Page images

be not a careful respect to the law of God, as the absolute guide of all counsels and determinations, the testimony is neglected; all of them concurring, make both king and people happy.

Now it is time for the people to clap their hands, and by their loud acclamations to witness their joy, which must needs break forth with so much more force, by how much it was longer, upon fears and policy, suppressed.

The court and temple were near together; however it was with Athaliah, and the late revolted princes of Judah, according to the common word, the nearer to the church, the farther from God: their religious predecessors held it the greatest commodity of their house, that it neighboured upon the house of God. From her palace might Athaliah easily hear the joyful shouts of the multitude, the loud noise of the trumpets, and, as astonished with this new tumult of public gratulations, she comes running into the temple. Never had her foot trod upon that holy pavement till now, that she came to fetch a just revenge from that God whose worship she had contemned.

It fell out well, that her sudden amazedness called her forth, without the attendance of any strong guard, whose side-taking might have made that quarrel mutually bloody. She soon hears and sees what she likes not; her ear meets with, God save the king; her eye meets with the unlooked-for heir of the kingdom, sitting on his throne, crowned and robed in the royal fashion, guarded with the captains and soldiers, proclaimed by the trumpeters, acclaimed and applauded by the people.

Who can say, whether this sight drove her more near to phrenzy, or death? how could it be otherwise, when those great spirits of hers, that had been long used to an uncontrolled sovereignty, find themselves so unexpectedly suppressed?

She now rends her clothes, and cries, Treason, treason! as if that voice of hers could still command all hearts, all hands; as if one breath of hers were powerful enough to blow away all these new designs. O Athaliah! to whom dost thou complain thyself? they are thy just executioners wherewith thou art encompassed: if it be treason to set up the true heir of Ahaziah, thou appealest to thy traitors: the treason was thine, theirs is justice. The time is now come of thy reckonings for

all the royal blood of Judah, which thine ambition shed; wonder rather at the patience of this long forbearance, than the rigour of this execution.

There needs no formal seat of justice in so apparent offence. Jehoiada passes the sentence of death upon her; "Have her forth of the ranges, let her not be slain in the house of the Lord; and him that followeth her kill with the sword."

Had not this usurpation been palpable, Jehoiada would not have presumed to intermeddle. Now, being both the priest of God, and uncle and protector to the lawful king, he doth that out of the necessity of the state, which his infant sovereign, if he could have been capable of those thoughts, would have desired.

Violent hands are laid upon Athaliah, whom, no doubt, a proud and furious disdain of so quick a charge, and of so rough an usage, made miserably impatient. Now she frowns and calls, and shrieks and commands, and threatens and reviles, and entreats in vain, and dies with as much ill-will from herself, as she lived with the ill-will of her repining subjects.

I see not any one man, of all her late flatterers, that follow her, either for pity or rescue. Every man willingly gives her up to justice; not one sword is drawn in her defence, not one eye laments her. Such is the issue of a tyrannical misgovernment; that which is obeyed not without secret hate, is lost not without public joy.

How like is Athaliah to her mother Jezebel! as in conditions and carriage, so even in death; both killed violently, both killed under their own walls, both slain with treason in their mouths, both slain in the entrance of a changed government; one trod on by the horses, the other slain in the horse-gate; both paid their own blood for the innocent blood of others.

How suddenly, how easily is Judah restored to itself, after so long, and so fearful, a depravation! The people scarce believe their own eyes, for the wonder of this happy change: neither know I, whether they be more joyed in the sight of their new king thus strangely preserved, or in the sight of Jehoiada that had preserved him.

No man can envy the protection of the young king unto him, by whose means he lives and reigns. That holy man cares only to improve his authority to the common good: "He makes a covenant between the Lord, and the king, and the people:" and, after so long and dangerous a disjunction,

re-unites them to each other. Their revived zeal bestirs itself, and breaks down the temples, and altars, and images of Baal, and sacrifices his idolatrous priests. Shortly both Ahab and Baal are destroyed out of Judah.

The sceptre of Judah is changed from a woman to a child; but a child trained up and tutored by Jehoiada. This minority, so guided, was not inferior to the mature age of many predecessors. Happy is that land, the nonage of whose princes falls into holy and just hands: yet, even these holy and just hands came short of what they might have done. The high places remained still; those altars were erected to the true God, but in a wrong place. It is marvel, if there be not some blemishes found in the best government: I doubt Jehoiada shall once buy it dear, that he did not his utmost.

But for the main, all was well with Judah, in all the days of Jehoiada, even after that Joash was grown past his pupilage. He that was the tutor to his infancy, was the counsellor of his ripe age, and was equally happy in both. How pleasing was it to that good high priest, to be commanded by that charge of his in the business of God! The young king gives order to the priests, for the collection of large sums, to the repairing of the breaches of God's house. It becomes him well to take care of that which was the nursery of his infancy: and now, after three and twenty years, he expostulates with his late guardian, Jehoiada, and the rest of his coat, "why repair ye not the breaches?"

O gracious and happy vicissitude: Jehoiada the priest had ruled the infancy of king Joash in matters of state, and now Joash the king commands aged Jehoiada the priest in matter of devotion. In the affairs of God, the action is the priest's, the oversight and coaction is the prince's: by the careful endeavour of both, God's house is repaired, his service flourisheth.

But alas! that it may too well appear, that the ground of this devotion was not altogether inward, no sooner doth the life of Jehoiada cease, than the devotion of Joash begins to languish; and, after some languor, dies.

The benefit of a truly religious prelate, or statesman, is not known till his loss.

Now, some idolatrous peers of Judah have soon miscarried the king, from the house of the Lord God of their fathers, to serve groves and idols. Yea, whither go wc

wretched men, if we be left by our Maker? King Joash is turned, not idolater only, but persecutor; yea, which is yet more horrible to consider, persecutor of the son of that Jehoiada to whom he owes his own life. Zechariah, his cousingerman, his foster-brother, the holy issue of those parents by whom Joash lives and reigns, for the conscionable rebuke of the idolatry of prince and people, is unjustly and cruelly murdered by that unthankful hand. How possible is it for fair and saint-like beginnings to shut up in monstrous impieties! Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall. When did God ever put up so foul ingratitude to himself, to his servants? O Joash! what eyes can pity the fearful destruction of thee and thy Judah?

If ye have forgotten the kindness of Jehoiada, your unkindness to Jehoiada shall not be forgotten. "A small army of Syrians come up against Judah and Jerusalem, and destroyed all the princes of the people, and sent all the spoil of them to Damascus." Now Hazael revenges this quarrel of God, and his anointed, and plagues that people which made themselves unworthy to be the Lord's inheritance.

And what becomes of Joash? he is left in great diseases, when his own servants conspired against him "for the blood of the sons of Jehoiada, and slew him on his bed, and he died; and they buried him not in the sepulchre of the kings.' Dying Zechariah had said, in the bitterness of his departing soul, "The Lord look upon it, and require it." I confess, I had rather to have heard him say, "The Lord pass it over, and remit it:" so said Stephen. Such difference there is between a martyr of the law and of the gospel; although I will hope the zeal of justice, not the uncharitable heat of revenge, drew forth this word, God hears it, and now gives an account of his notice. Thus doth the Lord require the blood of Jehoiada's son, even by the like unthankful hand of the obliged servants of Joash. He, that was guilty of abominable idolatry, yet, as if God meant to wave that challenge, is called to reckoning for his cruel unthankfulness to Jehoiada: this crime shall make him odious alive, and shall abandon him dead from the sepulchre of his fathers; as if this last royalty were too good for him, who had forgotten the law of humanity. Some vices are such, as nature smiles upon, though frowned at by divine justice. Others are such, as even nature itself abhors; such is this of ingratitude, which therefore

carries so much more detestation from God, as it is inore odious even to them that have blotted out the image of God.


Joash with Elisha dying.

THE two kingdoins of Judah and Israel, however divided both in government and affection, yet loved to interchange the names of their kings: even Israel also had their Joash, no better than that of Judah; he was not more the father of the latter Jeroboam, than, in respect of misworship, he was the son of the first Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin. Those calves of Dan and Bethel, out of a polite misdevotion, besotted all the succession of the ten usurped tribes. Yet even this idolatrous king of Israel comes down to visit the sick bed of Elisha, and weeps upon his face.

That holy prophet was never any flatterer of princes, neither spared he invectives against their most plausible sins: yet king Joash, that was beaten by his reproofs, washes that face with the tears of love and sorrow, which had often frowned upon his wickedness.

How much difference there was betwixt the Joash of Israel, and the Joash of Judah! that of Judah, having been preserved and nurtured by Jehoiada the priest, after all professions of dearness, shuts up in the unkind murder of his son, and that merely for the just reproof of his own idolatry; this of Israel, having been estranged from the prophet Elisha, and sharply rebuked for the like offence, makes love to his dying reprover, and bedews his pale face with his tears. Both were bad enough; but this of Israel was, however vicious, yet good-natured: that of Judah added to his wickedness an ill disposition, a dogged humour. There are varieties even of evil men; some are worse at the root, others at the branch; some more civilly harmless, others fouller in morality. According to the exercise of the restraining grace, natural men do either rise or fall in their ill.

The longest day must have his evening. Good Elisha, that had lived some ninety years, a wonder of prophets, and had outworn many successions in the thrones of Israel and Judah, is now cast upon the bed of his sickness, yea, of his death. That very age might seem a disease, which yet is

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »