Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 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 their 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 condemn prescription against a direct

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 incorrupt 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,

law;

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 ; woful deities, that could both burn and drown!

Neither did the zeal of Asa more magnify itself in these private 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 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 a 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

VOL. II.

I

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 alloys 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 let 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 robbedst God to corrupt an infidel, for the slaughter of the Israelites ? O princes, where is your piety, while ye 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.

As the life so the death-bed of Asa wanted not infirmities ; long and prosperous had his reign been; now after forty years' health and happiness, he that imprisoned the prophet is imprisoned in his bed. There is more pain in those fetters which God put upon Asa, than those which Asa puts upon Hanani : and now, behold, he that in his war seeks to Benhadad, not to God, in his sickness seeks not to God, but to physicians. We cannot easily put upon God a greater wrong than the alienation of our trust. Earthly means are for use, not for confidence; we may, we must employ them, we may not rely upon them. Well may God challenge our trust, as his

« PreviousContinue »