Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
ELIJAH CALLS DOWN FIRE FROM HEAVEN
2 Kings 1:11-12. Again also he sent unto him another captain of fifty with his fifty. And he answered and said unto him, O man of God, thus has the king said, Come down quickly. And Elijah answered and said unto them, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from Heaven, and consume you and your fifty. And the fire of God came down from Heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.
MANY things recorded in the Old Testament appear at first sight to savor of harshness and severity. The utter extirpation of the Canaanites, and the judgments inflicted occasionally on the Israelites themselves, were doubtless such dispensations as we cannot contemplate without feeling that "God is very greatly to be feared." The instance before us is of a very terrific nature; and we may be ready to wonder, how a good man could deliberately call fire from Heaven to consume two whole companies of fifty each, when they had no alternative but to fulfill the orders given them, or be put to death for a violation of them. But, if any thing appear to us inexplicable, it is owing to our ignorance, and not to any inequality in the divine government. As to the conduct of Elijah, we will proceed to show,
I. How it may be vindicated—
As being "a man of like passions with us," he might err, and did err, on some occasions; but in this matter he did nothing that was in any wise unfitting his high character. Consider,
1. The provocation given—
This was exceeding great. Ahaziah walked in all the steps of his father Ahab: and this alone was abundantly sufficient to call forth the displeasure of God against him. But he had now been pouring contempt on God in a more than ordinary degree. He had fallen through a lattice, and the injury he had received was likely to prove fatal. Anxious to know what the event would be, he sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the God of Ekron. By this conduct he declared, not to Israel only, but even to the heathen themselves, that there was no God in Israel able to solve the question, and that the God of Ekron, a city of the Philistines, was superior to him. What an insult was this to the God of Israel, "whose name is, Jealous!" And what a tendency had this to confirm the heathen in their idolatry, and to justify them in their rejection of the true God!
Besides this, when Jehovah sent his servant Elijah to reprove the messengers, and to give them the information which they were going to seek, Ahaziah, instead of humbling himself for his offence, and preparing for his latter end, rose up in anger against the God of Heaven and earth, and sent a band of soldiers to seize the prophet, in order to wreak his vengeance on him. He knew that Elijah was a most distinguished prophet of Jehovah, and yet he determined to slay him, for no other reason than because he had delivered the message which God had sent him to deliver. What was this but to contend with God himself?
But further, when the whole band with their commander were consumed by fire from Heaven, the enraged king did not at all relent, but sent another, and another band, as though he was determined never to relinquish the unequal contest.
Can we wonder that God should inflict signal vengeance on such a man, and mark the evil of his conduct in the severity of his punishment?
2. The judgment inflicted—
Fire was sent from Heaven to consume the men. But could Elijah do this? or was he any other than the mere organ of the Deity, to announce the judgment, and assign the reason of it? When Moses entreated of God to interpose and show whom he had chosen for his high-priest, fire came forth to consume all the competitors of Aaron; or when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with all their families, were swallowed up alive in the earth according to the prediction of Moses; was Moses the author of the judgments? The people indeed foolishly complained of him as such; but it is manifest that it was Jehovah alone, and not Moses, that inflicted these punishments on the offending people. So it was with Elijah: he did not even pray for the judgments as one under the influence of revenge, but merely denounced them according to the will of his Divine Master. The terms in which they were denounced are worthy of notice. The captains, in calling him "a man of God," did not mean to honor, but insult him: it was as though they had said, 'You boast of Jehovah as your Master; but we come to you in the name of a greater king than he: King Ahaziah says, Come down, come down quickly.' Then says Elijah, 'If I be a man of God, you shall have a proof of it, and of the greatness of that King whom I obey.' He had before desired fire from Heaven to consume the sacrifice, and it produced no permanent effect upon them: now therefore he declares from God, that they shall be the sacrifice, and fall a prey to the devouring flames.
What was there here that can in any way reflect upon the character of Elijah? He was but the organ to declare, what a holy and offended God saw just occasion to inflict.
If it be said, that the soldiers themselves acted under the orders of another, we answer, that they could not but know the character of Elijah, who had confounded all the worshipers of Baal; and that they should rather have submitted to have military law executed upon them, than be the instruments of man to fight against God.
3. The ends for which it was inflicted—
Almost the whole nation of Israel had rejected God: and all the means which had been used to bring them back to their allegiance to him, had failed. Now they had an evidence which, it might be reasonably hoped, they could not withstand. The information, conveyed by Elijah to the king's messengers, was sufficient to convince both the king and his people, that Elijah's God was omniscient: and, when they still refused to acknowledge him, and rose up in arms against him, the judgment he inflicted was sufficient to convince them that he was omnipotent: and had it produced this beneficial effect, the judgment, how severe soever it may appear, would have been an act of mercy. The temporal destruction of a few would have been a merciful expedient for the salvation of a whole people. If it produced not this happy effect, the fault was not in God, but in them.
Thus justifiable in every view was this conduct of Elijah. Let us then proceed to show,
II. How it may be improved—
As the dispensation appears dark, it may be proper to throw some further light upon it: and, when our views of it are rectified, it will afford us some valuable lessons. We will improve the subject therefore,
1. In a way of caution—
We must not imagine that we are at liberty to act in all things as the prophets did, or even as our blessed Lord himself did. Their peculiar office gave them an authority, which we are not called to exercise. This thought is of great importance; for, if we do not advert to it, we may think ourselves justified in a line of conduct which is most opposite to the path of duty. The Apostles themselves materially erred in this very way. They supposed that this conduct of Elijah afforded a proper precedent for them; and therefore when the inhabitants of a Samaritan village refused to receive them, they proposed to our Lord, "Will you that we command fire to come down from Heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did?" But our Lord said, "You know not what spirit you are of: for the Son of Man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them Luke 9:53-56." Here our Lord rectifies their apprehensions. They were under the influence of a vindictive spirit, and were wanting to make Jehovah the avenger of their wrongs. But this was very different from the spirit of Elijah, and quite contrary both to the precepts and example of Christ. Christ was injuriously treated by all ranks and orders of men, yet did he never exert his power to destroy his enemies: on the contrary, he sought with invincible patience to convert and save them. On one occasion indeed he did, when an armed band came to apprehend him, strike them all backward with a word John 18:6; but he only struck them down; he did not strike them dead, though he could as easily have done the one as the other: his design was to bring this history to their remembrance, and to show them that they were fighting against God. On other occasions, he wept over the most inveterate of his enemies, and at last laid down his life for them; and, after his resurrection, commanded that the very first offers of salvation should be made to them. This then is the manner in which we are to act. We must never seek to avenge ourselves; but must rather bless them that curse us, and do good to them that despitefully use us, and persecute us. We may indeed heap coals of fire upon their heads; but it must be, to melt them into love Romans 12:20-21. The rule that is universally established for the regulation of our conduct, is this; "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."
2. In a way of instruction—
Two things only will we notice under this head; namely, The danger of persecuting the saints of God; and, The security of all who trust in God.
Behold one party slain by fire from Heaven; and soon after, another party, of fifty each! What has called forth these signal acts of vengeance? They sought to lay hands on a faithful servant of the Lord. We do not indeed expect that all persecutors will be visited with the like judgments: but we know what God has spoken respecting them; "He who touches you, touches the apple of my eye." We know also what our blessed Savior has said; "It were better that a millstone were hanged about their necks, and that they were cast into the depths of the sea, than that they should offend one of his little ones." And would it not have been better for those hundred soldiers and their captains to have been thus treated? Truly, if they had been so treated for refusing to persecute a servant of the Lord, we would have congratulated them on the occasion, as martyrs in the cause of God. Or even if they had been so treated on other accounts, still they would at least not have perished under such a load of guilt as now lay upon them. People now make a mock at religion, and turn the very names by which God designates his people into terms of reproach; and, if they were not restrained by human laws, would proceed to all the cruelties that have been practiced in former times: but let it be remembered, that Christ himself is wounded in the person of his saints: as he said once to Saul, "Saul, Saul, why persecute you me?" so now he regards his people's cause as his own, and will surely recompense into the bosoms of their enemies whatever shall be said or done against them. "Precious in his sight is the blood of his saints." Remember this, you who revile and persecute the children of God: they may appear weak, and unable to avenge themselves; but "their Redeemer is mighty," and will in due time execute the fullness of his wrath upon his enemies, precisely as he did in the days of old 2 Chronicles 36:15-16.
On the other hand, he will protect his people, as he did this distinguished prophet. He will be "as a wall of fire round about, and the glory in the midst of them." Most unanswerable is that question, "Who is he who will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good?" If God be for them, who can be against them? "Let the weak then say, I am strong:" let them say with David, "Though an host should encamp against me, yet shall not my heart be afraid." In the hands of our adorable Lord we are safe, "nor can any pluck us out of them." We should not, it is true, court persecution: but if it come for the Lord's sake, we may expect to have "strength given us according to our day," and to be made "more than conquerors through Him that loved us."
2 Kings 2:9-12
ELIJAH'S TRANSLATION TO HEAVEN
2 Kings 2:9-12. And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for you, before I be taken away from you. And Elisha said, I pray you, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me. And he said, You have asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so unto you; but if not, it shall not be so. And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into Heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.
RELIGION, however despised by men, has invariably been honored by God. He has said, "Them that honor me, I will honor:" and he has fulfilled his word to all his servants in all ages. The tokens of his love and the communications of his grace have in different measures been given unto them; and for the most part some visible manifestations of his favor have been given them, in proportion as they have visibly displayed their regard for him. On some occasions the honor conferred upon his servants has been exceeding great. Noah, Abraham, and many others, have been so distinguished by him, as to be set, as it were, above all the rest of the human race that existed in their day: and in two instances, the one before the deluge, and the other since, he has condescended to exempt from death frail mortals like ourselves; and to exalt them in their embodied state to the celestial Paradise. Of Enoch we have spoken in another place: we are now to speak of the other instance, the Prophet Elijah—
We propose to consider,
I. The translation of Elijah—
In order to get a just view of this subject, we must notice,
1. How he was occupied—
This eminent servant of Jehovah was indefatigable in his Master's work: nor, when informed of God's gracious purpose respecting him, did he relax it, but rather abounded in it more and more.
He labored for the public good. There were schools of the prophets, which he had established for the preservation of true religion (amidst the general defection to idolatry) in the land of Israel. These he visited at Gilgal, at Beth-el, and at Jericho, to strengthen and encourage all the students previous to his final departure from them: How blessed, how suitable an employment! Thus did Paul go about "confirming the churches," and exert himself with all fidelity for the good of the Ephesian church, when he knew that they were about to "see his face no more Acts 20:17-38." Thus did Peter also, when he knew that his departure was at hand 2 Peter 1:12-15; and thus did our blessed Lord himself just previous to his crucifixion. What encouraging discourses were those which he delivered to his disciples John 14; John 15; John 16; and how wonderfully sublime his parting prayer John 17. Thus too should every servant of God exert himself as long as his Divine Master shall see fit to continue him on earth. To train up others for the same glorious service is the most acceptable office he can perform for God, and the most profitable work he can execute for man.
Nor was the prophet inattentive to the welfare of his private friends. "What shall I do for you before I go?" was the question which he put to his servant Elisha. He knew that after his departure he could benefit his friends no longer; and therefore he would improve the present moment to the utmost of his power. How worthy of his high character was such conduct as this! How carefully should every minister, yes and every private Christian, put to himself this question, 'What more can I do, for my country? for my friends? for my very enemies? What can I do as a parent, for my children? as a master, for my family? as a friend, for my most endeared companions? as a minister, for the people committed to my charge? Is there no one who particularly needs from me a word of reproof, of consolation, of encouragement?'
The Lord grant that at whatever hour we shall be called hence, we may be found thus laboring in the way most suited to our respective spheres, and our several capacities!
2. How he was removed—
"A fiery chariot and horses of fire," that is, angels under that appearance, were sent to convey him to Heaven, without his ever tasting the bitterness of death. What a blessed change did he then experience!: But such is indeed the change which every saint experiences at his departure hence. The body, it is true, must die, and be consigned to the grave; but the soul shall be carried by angels into Abraham's bosom: and the body itself, after returning to its native dust, shall at the last day be re-united to the soul, and enjoy all that Elijah now enjoys, in the presence of its God: This was by the exaltation of Elijah assured to men: for the honor conferred on him was not that he alone should have a glorified body, but that he should possess it now, while others must wait for it until the resurrection of the just.
We cannot wonder that the removal of such a man should call forth,
II. The lamentation of Elisha—
So deep and sincere was his grief, that he rent his clothes as the accustomed expression of it. He lamented the departure of Elijah,
1. As a private loss—
"My father, my father!" cried this afflicted saint. He regarded the departed prophet with all the reverence and affection due to a beloved parent. Indeed the prophet was his spiritual father; for it was by him that Elisha was first called to the service of his God: and to such there is an affection due, as much as to a natural parent: for to our natural parent we owe the existence of our bodies only; but to our spiritual parent, the salvation of our souls Philem. verse 19. And how great is the loss of one who has opened our eyes to eternal things, and by his watchful care and beneficial advice has led us forward toward the possession of everlasting bliss!
It might have seemed indeed, that, as Elisha expected to receive the benefit he had asked, he needed not to have laid so much to heart the loss he had sustained: but no considerations of personal benefit ought to divest us of the finer feelings of our nature. The benefit, it is true, was exceeding great: he had asked for a double portion of Elijah's spirit; that is, (regarding Elijah as his father,) he desired to have the portion of his eldest son, which was double that of the younger children Deuteronomy 21:17 with Numbers 11:17; Numbers 11:25. As for his asking for twice as much as Elijah himself possessed, and actually doing by virtue of it twice as much good as Elijah did, it is all fanciful and absurd; but still he had been ungrateful in the extreme, if he had not bewailed the loss of so faithful a master, and so dear a friend. .
2. As a public loss—
Horses and chariots composed the chief strength of armies in that day: hence Elisha, judging that now the best friend and most efficient protector of his country was gone, exclaims, "The chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" And true indeed it is, that the faithful servants of God do deserve the character here given them. Look at Moses, and see how often he preserved the whole nation of Israel from ruin. Had there been ten pious men found in Sodom, all the cities of the plain should have been spared for their sake. Little do the world imagine how much they are indebted to the very men whom they revile and persecute: but God has declared that even one single individual who humbly intercedes for his country, may be the means of preserving it from utter destruction Jeremiah 5:1; Ezekiel 22:30. Well then may such persons be honored while they live, and deeply deplored when removed to a better world.
1. Those who are more advanced in life—
The time is shortly coming when you must be taken into the presence of your God. Should you not then inquire, Whether "the good work be yet begun in you; or, if begun, whether it be proceeding towards its perfect accomplishment?" Should you not ask, What is there more that I can do for God, my neighbor, or myself? O "work while it is day, because the night comes wherein no man can work." "There is no work nor device nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave where you go;" and therefore "whatever your hand finds to do, you should do it with all your might."
To ministers who are drawing near the close of their labors, this subject applies itself with peculiar force. If you see young Elishas coming forward to enter into your labors, be thankful for it; and labor, while yet an opportunity is afforded you, to raise up a succession of faithful ministers, who shall continue after your decease to advance the Redeemer's interests in the world.
2. To those who are entering into life—
Learn of Elisha to appreciate rightly the privileges you enjoy. The world will often endeavor to draw you from Christ and his faithful servants; and will say, "Tarry here, I pray you:" but let your answer always be, 'As the Lord lives, I will not leave either my God himself, or the ministry of his word:' in all places, and under all circumstances, I will "cleave unto my Lord with full purpose of heart." "If you have the light, then believe in the light, and walk in it, that you may be the children of the light." Above all, take care that your eye be single, and that spiritual blessings have their due preponderance in your hearts. If God should say to you, as in truth he does, What shall I do for you John 14:13-14. then let your soul be ever ready to reply, "Grant that a double portion of your Spirit be given to me." Yes; let spiritual blessings be the one object of your desires; and "covet earnestly the best gifts."
2 Kings 2:14
2 Kings 2:14. Where is the Lord God of Elijah?
WHEN bereft of those whom we love, and with whose continuance in the world our welfare was intimately connected, we are ready to think that our all is gone. We forget that, while Jehovah lives, he can repair our breaches, and make up to us all our losses. When Elijah was taken up into Heaven, Elisha cried, "My father, my father! the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" He supposed that Israel's defense was utterly departed from them. But he soon found, that God had mercy in store for Israel; and that the spirit of the departed prophet now rested upon him. Recovering therefore from his desponding fears, he took up the mantle which had fallen from Elijah, and, in full expectation of seeing the waters of Jordan separated by means of it, as they had just before been, he smote them with it, and said, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?"
From these words we shall take occasion to show,
I. By what means God showed himself to be the God of Elijah—
The whole history of Elijah might be adduced to illustrate this point: but, to avoid needless prolixity, we observe, that God showed himself to be his God,
1. By the communications of his grace—
Elijah was eminently endued with grace: he was pious in the midst of a general affection; he was courageous under the most cruel persecution. The whole nation of Israel were become idolaters: but he dared to stem the torrent of iniquity, and to confess Jehovah as his God. There were indeed seven thousand persons who had not conformed to the worship of Baal; but as they were totally unknown to him, the effect, as far as it related to him, was the same as if there had not been one; because he derived no comfort from their countenance or example. But he was not contented to do what was right himself, without bearing his testimony against what was wrong. He therefore reproved with boldness and severity the king himself: and though on one occasion his courage seemed to fail him 1 Kings 19:3, yet on the whole he was an undaunted champion for his God, and an invincible sufferer for the truth's sake.
As for the spirit of prophecy which he had, or his power to work miracles, these were no proofs that God was his God; for then God must have been the God of Balaam, who was a prophet; and of Judas, who wrought miracles. But the graces which he exercised and maintained in the midst of a wicked generation, incontestably showed, that he was elevated in God's esteem far above the generality of mankind.
2. By the interpositions of his providence—
Such was his interest with God, that by his prayers he shut up the heavens for three years and an half, and then opened them again by the same means James 5:17-18. When he lifted up his voice to God, instantly came fire from Heaven to consume his sacrifice 1 Kings 18:37-38; yes, to consume also, and that repeatedly, the enemies who were sent to apprehend him 2 Kings 1:10-12. While all the surrounding nations, together with Israel, groaned under the calamitous effects of a drought, he was miraculously sustained with bread and meat, twice a day for a long time together, by ravens at the side of the brook Cherith 1 Kings 17:3-6. When that brook failed, he was supported by a poor widow, whose barrel of meal never decreased, nor did her cruse of oil fail, until a return of rain brought plenty to the famished land 1 Kings 17:9-16. On another occasion (when perhaps he could least of all expect such an interposition) an angel was sent to feed him 1 Kings 19:4-8; and on taking a second meal of the food provided, he was enabled to go in the strength of it for forty days. Waving all mention of visions imparted to him 1 Kings 19:11-12, or miracles wrought by him 1 Kings 17:19-23 and 2 Kings 2:8, let us pass on to the period of his departure from the world. Then we see not only the sting of death taken away, but the law relating to the dissolution of our bodies cancelled; and the man of God taken in body and soul into Heaven without ever tasting of death 2 Kings 2:11; the only person thus honored in the new world, as Enoch had been in the old world. Can we doubt but that the person for whom God so interposed both in life and in death, was a distinguished favorite of Heaven?
Yet were not these favors from God so peculiar, but,
II. That believers at this time may expect similar tokens of his regard—
We readily grant, that no one at this day is warranted to expect a miracle; but yet every believer,
1. Shall have God for his God—
God has been the God of his people in every age. He is called "The Lord God of Shem Genesis 9:26;" and it is needless to say how often he is spoken of as "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." That this honor was not confined to a few eminent saints, is manifest; for he is called by no name more frequently than "The God of Israel." Indeed he has expressly covenanted that he "will be the God of his believing people Jeremiah 31:33," or, as that term is varied and explained in the Epistle to the Hebrews Hebrews 8:10. See also 1 Chronicles 17:24, He "will be a God unto them," and do everything that an Almighty Being can do for their benefit. As "he was not ashamed to be called the God of his people" of old Hebrews 11:16, so neither will he be ashamed to be called our God.
2. Shall have all the proofs of it that can conduce to his welfare—
Think of anything that a believer can need, for body or for soul, for time or for eternity; and we do not hesitate to affirm, that God has made it the subject of a special promise, and that it is the believer's privilege to expect it at his hands. Do we need temporal blessings? God has said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things shall be added unto you Matthew 6:33." Are our privations accompanied also with great dangers? "Our place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks; bread shall be given us, and our water shall be sure Compare Isaiah 33:16 with 2 Kings 1:10-12 and 1 Kings 17:3-6." Do we desire that our petitions may be heard? We are reminded that "Elijah was a man of like passions with us;" and are taught to conclude from the answer given to his prayers, that "the prayer of every righteous man avails much James 5:16-18." Do we need to be strengthened for our manifold trials and conflicts? "His grace shall be sufficient for us 2 Corinthians 12:9;" and "as our day is, so shall also our strength be Deuteronomy 33:25." True, we shall not be exempt from death, or carried in a fiery chariot up to Heaven: but the sting of death shall be taken away; and we shall be "carried by angels into Abraham's bosom Luke 16:22." In a word, if only we seek God as our God in Christ, "he will give us grace and glory, and withhold no good thing from us" either in time or eternity Psalm 84:11.
What then had Elijah more than this, or what can we desire more?
Having proved our point, we come to recommend the confident expectation expressed in the text—
Believer, are you just called forth, like Elisha, to face a frowning world? Fear not: take up Elijah's mantle, and smite the waters that obstruct your path, and expect Elijah's God to open your way before you. Think "not anything too hard for God." Remember that he is your God, as well as Elijah's: and as "his ear is not heavy, that he cannot hear; so neither is his hand shortened, that he cannot save Isaiah 59:1." See what confident expectation was manifested by God's Church of old: "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old! Are you not it which has dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; that has made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over Isaiah 51:9-10." Thus must you call upon your God. You cannot ask too largely, nor expect too much at his hands. If difficulties are to be surmounted, or wants to be supplied, or lusts to be subdued, go forth and say, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?"
Even to unbelievers methinks this subject is not without its appropriate use: for, who was Elijah more than others? Was not he once "a child of wrath even as others?" and may not those who are now children of wrath, become even as he? Yes, there is a cloud of witnesses to prove, that, though Elijah is gone, Elijah's God remains, and that he is the same gracious, merciful, loving, and almighty Friend as ever. O seek him then as your reconciled God in Christ; and you shall soon be able to say, "He is my God, and I will praise him; my father's God, and I will exalt him Exodus 15:2."
2 Kings 2:19-22
ELISHA HEALING THE SPRING WITH A CRUSE OF SALT
2 Kings 2:19-22. The men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray you, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus says the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spoke.
THE miracles recorded in the Old Testament are replete with most important instruction. Many of them are typical; such as, the deliverance of the first-born through the blood of the paschal lamb; the passage of Israel through the Red Sea; the guidance of them by the pillar and the cloud; their supplies of manna from the clouds, and of water from the rock; their healing by the brazen serpent; and many others. Some, which were not strictly types, were of an emblematical nature, and well calculated to convey instruction beyond the mere exhibition of power or grace contained in them. Among these may be ranked the miracle which is recorded in my text. It cannot properly be considered as a type; yet, I think, it may well afford occasion for the following observations. I would observe then,
I. That there is no evil so great, but God is both able and willing to remove it—
The evil experienced at Jericho was great—
I do not conceive that the water had originally been bad, or the ground barren: but that God had sent a curse both upon the one and the other, on account of the wickedness of those who had rebuilt the city, in direct opposition to his recorded will. Joshua having destroyed the city, had declared that the man who should presume to rebuild it should lay the foundation in the death of his first-born, and put up the gates with the loss of his youngest son. And until the days of Ahab, no one had dared to contravene the will of God respecting it. But at last Hiel, the Bethelite, presumed to restore the city: and on him had been executed the very curse denounced by Joshua Compare Joshua 6:26 with 1 Kings 16:34. At that time I suppose that the water and the ground were cursed by God, agreeably to what he had threatened by Moses Deuteronomy 28:2-4; Deuteronomy 28:11; Deuteronomy 28:15-18; so that in that instance was fulfilled what David has spoken, "He turns a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein Psalm 107:34." And certainly the beauty of the situation could but ill repay the loss sustained by the infliction of this curse. But, as the miracle shows us, God was both able and willing to remove the evil, when he was applied unto in the exercise of faith.
But have not we far greater evils to be removed?
Behold what has been inflicted on mankind on account of sin. How dead are the souls of men, which, at their first creation, were as living springs of all that was good! Behold, too, how barren are their lives in respect of all the fruits of righteousness, which originally, when in Paradise, were produced by them! True, indeed, there is somewhat of man's primeval beauty still adhering to him: and if we had respect only to his faculties, as compared with all other parts of the terrestrial creation, we should say of him, "Behold how beautiful he is, as my lord sees!" But, "his heart, alas! from whence are the issues of life," is become "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked Jeremiah 17:9;" yes, "it is full of evil Ecclesiastes 9:3," and "out of it proceed all manner of abominations Mark 7:21-23." As to anything truly spiritual, it is a perfect desert; so barren, that not one "just work, or one good counsel, or one holy desire," is produced by it. And to what a vast extent are these evils felt! Not only those who are in immediate contact with us, but the whole world, feel the bitter consequences of the change that has taken place in us, and of the curse that has been inflicted on us: and, if a remedy be not applied, the sad effects will be continued to all eternity.
And can these evils be removed? Yes, and shall be, if only we apply to God in prayer and faith.
But in this miracle we further see,
II. That there are no means so weak, but God can render them effectual to the desired end—
How utterly inadequate were the means by which this miracle was wrought!
There was no power in salt to render the water sweet, or the ground fertile: or, if there had been any suitableness in the means to the end, what could a single cruse of salt have effected, in a spring of water, and in all the adjacent land? and why must it be brought in a new cruse, rather than in one which had been used? It is plain that these means were no more than the erecting of a brazen serpent to heal the wounded Israelites, or than our Lord's making clay of spittle to restore to sight a man that had been born blind John 9:6.
Nor are the means which we use for the conversion of the world at all more adequate to the end proposed—
How is it that we attempt to operate on men, so as to sanctify their hearts and lives? It is by the simple preaching of the Gospel to them; or, as the Apostle expresses it, "by the foolishness of preaching 1 Corinthians 1:21." How little this can effect, may be seen in the ministry of the Prophets, and Apostles, and even of our blessed Lord himself. To few, comparatively, was the word accompanied with any saving power.
"Neither Paul was anything, nor Apollos anything:" whatever was done through their instrumentality could, if God had so pleased, been as easily effected without them, as with them. So at this day, what is any minister, but "a voice crying in the wilderness?" Yet, when God is pleased to make the word effectual, the dead are quickened, and the bond-slaves of Satan are sanctified unto the Lord. Behold, on the day of Pentecost, what a change was wrought by one single discourse, delivered by a poor illiterate fisherman! Methinks, as to any intrinsic power to produce the miracle which was wrought that day, the cruse of salt was on a par with the sermon of the Apostle. And it is no little encouragement to us to know, that no weakness of ours will be any bar to the efficacy of our ministrations, if only God be pleased to work by us: for he "has committed his treasure to earthen vessels, on purpose that the excellency of the power may be seen to be of God, and not of us 2 Corinthians 4:7."
It is certain, too,
III. That there is no benefit so great, but God will confer it through the ministry of his faithful servants—
What a rich benefit was that conferred by the hands of Elisha!
We, who are accustomed to drink of wholesome springs, and to eat in rich abundance the fruits of the land, have very little conception how great a benefit God at this time bestowed on Jericho. There was from that time no more death in the water, or barrenness in the land. Even after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the spring continued both abundant and salubrious, as the Jewish historian informs us; yes, and to this very hour it so remains, as modern travelers have attested.
But what was that benefit, in comparison of the blessings conferred on us by the Gospel?
The blessings of salvation itself are imparted to us by the preaching, the simple preaching, of Christ crucified. Who can estimate this benefit? Think of a new heart being given to us, and a new spirit renewed within us. Think of the whole life and conversation as so changed, that in the place of the brier grows up the fir-tree, and instead of the thorn grows up the myrtle-tree, and all the fruits of righteousness abound to the praise and glory of God. Yet shall this be wrought through the ministry of the word, in every place, and in every heart, where the Gospel is faithfully administered, and humbly received. Yes, it is not to one town or country that this mercy shall be given, but to every country under Heaven, where the Gospel comes: nor shall the benefits be continued only through the contracted span of this life, but through the endless ages of eternity. Not that it is to be expected to any great extent, except through the intervention of his ministers: for he delights to honor his own ordinances, and his own servants, whom he has sent to minister his blessings to mankind. He might have healed the springs of Jericho, without either the use of salt, or the agency of Elisha: and so he may impart salvation to men without the ministry of a preached Gospel: but it is only in the use of his appointed means that we are authorized to expect his offered blessings. Nevertheless, if we use the appointed means in faith, we may expect, from the abundance of his mercy, every benefit which our souls can desire.
Address those who feel their need of God's merciful intervention—
The men of Jericho had neglected to avail themselves of the presence of Elijah, who was now forever withdrawn from them: and it was only through the unforeseen circumstance of Elisha waiting for the return of the men who had been sent to search for Elijah, that he was detained there a few days. Now, therefore, they seize the opportunity afforded them, and beseech his intercession with the Deity in their behalf: and thus they obtain the benefit which they so greatly needed.
Beloved Brethren, think how many opportunities you have lost of obtaining salvation to your own souls: But, blessed be God! the word of the Gospel yet sounds in your ears, and God is at this moment waiting to confer on you all the blessings both of grace and glory. But how long the advantages you now enjoy may be continued to you, or you be continued to possess them, God alone knows. Methinks what our Lord said to his hearers may now be addressed to you; "A little while is the light with you: walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may be the children of light John 12:35-36." And who can tell what benefits may accrue to distant ages, if you yourselves obtain these blessings to your souls?.
To those, especially, who are now before me, I would say, Cry mightily to God that the cruse of salt may be cast into this fountain, from whence so many streams are issuing The University; that being rendered salubrious, they may fertilize this whole land, and be the means of diffusing life and salvation to the remotest corners of the globe.
2 Kings 2:23-24
ELISHA MOCKED BY THE CHILDREN
2 Kings 2:23-24. And he went up from thence unto Beth-el: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, you bald head; go up, you bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
THOUGH the ministry of the word in its original purpose was intended only for the happiness of man, it but too frequently proves an occasion of his more aggravated misery. That great Prophet, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to enlighten and save the world, was "set no less for the fall, than for the rising, of many in Israel." In like manner Paul was to some "a savor of life unto life; but to others, a savor of death unto death." Thus the Prophet Elisha, who, in healing the waters of Jericho, not only conferred upon Israel a great temporal benefit, but showed what benefit he was sent to confer on their souls also, was speedily constrained to call down judgments upon the people whose welfare he was most anxious to promote.
The destruction of so many children for what appears to have been but a small offence, has afforded to infidels an occasion of triumph. But that this dispensation affords no just ground of complaint either against the God of Israel or his holy prophet, will appear, if we consider,
I. The sin committed by the children—
In their treatment of the prophet we behold a mixture,
1. Of contumely—
The name of "bald head" was not, it is true, any bitter invective; but it was intended as a reproach; and the evil of such reproaches consists, not in the term that is used, but in the intent of him that uses it. Opprobrious language used to any one is sinful Matthew 5:22; but as used on this occasion, it was an insult to God himself. The mocking of a poor man on account of his poverty is considered by God as a reproach offered to himself, who has appointed him his lot Proverbs 17:5; much more therefore was this contemptuous treatment of the prophet an insult to that God, who had called him to the prophetic office. This is plainly declared by our blessed Lord Luke 10:16; and it is confirmed by a similar testimony from the Apostle Paul 1 Thessalonians. 4:8.
2. Of profaneness—
The expression "Go up, go up," evidently refers to the recent ascension of Elijah in the fiery chariot: and it intimated, that his translation was regarded by them either as a fiction to be disbelieved, or an event to be despised. In either of these views, their guilt was exceeding great: for how could they disbelieve what was immediately attested by that stupendous miracle, the forming a dry passage through Jordan by a stroke of Elijah's mantle? It is true, that many of the people of Jericho doubted at the time, and desired Elisha to send fifty men to search for his master, lest he should have been cast upon some mountain or valley: but that very doubt, like the unbelief of Thomas, tended only to confirm the fact that had been denied: and consequently the continuance of unbelief became so much the more criminal, in proportion as the evidence had been increased to confirm the fact.
But it is probable that the fact, though believed, was deemed a fit subject for ridicule; 'Let us see you, O bald head, go up, as your master did.' Thus the very abundance of God's power and grace was turned into an occasion of profane banter. And, strange as it may seem, this is a very common source of ridicule among the ungodly world. Goodness in itself is not made a ground of contempt; but as proceeding from God, as illustrating his perfections, and as conducing to his glory, it is an object of general derision. What terms, for instance, are more frequently used as expressive of contempt than "the elect," "the saints," and such like? And why are they so used, but because the sovereignty and the holiness of God are implied in them? Such reproaches then most assuredly strike at God himself, who estimates them by a very different standard from that which we use: we view them as a facetious exposure of folly; but he views them as an impious contempt of the Lord our God.
We have a clear proof of the malignity of the offence in God's sight, from,
II. The judgment inflicted on account of it—
In a two-fold light must that judgment be regarded;
1. As a punishment to them—
We must not suppose that the judgment was inflicted by Elisha; or that he was actuated by a vindictive spirit in denouncing it. He was no more able to inflict it, than Moses was to send the ten plagues of Egypt, or than Elijah was to bring fire from Heaven to consume the bands who came to apprehend him: nor was he any more under the influence of revenge, than Peter was when he passed sentence of death on Ananias and Sapphira; or than Paul was when he declared that Elymas, the sorcerer, should be struck blind. He was merely an organ whereby the Deity denounced his curse against them: and the she-bears out of the wood, like the whole creation, animate and inanimate, were ready to execute the vengeance of God upon them. As the locusts and frogs came up over Egypt at God's command, or the lion came forth to slay the disobedient prophet, or "the winds and storms fulfilled his will" in arresting Jonah in his flight; so these bears received their commission from God, and executed his commands.
Now this punishment was strictly just: for, what greater dishonor could be done to the God of Heaven and earth than to make the most stupendous efforts of his goodness a subject of reproach? As it respected the parents, they deserved to lose those children which they had trained up in such impious habits; and the children deserved to be cut off from all further enjoyment of the privileges which they so despised. For the transgressions of their parents they might well have suffered, even as the children of Sodom and Gomorrah did: but their own iniquities richly merited the displeasure they experienced 2 Chronicles 36:16.
2. As a lesson to the world—
Truly in this dispensation were many valuable lessons contained.
It showed that smaller acts of persecution, as well as greater, will be noticed by God. It might be thought a light matter to revile a servant of God; but did God account it so in the instance of Ishmael? He "mocked Isaac," as professing himself to be the child of promise, and the heir of Canaan: and for that sin both he and his mother were cast out from the house of Abraham Genesis 21:9. This conduct of his is by St Paul expressly called persecution, and is set forth as illustrative of the way in which carnal men still persecute the children of God, and of the everlasting exclusion from Heaven which they shall suffer for their impiety Galatians 4:29-30. St Jude also, having declared that there will be "mockers" in the Church, tells us what fearful ruin they must expect from the hands of an angry God Jude, verse 15, 18. To all therefore who are disposed to deride either religion itself or those who profess it, we would say with the prophet, "Be you not mockers, lest your bands be made strong Isaiah 28:22."
Another lesson which this judgment teaches us is, that young persons, as well as adults, are objects of just retribution. We readily acknowledge that the criminality of our actions is deep, in proportion as our light is clear, and our judgment matured. But we must not on that account imagine that God will take no notice of the evils committed by young persons: we have here an awful instance to the contrary. We are told in Scripture, that a young person who shall despise his earthly parents, shall be visited with some heavy calamity Proverbs 30:17; and shall God be so careful of the honor of earthly parents, and not be jealous of his own? Shall young people insult him with impunity? O let them not suppose that their youth is any excuse for their misconduct: for, if they are old enough to know what is right, they are old enough to do it: and "to him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin James 4:17." On the other hand, if they will employ their tongues in praising and magnifying their Redeemer, they shall receive from him a rich recompense of reward Matthew 21:15-16.
The last lesson we shall notice as arising from this dispensation is, that parents and children have a fearful responsibility for their conduct towards each other. Doubtless it sometimes happens that the most pious parents have children whom they cannot prevail upon to serve the Lord: and, if they have labored faithfully for their good, they shall not be held responsible for their faults. But wicked parents can expect nothing but that their children shall tread in their steps: and the truth is, that young children are for the most part only an echo of their parents' sentiments. What a shocking reflection then will it be to parents, that their children perished through their neglect; or to children, that they persisted in wickedness in opposition to the instructions, example, and entreaties of their parents! Parents, think how you will bear to look upon your children in the future world; and how they will one day execrate your conduct towards them, and call for vengeance on your heads for neglecting to warn them of their evil ways! And, children, think how, if you have disobeyed the voice of your parents, you will execrate your own folly, when you see an impassable gulf between them and you! Reflect a moment on the terror that seized the children the very instant the bears rushed forth upon them; and the distress which came upon their parents when they heard of the calamity that had befallen them. This may serve as an image, though a very faint image, of the terror and distress in which negligent parents and ungodly children will be involved to all eternity. The Lord grant that this may prove a beneficial warning to us all!
2 Kings 3:27
THE KING OF MOAB SACRIFICES HIS SON
2 Kings 3:27. Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt-offering upon the wall.
GOD delights to honor prayer; and often withholds the blessings which he has purposed to bestow, until he shall have been "inquired of by us concerning them Ezekiel 36:37." In the preceding context we are informed that Moab had rebelled against Israel, and that the kings of Israel, of Judah, and of Edom united their forces in order to reduce them to their former state of subjection. In prosecution of this purpose they were left of God to adopt such measures as nearly proved fatal to the confederate armies. They attempted to pass through the wilderness of Edom, where they were in danger of perishing for want of water. Then, but not until then, did they think of making their application to Jehovah. Jehoshaphat, a pious king, proposed it, and the other two from the pressure of their necessity united in it. Elisha, doubtless by the gracious appointment of Providence, was in the camp at the time; and at the request of the three kings, undertook to lay their case before the Lord. The Lord bade him inform them that he would not only give them a miraculous supply of water, but would deliver the Moabites into their hands. The supply of water, without the intervention of any natural cause, was given; and the Moabites, mistaking the reflection of the sun upon the water for blood, supposed that the confederate armies had destroyed each other; and going therefore securely to take the spoil, were themselves destroyed. The remnant of them with their king taking refuge in a fortress, the king brought forth his eldest son, and offered him for a burnt-offering in the sight of all his enemies. We shall,
I. Inquire into the reasons of this extraordinary act—
Reduced to the greatest extremity, he resorted to this expedient,
1. To propitiate his gods—
The gods of the heathen are supposed to delight in sacrifices, and to regard them in proportion to the worth and estimation of them in the minds of the offerers. Hence they are supposed above all to be pleased with human sacrifices: and hence their votaries have offered to them even their own sons and daughters, with the hope of conciliating their favor. Even the Israelites themselves, when they had departed from their God, practiced these impious and cruel rites Psalm 106:37-38. The king of Moab, now looking to his gods for help, presented to them as an offering his own, his eldest son, as being confessedly of more value, and dearer to himself, than all that he possessed. While we lament that Satan should have ever so blinded the eyes of men, we cannot but be filled with shame when we reflect, how little we have ever sacrificed to our offended God. We all know that he has abundant reason to be displeased with us: and we know that "a broken and contrite spirit is a sacrifice which he will never despise:" but how few of us are willing to offer it! how few are at all anxious about his favor, or will exercise any self-denial in order to obtain it! Will not that ignorant heathen rise up in judgment against us?.
2. To intimidate his enemies—
He offered his son "upon the wall" in the sight of all his enemies. What an idea did that give them of his determination to sacrifice everything rather than surrender to his enemies, and to sell his life as dear as possible! We cannot doubt but that this act of his was publicly known among the besiegers as well as the besieged: and, methinks, it must strike them all with horror to reflect, that they had driven him to such an awful act of desperation; and no doubt it tended also to inflame the hatred of his own subjects against them to the uttermost. We are told indeed that this effect ensued; for "they had great indignation against Israel;" who being the principals in the war, (while the other two kings were only allies,) were the more immediate objects of their resentment The burning of Moscow by the Russians, on Buonaparte's invasion of Russia in 1812, to prevent it from being serviceable to their enemies, was an act somewhat similar, and tended not a little to convince the French that the complete conquest of Russia would be no easy matter. In fact, it produced the same effect as the expedient of the king of Moab did; it caused his enemies to depart, without pursuing any further the advantages they had already gained. And certainly the expedient so far succeeded, that his victorious enemies "departed from him, and returned to their own land."
Having seen the reasons of that extraordinary act, we proceed to,
II. Suggest some reflections naturally arising from it—
We observe then,
1. How great are the calamities of war!
Dreadful indeed were the evils inflicted on the land of Moab: "the cities were beaten down; every good piece of land was marred with stones; the wells were all filled up; and every good tree leveled with the ground." True it is that these judgments were inflicted by the command of God; and therefore the agents who inflicted them were blameless: but the warfare which has so long desolated Europe, and especially that which has recently been carried on in its more northern states, has partaken much of the same spirit, and proved almost equally fetal to the happiness of millions. What reason then have we to bless our God, that, notwithstanding all the menaces of our enemies, this happy land has not been made the theater of war! And with what alacrity should we contribute for the relief and comfort of our suffering allies!: Let us learn to sympathize even with our enemies, and to moderate our joy at the victories we obtain, by feelings of compassion for the miseries we inflict.
2. How pitiable is the ignorance of the heathen!
Who can forbear to pity that afflicted king, who had recourse to such an unnatural expedient as that of murdering his own son in order to pacify the deities he adored? Yet such are the methods by which the heathen almost universally endeavor to appease their gods. When once they begin to ask, "With which shall I come before my God?" they proceed to say, "Shall I give my first-born for my transgression; the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul Mic. 6:7." Even among our fellow-subjects in India, there are thousands, perhaps many thousands, sacrificed every year, under the idea that such offerings are pleasing to the gods whom they worship. Should we hear of such transactions then with indifference? Should not a holy zeal be stirred up within us, to turn the heathen, if possible, from those vanities, to serve the living and true God? O that we felt for the honor of God, and for the good of man, as we ought to do; and that they especially who call themselves ministers of Christ were more willing to spend and be spent in the service of their Lord! Alas! how few are those that are willing to forego their carnal ease and worldly interests, to save their benighted and perishing fellow-creatures! A call to accept a lucrative situation is soon acknowledged and easily obeyed: but God may call us long enough to go and labor among the heathen, and we neither regard his voice, nor listen to his proposals. If ever there was a time that peculiarly called for missionary exertions, methinks this is that time: for never was there such a zeal for disseminating the Holy Scriptures as at this time; never were so many societies raised up to consider the state both of Jews and Gentiles, as at this moment. This alone is a call from God to contribute, each according to his ability, to the advancement of our Redeemer's kingdom, and to the salvation of a ruined world.
3. How rich are the provisions of the Gospel!
We all, as sinners, have reason to fear, that God is displeased with us. But we need not sacrifice an eldest son to avert his wrath: no: blessed be his name! he himself has given us "a Lamb for a burnt-offering," even his only dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This sacrifice was once offered on Mount Calvary; and it was offered, not to intimidate, but encourage us; not to menace us with ruin, but to open for us a way of everlasting salvation. With this sacrifice he was well pleased: he smelled a sweet savor at the very instant it was offered; and from respect to it, he is reconciled to his most inveterate enemies. What thanks do we owe to God for such a wonderful provision as this! How delightful should it be to us to hear, that "God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all!" Let us dwell upon the joyful sound: let us put away all those vain hopes which we are apt to substitute in the place of this: and let us look to Christ for all the ends and purposes for which he was sent. Are we afraid that God is angry with us? let us seek reconciliation with him through the blood of our adorable Redeemer. Are we desirous of repelling all our spiritual enemies? let us "be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might:" let us "resist the devil" in the strength of Christ, and "he will flee from us." In Christ there is all that we can stand in need of. We are expressly taught to say, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strength." "In him therefore let us rejoice always;" for, as "in him we shall be justified, so in him we should glory Isaiah 45:24-25."
2 Kings 4:6
THE WIDOW'S OIL INCREASED
2 Kings 4:6. And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed.
FROM every event recorded in the Old Testament, there is much useful instruction to be derived. For instance, it is impossible to read with attention the account of the miracle before us, and not to see, that, in our deepest extremity, God is able and willing to relieve those who trust in him. But there are often minute incidents, which a superficial reader is apt to overlook, but which, to a considerate mind, suggest very important reflections. Of this kind is the incident mentioned in my text: the increase of oil continued as long as there was a vessel left to contain it; but when there remained no more a vessel to receive the oil, the supply ceased. So remarkable a circumstance as this cannot have occurred without a special design on the part of God that we should make a suitable improvement of it: and, that we may draw from it the instruction which it is well calculated to convey, I shall mark,
I. The bounty of God towards this insolvent widow—
Certainly her distress was great—
She was the widow of a pious minister. Her late husband was one of the sons of the prophets: and so decided had been his piety, that she could appeal to the prophet himself, "You know that your servant did fear the Lord." He had died in debt; not through any extravagance of his: for a man that will run into debt for the purpose of indulging his pride and vanity, has no pretensions to real piety. Piety would teach him to "owe no man anything," and to deny himself any gratification rather than obtain it at the expense of common honesty. But in the days of Ahab and Jezebel, when a hundred prophets were hid by fifties in a cave, and fed with bread and water, at the expense of a single individual, to prevent their falling into the hands of their blood-thirsty persecutor, we wonder not that a pious minister should be involved in debt. And, indeed, at any time a man may be so oppressed with misfortunes or with sickness, as to preclude a possibility of avoiding debt, especially if he have, like this man, a wife and family to maintain.
But, to add to her affliction, she was warned by her creditors, that they would take her two sons, and sell them for bond-men. This the law enabled them to do Leviticus 25:39-40; Matthew 18:25; and this would exceedingly augment her trouble, since to her widowhood and poverty would be added the loss of her sons, who were her only hope and support.
Under this heavy calamity she applied to the Prophet Elisha; who, though not able to relieve her himself, might possibly obtain relief for her from God.
The relief afforded her, through the instrumentality of Elisha, was fully adequate to her necessities—
The prophet interrogated her as to the means which were yet left her of discharging her debts: and being informed that nothing remained to her but a pot of oil, he directed her to borrow as many vessels as she could of her neighbors, and, with her doors closed in order to avoid the distraction which might be occasioned by impertinent curiosity, to pour out the oil into the vessels, under a full assurance that it should be so multiplied as to prove a supply for all her wants. The event fully answered her expectations: and in one hour she had enough to pay all her creditors, and to support herself and family for the future. Thus, in the hour of her necessity, did she experience the truth of that proverb, "In the mount the Lord shall be seen."
But the point to which we wish more particularly to draw your attention is, the stopping of the supply, when there were no more vessels to be filled. And this, while it shows how large God's bounty is, shows also,
II. Whence it is that we also are not more enriched by it—
Our state accords in a measure with that of the insolvent widow, inasmuch as we are loaded with a debt which we can never discharge, and are threatened with everlasting bonds as the just consequence of our insolvency. But from God do I declare,
1. That relief shall be afforded you—
God is both able and willing to relieve all who call upon him. He is able; as the Apostle has said: "God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that you, always having all-sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work 2 Corinthians 9:8." And to God he ascribes all glory, in that precise view: "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think, according to the power that works in us, unto him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end, Amen Ephesians 3:20." And He is as willing as he is able. It is for this very end that he has treasured up in Christ all fullness for us, that out of it we may receive to the utmost extent of our necessities Colossians 1:19; John 1:16. In Christ is "the residue of the Spirit Malachi 2:15;" whom he has "received without measure John 3:34," on purpose that he may impart of it unto us, even to the most rebellious among us Psalm 68:18.
2. That if we receive not to the fullest possible extent of our necessities, it is "not in God that we are straitened, but in ourselves 2 Corinthians 6:12."—
Most free are the invitations given us to come and receive God's blessings "without money and without price Isaiah 55:1." And so largely is our Savior willing to bestow them, that "they should be in us a well of water springing up unto everlasting life John 4:14." Yes, to all, without exception, does he make an offer, that, if they come unto him for the waters of life, "out of their belly shall flow rivers of living water." "And this spoke he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive John 7:37-39." He is represented by the Prophet Zechariah as an inexhaustible fountain, even as that golden bowl which by golden pipes supplies with golden oil every lamp in God's sanctuary Zechariah 4:1-6; Zechariah 4:11-14. He bids us "open our mouth wide, that he may fill it Psalm 81:10." He assures us that we may "ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us John 15:7;" and that "according to our faith it shall be done unto us Matthew 9:29." Why, then, have we for the most part so scanty a supply of God's Holy Spirit? The reason may be seen in the conduct of king Joash. Elisha had told him that he should destroy the Syrians who had oppressed him: and he bade the king to strike the ground with the arrows which he had in his hand. The king, being deficient both in faith and zeal, struck the ground only three times, and thereby greatly incensed the prophet against him; and was told, that the mercy promised should be reduced to the scale which he himself, by his want of zeal, had dictated: for he should smite the Syrians only thrice; whereas, if he had struck the ground five or six times, he should have utterly consumed them 2 Kings 13:15-19. Thus, if we were more urgent in our prayers, and more enlarged in our expectations, who can tell what supplies of the Holy Spirit we might obtain? Truly I speak not too strongly, if I say, that God would "pour him out so abundantly upon us Titus 3:6," that we should "be filled with all the fullness of God Ephesians 3:19."
This, then, I would desire of you, my Brethren:
1. Beg of God to make you sensible of your wants—
You are not a whit less indigent than that insolvent widow. But the testimony of faith is weak in comparison of that of sense. You see how bent she was on obtaining relief: let me entreat you to follow her steps in this respect; and to ask of God himself, who has promised to "supply all your wants according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus Philippians 4:19."
2. Assign no limits to the supplies which he will afford you—
See what God did on the day of Pentecost: three thousand were converted in one hour! And why should not his grace abound in like manner towards us? He has said, that "a nation shall be born in a day Isaiah 66:8;" and that "when he shall breathe upon the dry bones, the dead shall arise a whole army Ezekiel 37:9-10." Enlarge, then, your expectations, to the utmost extent of God's power and grace. And, if a doubt arise whether your insignificance or unworthiness shall not divert his attention from you, or arrest his arm, know, and be assured, that no father upon earth would so readily supply the wants of his first-born child, as God would fulfill your desires in the gift of his Holy Spirit to your souls Luke 11:13. "Ask, and you shall receive; and your joy shall be full John 16:24."
2 Kings 4:13
CONTENTMENT ILLUSTRATED IN THE SHUNAMITE
2 Kings 4:13. What is to be done for you? Would you be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host? And she answered, I dwell among mine own people.
"TO be content with such things as we have" is a very rare acquirement. Every one imagines that some change of circumstances, and especially some addition to his fortune, will increase his happiness. But the answer of the Shunamite to the Prophet Elisha may well dissipate this delusion. She, in concurrence with her husband, had provided accommodation for the prophet, that, when he was proceeding on his journeys in the discharge of his ministerial office, and should have occasion to visit Shunem, he might have a place of repose under her roof. The prophet, sensible of her great kindness, and thankful for all the care she had taken of him, proposed to do anything she might wish for the promotion of her interests. He offered to speak for her to the captain of the host, or even to the king himself, if he might thereby obtain for her and her husband anything that might conduce to their comfort. But she declined his kind offer, saying, "I dwell among mine own people," and possess in my fellowship with them all that my heart can desire.
Now this was a wise and good reply. It commends itself to us as the dictate of a sound judgment,
I. On the principles of worldly wisdom—
Advancement in the world was offered her, but she preferred,
1. A state of independence to a state of obligation—
No man should be ashamed of a state of dependence, or of being indebted to the kind offices of others, if God has put him into a situation that requires it. God has ordained that there shall be a great diversity in the conditions of men, on purpose that every species of virtue may be called forth into act and exercise; in the poor, contentment, and in the rich, a liberal and tender sympathy. But to be needlessly dependent upon others is most disgraceful. No man should exist on alms when he is able to support himself. It was a blessing which God promised to his obedient people, when he said, "You shall lend to many nations, but shall not borrow; since by the one they would be the head, whereas by the other they would be in the degraded situation of the tail Deuteronomy 28:12-13." It was a virtuous pride therefore in this woman to decline a state of dependence, when God had given her a sufficiency for independence.
2. A state of competency to a state of affluence—
She had food and clothing; What could she have more? An abundance of the things of this life is usually productive of care, and always exposes us to temptation; while yet the possessor of it has "no other benefit from it than, that of beholding it with his eyes Ecclesiastes 5:11. See also Psalm 37:16; Proverbs 15:16; Ecclesiastes 4:6; Matthew 6:25-30." Why then should any man affect worldly advancement? "A man's life consists not in the abundance of the things that he possesses Luke 12:15." True wisdom therefore dictates to every man the advice, which Jeremiah gave to Baruch, "Seek you great things unto yourself? Seek them not Jeremiah 45:5."
3. A state of domestic quiet to all the happiness that arises from external and adventitious circumstances—
It is a great mistake to imagine that happiness can be found in amusements of any kind. They involve no small measure of trouble in the pursuit of them, and they almost always issue in disappointment. At all events they are but "as the crackling of thorns under a pot," which blaze for a moment, and then expire in smoke and darkness Ecclesiastes 7:6. But in filling up our station in life with diligence, and administering to the welfare of all around us, there is real happiness. However much we diversify the objects of our pursuit abroad, we never attain any solid satisfaction: "The eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing Ecclesiastes 1:8." But, when we move in our domestic circle, like the sun in its course, diffusing light and comfort all around us, we possess that state of peaceful tranquility, which, for a continuance, is the most enviable frame on earth.
If in a mere worldly view, and on the principles of common sense, this woman's choice was commendable, much more was it so,
II. On the principles of Christian piety—
Let two things only be considered;
1. How little can any worldly things add to the happiness of a believing soul!
Pleasure, riches, and honor are the great objects of men's idolatrous regard. But what pleasure can the world afford in comparison of "that peace which passes all understanding," and that "joy which is unspeakable and glorified," both of which are the believer's portion from day to day? And what are gold and silver when compared with "the unsearchable riches of Christ," which are ministered even to the poorest and meanest of God's saints? What, too, are the most elevated titles upon earth, when put in competition with that of being "sons of God, and joint-heirs with Christ?" If we could imagine two angels sent from Heaven, one to rule an empire, and the other to sweep the streets, they would be equally happy in discharging the offices assigned them, because they would have no happiness but in God. And so it is with us, in proportion as we are renewed by divine grace: we shall, "in whatever state we are placed, be therewith content," and, while "having nothing, consider ourselves as possessing all things."
2. How entirely our future abundance depends on our present moderation!
We are told by our Lord that "The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and render it unfruitful:" and we see in Demas this sad effect: "Demas has forsaken us, having loved this present evil world." The things of this life are as "thick clay to the feet" of one who is running a race, or as "a long garment" that impedes his every step. Hence we are told to cast off both the one and the other, that we may "so run as to obtain the prize." Now no one would doubt the wisdom of complying with this advice when striving for an earthly crown; nor can any one doubt it in reference to the spiritual "race that is set before us." Hence, when the question was put to David, "Who will show us any good?" he replied, "Lord, lift you up the light of your countenance upon us Psalm 4:6."
Seeing now that this Shunamite's choice was so wise, let us inquire,
1. Whence it is that this disposition is so rare—
She improved for the Lord the property she possessed. She spent it not on carnal gratifications, but devoted what she could to pious uses. Now by acting on that principle we suppress all worldly-mindedness, and attain a superiority to all covetous desires. But how few do act on that principle! How few regard their property as given them of the Lord for the carrying on of his service, and for the promotion of his glory! Hence it is that worldly advancement is so coveted; and that few, with such prospects as were now opened to this pious woman, would have the wisdom or the fortitude to follow her example.
2. How we may attain it—
Nothing will so soon or so effectually deliver us from worldly desires, as the acquisition and experience of heavenly joys. Our Lord told the Samaritan woman that "whoever should drink of Jacob's well, would thirst again; but that whoever should drink of the water that he would give, should never thirst." And so we find it invariably. "By the cross of Christ, the world will become crucified unto us, and we unto the world." Let us then "set our affections on things above, and not on things on the earth:" so shall we both advance our happiness here, and secure a more exalted happiness in the realms above.
2 Kings 4:26
ALL THE DISPENSATIONS OF PROVIDENCE ARE GOOD
2 Kings 4:26. And she answered, It is well.
TO serve the Lord with our talents is the best possible improvement of them. Even as it respects this life, we never exert ourselves truly for God without receiving from him, in some way or other, an abundant recompense. Behold the pious Shunamite: being provided richly with the good things of this life, she gladly imparted of them to the Prophet Elisha; and, with her husband's approbation, provided for him a comfortable accommodation in her house. The prophet, full of gratitude, desired to requite her kindness, and for that end would have exerted his influence with the king in any way that she should desire: but her contented disposition rendered all such services unnecessary. There was, however, one service which he might render. She had no child, which to a Jewish woman was a great calamity: and he might intercede with God to bestow upon her this blessing. Accordingly he did so, and prevailed: and thus her generous hospitality was richly rewarded. But she had a still better reward in her soul: for under an exceedingly deep affliction, she was enabled to make the declaration in our text, "It is well."
In considering this declaration, we shall notice,
I. The circumstances under which it was made—
This son had no sooner arrived at an age to render himself amusing to his parents, than he was removed by sudden death. In great affliction the mother set off instantly to the prophet; who, seeing her at a distance, sent immediately to inquire after the welfare of herself, her husband, and her child: and to each inquiry she replied, "It is well."
1. Her resignation—
Her affliction would have been great, if she had had other children left: but to lose her only son, her son miraculously given, and to have him so suddenly snatched away, was a calamity which might have utterly overwhelmed her. That she felt deeply was manifest, from the manner in which she prostrated herself at the prophet's feet, and from the plea she urged with him to intercede in her behalf: "Did I desire a son of my lord? Did I not say, Do not deceive me?" that is, If I had indulged an inordinate desire after this blessing, I might well have expected this severe chastisement: but when it was given me unsolicited, as a reward for my attentions to you, surely it was not given merely to mock me, and to augment my sorrows. But, notwithstanding the anguish of her mind, she was enabled to leave the matter in God's hands, and to say, "It is well." Thus did she tread in the steps of Aaron Leviticus 10:3, of Eli 1 Samuel 3:18, of David Psalm 39:9, and of Job, Job 1:21; and afforded an example of patience to the Church in all ages.
2. Her faith—
She had not indeed any promise to rest upon; but she had a persuasion that God was gracious, and would hear the prayers of his servant in her behalf. Hence it was that she put the child upon the prophet's bed, and hastened with such speed to him, and pleaded her cause with him in such an affecting manner. In this view the history before us is referred to in the Epistle to the Hebrews; "By faith women received their dead raised to life again Hebrews 11:35;" and in this noble exercise of faith, she approved herself a true daughter of Abraham, who offered up his son Isaac, from a persuasion "that God was able to raise him up again, even from the dead Hebrews 11:17-19." This divine principle calmed her spirits and composed her mind: and, wherever the same principle exists, it will produce a similar composure, in proportion as its operation is encouraged and felt.
Her declaration was scarcely more the language of faith than it was of prophecy; as appears from,
II. The events whereby it was verified—
The prophet instantly complied with her request, and sent his servant Gehazi to lay his staff upon the face of the child, with a view to his recovery. But in this he appears to have acted without any direction from God, and without that humble reference to God which the occasion demanded: and therefore God rebuked him by not accompanying the attempt with his blessing. The prophet, finding that his desire had failed, sought the Lord with all humility and earnestness; and, by means similar to those which had before been successfully used by Elijah, he obtained of God the restoration of the child to life Compare verse 34, 35 with 1 Kings 17:21. The gestures were used, not as means to an end, but as emblematic of the blessing desired. Who now must not acknowledge the truth of the mother's declaration? Truly, "it was well," and the dispensation, though afflictive, was good,
1. As exercising and confirming her graces—
How would it have been known that she possessed the graces of faith and resignation, if somewhat had not occurred to call them forth? and how could they have been strengthened, if not exercised? The pruning of the vine is therefore good, because it tends to augment its fruitfulness John 15:2; and the putting of the choicest vessel into a furnace is good, as tending to fit it for the master's use 2 Timothy 2:21. Thus is "tribulation good, as working patience, experience, and hope Romans 5:3-5; Hebrews 12:11." Hence we are authorized rather to congratulate the saints upon their trials, than condole with them James 1:2-3; James 5:11; Romans 8:28; and the universal testimony of God's people, after they have come out of their troubles, accords with that of the Psalmist, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted Psalm 119:67; Psalm 119:71."
2. As displaying and magnifying God's perfections—
This trial of hers occasioned an application to God in her behalf: and how marvelous did the condescension of God appear in listening to the voice of his servant, and in granting his petitions! How glorious too was the display of his power! And was not a momentary suffering good, when it was an occasion of bringing so much glory to Jehovah? Is there a saint in the universe that would not gladly endure even more than that, for the attainment of so blessed an end? St Paul desired nothing so much as that God might be glorified in him; and, provided his Lord and "Savior might only be magnified in his body," he was indifferent whether it were "by life or by death Philippians 1:20." And, wherever the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, not even life itself will be dear to us, except as it may be improved, or sacrificed for him.
1. Be not hasty to judge the dispensations of Providence—
God's ways are in the great deep; his footsteps are not known: and often those very dispensations, of which we are ready to say with Jacob, "All these things are against me," are in reality the greatest blessings that God can bestow. Behold the case of Job; how glorious was the issue of his trials Job 42:11-16. And, if we could see the end from the beginning as God does, we should pronounce a similar verdict on every trial that we are called to endure. The forty years' sojourning in the wilderness was a dark dispensation; yet we are told, "God led his people in the right way:" so he leads us also in the right way; and when we get to Heaven we shall bless him as fervently for all the troubles we sustained, as for any comfort we ever enjoyed.
2. Be not backward to improve them—
Every trial has a voice to us, and is calculated to teach us some important lesson Job 33:14-17; Job 33:29-30. Hence the prophet says, "Hear the rod, and him that has appointed it Mic. 6:9." Consider then what it is intended to speak to you: take occasion from it to examine your ways, to see wherein you may have erred, or wherein you may amend your ways. Thus will every event be made a blessing to your souls; and Samson's riddle be verified in you; "Out of the eater you will bring forth meat, and out of the strong you will bring forth sweet."
2 Kings 5:13
NAAMAN HEALED OF HIS LEPROSY
2 Kings 5:13. And his servants came near, and spoke unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid you do some great thing, would you not have done it? how much rather then, when he says to you, Wash, and be clean?
MEN universally claim a right to "do what they will with their own;" but they are extremely averse to concede that right to God. Indeed there is scarcely any doctrine against which the carnal heart rises with such acrimony, as against the sovereignty of God. Nevertheless we must maintain that the Governor of the universe orders everything after the counsel of his own will, and dispenses his gifts "according to his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself." He once chose the Jews for his peculiar people, not for the sake of any righteousness of theirs, but because he had ordained that he would magnify his grace in them: and for the same reason has he now transferred his favors to the Gentiles. Our Lord, in his first sermon at Nazareth, warned his hearers, that, if they rejected his gracious overtures, the blessings of his Gospel should be transferred to the Gentile world: and, to show them how futile all their objections were, and how delusive their hopes of impunity in sin, he reminded them, that God had in many instances given mercy to Gentiles, not only in conjunction with his people, but even in opposition to them: for that there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha; but them had God overlooked, while he showed mercy to Naaman the Syrian Luke 4:27.
The history to which our Lord referred, is that which is contained in the chapter before us: which we propose to consider,
I. In a way of literal interpretation—
Under the pressure of a leprosy, which was an incurable disorder, Naaman, the Syrian, applied to Elisha for a cure. Doubtless everything that the Syrian physicians could devise had been tried, but to no purpose. It happened however that an Israelitish maid, whom the Syrians had taken captive, was living in the service of Naaman; and that she, knowing what great miracles had been wrought by Elisha, suggested, that by an application to him her master might be restored to health. The idea being suggested to Naaman, he determined without delay to apply for a cure. This he did erroneously at first to the king of Israel; but afterwards to Elisha himself: but through his own folly and wickedness he nearly lost the benefit which he was so eager to obtain: for, instead of following the direction given him by the prophet, "he turned, and went away in a rage verse 12." Here let us pause to inquire, what it was that so nearly robbed him of the desired blessing? It was,
1. His offended pride—
He had come in great state, and with rich rewards in his hand, to the house of a poor prophet: and the prophet had not deigned to come out to him, but had only sent him word what he must do in order to a cure. This was considered by Naaman as an insufferable insult. In his own country he was regarded with the utmost deference; and was he now to be treated with such indignity by a contemptible Israelite? No: he would not listen for a moment to a message sent him in so rude a way.
Alas! what an enemy to human happiness is pride! How acute are its feelings! how hasty its judgment! how impetuous its actings! But thus it is with all who have high ideas of their own importance. They stop not to inquire whether any insult is intended; but construing everything according to their own conceptions, they are as full of resentment on account of a imagined insult, as they would be if they had sustained the greatest injury: and in many instances do they sacrifice their most important interests to this self-applauding, but delusive, passion.
2. His disappointed expectation—
Naaman had formed an idea of the manner in which the prophet would effect the cure: nor do we at all condemn the notions he had formed. But what right had he to be offended because the cure was not wrought with all the formalities that he had pictured to himself? If he received the benefit, did it signify to him in what way he received it? or had he any right to dictate to the prophet and to God, in what way the cure should be wrought? Yet behold, because his own expectations were not realized, he breaks out into a passion, and will not accept the blessing in God's appointed way.
This throws a great light on innumerable occasions of offence which are taken even among good people. We paint to ourselves the way in which we think others ought to act; and then, because they do not answer our expectations, we are offended. We forget that another person may not view everything in precisely the same light that we do, or have exactly the same judgment about the best mode of acting under any given circumstances; and yet, as though we were infallible, and the other person were in full possession of our ideas, we are offended at him for not acting as we would have him; when most probably we ourselves, had we been in his situation, should not have followed the line of conduct which we had marked out for him. It is surprising how much disquietude this mistaken spirit occasions in men's own minds, and how many disagreements it produces in the world.
3. His reigning unbelief—
Though Naaman came expecting that a miracle should be wrought by the prophet, yet would he not use the means which the prophet prescribed. He did not expect the effect to be produced by the power of God, but by the mere act of washing in a river; and then he concluded, that the rivers of his own country were as competent to the end desired, as any river in Israel. Thus, because he saw not the suitableness of the means to the end, he would not use the means in order to the end, notwithstanding they were so easy, and so safe.
It is thus that unbelief continually argues: 'God, I am told, would do such and such things for me, if I would apply to him in the use of such and such particular means: but what can those means effect?' This is an absurd mode of arguing: for, when God commanded Moses to smite the rock with his rod, did the promised effect not follow, because a stroke of his rod could not of itself produce it? God can work equally by means or without means; and whatever he prescribes, that it is our wisdom to do, in full expectation that what he promises shall surely be accomplished.
When Naaman was made sensible of his folly, and complied with the direction of the prophet, then his disorder vanished; and "his flesh became like the flesh of a little child." And thus shall we find in relation to everything which God has promised, that "according to our faith it will be unto us."
We now proceed to consider this history,
II. In a way of spiritual accommodation—
We are not in general disposed to take Scripture in any other than its true and primary sense: though, as the inspired writers occasionally take passages of Holy Writ in an accommodated sense, we feel it to be a liberty which on some particular occasions we are warranted to take. We think it would be too much to say that this history was intended to show how the Gentiles are to be washed from the guilt of sin; but sure we are that it is well adapted for that end: and, as the leprosy was certainly a type of sin, and the mode of purification from it was certainly typical of our purification from sin by the Redeemer's blood, we feel no impropriety in accommodating this history to elucidate the Gospel of Christ.
We have here, then, a lively representation of,
1. The character of the Gospel—
Sin is absolutely incurable by any human means: but God has "opened a fountain for sin and for impurity;" and has bidden us to "wash in it and be clean:" he has even reasoned with us, as Naaman's servants did with him, saying, "Come now, let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool." In all the word of God there is not a more beautiful illustration of the Gospel method of salvation than this. We are simply required to wash in the blood of Christ by faith; and in so doing we shall immediately be cleansed from all sin. And with this agrees the direction given to the jailer, (the only one that can with propriety be given to one who inquires after the way of salvation,) "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved."
2. The treatment it meets with—
Multitudes not only disregard it, but turn from it with disgust. In their eyes, the direction, "Wash and be clean," "Believe and be saved," is too simple, too free, too humiliating.
It is too simple. What! have I nothing to do, but to believe? Will this remove all my guilt? it cannot be.
It is too free. Surely some good works are necessary to prepare me for the Savior, and to make me in some measure worthy of his favor. Must I receive everything without money and without price, and acknowledge to all eternity that it is altogether the free gift of God in Christ Jesus, as free as the light I see, or the air I breathe? I cannot but regard such a proposal as subversive of all morality.
Lastly, It is too humiliating. Must I no more bring my good deeds than my bad ones, and no more hope for mercy on account of my past life than publicans and harlots can for theirs? This is a mode of righteousness which I never can, nor will, submit to Romans 10:3.
Now persons who argue thus against the Gospel, are not unfrequently full of indignation against it, and against all who believe it. If called upon to do some great thing for the Gospel, they would engage in it gladly, and do it with all their might: but, if invited to accept its benefits by faith alone, they resent the offer as a wild conceit and an Antinomian delusion.
From the striking resemblance which there is between the conduct of Naaman and that of those who reject the Gospel, we shall take occasion to add a few words of advice—
1. Bring not to the Gospel any pre-conceived notions of your own—
Every man, of necessity, forms to himself some idea of the way in which he is to obtain acceptance with God: but when we come to the Holy Scriptures, we must lay aside all our own vain conceits, and sit at the feet of Jesus, to learn what he has spoken, and to do what he has commanded. We must not dictate to God what he shall say, but with the docility of little children receive instruction from him.
2. Let not passion dictate in matters of religion—
Many who hear perhaps a single sermon, or even a single expression, are offended, and shut their ears against the truth from that time. But, if candid investigation be ever called for, surely it is required in the concerns of religion; where the truths proposed must of necessity be offensive to the carnal mind, and where the consequences of admitting or rejecting them must so deeply affect our everlasting welfare.
3. Be willing to take advice even from your inferiors—
Naaman, under the influence of pride and passion, thought himself right in rejecting the proposals of the prophet: but his servants saw how erroneously he judged, and how absurdly he acted. Thus many who are our inferiors in station or learning may see how unreasonably we act in the concerns of our souls, and especially in rejecting the Gospel of Christ. The Lord grant that we may be willing to listen to those who see more clearly than ourselves, and be as ready to use God's method of cleansing for our souls, as Naaman was for the healing of his body!
4. Make trial of the method proposed for your salvation—
No sooner did Naaman submit to use the means prescribed, than he derived from them all the benefit that he could desire. And shall any one go to Christ in vain? Shall any one wash in the fountain of his blood in vain? No: the most leprous of mankind shall be healed of his disorders; and the wonders of Bethesda's pool be renewed in all that will descend into it. Only remember that you must wash there seven times. You must not go to any other fountain to begin or perfect your cure: in Christ, and in Christ alone, you must seek all that your souls can stand in need of.
2 Kings 5:18-19
NAAMAN BOWING IN THE HOUSE OF RIMMON
2 Kings 5:18-19. In this thing the Lord pardon your servant, that when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this thing. And he said unto him, Go in peace.
THE operation of divine grace is uniform in every age and place: it makes a total revolution in the views and habits of the person in whom it dwells. See how it wrought on Naaman! Before he felt its influence he was full of pride and unbelief; and notwithstanding his request for the healing of his leprosy was granted, yet because it was not granted in the precise way that he expected, he would not comply with the directions of the prophet, but "turned, and went away in a rage." But, when his leprosy was healed, and in conjunction with that mercy the grace of God wrought powerfully upon his soul, he returned with most heartfelt gratitude to the prophet, renounced his idol-worship, and devoted himself altogether to the God of Israel. At the same time however that he embraced the true religion, he made a request, which has been differently interpreted by different commentators; some vindicating it as illustrative of a tender conscience, and others condemning it as an indication of an unsound mind.
We think that great and learned men are apt to judge of particular passages, according as their own general views and habits of life incline them: those who are lax in their own conduct, leaning too much to a laxity of interpretation; and those who are strict in their principles, not daring, as it were, to concede to men the liberty which God has given them We conceive that few Christians in the world would have approved of the statement in Romans 14 if it had not been contained in the inspired volume. But we should neither abridge the Christian's liberty, nor extend it beyond its just bounds: and we apprehend that the passage before us will assist us materially in assigning to it its proper limits, and will itself receive the most satisfactory interpretation when viewed according to its plain and obvious import.
We propose then to consider,
I. The concession here made—
We do not hesitate to call Elisha's answer a concession. To regard it as an evasion of the question is to dishonor the prophet exceedingly, and to contradict the plainest import of his words. His answer is precisely the same as that of Jethro to Moses Exodus 4:18; and must be interpreted as an approbation of the plan proposed to him. Let us consider then the true import of Naaman's question—
Naaman proposed to continue in the king of Syria's service, and to attend him as usual to the house of Rimmon, the God whom his master worshiped: and as his master always leaned upon his arm on those occasions, (a practice common with kings at that time, even with the kings of Israel, as well as others 2 Kings 7:2; 2 Kings 7:17,) he must of necessity accommodate himself to his master's motion, and bow forward when he did, in order not to obstruct him in his worship. This he proposed to do; and his communication of his intentions to the prophet must be understood in a two-fold view; namely, As an inquiry for the regulation of his judgment, and as a guard against a misconstruction of his conduct.
The case was certainly one of great difficulty, and especially to a young convert, to whom such considerations were altogether new. On the one hand, he felt in his own mind that he should not participate in the worship of his master; and yet he felt that his conduct would be open to such a construction. Having therefore access to an inspired prophet, he was glad to have his difficulty solved, that so he might act as became a servant of Jehovah, and enjoy the testimony of a good conscience.
Being determined, if the prophet should approve of it, so to act, he desired to cut off all occasion for blame from others. He knew how ready people are to view things in an unfavorable light; and that, if he should do this thing of himself, he might appear to be unfaithful to his convictions, and to have relapsed into idolatry: he therefore entered, as it were, a protest against any such surmises, and gave a public pledge that he would do nothing that should be inconsistent with his professed attachment to Jehovah.
In this view of the subject, his question was every way right and proper. The honor of God and the salvation of his own soul depended on his not doing anything that should be inconsistent with his profession; and therefore he did right to ask advice: and lest he should by any means cast a stumbling-block before others, he did well in explaining his views and intentions beforehand. What terrible evils had well near arisen from the neglect of such a precaution, when the tribes of Reuben and of Gad erected an altar on the banks of Jordan Joshua 22:9-34; On the other hand, what evils were avoided, when Paul explained his sentiments in the first instance privately to the elders of Jerusalem, instead of exciting prejudice and clamor by a hasty and indiscriminate avowal of them in public Galatians 2:2. It is thus that we should act with all possible circumspection, not only avoiding evil, but "abstaining as much as possible from the very appearance of it 1 Thessalonians. 5:22;" and not only doing good, but endeavoring to prevent "our good from being evil spoken of Romans 14:16."
The import of the answer given to it—
This answer is not to be understood as a connivance at what was evil, but as an acknowledgment that Naaman might expect the divine blessing while pursuing the conduct he had proposed. Can we imagine that Naaman at that moment saw the thing to be evil, and yet desired a dispensation to commit it? Did he, at the very moment that he was rejecting all false gods, and acknowledging Jehovah as the only true God, and determining to build an altar to Jehovah in his own country, and desiring earth from Jehovah's land to build it upon, did he then, I say, at that moment ask for a licence to play the hypocrite? and can we suppose that he would confess such an intention to Elisha, and ask his sanction to it? or can we imagine that Elisha, knowing this, would approve of it, or give an evasive answer, instead of reprobating such impiety? Assuredly not: the request itself, as made on that occasion, must of necessity have proceeded from an upright mind; and the prophet's concession is an indisputable proof, that the request, made under those particular circumstances, was approved by him. Elisha saw that Naaman was upright: he knew that the bowing or not bowing was a matter of indifference in itself; and that, where it was not done as an act of dissimulation, nor was likely to be mistaken by others as an act of worship, it might be done with a good conscience; more especially as it was accompanied with a public disavowal of all regard for idols; and arose only out of the accidental circumstance of the king leaning on his hand at those seasons. In this view of the subject, the prophet did not hesitate to say to him, "Go in peace."
Such, we are persuaded, was the concession made. Let us now proceed to consider,
II. The instruction to be gathered from it—
The more carefully we examine this concession, the more instructive will it be found. We may learn from it,
1. How to determine the quality of doubtful actions—
Many actions, such as observing of holy days, or eating meats offered to idols, are indifferent in themselves, and may be good or evil, according to circumstances. Two things, then, are to be inquired into, namely, The circumstances under which they are done; and, the principles from which they flow.
Had Naaman acted from a love to the world, or from a fear of man, his conduct would have been highly criminal: or, if by accommodating himself to the notions of the king he would have cast a stumbling-block before others, he would have sinned in doing it: but with his views, and under his circumstances, his conduct was wholly unexceptionable.
In this sentiment we are confirmed by the conduct of Paul. Paul, when taking Timothy with him as a fellow-laborer, circumcised him in order to remove the prejudices of the Jews, who would not otherwise have received him on account of his father being a Greek: but, when required to circumcise Titus, he refused, and would on no account give way; because a compliance in that case was demanded as a necessary conformity with the Mosaic law, which was now abolished. In both these cases he acted right, because of the difference of the circumstances under which he acted. So, when he "became all things to all men," he acted right, as well in conforming to legal observances as in abstaining from them, because his principle was right Acts 21:22-26 and 1 Corinthians 9:19-22; while Peter, on the contrary, sinned in a very grievous manner by conforming to the Jewish prejudices, because he acted from fear, and not from love. We do not mean to say, that every action which proceeds from a good principle, is therefore right; for, no principle, however good, can sanctify a bad action, though a bad principle will vitiate the best of actions See Hag. 2:12-13; but an investigation of the principle from which an action flows, accompanied with an attention to the circumstances under which it is done, will serve as the best clue whereby to find what is really good, and to distinguish it from all specious and delusive appearances.
2. How to act in doubtful cases—
Circumstances must sometimes arise, wherein it is difficult to draw the precise line between good and evil: and in all such cases we shall do well to consult those, whose deeper knowledge, and exalted piety, and more enlarged experience qualify them for the office of guiding others. We are ourselves liable to be biased by passion or interest; and are therefore oftentimes too partial judges in our own cause. Another person, divested of all such feelings, can generally see more clearly where the path of duty lies. We shall always therefore do well to distrust ourselves, and to take advice of others See how the Church of old acted, Acts 15:1-2; but, above all, we should take counsel of the Lord. He has promised, that "the meek he will guide in judgment, the meek he will teach his way:" and, though we are not to expect a voice from Heaven to instruct us, or a pillar of fire to go before us, yet may we hope for such an influence of his Spirit as shall rectify our views, and be, in effect, an accomplishment of that promise, "You shall hear a voice behind you, saying, This is the way, walk you in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left Isaiah 30:21."
If, after much deliberation we cannot make up our minds, it is best to pause, until we see our way more clear. The commandments given us by God himself on this point, are very express: "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind:" "Happy is the man who condemns not himself in that thing which he allows; for he who doubts is damned (condemned) if he eat, because he eats not of faith: for whatever is not of faith, is sin Romans 14:5; Romans 14:22-23." But, if we are upright in our minds, and inquire of others, not to get a sanction to our own wishes, but to obtain direction from the Lord, we shall certainly not be left materially to err; and for the most part, we shall at all events enjoy the "testimony of our own consciences, that with simplicity and godly sincerity we have had our conversation in the world 2 Corinthians 1:12."
3. How to deal with tender consciences—
The prophet did not begin to perplex the mind of Naaman with nice distinctions; but, seeing the integrity of his heart, encouraged him to proceed; not doubting but that, as occasions arose, God himself would "guide him into all truth." Thus should we also deal with young converts Romans 14:1; we should feed them with milk, and not with meat, which, on account of their unskilfulness in the word of righteousness, they would not be able to digest John 16:12; 1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:11-14. There may be many things proper for them both to know and do at a future period, which, under their present circumstances, need not be imparted, and are not required. We should therefore deal tenderly towards them, being careful not to lay upon them any unnecessary burden, or exact of them any unnecessary labors; lest we "break the bruised reed, and quench the smoking flax:" our endeavor rather must be to "lift up the hands that hang down, and to strengthen the feeble knees, and to make straight paths for their feet, that the lame may not be turned out of the way, but may rather be healed Hebrews 12:12-13." This was our Lord's method Matthew 9:14-17; and an attention to it is of infinite importance in all who would be truly serviceable in the Church of Christ.
Lest this subject be misunderstood, we shall conclude with answering the following questions:
1. May we ever do evil that good may come?
No: to entertain such a thought were horrible impiety: and if any man impute it to us, we say with Paul, that "his damnation is just Romans 3:8." But still we must repeat what we said before, that things which would be evil under some circumstances, may not be so under others; and that while the question itself can admit of no doubt, the application of it may: and we ought not either to judge our stronger, or despise our weaker, brethren, because they do not see everything with our eyes Romans 14:3-6; for both the one and the other may be accepted before God, while we for our uncharitableness are hateful in his sight Romans 14:10; Romans 14:18.
2. May we from regard to any considerations of ease or interest act contrary to our conscience?
No: conscience is God's viceregent in the soul, and we must at all events obey its voice. We must rather die than violate its dictates. Like Daniel and the Hebrew youths, we must be firm and immovable. If a man err, it will never be imputed to him as evil that he followed his conscience, but that he did not take care to have his conscience better informed. We must use all possible means to get clear views of God's mind and will; and, having done that, must then act according to our convictions, omitting nothing that conscience requires, and allowing nothing that conscience condemns. The one endeavor of our lives must be to "walk in all good conscience before God," and to "keep a conscience void of offence towards God and man."
3. May we on any account forbear to confess Christ?
No: we must show, before all, our love to the God of Israel, and our communion with his people. In every place where we go, we must erect an altar to our God and Savior. "If on any account we are ashamed of him, he will be ashamed of us;" and, "if we deny him, he will deny us." Nevertheless we are not called to throw up our situations in life, because there is some difficulty in filling them aright: we are rather called to approve ourselves to God in those situations, and to fill them to the glory of his name. We must indeed take care that we are not led into any sinful compliances in order to retain our honors or emoluments; but we must avail ourselves of our situations to honor God, and to benefit mankind.
2 Kings 5:21-22
THE HYPOCRISY OF GEHAZI
2 Kings 5:21-22. So Gehazi followed after Naaman. And when Naaman saw him running after him, he lighted down from the chariot to meet him, and said, Is all well? And he said, All is well.
IN the preceding chapter we have seen a similar inquiry made by Gehazi himself; and a similar reply from the Shunamite, who came in quest of Elisha 2 Kings 4:26. The answer as made by her, under her most afflictive circumstances, justly fills us with admiration: but the answer as here given, calls forth our severest indignation. Naaman, when he saw Elisha's servant running after him, was afraid that something was amiss; and therefore asked with great anxiety, Is all well? The hardened villain, one might have hoped, should have relented at the sight of Naaman's simplicity: but that same wicked spirit who put the evil into his heart, furnished him with a ready answer, "All is well." Now this answer is of considerable importance;
I. As illustrating the character of Gehazi—
Previous to this we have nothing that gives us any particular insight into the character of Gehazi. He lived with a pious master, enjoyed the benefit of his instructions and example, and was an eye-witness of the miracles he wrought. One might have hoped therefore that he was impressed with a sense of true religion. But in this answer we see that he was a subtle, self-deluding hypocrite.
As far as related to the general scope of Naaman's inquiry, the answer was true: but was it true, as conveying all that Gehazi intended to convey? or would Naaman have thought it true, if he could have seen all that was in the heart of this vile impostor? Was all well, when you were coming on so base an errand? when you had fabricated such a falsehood? and were making it an occasion of such dishonest gain? Was all well, when you were so belying your master, so dishonoring religion, casting such a stumbling-block before Naaman, and bringing such guilt upon your own soul? Did not your own conscience reprove you, when you thus confidently dared to assert, All is well?
From your composure on the occasion it was evident, that you expected to reap the fruit of your iniquity in peace; and that, when you replied, "All is well," you apprehended no evil. But did you forget that God saw you? Did you forget that he notes down everything in the book of his remembrance, and will bring it forth at the last day in order to a final retribution? Did you forget that even now God could reveal your wickedness to his prophet, and punish it by some heavy judgment? Had you known at that moment that your master's eye was upon you, and that in less than an hour afterwards the leprosy of Naaman would cleave to you, and that it would be the wretched inheritance of your children to their latest posterity, would you then have said, that All was well? Above all, if you could have realized your appearance at the bar of judgment, and the sentence that there awaited you, would you then have said, All is well?
But so it is that sin blinds the eyes of men, and hardens their hearts: nor is there any passion in the human mind, which, if suffered to gain an ascendant over us, may not produce in us the very same effect. The ambition of Absalom, the envy of Cain, the malice of Esau, the revenge of Jacob's sons, the covetousness of Judas, the lewdness of Herod, sufficiently show, that, where there is some professed regard for religion, a predominant lust will soon break down the barriers of conscience, and bring into subjection every better principle.
Let us now contemplate the answer,
II. As affording some valuable lessons to the world at large—
The great improvement which we are to make of Scripture history, is, to deduce from every part of it lessons for our own instruction. Now from the conduct of Gehazi we learn,
1. That such characters must be expected to exist—
If in the house of Elisha, his only servant was such an impostor; if even among the Apostles of our Lord there was a Judas; yes, and if among the very first Christians immediately after the day of Pentecost such a deceiver as Ananias was found; what reason have we to be surprised, if such characters exist in our day? Is not human nature now the same as ever it was? And has not our Lord taught us to expect, that, wherever the seed of his word is sown, the enemy will sow tares; and that no effectual separation of the tares can be made until the last day? Doubtless it is most distressing when any are found to act unworthy of their Christian profession; but the wonder is rather that so few hypocrites are found, than that some occasionally are detected in the Church of Christ.
2. That the existence of such characters is no argument against true religion—
People are apt to impute the misconduct of hypocrites to the doctrine they profess. But is there anything in the Gospel that tends to encourage hypocrisy? Is not every branch of morality carried to its utmost height in the Gospel, and required as an evidence of our faith in Christ? Are all who embrace the Gospel hypocrites? Was Elisha a hypocrite because his servant was so? What would Naaman have said, if he had been dissuaded from embracing Judaism because he had been imposed upon by a Jew? Would he not have said, ' The man's wickedness must rest on his own head: religion does not stand or fall with him: I am myself a monument of Jehovah's power and grace, and am under the most unspeakable obligations to him; and, if all that profess his religion were hypocrites, it would be no reason why I should not worship him in spirit and in truth?' Thus then must we say, "Offences will come; and woe be to those by whom they come:" but while I know myself to have been a leper, and feel that the Lord Jesus Christ has healed me of my leprosy, I must love him as my Benefactor, and serve him in the presence of the whole world.
3. That in whatever light men now appear, they will before long be seen in their true colors—
Gehazi little thought that his master's eye was upon him during the whole transaction: but his iniquity was soon exposed, and fearfully punished. Thus, in whatever place we be, God's eye is upon us. In vain do we say, "Tush, God shall not see;" for he does see even the most secret recesses of our hearts: and the time is quickly coming, when, he "will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart."
Let not any of us then deceive our own souls. Let those who declaim against hypocrites remember, that, if they seek not after God, the hypocrisy of others will be no justification of their neglect: there is but one rule of judgment for all, and by that shall every man be justified or condemned Isaiah 3:10-11.
But let those in whom hypocrisy, of any kind is found, tremble for themselves; for their guilt is heinous, and their condemnation will be proportionably severe. "If there be woe to the world because of offences, much more will there be to him by whom the offence comes." Against every sin therefore I would most earnestly caution you, but more especially against that which ensnared Gehazi. "The love of money is the root of all evil, and drowns many in destruction and perdition 1 Timothy 6:9-10; 2 Timothy 4:10; 2 Peter 2:14-15." This is most particularly the sin to which persons professing godliness are apt to be addicted, and under which they are most satisfied with their own state Ezekiel 33:31; but, whatever profession they may make, they deceive themselves to their eternal ruin.
2 Kings 6:15-16
ELISHA PROTECTED BY CHARIOTS OF FIRE
2 Kings 6:15-16. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
IT has been justly said, that a servant of God is immortal, until his work is done. He will indeed be exposed to many dangers; and probably to more, in proportion as his zeal is exercised in the service of his Lord: but the promise made to Jeremiah is fulfilled to every faithful champion; "They shall fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you." The prophet Elisha eminently experienced this blessed truth. He had been enabled by God on different occasions to reveal to the king of Israel the plans which the king of Syria had laid for his destruction. The king of Syria at first thought that his plans were all betrayed by some confidential servant of his own: but when he learned that they were revealed by God to the prophet Elisha, he determined to destroy the prophet; and for that end he sent not a small band, such as had failed in apprehending Elijah, but a large army to besiege the city wherein he was. This was effected with such rapidity, that the city was encompassed before any one suspected that an army was near: and Elisha's servant, conceiving that the enmity of the king of Syria was chiefly directed against his master, was filled with despondency; taking for granted now that no possible method of escape for him remained. But Elisha knew that God was his protector, and therefore bade him dismiss his fears, assured that, while he had the Creator on his side, he need not feel the smallest anxiety, though the whole creation should be against him.
Now from this answer of Elisha we shall take occasion to show you the excellency and efficacy of faith, in its discoveries, its consolations, its triumphs. Let us consider,
I. Its discoveries—
The affrighted servant saw nothing but the invading army: but Elisha saw that there were invisible hosts of angels engaged in his defense: and he begged of God to open the servant's eyes, that he might have ocular demonstration of that fact, which he had beheld by faith.
Now this is the proper effect of faith Hebrews 11:27; it discerns God as everywhere present to support and support his people by his providence and grace. Faith beholds myriads of angels also waiting upon God, and flying at his command to execute his will, and to minister to his people. The chariots of fire and horses of fire were not more visible to the eye of sense, when God withdrew from the servant's face the veil that concealed them, than they were to Elisha by the eye of faith. If we could only conceive aright of Elisha's views at that moment, we should have a perfect idea of the proper office of faith, and of the high privilege which belongs to every believer
From the discoveries of faith we may judge of,
II. Its consolations—
The servant was full of fear and terror; "Alas, my master! what shall we do?" But Elisha was as composed as if no enemy had been near. Thus it is that faith uniformly operates. However we be menaced by persecutors, it keeps us tranquil Psalm 3:6; Psalm 27:3 and 1 Peter 3:14-15; however exposed we be to troubles of any kind, it preserves us in a peaceful state Isaiah 26:3. How calm were Daniel and the Hebrew Youths, when menaced with the most cruel death! It assures us that though the waves and billows rise ever so high, there is at the helm a Pilot, who can guide our vessel in safety to the desired haven. The language of the heart on such occasions is, "If God be for me, who can be against me?" or, 'Who is he who shall harm me, if I be a follower of that which is good?'
They who in conflicts experience the consolations of faith, shall after their conflicts enjoy also,
III. Its triumphs—
While the servant was yielding to despair, the master was deriding the vain efforts of his enemies, and laughing them to scorn. In this light we must understand his address to them: it was not a solemn assertion, but a derisive banter; 'You are come hither to seek the prophet, but you are all under a mistake: come all of you with me; I will show you the man whom you are seeking after:' and thus did he, alone and unarmed, lead captive, as it were, the armed hosts that came to apprehend him. Innumerable are the instances in holy writ where faith has triumphed in like manner, even before the conflict has been begun. How did Moses exult over the Egyptians Exodus 14:13-14; David over Goliath 1 Samuel 17:45-47; Jehoshaphat over three confederate armies 2 Chronicles 20:17; 2 Chronicles 20:20; and Hezekiah over the proud Sennacherib 2 Kings 19:21. and with what glorious confidence did Paul glory over all the enemies of his salvation Romans 8:34-39. Thus it is our privilege also to "know in whom we have believed," and to be assured that we shall be "more than conquerors through Him that loved us In confirmation of this, see Isaiah 8:12-14; Isaiah 26:20."
From this subject we may learn,
1. Our chief danger—
The agency of spiritual beings is here confirmed beyond all doubt: and, if holy angels are active in our preservation, we may be well assured that evil angels are active in seeking our destruction. The truth is, that we are more in danger from the agency of evil spirits than from all other causes whatever; because of their malice, their subtlety, and their power. Were our eyes opened as those of Elisha's servant were, we should see ourselves surrounded with myriads of those malignant foes, all acting in concert with each other under Beelzebub their head, and combining their efforts to destroy us. Let us remember how they are "working in all the children of disobedience," and actually "leading the whole world captive at their will." Let us particularly call to mind also the power which Satan exerted over Judas, Ananias, and even the Apostle Peter himself: and let us, under a sense of our insufficiency to withstand him, cry mightily to God, "to arm us for the combat, to strengthen us with might, and to bruise him under our feet Ephesians 6:10-18; Isaiah 41:10; Romans 16:20."
2. Our great security—
Of ourselves we have no sufficiency for the smallest thing: all our sufficiency is of God. Let us beg of God then to "hold us up, that we may be safe." Let our eyes be directed to him in every danger, temporal and spiritual; and let us "commit the keeping of our souls to him in well-doing." Then, how numerous soever our enemies may be, "we shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end." He will not leave us in the hands of any enemy, but will "keep us by his power through faith unto everlasting salvation."
2 Kings 7:18-20
THE UNBELIEVING LORD PUNISHED
2 Kings 7:18-20. And it came to pass at the man of God had spoken to the king, saying, Two measures of barley for a shekel, and a measure of fine four for a shekel, shall be tomorrow, about this time, in the gate of Samaria: and that lord answered the man of God, and said, Now, behold, if the Lord should make windows in Heaven, might such a thing be? And he said, Behold, you shall see it with your eyes, but shall not eat thereof. And so it fell out unto him: for the people trod upon him in the gate, and he died.
THIS is a repetition of what had been said in the two first verses of this chapter; or rather it is a renewed recital of the prediction, as accomplished in all its parts. Now we are not to imagine that this repetition was without design. It was doubtless intended to call our attention to the history in a more peculiar manner, that we might observe it carefully throughout. In truth, it is a singularly instructive history, especially as discovering to us, what we propose distinctly to consider, the folly and danger of unbelief.
I. The folly of unbelief—
Faith appears to many to be a weak credulity; and unbelief a discreet estimate of causes and effects. Sceptics look with contempt upon Believers, even as this nobleman did upon the prophet, for expecting himself, and teaching others to expect, so incredible an event, as that which he foretold. But this history rebukes the folly of such conceited men. They imagine that they have sufficient reason for their unbelief: but this history shows us, that all those things which are supposed to justify unbelief, are, in fact, no grounds for it at all. There are three grounds in particular, which, as most commonly urged in its defense, it will be proper for us to consider:—
1. The extremity of our case—
Many, both under temporal and spiritual distresses, will say, that there is no hope; and that to expect relief under such circumstances as theirs would be the height of presumption. But can any state be more desperate than that of Samaria at this time? The famine was so grievous, that things which would not have been deemed fit for food at other times, were made articles of subsistence; nor could they be procured but at a most exorbitant price. Yes, so extreme was the pressure of their hunger, that a woman, who had agreed with another to boil their children for their mutual support, came to the king, to complain of the other woman for having hid her child, instead of giving it up according to their agreement, after having already fed upon the child of the complainant 2 Kings 6:25-29 with Deuteronomy 28:56-57. Can any case be more extreme than this? We are almost ready to justify the nobleman who doubted the possibility of plenty being restored to the city in so short a time as twenty-four hours. But there are no circumstances under which God cannot interpose with effect Isaiah 59:1. On the contrary, he is pleased frequently to let our troubles advance so as to appear irremediable, on purpose that his power may be the more magnified in our deliverance Deuteronomy 32:36.
2. Our great unworthiness—
It is nothing but pride, under the semblance of humility, that leads any upright person to be discouraged by a sense of his unworthiness. If a man live in willful and allowed sin, he doubtless can expect nothing at the hands of God: but, if he desire to be delivered from all sin, the deeper his sense is of his own unworthiness, the more readily will he find acceptance in the sight of God. The truth is, that God gives freely according to his own sovereign will and pleasure; and often makes his "grace to abound most where sin has most abounded." To whom did he send the promise recorded in our text? To Jehoram, an idolatrous king of Israel. And under what circumstances did he send the promise? It was, when this wicked prince, instead of being humbled by his distresses, took occasion from them to rage still more against the God of Israel; and immediately after he had, with bitter imprecations, resolved to murder the Lord's prophet that very day 2 Kings 6:31-32. Yes, to that very murderer, at the moment he was about to commit the murder, was that promise given! It is scarcely possible to conceive a state of greater unworthiness than his: yet, behold, to him, I say again, was the promise given. Who then that desires an interest in the Lord's promises, has any reason to despond on account of his unworthiness?
3. The want of any visible means of relief—
The nobleman doubted whether the prediction could be verified, even if the Lord should open the windows of Heaven, and rain down wheat and barley upon them, as he did manna in the wilderness. And as there was no hope of such an interposition, he concluded the prediction to be false. But what if he could see no way of relief: was God at any loss for means whereby to accomplish his own purposes? The Syrians shall be struck with a panic, and with perfect infatuation shall desert their camp and everything in it. Still the purpose is but half effected: for, how shall the people in the city know the state of the Syrian camp? Four lepers perishing with hunger, shall go over to the Syrians, to cast themselves upon their mercy; and they shall find the whole camp forsaken, and report it in the besieged city: and thus shall perfect plenty be afforded them even in the space of a few hours. What then cannot God effect for us? Whether our distress be of a temporal or spiritual nature, he can in a moment "supply our wants," and far "exceed all that we can ask, or even think." "Is there anything too hard for God?"
If in this history we see the folly of unbelief, we behold no less,
II. The danger of it—
Unbelief is justly most offensive to God—
Its very nature is to doubt the power or veracity of God. And is this a light offence? See how greatly he was offended at it in his people of old Psalm 78:40-41; and doubtless he will be still more offended at us on account of it, in proportion as his mercy and truth manifested to us in the gift of his dear Son, have exceeded all that he has ever shown to mankind from the foundation of the world
In the history before us we see how certainly, and how awfully, it shall be punished—
The moment that the nobleman had expressed his contempt of God's promise, his doom was sealed, and his punishment declared. But the nobleman, being high in the confidence of his prince, was invested with authority to control and regulate the disposal of the spoil: consequently, if there were any one person in the city that was sure to enjoy the newly-acquired plenty, it was he. Yet, behold, the very means which seemed almost sure to defeat the divine purpose, were instrumental to its accomplishment: for the extreme eagerness of the people to obtain the food, occasioned him to be thrown down, and to be trodden to death under their feet. Yes; so had God threatened; and "so it fell out unto him."
Say then, you who promise yourselves impunity in sin, whether "God's word shall stand, or yours?" Shall it not "fall out unto you as God has said?" Yes, it shall: and "unbelievers shall assuredly take their portion at the last in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone Revelation 21:8." See what became of those who doubted God's word in Paradise Genesis 3:6; Genesis 3:16-19; Genesis 3:24, or of the antediluvian infidels 2 Peter 3:3-6, or of the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness Hebrews 3:18-19. See also especially Zechariah 1:6. did not God's threatened vengeance fall on them? "Beware then, all of you, lest you also perish after the same example of unbelief Hebrews 4:11." Whether God promise or threaten, it shall surely come to pass according to his word: "If we believe not, yet he abides faithful: he cannot deny himself 2 Timothy 2:13."
We may even notice some resemblance between the doom of that nobleman, and that which awaits the unbelieving world at large: "He saw the promised blessing, but he did not taste of it." And will it not be thus in that great and awful day when all shall stand at the judgment-seat of Christ? Those on the left hand of the Judge shall see the blessedness of his believing people, but shall not taste of it: on the contrary, while God's faithful people shall be admitted to a full enjoyment of their promised inheritance, the whole assembly of unbelievers shall be bidden to "depart accursed into everlasting burnings."
Consider now how you are affected by the word of God: does it come with weight and authority to your minds, as if you saw it about to be accomplished before your eyes? Is it a fixed principle with you, that "not one jot or tittle of that word can fail?" This is what God expects at our hands: he expects us to "tremble at his word Isaiah 66:2;" to entertain no doubt of its accomplishment, but to "be strong in faith, giving glory to God." On that he suspends his bestowment of further blessings James 1:6-7; and, for the most part, he will make the strength of our faith to be the measure of his communications Matthew 8:13.
Consider more particularly, how you are affected with all those "great and precious promises which he has given us" in Christ Jesus. Are you enabled to receive them "without staggering at them through unbelief?" This is your duty, this your privilege, this the pledge and earnest of all that God himself can bestow upon you.
2 Kings 8:12
ELISHA PREDICTS THE ATROCIOUS ACTS OF HAZAEL
2 Kings 8:12. And Hazael said, Why weeps my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that you will do unto the children of Israel.
TO reconcile Divine foreknowledge with the contingency of human events is a difficulty, which probably will never be solved in this present state of our existence. Yet, if it cannot be explained, it may be illustrated in some measure, and in such a way as to afford considerable satisfaction to the mind. In the history of which our text is a part, there is a circumstance which reflects some light upon it. Benhadad, king of Syria, was ill; and, hearing that Elisha was come into his county, he sent his servant Hazael, with very large and munificent presents, to inquire whether he should recover of his disease. The question being asked by Hazael, Elisha told him, that his master "might certainly recover;" but yet "should surely die verse 10." Here we see the termination of the disorder doubtful in one view, but certain in another: he might recover, because his constitution was strong enough to withstand the disorder; but he should not recover, because God foresaw that a measure would be resorted to, which would render the disorder fatal. Thus it is also with our spiritual maladies: they may, with the use of God's appointed remedies, be healed; but God knows infallibly whether we shall make use of those remedies, and, consequently, sees already what the event will be: in his eyes, it is as certain as if it had already taken place; but his view of it does not at all affect its contingency with respect to us.
Not intending to prosecute this subject any farther, we merely glance at it, as introductory to that on which the issue of the king's disorder turned. There was in the heart of Hazael a root of evil, which would induce him to destroy the king, in order to gain possession of his throne: and that root springing up, would bring forth such terrible fruits, as could not be contemplated without the most pungent sorrow. This the prophet saw, and deeply lamented; insomuch, that Hazael, astonished at the fixedness of the prophet's countenance, and at the tears which he shed, asked him with great emotion, "Why weeps my lord?" The prophet told him, that he wept at the prospect of the horrible cruelties, which, however incapable of committing them he might now think himself, he would certainly before long commit.
This is the point to which we would now call your attention: and it is well calculated to show us,
I. How unconscious we are of our own depravity—
Hazael could not conceive it possible that the prophet's predictions respecting him should ever be fulfilled —
Doubtless the predicted evils were very terrible verse 12; nor do we wonder that Hazael should ask so pointedly, "Is your servant a dog, that he should do this great thing This is supposed by some to mean, 'How can so insignificant a creature as I am, do such great things?' But the common interpretation seems the more natural, more especially as the situation he occupied under Benhadad rendered the performance of such things not so very impracticable, if he should ever be disposed to do them." But he was a stranger to his own heart, and ignorant of the effect which a change of circumstances may produce in our dispositions and conduct: The event soon verified all that the prophet had spoken concerning him: for, immediately on his return to his master, he gave a false report of the prophet's answer, and (probably under a pretense of using the best means for his recovery) adopted a measure, which he had reason to expect would speedily put a period to his existence. Having by these means succeeded to the throne, he soon waged war with Israel, and committed all those shocking cruelties, at the very mention of which he had once shrunk back with horror verse 15 and 2 Kings 13:3; 2 Kings 13:7.
Thus also do we question the representations which God gives respecting us—
These are doubtless very humiliating, both in the Old Testament and the New Jeremiah 17:9; Ecclesiastes 9:3; Genesis 6:5; Romans 3:10-19; Romans 8:7; And we are ready to account them libels upon human nature. If we have been moral and sober hitherto, we have no conception that we could ever be induced to "run to the same excess of riot" as others have done. But may we not all find in ourselves the seeds of those iniquities, which in others have obtained their full growth? Have we not seen too, in many instances, that persons who once thought themselves as superior to temptation as we now do, have sunk into the grossest habits of vice, and astonished the world with their iniquities? We can know but little of ourselves, if we have not learned to ascribe to God alone whatever difference there may be found between us and others 1 Corinthians 4:7.
Let us learn then from the prophet,
II. What ought to he the frame of our minds in relation to it—
If we have not been left by God to perpetrate the more heinous crimes to which we have been tempted, still it will be proper for us to consider what our frame should be,
1. In reference to our depravity, so far as we have discovered it—
Elisha wept at the contemplation of the future crimes of Hazael: and should not we weep at the evils of our own hearts, yes at the evils which we have actually committed? Truly, the best of us have done enough to humble us in the dust, and to make us weep with the deepest self-abasement. Let us look back and think of our past conduct towards God as our Sovereign, towards Jesus as our Redeemer, and towards the Holy Spirit, who has been striving with us all our days: Is here no cause for tears? If Prophets and Apostles wept so bitterly for others who kept not God's law, should not we for ourselves Psalm 119:136; Jeremiah 13:17; Romans 9:1-3; Philippians 3:18. Yes, the best of us, as well as the worst, needs to "go on his way weeping," and can only hope to "reap in joy," when he shall have humbly "sown in tears"
2. In reference to that which is yet hid from our eyes—
Much, very much, there is in us, which we have never yet seen: either we have never been brought into situations to call it forth, or God has mercifully withheld us from perpetrating all that was in our hearts. But our hearts are altogether corrupt; and therefore we should tremble, yes and "work out our salvation with fear and trembling," even to our latest hour: "we should not be high-minded, but fear;" "watching continually and praying, that we may not enter into temptation." The confidence of Peter, as well as that of Hazael, may be a lesson to us. To God then must we look to "keep us by his power," even to Him who alone "can keep us from falling, and present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy."
That we may yet further improve this subject, let us learn,
1. To be thankful for God's grace—
What is the reason that we have not been as vile as the most abandoned of mankind? Are we made of any better materials than they? or have we in ourselves any more strength than they? No: we owe it entirely to the distinguishing grace of God. It is He who has "hedged up our way," and even in many instances "built a wall against us," that we might not fall into those temptations which would have utterly overwhelmed us: "He kept us, though we knew him not;" and "by his grace alone we are what we are." O let us adore and magnify him for all his goodness towards us; and when we see others wallowing in iniquity, remember who alone has made us to differ from them!
2. To be submissive to his providence—
It may be that God has been pleased to disappoint us in some things which we have set our heart upon; and we have been grieved and vexed at the dispensation. But how little do we know what would have been the effect of success! Perhaps the attainment of our wishes would have operated as Hazael's advancement did on him, and we should have long before this time have been even monsters in iniquity. At all events we have reason to believe that what we have lost was only like thick clay, which would have impeded us greatly in our Christian course. Perhaps God has seen fit to lay upon us some heavy affliction. Are we sure it was not necessary to lead us to deeper views of our own corruption, and to a more entire dependence on the Lord Jesus? We may be sure at least that our afflictions have been sent, as the pruning-knife, to lop off our luxuriant branches, and to make us more fruitful in the fruits of righteousness to God's praise and glory.
3. To pant after his glory—
It is in Heaven alone that we shall be free from sin. While we are in the body, we are exposed to the assaults of that roaring lion, that seeks to devour us. True it is, we have God's promises to trust unto; but true it is also that we have wicked and deceitful hearts; and if we had attained as much as ever the Apostle Paul did, we must still, like him, "keep under our body, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, after having preached to others, we should be cast away ourselves." Let us then "look for, and haste unto, the coming of the day of Christ," even that blessed day, when all sin shall be purged from our hearts, and "all tears be wiped from our eyes."
2 Kings 9:36
THE DESTRUCTION OF AHAB'S FAMILY BY JEHU
2 Kings 9:36. And he said, This is the word of the Lord, which he spake by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the portion of Jezreel shall dogs eat the flesh of Jezebel.
FROM nothing does the unbeliever receive more solid grounds of conviction, than from the facts recorded in the sacred history. In those facts there is undeniable evidence, that there is a God, who "orders all things after the counsel of his own will," and who is particularly "known by the judgments which he executes." In confirmation of this truth we will show,
I. How God's word was accomplished in the history before us—
We lay no stress on the fulfillment of what was spoken to Jehu, because the declaration made to him was the immediate cause of his adopting measures for the attainment of the sovereign power. But the accomplishment of God's word in the death of Jehoram and of Jezebel was independent of any human purposes whatever. The fate that awaited Ahab and Jezebel had long before been announced by the Prophet Elijah; though on account of Ahab's repentance, the evil denounced against him, had been deferred, and the fulfillment of the threatening had been reserved for his children. Now it was particularly specified by Elijah to Ahab, that "where dogs had licked the blood of Naboth, they should lick his blood:" and that "dogs should eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel 1 Kings 21:19; 1 Kings 21:23." Behold then how exactly these prophecies were accomplished! Jehoram was at Jezreel: but how came he there? he had gone thither to be healed of the wounds which the Syrians had given him. But why did he not flee from thence, when he saw that Jehu detained the messengers that were sent to ascertain the reason of his approach? He was altogether infatuated; for instead of fleeing, both "he and Ahaziah king of Judah went out, each in his chariot, to meet Jehu," and they actually "met him in the portion of Naboth the Jezreelite 1 Kings 21:21," where Jehu drew his bow against Jehoram, and smote him through the heart. And so remarkable was this accomplishment of the prophet's prediction, that Jehu himself was struck with astonishment at it, and ordered that the corpse should be there exposed to public view, in order that the justice of God, in so requiting the injury done to Naboth, might be manifest to all Note1 Kings 21:26. The same infatuation seized Jezebel also; for she, when she knew that her son Jehoram was dead, instead of fleeing, or consulting her own safety by submission, insulted Jehu, and was, by his order, thrown out of the window by her own servants, in the very place where God had foretold that death should come upon her. Jehu after some hours bethought him, that as Jezebel, though an accursed woman, was a king's daughter, it was not right to leave her dead body exposed in the streets; and therefore he gave orders that she should be taken up and buried; but, behold, when they came to look for her, nothing of her remained but her scull and her feet, and the palms of her hands; for the dogs had devoured her: and this singular accomplishment of God's word respecting her, brought again to Jehu's recollection the prediction of Elijah, so minutely verified, not only without any design on his part, but even contrary to his design verse 36, 37.
An attentive survey of such facts as these is of the greatest use: it convinces us that every word of God must be fulfilled in its season, and that "sooner shall Heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or tittle of it should fail."
From beholding the word of God thus verified in them, let us proceed to notice,
II. How it shall be accomplished sooner or later in the history of us all—
As our subject leads us almost exclusively to speak of those who are obnoxious to the Divine threatenings, we shall comprehend them under two classes;
1. Those who make no profession of religion—
(These may differ widely from each other with respect to their external conduct; but in the habit of their minds as alienated from God, and averse to heavenly pursuits, they are all alike; unregenerate, unsanctified, unhumbled. They fear not God: "he is not in all their thoughts:" "they proceed from evil to evil, because they know not God": We again say, that they do not all commit the same iniquities; but they all live as without God in the world: And is not this agreeable to what Paul has spoken of the natural man Romans 3:10-18; Romans 8:7.: Yes truly, his word is fulfilled in every child of Adam. Thus it is with them in this world.
Next, let us see how it is with them in the eternal world. They go, each at his appointed time, into the presence of their God: but in him they find an angry and an avenging Judge: and from his presence are they driven to reap the just reward of their deeds. They would not, while living, regard his threatenings; and therefore they are left to experience the accomplishment of them to all eternity. And is not this precisely according to what the Psalmist has forewarned them of Psalm 9:17. Has not Paul also again and again guarded them against deluding themselves with vain expectations of a different end 1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 6:7-8.: Yes; in all of them will there be scope for precisely the same observation as Jehu made respecting Joram, and Jezebel; "This is the word of the Lord, which he spoke by his servants the prophets."
2. Those who walk unworthy of their profession—
Mark the different persons who decline from the ways of God: there is the same variety found among them as among the carnal and ungodly world: each has his separate pursuit, and each his separate infirmity: but in this all agree; that, whatever be their besetting sin, they are led captive by it more and more; the earthly, the sensual, the devilish, become more and more enslaved by their respective lusts and passions, from the time that they depart from God: And what is this but an accomplishment of that word of Solomon, "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways Proverbs 14:14."
Follow them also into the eternal world; and there also you will find that verified, "It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them 2 Peter 2:21." They "have been heaping up treasures indeed for the last days;" but they are found to be treasures of wrath, agreeably to that declaration of Elihu, "The hypocrites in heart heap up wrath Job 36:13. The separation predicted by our Lord takes place; nor do the privileges they enjoyed in this world, or the wonders they performed, avail anything for the altering of the sentence passed against them Matthew 7:21-23.
Observe now from hence,
1. The folly of neglecting the Holy Scriptures—
These contain the whole revealed will of God; and according to these we shall be judged in the last day. What folly is it then not to study them, and to find out beforehand what shall then assuredly come to pass! O let us search them; let us bear in mind whose word is there contained; and let us not rest one single hour in a state that is there condemned.
2. The evil and danger of unbelief—
Unbelief "puffs at the word of God," as though it never should come to pass. But can we point out any one declaration of God that has failed of accomplishment? As Paul says in reference to the Jews, so may we in reference to the whole world; "What if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God of none effect Romans 5:3." Did not God's word "take hold of them" at the different periods of their history Compare Zechariah 1:6 with Daniel 9:11-13. Yes, and in us also shall they be fulfilled in their season; nor shall one iota of them ever fall to the ground. The infidels shall "know before long, whose word shall stand, whether God's or theirs Jeremiah 44:28."
3. The truth and faithfulness of all the promises—
If the threatenings of God are sure, so also are the promises; nor shall any one of them fail the person who trusts in them. Let us remember, that "in Christ Jesus they are all yes and Amen." Let us lay hold on Christ, and all the promises are ours: we may plead them at the throne of grace; we may rely upon them; we may expect the accomplishment of them; and in that great day, when all the ungodly shall be banished from the presence of their God, we shall have them fulfilled to us in their utmost extent, being put into complete possession of our promised inheritance.
2 Kings 10:16
TRUE AND FALSE ZEAL
2 Kings 10:16. Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord.
UNGODLY men, though they will not follow the example of the godly, are glad to have their sanction and approbation in what they do. Jehu was indeed acting at this time under a divine commission. The work in which he was engaged, was that of extirpating the whole house and family of Ahab: and, terrible as it was, he did right to execute it, because he acted under a divine command 2 Kings 9:7-9. But his spirit in executing the work was far from right. He was too much under the influence of pride and ambition. This appears from his address to Jehonadab, in the words before us. Jehonadab was a holy man, and had considerable influence in the state: and, knowing that Jehu was fulfilling the will of Heaven, he went to meet him, and to testify his approbation of his proceedings. And Jehu, glad to have the sanction of such a man, took him up into his chariot, saying, "Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord.
Now, as this zeal was partly good, and partly evil, I propose to show,
I. When our zeal is such as will bear inspection—
"It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing Galatians 4:18." And we may be assured that our zeal is good,
1. When it proceeds from a principle of love—
Love is properly the principle from which all our actions should flow. There are, indeed, far different principles from which our zeal may spring. We may he led on by a spirit of party, which will operate to the production of great efforts in the support of any cause. Or we may he actuated by a natural forwardness of disposition, which urges men to prosecute with ardor whatever they undertake. A self-righteous hope of commending themselves to God, also, will stimulate some to incredible exertions in any cause in which they are embarked. But that which alone gives the stamp of piety to our services, is love. We should act from a sense of the unbounded obligations which we owe to God, both as our Creator and Redeemer. "Our souls should be altogether constrained by the love of Christ, to live to him 2 Corinthians 5:14-15;" and so far as we are actuated by that principle, we have reason to hope and to believe that our zeal is genuine, and that our services are pleasing and acceptable to God.
2. When it is regulated by the written word—
As our zeal may spring from an unworthy motive, so it may be exercised in an unhallowed way. It must be bounded by the occasion that calls it forth; neither exceeding it, nor falling short of it. Joshua erred in making a league with the Gibeonites, whom he was commissioned to destroy Joshua 11:18-20; but Saul also erred, when, "from his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah, he sought to slay them 2 Samuel 21:1-6." There is an intemperate zeal that is highly criminal. Such was that of Simeon and Levi, who slew the Shechemites, because by the prince of that city their sister had been defiled Genesis 34:25-31. They had just ground for displeasure; but their mode of manifesting their displeasure was cruel in the extreme, and brought upon them God's merited indignation Genesis 49:5-7. Not that the mere circumstance of slaying their fellow creatures when they were incapable of resistance was wrong, provided they had received a divine commission to do so: for Joshua did right in extirpating the Canaanites; as did the tribe of Levi also, when they went through the camp of Israel, every one of them slaying even his nearest relatives, if he found them worshiping the golden calf Exodus 32:25-29; Deuteronomy 33:8-11. The word of God is that by which every act must be regulated. It is not sufficient that we think to please God: for James and John thought to please their divine Master by calling fire from Heaven to consume a Samaritan village; and Paul also thought he was serving God aright, when he haled men and women to prison and to death for their attachment to Christ. They (James and John) were told by their Lord, that "they knew not what spirit they were of Luke 9:53-55;" and he (Paul) condemns himself afterwards as an injurious and blaspheming persecutor Acts 8:3; Acts 26:9; 1 Timothy 1:13. If we are able to show a command for what we do, then our zeal in doing it is good.
3. When it is tempered with discretion—
There are conflicting duties, which, as far as possible, should be made to harmonize; and neither of them should be violated without necessity. To obey the civil magistrate is the duty of all: but when his injunctions militate against the paramount authority of God, they must be disregarded, whatever be the dangers to which our disobedience may subject us. The appeal, "Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge you Acts 4:19," carried its own evidence along with it. Of course, there is need of much discrimination in this matter. The Pharisees acted well in showing a regard for the Sabbath, and a zeal for the due observance of it: but they erred grievously, when they accused our blessed Lord as violating it by working miracles on that day: for they should have known, that "God preferred mercy before sacrifice," and, consequently, that acts of mercy and necessity superseded the obligation of a merely positive command Matthew 12:2-7. Even where a duty is plain, it is proper for us to consider whether we are the persons to perform it. To preach the Gospel is a most important duty: but to engage in that service uncalled, and unsent, is not by any means expedient or right: for even our blessed Lord "glorified not himself to be made an high priest, but waited for the call" of his heavenly Father Hebrews 5:4-6. So again, we must attend to the time and manner of executing what we conceive to be a lawful act; and not abuse our liberty by exercising it in a way that may prove offensive to others 1 Corinthians 8:10-13. In a word, our zeal must be wisely regulated: it should be able to rise to any occasion that may call for it Acts 21:13; but it should be under due control; nor should it ever be satisfied with a conviction that a thing is "lawful," without considering also whether, and how far, it is "expedient 1 Corinthians 6:12."
We think, then, that a zeal flowing from such a source, and regulated by such a standard, and exercised in such a way, will bear inspection; and that, so far as we give the invitation for the purpose of self-inquiry, and not of self-applause, we may say, not to man only, but even to God himself, "Come, and see my zeal for the Lord."
But there are occasions when our zeal is blameworthy, and,
II. When it evidently manifests itself to be delusive and vain—
It is altogether vain and unacceptable to God,
1. When it is ostentatious—
Such was that of Jehu on this occasion. Raised to kingly power, and successful beyond his most sanguine expectations, he was elated with pride, and desirous of having his prowess admired and extolled. Hence his conduct, which, as conformable to a divine command, was made the ground of a reward, was, on account of the base mixture of pride and cruelty with which it was pursued, visited with signal punishment Compare verse 20 with Hosea 1:4. Ostentation will mar and vitiate the best actions that we can possibly perform. The giving of alms, or the waiting upon God with fasting and prayer, are acceptable services, if performed aright; but when made occasions for advancing ourselves in the estimation of men, they are hateful and contemptible in the sight of God, and will bring with them no other recompense than that which we vainly seek Matthew 6:1-5." The declaration of God in relation to such things is plain and express: "For a man to seek his own glory, is not glory Proverbs 25:27;" therefore "let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips Proverbs 27:2."
To this, then, we must carefully attend: for if, while professing to serve the Lord, we "sacrifice to our own net, and burn incense to our own drag Habakkuk 1:16," be the service what it may, God will say, "Who has required this at your hands Isaiah 1:11-12." yes, it will be no better, in his sight, than "the cutting off a dog's neck, or the offering of swine's blood Isaiah 66:3."
2. When it is partial—
In this respect, also, Jehu's zeal notoriously failed. He was sent to punish Ahab's wickedness; and yet himself joined in the idolatry which he was ordered to abolish verse 29, and indulged in all the sins which he was commissioned to correct verse 31. Zeal, if pure, will extend to every part of our duty: it has respect to God's will; and therefore will operate in reference to all his commands; to those which require self-denial, no less than to those which may administer to our personal gratification. Zeal will be in the soul what the soul is in the body: its operation will be uniform and abiding: Whether our actions be public or private, and whether our duties be of an active or passive kind, it will stimulate us to approve ourselves to the heart-searching God: and, if it fail of this, at least in our endeavors, it is evidently not such as has God for its author, nor such as God will ultimately approve.
3. When it is transient—
The stony-ground hearers manifest a great degree of zeal for a season: "they anon with joy receive the word; but, having no root in themselves, they believe only for a while, and in time of temptation fall away Luke 8:13." But it is not sufficient for any man to "run well for a season only Galatians 5:6." "We must endure unto the end, if ever we would be saved Matthew 10:22." We are "not to look back, after having once put our hand to the plough Luke 9:62." "We are never to be weary in well-doing:" "never, under any circumstances, to faint." On this our future remuneration altogether depends Galatians 6:9. "The man who draws back, draws back unto perdition Hebrews 10:38-39,:" and he whose zeal will not carry him to the last extremity, even to the enduring of the most cruel death, will fail of obtaining the approbation of his God Luke 17:33. I must, therefore, guard you against ever relaxing in your zeal even for a moment. Whatever your attainments be, and whatever you may have done or suffered in the service of your God, you must "forget the things that are behind, and reach forward unto that which is before, and press on for the prize of your high calling," until you have actually finished your course, and obtained the crown which is to be awarded to you Philippians 3:13-14.
In conclusion, let me say to every individual among you—
1. Have a zeal for God—
God is not to be served with lukewarmness Revelation 3:15-16; He requires the heart, the whole heart Proverbs 23:26; Hosea 10:2; and surely he is worthy of it; and his service well deserves it. See what zeal men display in the pursuits of this world; the student, for knowledge; the merchant, for his gains; the soldier, for honor: and will you be behind any one of them? Does our blessed Lord and Savior deserve less at your hands, than this vain and perishing world can do? The burnt-offerings, you know, were wholly consumed upon God's altar: they were wholly God's; and the priests had no part in them. Such offerings are you to be: and to be devoted thus exclusively to God is "your reasonable service Romans 12:1." Give yourselves up, then, entirely to God; and "whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might Ecclesiastes 9:10."
2. Let "your zeal be according to knowledge"—
Ignorant zeal will only deceive and ruin you, as it did the Pharisees of old Romans 10:2-3. There is a great deal of zeal in the world: else whence come the penances and pilgrimages of the Papists? and whence the accursed cruelties of the Inquisition? Who knows not the persecutions that Christianity has sustained from heathens; or the miseries that Popery, under the name of Christianity, has inflicted on those who would not yield to its abominations? In all these things, the agents "have imagined that they did to God an acceptable service John 16:2." Nor can I deny that even good men have sometimes been betrayed into a very erroneous line of conduct, from a mistaken notion, that they were serving God, while anathematizing those who differed from them in some matters of subordinate importance. But be not satisfied, brethren, even though Jehonadab himself be embarked in the same cause with you. It is not by man's judgment or example that you are to stand or fall, but by the judgment of your God, according to his written word. Endeavor, then, to have your mind and spirit regulated by the only standard of right and wrong. And especially be on your guard against a fiery zeal. "The zeal of our blessed Lord was such as even consumed him John 2:17;" but remember, it was himself that it consumed, not others: yes, when he himself suffered from the blind zeal of others, he prayed for them, even for his very murderer Luke 23:34. "Be you then followers of him." "Let it be your meat and your drink to do the will of God yourselves John 4:34;" but, with respect to others, let all your efforts be "to save, and not to destroy them Luke 9:56;" to "win them" by love Proverbs 11:30, and not constrain them by force Luke 14:23.
2 Kings 10:30-31
THE CHARACTER OF JEHU
2 Kings 10:30-31. And the Lord said unto Jehu, Because you have done well in executing that which is right in my eyes, and have done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart, your children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel. But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin.
WE can scarcely conceive any stronger proof of God's willingness to reward his people, than that which he has given us in rewarding persons, whose services were merely external, without any real love to him in their hearts. If we were to judge from the honor put upon Jehu, we should be ready to suppose he was, if not a blameless, yet, on the whole, a pious character: but on a review of his history, our admiration must be fixed, not on him, but on that infinitely gracious and condescending Being, who was pleased to remunerate such services as his. Let us consider,
I. The character of Jehu—
Here was a mixture, not uncommon in the world. Let us notice,
1. What he did for God—
Being appointed of God to the office of avenging upon Ahab the blood of Naboth and of the prophets, he addressed himself to the work without delay. In the space of a few hours he destroyed Jehoram, with his mother Jezebel, and then instantly set himself to complete the work he had so prosperously begun. And it is worthy of observation, that in extirpating the family of Ahab, he succeeded by the very same means which Jezebel had used for the destruction of Naboth. He sent letters to the great men of Samaria, to whose care the seventy sons of Ahab were entrusted, and required of them to cut off their heads in one single night, and send them to him at Jezreel: and these elders, many of whom had doubtless concurred in the shedding of Naboth's blood at the command of Jezebel, now, at the command of Jehu, became traitors to their king, and murderers of all his family.
But, besides cutting off the posterity of Ahab, he proceeded also to execute judgment on all the worshipers of Baal. By a stratagem deeply laid, but ill according with truth or godliness, he succeeded against these also in one day; and entirely banished, as it were, the worship of Baal from the land, burning all his images with fire, and making his very temple a draught-house, or sink of all impurity.
In this conduct he gained the approbation of Jehonadab, whose pious character and zealous cooperation strengthened and encouraged him in this arduous undertaking. From God himself too did he obtain a decided testimony of approbation, together with a rich reward: for he alone of all the kings of Israel had the kingdom continued to his posterity of the fourth generation, or for so long a period of years.
Thus, it must be confessed, he appears to have been a distinguished servant of the Lord; though, alas! he was but partial in that obedience which he rendered.
2. What he omitted to do—
Against Ahab, whom it was his interest to destroy, and Baal, whom he had no wish to preserve, he executed vengeance with zeal; but against the calves of Dan and Bethel, which policy required him to preserve, he raised not up his hand. Nor indeed did he make the law of God the rule of his conduct: "he took no heed to walk according to that;" much less did he aim at it "with all his heart:" no; he both indulged in himself, and tolerated in others, much that was contrary to the divine will; and thus he manifested, that, notwithstanding all his outward obedience, his heart was not right in the sight of God.
Such was his character, externally good, but internally depraved. Let us proceed to notice,
II. The lessons to be deduced from it—
Such characters as these are very instructive: they teach us,
1. That we may perform many outward duties, and yet have no vital principle of religion within us—
The actions of Jehu, as to the matter of them, were good; and therefore they were rewarded; but in their motive and principle they were bad; and therefore God afterwards visited them with a severe punishment Hosea 1:4. This shows, that notwithstanding all he did for the Lord, he had not within him any principle of true piety. And thus it is with multitudes among ourselves: they are zealous against open vice and profaneness, yes active too in many works of benevolence, and yet appear evidently to be destitute of vital godliness: they have never been truly humbled before God, never fled to Christ for refuge, never given themselves up to God as his redeemed people: How much is it to be regretted that such persons, who by their virtues have gained the admiration and love of the most pious characters, and even received a recompense from the Lord also, should yet, for want of a root of grace in them, never bring forth fruit unto perfection, and never obtain happiness in the eternal world! Like the youth in the Gospel, or Nicodemus, or Paul in his unconverted state, they are zealous towards God to a certain extent, but without a new and spiritual birth must forever perish. O that all who have a zeal for God in the performance of outward duties, would carefully examine the principles by which they are actuated, and never be satisfied with any action which has not a sense of redeeming love for its moving cause!
2. That we may profess much zeal for God, and yet have a radical alienation of heart from him—
Jehu certainly professed to be actuated by a regard for God's honor: "Come, see my zeal for the Lord," said he: and when the different events had taken place, he made reflections upon them as accomplishing the divine predictions. Yet his flagrant neglect of other duties stamped him an hypocrite in the sight of God. And is it not thus with many who make a profession of religion in the present day? They think themselves zealous for God, and wish to be thought so by others: but they are manifestly under the dominion of some reigning lusts, some evil tempers, some hidden abominations. They will sacrifice the refuse to the Lord, and such things as they care but little about; but the choicest of the flocks, and the sins which are more intimately connected with their pleasures or their interests, they will retain. Let professors of religion who are so ardent in talking about their favorite topics, or in attending on the ordinances of religion, inquire, Whether the law of God be really in their hearts; whether they are aspiring after an entire conformity to its commands; and whether they are longing to "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God?" Sad will it be to be numbered among those of whom James speaks, who seem to be religious, and yet, by their unbridled tongues, and unsubdued tempers, show that they "deceive their own selves, and that their religion is vain James 1:26."
3. That if ever we would be accepted of God hereafter, we must have our hearts right with him now—
This is required of every human being Deuteronomy 10:12-13; Deuteronomy 18:13. Absolute perfection indeed is not to be expected; but Christian perfection must be attained; nor without it will any conformity to outward rights, or any profession of Christian principles, avail us before God Acts 8:21; — But how shall this state of mind be attained? It must be sought by prayer to God, who has promised to give us his Holy Spirit, and by the mighty working of that Spirit to bring us to an entire conformity to his will Ezekiel 36:26-27. Plead then with God that blessed promise: yes, give him no rest until he accomplish it to your souls. Then shall your heart be made right with God, as God's is with you; and with infinite condescension will he "take you up to sit with him in the chariot" of his love, and on the throne of his glory verse 15.
2 Kings 13:18-19
ELISHA'S REPROOF TO JOASH
2 Kings 13:18-19. And he said, Take the arrows. And he took them. And he said unto the king of Israel, Smite upon the ground. And he smote thrice, and stayed. And the man of God was wroth with him, and said, You should have smitten five or six times; then had you smitten Syria until you had consumed it; whereas now you shall smite Syria but thrice.
IN this passage is recorded a conversation between King Joash and the Prophet Elisha. The prophet was dying; and the king, who had utterly neglected him before, now went to visit him, and was full of concern about the loss, which both he and all his people would sustain: the king even wept over him, and most pathetically exclaimed, "O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof This is the same expression as Elisha himself had used in reference to Elijah, 2 Kings 2:12. The people of Israel were forbidden to multiply chariots and horses, that they might look to God alone as their strength. And they were now so reduced by Hazael king of Syria, that they had only ten chariots and fifty horsemen left; verse 7. But if they had attended to Elisha, they would not have needed any such protectors, because God himself would have defended them. This truth the king now acknowledged, feeling that he was about to lose the best support of his kingdom.": Thus it is that the servants of the Lord are too generally treated: they are neglected and despised in their life; but, when they are no longer able to benefit the world, their loss is deeply felt.
On this occasion God put fresh honor upon his servant, and made him a messenger of glad tidings to the king. These tidings were conveyed under two symbolical representations; the shooting of an arrow towards Syria, and the smiting of a bundle of arrows upon the ground. But it seems that the king, though apprised of God's gracious intentions towards him, was not by any means either so enlarged in his expectations, or so ardent in his desires, as he should have been: he was lukewarm; and by his lukewarmness he both displeased the prophet, and deprived himself of a great measure of that mercy which God had designed to bestow upon him.
Now this subject affords us a fit occasion to consider,
I. What messages of mercy God has sent to us—
Innumerable are the intimations which God has given us of a glorious deliverance from all our spiritual enemies: they have been given,
1. By significant emblems—
What was the preservation of Noah and his family in the ark, but a representation to us of that deliverance which shall be given to all who are found in Christ? All the rest of the world shall perish; but they shall be "saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation 1 Peter 3:20-21." What were the deliverances of God's people from Egypt and Babylon, but typical exhibitions of that redemption which God has given to us in Christ Jesus? In this light they are uniformly set forth in the holy Scriptures; and from them we learn never to despair Isaiah 40:4-5; What were all the miracles of our Lord, but so many emblems of the spiritual blessings which shall be imparted unto us by the Gospel Isaiah 35:5-6; John 9:39; Above all, what was the resurrection of our blessed Lord, but a pledge, yes, a shadowy representation also, of that restoration to a new and spiritual life, of which all shall partake who believe in Christ Compare Ephesians 1:19-22 with Ephesians 2:4-7..
2. By express promises—
Where shall we begin, or where shall we end, our enumeration of the "exceeding great and precious promises" which are given us in the Gospel? Though we should confine ourselves to the precise idea of the text, and contemplate the promises solely as relating to our deliverance from spiritual enemies, we might easily collect passages almost without number Sin, Romans 6:14. Satan, Romans 16:20. Death, 1 Corinthians 3:22. Hell, John 3:15-16 or all in one, Luke 4:18; These are made, like that in our text, even to the most unworthy of mankind.
3. By the declarations and examples of dying saints—
Behold Jacob on his dying bed Genesis 49:18; or the aged Simeon with Jesus in his arms Luke 2:29; see Paul, in daily expectation of martyrdom; how bright his prospects, how heavenly his frame 2 Timothy 4:7-8. In such passages as these we see death entirely disarmed of its sting, and the triumphs of Heaven, as it were, begun. But we need not go back to the days of old: we may hear for ourselves precisely similar declarations, if we will frequent the chambers of sick and dying saints. In all such instances, the departing saints bring the matter home to our own feelings, and "put, as it were, their hands upon ours," to teach us how to shoot, and to encourage our efforts See verse 16; and God himself instructs us, what we also may expect from him in a dying hour.
Amidst so many gracious intimations from God, we should inquire,
II. Whence it is that we profit so little by them?
The fault is in ourselves alone, just as it was in the king of Israel—
1. Our desires are faint—
We do not long for the blessings of redemption as we ought to do: we should "pant after them, as the deer after the water-brooks Psalm 42:1-2; Psalm 63:1-2; Psalm 84:2." But instead of this, we are satisfied with low attainments: and, if we can, as it were, just get within the door of mercy, we have no ambition either to glorify God on earth, or to obtain an augmented weight of glory in Heaven. The people of this world put us utterly to shame: they are never satisfied: the more they obtain, the more their desires are enlarged. O that it were thus with us; and that we were determined "never to be satisfied, until we awake up after the perfect image of our God Psalm 17:15."
2. Our expectations low—
We do not actually deny the truth of God in his promises; but we do not view them in their breadth and length, and depth and height. God says to us, "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it:" but we have no enlargement in prayer. "We are not straitened in him; but we are straitened in our own affections." God tells us, that "according to our faith it shall be unto us:" but we, instead of raising our expectations in proportion to the ability of the Giver, are ever limiting his power and grace; and on every occasion we ask, Can he do this thing? or Will he do it for me? This is a fault even among eminent saints. It was for this that Jesus reproved the sisters of Lazarus: he had told them, that their brother should rise again: and, when he went to the grave to raise him, they thought that the circumstance of his having been dead four days was an insurmountable obstacle to his restoration to life: but Jesus replied, "Said I not unto you, that, if you would believe, you should see the glory of God?" This reproof most justly belongs to us. If when we attended the ordinances of religion, or read the word of God, or opened our mouths in prayer, we really expected such manifestations of God's power and love as he has given us reason to expect, what might we not obtain at his hands? But God does not perform, and, if we may so speak, cannot perform, all that he would for us, because of our unbelief Matthew 13:58 with Mark 6:5.
3. Our exertions languid—
When we come into the divine presence, the arrows are, as it were, put into our hands; but we are content with striking twice or thrice. We do not "stir up ourselves to lay hold on God:" we do not wrestle with him, and determine not to let him go, until he has bestowed a blessing on our souls. We should "give him no rest," until he has manifested to us the acceptance of our prayers. But we perform all our duties in so cold a way as rather to offend God by our lukewarmness, than to please him by our zeal. The prophet was justly displeased with Joash for not showing greater ardor in the cause of Israel: "You should have smitten," says he, "five or six times: then had you smitten Syria, until you had consumed it: whereas now you shall smite Syria but thrice." This prediction was exactly verified: "Joash did beat them only three times verse 25;" and thus we find it in our own experience: we gain some victories, it is true; but they are only small and partial, because we war not with all our might.
1. Improve the opportunities which God affords you by his ministers—
Elisha ministered for above sixty years: yet Joash never availed himself of his instructions, until they were about to be forever withdrawn. And is it not so wherever the faithful servants of God are sent? The generality, especially of the great and opulent, disregard their warnings, and despise their messages of mercy. O that it might not be found so in this place! If God has sent you the light, learn to walk in the light, while you have it; lest darkness come upon you, and "the word which ought to be a savor of life, become unto you a savor of death."
2. Trifle not with the impressions which are at any time upon your minds—
Joash appeared to be now in a hopeful way; but he soon lost his good impressions, and died, as he had lived, an enemy of God. And are there not found among us many, whose "goodness is as the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passes away?" Under the ordinances perhaps, or in a time of sickness, or under the prospect of some painful bereavement, you have been affected, and been made willing to obey the voice of God's prophets: but you have soon forgotten all your vows, and "returned with the dog to his vomit, and with the sow that is washed to her wallowing in the mire." Truly should this be the case with you, "your latter end will be worse than your beginning: for it were better never to have known the way of righteousness, than after having known it to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto you."
2 Kings 17:33
THE BIBLE STANDARD OF RELIGION
2 Kings 17:33. They feared the Lord, and served their own gods.
THE views which men in general have of religion are extremely indistinct. Hence arises the necessity of unfolding religion to them in every possible way. Sometimes we attempt it by a clear exposition of its principles from the declarations of the Inspired Volume. Sometimes we bring forth the examples of the Apostles, and show what their views of religion were. On the present occasion, I will proceed in a way of contrast, that so the difference between true religion and false may the more fully appear.
The persons of whom my text speaks were the inhabitants of Samaria. When the king of Assyria had subdued the ten tribes of Israel, he took away the inhabitants, and dispersed them throughout his own dominions, and sent a number of his own subjects to occupy and cultivate the land. These persons, coming from different parts of the Assyrian Empire, took with them their own gods, whom they had severally been accustomed to worship. But, after a season, the lions of the forests multiplied, and caused such destruction among them, that they could not but regard it as a token of God's displeasure, for not being worshiped and served in a way conformable to his own appointed ordinances. The people stated this to the king of Assyria; and requested that one of the priests who had been taken from the land, should be sent back, in order to instruct them how Jehovah, whom they supposed to be a local Deity, and the God of that particular land, was to be worshiped. This request was complied with: a priest was sent to them: a number of others were appointed to officiate with him under his direction: and thus the people united the worship of Jehovah with that of their own idols; or, as my text expresses it, "feared the Lord, and served their own gods verse 24–41." And in this state they continued even to the time of our blessed Lord; who said to the Samaritan woman, "You worship you know not what John 4:22." Now, this will afford me an opportunity of showing what true religion is; by contrasting,
I. The Samaritan standard of religion—
From the history of the Samaritans, as contained in the chapter before us, it will be seen what their religion was—
It had self-delight for its object, form for its essence, and custom for its origin.
It had self-delight for its object: for every one worshiped his own gods; as it is said: "Every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high-places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities where they dwelt verse 29–31." If they added Jehovah to them, it was from fear of his vengeance: "They feared the Lord, and served their own gods;" fearing him by constraint, and serving them by choice. They had a general idea that it was well to acknowledge some God: and with that they were satisfied.
It had form for its essence: "They made unto themselves, of the lowest of the people, priests of the high-places, which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high-places verse 32." While the priests were at their posts, and performing their accustomed round of services, all was well. Respecting religion as a personal concern between them individually and the God whom they served, they knew nothing. It was with them a mere official matter: and if it was performed with regularity by the appointed officers, they felt no want, no cause for self-reproach.
It had custom for its origin: "They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations who had carried Israel away captive from thence: Unto this day they do after the former manners verse 33, 34, marginal reading." "So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children, and their children's children: as did their fathers, so did they unto this day verse 41." None of them inquired whether their views were right or wrong: they took for granted that the religion which they had received from their forefathers was right: and, if they only conformed themselves to that, they had nothing to fear.
And what is the religion which obtains among us?
Truly, we might almost conceive ourselves to be in Samaria, rather than in Britain, where the light of the Gospel so clearly shines. For what is the object which the generality of us aim at, even in religion? is it not merely to have within our own bosoms a foundation for self-applause? As to any real delight in holy exercises, we do not pretend to it. To read the word of God with a devout application of it to our own particular case; to commune with God in secret, and pour out our souls before him in praise and thanksgiving; these are not really the employments we affect: as for enjoying his presence, and receiving communications from him in answer to our prayers, we scarcely contemplate such a thing as attainable by us: if we do our duty, as we call it, that is all that we are concerned about; that satisfies our conscience; and we neither desire nor think of anything beyond.
In perfect accordance with these views are all our services. We come to the house of God: we follow the minister in the different parts of the service, standing, sitting, kneeling, as occasion requires, and making our responses at the places assigned us: we then attend to his discourse with interest or indifference, as it may happen: and then congratulate ourselves as having performed a duty, though the soul has not been really engaged in a single word that has been uttered either by the minister or ourselves. Samaritan-like, we devolve almost the whole service on the minister; and, if he have discharged his office with regularity and decorum, we conclude that we have done all that was required of us.
If it were asked of us, Why we professed the Christian faith at all, the greater part of us would have no better reason than that by which the Samaritans were influenced; "We follow the religion of our forefathers." We are Christians, in fact, for the very same reasons that Muhammadans or Pagans profess the faith maintained respectively by them. We have taken our religion upon trust from those who have gone before us, without ever having examined it for ourselves: and it is owing to the circumstance of our having been born in a Christian land, and not to any conviction of the truth and excellency of our religion, that we are Protestants and not Papists, or Christians and not Heathens.
God in Christ is professedly the object of our worship; but the gods whom we really worship, and by choice, are the pleasures, and riches, and honors, of this vain world. On them our heart is fixed; to them is our time devoted; and, if we but attain them to the extent of our desires, we bless ourselves as having gained the objects most worthy of our pursuit.
But now, in opposition to all this, let us notice
II. The standard proposed to us in the Bible—
This, also, is fully set forth in the chapter before us—
1. It has God alone for its object—
"You shall not fear other gods, nor how yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them; but to the Lord: him shall you fear, and him shall you worship, and to him shall you do sacrifice verse 35, 36." In the first and great commandment that is given us, of loving God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, there is no alienation admitted, no participation with any creature upon earth. "God is a jealous God," and must have our whole hearts. "If our heart be divided, we shall," as the prophet warns us, assuredly "be found faulty Hosea 10:2." Now, then, if there be any one thing under Heaven that is not truly and entirely subordinated to him, we have not yet taken so much as one step in true religion. We may have some fear of God: hut while there is any other God in the universe that we serve, or that stands in competition with him, we are yet Samaritans in heart, "having the form of godliness, but not any of its power 2 Timothy 3:5."
2. It has the covenant of grace altogether for its ground—
"The covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget verse 38." We have no hope whatever before God, but as founded on that everlasting covenant which the Father entered into with his dear Son, as the head and representative of his elect people Zechariah 6:13; Hebrews 13:20. In ourselves we were reduced to a footing with the fallen angels, and had in ourselves no more claim on God than they. By the first covenant we were all condemned Galatians 3:10. But God has made a new covenant with us, "ordered in all things and sure 2 Samuel 23:5;" and has "confirmed that covenant with an oath Hebrews 6:17-18;" and according to the tenor of that covenant, shall mercy be given unto us Hebrews 8:8-12. But who knows anything about that covenant? Who even thinks of it, or has any more respect unto it than if it never had existed? The utmost that people in general know about religion is, that they need to repent; and that, if they repent, they shall obtain mercy: but under what considerations, and by what distinct means, mercy shall be accorded to them, they know nothing. They see not everything as springing from the sovereign grace of God, and given to Christ for us, and received from Christ through the exercise of faith: truly, so miserably defective are the most of us in the knowledge of these things, that the Samaritans themselves had almost as good a discernment of them as we.
3. It has the work of redemption for its great influential motive—
"You shall fear the Lord, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and a stretched-out arm verse 36." Throughout all the Old Testament, the deliverance from Egypt is urged as the chief incentive to serve and glorify God. Yet what was that, in comparison of the redemption given to us through the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? This is the substance, of which the redemption from Egypt was the mere shadow. And it is from the consideration of this stupendous work that we are exhorted to "yield up ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord Romans 12:1." It is "because Christ has bought us with a price, that we are called to glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Peter 1:17-19." See the saints in Heaven: even there are they actuated in all their services by a sense of redeeming love Revelation 5:9-10; much more are we on earth induced by this wonderful mystery to "live to Him, who died for us, and rose again Romans 14:7-9."
4. It has holiness, real and universal holiness, for its end—
Not even the salvation of men from perdition is so much the end of all religion as the saving of them from sin. It was in the latter view, rather than the former, that the very name of Jesus was given to our blessed Lord Matthew 1:21. He came to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works Titus 2:14." This also, like all the foregoing characters of true religion, is specified in the passage before us: "The statutes, and the ordinances, and the law, and the commandment, which he wrote for you, you shall observe to do for evermore verse 37." And to this agrees the testimony of Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up an horn of salvation for us: that, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, we might serve him without fear, in righteousness and holiness before him, all the days of our life Luke 1:67-69; Luke 1:74-75."
Now, from hence we may see how far we are possessed of true religion: for, if we desire not holiness as our chief aim, and as that which alone can render Heaven itself desirable, we have yet to learn what are the first principles of true religion. Satan himself would gladly be restored to his original happiness in Heaven: but he has no desire to be "renewed in the spirit of his mind, and to be created anew, after the divine image, in righteousness and true holiness Ephesians 4:23-24." These are exclusively the desires of a Christian mind; and in every regenerate soul under Heaven are they paramount and predominant. There is not a Christian in the universe who does not desire to become "holy, as God himself is holy," and "perfect, even as his Father which is in Heaven is perfect."
And now, by way of improvement,
1. I will call you to humiliation—
Methinks the Prophet Isaiah furnishes me with the most appropriate address that can possibly be delivered to you: "Hear you this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah; who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness Isaiah 48:1." Here your Christian profession is acknowledged: and here, alas! is your Christian practice described. For who among us has devoted himself to God with that entireness of heart and life which the very name of Christian implies?: I must indeed warn you, that "you cannot serve two masters, who are so opposed to each other as God and the world are. To whichever of them you adhere, you must, of necessity, despise the other: you cannot serve God and mammon Matthew 6:24." This is not the warning of an enthusiast who is carried to excess by an heated imagination, but the warning of our Lord Jesus Christ himself, who will confirm it by his judgment at the last day. And if this be true, what have you been, but despisers of God, while you have been professing to reverence and serve him? Let a sense of this humble you in the dust: and remember, that, if ever you would serve God acceptably, every rival must be put away, and he alone must reign in your heart.
2. I call you to decision—
What is the determination which I would wish you all to form? It is that which the Prophet Micah so well inculcates: "All people will walk every one in the name of his God; and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God, forever and ever Mic. 4:5." Yes; "walk in the name of your incarnate God," whose name you bear: and let it be seen "whose you are, and whom you serve." Do this at all events, without compromising the matter, or "halting between two opinions." "If Baal be God, follow him: but if the Lord be God, then follow him 1 Kings 18:21." Yes, and "follow him fully too Joshua 14:8-9;" and if you are called to bear a cross for him, stay not until it is laid upon you by necessity; but "take it up willingly, and follow him Luke 9:23;" "follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach Hebrews 13:13;" and, whatever be the cross laid upon you, rejoice, and "glory in it, for his sake Acts 5:41." This is the Bible standard. Attempt not to lower it. Aspire after a full conformity to it. Your Lord well deserves this at your hands. It was not by measure that he expressed love to you. There was nothing which he did not forego for you; nothing which he did not sustain for you. Walk you, then, in his steps; and have no other standard than this, to "love him as he has loved you," and to serve him as he has served you. Whatever he did for your salvation, that be ready to do for his honor. And whatever attainments you have made, still endeavor to advance, "walking on" with ever-increasing zeal, "forgetting what is behind, and pressing forward to that which is before, until the prize of your high calling is awarded to you Philippians 3:13-14," and you rest forever in the bosom of your God.
2 Kings 18:4
HEZEKIAH DESTROYS THE BRAZEN SERPENT
2 Kings 18:4. He brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.
WE too often see the children of godly parents turning aside from the principles in which they have been educated, and deserting the paths which parental piety has marked out for them. Here we behold a youth, whose father was branded with a special mark of infamy on account of his numerous and aggravated 2 Chronicles 28 :. impieties, shining with a brighter luster than any other of the kings of Judah verse 5, 6. No sooner did he come to the throne of his father than he set himself to counteract all the evil which his father had done. At the early age of twenty-five he commenced a reformation, which, for the time at least, was attended with the happiest effects. "He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made." It seems that the veneration in which that memorial of God's mercy had been held, had degenerated into the grossest superstition. Where the brazen serpent had been preserved for so long a period, we are not informed. Had it been placed within the sanctuary, with the pot of manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, being concealed from the view both of the people and the priests, it would not have become an object of idolatrous regard. But it is not to be wondered at, that, when idols of every kind were multiplied in the land, this, which as a memorial of God's mercy was really entitled to most affectionate respect, should have divine honors paid to it. The use which was made of it by the Jewish people naturally leads me to show, How prone men are to superstition: while the zeal of Hezekiah in destroying it, will properly afford me an occasion yet further to show, How earnestly we ought, all of us according to our ability, to counteract the superstition that is around us.
I. How prone men are to superstition—
Superstition, I am aware, may exist, without being carried to the extent in which it prevailed among the Jews at this time. But the same ingredients are found in it, whatever be the degree in which it prevails. In the instance before us its component parts are manifest. The Jews carried their veneration of the brazen serpent to a very culpable excess: they assigned to it a sanctity, which it did not possess—they ascribed to it a glory, which it did not merit—they expected from it a benefit, which it could not confer. Now, whether our superstition have respect to a visible creature, or only to a figment of the brain, its essential qualities are the same; and man in his fallen state is prone to it.
It obtained, and still obtains, universally among the heathen—
What were, or are, the Deities of the heathen, but men, who on account of some exploits in former days have been canonized, or mere creatures of the imagination invested with divine attributes? The philosophers of Greece and Rome knew of no other gods than these; and in that respect were scarcely more rational than any other of the heathen, whether in ancient or modern times.
Among the Jews also it ever did, and still does, prevail to an awful extent—
Scarcely had they been brought out of Egypt before they made a golden calf, and worshiped it as their God Acts 7:41. Through their whole abode in the wilderness they bowed down to Moloch and Remphan, the gods of the heathen that were around them Acts 7:42-43. After their settlement in Canaan they evinced the same propensity continually. The greatest mercies which God given to them were abused to this end. Was the law given them from Mount Sinai? they rested in it for justification, instead of using it as "a ministration of condemnation," and a rule of life. Was the temple of God among them? in that they trusted as a security against their enemies, saying, as Micah did when he had secured a Levite for his priest, "Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest Judges. 17:13; Jeremiah 7:4." Had they the badge of circumcision? they thought that would suffice, though they knew nothing of the true circumcision of the heart. To this present hour the dispersed of Israel have no juster views of God and of religion than those had in former days; of whom it is said, that, trusting in their own righteousness, they would not submit to the righteousness of God. Even the doctrines of man's invention had, and still have, a greater authority over them than the commands of God.
And what is Popery but a mass of superstition altogether?
What is the worship of the Virgin Mary, and of saints, and relics? What are all the masses, the pilgrimages, and the penances that are prescribed among them as means of expiating their sins? What is their auricular confession, their priestly absolution, their adoring of the consecrated wafer, and their administration of extreme unction? Some, I trust, there are, who are enabled to look simply to Christ through all the mists that are cast around him: but those who regard the dogmas of popery as the only ground of their hopes, are as far from God and truth as either Jews or heathens.
Would to God that the Protestant world were blameless in relation to this matter!
The light which we enjoy ought long since to have dispelled the clouds of popish superstition: but among the generality there still remains a most astonishing blindness respecting the Gospel of Christ. How many are there who imagine that repentance has in itself a power to wash away their sins! How many regard the Lord's supper, not as a mere commemorative ordinance in and through which divine blessings are dispensed, but as a sacrificial act, that expiates their guilt, and insures their forgiveness! Baptism, in like manner, is supposed by many to take away our sins, yes, and to renew our natures also, not as it is received, but simply as administered: and they who deny this, are represented as denying the sacramental character of the ordinance. Thus do many among ourselves run into the very same absurdity as the Jews did in relation to the brazen serpent. God once conveyed bodily health by a sight of the brazen serpent; and he now conveys spiritual health in and through the ordinance of baptism. But the serpent did not heal all, but those only who looked to it by faith: nor did it heal them by any power of its own, but only as appointed of God to be a medium of communication from him to them. When the Jews ascribed the honor to the brazen serpent, and looked to it for future benefits, they erred: and precisely in the same manner do they err, who ascribe power to baptism as an act, instead of looking simply to God for his blessing on the use of it as an instituted ordinance, and a medium of communication with him. As reasonably might any person ascribe the refreshing water which he drinks to the pipe which conveys it to him, as imagine that the mere act of baptism can justify and sanctify his soul. There is a fountain to which the stream must be traced: and, if we suffer our views to terminate on anything short of that, we are guilty of the grossest superstition.
In a word, there is in every man by nature a tendency to this fatal evil, and a readiness to rob God of his glory, by giving to the creature that honor which is due to him alone. Such is the proneness of man to superstition: and, from Hezekiah's conduct, we learn,
II. How earnestly we should all endeavor to counteract it—
We should counteract it,
1. In ourselves—
There is a great deal of this evil remaining in the heart, even after we are truly converted unto God. To view God in everything; to ascribe everything, evil as well as good, to God Amos. 3:6; to give him the glory of everything; and to depend wholly and entirely upon him for everything, is an attainment to which we are not soon brought: we gain it for the most part by a long and painful discipline. There is a measure of creature-confidence and creature-dependence cleaving to us to the end: or though we be purged from it, yet is there a tendency to return to it, and a necessity to be constantly on our guard against it. Whence is that confidence which some derive from dreams, or visions, or other conceits of their own 2 Whence is that stress which they lay on the word of God coming to their minds in this or that particular way? It all arises from a propensity inherent in fallen man to rest in something besides God. The word of God is our only legitimate ground of either hope or fear. The manner of its being applied to the mind does not alter one jot or tittle of it. The promises are not a whit more sure because they are presented with force to our minds, nor the threatenings less sure because we are strongly impressed with the idea that they shall never be fulfilled in us. And the only effect of attending to our own feelings in relation to these things is, to generate a presumptuous confidence in some, and groundless apprehensions in others. They all draw the mind from God; and must be guarded against as superstitious vanities: and "all who trust in such vanities, shall have vanity for their recompense."
2. In others—
Were superstition a harmless delusion, we might leave men to themselves: but when we consider how great an evil it is, and how strenuously the pious Hezekiah opposed it, we should all use our utmost efforts to counteract it in the world. Whether we view the dishonor which it does to God, or the evil which it entails on man, we cannot but see, that we should tread in Hezekiah's steps respecting it That it robs God of his glory, is obvious; because it ascribes to the creature what is due to Him alone. And it is most injurious to man, because while it disappoints his hopes, it actually robs him of all the blessings which the Gospel itself provides. What did Paul say to those who relied on circumcision as securing or confirming to them the benefits of the Gospel? Did he say, "If you be circumcised, your circumcision shall profit you nothing?" No: but, "If you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing Galatians 5:2." And so must we say in reference to superstition of every kind: it not only fails to procure the benefits it aspires to, but actually deprives us of the benefits we might otherwise obtain: and it would be well if those, who superstitiously regard divine ordinances, whether baptism, or the Lord's Supper, or any other ordinance, as possessing any inherent virtue in themselves, and as imparting virtue by any power of their own, would contemplate their guilt and danger while under the influence of such delusions: for to those who against better light adhere to them, as necessarily conveying justification and sanctification and salvation, "Christ himself will become of no effect:" they are fallen from grace; and, as far as respects them, "Christ is dead in vain Galatians 5:4 with Galatians 2:21."
Well I know that to some these sentiments will appear harsh: but fidelity to God and man requires, that, if even an angel from Heaven should countenance such an error, he should be opposed Galatians 1:8-9. And if in opposing such errors any one think that we manifest too much zeal, what would such an one have said to Hezekiah? 'What! know you not that that serpent was appointed as an ordinance by God himself? Know you not how many thousands were healed by it? And do you dare to break it in pieces, and to degrade it with such an appellation as "Nehushtan" as though it were no better than a mere piece of brass? I am shocked at your impiety.' But what would Hezekiah have said? 'It is not as an ordinance of God that I degrade it, but as idolatrously substituted in God's place, as a ground of hope, and as a source of good.' So say I of baptism and of the Lord's supper: 'In their proper and appointed use they cannot be too highly valued: but, if abused to purposes for which they were not given, and looked to as containing in themselves, and conveying of themselves, salvation to man, they are desecrated, and may justly be called Nehushtan.' So Paul said in relation to circumcision, which corresponds with the Christian ordinance of baptism. When some abused it as a ground of hope, he would not acknowledge them as the people of God. He indignantly denominates them "the concision," declaring that they only were the circumcision who sought their salvation in God alone. And if any be offended with this doctrine, we refer them to Hezekiah; we refer them to St Paul. It is too weighty a matter to be trifled with, seeing that it is of vital importance to every soul of man.
Let us learn, then, from hence,
1. How to use God's ordinances—
We should be thankful for them: we should honor them: we should look to God in them, and expect from God through them the communications of his grace and peace. They are to be reverenced, but not idolized; to be used as means, but not rested in as an end. No one is to imagine himself the better, merely because he has attended on any ordinances: for he may eat his own condemnation at the supper of the Lord, and have the word which is ministered unto him "a savor only of death." We must look, not to ordinances, but to God in them: and just so much as we obtain from God in them are we benefitted by them. This present ordinance for instance; What are you the better for it, if you have not held communion with God himself in your devotions? And what benefit will you receive from the word now delivered, if it come not to you in demonstration of the Spirit and of power? Bear this in mind, both before you come up to the house of God, and when you depart from it; and then you will find the ordinances to be blessings indeed. But, if you "sacrifice to your own net, and burn incense to your own drag Habakkuk 1:16," your coming hither will be in vain, and our labor also will be in vain.
2. How to regard the Lord Jesus Christ himself—
Methinks these Jews, though so blind and sinful, may well rise up in judgment against the generality of the Christian world. The serpent which they worshiped had never done anything for them; the persons whom it had healed, had lived eight hundred years before; and it prevailed only to prolong for a season their corporeal life: and no benefit had accrued from it to any child of man since the day that it was erected in the camp. Yet they honored it, and "offered incense to it." But the Lord Jesus Christ has been healing immortal souls; and that from the foundation of the world to this present hour; and so healed them, that they should live forever. This too he has done, not by being unconsciously and without volition suspended on the cross; but by voluntarily leaving his Father's bosom, and assuming our nature, and dying on the cross under the load of all our sins, and drinking to the very dregs that cup of bitterness which must otherwise have been put into our hands to drink forever. Yet how many days and months and years have been spent by most of us without ever offering to him the incense of our prayers and praise! Yes, notwithstanding he is erected for the healing of us, and is at this moment empowered to bestow on us all the blessings that we can need for body or for soul, for time or for eternity, how little is he adored and magnified by us! May we not well be ashamed when we reflect on this? May we not be confounded when we compare our treatment of him with the conduct of the Jews towards the senseless shadowy representation of him? Yes indeed; we have reason to blush and be confounded before him. Let us then repent of all our ingratitude towards him. Let us remember that there is no fear of honoring him too much, since He is God, as well as man; and not the medium of communication only, but the true and proper source of all blessings to our souls. Then shall our communion with him be sweet: and "the golden oil shall flow through the golden pipes Zechariah 4:11-14." of his ordinances, from Him the fountain of it, to the enriching of our souls with all spiritual blessings, and to the everlasting glory of his great and glorious name.
2 Kings 19:30-31
HEZEKIAH'S DELIVERANCE FROM SENNACHERIB
2 Kings 19:30-31. The remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of Mount Zion: the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this.
GREAT and mighty conquerors have at all times been ready to ascribe their success to their own wisdom and prowess: but in no case have they been anything more than the sword which God has used for the effecting of his own purposes Isaiah 10:5; Isaiah 10:15; and when he has accomplished by them his own designs, he not unfrequently punishes their pride and cruelty by some signal judgments. Thus he acted towards the boasting and blasphemous Sennacherib. He raised up that monarch to subdue mighty kingdoms, to lead into captivity the ten tribes of Israel, and to inflict a heavy chastisement on the two remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin. But, when the victorious monarch arrogated to himself all the glory of his conquests, and poured contempt upon Jehovah, whose instrument he was, God "put a hook in his nose and a bridle in his jaws," and turned him back with shame and ignominy; assuring at the same time his oppressed people, that, notwithstanding their present weakness, they should speedily be delivered from their insulting foe, and again be raised to stability and honor.
The words which we have now read are a part of the answer given from the Lord to the supplications of Hezekiah: and we shall find it not unprofitable to consider,
I. The promise contained in them—
The tribes of Judah and Benjamin were reduced to the lowest state of desperation. But God had yet mercy in store for them; and promised, that he would once more establish them in peace and prosperity, so that, instead of being shut up, as now they were, they should be at liberty to return to their own possessions; and, instead of being reduced in number, they should multiply and fill the land.
This seems to be the primary meaning of the words: but they undoubtedly contain a promise of spiritual prosperity to that nation in the Apostolic age.
The terms in which the promise is expressed, are taken from the preceding verse; wherein it is declared, for their comfort, that the desolation which Sennacherib's army had occasioned, should not issue in a famine; but that sufficient corn should spring up, from what had been spilled in the fields, to support them this year, and the year following (which was the sabbatic year); and that in the third year they should be supported by the labors of husbandry, as in former times. From thence God takes occasion to say, that the remnant which should escape the present desolations, should at a future period be a source of comfort and benefit to the whole world.
That this is the true meaning of the words, appears from similar expressions used by the Prophet Isaiah, and quoted by Paul in the very sense here affixed to them Compare Isaiah 10:21-22 with Romans 9:27. In preserving a remnant, it was God's intention that they should be witnesses for him to every nation under Heaven; and that by the ministration of his Gospel they should "blossom, and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit Isaiah 27:6." The events which took place in the Apostolic age, when the Apostles and others went forth to publish the glad tidings of salvation, precisely corresponded with this prophecy: they went from Jerusalem, and diffused the knowledge of a crucified Savior throughout the earth.
Let us attend to,
II. The instruction to be derived from it—
We may particularly learn from hence,
1. The interest which God takes in his Church and people—
Not only from the time that these words were spoken, but even before the foundation of the world, God had an eye to his chosen people, to deliver them from their spiritual enemies, that they might "walk in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of their life." On his Jewish Church he yet looks, in order to "engraft them yet again on their own olive-tree," when the appointed period for their restoration shall arrive. And on the least and meanest of his people at this day does he still cast an eye of love and pity: he "has thoughts of love and peace towards them," and "is not willing that one of his little ones should perish." If enemies assault them, he considers himself as struck through them Acts 9:4; he feels as if the apple of his eye were touched Zechariah 2:8; he regards them as "his first-fruits," which if any dared to alienate and consume, he did it at the peril of his own soul Jeremiah 2:3.
2. The efficacy of believing prayer—
Low indeed was the state of the nation at that time: it seemed as if there was no possibility of escape for them from their conquering enemies. But behold, how speedily and effectually prayer prevailed! Isaiah lifted up his voice to God in prayer verse 4; Hezekiah also spread before the Lord the letter that Rabshakeh had sent him verse 14–19; and scarcely had the pious monarch finished his prayer, before the prophet was sent to him from the Lord, with assurances of immediate and complete deliverance verse 20; and that very night was an angel sent from Heaven to destroy a hundred and eighty-five thousand of the Assyrian army. Thus shall all God's enemies, and ours, perish, if only we cry unto God for help. We may even now adopt the exulting language which God ordered Hezekiah to use in reference to the Assyrian monarch, "The virgin, the daughter of Israel, has shaken her head at you." Only spread all your wants and difficulties before the Lord, and there is no lust, no enemy, that shall stand before you; but "Satan himself shall be bruised under your feet shortly."
"The zeal of the Lord of Hosts is pledged to perform this" for all his believing people. You may therefore go to him and plead, "Where is your zeal, and your strength, the sounding of your affections and of your mercies towards me Isaiah 63:15." And his answer to you shall speedily arrive, "I will rejoice over you to do you good, and I will plant you in the heavenly land with my whole heart and with my whole soul Jeremiah 32:41." Only believe in him; and "according to your faith it shall be unto you."
2 Kings 20:2-3
HEZEKIAH'S APPEAL TO GOD
2 Kings 20:2-3. Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the Lord, saying, I beseech you, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before you in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in your sight.
AS "clouds return after rain," so do troubles follow each other frequently in rapid succession. Great was the affliction of Hezekiah at the time of Sennacherib's invasion: and no sooner was he delivered from that, than he was attacked with a deadly malady, and had a message from the Lord that he must die There appears no just reason for transposing these two events; for they certainly might easily occur within the space of one year; and it is not right to take such liberties with Scripture, as that of transposing chapters and events, without strong internal evidence of the necessity of such a change. Under this new trouble he betook himself, as he had done also on the former occasion, to fervent prayer: and in this prayer he made a most solemn appeal to God, an appeal which needs to be well considered.
We will notice,
I. The occasion of it—
A message had been sent him from the Lord to set his house in order, and to prepare for speedy death.
Now this would be an awful warning to any man—
There is in every man an instinctive dread of death; and more especially to those who regard it in its true light. Who can think of going to the tribunal of a just and holy God, to give an account of all that he has done in the body, whether good or evil, and to receive from God a sentence of everlasting happiness or misery, and not tremble at such a prospect?: This thought is as interesting to the prince as the peasant: and though many persons treat it as fit only to be regarded by the poor, or by the sick and aged, yet, when the hour of death draws near, all feel its importance; or, if any are hardened enough to disregard it then, their delusion ceases the very instant that death has executed on them its commission.
But it was peculiarly distressing to Hezekiah—
He had begun a great and glorious reformation, and had fondly hoped to see it completed in the land. Besides, he had many plans for the temporal prosperity of his subjects; which now he had no prospect of carrying into execution. To relinquish all these projects was painful in the extreme. It evidently was not the mere fear of death that stimulated him to pray: nor does he appear to have entertained any doubt about the safety of his own soul: it was for God, and for the Jewish nation, that he felt concerned: and doubtless, in proportion to his zeal for God, and the love he bore to man, would be his grief at the tidings of such a premature and unseasonable termination of his life: nor do we wonder that under such circumstances he should "make supplication to his God with strong crying and tears."
Yet, until it is explained, we shall not easily account for,
II. The appeal itself—
It does at first sight appear like the Pharisaic boast, "I thank you, O God, that I am not as other men." But, in truth, it was a plea, with which his prayer was enforced; a plea, like that of David, "Preserve my soul, for I am holy Psalm 86:2." In this appeal he humbly declared before God.
1. The use which he had hitherto made of life—
From the first moment of his coming to the throne, he had set himself to suppress idolatry, and to reform the nation. Of this he had the testimony of his own conscience; and this gave him much comfort in his soul 2 Corinthians 1:12, together with confidence in urging his petitions before God 1 John 3:21-22.
But there was in this plea a reference to an express promise made to David, a promise, the accomplishment of which Hezekiah was now particularly authorized to ask, and to expect God had assured David that "if his children should walk before him in truth, there should not fail one of them to sit upon the throne of Israel 1 Kings 2:4." But Hezekiah had walked before God in truth, and yet was about to die without leaving any child to succeed him in his throne Manasseh was not born until three years afterwards. Compare 2 Kings 20:6 with 21:1. This under any circumstances would have been a great affliction; but it was peculiarly afflictive, now that Hezekiah was in the midst of all his plans for the welfare of the nation, and had no prospect of a successor who would carry them on. Hence there was a propriety in this appeal, far beyond what has been generally supposed: for if we have complied with any conditions on which a promise is suspended, we may justly urge it with God as a plea for the accomplishment of his promise.
2. The end for which he desired a continuance of life—
His desire was, not that he might have a protracted enjoyment of earthly things, but that he might have further opportunities of serving God. This appears from the thanksgiving which he uttered on his recovery Isaiah 38:18-19. And this was a legitimate ground of desiring life. Paul, though he "desired to depart and to be with Christ, which was far better," yet was willing to stay a longer time here below, because it was "needful for the Church of Christ." What better plea then could be urged than this? 'O my God, you have put me into a situation wherein I can serve you to great advantage; and you know I have no desire but to advance your glory in the world: O take me not away, until I have been enabled to render you all the service of which you have made me capable!' Such was David's plea Psalm 30:8-9; and it may well be urged by all who desire to fulfill the true ends of life.
1. Those who are in health and strength—
Who can tell, how soon the message may be sent to you, "Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live." You may be in the prime of life, as Hezekiah was; (he was only forty years of age;) or, like him, may possess great wealth and honor; or may be engaged in pursuits of vast utility to the world; but death will not spare us on any of these accounts, if it has received its commission to cut us down. Inquire then whether, if the message were now delivered unto you, "You shall die, and not live," you are ready to give up your account with joy? Can you appeal to the heart-searching God that you have walked as in his presence, and endeavored with sincerity of heart to approve yourselves to him? Has the doing of his will in all things been the one object of your life? Above all, inquire whether Christ has been precious to you? whether you have lived by faith on him? and whether you have truly devoted yourselves to his service? These are the things that characterize a true Christian; and unless you have the testimony of your conscience that you have made this use of life, you have indeed very abundant cause to be afraid of death. O pray to God that you may not be taken away in such an unprepared state; and lose not a moment in seeking that entire change of heart and life, without which you can never have any well-grounded confidence towards God.
2. Those who have recovered from sickness, or have escaped any particular danger—
Why has God spared or restored you, but that you might live henceforth to his glory? Perhaps under the apprehension of death, you determined with yourselves that you would give yourselves up to God. Now then remember the vows that are upon you. God heard your prayer, and the prayers of others for you, that it might be seen whether you would serve him or not. O beware how you abuse his patience and long-suffering towards you: beware how you make use of life only to "add sin to sin," and to "treasure up wrath against the day of wrath." There is a great work lying before you, and but little time to do it in. To have the text realized in you, to have it realized in all its parts: and to have such an evidence of it in your heart and life, as to be able to appeal to God respecting it; this is no easy matter; nor is it a work that ought to be deferred one single moment. Consider, you are still as much exposed to death as ever. Though restored, you have no promise of life for fifteen years to come, no, nor for fifteen days or hours. Improve then the present hour: "Walk not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time," that at whatever hour the heavenly Bridegroom may arrive, you may be found ready, and be counted worthy to sit down with him at his marriage-feast in Heaven.
2 Kings 20:19
2 Kings 20:19. Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of the Lord which you have spoken.
IF of active virtues it may be said, that they are more fascinating and beautiful in the eyes of men; of passive virtues it may be said, that an equal degree of divine grace is displayed in them. It is as much an effect of divine grace to suffer patiently the will of God, as it is to perform it diligently. Accordingly we find, that most of the eminent saints of old were as remarkable for a meek submission to the divine disposals, as for a zealous execution of the divine commands. Aaron, Leviticus 10:3, Eli, 1 Samuel 3:18, Job, Job 1:21, David Psalm 39:9, and many others, are recorded as bright examples of the passive graces: and the history of Hezekiah, as contained in the words before us, furnishes us with an admirable specimen of pious resignation.
We shall consider his resignation,
I. As an act of piety—
The judgments denounced against his family and kingdom were of the most distressing nature—
All the wealth that he possessed, together with the holy city and temple, were to be delivered into the hands of the Chaldeans; and his sons, whom he should beget, should be made eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. To a monarch, what could be more distressing than the overthrow of his whole kingdom? To a pious monarch, what more grievous than the destruction of God's temple, and the triumph of idolatry over the true religion? And to a monarch that was a parent, what more terrible than such degradation and misery as were denounced against his offspring?
Some may think that these judgments were not very afflictive, because they were not to affect the king himself, but only to attach upon his descendants: but, we apprehend that any personal affliction whatever would have been esteemed light, in comparison of the calamities here threatened See 2 Samuel 24:17.
Yet were the tidings of them received with the most perfect submission—
What could any man say more? Hezekiah justified in the strongest terms the denunciations that had been delivered. Though he was taken entirely off his guard, and had not the smallest expectation of any such message from the Lord, yet, on the delivery of it, he bowed at once, and "accepted it as the punishment of his iniquity Leviticus 26:41." Grievous as the chastisement was, he approved of it as coming from the hands of a righteous God, and declared it to be not only just, but "good."
Instead of murmuring against God for the severity of his judgments, he instantly expressed his gratitude for the mercy blended with them—
He was informed that in his days the nation should enjoy "peace;" and that "truth" should triumph over the idolatry and wickedness which had overrun the land. These considerations, independent of his own personal welfare, were consolatory to his mind; because, if God had been "extreme to mark what had been done amiss," he might have justly executed his threatened judgments instantly, without any intervention of grace and mercy. On these mitigated circumstances Hezekiah fixed his mind; and, while he acknowledged the equity of the judgments in their fullest extent, he more especially adored the goodness of God in suspending them for so long a period: "Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?" The prospect of the prevalence of true religion, though but for a season, was cheering to him: and he "accounted the long-suffering of God to be salvation."
If, as an act of piety, we admire his resignation, much more shall we do so,
II. As a lesson of instruction—
Truly in this view the history before us is very important. From it we learn many valuable lessons:
1. That pride, however light and venial it may appear in our eyes, is most offensive in the sight of God—
It was pride which led Hezekiah to display before the Babylonish ambassadors all the monuments of his wealth and power: he felt an undue delight in the things themselves, as though they of themselves could make us happy; and next, he relied on them as inducements to the king of Babylon to court his alliance. According to the common estimation of men, there would be no great evil in this conduct: but God regarded as a very heinous sin, the indulgence of such vain conceits; and marked the extent of his displeasure by the severity of his judgments.
Let not any one then imagine that an inordinate attachment to earthly things, or a vain confidence in them, is a light offence. Whatever we have that distinguishes us from our fellow-creatures, it is given us of the Lord; and, instead of engrossing our affections, it should lead us to him in thankfulness and praise. If we take glory to ourselves for our possession of it, we provoke him to jealousy, and excite his indignation against us. How highly did God resent the pride of Nebuchadnezzar Daniel 4:29-33, and of Herod Acts 12:22-23. And shall we escape, if we "provoke the Lord to jealousy?" Let us be thankful for what we possess; but let our affections center in God alone.
2. That just views of sin will lead us to justify God in all the judgments that are denounced against it—
We are ready to think that the punishment inflicted on Hezekiah was more severe than the occasion required: but he thought not so, because he saw his sin in all its malignity: In like manner, when the everlasting displeasure of God is denounced against sin and sinners, the proud heart of man is ready to rise up against God, and to say, that it would not be just to inflict eternal punishment for the sins of time, especially if those sins have not been of the most flagrant kind. But a just view of our demerit silences at once all those rebellious murmurs. We then say with David, "You are justified in your saying, and will be clear when you judge." It is remarkable, that the man who was cast out for not having on the wedding garment, is represented as not having one word to utter in arrest of judgment; "he was speechless Matthew 22:12;" and so will it be with all at the last day, yes and with all in this life also, who are made sensible of their iniquities. Under the deepest of earthly afflictions they will say, "Shall a living man complain? a man for the punishment of his sins?" No; "I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him." Under the apprehension of his eternal displeasure also they will cry, "I have sinned against Heaven, and before you, and am no more worthy to be called your son."
Let us beg of God then to give us an insight into our own wickedness; that under all circumstances we may approve of God as "doing all things well."
3. That a humble mind will be more thankful for the mitigating circumstances of an affliction than querulous about the affliction itself—
We greatly admire this in the history before us. And who does not see what sweet composure such conduct is calculated to bring into the mind? The generality of persons are ready to fix on every circumstance that can aggravate their affliction; and hence they make themselves far more miserable than they would otherwise be: but if, like Hezekiah, they looked on the brighter side of their troubles, and noticed the mercies with which they were blended, they would be comparatively happy under them. Even self-love might dictate such a line of conduct, if we were actuated by no better motive: for, if once we saw, how much more afflictive our circumstances might have been, and how much heavier judgments we have merited, we should feel gratitude rise up in our bosoms, and "bless our God, no less when he takes away, than when he gives:" we should confess it to be "of the Lord's mercies that we are not utterly consumed."
2 Kings 20:19
THE BENEFITS ARISING FROM PEACE AND TRUTH Thanksgiving for Peace, in 1816.
2 Kings 20:19. Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?
BY many it is thought that a knowledge of futurity would contribute to their happiness: but we are persuaded that it would prove only a source of misery: the good that would be foreseen would lose more than half its zest, while the evil that was anticipated would embitter the remainder of their days. It was as a punishment, and not as a favor, that an insight into futurity was given to King Hezekiah. He had displeased the Lord by his conduct towards the ambassadors of the king of Babylon: and God sent him word what calamities should befall both his family and nation through the instrumentality of that monarch. This judgment however was tempered with mercy; the execution of it being deferred to a generation yet unborn. Hence the judgment was submitted to with pious resignation: "Good is the word of the Lord which you have spoken. Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?"
It is not our intention to enter any further into the Jewish history than just to fix the precise import of our text. The text is applicable to all persons in every age, and particularly so to this present season. We shall therefore take occasion from it to show,
I. What blessings God is now conferring upon us—
What we are to understand by "peace and truth" will be best seen by a reference to the preceding context—
God had declared that the king of Babylon should invade Judea, and take all the wealth of Hezekiah for a prey, and carry captive his children, and entirely destroy the whole Jewish polity. But, inasmuch as these judgments should be deferred, Hezekiah, instead of beholding the subjugation and captivity of his children, should have "peace;" and, instead of seeing the abolition of the temple worship, should have "truth" continued to him.
Now these are the very blessings for which we are peculiarly called to render thanks this day—
Peace is now happily once more restored: and such a peace as places our country in a state of greater security than it has ever enjoyed since it became a nation.
"Truth," also, with an undisturbed enjoyment of all religious ordinances, is now secured to us. We are no longer in danger of having the temples of our God converted into barracks for a licentious soldiery, or magazines for the implements of war. No longer have we any reason to fear lest a victorious enemy should deprive us of our religious liberty, or a yoke of superstition be imposed upon us as the only worship tolerated in the land. Blessed be God! we enjoy the Gospel in all its purity; and every man throughout the whole land is permitted to serve his God in the way that seems to him to be most agreeable to the Divine commands.
Such blessings being now insured to us, let us consider,
II. In what light they should be viewed—
The continuance of them to Hezekiah was deemed by him a mercy, a great and undeniable mercy: "Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?" To us then is the possession of them,
1. A rich mercy—
How rich a mercy "peace" is, we, who have never had our country the seat of war, are but ill qualified to judge. It is our happiness indeed that we cannot judge of it; since it can only be known by an experience of those calamities which war brings in its train.
Nor can we adequately conceive how much we are indebted to God for the possession of "truth." To estimate this aright, we should behold all the degrading superstitions of heathen nations, and see what self-tormenting methods they practice for the obtaining of peace with their senseless deities of wood and stone. We should see also how the far greater part of those who call themselves Christians are blinded by ceremonies of man's invention, and debarred the use of those sacred oracles which are "able to make them wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." Some sense, we trust, many of us have of the value of a Savior, through whom the vilest of sinners find access to God, and obtain all the blessings of grace and glory. But we must go up to Heaven and behold the felicity of the Saints made perfect; and go down to Hell to behold the miseries of the damned, before we can fully appreciate that Gospel, by which we are quickened from death in trespasses and sins, and are "translated from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God's dear Son."
2. An undeserved mercy—
Hezekiah felt that he might justly have been deprived of these blessings, and been made to experience in his own person all the calamities which were denounced against him in his posterity. And what was Hezekiah's fault? It was this: that when the ambassadors came to congratulate him on his recovery from a dangerous illness, he neglected to commend to them the God of Israel, by whom their souls, and the souls of their countrymen, might be saved; and sought rather to aggrandize himself by an ostentatious display of his own wealth and power. Now we are far from wishing to extenuate his guilt: it was doubtless exceeding great: and the pride of his heart merited from God the severest chastisement 2 Chronicles 32:25-26. But what was his guilt compared with ours? We scarcely hear on any occasion the glory of our successes ascribed to God; nor do we find one in a thousand who relies truly and simply on God for a continuance of them: self-glorying, and confidence in an arm of flesh, are the leading features of our whole people; so that we might justly have been left to experience defeats answerable to all our victories. And how is the "truth" improved among us? As, on the one hand, there is not a nation under Heaven where it shines with purer luster, so neither, on the other hand, is there a nation under Heaven where it is treated with greater contempt. And as to those who profess to value it, how little are its fair and beauteous lineaments visible in their hearts and lives! Well indeed might our mis-improvement of the light have long since provoked God to "take away his candlestick from us:" and it is a most unmerited mercy that "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God" is yet continued to us.
3. A mercy that may well reconcile us to all events connected with it—
We are not to suppose that Hezekiah was indifferent about the welfare of his posterity: it was nothing but his sense of the greatness of the mercy given to him, that led him to acquiesce so meekly in the sentence as it was denounced against him. The prospect of the calamities that would come on his posterity was doubtless a source of bitter anguish to his mind: but it was a great matter that he had obtained a respite, and that the judgment was not inflicted instantly upon him. This favor therefore he acknowledged as a mercy, which might well compose and tranquillize his mind.
Now it is certain that the blessings which we enjoy are far from coming without alloy. They will, it is to be feared, prove in the issue a source of misery to many. The peace, which leads to the disbanding of so many thousand troops, will leave multitudes in a state unfavorable to their best interests. Many will find it difficult to return to the employment of honest industry; yes perhaps may find it difficult even to get employment: and many who in the scenes of war have been accustomed to blood and pillage may bring home with them a disposition to exercise among their brethren the same evil habits which they deemed allowable among their enemies: and thus our domestic security may be invaded, and the perpetrators of these crimes be subjected to an untimely death by the hands of the public executioner. This is an evil felt at the termination of every war: yet must it by no means indispose us to acknowledge the blessings of peace.
The very truth of God also, even the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, brings on many, through their rejection of it, an heavier condemnation. Good would it have been for many, if they had never heard the Gospel; yes good, if Jesus Christ had never come into the world to save our ruined race. It was declared at the very time that he did come, that "he was set for the fall, as well as for the rising again, of many in Israel Luke 2:34." and that, though he should be "a sanctuary to some, he should prove to others a stumbling stone and a rock offence Isaiah 8:14.Thus does the Gospel itself, that greatest gift of God to mankind, "become to some a savor of life unto life, but to others a savor of death unto death 2 Corinthians 2:16." Still however we must not suffer these things to diminish our value for the Gospel. If some abuse their food to intemperance, we must not therefore be unthankful for our food: nor if men abuse the Gospel, must we impute it to any defect in the Gospel, but to the depravity of their own hearts, which turns the blessing into a curse. We say then, that whatever evils may, by accident, be connected with the blessings we have received, even though those evils should fall upon our own children, it becomes us to adore and magnify our God that those blessings are not withheld from us, but that we are privileged to possess them in our days.
4. A mercy which should be gratefully and diligently improved—
A state of peace, and a quiet enjoyment of Gospel ordinances, is extremely favorable for the attainment of vital godliness. So it proved to the Christian Church in its infant state Acts 9:31; and so it will be to us. Do we ask, In what way we should improve the present occasion? We answer, In the way that David and Solomon improved their circumstances, when God had favored them with the blessings which are now conferred on us. David bethought him, What can I do for God? I will build him an house that shall be worthy of his divine Majesty 2 Samuel 7:1-2. Solomon also adopted precisely the same resolution under the same circumstances 1 Kings 5:4-5. The same holy zeal should now inflame our hearts. We are not indeed called to build for the Lord an house of wood and stone, but a house of "living stones," that shall be "an habitation of God through the Spirit" to all eternity. O see what myriads of stones there are lying in the quarry of corrupt nature, that through your instrumentality may be formed and fashioned to build the temple of the Lord. Look at the blind obdurate sons of Abraham, and see what may be done to bring them to the knowledge of that Savior whom they have crucified. Look at the Gentile world, all lying in darkness and the shadow of death; and see what may be done for the enlightening of their minds, and for the saving of their souls alive. To employ our time, and property, and talents according as God shall give us opportunity, in such works, will be the best return that we can make to God for the light and peace that we enjoy: and, if we exert ourselves diligently in these labors of love, truly we shall have reason to all eternity to say, "Was it not good, that peace and truth were in our days?"
2 Kings 23:3
COVENANTING WITH GOD
2 Kings 23:3. And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant.
LITTLE do men in general consider the benefit they receive from the sacred oracles, and the stated ordinances of divine worship. Without these, the remembrance of God would soon vanish: whereas by these we are constantly reminded of the obligations we are under to love and serve him. In the days of King Josiah the inspired volume was altogether lost, and the Temple of Jehovah had been suffered to fall into decay. The pious monarch having ordered the temple to be repaired, the book of God was found. Immediately the contents of it were read to him: and, when he saw what judgments it denounced against his nation, he sought to avert them by turning to the Lord his God. He summoned all the priests, and prophets, and people of Jerusalem, and engaged them to make a solemn covenant with God, that they would henceforth serve him with their whole heart.
This instructive record shows us, that,
I. Persons in authority should use their influence to promote religion—
Many of the Jewish kings were patrons of real piety: but among them all there was not one who equaled Josiah in integrity of heart and devotedness of soul verse 25. The use which he made of his authority is sufficiently declared in the history before us. But we must not imagine that such exertions belong only to rulers and governors: whether our influence extend over a kingdom, or only to a parish, or a single family, it should be improved for God. Ministers should labor by all possible means to bring their people to God: and every parent, or master of a family, should study to advance the eternal interest of those, who, by the providence of God, are committed to his care. Nor should any be deterred by the degeneracy of the times: for the state of religion cannot well be reduced to a lower ebb than it was in the days of Josiah: and, if it were, that would only be a reason for our more earnest exertions in the cause of God. Nor can we easily conceive how much good might be done by the labors of an individual. The effects of Josiah's reformation continued throughout all his reign 2 Chronicles 34:32-33; and, though persons in inferior stations cannot hope to produce the sudden and extensive change that he did, yet their labors may convey incalculable benefit to the latest generations: the good impressions that are made on a few will stimulate them to impart the same benefits to their neighbors, and to seek the welfare of those who are within the sphere of their influence: those again will adopt the same line of conduct towards others; and thus the benefit will be perpetually transmitted from age to age. What might not be hoped for, if magistrates and ministers, parents and masters, would combine in this good work?
To this we may be encouraged by the consideration that,
II. Such exertions will be acceptable to those who feel their need of mercy—
They who are wholly unconcerned about their souls will probably regard such efforts as officious, ostentatious, hypocritical. But if once they become, like the Jews on this occasion, sensible of their guilt and danger, they will no longer consider a reformer as an enemy to the happiness of mankind, but as a blessing to the world. How often is it seen that they who once despised and persecuted a minister for his piety, will send for him in a time of sickness, and be exceeding thankful for his instructions and his prayers! and many who once joined in condemning him for his zeal, will afterwards go statedly many miles to attend his ministry. Such is the effect even among strangers and aliens: how much more therefore may we hope to find this acquiescence, when our counsels are enforced with the endearments of affection, or the weight of legitimate authority! Indeed, such interference is expected of us: and we lower ourselves in the estimation even of the ungodly, in proportion as we decline, whether through indolence or fear, these offices of Christian love.
Such exertions, I say, will be acceptable to many;
III. Nor will the strictest commands of God's covenant be deemed harsh by those who are in earnest about their souls—
Men regardless of their eternal state will scarcely hear of any restraint: they will plead for the utmost latitude of indulgence: and when forced by their convictions to concede somewhat of their imagined rights, they will yield only as Pharaoh did, when necessitated by a sense of present judgments, and the fear of more. He at first would not suffer the Hebrews to sacrifice to their God at all: then he would permit it in the land of Egypt: then it might be in the borders of the wilderness: then the men might go, but they must leave their little ones as a pledge of their return: then the women and children might go, but not the cattle: at last he was glad to get rid of all Exodus 8:25; Exodus 8:28; Exodus 10:11; Exodus 10:24; Exodus 12:31-33. Thus sinners will plead for this and that sin as long as they can entertain any hope of safety in the indulgence of it; but when they feel themselves utterly undone, they will cast out of the vessel the tackle and the wheat itself, rather than perish in the great abyss Acts 27:38. Yes, let them be really persuaded that the care of their souls is the one thing needful, and they will consent that God shall prescribe his own terms: they will say, with Saul, "Lord, what will you have me to do Acts 9:6." The covenant which Josiah proposed was exceeding strict; they were to "keep God's commandments, and testimonies, and statutes, yes, to keep them with all their heart, and with all their soul;" but they did not object to the terms; on the contrary, we are told "they stood to the covenant." Thus it should be with us also: the most self-denying commandment should not appear grievous 1 John 5:3, but "holy, and just, and good Romans 7:12;" and we should cordially submit to it without any limitations or reserves.
We shall not dismiss this subject without adding a word,
1. Of reproof—
How many instead of using all their influence for God, exert it in the service of the devil! We speak not merely of those who tempt others to drunkenness, lewdness, or any other gross iniquity; but of those who by their vain, worldly, or careless conduct lead others to think lightly of sin, and to live in a neglect of their souls. In this way every person, whatever be his station, exerts, however unintentionally, a very extensive influence, which by a different conduct might be turned to good account. Say not, like Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" for all of you are accountable to God for the use which you make of your influence; and you will receive from God, not only according to the good or evil which you have done yourselves, but according to that which you have occasioned in others.
2. Of caution—
We are ready in a time of sickness, and under convictions of sin, to make covenants with God; like the Israelites who said, "All that the Lord has said will we do, and be obedient Exodus 24:7." But when we make them in our own strength, we shall violate them exactly as they did. Let not any then be hasty in making vows, or think that they can execute them by any power of their own. To give up ourselves to God is certainly right; but in order to do it effectually, we must be strong, not in ourselves, but "in the Lord, and in the power of his might Ephesians 6:10."
3. Of consolation—
If we were to be saved by our own faithfulness, who among us would be able to stand before God? Alas! "our own goodness has often been as the morning dew, and as the early cloud that passes away." But, thanks be to God! there is a covenant made by our great Head and Surety Psalm 89:3; Psalm 89:28; Psalm 89:34-36; a covenant in which we all are interested; "a covenant ordered in all things and sure 2 Samuel 23:5 with Jeremiah 31:31-34; Jeremiah 32:38-41." Let this then be the real ground of our hope: let us lay hold on it, and cleave unto it. Let not, however, our affiance in this tempt us to violate our own engagements; for negligence in performing our vows to God will infallibly prove us to be strangers to the Gospel-covenant. Let us rather "give ourselves wholly to the Lord;" that while we trust in "the blood of the everlasting covenant," we may approve ourselves to him as "good and faithful servants."
2 Kings 23:25
THE CHARACTER OF JOSIAH
2 Kings 23:25. And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.
THIS is the character given of King Josiah. A similar eulogy had been passed on his progenitor, Hezekiah; of whom it is said, "He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him of all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him 2 Kings 18:5." But there is nothing contrary in the two accounts: each of these persons had his peculiar excellencies, in which he surpassed all others: Hezekiah was distinguished (as the words cited intimate,) for his confidence in God; and Josiah, as our text informs us, for his zeal and piety. No person, merely human, was ever perfect, since the introduction of sin into the world. There have indeed been bright characters, who have reflected with great luster and fidelity some rays of "the Sun of righteousness;" but of Christ alone can it be said, that "He is light, and in him is no darkness at all."
The character here given of Josiah is as exalted as any that was ever ascribed to fallen man: and for the purpose of illustrating it, we propose to mark some of the chief features of which it was composed.
I. He began to serve God at a very early period of life—
At eight years old he began to reign: and no sooner did he arrive at years of discretion, than he began seriously and devoutly to serve the Lord 2. Chronicles 34:3. At sixteen years of age, when it might have been expected that he should be studious only of pleasure, he turned from earthly vanities to seek his happiness in God: and at twenty years of age, when it is probable he began to exercise without control his regal office, he set himself to reform the whole nation. Not fearing the face of man, he stemmed the torrent of iniquity which had overwhelmed the land; and devoted to the service of his God all the powers with which he was invested.
This was doubtless most pleasing to God, who required by the law that the first-fruits of man and beast should be his, and who has given a peculiar promise to those who seek him in early life; "They that seek me early shall find me." Happy would it be if all of us began at the early age of sixteen to serve the Lord; and if from that period every talent committed to our care were improved for God! How much better this, than to be wasting our youthful days in sin and vanity! True, we have not all the same authority as he; but all in our respective spheres should exert ourselves to the utmost of our ability; remembering, that if youth labors under some disadvantages in point of influence, it has a tendency to put to shame the indolence of more advanced years, and to impress more forcibly the minds of those who are yet young and tender. While then we say to all, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth," we would exhort all, from the first moment that they feel the value of their own souls, to exert themselves with all diligence to benefit the souls of others.
II. He proceeded in his career with extraordinary zeal and diligence—
It seems almost incredible that this young monarch should effect so much as he did in so short a time. He first began to root out idolatry from those tribes which were under his own dominion; and then set himself (by the connivance or permission of the Assyrian monarch) to effect the same changes among the remnant of the ten tribes. Not choosing to devolve these labors on others, he proceeded himself "throughout all the land of Israel," that he might see his orders carried into execution. The means he used to produce a reformation were of the most extraordinary kind; breaking in pieces all the images that he could find, strewing the dust of them on the graves of those who had sacrificed unto them; and burning on the altars the bones of the priests who had placed their offerings upon them See 2 Chronicles 34:3-7.
Here we see how justly he deserved the character given him in our text: he entered into his work "with all his heart, and all his soul, and all his might." And this is the spirit which we also should manifest in all our services for God. We should not indulge a lukewarm spirit, but "be zealously affected always in a good cause." "Whatever our hand finds to do, we should do with all our might".
III. He was as zealous in promoting piety as in suppressing vice—
When he had put down the reigning abominations, he endeavored to establish the worship of the true God: he repaired the temple, which had fallen into decay; he convened all his subjects, "the priests and Levites, and all the people both small and great," and himself read to them the word of God, and made a covenant with the Lord both for himself and them to serve the Lord God with their whole hearts; and "he caused all the people to stand to the covenant." After this he kept a Passover, such as had not been kept even from the time of Samuel to that hour: and toward the expenses of it he himself very largely contributed.
Now here was real piety: here was a manifest regard for the honor of God and the good of men. This it is that most exalts a character. Many there are who will be extremely zealous against open profaneness, who yet have no real concern, for God's honor and glory. But we must combine "godliness with honesty." We must labor, each in his sphere, to promote the Knowledge and the worship of God: and having given up ourselves to him in a perpetual covenant, we must endeavor to engage others also to a like surrender of themselves to him. In a peculiar manner we should ourselves respect, and to the utmost of our power cause others also to regard, the wonders of redeeming love. Since "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, we should keep the feast": Here is scope for the best energies of our souls. In reference to these things it is not possible to be too earnest, provided we are alike attentive to every duty, and careful "that God in all things may be glorified through Christ Jesus".
IV. In all he did he adhered strictly to the word of God—
From the first moment that the Scriptures were found and read to him, he determined to make them the one rule of his conduct. He "humbled himself deeply before God" for the utter disregard of them which had obtained throughout the whole kingdom: and he himself read them in the ears of his people, and required a conformity to them in every particular. In celebrating the Passover, he was especially mindful of every direction given by Moses relative to that divine ordinance; and indeed in the whole of his conduct he labored to secure a perfect compliance with God's revealed will. This is the thing noticed, both in the text and in many other places; and it forms a very essential part of that goodness, for which he is applauded in the sacred records 2 Chronicles 35:26.
It often, happens, that men are zealous for their own party and their own opinions; and men in such a state will sometimes "compass sea and land to make one proselyte:" but unless we build according to "the model given us in the mount," we lose all our labor. To please our God, we must have a strict regard to his revealed will: and for this end we must study the Holy Scriptures, and "turn from them neither to the right hand nor the left."
Here we may rejoice, that we all have the Scriptures in our hands. They are not hid, as in the days of Josiah; but are so freely and universally dispersed, that every man in the kingdom who desires to study them, may obtain them. How signally blessed are we in this respect! Nay, we not only have access to the Scriptures, but have them read and expounded to us from Sabbath to Sabbath. Let us then learn to tremble at the word. Let us remember that every jot and tittle of it will be fulfilled in its season. Let us bear in mind, that our willful deviations from it will be visited with the divine displeasure: and that, if we study to fulfill it "with all our heart, and soul, and might," God, who knows our hearts, will bear testimony to us in the day of judgment, as here he has done to King Josiah; and will say to us before the assembled universe, "Well done, good and faithful servants, enter you into the joy of your Lord."