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Have you not carefully reformed all those abuses? Hath not your happy reformation made an abundant amends for those wrongs? Spare your tears, and save the labour of your messengers. All is well; all shall be well. These judgments are for the obstinate. Had we been still guilty, these fears had been just. Were we still in danger, what had we gained by our conversion?" Rather, as glad to second the religious cares of their young king, they feed his holy anxieties, with a just aggravation of peril; and, by their good counsel, whet these his zealous desires of a speedy resolution. That state cannot but be happy, whose priests and peers are ready, as to suggest, so to cherish and execute, the devout projects of their sovereigns.
The grave priest, the learned scribe, the honourable courtiers do not disdain to knock at the door of a prophetess: neither doth any of them say; "It were hard if we should not have as much acquaintance with God, as a woman;" but, in an humble acknowledgment of her graces, they come to learn the will of God from her mouth. True piety is modest, and stands not upon terms of reputation, in the business of God; but willingly honours his gifts in any subject, least of all in itself.
The sex is not more noted in Huldah, than the condition. As she was a woman, so a wife; the wife of Shallum. Holy matrimony was no hindrance to her divine revelations. She was, at once, a prophetess in her college, a housewife in her family. It was never the practice of God, to confine his graces to virginity.
At this very time, the famous prophet Jeremiah flourished. Some years had he already spent in this public service. Why was not he rather consulted by Josiah? It is not unlike, that some prophetical employments called him away, at this time, from Jerusalem. His presence could not have been balked: purposely, doubtless, doth God cast his message upon the point of that absence, that he might honour the weaker vessel with his divine oracle, and exercise the humility of so great clients. In the answers of God, it is not to be regarded, who speaks, but from whom. The injury redounds to God, if the weaknesses of the person cause us to undervalue the authority of the function. As Josiah and his messengers do not despise Huldah, because she was a woman; so Huldah doth not flatter Josiah, because a king: Go, tell the man that sent you, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will bring evil upon this place. Lo, he, that was as God to his subjects, is but as man to the prophetess: neither is the message ever the sweeter, because it is required by a prince. No circumstance may vary the form of divine truth. Evil must befall Jerusalem and Judah; yea, all the words of that book must alight upon the inhabitants of both.
In how bad a case we may be; and yet think ourselves not safe only, but happy! These Jews had forgotten their old revolts; and now, having framed themselves to holy courses,
promised themselves nothing but peace, when the prophetess foresees and foretels their approaching ruin. Even their old score must be paid, after the opinion of a clear agreement. In vain shall we hope to quit our arrearages by prorogation.
This prophetess had immediate visions from God, yet she must speak out of the book. There was never any revelation from the Lord, that crossed his writings. His hand and his tongue agree eternally. If that book have cursed Judah, she may not absolve it.
Yet, what a gracious mixture was here, of mercy with severity; severity to Judah, mercy to Josiah! Judah shall be plagued, and shall become a desolation and a curse; Josiah shall be quietly housed in his grave, before this storm fall upon Judah. His eye shall not see, what his people shall feel. It is enough, that the expectation of these evils afflict him; the sense shall
Whence is this indulgence? Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord. How happy a thing it is, to be a reed unto God's judgments, rather than an oak! The meek and gentle reed stoops, and therefore stands. the oak stands stiffly out against the strongest gust, and therefore is turned up by the roots. At least, let us lament those sins, we have not avoided; and mourn for the sins of others, while we hate our own.
He, that found himself exempted from this vengeance, by his repentance and deep humiliation, would fain find the same way for the deliverance of his people. The same words of the Law therefore, that had wrought upon his heart, are by him caused to be publicly read, in the ears of Judah and Jerusalem. The assembly is universal, of priests, prophets, people, both small and great; because the sin was such, the danger was such that no man may complain to want information, the law of God sounds in every ear. If our ear be shut to the law, the sin is ours; but, if the law be shut to our ears, the sin is of our governors. be to them that hide God's book from the people, as they would do ratsbane from the eyes of children! Ignorant souls cannot perish without their murder. There is no fear of knowing too much; there is too much fear of practising too little.
Now, if the people do not imitate their king in relenting, they are not worthy to partake with him in his impunity. Howsoever, they shall not want a great example, as of sorrow, so of amendment. Good Josiah stands by the pillar, and solemnly renews his covenant with his God. The people cannot for shame refuse to second him. Even they, that looked for a destruction, yet do not withdraw their obedience. God's children may not be sullen under his corrections; but, whether they expect or feel smart, are no other than dutiful to his awful hand.
As a man, that finds he hath done something that might
endanger the forfeit of his favour, puts himself into some deserving action, whereby he may hope to re-endear himself, so doth Josiah here. No endeavour is enough to testify his zeal to that name of God, which was so profaned by his people's idolatry. Whatever monuments were yet remaining of wicked paganism, he defaces with indignation. He burns the vessels of Baal, and puts down his Chemarim; destroys the houses of the Sodomites; strews the powder of their idols in the brook Kedron; defiles Topheth; takes away the horses of the sun; burns the chariots of the sun with fire; and omits nothing, that might reconcile God, clear Judah, perfect a reformation.
Neither is this care confined to Jerusalem and the neighbouring towns, but stretches itself to the utmost coasts of Josiah's kingdom. Bethel was the infamous seat of the pollution of Israel. It seems the heirs of Jeroboam, who set up his golden calf there, enjoyed it not long. The kings of Judah recovered it to their crown; but it had not yet recovered itself from that ancient infection. Thither doth good Josiah send the unhallowed ashes of Baal's reliques, to stain that altar first, which he will soon after deface.
The time was, and it was no less than three hundred and fifty years since, that the man of God, out of Judah, cried against Jeroboam's altar; O altar, altar; thus saith the Lord; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places, that burn incense upon thee; and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee. And now is the hour come, wherein every of those words shall be accomplished.
It could not but be a great confirmation to Josiah, to see that God so long ago foremarked him for his own, and forenamed him to so zealous a service. All our names are equally foreknown of that Divine Providence, though not forespoken: neither can any act pass from us, which was not predetermined in that eternal counsel of the Almighty; neither can any act, that is predetermined, be unfulfilled upon earth. Intervention of time breaks no squares in the divine decrees. Our purblind eyes see nothing, but that which toucheth their lids; the quick sight of God's prescience sees that, as present, which is a world off.
According to the prediction, the stench of dead men's bones is a fit perfume, to send up from this altar to heaven, whose best sacrifices savoured worse in the nostrils of God; and the blood of the idolatrous sacrificers was a meet oblation to that God, who had been dishonoured by their burnt-offerings to his base corrivals.
Even that prophet, who foretold this, had his tomb in Bethel; and that tomb had his inscription. His weakness might not rob him of the honour of his sepulture.
How palpably do these Israelites condemn themselves, while they reserve so famous a monument of their own conviction!
It was no prejudice to this holy prophet, that his bones lay amongst the sepulchres of idolaters. His epitaph preserved those bones from burning upon that altar, which he had accursed. As the lion might not tear his carcass, when he died; so now, the fury of the multitude may not violate the very bones, in his grave. I do not see Josiah save them for reliques; I hear him command they shall rest in peace. It is fit the dead bodies of God's saints should be as free from contempt, as from superstition.
After the removal of these rites of false worship, it is time to bring in the true. Now, a solemn Passover shall be kept unto the Lord, by the charge of Josiah. That Book of the Law sets him the time, place, circumstances, of this sacrament. His zeal so carefully follows it, that, since the days of Samuel, this feast was never so gloriously, so punctually celebrated. Jerusalem is the place, the fourteenth day of the first month is the time; the Levites are the actors; a yearling and a spotless lamb are the provision. No bone of it is broken; the blood is sprinkled upon the door-posts; it is roasted whole, eaten with sour herbs, with bread unleavened; the remainder is consumed by fire. The law, the sacrifices had been in vain, if the passover had been neglected. No true Israelite might want, whether this monument of their deliverance past, or this type of the Messiah to come. Rather than fail, Josiah's bounty shall supply to Judah, lambs for their pascal devotion. No alms is so acceptable, as that whereby the soul is furthered.
CONTEMPLATION XIII.-JOSIAH'S DEATH; WITH THE DESOLATION OF THE TEMPLE AND
2 KINGS XXIII. ; 2 CHRONICLES XXXV., XXXVI.
JOSIAH hath now happily settled the affairs, both of God and the state; and now hath sweet leisure to enjoy himself and his people. His conscience doth not more cheer him at home, than his subjects abroad. Never king reigned with more officious piety to God, with more love and applause of men.
But what stability is there in these earthly things? How seldom is excellency, in any kind, long-lived! In the very strength of his age, in the height of his strength, is Josiah withdrawn from the earth: as not without a merciful intention of his glory, on God's behalf; so, not without some weakness, on his own. Pharaoh-Nechoh, king of Egypt, comes up to fight against the king of Assyria. What is that to Josiah? Perhaps,
the Egyptians attempted to pass through the land of Judah, towards Carchemish, the seat of his war; but, as a neighbour, not as an enemy. Josiah resists him; as neither holding it safe to admit a foreign power into the bosom of his country, nor daring to give so fair an occasion of provoking the Assyrian hostility against him.
The king of Egypt mildly deprecates this enmity. He sends ambassadors to Josiah, saying, What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee, this day; but against the house, wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make haste. Forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not.
What friend could have said more? What prophet could have advised more holily? Why doth not good Josiah say with himself; "There may be truth in this suggestion. God may have sent this man, to be a scourge of my old enemy, of Ashur. If the hand of the Almighty be in this design, why do I oppose it? The quarrel is not mine: why do I thrust my finger into this flame, unbidden? Wherefore should I hazard the effusion of blood, upon a harmless passage? Can I hear him plead a command from God, and not inquire into it? How easy is it for me, to know the certainty of this pretended commission! Have not I the priests and prophets of God about me? Let me first go and consult his oracle. If God have sent him and forbidden me, why should my courage carry me against my piety?"
It is strange, that the good heart of Josiah could escape these thoughts, these resolutions: yet, he, that upon the general threats of God's law against Judah, sends messengers to inquire of a prophetess, now, upon these particular threats of danger to himself, speaks not, stirs not. The famous prophet Jeremiah was then living, and Zephaniah; besides a whole college of seers. Josiah doth not so much as send out of doors, to ask, "Shall I go up against the king of Egypt?" Sometimes, both grace and wit are asleep, in the holiest and wariest breasts. The best of all God's saints may be sometimes miscarried, by their passions, to their cost.
The wise Providence of God hath mercifully determined, to leave Josiah to his own counsels; that, by the weakness of his servant, he might take occasion to perfect his glory. Even that, wherein Josiah was wanting unto God, shall concur to the making up of God's promise to Josiah. When we are the most blindfolded, we run on the ways of God's hidden decrees; and, whatever our intents be, cannot, if we would, go out of that unknown path.
Needs will Josiah put himself into arms, against an unwilling enemy; and, to be less noted, disguises himself. The fatal arrow of an Egyptian archer finds him out in the throng, and gives him his death's-wound. Now, too late, he calls to a retreat.