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passion. But now, she shall no more see, nor be seen of her Abijah she shall no sooner be in the city, than he shall be out of the world. Yet, more to perfect her sorrow, she hears, that in him alone there is found some good; the rest of her issue are graceless she must lose the good, and hold the graceless: he shall die to afflict her; they shall live to afflict her.
Yet, what a mixture is here of severity and favour, in one act; favour to the son, severity to the father: severity to the father, that he must lose such a son: favour to the son, that he shall be taken from such a father! Jeroboam is wicked, therefore he shall not enjoy an Abijah; Abijah hath some good things, therefore he shall be removed from the danger of the depravation of Jeroboam. Sometimes God strikes in favour, but more often forbears out of severity. The best are fittest for heaven; the earth is fittest for the worst this is the region of sin and misery; that, of immortality. It is no argument of disfavour, be taken early from a well-led life; as not of approbation age in sin.
As the soul of Abijah is favoured in the removal, so is his body with a burial. He shall have alone, both tears and tomb : all the rest of his brethren shall have no grave, but dogs and fowls; no sorrow, but for their life. Though the carcase be insensible of any position, yet honest sepulture is a blessing. It is fit the body should be duly respected on earth, whose soul is glorious in heaven.
1 KINGS XV.; 2 CHRONICLES, XIV., XV., XVI.
THE two houses of Judah and Israel grow up now together, in an ambitious rivalry. This splitted plant branches out so severally, as if it had forgotten, that ever it was joined in the root.
The throne of David oft changeth the possessors; and more complaineth of their iniquity, than their remove.
Abijam inherits the sins of his father Rehoboam, no less than his crown; and so spends his three years, as if he had been no whit a kin to his grandfather's virtues. It is no news, that grace is not traduced, while vice is. Therefore is his reign short, because it was wicked.
It was a sad case, when both the kings of Judah and Israel, though enemies, yet conspired in sin. Rehoboam, like his father Solomon, began graciously, but fell to idolatry. As he followed his father, so his son, so his people followed him. Oh, what a face of a Church was here, when Israel worshipped Jeroboam's calves; when Judah built them high places, and images, and groves on every high hill, and under every green tree! On
both hands, GOD is forsaken, his temple neglected, his worship adulterate; and this, not for some short brunt, but during the succession of two kings: for, after the first three years, Rehoboam changed his father's religion (as his shields) from gold to brass; the rest of his seventeen years were led in impiety. His son Abijam trod in the same miry steps, and Judah with them both. If there were any (doubtless there were some) faithful hearts, yet remaining in both kingdoms, during these heavy times, what a corrosive it must needs have been to them, to see so deplored and miserable a deprivation !
There was no visible Church upon earth, but here; and this, what a one! O God, how low dost thou sometimes suffer thine own flock to be driven ! What woeful wanes and eclipses, hast thou ordained for this heavenly body! Yet at last, an Asa shall arise from the loins, from the grave, of Abijam. He shall revive David, and reform Judah. The gloomy times of corruption shall not last always. The light of truth and peace shall at length break out, and bless the sad hearts of the righteous.
It is a wonder how Asa should be good, of the seed of Abijam, of the soil of Maachah; both wicked, both idolatrous. God would have us see, that grace is from heaven; neither needs the help of these earthly conveyances. Should not the children of good parents sometimes be evil, and the children of evil parents good, virtue would seem natural, and the giver would lose his thanks. Thus we have seen a fair flower spring out of dung, and a wellfruited tree rise out of a sour stock. Education hath no less power to corrupt, than nature: it is therefore the just praise of Asa, that, being trained up under an idolatrous Maachah, he maintained his piety; as contrarily, it is a shame for those, that have been bred up in the precepts and examples of virtue and godliness, to fall off to lewdness or superstition.
There are four principal monuments of Asa's virtue, as so many rich stones in his diadem.
He took away sodomy and idols out of Judah. Who cannot wonder more, that he found them there, than that he removed them? What a strange incongruity is this; Sodom, in Jerusalem! Idols, in Judah! Surely, debauched profession proves desperate. Admit the idols; ye cannot doubt of the sodomy. If they have changed the glory of the incorruptible God, into an image, made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things, it is no marvel, if God give them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies, between themselves. If they changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever, no marvel, if God give them up to vile affections, to change the natural use, into that which is against nature; burning in lust one towards another, men with men working that which is unseemly. Contrarily, admit the sodomy, ye cannot
doubt of the idols. Unnatural beastliness in manners is punished justly, with a sottish dotage in religion; bodily pollution, with spiritual. How should the soul care to be chaste, that keeps a stew in the body! Asa begins with the banishment of both; scouring Judah of this double uncleanness. In vain should he have hoped to restore God to his kingdom, while these abominations inhabited it. It is justly the main care of worthy and religious princes, to clear their coasts of the foulest sins. Oh the impartial zeal of Asa! There were idols, that challenged a prerogative of favour; the idols that his father had made: all these he defaces. The name of a father cannot protect an idol. The duty to his parent cannot win him to a liking, to a forbearance of his misdevotion. Yea, so much the more doth the heart of Asa rise against these puppets, for that they were the sin, the shame, of his father. Did there want, think we, some courtier of his father's retinue, to say, "Sir, favour the memory of him that begot you; you cannot demolish these statues, without the dishonour of the erector: hide your dislike at the least; it will be your glory to lay your finger upon this blot of your father's reputation: if you list not to allow his act, yet wink at it?" The godly zeal of Asa turns the deaf ear to these monitors; and lets them see, that he doth not more honour a father, than hate an idol. No dearness of person should take off the edge of our detestation of the sin. Nature is worthy of forgetfulness and contempt, in opposition to the God of nature.
Upon the same ground as he removed the idols of his father Abijam, so for idols he removed his grandmother Maachah: she would not be removed from her obscene idols; she is therefore removed from the station of her honour. That princess had aged, both in her regency and superstition. Under her rod, was Asa brought up; and schooled, in the rudiments of her idolatry. Whom she could not infect, she hoped to overawe; so as, if Asa will not follow her gods, yet she presumes that she may retain her own. Doubtless, no means were neglected for her reclamation; none would prevail. Religious Asa gathers up himself; and begins to remember, that he is a king, though a son; that she, though a mother, yet is a subject; that her eminence could not but countenance idolatry; that her greatness suppressed religion, which he should in vain hope to reform, while her superstition swayed: forgetting therefore the challenges of nature, the awe of infancy, the custom of reverence, he strips her of that command, which he saw prejudicial to his Maker. All respects of flesh and blood must be trampled on, for God. Could that long-settled idolatry want abettors? Questionless, some or other would say, "This was the religion of your father Abijam; this, of your grandfather Rehoboam; this, of the latter days of your wise and great-grandfather Solomon; this, of your grandmother Maachah; this, of your great-grandmother
Naamah; why should it not be yours? Why should you suspect either the wisdom, or piety, or salvation of so many predecessors?" Good Asa had learned to contemn prescription against a direct law. He had the grace to know, it was no measuring truth by so modern antiquity. His eyes, scorning to look so low, raise up themselves to the uncorrupt times of Solomon, to David, to Samuel, to the Judges, to Joshua, to Moses, to the Patriarchs, to Noah, to the religious founders of the first world, to the first father of mankind, to Paradise, to Heaven. In comparison of these, Maachah's god cannot overlook yesterday. The ancientest error is but a novice to truth; and, if never any example could be pleaded for purity of religion, it is enough that the precept is express. He knew what God said in Sinai, and wrote in the tables; Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor any similitude. Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them. If all the world had been an idolater, ever since that word was given, he knew how little that precedent could avail for disobedience. Practice must be corrected by law, and not the law yield to practice. Maachah therefore goes down from her seat; her idols from their grove: she to retiredness; they to the fire, and from thence to the water. Woeful deities! that could both burn and drown.
Neither did the zeal of Asa more magnify itself, in these privative acts of weeding out the corruptions of religion, than in the positive acts of a holy plantation. In the falling of those idolatrous shrines, the temple of God flourishes. That doth he furnish, with those sacred treasures, which were dedicated by himself, by his progenitors. Like the true son of David, he would not serve God cost-free. Rehoboam turned Solomon's gold into brass; Asa turns Rehoboam's brass into gold. Some of these vessels, it seems, Abijam, Asa's father, had dedicated to God; but, after his vow, inquired, yea, withheld them: Asa, like a good son, pays his father's debts, and his own. It is a good sign of a well-meant devotion, when we can abide it chargeable; as contrarily, in the affairs of God, a niggardly hand argues a cold and hollow heart.
All these were noble and excellent acts; the extirpation of sodomy; the demolition of idols; the removal of Maachah; the bounteous contribution to the Temple: but that, which gives true life unto all these, is a sound root; Asa's heart was perfect with the Lord, all his days. No less laudable works than these have proceeded from hypocrisy; which, while they have carried away applause from men, have lost their thanks with God. All Asa's gold was but dross, to his pure intentions.
But oh, what great and many infirmities may consist with uprightness. What allays of imperfection will there be found, in the most refined soul! Four no small faults are found in true-hearted Asa.
First, the high places stood still, unremoved. What high places? There were some dedicated to the worship of false gods; these, Asa took away: there were some misdevoted to the worship of the true God; these, he lets stand. There was gross idolatry in the former; there was a weak will-worship in the latter. While he opposes impiety, he winks at mistakings. Yet even the variety of altars was forbidden, by an express charge from God, who had confined his service to the temple. With one breath, doth God report both these; The high places were not removed; yet, nevertheless, Asa's heart was perfect. God will not see weaknesses, where he sees truth. How pleasing a thing is sincerity, that, in favour thereof, the mercy of our just God digests many an error ! O God, let our hearts go upright, though our feet slide: the fall cannot, through thy grace, be deadly, however it may shame or pain us.
Besides, to confront his rival of Israel, Baasha, this religious king of Judah fetches in Benhadad, the king of Syria, into God's inheritance, upon too dear a rate; the breach of his league, the expilation of the temple. All the wealth wherewith Asa had endowed the house of the Lord, was little enough to hire an Edomite, to betray his fidelity and to invade Israel. Leagues may be made with infidels; not at such a price, upon such terms. There can be no warrant, for a wilful subornation of perfidiousness. In these cases of outward things, the mercy of God dispenseth with our true necessities, not with the affected. O Asa, where was thy piety, while thou robbest God, to corrupt an infidel for the slaughter of Israelites? O princes, where is your piety, while you hire Turks to the slaughter of Christians? to the spoil of God's Church?
Yet, which was worse, Asa doth not only employ the Syrian, but relies on him; relies not on God. A confidence less sinful cost his grandfather David dear. And when Hanani, God's seer, the herald of heaven, came to denounce war against him for these sins, Asa, instead of penitence, breaks into choler: fury sparkles in those eyes, which should have gushed out with water: those lips, that should have called for mercy, command revenge. How ill do these two agree, the heart of David, the tongue of Jeroboam! That holy grandfather of his would not have done so: when God's messenger reproved him for sin, he condemned it, and himself for it: I see his tears; I do not hear his threats. It ill becomes a faithful heart to rage, where it should sorrow; and, instead of submission, to persecute. Sometimes, no difference appears, betwixt a son of David and the son of Nebat. Any man may do ill, but to defend it, to outface it, is for rebels; yet even upright Asa imprisons the prophet, and crushes his gainsayers. It were pity, that the best man should be judged by every of his actions, and not by all. The course of our life must either allow or condemn us; not these sudden eruptions.