1Sa_20:3. Truly as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death.
IT is justly said, that “oppression maketh a wise man mad [Note: Ecc_7:7.].” One there was, who endured it in every form, and to its utmost possible extent; and yet never uttered an unadvised word, or betrayed a temper which his bitterest enemies could condemn: Jesus, after years of persecution, could give this challenge to his enemies, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” But fallen man, however upheld for a season, has generally betrayed his weakness when his trials have been heavy and of long continuance. We admire the conduct of David in many respects, and think him on the whole a very exalted character; but yet, on some occasions he fainted, and yielded to unworthy apprehensions respecting the final issue of his troubles. Such was the state of his mind when he uttered the words which we have just read; and which, though containing a general and acknowledged truth, were not such as he would have uttered, if he had not given way to desponding fears.
We shall consider the words in this two-fold view;
As a general and acknowledged truth—
The general representations which are given of life in the Scriptures, strongly mark its shortness and uncertainty—
[It is light, and unsubstantial in itself as “a vapour [Note: Jam_4:14.]:” its length is but as “an hand-breadth [Note: Psa_39:5.]:” the rapidity with which it passeth away is compared to “a post,” in which the utmost possible despatch is used; or to “an eagle hasting to its prey [Note: Job_9:25-26.].” Such is its extreme vanity, that it is like “a dream [Note: Job_20:5.]” or “a shadow [Note: Psa_102:11.]:” and so short does the whole of it in a retrospect appear, that it is “but as yesterday when it is past [Note: Psa_90:3-6.].” How justly then may it be said, that there is but a step between us and death!]
It must be regarded in that light by all persons without exception—
[Age or sickness may give some additional force to the expression in our text; but neither the youngest nor the most vigorous has any more certainty of life than the feeblest of mankind. Disease or accident may assault one as well as another; so that none can “boast of to-morrow; for we know not what a day may bring forth.” So numerous indeed are the instances of persons removed suddenly, or in the very midst of life, that we cannot but acknowledge the truth and awfulness of the declaration before us.]
But, to obtain a just view of our text, we must regard it,
As an assertion arising out of the peculiar circumstances of David at that time—
[In this view it was the dictate of unbelief. We blame not David for using with all diligence the means of safety: for if he had neglected to use all just precautions under an expectation that God would fulfil his word at all events, he would have tempted God; just as our Saviour would have tempted him, if he had cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple, But when God had assured him that he should posses the throne of Israel, and had actually confirmed the appointment by a sacred unction, it became David to give credit to the word of God, and to rest assured, that neither men nor devils should eventually disannul it. There was indeed such malignity in the heart of Saul, that nothing but Omnipotence could prevent the execution of his plots against David: but David should have known that “there is no might or power against the Lord,” and that “the counsel of the Lord shall surely stand:” and in the confidence of this, he should have been satisfied that Saul could not prevail against him. However just therefore his expressions were as applied to men in general, we cannot approve of them as applied to his own case: he should not have said, “I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul [Note: 1Sa_27:1.],” but rather, “Since God is for me, who can be against me [Note: Rom_8:31.]?”]
Having thus obtained a just and accurate view of the words before us, we may enter more largely into the improvement which should be made of them. We may notice from them,
How frail the best of men are, when brought into heavy trials—
[On the whole, David’s faith was remarkably strong: but here it failed; and, if it had not been strengthened from above, he would utterly have fainted. This he himself acknowledges, after he had recovered from this momentary depression [Note: Psa_27:1; Psa_27:3; Psa_27:5; Psa_27:13.]. It has justly been observed, that all the most eminent saints in Scripture have failed in that very grace for which they were most renowned: Abraham, the great pattern and example of faith, repeatedly denied his wife through unbelief: Moses, the meekest of the human race, “spake unadvisedly with his lips:” and Job, whose patience is proverbial, “cursed the day of his birth.” Thus all have been left to shew, that their strength was not in themselves; that, if left, they were weak as other men; and that it is in God only that any just confidence can be placed: “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.”
Let us bear this in mind, both for our humiliation and our encouragement. If we have been enabled to maintain a holy and consistent conduct, let us remember that it is “by the grace of God we are what we are;” and if we are tempted to look up to the saints of old as soaring to heights that can never be attained by us, let us remember, that the grace which wrought effectually for them, is equally sufficient for us; and that “we also can do all things through Christ strengthening us.”]
What is the proper use and office of faith—
[Faith is not to supersede, but to encourage, our own endeavours, and to assure us of our successful termination of them. When to human appearance the difficulties are insurmountable, then is the season for faith to shew itself, and “against hope to believe in hope.” This was the operation of Abraham’s faith: he considered not the age of himself or of his wife, which precluded all hope of issue in the natural way, but expected that God would effect by miracle what could be effected in no other way. Doubting neither the power nor the veracity of God, he was willing to wait God’s time, and confident that he should not be disappointed of his hope [Note: Rom_4:20-21 and Heb_11:17; Heb_11:19.]. Had David’s faith wrought thus on this occasion, it would have borne him up amidst the waves of trouble that rolled over him in quick succession.
This then is what we recommend to all. Are you bowed down with a sense of guilt? Lay hold on that promise, that “Christ will in no wise cast out any who come unto him.” Are you assaulted with grievous temptations? Remember who has said, that “you shall not be tempted above that ye are able, but that you shall have a way to escape, or be enabled to bear it.” Do your corruptions appear invincible? Rely on him who has said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” And, if your troubles are of such a magnitude as to menace your immediate destruction, rest yourselves on the promise of Jehovah, that “all things shall work together for your good.” Be satisfied that “He is faithful who hath promised,” and that “not a jot or tittle of his word can fail.”]
What is the wisdom of every child of man—
[None of us have any such warrant to expect a continuance of life as David had; and therefore his observation respecting the shortness and uncertainty of life should be admitted in its utmost force. Ignorant then as we are whether the very next step may not carry us into the eternal world, we ought to inquire with ourselves, Whether it would take us to heaven or to hell? O what a thought is this! What madness is it not to dwell upon it more than we do, or to delay for a moment our preparation for the eternal state! We would call on all of you; the aged, who know for a certainty that their time cannot be long; the sick, who are warned by the disorders that are yet upon them; the young, who are in the prime and vigour of life; we would entreat all without exception to stand ready for death and judgment. O beloved, “prepare to meet your God.” Think of the multitudes that have been summoned to his tribunal unprepared; and be thankful that there is yet one step between you and death. The Lord grant that, whenever that step be taken, you may have an abundant entrance into the realms of bliss [Note: Mar_13:33-37.]!]