you. Such a love will ennoble afnd dignify your whole nature, and make you a far greater fluid fairer man or woman than you otherwise ever could bfe. Like some little bit of black carbon put into an electiric current, my poor nature will flame into beauty and ifadiance when that spark touches it. So love Him and bej at peace; give yourselves to Him and He will give you b^ck yourselves, ennobled and transfigured by the surrendeir. Lay yourselves on His altar, and that altar will sanctity both the giver and the gift. If you can take this rough Philistine soldier's words in their spirit, and in a higher sense, say, "Whether I live I live unto the Lord, or whether I die I die unto the Lord; living or dying, I •am the Lord's," He will let you enlist in His army ; and give you for your marching orders this command and <•,his hope, "If any man serve Me let him follow Me; and where I am there shall also My servant be."