Page images

shall carry away his treasure and munition. What now doth Hezekiah, but tempt them with a glorious booty; as some fond traveller, that would shew his gold to a thief?

These worldly things are furthest off from the heart. Perhaps, Hezekiah might not be much troubled with their loss. Lo, God comes closer to him, yet.

As yet, was Hezekiah childless. How much better had it been to continue so still, than to be plagued in his issue! He shall now beget children to servitude: his loins shall yield pages to the court of Babylon: while he sees them born princes, he shall foresee them made eunuchs in a foreign palace. What comfort can he take, in the wishes and hopes of sons, when, ere they be born, he hears them destined to captivity and bondage? This rod was smart, yet good Hezekiah kisses it. His heart struck him no less than the mouth of the prophet; meekly therefore doth he yield to this divine correction; "Good is the word of the Lord, which thou hast spoken. Thou hast spoken this word; but from the Lord. It is not thine, but his; and being his, it must needs be, like himself, good: good, because it is just, for I have deserved more and worse; good, because merciful, for I suffer not according to my deserts. Is it not good, if there be peace and truth in my days? I have deserved a present payment; O God, thou deferrest it: I have deserved it in person; thou reservest it for those, whom I cannot yet so feel, because they are not I have deserved war and tumult; thou favourest me with peace I have deserved to be overrun with superstition and idolatry, thou blessest me with truth: shouldst thou continue truth unto me, though upon the most unquiet terms, the blessing were too good for me; but now thou hast promised, and wilt not reverse it, that both truth and peace shall be in my days: Lord, I adore thy justice, I bless thy mercy."

God's children are neither waspish nor sullen, when they are chid or beaten; but patiently hold their backs, to the stripes of a displeased mercy; knowing how much more God is to be magnified for what he might have done, than repined at, for what he hath done; resigning themselves over into the hand of that gracious justice, which in their smart seeks their reformation and glory.



Ar last, some three years after his recovery, Hezekiah hath a son; but such a one, as, if he could have foreseen orbity had been a blessing.

Still, in the throne of Judah, there is a succession and inter


Good Jotham is succeeded by wicked change of good and evil. Ahaz; wicked Ahaz is succeeded by good Hezekiah; good Hezekiah is succeeded by wicked Manasseh. Evil princes succeed to good, for the exercise of the Church; and good succeed to evil for the comfort of the Church.

The young years of Manasseh give advantage to his miscarriage: even while he might have been under the ferule, he swayed the sceptre. Whither may not a child be drawn; especially to a garish and puppet-like superstition? As infancy is capable of all impressions, so most of the worst.

Neither did Manasseh begin more early, than he held out long. He reigned more years than his good father lived, notwithstanding the miraculous addition to his age; more than ever any king of Judah besides could reach. Length of days is no true rule of God's favour. As plants last longer than sensitive creatures, and brute creatures outlive the reasonable; so, amongst the reasonable, it is no news, for the wickedly great to inherit these earthly glories, longer than the best.

There wants not apparent reason for this difference. Good princes are fetched away to a better crown; they cannot be losers, that exchange a weak and fading honour, for a perfection and eternity of blessedness: wicked men live long to their own disadvantage; they do but carry so many more brands to their hell. If, therefore, there be a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there be a wicked man that prolongs his life in his wickedness, far be it from us, either to pity the removal of the just, or to envy the continuance of the wicked: this continues to his loss; that departs to a happy advancement.

It is very like, that Hezekiah marrying so late, in the vigour both of his age and holiness, made a careful choice of a wife suitable to his own piety. Neither had his delight been so much in her (according to her name), if her delight had not been as his, in God. Their issue swerves from both; so fully inheriting the vices of his grandfather Ahaz, as if there had been no intervention of a Hezekiah. So, we have seen the kernel of a well-fruited plant degenerate into that crab or willow, which gave the original to his stock. Yet can I not say that Hezekiah was as free from traducing evil to his son Manasseh, as Ahaz was Evil is incorfree from traducing good to his son Hezekiah? porated in the best nature, whereas even the least good descends from above.

Was it possible, that We may not measure grace by means. Manasseh, having been trained up in the religious court of his father Hezekiah, under the eye of so holy prophets and priests, under the shadow of the temple of God, after a childhood seasoned with so gracious precepts, with so frequent exercise of devotion, should run thus wild into all heathenish abominations; as if there had been nothing but idolatry in the seed of his con

ception, in the milk of his nourishment, in the rules of his institution, in the practice of his examples? How vain are all outward helps, without the influence of God's Spirit! and that Spirit breathes, where he listeth. Good education raiseth great hopes, but the proof of them is in the divine benediction.

I fear to look at the outrages of this wicked son of Hezekiah. What havoc doth he make in the Church of God! as if he had been born to ruin religion: as if his only felicity had been to untwist or tear in one day, that holy web, which his father had been weaving nine-and-twenty years; and, contrarily, to set up in one hour that offensive pile, which had been above three hundred years in pulling down: so long had the high places stood. The zeal of Hezekiah, in demolishing them, honoured him above all his predecessors; and now, the first act of this green head was their re-edifying. That mischief may be done in a day, which many ages cannot redress.

Fearful were the presages of these bold beginnings. From the misbuilding of these chapels of the hills to the true God, Manasseh proceeds to erecting of altars to a false, even to Baal, the god of Ahab, the stale idol of the heathen. Yet further; not content with so few deities, he worships all the host of heaven; and, that he might despite God yet more, he sets up altars to these abused rivals of their Maker, in the very house of the Lord. That holy place doth he not fear to defile, with the graven image of the grove, that he had made. Never Amorite did so wickedly, as Manasseh; and, which was yet worse, it sufficed not to be thus wicked himself, but he seduced God's people to these abominations; and that his example might move the more, he spares not his own son from the fire of the idol-sacrifice. Neither were his witcheries less enormous, than his idolatry: he observed times; he used enchantments; he dealt with familiar spirits, and with wizards. Neither were either of these worse, than his cruelty; he shed innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem, from one end to another.

O Manasseh, how no less cruel wert thou to thine own soul, than to thy Judah! What a hideous list of monstrous impiety is here; any one of which were enough to draw judgment upon a world! but what hell is sufficient for all together?

What brows are not now lifted up, to an attentive expectation of some present and fearful vengeance from God, upon such flagitious wickedness? Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. The person of Manasseh is not capable of revenge enough: as his sin dilated itself, by an infectious diffusion to his people, so shall the punishment. We are sensible of the least touch of our own miseries; how rarely are we affected with other men's calamities! yet this evil shall be such, as that the rumour of it shall beat no ear, that shall

not glow with an astonishing commiseration. What then, O God, what shall that plague be, which thou threatenest with so much preface of horror? I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab; and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down: and I will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance, and I will deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil unto all their enemies.

It is enough, O God, it is enough. What ear can but tingle, what eye can but weep, what hair can but start up, what heart can be but confounded, at the mention of so dreadful a revenge? Can there be a worse judgment than desolation, captivity, desertion, spoil, and torture of prevailing enemies? But, however, other cities and nations have undergone these disasters, without wonder; that all this should befal to thy Jerusalem, the place which thou hast chosen to thyself out of the whole earth, the lot of thine inheritance, the seat of thine abode, whereof thou hast said, Here shall be my rest for ever, it is able to amaze all eyes, all ears.

No city could fare worse than Samaria; whose inhabitants, after a woeful siege, were driven, like cattle, into a wretched servitude. Jerusalem shall fare no better, from Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon; Jerusalem, the glory of the earth, the darling of heaven. See, O ye vain men, that boast of the privileges of chairs and churches, see and tremble. There is no place under heaven, to which the presence of God is so wedded, as that the sins thereof shall not procure a disdainful and final divorce. The height of former favours shall be but an aggravation of vengeance.

This total vastation of Jerusalem shall take time. Onwards, God begins with the person of wicked Manasseh; against whom, he stirs up the captains of the host of the late friend and old enemy of Judah. Those thorns, amongst which he had shrouded his guilty head, cannot shelter him from their violence. They take him, and bind him with fetters of iron, and carry him to Babylon. There he lies, loaded with chains, in an uncomfortable dungeon, exercised with variety of tortures, fed with such coarse pittances of bread and sips of water, as might maintain an unwilling life to the punishment of the owner.

What eye can now pity the deepest miseries of Manasseh? What, but bondage, can befit him, that hath so lawlessly abused his liberty? What, but an utter abdication, can befit him, that hath cast off his God, and doated upon devils? What, but a dying life and a tormenting death, can be fit for a man of blood?

Who, now, would not have given this man for lost; and have looked, when hell should claim her own? But oh the height, ch the depth, of divine mercy! After all these prodigies of sin,

Manasseh is a convert; When he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. How true is that word of the prophet, Vexation gives understanding! The viper, when he is lashed, casts up his poison. The traitor, when he is racked, tells that truth, which he had else never uttered. If the cross bear us not to heaven, nothing can. What use were there of the grain, but for the edge of the sickle, wherewith it is cut down; the stroke of the flail, wherewith it is beaten; the weight and attrition, of the mill, wherewith it is crushed; the fire of the oven, wherewith it is baken?

Say now, Manasseh, with that grandfather of thine, who was, till now, too good for thee, It was good for me, that I was afflicted. Even thine iron was more precious to thee, than thy gold: thy gaol was a more happy lodging to thee, than thy palace: Babylon was a better school to thee than Jerusalem. What fools are we, to frown upon our afflictions! These, how crabbed soever, are our best friends. They are not, indeed, for our pleasure; they are for our profit: their issue makes them worthy of a welcome. What do we care, how bitter that potion be, which brings health?

How far a man may go, and yet turn! Could there be fouler sins than these? Lo, here was idolatry in the height, violation of God's house, sorceries of all kinds, bloody cruelty to his own flesh, to the saints of God; and all these against the stream of a religious institution, of the zealous counsels of God's prophets, of the checks of his own heart!

Who can complain, that the way of heaven is blocked up against him, when he sees such a sinner enter? Say the worst against thyself, O thou clamorous soul: here is one, that murdered men, defied God, worshipped devils; and yet finds the way to repentance. If thou be worse than he, deny, if thou canst, that to thyself, which God hath not denied to thee, capacity of grace: in the mean time, know that it is not thy sin, but thine impenitence, that bars heaven against thee.

Presume not yet, O man, whosoever thou art, of the liber of thy conversion; as if thou couldest run on lawlessly in a course of sinning, till thou come to the brim of hell; and then couldst suddenly stop, and return at leisure. The mercy of God never set period to a wilful sinner: neither yet did his own corrupt desires; so as, when he is gone the furthest, he could yet stay himself from another step. No man, that truly repents, is refused; but many a one sins so long, that he cannot repent. His custom of wickedness hath obdured his heart, and made it flint to all good impressions. There were Jeroboams, and Abijams, and Ahabs, and Joashes, and Ahazes, in these sacred thrones; there was but one Manasseh. God hath not left in any man's hand the reins of his own heart, to pace, and

« PreviousContinue »