« PreviousContinue »
violence upon his father, but his own wickedness. Both early did this prince reign and late: he began at sixteen, and sat fifty-two years in the throne of Judah. They, that mutinied in the declining age of Amaziah the father, are obsequious to the childhood of the son, as if they professed to adore sovereignty, while they hated lewdness. The unchanged government of good princes is the happiness no less of the subjects, than of themselves. The hand knows best to guide those reins to which it hath been inured; and even mean hackneys go on cheerfully in their wonted road. Custom, as it makes evils more supportable, so, where it meets with constant minds, makes good things the more pleasing and beneficial.
The wise and holy Zechariah was an happy tutor to the minority of king Uzziah. That vessel can hardly miscarry, where a skilful steersman sits at the helm. The first praise of a good prince is to be judicious and just, and pious in himself: the next is, to give ear and way to them that are such, While Zechariah hath the visions of God, and Uzziah takes the counsels of Zechariah, it is hard to say, whether the propbet, or the king, or the state be happier.
God will be in no man's debt. So long as Uzziah sought the Lord,“ God made him to prosper." Even what we do out of duty, cannot want a reward. Godliness never disappointed any man's hopes, oft hath exceeded them. If Uzziah fight against the Philistines, if against the Arabians, and Mehunims (according to his names), the strength, the help of the Almighty is with him. The Ammonites come in with presents, and all the neighbour nations ring of the greatness, of the happiness of Uzziah : his bounty and care makes Jerusalem both strong and proud of her new towers; yea,
very desert must taste of his munificence.
The outward munificence of princes cannot stand firm, unless it be built upon the foundations of providence and frugality. Uzziah had not been so great a king, if he had not been so great an husband; he had his flocks in the deserts, and his herds in the plains; his ploughs in the fields, his vine-dressers upon the mountains, and in Carmel; neither was this more out of profit than delight, for he loved husbandry. Who can contemn those callings for meanness, which have been the pleasures of princes?
Hence was Uzziah so potent at home, so dreadful to his neighbours. His wars had better sinew than theirs. Which
of his predecessors was able to maintain so settled an army, of more than three hundred and ten thousand trained soldiers, well furnished, well fitted for the suddenest occasions ? Thrift is the strongest prop of power.
The greatness of Uzziah, and the rare devices of his artificial engines for war, have not more raised his fame than his heart : so is be swollen up with the admiration of his own strength and glory, that he breaks again. How easy it is for the best man to dote upon himself, and to be lifted up so high, as to lose the sight both of the ground whence he rises, and of the hand that advanced him! How hard it is for him that hath invented strange engines for the battering his enemies, to find out any means to beat down his own proud thoughts ! Wise Solomon knew what he did, when he prayed to be delivered from too much : “ Lest,” said he, “ I be full and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord ?" Upon this rock did the son of Solomon run, and split himself. His full sails of prosperity carried him into presumption and ruin. What may be not do, what may he not be? Because he found his power otherwise unlimited, overruling in the court, the cities, the fields, the deserts, the armies and magazines, therefore he thinks he may do so in the temple too. As things royal, civil, husbandry, military, passed his hands ; so why should not, thinks he, sacred also ? It is a dangerous indiscretion for a man not to know the bounds of his own calling. What confusion doth not follow upon this breaking of the ranks!
Upon a solemn day, king Úzziah clothes himself in pontifical robes, and, in the view of that populous assembly, walks up in state into the temple of God, and boldly approaching to the altar of incense, offers to burn sweet odours upon it to the God of heaven. Azariah the priest is sensible of so perilous an incroachment; he therefore, attended with fourscore valiant assistants of that holy tribe, hastens after the king, and finding him with the censer in his hand, ready addressed to that sinful devotion, stays him with a free and grave ex postulation. There is no place wherein I could be sorry to see thee, O king, but this where thou art; neither is there any act that we should grudge thee so much, as this which is the most sacred. Is it possible that so great an oversight should fall into such wisdom? can a religious prince, trained up under a holy Zechariah, after so many years? zealous profession of piety, be either ignorant, or regardless of those limits, which God hath set to his own services ?
O what means this uncouth attempt! Consider, O dear sovereign, for God's sake, for thy soul's sake, consider where thou art, what thou dost : it is God's house wherein thou standest, not thine own. Look about thee, and see, whether these vails, these tables, these pillars, these walls, these pavements, have any resemblance of earth. There is no place in all the world, whence thy God hath excluded thee, but only this; this he hath reserved for his own use : and canst thou think much to allow one room as proper to him, who hath not grudged all the rest to thee? But if it be thy zeal of a personal service to God, that hath carried thee thither, alas ! how canst thou hope to please the Almighty with a forbidden sacrifice? which of thine holy progenitors cver dared to tread where thy foot now standeth? which of them ever put forth their hand to touch this sacred altar? Thou knowest that God hath set apart, and sanctified his own attendants. Wherefore serves the priesthood, if this be the right of kings ? Were it not for the strict prohibition of our God, it could seem no other than an honour to our profession, that a king should think to dignify himself by our employment. But now, knowing the severe charge of the great King of heaven, we cannot but tremble to see that censer in thine hand : whoever, out of the holy tribe, hath wielded it unrevenged ? this affront is not to us, it is to the God whom we serve. of that terrible Majesty, as thou wouldst avoid some exemplary judgment, o king, withdraw thyself, not without humble deprecations, from this presence, and lay down that interdicted handful, with fear and trembling. Be thou ever a king, let us be priests ; the sceptre is thine, let censers
What religious heart could do other, than relent at so faithful and just an admonition? but how hard is it for great persons to yield they have offended! Uzziah must not be faulty; what is done rashly, shall be borne out with power ;
he was wroth, and thus expresseth it, What means this saucy expostulation, O ye sons of Levi ? how dare
thus malapertly control the well-meant actions of your sovereign? if ye be priests, remember that ye are subjects; or if ye
will needs forget it, how easy is it for this hand to awake your memory. What such offence can it be for me to come into that house, and to touch that altar, which my royal progenitors have made, beautified, consecrated ? is the God of this place only yours ? why do ye thus ambitiously engross religion? if princes have not intermeddled with these holy affairs, it was because they would not, not because they might not. When those laws were made for the sanctuary, there were no kings to grace these divine ceremonies ; yet even then, Moses was privileged. The persons of princes, if ye know not, are no less sacred than your own.
It is your presumption to account the Lord's anointed profane. Contest with those, whose dry and unhallowed heads are subject to your power; for me, I will not ask your leave to be devout. Look ye to your own censers, presume not to meddle with mine: in the mean time, can ye think this insolence of yours shall escape unrevenged? Can it stand with the honour of my sovereignty, to be thus proudly checked by subjects ? “ God do so to me, and more also, if"—While Uzziah yet speaks, God strikes : ere the words of fury can come forth of his mouth, the leprosy appears in his forehead. Leprosy was a most loathsome disease: the forehead is the most conspicuous part. Had this shameful scurf broken forth upon his hand, or foot, or breast, it might have been hid from the eyes of men ; now the forehead is smitten with this judgment, that God may proclaim to all beholders, Thus shall it be done to the man, whose arrogance hath thrust him upon a sacred charge. Public offences must have open shame.
It is a dangerous thing to put ourselves into the affairs, into the presence of God, unwarranted. There cannot be a more foolish misprision, than, because we are great on earth, to think we may be bold with Heaven. When God's messengers cannot prevail by counsels, entreaties, threats, it is time for God to shew his immediate judgments. Wilful offenders can expect nothing but a fearful revenge.
Now begins Uzziah to be confounded in himself; and shame strives with leprosy, for a place in his forehead: the hand of God hath done that in an instant, which all the tongues of men had attempted in vain. There needs no further solicitor of his egress ; the sense of his plague sends him forth alone. And now he thinks, Wretched man that I am, how have I angered God, and undone myself! I would needs come in like a priest, and now go forth a leper ; the pride of my heart made me think myself worthy the presence of a God; God's just displeasure hath now made me unworthy of the presence of men ; while I affected the altar, I have lost my throne; while I scornfully rejected the advice and censures of God's ministers, I am now become a spectacle of horror and deformity to my own servants; I, that would be sending up perfumes to heaven, have made my nastiness hateful to my own senses. What do I under this sacred roof? neither is God's house now for me, nor mine own: what cell, what dungeon is close enough for me, wherein to wear out the residue of mine unhappy and uncomfortable days ? O God, thou art just, and I am miserable !
Thus, with a dejected countenance, and sad heart, doth Uzziah basten to retire himself; and wishes that he could be no less bid from himself, than from others. How easy is it for the God of heaven to bring down the highest pitch of earthly greatness, and to humble the stubbornest pride!
Upon the leisure of second thoughts, Uzziah cannot but acknowledge much favour in this correction, and confess to have escaped well ; others he knew had been struck dead, or swallowed up quick, for so presumptuous an intrusion. It is happy for him, if his forehead may excuse his soul.
Uzziah ceased not to be a king, when he began to be a leper ; the disease of his forehead did not remove his crown: his son Jotham reigned for him, under him; and while he was not seen, yet he was obeyed. The character of sovereignty is indelible, whether by bodily infirmity, or by spiritual censure. Neither is it otherwise, o God, betwixt thee and us; if we be once a royal generation unto thee, our leprosies may deform us, they shall not dethrone us; still shall we have the right, still the possession of that glorious kingdom, wherein we are invested from eternity.
Ahaz with his New Altar. AFTER many unhappy changes of the two thrones, Ahaz succeeds Jotham in the kingdom of Judah: an ill son of a good father; not more the heir of David's seat, than of Jeroboam's sin. Though Israel play the harlot, yet who can abide that Judah should sin? It is hard not to be infected with a contagious neighbourhood : whoever read, that the kingdom of Israel was seasoned with the vicinity of the true religion of Judah? Goodness, such our nature is, is not so apt to spread.