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such darling in the throne of Judah, as Hezekiah ? Yet, he no sooner breatheth from a miserable siege, than he panteth under a mortal sickness.
When, as yet, he had not so much as the comfort of a child to succeed him, thy prophet is sent to him, with the heavy message of his death; Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. It is no small mercy of God, that he gives us warning of our end. We shall make an ill use of so gracious a premonition, if we make not a meet preparation for our passage. Even those, that have not a house, yet have a soul. No soul can want important affairs, to be ordered for a final dissolution. The neglect of this best thrift is desperate. Set thy soul in order, ( man; for thou shalt die, and not live.
I God had given Hezekiah a son, nature had bequeathed his estate: now, he must study to find heirs. Even these outward things, though in themselves worthless, require our careful disposition, to those we leave behind us; and if we have delayed these thoughts till then, our sickbeds may not complain of their importunity. We cannot leave to our families a better legacy, than peace.
Never was the prophet Isaiah unwelcome to this good king, until now. Even sad tidings must be carried by those messengers, which would be faithful; neither may we regard so much, how they will be taken, as by whom they are sent.
It was a bold and barsh word to say to a king, Thou shalt die, and not live. I do not hear Hezekiah rage and fret at the message, or threat the bearer; but he meekly turns his face to the wall, and weeps,
prays. Why to the wall? Was it for the greater secresy of his devotion ? Was it for the more freedom from all distraction ? Was it that the passion, which accompanied his prayer, might have no witnesses ? Or, was it for that this wall looked towards the temple, which his heart and eyes still moved unto, though his feet could not?
Howsoever; the patient soul of good Hezekiah turns itself to that Holy God, from whom he smarts and bleeds, and pours out itself into a fervent deprecation; I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart; and have done that which is good in thy sight.
Couldst thou fear, O Hezekiah, that God had forgotten thine integrity? The grace, that was in thee, was his own work : could he in thee neglect himself? Or dost thou therefore doubt of his remembrance of thy faithfulness, because he summons thee to receive the crown of thy faithfulness, glory and immortality? Wherein canst thou be remembered, if this be to forget thee? What challenge is this? Is God a debtor to thy perfection? Hath thy holy carriage merited any thing, from that infinite justice ? Far, far were these presumptuous conceits, from that humble and mortified soul. Thou hadst hated thine own breast, if it could once have harboured so proud a thought. This perfection of thine was no other, than an honest soundness of heart and life, which thou knewest God had promised to reward. It was the mercy of the covenant, that thou pleadedst; not the merit of thine obedience.
Every one of these words was steeped in tears : but what meant these words, these tears ? I hear not of any suit moved by Hezekiah; only he wishes to be remembered, in that which could never be forgotten, though he should have entreated for an oblivion.
Speak out, Hezekiah. What is it, that thy tears crave, while thy lips express not? O let me live, and I shall praise thee, O God.
In a natural man, none could wonder at this passionate request : who cannot but wonder at it, in a saint; whose happiness doth but then begin, when his life ceaseth ; whose misery doth but then end, when his death enters? The word of faith is, “Oh let me die, that I may enjoy thee.” How then doth the king cry, at the news of that death, which some resolute Pagans have entertained with smiles ? Certainly, the best man cannot strip himself of some flesh; and, while nature hath an undeniable share in him, he cannot but retain some smatch of the sweetness of life, of the horror of dissolution. Both these were in Hezekiah ; neither of them could transport him into this passion : they were higher respects that swayed, with so holy a prince; a tender care of the glory of God, a careful pity of the Church of God. His very tears said, “ O God, thou knowest that the eyes of the world are bent upon me, as one that hath abandoned their idolatry, and restored thy sincere worship. I stand alone, in the midst of a wicked and idolatrous generation, that looks through all my actions, all my events : if now they shall see me snatched away in the midst of my days, what will these heathen say? How can thy great name but suffer, in this
my untimely extinction ? Besides, what will become of thy poor Church, which I shall leave feebly religious, and as yet scarce warm, in the course of a pious reformation? How soon shall it be miserably overgrown, with superstition and heathenism! How soon shall the wild boar of Assyria root up this little vineyard of thine! What need I beseech thee, () Lord, to regard thy name, to regard thine inheritance ?"
What one tear of Hezekiah can run waste? What can that good king pray for, unheard, unanswered ? Sennacherib came, in a proud confidence to swallow up his city and people ; prayers and tears send him away confounded : Death comes to swallow up person, and that not without authority ; prayers and tears send him away disappointed. Before Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears; behold, I will heal thee; on the third day thou shalt go up to the house of the Lord; and I will add to thy days fifteen years.
What shall we say then, O God ? Hast thou thus soon changed thy purpose? Was it not thy true message, which thy prophet, even now, delivered to Hezekiah? Is somewhat fallen out, that
thou foresawest not? Or dost thou now decree somewhat thou meanest not? The very thought of any of these were no better than blasphemous impiety. Certainly, Hezekiah could not live one day longer, than was eternally decreed. The decree of God's eternal counsel had from everlasting determined him fifteen years yet longer: why then doth God say, by his prophet, Thou shalt die, and not live? He is not as man, that he should repent. The message is changed, the will is not changed: yea rather the message is explicated, not changed; for the signified will of God, though it sound absolutely, yeť must be understood with condition : that tells Hezekiah what he must expect, from the nature of his disease; what would befal him, without his deprecations. There was nothing but death in the second causes, whatever secret purpose there was in the first ; and that purpose shall lie hid for a time, under a reserved condition. The same decree, that says, Niniveh shall be destroyed, means, if Niniveh repent, it shall not be destroyed. He, that finds good reason to say, “Hezekiah shall die,” yet still means, if the quickened devotion of Hezekiah shall importúne me for life, it shall be protracted. And the same God, that hath decreed this addition of fifteen years, had decreed to stir up the spirit of Hezekiah, to that vehement and weeping importunity, which should obtain it. o God, thou workest thy good pleasure in us, and with us; and, by thy revealed will, movest us in those ways, whereby thou effectest thy secret will.
How wonderful is this mercy! Hezekiah's tears are not dry upon his cheeks, yea his breath is not passed his lips, when God sends him a comfortable answer. How careful is the God of Compassions, that his holy servant should not languish one hour, in the expectation of his denounced death! What speed was here, as in the errand, so in the act of recovery! Within three days, shall Hezekiah be upon his feet; yea his feet shall stand in the courts of God's house. He, that now in his bed sighs and groans and weeps out a petition, shall then sing out a thanksgiving
in the temple. O thou, that hearest the prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come. With what cheerful assurance should we approach to the throne of that grace, which never failed any suppliant!
Neither was this grant more speedy, than bountiful. We are wont to reckon seven years for the life of a man; and now, behold, more than two lives hath God added to the
of Hezekiah. How unexampled a favour is this! Who ever, but Hezekiah, knew his period so long before? The fixedness of his term is no less mercy, than the protraction. We must be content to live or die, at uncertainties. We are not worthy to calculate the date of our own times: Teach us, O Lord, so to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
There is little joy in many days, if they be evil. Hezekiah shall not be blessed only with life, but with peace. The proud Assyrian threatens an invasion. His late foil still sticks in his stomach, and stirs him to a revenge. The hook is in his nostrils : he cannot move whither he list. The God of Heaven will maintain his own quarrel ;
I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
Lo; for his life Hezekiah is beholden, next under the infinite goodness of God, to his prayers; for his protection, to the dear memory of his father David. Surely, for ought we find, Hezekiah was no less upright and less offensive, than David; yet, both Hezekiah and Jerusalem shall fare the better for David's sake, above three hundred years after. To that man after his own heart, had God engaged himself, by his gracious promise, to preserve his throne, his seed. God loves to remember his ancient mercies. How happy a thing is it, to be faithful with God! This is the way to oblige those, which are yet unborn; and to entail blessings upon the successions of future generations.
It seems, it was some pestilent ulcer, that thus endangered the life of Hezekiah. Isaiah is not a prophet only, but a physician. And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. He, that gave an assurance of recovery, gives a receipt for the recovery.
The decree of God includes the means. Neither can the medicine work, without a word ; neither will the word work, without the medicine: both of them must meet in the cure. Il we so trust the promise, that we neglect the prescript, we presume to no purpose. Happy is that soul, that so regards the promise of God's prophets, as that withal he receives their counsels.
Nothing could be more proper, for the ripening of hard and purulent tumors, than dry figs. Herein, Isaiah's direction was according to nature. Wherefore should we balk the ordinary road, where it is both fair and near ?
The sudden contradiction of the message causes a just difficulty in the assent. Hezekiah therefore craves a sign; not for that he distrusted, but that he might trust the more. We can never take too fast hold of those promises of God, which have not more comfort in the application, than natural impossibility in the performance. We believe, Lord, help our unbelief.
The sick king bath his option. · His father was offered a sign, and refused it; he sues for one, and obtains it. Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or back ten degrees? as if heaven itself Jay open to his choice; and were ready, either to mend his pace or retire, for his confirmation. What creature is not cheerfully forward, to obey the faith of God's servants?
Hezekiah fastens rather upon that sign, which is more hard, more disagreeing from the course of nature; not without good reason. Every proof must be clearer, than the thing to be proved; neither may there want a meet proportion betwixt both: now the going forward of the shadow was a motion, no other than natural ; the recovery of that pestilent disease was against the stream of nature; the more difficult sign therefore, the surer evidence.
Whether shall we more wonder, at the measure of the love of God to Hezekiah, or at the power of Isaiah's faith in God? Out of both, either the sun goes back in heaven, that his shadow may go back on earth; or the shadow no less miraculously goes back on earth, while the sun goes forward in heaven. It is true, that the prophet speaks of the shadow, not of the sun ; except perhaps because the motion of the sun is best discerned by the shadow, and the motion of the shadow is led by the course of the sun : besides that, the demonstration of this miracle is reported to be local in the dial of Abaz, not universal in the sensible length of the day : withal, the retreat of the sun had made a public and noted change, in the frame of nature; this particular alteration of the shadow, in places limited, might satisfy no less, without a confusive mutation in the face of the world. Whethersoever; to draw the sun back together with the shadow, or to draw the shadow back without the sun, was the proof of a divine omnipotence; able therefore to draw back the life of Hezekiah, fifteen degrees, from the night of death, towards which it was hasting. O God, thou wilt rather alter the course of heaven and earth, than the faith of thy children shall sink, for want of supportation.
It should seem, the Babylonians, finding the Assyrians' power abated by the revengeful hand of God's angel and their own discord, took this advantage of a revolt; and now, to strengthen their part, fall in with Hezekiah king of Judah, whom they found the old enemy to the Assyrians, and the great favourite of heaven. Him they woo with gifts; him they congratulate with ambassages. The fame of Hezekiah's sickness, recovery, form and assurance of cure, has drawn thither messengers and presents, from Merodach Baladan, king of Babylon.
The Chaldees were curious searchers into the secrets of nature; especially into the motions of the celestial bodies. Though there had been no politic relations, this very astronomical miracle had been enough to fetch them to Jerusalem; that they might see the man, for whose sake the sun forsook his place, or the shadow forsook the sun.
How easily have we seen those holy men miscarried by prosperity, against whom no miseries could prevail ! He, that stood out stoutly against all the Assyrian onsets, clinging the faster to his God, by how much he was harder assaulted by Sennacherib, melteth now with these Babylonian favours, and runs abroad into offensive weaknesses.
The Babylonian ambassadors are too welcome to Hezekiah. As a man transported with the honour of their respective and costly visitations, he forgets his tears, and his turning to the wall; he forgets their incompatible idolatry; so hugging them in his bosom, as if there had been no cause of strangeness. All his doors flie open to them; and, in a vainglorious ostentation, all his new-gathered treasures, all his strong armories entertain their eyes: nothing in his house, nothing in his dominion is hid from them.
O Hezekiah, what means this impotent ambition? It is not long, since thou taredst off the very plates of the temple-doors, to give unto Sennacherib ; and can thy treasures be suddenly so multiplied, that they can be worthy to astonish foreign beholders ? or, if thy storehouse were as rich as the earth, can thy heart be so.