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and raise us from a distrust of
when have repented.
No sooner is Manasseh penitent than he is free; his prayers have at once loosed him from his sins, and from his chains, and of a captive have made him a king; and, from the dungeon of Babylon, have restored him to the palace of Jerusalem. How easy is it for the same hand that wounds to cure ! What cannot fervent prayers do, either for our rescuing from evil, or for our investing with good ?
“Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God;" then, and not before. Could his younger years escape the knowledge of God's miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians ? could he but know the slaughter that God's angel made, in one night, of a hundred fourscore and five thousand ? could he but have heard the just revenge upon Sennacherib? could he be ignorant of his father's supernatural recovery? could he but see that everlasting monument of the noted degrees in the dial of Ahaz? could he avoid the sense of those fifteen years which were superadded to his father's age? what one of these proofs doth not evince a Deity ? yet, till his own smart and cure, Manasseh knew not that the Lord was God.
Foolish sinners pay dear for their knowledge; neither will endure to be taught, good cheap : so we have seen resty horses that will not move till they bleed with the spur ; so we have seen dull and careless children that will learn nothing but what is put into them with the rod.
The Almighty will be sure to be known for what he is, if not by fair means, yet by foul. If our prosperity and peace and sweet experience of his mercy can win us to acknowledge him, it is more for our ease ;
but if we will needs be taught by stripes, it is no less for his glory.
Manasseh now returns another man to Jerusalem. With what indignation doth he look upon his old follies ? and now all the amends he can make is to
undo what he did, to do that which he undid: “He took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the Lord, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city.” True repent. ance begins to decline at the ablative, destroying those monuments of shame which former error had reared. The thorns must first be stubbed up ere the ground can be capable of seed. The true method of grace is first, “Cease to do evil, then learn to do good.”
In vain had Manasseh professed a repentance, if the strange gods had still held possession of Jerusalem, if the idol had still harboured in God's temple; if foreign altars had still smoked upon the holy mountain. Away with all his trash, when once Manasseh comes to a true sense of piety.
There is nothing but hypocrisy in that penitent, who, after all vows and tears, retains his old abominations. It is that poor peace of satisfaction which we can give to the divine justice, in a hearty indignation, to fling down that cup of wickedness wherewith we have been bewitched, and to trample upon the sheards; without which, confession is but wind, and the drops of contrition water.
The living God loves to dwell clean ; he will not come under the roof of idols, nor'admit idols to come under his. First, therefore, Manasseh casts out the strange gods and idols, and altars, and then “he repairs the
altar of the Lord, and sacrifices thereon peaceofferings and thanks-offerings.” Not till he had pulled down, might he build ; and when he had pulled down, he must build. True repentance is no less active of good. What is it the better, if, when the idolatrous altars are defaced, the true God hath not an altar erected to his name? in many altars was superstition, in no altars atheism.
Neither doth penitent Manasseh build God a new altar, but he repairs the old, which, by long disuse,
lay waste, and was mossy and mouldered with age and neglect.
God loves well his own institutions; neither can he abide innovations so much as in the out-sides of his service. It is a happy work to vindicate any ordinance of God from the injuries of time, and to restore it to the original glory.
What have our pious governors done other in religion ? had we gone about to lay a new foundation, the work had been accursed; now we have only scraped off some superfluous moss that was grown upon these holy stones; we have cemented some broken pieces, we have pointed some crazy corners with wholesome mortar, instead of base clay wherewith it was disgracefully patched up. The altar is old; it is God's altar; it is not new, not ours: if we have laid one new stone in this sacred building, let it fly in our faces, and beat out our eyes.
On this repaired altar doth Manasseh send up the sacrifices of his peace, of his thankfulness; and doubtless the God of heaven smells a sweet savour of rest. No perfume is so pleasing to God as that which is cast in by a penitent hand.
It had not served the turn that Manasseh had approached alone to this renewed altar: as his lewd example had withdrawn the people from their God, so now “he commands Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel:" had he been silent, he could not have been unfollowed. Every act of greatness is perceptive; but now that religion is made law, what Israelite will not be devout ?
The true God hath now no competitor in Judah : all the idols are pulled down, the high places will not be pulled down; an ill guise is easily taken up, it is not so easily left. After a common depravation of religion, it is hard to return unto the first purity: as when a garment is deeply soiled, it cannot, without many lavers, recover the former cleanness.
JOSIAH'S REFORMATION. YET, if we must alter from ourselves, it is better to be a Manasseh than a Joash: Joash began well, and ended ill; Manasseh began ill, and ended well. His age varied from his youth, no less than one man's condition can vary from another's; his posterity succeeded in both. Amon, his son, succeeded in the sins of Manasseh's youth; Josiah, his grandchild, succeeded in the virtues of his age: what a vast difference doth grace make in the same age! Manasseh began his reign at twelve years, Josiah at eight; Manasseh was religiously bred under Hezekiah, Josiah was misnurtured under Amon; and yet Manasseh runs into absurd idolatries, Josiah is holy and devout. The Spirit of God breathes freely; not confining itself to times, or means.
No rules can bind the hands of the Almighty. It is an ordinary proof, too true a word, that was said of old, “Woe be to thee, O land, whose king is a child.” The goodness of God makes his own exceptions: Judah never fared better than in the green years of a Josiah ; if we may not rather measure youth and age by government and disposition, than by years; surely thus Josiah was older with smooth cheeks than Manasseh with grey hairs. Happy is the infancy of princes when it falls into the hands of faithful counsellors!
A good pattern is no small help for young beginners. Josiah sets his father David before him, not Amon, not Manasseh. Examples are the best rules for the inexperienced; where their choice is good, the directions are easiest. The laws of God are the ways of David: those laws were the rule, these ways were the practice. Good Josiah walks in all the ways of his father David
Even the minority of Josiah was not idle: we cannot be good too early. At eight years it was enough to have his ear open to hear good counsel, to have his eyes and heart open to seek after God; at twelve, he begins to act, and shows well that he hath found the God he sought. Then he addresses himself to purge Judah and Jerusalem, from the high places, groves, images, altars, wherewith it was defiled; burning the bones of the idolatrous priests upon their altars; strewing the ashes of the idols upon the graves of them that had sacrificed to them, striving, by those fires, and mattocks, to testify his zealous detestation of all idolatry.
The house must be first cleansed ere it can be garnished; no man will cast away his cost upon unclean heaps. So soon as the temple was purged, Josiah bends his thoughts upon the repairing and beautifying of this house of the Lord.
What stir was there in Judah, wherein God's temple suffered not? Six several times was it pillaged, whether out of force, or will. First, Jehoash, king of Judah, , is fain, by the spoil of it, to stop the mouth of Hazael; then Joash, king of Israel, fills his own hands with that sacred spoil, in the days of Amaziah ; after this, Ahaz rifles it for Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria ; then Hezekiah is.forced to ransack the treasures of it for Sennacherib: yet, after, the sacrilege of Manasseh makes that booty of it, which his later times endeavoured to restore! and now, lastly, Amon, his son, neglects the frame, embezzles the furniture of this holy place: the very pile began to complain of age and unrespect. Now comes good Josiah, and, in his eighteenth year, (when other young gallants would have thought of nothing but pleasure and jollity,) takes up the latest care of his father David, and gives order for the repairing of the temple.
The keepers of the door have received the contribution of all faithful Jews, for this pious use. The king sends Shaphan the scribe to Hilkiah the priest, to sum it up, and to deliver it unto carpenters and masons, for so holy a work.