Sermon 1694. The Use of the Bow
DELIVERED AT THE THURSDAY EVENING LECTURE,
BY C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son: (Also he bade them teach the children of Judahthe use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher)." 2 Samuel 1:17,18
THE translators have acted very properly in inserting the words, "the use of," for that is what the passage means. But ifyou read it without those words, the sense is still the same- "He bade them teach the children of Judah the bow," that isto say, how to use the bow. In modern times, critics have said that by the expression, "the bow," is meant the song whichDavid composed. And to sustain their notion, they quote from the Koran of Mahomet in which they tell us that there is a certainchapter called, "the Bow," and, therefore, David called his song, "the bow," as if so late an instance of oriental usage wasat all to the point. I declare that there is nothing whatever in Scripture to justify the statement that the words, "the bow,"can be applied to David's lament!
No doubt, some of the Psalms have titles given to them, but there is never an instance of a Psalm being quoted by its title.It is quoted by its number, never by its name. I accept the passage as our learned translators understood it-David bade themteach the children of Judah the bow. If any enquire, "What, then, is the connection? Why should David teach the people theuse of the bow because Saul and Jonathan were slain? Why is the military order concerning the use of a certain instrumentof war inserted here, when the passage is full of lamentation?" If any ask, I say, I answer most fitly, as I shall have toshow you-it was the best memorial of that skillful archer, Jonathan, and of the other princes who had fallen by the arrowsof the Philistines, that from the disastrous day of their slaughter, David caused his own tribe, over which he had chief power,to be trained in the use of that special weapon of war.
I. But now to our work. From my text I want to gather a few useful lessons. And the first is this-ACTIVITY IS A VALUABLE SOLACEFOR SORROW. The people were very grieved, for Saul and Jonathan, the king and the crown prince, were slain. David indulgestheir grief-he writes them a plaintive song which the daughters of Israel may sing. But to take their minds off their distress,he, at the same time, issues the order to teach the children of Judah the use of the bow-for activity is an effectual remedyin the time of sorrow. Certainly the opposite of it would tend towards blank despair. Are any of you in great grief? Haveyou suffered a supreme loss?
Do not be tempted to brood over your affliction and to think that you ought to be excused from further service! Do not shutyourself up to meditate upon the great ill that has befallen you, so as to nurse your wrath against God. This can do you nogood whatever! Rather imitate David, who, when his child was sick, fasted and prayed, but when it was dead, went into thehouse and ate bread, for he said, "Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." I beseechyou do not fall under the temptation of Satan to cease from your daily activity-and especially from any holy service in whichyou are engaged for Christ.
It may be that your sorrow is not a bereavement, but disappointment in your work. You have not won those souls that you lookedto win and, some that you thought were converted, have gone back. And now Satan tempts you to do no more-never to cast thenet again, for you have toiled all night and taken nothing-never to sow again, for you have wasted your seed by the highway,and birds have devoured it. This is a suggestion of the Evil One. It will lead you into deeper anguish. I would say to you,O mourner, get up from the couch of ease! Shake yourself from the dust, O virgin daughter of Zion! Sit not down upon the dunghillin your grief, but bestir yourself, lest you sink into blacker woe and your bitterness become as wormwood and gall! Whileinaction will lead into blank despair, I am certain that work distracts the mind from the sad point upon which it is apt tothrust itself.
Nothing is more healthy than to have work to do. I have seen persons of leisure give way, most terribly, in the case of theloss of children. While I have known laboring people, who, I believe, have been as sensitive in heart, who have kept up bravely.Under God, I have attributed the difference to the fact that the poor woman must go to earn her daily bread, or must get abouther domestic duties whatever happens, and the poor man must do his daily task, or else the family will be in need. Thus, toilhas proved to be a blessed necessity by withdrawing the mind from the sorrow which would have engrossed it. You have heardof Alexander Cruden. Perhaps you do not know that he was crossed in love and met with certain other trials which drove himnearly mad-and yet Alexander Cruden did not become insane, for he engaged upon the immense work of forming a concordance ofsacred Scripture-which concordance has become the great instrument by which we search the Word of God. This work kept himfrom becoming altogether insane. If I had to prescribe to "a mind diseased," I would say, "Enter upon good work and keep atit."
Dear Friends, if you are in trouble and Satan tempts you to get alone and to cease from the work of the Lord, resist the injurioussuggestion! God the Holy Spirit is most likely to comfort you and to apply the precious promises of His Word to your soulif you pursue your Master's work with all your heart. Attend to His business and He will attend to your business! Tell poorsinners about His wounds and He will bind up yours. Forget your cross in His! Forget your griefs in the griefs of the sonsof men who are perishing for lack of knowledge-and you shall find the readiest way to consolation. A valuable solace for sorrowis activity, especially, I think, in reference to new work. It will help you much if a new trouble suggests to you new service.Old work does not always take the mind off from its vexatious, for we are apt to do it mechanically and as a matter of routine.But something altogether fresh will aid us sweetly to forget our trial.
Oh, to strike out some new path! To invent new honors for Jesus, new enterprises for His Kingdom, new attractions for HisGospel-this will help to charm away our grief! With many, the doing of any kind of service for Christ will be quite a novelty.I grieve to say it. These people are desponding. I am not so grieved at that, because if any man will not work, neither shallhe eat. And if a Christian will not serve his Master, he shall not feast with the King's worthies. Oh, how much of joy manyof you miss by not doing more for the poor, more for the ignorant, more for Christ!
The poet, Rogers, tells us and he throws the story into poetry which I forget-of a rich man in Venice who was the subjectof despair. He became such a hypochondriac that he went down to the canal to drown himself. But on the way he was met by apoor little boy who tugged at his trousers and begged for bread. When the rich man called him an impostor, the boy besoughthim to come home with him and see his father and mother who were dying of starvation. He went up into the room and found thefamily literally perishing for lack of food! He immediately laid out the money which he had in his pocket in making them allglad with a hearty meal. And then he said to himself that there was something worth living for, after all. He had found anovel enjoyment which gave a fresh motive for living!
I would like to ask you who have suffered a great trouble whether the Lord may not be pressing you, by this means, into anew path of delight, directing you to a fresh method of glorifying God and doing good to your fellow men? I will sing youa song if you will, as sorrowful as David's lament, but I would rather teach you the use of the bow! I believe that I shallminister better to your comfort if I enlist you as soldiers in Christ's army and teach you to use His weapons, than if I shouldconsole you with the most plaintive minstrelsy of sadness. Do I speak to any here present who endure great earthly afflictions,but know nothing of spiritual things? Is it not the case that God often brings His wandering children to Himself by distresses?The way in which you are to be comforted, dear Friends, is not by going into the world, again, and seeking further pleasuresthere.
If God means to bless you, He may allow you to become so hungry that you may wish to fill your belly with the husks. You havespent your living riotously and now you are ready to despair. Round by that dark corner of despair may be the way to yourFather's house! To expel your present temporal grief, you need a spiritual grief concerning sin. If you learn of Jesus atthis hour to repent of sin and to put your trust in Him, your soul will be awakened to say, "I will arise and go unto my Father,"and then you will lose your hunger and forget the swine trough! Where? Why, amidst the music and dancing of your Father'shouse and in the joy of hearing Him say, "Let us eat and be merry, for this, My son was dead, and is alive again. He was lost,and is found."
Yes, David was right. The way to raise the people out of their despondency was to teach them the use of the bow- their ownarrows would slay their grief-and the way to get you mourning ones out of your sorrow is to teach you those
holy activities which lead a soul to trust in Christ and to find salvation at His feet. That is the first lesson which, Ithink, the text most sweetly teaches.
II. A second lesson is that AN ADMIRABLE USE OF DISASTER IS TO LEARN ITS LESSONS. What was the disaster? Saul and Jonathanhad been shot by archers. The Philistines were evidently strong in the use of the bow, but Saul's army was short of archersand so they were not able to strike the Philistines at a distance. Before they came to close quarters, where Israel mighthave been a match for Philistia, the arrows of the Philistines had reached their king. Had they known how to use the bow,they might have been conquerors and, therefore, David hastens to teach the men of Judah the use of the bow.
Beloved Friends, I will suppose that you have met with failures-I refer to disasters peculiar to yourselves. What shall youdo? Sit down and fret and trouble yourselves, and give up in despair? God forbid! As the men of Judah learned the use of thebow through their being beaten by the bow, so you gather wisdom from that which has befallen you! Have you been made to flybefore your adversary? Then find out where your weakness is. Search and see. Is it a sin indulged? Is it some point whereyou ought to have been guarded, but where you have been unwatchful? Is it weakness in prayer? Is it neglect of the Word ofGod? Is it indifference to Divine Truths of God? Is it coldness of heart? Or what is it? If you have been defeated, thereis a cause for it. If you have been cast down and brought low, say unto God, "Show me why You contend with me."
Has the Lord a controversy with you? Be not content till you have got to the bottom of it and found out the root that bearsthis gall and wormwood. Is not this the way of wisdom? May it not happen that the cause of the disaster is that God is notwith you? What if nothing prospers with you? What if it is vain for you to rise up early, sit up late and eat the bread ofcarefulness, since the hand of God is against you? What if you are to have no pleasure in the things that once gave you satisfactionbecause God has set you as a target for His arrows-and in wrath is shooting at you? It may be so. Or you may not be one ofHis children at all, as yet, and He may be tossing you to and fro like a ball, that you may never find rest until you humblycome and cry to Christ and seek mercy at His hands. Look and see whether it is so!
It is of no use to worry about the disaster-search out the cause of it. Strive to learn the lesson which it is meant to teachyou. Is there any secret sin with you? Perhaps by looking at the defeat you may learn the way to victory. David judged thatif they were defeated by the bow, they might yet win by the bow. It is right to learn from our adversaries. There is somethingto be learned from Satan. If he goes about, let us be diligent. If he seeks whom he may devour, let us seek whom we may save!And if he watches carefully to find out our weak points, let us watch those whom we would bless to find out how we may bestreach their hearts. Many a man has grown rich through poverty, healthy through sickness and holy by being made conscious ofsin! When he has been struck down, then has he cried out to God, and God has lifted him up. Woe to that man who will not "hearthe rod, and Him that has appointed it." I pray that you may diligently learn the lesson which every disaster would teach.
May not a misfortune which happens to a Church and to Christian people be, to them, a call to action-to general action? Saulhad a little standing army and did not drill all the nation for war. But David says, "I will teach all my own tribe the useof the bow." Now, whenever a Church begins to get low, dull, stupid-and many Churches go in that direction-when everybodyseems to be asleep and the minister's sermon is a kind of sanctified snore, and all the worship is steeped in slumber, why,what is to be done? Then is the time to teach the children of Judah the use of the bow and to wake them all up to holy enterprise!Say to them, "You must not allow a few to be doing the work of Christ, but all must do it! You must all be taught the useof the bow."
It was the glory of the Moravians that all their members were missionaries and such ought to be the glory of every Church-everyman, woman and child in the Church should take part in the battle for Jesus. This, by God's Grace, is the cure for spiritualdecline-teach the people the use of the bow! Let us learn lessons from defeat. Let us learn from the sin which has cast usdown to cry unto God, the Mighty One, to hold us up! If we are, at this time, under some great failure in life, let us learngreater care. If we have been permitted to err, let us learn to watch. Do not sullenly confess, "I have done wrong," but repentof it and ask God for Grace that you may be upheld in the future, like Peter, who was stronger after his fall than beforeit, and was set to strengthen his Brethren.
What is done cannot be undone, but we may so learn from it, by God's teaching, that we may never do the same again. May Godgrant that this may be the case. If it were proper, I could sing to you tonight a song of mourning over
the disasters of a soul, or of a Church, but I believe that I would not do you half as much good as by stirring you up tolearn the use of the bow, that is to say, to rectify your errors and supply your defects!
III. Now, thirdly, another lesson. A NOBLE MONUMENT TO A FRIEND IS TO IMITATE HIS EXCELLENCES. How does that come from thetext? Why, thus. When Jonathan and David communed together, they fixed the meeting by Jonathan's shooting certain arrows.It is evident that Jonathan was a man who greatly favored the use of the bow. And though his father did not largely introduceit into the army, yet Jonathan was well skilled therein. "Well then," says David, "in memory of Jonathan, instead of pilingup a great monument, we will teach the children of Judah the use of the bow." Come, Brothers and Sisters, let this be yourmemorial to your dear father-if he was a child of God, be like he! If you want to keep in memory your beloved mother, exhibitin yourselves the virtues that shone in her.
That sweet child of yours has gone to Heaven and can never be forgotten. Her likeness hangs over the mantelpiece. I mean thatdear little child who sang of Jesus when she died-if you want to remember her beyond all forgetfulness, then love her Saviorand go where little Jane has gone! No memorial is more fit than imitation-be, yourself, the monument by exhibiting withinyourself all that was good in the dear departed one. How specially true is this in connection with our Divine Lord! I seethe Romanist continually putting up crosses by the roadside and, sometimes, on these there are hideous representations ofa person dying by crucifixion. There are nails, a sponge, a spear and I know not what. This arises out of a natural desireto perpetuate the memory of the crucified Redeemer-but you will do far better, dear Brother, if you are, yourself, crucifiedwith Christ-and if you exhibit in your own person that Divine self-denial, that blessed love, that superlative holiness whichwas found in Him.
Some will build a Church and lavish money upon architecture. I shall not condemn them, for their splendid generosity may savorof the spirit of that woman who broke the alabaster box and poured the ointment upon the Savior's feet. But I would suggestthat to build up within one's self, by the power of God's Spirit, the Christ-like character is a better memorial than thebest piece of architecture that can ever be put together! What if you should employ the greatest of sculptures and he, withcunning hands, should mold the marble till it emulated life? Would not the monument mainly keep in mind the artist and rathermake men think of the costliness of the work than of anything else? Whereas, if you become, yourself, not in marble, but inliving flesh, the image of Christ, then men will take notice of you-that you have been with Jesus and have learned of Him-andthis will keep Him best in memory. If we do what Christ would have done under our circumstances, we shall be exhibiting afar better memorial of Him than wealth can possibly purchase.
When David taught these people the use of the bow, every time they stringed an arrow they might remember Jonathan! And whenevera regiment of archers went through the streets to the battle, they brought Jonathan before the public mind. David institutedthis form of royal artillery, on purpose, so that Jonathan might be kept in mind. And you, dear Friends, every time you goforth to do the service of God, obediently and zealously, as Jesus did it, you put men in mind of Jesus and they say, "Godhas set these men in the world to be witnesses for Christ, to keep His name alive in the earth. These men are a blessing becauseJesus, Himself, has blessed them."
I would thus stir you all up to endeavor all the days of your life to live and serve God, that the name of Jesus Christ shallbe kept alive in this nation and throughout the world!
IV. Lastly, and but for a moment, I think that the form which this military order took, to teach the children of Judah theuse of the bow, may be allegorically applied, tonight to you, dear Friends. IT IS A GREAT ADVANTAGE TO BELIEVERS TO LEARNTHE USE OF THE BOW, SPIRITUALLY. First, there is the bow of prayer. Its use has not gone out of date, but I wish that allof us knew how to shoot the arrows of the Lord's deliverance much better than we do. Holy men of old would pick out an arrowand when they had chosen it, they knew how to use it. They knew what they needed and they prayed for it. They fitted theirarrow on the string-that is to say, they took God's promise, the promise that answered their desire-and, fitting the one tothe other, they took straight aim at Heaven and watched the flight of the arrow petition! They knew to whom they were praying,as well as what they were praying for, and why they expected to be heard-and so they drew the bow of prayer with all theirmight.
When the man of God went up to the top of Carmel and there took his bow and drew it, there was no fear of his missing themark. Or if, perhaps, the arrow had not force enough, he would pull the bow a second time, and a third time, and a fourthtime, and a seventh time, till, at last, the arrow struck the mark. He would not come down from his watchtower till he knewthat the arrow of his prayer was lodged in Heaven! In all times of tribulation, what is needed is that the children of Judahshould know the use of the bow of prayer. When we heard of those fearful assassinations in Ireland, the news reached the bulkof us on the Lord's Day, and men of God went to their loopholes of retreat and shot up to Heaven prayers for poor Ireland!It was the best thing that could be done.
I have more faith in prayer than in police and prisons. In any time of national need, the men that save a nation are the menof prayer! What? Not the wise statesmen? Certainly, wise statesmen-but who makes them wise? God has power over all minds and,in answer to the prayer from this pulpit, He can visit yonder mind in St. Stephen's! From a humble cottage in the westernhighlands, there may go up to God a cry that shall come down upon the Prime Minister and direct his thoughts! Remember whatQueen Mary used to say when she tried to bring popery back to Scotland? She said that she was more afraid of John Knox's prayersthan of all the armies that the Scottish lords could get together! She was right, for once! When men overlook prayer, theyoverlook the greatest factor in human affairs! The mystic rod of God is still in the hand of many a Moses among us-a rod whichbrings victory to Israel and defeat to Amalek.
The strength of the Church lies not in the oratory of the pulpit, but in the oratory of the closet! That Church of God thatshall do most for the world is the Church that shall do most with God! He can rule men for God who is ruled by God for men!He that gives up his soul to God that God may write His will upon his life, is the mighty man! The man who has had the willof God worked in him by the Holy Spirit and can work it out into fervent prayer-he is the man, who, though princes and potentatesknow it not, sits nearer to the helm of affairs than they can reach! I could write you a plaintive hymn about the woes ofIreland and about the sins of men and the evils of the times, but I had far rather teach you the use of the bow of prayer-forthen, if you could send your longings up to the Lord, full many a blessing would come upon the land and the adversaries ofthe Lord would be discomforted-and peaceful and happy days would dawn.
Perhaps I speak to some here who do not know anything about praying. I dare say that the Brother is here who listened to asermon on Peckham Rye, which was rather a wild one, I am afraid. In that discourse the preacher said to all his congregationthat if they would go home and ask God for anything, the Lord would give it to them. I cannot endorse so wild a statement!However, this man thought that the preacher, having said it, it was true-and having never prayed before in all his life, heput the question to the test of a certain event-and that certain event fell out as he desired. Then he began to tremble, forhe judged that, assuredly, there is a God!
Now, I do not say to you, dear Hearers, that whatever all of you shall ask in prayer you shall receive. I would not say thatto you ungodly ones. But I do say that if you will ask for mercy and salvation and eternal life-and anything that is promisedto believing sinners-you shall have it. I wish you would try the experiment, for you would find that the Lord never breaksa promise. If you read a promise made to a sinner, it is made to you! Go ahead and plead it, and the Lord will grant it. Iwill be surety for Him that He will keep His word. Trust Him and try, and thus learn the use of the bow! God bless you forChrist's sake. Amen.