« PreviousContinue »
Oh what means this uncouth attempt ? Consider, O dear sovereign, for God's sake, for thy soul's sake, consider where thou art, what thou doest: 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 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 thy holy progenitors ever 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 thy 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. In awe of that terrible Majesty, as thou would 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 be ours.
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 ye thus malapertly cons: trol 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
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,
arrogance hath thrust him upon a sacred charge. Public offences must have
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 that we may be bold with
Heaven. When God's messengers cannot prevail by counsels, entreaties, threats, it is time for God to show 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 ; &, 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 hasten to retire himself; and wishes that he could be no less hid 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: who ever 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. A tainted air dóth more easily affect a sound body, than a wholesome air can clear the sick. Superstition hath ever been more successful than truth; the young ears of Ahaz are soon misled to a plausible misdevotion.
A man that has once fallen from truth, knows not where he shall stay. From the calves of Jeroboam is Ahaz drawn to the gods of the heathen ; yea, now bulls and goats are too little for those new deities ; his own flesh and blood is but dear enough; "He made his son to pass through their fire.”
their fire.” Where do we find any religious Israelite thus zealous for God? Neither doth the holiness and mercy of our God re
quire so cruel a sacrifice ; neither is our dull and niggardly hand ready to gratify him with more easy obediences. O God, how gladly should we offer unto thee our souls and bodies, which we may enjoy so much the more when they are thine; since zealous pagans stick not to lose their own flesh and blood in an idol's fire!
He, that hath thus shamefully cast off the God of his fathers, cannot be long without a fearful revenge. The king of Israel galls him on the one side, the king of Syria on the other. To avoid the shock of both, Ahaz doth not betake himself to the God whom he had offended, who was able to make his enemies at peace with him, but to Tiglath-pileser king of Ashur; him doth he woo with suits, with gifts, and robs God of those presents which may endear so strong a helper. He that thought not his son too dear for an idol, thinks not God's silver and gold too dear for an idolatrous abettor.
Oh the infinite patience of the Almighty! God gives success a while to so offensive a rivality. This Assyrian king prevails against the king of Syria, kills him, and takes his chief city Damascus. The quarrel of the king of Judah hath enlarged the territories of his assistant beyond hope ; and now, while this Assyrian victor is enjoying the possession of his new-won Damascus, Ahaz goes up thither to meet him, to congratulate the victory, to add unto those triumphs which were drawn on by his solicitation. There he sees a new-fashioned altar that pleases his eye; that old form of Solomon's, which was made by the pattern showed to Moses in the mount, is now grown stale and despicable: a model of this more exquisite frame is sent to Urijah the priest, and must be sampled in Jerusalem.
It is a dangerous presumption to make innovations, if but in the circumstances of God's worship. Those human additions, which would seem to grace the institution of God, deprave it; that infinite wisdom