The Lord Leading; David Following
“And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the LORD go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines. And David did so, as the LORD had commanded him; and smote the Philistines from Geba until thou come to Gazer.”— 2 Samuel v. 24, 26.
DAVID’S life was a life of war. The Christian life wears other aspects; but still, in very deed and in truth, spiritually, it also is a life of war. Our Lord spoke the truth when he said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” The end of all his great work will be universal peace, and the lion shall lie down with the lamb; but, for the present, men fight against the principles which Christ brought into the world, and all who become the followers of Christ must expect to be soldiers of One whose life was one great conflict, and who died upon the battlefield, ay, and was crowned upon the battlefield, too! Expect, then, to war a good warfare as long as you are here.
David had won one great victory over the Philistines; but he was not permitted to sit down, and congratulate himself upon his triumph. The Philistines were upon him again. Those Philistines took a great deal of beating; and the powers of evil are not content anywhere with being defeated once or twice. They are up and at us again; they challenge us afresh, they hope to overthrow us sooner or later; and again and again must we be ready to resist them, with this as our war-cry, “They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.” There must be war even after victory; and we must stand prepared for it.
Note well, however, that, before David went to war, in each case, he waited upon God: “David enquired of the Lord.” Whenever we have any enterprise on hand, it is wise to wait upon God for direction, and for help. David had received divine guidance before; but counsel in one dilemma is not guidance for another. Though David had been led of God the first time to fight the Philistines, he did not consider that the direction then given would apply again, so he went a second time; and it is written, “David enquired of the Lord.” The answers which David received on these two occasions were different. The first time, the Lord said, “Go up.” The second time, he said, “Thou shalt not go up.” Had David been content with his former waiting upon God, he would have made a great mistake. What you have to do to-day you may not have to do to-morrow, and what you did yesterday may have been right enough for yesterday, but it may be as wrong as possible for to-day. Wait more continually upon God, dear friends. Be not satisfied with what you have received of direction and support; but go to God again and again. If you go to him daily for manna, you may well go to him daily for counsel. David did this, and he acted wisely. I am afraid, dear friends, that many Christians go carelessly blundering on, as we say, “neck or nothing.” They do the first thing that comes to hand, and do not wait, and pause, and consider, as they ought. I know some friends who seem to me to enter into great speculations which they had much better let alone, and who venture into various schemes which they would be much wiser to leave to other people. If they would only wait upon God, they would find themselves restrained from many things which now they attempt, and impelled to other things which now they neglect. The old proverb says that “kneeling does not spoil silk stockings.” I am not so sure of that. The silk stockings do not matter; but we may say that kneeling does not hurt a man’s knees. Kneeling makes him strong in the foot, brave in the heart, and often clear in the brain. If a man will only wait upon God, it will help his own mind to form a correct judgment, and, besides that, the Lord will give him guidance of which he never dreamed. He may have a token which shall be to him the very “clue of the maze.” He may get a word from God which will make him wiser than the ancients, and it shall be as though the Urim and the Thummim still spoke out of the sanctuary to guide the saints of the Most High.
To-night, I shall speak about David’s experience, as recorded in this remarkable verse, in the following way. Here is, first, a prime necessity promised. God promises that he will be with David; nay, that he will go before him in this holy war: “Then shall the Lord go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines.” But, secondly, here is a consequent action commanded: “Then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the Lord go out before thee.” Thirdly, here is a hopeful sign afforded: “When thou hearest the sound of a going (or, marching) in the tops of the mulberry trees, then thou shalt bestir thyself.” And, lastly, but very briefly, there is a sure result following: “And David did so, as the Lord had commanded him; and smote the Philistines from Geba until thou come to Gazer.”
I. Well now, to begin with, here is A PRIME NECESSITY PROMISED: “Then shall the Lord go out before thee.”
This was a necessity to David, for he had long ago learned that all his dependence must be upon God. It is also a necessity to us, for if we are to have a single soul converted, it must be the work of God; ay, and if a single holy thought is begotten in this place, or any other, and fires the heart of any saint, and leads to holy service, it must be the work of God’s grace. Without him we can do nothing, and we shall be nothing. What we want just now e3pecially is for the Lord to go before us in our contemplated mission. In what way?
Well, first, the Holy Spirit must go before us to prepare the minds of the people. When our Lord came into the world, the world was prepared for his coming. There had been certain things done, all over the globe, that made the time of his coming the best time at which he could come. But it has also been noticed by our missionaries, especially in the South Sea islands, that before they arrived there, certain changes had taken place, and certain movements in the minds of the people, that made the missionaries feel that they had come just in the nick of time. God had gone before them in providence and in grace, making ready a people prepared for the Word. Now, I want you to pray the Lord to do so with all the congregations that shall be gathered in this place, and, indeed, with all congregations. What can a preacher do, if his hearers should come, and God have left them to themselves? He would have to plough an iron soil, that would break his ploughshare, and break his heart. How different it is where God has been at work with the hearers! A child has been taken to heaven, the mother’s heart is breaking with sorrow, and she is tender and ready to hear of Jesus and the heaven to which her babe has gone. There, a man has been ill; he had been a thoughtless, careless man, but in his sickness he has peered into eternity, and he is now thoughtful, and prepared for the preacher’s message. Often have I said to myself, as I have come along to this place, “I shall have a picked congregation.” The Lord has an election of grace, and he has also an election of hearers.
You cannot tell, dear friends, how much the conversion of sinners is due to antecedent action on the part of God before the saving moment came. There is a fire, and you say that the fire was made when the match was struck, and applied to the wood. Well, that is true; but long before that moment, he who split the wood and he who made the match had something to do with preparing for the fire, had they not? Where had been your fire if the wood had not been dried, and ready for the kindling, and deftly laid in its place? And where had been your light if it had not been for the phosphorus, and all else that was used to make the match? So does the Lord prepare for the fire of holy service. God is at work, dear friends, in London as well as elsewhere. Sad is the poverty in this great Babylon; but, oh, if men could all be rich and wicked, how would they ever be saved? Grievous is the disease that follows sin; but if men could sin and never smart for it, what evil we should see! God is at work in providence, and with tender touches here and there he is making men thoughtful, constraining them to feel, in a word, making them ready before the time of the preaching comes.
And then the Holy Spirit must go before us to prepare the preacher. Preachers may think themselves thoroughly prepared for their work; but the smallest thing may put them out,— some little disarrangement of their dress, something in the pulpit not quite right, or some body dropping an umbrella in the aisle (as is so common here on Thursday nights), or some one person in the congregation who does not seem in the least impressed. Oh, shame upon us that we, who have such a message to deliver, should be affected by such very little things! Yet preachers are so affected, and often they cannot help it. Even before the preacher enters his pulpit, he may get out of order for preaching. Poor man that he is, something may happen to him that may quite put him out of harmony with the truth he has to deliver. Pray God to make our brethren, Fullerton and Smith, preachers fit for their work, and the best preparation will be the Lord going before them. May the prophet have his vision before he speaks! May the hand of the Lord press heavily upon him before he uplifts his hand to point men to the Lamb of God! May his lip be blistered with the live coal from off God’s altar before he opens his mouth to speak words of flame in the name of the Lord!
Pray, brethren, pray; pray much, that the Lord may go before to prepare the hearers, but equally that he may go before to prepare the preachers.
I will suppose that the hearers are present; in doing so, I only anticipate a few days. I hope that this house will be very full. The speakers are also here and ready for their work; they have come forward attended by your prayers. Now is the moment when we want the Spirit of God to go before us to deal with men. A single word, spoken in the strength of God, will effect far more than ten thousand words uttered in the power of mere reasoning, or eloquence, or even earnestness. When God goes before us, wonders are accomplished by sentences that seem very simple and trite; you have heard them many times before, but now you hear them in a very different way. They fell before like flakes of snow; but now they come like flashes of fire. They burn into your bosom; they set your heart on a blaze. What is the secret of this power? God is in it, God is working with it; he is proving his presence with his people. It is a strange thing, but it is strangely true, that by the foolishness of preaching it pleases God to save them that believe; and, while his power is never promised to go with the most gorgeous ceremonial, or with the most beautifully artistic effect, it is pledged to go with the simple declaration of the gospel of Christ, and the preaching of his holy Word. It is the gospel of Christ that is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” Though I have said this ten thousand times before, and you are always hearing it, and do not doubt it, yet for that very reason I say it again with all the emphasis with which I can say it;— the prime necessity for every holy work is for God to go before, for the Lord to make bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the people; and if we have not that Divine Leader, we have nothing at all that is of real service in holy work.
II. Secondly, there is, in the text, A CONSEQUENT ACTION COMMANDED: “Then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the Lord go out before thee.”
God could do without us if he chose to do so; but God is pleased not to do without us. What a mercy it is that God deigns to use us! What a happiness for us! God might have gone forth, with thunder and lightning, against the Philistines, and scattered them in a moment; but that was not his way of winning the victory. It was to be a fight between David and the Philistines; and therefore God went before him to be the source of David’s strength.
But David must follow after. When will some of our brethren learn the fact that God’s working is not a reason for our sitting still? It is not written, “The Lord will go before thee, and then thou shalt rest,” or, “The Lord shall go before thee, and then thou shalt sit still, and be grateful.” No, no; “Then thou shalt bestir thyself.” “Now, David, if you ever did move quickly, bestir yourself now that God has gone before you. If you ever did use a sword with all your heart, and soul, and strength, do it now.” “Then thou shalt bestir thyself.” “Look sharp.” That would be a very good translation, indeed. “Then thou shalt be all awake, and all alive; then thou shalt rush upon the Philistines, and destroy them. God has gone before thee; wilt thou not follow?” What a mercy, what a privilege, what a boon, God confers on his people that, though he could do very well without them, he does not please to do so; but where he goes as the Leader, he bids them at once heartily and earnestly follow him!
Now, the doctrine that “Salvation is of the Lord,”— that glorious doctrine which I believe with all my heart, and which I desire to preach all my days,— the doctrine that salvation is of God, and God alone, from first to last, in every point of the compass, was never intended to be a soporific, and to discourage the action of men. The fact that God goes before us does not encourage us in sloth. Yet some talk as if it did. Take the doctrine of election, for instance. “God has a chosen people; therefore I need not preach to them.” No, no, sir; God has a chosen people; therefore I do preach to them. It would not be of any use for me to preach if he had not ordained any unto eternal life; but as he has a people who shall assuredly be saved, I will thrust the gospel magnet in among the mass, and those people whom the Lord has chosen shall be attracted by it. The Lord Jesus Christ will not die in vain. Precisely so; therefore I need not preach him, I suppose? But the very reason why I do preach him is because he did not die in vain. The death of Christ that does not effect its purpose, is not worth preaching; but the death of Christ that is effectual for the end for which it was designed, is worth preaching, and more and more do we rejoice to preach it. The grand doctrines of the gospel are not doctrines that lead men to slumber. There are some who pervert them, as they do the other Scriptures, and it will be so throughout all time; for men will turn the holiest things into reasons for sloth and sin; we cannot help that, but there is nothing in the truths themselves that should produce such effects. Our forefathers, of the olden time, who went everywhere preaching the Word, the Calvinists of France who, in the Desert and wherever they went, hazarded their lives unto the death, the Huguenots, who could bravely do and dare and die for Christ, were, to a man, believers in these principles, which are supposed by some to send men to sleep. The most energetic Christianity that ever was upon the face of the earth has been just this form of Christianity; and therefore it cannot possibly be that the doctrine rightly used will encourage idleness or sloth. How can it? If you yourself were told to-night, “Proceed on such an errand, and your God will go with you,” would that be a reason why you should not go? If you were bidden to fight a battle, and you were told, “God will be with you in the battle,” would the fact that God would be with you, and would win the victory, be a reason why you should not fight? You must be made of strange material if that were to be the result of the promise of victory and the assurance of the divine presence. Nothing makes men labour so energetically as the expectation of success; and the certainty of succeeding, because God is with them, nerves their arm, and makes them do what otherwise would be impossible.
No, dear friends, we are not among those who say, “God will have his own, and therefore I shall not pray or do anything.” Listen, friend, if that is your language: God will have his own, but he will never have you, for you are clearly not one of them. God’s own never talk in such a style as that; God’s own have a very different kind of voice. You are not of his sheep, for you do not follow him. The Christ— to what did he go? To slumber and idleness? No, but to incessant service.
“Cold mountains, and the midnight air,
Witnessed the fervour of his prayer.”
He knew that the Lord would give him the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession, and therefore he prayed for all who had been given to him by his Father. His life was a consecrated one, spent in burning zeal and constant devotion to his great Father’s cause; and if you are one of the Lord’s own, it will be your mission to follow the Christ in this; and as he was, so will you be in this world. Come, brothers, God is going to bless you. Do you draw back because of that fact? If so, surely there are more lunatics than those in Bethlehem Hospital. No, no; because God is going to be with you, therefore every man says, “I will follow where God leads. I will take my share in this grand fight, since the Lord himself doth lead the van.”
III. Well now, thirdly, in our text there is A HOPEFUL SIGN AFFORDED: “When thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, then thou shalt bestir thyself.”
Whether these were mulberry trees or balsams, I do not know; it is very difficult to discover what trees they were. It does not matter much, but David was to get round to the back of the Philistines instead of attacking them in front, and he was to lie quietly in ambush till he heard a rustling in the tops of the trees when there was no wind, as though they were trodden by the feet of angels, and God’s host was hurrying to the fray. Perhaps this sign, while it was intended to encourage David and his people, was meant to intimidate the Philistines. They would say one to another, “What is that noise? What is that rustling? There is a sound of something travelling along the tops of yonder trees. There is not a breath of wind, but you can hear the leaves moving. Listen to the rustling; something strange is happening.” The Philistines were most superstitious, and would be ready very speedily to take to their heels. However, whatever was it to them, to David it was to be the signal for attacking them. “Now, up and at them, with sword and spear, and bow and arrow. Smite the Philistines when you hear the sound of the mysterious marching in the tops of the mulberry trees.”
Now, what are our signs that we ought to be up and doing for Christ? Well, we ought to be up and doing for him without any signs. Every minute men are dying, every hour their souls are passing into eternity unsaved, every day Christ is pleading that he may be recompensed for his passion. Christians should always be smiting the Philistines of sin; but there are certain times that call us to unusual action. And what are they?
To me they are, first, when we see earnestness among God’s people. When we hear them say, one to another, “Oh, I wish we had a great blessing!” When we hear them talk, as one did to me the other day, “God is with us, we do have souls converted; but we do not see the great work that we long for, the hundreds of thousands brought in, the whole nation struck to the heart by a sight of the power of God. Oh, that we could see better days, brighter days!” I know many here whom I am now looking upon, and I remember what they have said to me of their own groaning before God for a greater display of his saving power. That is to me the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees.
Again, it is a hopeful sign, when God gives us useful preachers. Oh, what a blessing a true gospel minister is! A man whom God has made for himself is one of the ascension gifts of Christ; and when you see, as you do in our two brethren, Fullerton and Smith, men who seem made by God on purpose for their work, suiting each other exactly, and during these many years God has made them to be like a great cloud scattering showers of blessing wherever they go, I think, when I see these good men and others being prepared by the Lord , my heart says, “That is the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees. God is going to bless us.” There was no better proof of the Reformation having begun than when Luther began to speak out against the abominations of Rome, and Zwingle lifted up his voice, and Farel proclaimed the old faith, and Calvin came forth to declare the truth of God, and Beza and multitudes of others gave their testimony. These were the birds that sang because the sun was rising; and when God gives us useful preachers, they are among the signs that he is coming near us to bless the people.
Well, when the preachers are there, with a praying people at their back, then, when you see crowds come together to hear the Word, do you not think that there is the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees? Oh, what would some preachers do to get the people to hear them at all? Ah, what are they not doing, dear friends? As things now go, I should not wonder at all if we were to have, in some of our places of worship, a part of Mr. Barnum’s show, in order to attract a congregation! We have all kinds of fiddling, and tinkering, and I know not what, going on to get people to come and hear what is called the gospel. “Oh,” said one, “but he brought so many to the place!” Yes, if they had had a clown out of the theatre, he would, no doubt, have brought still more. If that is all that you want,— simply to gather a crowd together,— it is not so very difficult if you are not squeamish about the means you employ. But, oh! when God sends the people to hear the gospel and nothing else, and they come and listen to what a man has to say to them about heaven and hell, life and death, the cross of Christ and the way of salvation, that is the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees.
And, beloved, we may say the same as soon as there is interest felt in the Lord’s work, as soon as people begin to talk about it, and say, one to another, “What did you hear there?” or, “What did the preacher say about the way of salvation?” Better still, when some begin to be impressed, when you find, in the after-meeting, some in tears who do not know much about the gospel yet, but who want to know; and when, here and there, you see signs of deep repentance for sin, and a humble trembling, about which perhaps you hardly dare say much, but you rejoice that it is there;— all these are tokens for good. What a comfort it is to see, in boys and girls, even in little children, some desire towards God! This is the going in the tops, the green shoots of the trees, this is the treading of angel’s footsteps where one would think footsteps could never be. This is what we want; and as we have seen a good deal of it of late, we are looking for more of it.
And whenever you Christian people begin to see that there is some impression made upon the person sitting with you in the pew, edge up to that individual, and begin to speak to him quietly but earnestly about his soul. Do not let anybody go away from the services without having a personal application of the truth made to them: Here I stand in the pulpit, and fire my guns, yet the shot may hit nobody; but if each one of you would carry his own private pocketpistol, and just apply it to the ear of every hearer before he goes away, there would be a good deal more execution done. There is many a man who is not startled by the firing of the Woolwich Infant, one of the biggest guns in the world; but he would be very much astonished if he had that kind of private, personal dealing with his own soul, here from you, man to man, and hand to hand. Try that plan during the special services, ask the Lord to enable you to summon up courage enough to do it. And you, good sisters, who are too timid as yet to attempt that good work, break the ice once, and there will not be much difficulty after that. You will find it to be a happy thing to speak about Jesus to souls that come in your way. “When thou hearest the sound of a going, then thou shalt bestir thyself.” My aged brother, you have been attending here for many years, and you are rather an old saint, but you are also rather an old sinner for never having spoken to other people about their souls. I want to urge even you to begin, you who know most, and say least, you who actually have had a long experience of the things of God, but have pocketed it, and kept it to yourself. Now I earnestly say to you, as God did to David, “When thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, then thou shalt bestir thyself.”
“That is right, Mr. Spurgeon,” says one; stir them up.” I did not say “them.” I said, and my text says, “Then thou shalt bestir thyself” Dear friends, it is all very well to say, “I like to see an earnest church.” So do I; but it is better to have every member zealously seeking the souls of others, for that is the way to have an earnest church, and that is the way the blessing comes. David, you must bestir yourself; then the soldiers who are with you will catch the fire from their leader, and they will bestir themselves.
IV. Now I finish by saying just a little, in the fourth place, about A SURE RESULT FOLLOWING: “And David did so, as the Lord had commanded him; and smote the Philistines from Geba until thou come to Gazer.”
The result was all that David could have expected, and more. Obedient action secured it. David simply “did so, as the Lord had commanded him;” but he “smote the Philistines from Geba till thou come to Gazer.” They could not stand before him; he won an overwhelming victory, and you do not hear much more about the Philistines after this. That final stroke had crushed them down. So, beloved, may the Lord send us a great victory this next week if so it pleases him! Cry to him for it, pray for it believingly, and it must be granted to us.
“David did so, as the Lord had commanded him.” I wonder of how many of my dear friends it may be said as of David, he “did so, as the Lord had commanded him.” I know that it will be said of many, that you have thought about it. But David did so, not merely thought about it. He probably thought; but he also “did so.” He came to the practical point. “I shall try and do a little something to help the mission,” says someone; “I did give away one bill the other night.” Yes, yes, that is all right; but “David did so,” that is, he did bestir himself, and he did bestir himself most when he saw the signs and tokens of the divine power being put forth. “David did so, as the Lord had commanded him.”
If I habitually look after others, and speak individually to them about their souls, and if I bring the gospel before them, either in a printed form or viva voce, if I keep on testifying of Christ to everybody who will give me a hearing, I shall have conversions as surely as I am a living man; it cannot be otherwise. If you continue looking to God to go before you, and follow after him with that part of the work which he has put into your hands, and which is a great privilege to be engaged in, you shall not labour in vain, nor spend your strength for nought. “Paul planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” How many times I have heard that text mangled and destroyed by being misquoted, “Paul may plant, and Apollos may water, but except God give the increase, all the labour is in vain.” There is no such text in the Bible, although the statement happens to be true for all that; the other truth, which is in the Bible, is Paul’s declaration, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” You, Paul, go on planting; you, Apollos, go on watering; and if God does not give the increase, let us know. What will we do when we hear it? Why, we will seek to learn the reason why; and we will go to his throne with tears and cries, and say, “Lord, thou hast changed the whole business. It used to be, ‘Paul planted, Apollos watered; and God gave the increase;’ but now Paul plants, and Apollos waters, and there is no increase. Lord, what hinders the blessing?” And we will keep on crying to him, and never let him go until he does bless us.
My dear hearers, you who are unconverted, if you feel any spiritual emotions in your hearts, if you feel any desires towards God, if you feel any softening, if you feel any quickening, then bestir yourselves; and if ever, on brighter days than usual, you get just a little hope of salvation, then bestir yourselves. Oh, I pray you, you who are seeking the Lord, when there is any encouragement given to you,— and how often encouragement does come!— do not miss it. Take the tide at the flood. Come to Jesus just as you are. Trust him, and find in him eternal life. May his blessing be with you all for his dear name’s sake! Amen.