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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 conception, 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 that breathes where he listeth! Good education raiseth great hope ; 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 lift 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 hearetb 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 the 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 woful 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, oh 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 bears 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 baked ? 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,
, 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 meantime know, that it is not thy sin, but thine impenitence that bars heaven against thee.
Presume not yet, О man, whosoever thou art, of the liberty of thy conversion, as if thou couldst 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 turn and stop as he lists: this privilege is reserved to him that made it. “ It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that showeth mercy; and that mercy neglected, justly binds over to judgment.
I wonder not at Manasseh either sinning or repenting; I wonder at thy goodness, O Lord, who, after thy just permission of his sin callest him thus graciously to repent, and so receivest him repenting ; so as Manasseh was not a more loathsome and monstrous spectacle of wickedness than he is now a pleasing and useful pattern of conversion : who can now despair of thy mercy, O God, that sees the tears of a Manasseh accepted? When we have debauched our worst, our evil cannot match with thy goodness ; rather it is the praise of thy infinite store that where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. Oh keep us from a presumption of grace, that we may repent ;