John Kershaw Sermons

Cave Adullam

The Substance of a Sermon preached at Zoar Chapel, London, in April 1842

“And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him, and he became a captain over them.” (1 Samuel 22:2)

These words contain something more than a literal meaning of the circumstances which are mentioned. And the order in which they have been laid upon my mind is as follows:

I. In many respects, David was an eminent type of the Lord Jesus Christ.
II. The men that went down to the Cave of Adullam, and the circumstances in which they were placed, were typical of all who really go unto Christ for salvation.

I. The psalmist, the sweet singer of Israel, was an eminent, a soul-comforting type of our spiritual David, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Two or three observations here must suffice.

Notice, then, David was anointed of the Lord to be king of Israel and the ruler of the people.

Samuel received a special command from God to go and anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be king of Israel in the room of Saul. Samuel at first feared to enter upon the execution of this command, from a contemplation of the consequences that might result therefrom; but he is commanded to leave all the consequences—not to study subsequent events, but to go and do as the Lord had bidden him. Accordingly he entered into the house of Jesse, and the Spirit of the Lord was to signify which was the man whom God had chosen and provided as king over Israel. Jesse’s first-born was called; and the prophet, consulting his own feelings, said, “Surely this is the man, the anointed of the Lord.” But the Lord said, “Nay, this is not the man; let him go. I know he has a fine outside appearance; but I also know what is in his heart.” The child of God is very jealous and very fearful lest his religion should be only in his head, in an outward appearance and outward profession, and not in the heart. Well, Jesse called a second, and a third, and indeed all the sons which he had in the house, but none of them would do. And Samuel began to say, “Why, how is this? The Lord did indeed send me. Are these all the sons that thou hast, Jesse?” “No,” says the old man, “I have yet another, young David, but it cannot be him; and behold he keepeth the sheep.” Now, mark, no sooner does Jesse make mention of the name of David than the Holy Ghost stirs up the spirit of Samuel, and he says, “Send for him.” And when he came, the Lord commanded Samuel to arise and anoint David in the midst of all his brethren.

And the Lord Jesus Christ is the anointed of the Father. All the prophets, and apostles, and ministers of God have a measure of the Spirit, the anointing, the sanctifying, the life-giving and soul-saving influences, powers and operations of the blessed Spirit; but they have only a measure of the Spirit given to them to profit withal. The apostle is speaking to the church of the living God; and to every member of that church he says, “A measure of the Spirit is given to profit withal”; not to be rejected, but possessed to the eternal well-being of their immortal souls. But unto the Lord Jesus Christ the Spirit is given without measure; hence, quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah, and applying them unto himself, he said, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek,” and so forth. And having read this interesting portion of Scripture, he closed the book, and said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in me.”

Yes, beloved, every branch of vital godliness, all spiritual light and life, all humility of soul and tenderness of conscience, all sighing and sorrowing, hungering and thirsting, pantings of soul and exercise of faith; all these things are derived from Christ. He is God’s anointed, and in him it has pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell, that out of his fulness we should receive grace upon grace. Our Lord is very solemn on this subject: and I feel the weight of his Word on my soul this morning, where he says, “Without me ye can do nothing.” The poor child of God says, “That is true, Lord; without thy grace I can do nothing—I am helpless and hopeless until thou speak unto and work within me.” But I forbear to enlarge.

Notice, secondly, what was David’s occupation and employment? He was a keeper of his father’s sheep.

And where was it that he kept his father’s sheep? Why, in the wilderness. And he gave good proof that he was not an hireling but a good and faithful shepherd, for while he tended and watched his father’s sheep, behold, a lion and a bear (not a dog, not merely a wolf- but a mad and a voracious lion and a blood-thirsty and determined bear) came and attacked the flock; and they took a lamb out of the flock. And how did the shepherd act? Did he forsake the flock? Was he appalled and frightened by these monsters of the forest? And did he leave the poor sheep to become their prey? No, he was a good shepherd! And he says, “And I went out after the lion, and I smote him, and I delivered the lamb out of his mouth.”

O, beloved, do you not see a beauty in all this? Do you not behold it fulfilled in the antitype, the Lord Jesus Christ? The Father loved the sheep which he had chosen, and he gave them into the hands of his dear Son; not only to ransom them, but to preserve them, to gather, to lead, to watch over them, and to bring them home to glory. For where are the sheep? Thousands of them are still in the wilderness where that cur of hell, the devil, as a roaring lion is ever going about seeking whom he may devour, and whom John Bunyan calls a dog, that worries the sheep but never can destroy. O no, blessed be his precious name, his eyes are on the sheep, and on every foe that would dare to attack them. He is the good Shepherd, and says, “I know my sheep, and am known of mine, and none shall ever pluck them out of my hands.” All the chosen sheep are in the hands of a triune Jehovah—the Father holds them by his eternal purpose—the Son holds them by his unchanging love—the Holy Spirit holds them by his quickening and sanctifying grace; so that they can never perish.

Thirdly, David was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

Time would fail me to speak of the numerous trials, afflictions, difficulties, ups and downs, losses and crosses which attended this man of God all through his pilgrimage. Many of the sorrowful exclamations which fell from his lips had especial reference not only to himself but also to his great antitype, the Lord Jesus Christ; and particularly that solemn description of his sorrow and agony of soul when he cried out, “Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy water-spouts; all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” This was true as regarded David himself; but it had also a very especial reference to those heavy and overwhelming sorrows which the Lord Jesus Christ endured when he took our nature, suffered for and bore away his people’s sins.

II. But I come secondly to notice the characters who fled to David in the Cave of Adullam. And I shall endeavour to take this up exactly in the order in which it stands in the text: “Every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, fled unto him, and he became a captain over them.”

First, then, it was every one that was in distress.

And, I am sure, if we bring this to bear upon spiritual things, we shall find that there never was, nor that there ever will be, one poor sinner ever flying to the Lord Jesus Christ for pardon and salvation until he is brought into distress. And I think I might justify this assertion both from my own experience and from many portions of the Word of God.

I can remember the time when I was as careless and unconcerned about my soul, about Jesus Christ and about eternity as I could possibly be; and it was not until the blessed Spirit convinced me of my awful state as a guilty, wretched, helpless and miserable sinner, showed me the spirituality, immutability, justice and holiness of Jehovah’s law, and thereby deeply afflicted me in my soul, that I began to desire to seek after a refuge or hiding-place from the wrath that is to come.

And how was it with the prodigal? When did he begin to think about returning to his father’s house? Was it when his pocket was full of money, when he was revelling in wantonness and luxury, when he was wallowing in sin? No, no. It was when he came to himself. It was when his pockets were empty, when he was in a far country, when he had spent all his substance, when he had nothing left and no man gave unto him, and he felt the pinchings of hunger—yea, when he was ready to starve. Then he began to think about his father’s house, and, said he, “I will arise, and I will go unto my father.” And how did he go? Did he come pleading his goodness, saying, “Father, I am a dutiful son,” and so on? O, no; he confessed that he was a poor, guilty, unworthy sinner: “Father, I have sinned,” saith he, “against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.” Well, it was the father’s grace that had brought him, and, therefore, the father’s grace, love, pity and compassion welcomed him. He ran, fell upon his neck, kissed him and said, “This my son was lost, but is found; was dead, but is alive again.” But, you see, it was when he was in distress that he came home.

And so again, when was it the sons of Jacob thought of going down to Egypt to buy corn? Why, it was when there was a famine in the land. Ah, and with what deep humility did they come to Joseph! How they bowed down before him, and acknowledged his authority, his dignity and his ability to assist them. And how did Joseph receive them? O, mark the tenderness and compassion of his heart! When they bowed down before him, he remembered his brethren. They had said they would never have this man to reign over them, but God had ordained that they should; and therefore in a most wonderful manner he brought it about. And just the same is it with the proud, haughty, ignorant, sinner. He cares no more about Christ and his salvation than as though he had no soul to be saved. But when the Lord the Spirit brings a famine into the sinner’s soul, when a fiery law in his conscience consumes all his works and carnal hopes, then he is humbled, he is broken, and he cries out, “What must I do?” “Whither shall I flee?” And our spiritual David, in the Cave of Adullam, says, “Come unto me; come, sit under my shadow; I will comfort you, I will help you.”

And, so, you see, it is every “one that is in distress.” And not only distress in the first setting out, but all through the journey. I do not know how you good folks get on in London, but we find that one trouble comes so close upon the heels of another that we really begin to believe there is positive truth in the word of our Lord when he says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” But in all our harassments and troubles we are enabled to gather ourselves unto the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our refuge. Underneath are the everlasting arms. And we find there is a sweetness in those words: “To whom coming, as unto a living stone.”

“And every one that was in debt.”

I doubt not but this literally was the case. Every one had his creditor. But we are not to confine this characteristic to those debts which we may have contracted in a civil point of view. And where is the man that breathes under the canopy of heaven but is in debt to God, having violated a holy, just and righteous law? But, alas! how very few who are brought to see and really to feel, to confess and to acknowledge that they are poor debtors, guilty, helpless, bankrupt sinners! But all that are thus brought are most certainly the elect of God; God’s finger is in their consciences; they are brought to God’s book; their debts, their iniquities, are all laid open before them, and charged upon them; and they find them to be of greater weight than they can possibly bear. When this was the case with me, I went to God, with promises of amendment, saying, “Next week, I will be better; I will amend my ways, and turn unto the Lord.” But God weighed me in the balance of the sanctuary; and I found that unless my debts were paid, and my guilt atoned for by another, I must eternally perish. There is one thing in God’s Word which I have not been able fully to comprehend; and it is what is meant by the fifty pence debtor. I have travelled for the last twenty-eight years through many parts of our country, but I have never yet found the Christian man who said he was only a fifty-pence debtor; all have declared themselves to be five hundred pence debtors. But be that matter as it may; when they have been brought to feel that they have nothing wherewith to pay, he has frankly and freely forgiven them all.

Ah, we come now to a very precious part of the subject: and you know what it is before I mention it. What has our spiritual David done? Why he has settled the whole account for us. He has settled it most gloriously, most honourably, most justly and completely, so that there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. Dr. Crisp has an expression, and I approve of it from the very bottom of my heart. He says, “Christ, the great paymaster of his people’s debts.” Yes, all their debts he has paid; not by instalments, for we have full redemption through him. “By one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” Here is the confidence of the church, the pillar on which the Church rests.

There is both a doctrinal and an experimental principle in this justification. First, nothing but the atoning blood of the Son of God can ever obtain justification for guilty sinners in the high court of heaven. But in an experimental point of view, nothing but the application of that blood to the conscience can testify that the debt is paid, or give the sinner peace.

(Mr. Kershaw then referred to the debt of love and gratitude which the vessels of mercy owe to a triune Jehovah for the great things done for and in them and proved that without renewed manifestations of these things to the soul, the believer was the most discontented man on earth.)

John Kershaw (1792-1870) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He was appointed the Pastor of Hope Chapel, Rochdale, serving this position for fifty-three years. John Hazelton wrote of him:

“His autobiography is one of the best books of its kind and one striking incident we will quote. It is his account of his interview in Edinburgh with Dr. John Duncan, often called "Rabbi" Duncan, because of his profound knowledge of Hebrew. Dr. Duncan (1796-1870) was Professor of Hebrew in New College, Edinburgh, and was a man of the most acute and profound intellectual powers, and at the same time a deeply spiritual and Scriptural preacher. In learning and associations he was at the antipodes of plain John Kershaw. In November, 1861, Mr. Kershaw preached in Edinburgh, arrangements having been made through Lady Lucy Smith, who was desirous that his original and powerful ministry should be exercised there. He writes:—"Another of my visitors was Dr. Duncan, who I was told by one of the ministers understood fourteen languages and that there was only one in the City who surpassed him in learning. He told me he had heard me preach three sermons, and he quite agreed with me in every statement that I had made, both in doctrine, experience and practice, save one, and that I had not fully entered upon, namely, 'the extent of the call of the gospel.' He candidly told me that his human learning had for years past been a great hindrance to his coming to a saving knowledge of the truth, and he had proved Paul's words, that the world by wisdom knew not God; and referring me to 1 Cor. 1:21,22 said he was for a long time like a wandering star or a ship at sea without a compass, ready to settle in every 'ism'—sometimes Arianism or Socinianism; and sometimes his mind was bordering upon infidelity. He declared himself much ashamed of many of his theological productions. When it pleased the Lord to work in his soul by the power of the Spirit he was for a long time in a distressed state, not knowing what to do to get peace and comfort. A conversation with another minister was made useful to him and he was enabled to go to the feet of Jesus as a little child and beg Him to teach him, a poor ignorant sinner, by His Spirit and His Word. The Lord graciously heard prayer and revealed Himself as his Saviour and Redeemer. We spoke of Scott's 'Force of Truth,' in which the author confessed he had been priding himself on his human attainments, opposing the doctrines of grace, and despising his neighbour, that dear man of God, John Newton, who eventually was made a blessing to him; also of John Berridge, who preached some years before the Lord stripped him and caused him to flee to Jesus for refuge. The conversation I had with this man I hope never to forget."

John Kershaw Sermons