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How well doth it beseem the care of a religious prince, to set the priests and scribes in hand with reedifying the temple! The command is the king's, the charge is the high priest's, the execution is the work
When the labourers are faithful in doing the work, and the high priest in the directing it, and the king in enjoining it, God's house cannot fail of a happy perfection; but when any of these slacken, the business must needs languish.
How God blesses the devout endeavours of his servants! While Hilkiah was diligently surveying the breaches, and reparation of the temple, he lights upon the book of the law. The authentic and original book of God's law was, by a special charge, appointed to be carefully kept within a safe shrine, in the sanctuary. In the depraved times of idolatry, some faithful priest, to make sure work, had locked it fast up, in some corner of the temple, from the reach of all hands, of all eyes, as knowing how impossible it was that divine monument could otherwise escape the fury of profane guiltiness. Some few transcripts there were doubtless, parcels of this sacred book in other hands; neither doubt I, but, as Hilkiah had been formerly well acquainted with this holy volume, now of a long time hid, so the ears of good Josiah had been inured to some passages thereof; but the whole body of these awful records, since the late night of idolatrous confusion and persecution, saw no light till now. This precious treasure doth Hilkiah find, while he digs for the temple. Never man laboured to the reparation of God's church, but he met with a blessing more than he looked for.
Hilkiah the priest and Shaphan the scribe, do not engross this valuable wealth into their own hands, nor suppress
these more than sacred rolls for their own advantage, but transmit them first to the ears of the king, then by him to the people. It is not the praise of a good scribe to lay up, but to bring forth both old
And if the priest's lips shall keep knowledge, they keep it to impart, not to smother: “The people shall seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts."
So soon as the good king hears the words of the book of the law, and, in special, those dreadful threats of judgment denounced against the idolatries of his Judah, he rends his clothes, to show his heart rent with sorrow, and fearful expectation of those plagues ; and washes his bosom with tears. O gracious tenderness of Josiah! he doth but once hear the law read, and is thus humbled ; humbled for his father's sins, for the sins of his people. How many of us, after a thousand hammerings of the menaces of God's law, upon our guilty souls, continue yet insensible of our danger! The very reading of this law doth thus affect him, the preaching of it stirs not us ; the sins of others struck thus deep with him, our own are slighted by us. A soft heart is the best tempered for God. So physicians are wont to like those bodies best, which are easiest to work upon. O God, make our clay wax, and our wax pliable to thy hand, so shall we be sure to be free either from sin, or from the hurt of sin.
It is no holy sorrow that sends us not to God. Josiah is not moped with a distractive grief or an astonishing fear, but in the height of his passion, sends five choice messengers to Huldah the prophetess, to inquire of the Lord, for himself, for Judah. It is a happy trouble that drives us to this refuge. I do not hear any of these courtiers reply to this godly motion of their young king; “Alas, sir, what means this deep perplexity ? What needs all this busy inquisition? If your father were idolatrous, what is that to you, who have abandoned his sins ? If your people were once idolatrous, what is that to you, yea to them, who have expiated these crimes by their repentance? Have you not carefully reformed all those abuses ? Hath not your happy reformation made an abundant amends for the wrongs ? Spare your tears, and save
the labour of your messengers; all is well, all shall be well; these judgments are for the obstinate; had we been still guilty, these fears had been just : were we still in danger, what had we gained by our conversion ?" Rather, as glad to second the religious cares of their young king, they feed his holy anxieties with a just aggravation of peril; and by their good counsel whet these his zealous desires of a speedy resolution. That state cannot but be happy, whose priests and peers are ready as to suggest, so to cherish, and execute the devout projects of their sovereigns.
The grave priest, the learned scribe, the honourable courtiers, do not disdain to knock at the door of a prophetess: neither doth any of them say, It were hard if we should not have as much acquaintance with God, as a woman; but in an humble acknowledgment of her graces, they come to learn the will of God from her mouth. True piety is modest, and stands not upon terms of reputation, in the businesses of God, but willingly honours his gifts in any subject, least of all in itself.
The sex is not more noted in Huldah, than the condition. As she was a woman, so a wife, the wife of Shallum. Holy matrimony was no hindrance to her divine revelations; she was at once a prophetess in her college, a housewife in her family. It was never the practice of God to confine his graces to virginity. At this very time the famous prophet Jeremiah flourished; some years had he already spent in this public service ; why was not he rather consulted by Josiah? It is not unlike, that some prophetical employments called him away at this time from Jerusalem : his presence could not have been baulked. Purposely, doubtless, doth God cast his message upon the point of that absence, that he might honour the weaker vessel with his divine oracle, and exercise the humility of so great clients. In the answers of God, it is not to be regarded who speaks, but from whom. The injury redounds to God, if the weaknesses of the person cause us to undervalue the authority of the function !
As Josiah and his messengers do not despise Huldah, because she was a woman, so Huldah doth not flatter Josiah, because a king: “Go tell the man that sent you, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place.” Lo, he that was as God to his subjects, is but as man to the prophetess : neither is the message ever the sweeter, because it is required by a prince. No circumstance may vary the form of divine truth
Evil must befal Jerusalem and Judah, yea, all the words of that book must alight upon the inhabitants of both. In how bad a case we may be, and yet think ourselves not safe only, but happy! These Jews had forgotten their old revolts; and now, having framed themselves to holy courses, promised themselves nothing but peace, when the prophetess foresees and foretels their approaching ruin. Even their old score must be paid, after the opinion of a clear agreement. In vain shall we hope to quit our arrearages by prorogation This prophetess had immediate visions from God, yet she must speak out of the book. There was never any revelation from the Lord that crossed his writings: his hand and his tongue agree eternally. If that book have cursed Judah, she may not absolve it.
Yet, what a gracious mixture was here of mercy with severity ; severity to Judah, mercy to Josiah : Judah shall be plagued, and shall become a desolation, and a curse. Josiah shall be quietly housed in his grave, before this storm fall upon Judah ; his eye shall not see what his people shall feel. It is enough that the expectation of these evils afflicts him, the sense shall not.
Whence is this indulgence ? “ Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord.” How happy a thing it is to be a reed unto God's judgments, rather than an oak; the meek and
gentle reed stoops, and therefore stands; the oak stands stiffly out against the strongest gust, and therefore is turned up by the roots. At least, let us lament those sins we have not avoided ; and mourn for the sins of others, while we hate our own.
He that found himself exempted from this vengeance, by his repentance and deep humiliation, would fain find the same way for the deliverance of
The same words of the law, therefore, that had wrought upon his heart, are by him caused to be publicly read in the ears of Judah and Jerusalem. The assembly is universal, of priests, prophets, people both small and great; because the sin was such, the danger was such ; that no man may complain to want information, the law of God sounds in every ear. If our ear be shut to the law, the sin is ours; but if the law be shut to our ears, the sin is of our governors.
Woe be to them that hide God's book from the people, as they would do ratsbane from the eyes of children! Ignorant souls cannot perish without their murder. There is no fear of knowing too much ; there is too much fear of practising too little. Now, if the people do not imitate their king in relenting, they are not worthy to partake with him in his impunity. Howsoever, they shall not want a great example, as of sorrow so of amendment. Good Josiah stands by the pillar, and solemnly renews his covenant with his God; the people cannot for shame refuse to second him : even they that looked for a destruction, yet do not withdraw their obedience. God's children may not be sullen under his corrections,
, but, whether they expect or feel smart, are no other than dutiful to his awful hand. As a man that finds he hath done something that might endanger the forfeit of his favour, puts
himself into some deserving action, whereby he may hope to re-endear himself, so doth Josiah here. No endeavour is enough to testify his zeal to that name of God which was so profaned by his people's idolatry ; whatever monuments were