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SERMON XII.

THE CHARACTER AND CONDUCT OF

JOSIAH.

2 Kings xxii. 19.

Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled

thyself before the Lord, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before Me; I also have heard thee, saith the Lord.

Ir is of Josiah, king of Judah, that these words are spoken. He lived in the latter time of the Jewish monarchy, when transgression was come to its full measure, and the inveterate idolatry and perverseness of the people were sealing them to the righteous doom of the seventy years Babylonish captivity. Light appears most sensibly glorious when it suddenly breaks out amidst the horrors of darkness. The character of Josiah is shown to advantage amidst the iniquity of the times. Early did he seek the God of Israel; and, though too late for the recovery of a people a so far gone

in wickedness, he exerted himself in as vigorous and sincere endeavours after reformation, as any of the most pious princes of the house of David. His work was not in vain : He himself reaped, and is for ever reaping, the benefit of it. But the people were not to be restored.

Accidentally the book of the law of Moses was found by Hilkiah the priest, in the house of the Lord, and read by Shaphan the scribe before the king. It seems this people had grown so profligate and careless, that even the law of Moses itself was lost, or lay disregarded among them. With much consistency do profane men, in profane times, set aside the word of God. IT condemns them ; the least light which comes from it is offensive to them : it is like the sun to a weak and distempered eye. Darkness is most suitable to those who practise deeds of darkness; but a mind, like Josiah's, taught of God, and led by his Spirit to know and to love him, turns itself to hear whatever comes from God. It feels a sympathy of spirit with the sacred word. Those who have had very little opportunity of hearing and reading it, who yet have profited already from some gleanings of divine information, will, when clearer light is afforded, receive it with eager

A little portion of those full means of the spiritual manna, which are loathed by careless professors of Christianity, who, in happy and peaceable seasons, have the word dispensed in abundance, is thankfully accepted by hungry souls. Even the threatenings and the awful views of Scripture find in them a willing ear and a reverent attention.

It is so with Josiah. He is now twenty-six years of age, and has reigned eighteen years; and has never yet read the law of Moses. Yet either by tradition, or by some portions of this law mixed with the temple-service, I suppose, he must have

ness.

known a little of its contents; and that little, impressed upon his heart by the grace of God, had wrought wonders in his mind. But now that he hears the whole ; and observes how holy and excellent the words of God are; what promises they convey to the obedient, and what threatenings to the disobedient; when with one instructive glance he views the precious contents of the Book, and the character of its Divine Author, and compares them with the shameful profaneness, idolatry, and wickedness of the times, he rends his clothes, in the sincerest abasement and grief; and immediately orders those about him to inquire of the Lord, what was to be done, or what was to be expected. For

great,” says he, “is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book." His attendants apply to Huldah the prophetess; for on her the spirit of prophecy rested; and from her they learn a full confirmation of Josiah's fears with respect to the nation : “My wrath shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched.” But a message of peace is distinctly reserved for the king, which we have in the text. He should be taken away from the evil to come, and his eyes should not see the desolating judgments of God on his country.

It is a true rule,-and Josiah observes it,—that prophecy and duty are distinct things, and must not be confounded together. Had Josiah reasoned thus, “ the people will perish do what I can, and therefore I will do nothing,” he would have sitten still in indolence. But it is a king's duty to propagate righteousness and the fear of God, be the event

what it may. Josiah performs this duty with that astonishing vehemence of zeal and fortitude, which seems, peculiarly, to mark his character. He can make an outward change in the manners of the nation. This is all he can do for his subjects : he cannot change their hearts.

I shall not enlarge on the fulfilment of the prophecy, in the dismal days of Josiah's children. This good king himself dies in peace, before these disastrous events took place: Yes, in peace. His end was peace, eternal peace; though slain by the archers of Pharaoh Necho, whom he met in battle, with, I think, a blameable obstinacy; as appears from 2 Chron. xxxv. where the parallel story is told. Possessed of a dignity of spirit beyond his circumstances, and with fortitude and vigour of soul, to which the present low state of his kingdom did not correspond, he seems to have rashly thrown away his life. On the whole, however, he was unquestionably upright; and he died in peace, before the destined ruin of his country. Those, who know what real religion is, will be at no loss to distinguish the errors of its followers from the vices of its enemies. It is, at last, through grace that the best are saved as well as the worst; and let any man at his peril encourage himself in sin from the faults of God's people, which are recorded for a different reason ;-to show that all have need of mercy, and to encourage the sincere, lest the view of their own faults should sink them into despair.

May I here be permitted to make several practical observations, which are suggested to my mind by reflecting on the pious spirit of Josiah commended in the text? “ Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou heardest what I spake against this place and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before Me; I also have heard thee, saith the Lord.”

1. Would we know, by some clear criterion, how to distinguish the regions of real godliness from those of ungodliness ? It seems very desirable that we should have a sure mark of this kind, that we may answer the treacherous reasonings of wicked men, who, perfectly careless concerning all religious principle and practice, would continually call every thing bigotry that undertakes to point out such distinction. They are not for having any serious religion at all: they, therefore, would make all religions alike, and while they tell us of the various differences of opinion, represent it rash to hold any thing certain. Against this dangerous sentiment I shall venture to mention one certain mark of true religion; at least such a mark, that where it is not, we may be confident no true religion can exist.

To make a serious thing of sin; to fear exceedingly the wrath of God, on account of it; and to look on the judgment of God as sure to attend it, if men die in their sins ; and never presumptuously to set bounds to his judgments, but always to behold them as righteous, however terrible; this, I say, is a constant mark of real godliness. Thus Josiah, you see, has a tender heart; he humbles himself before the Lord; he weeps before him because of sin; he has a quick feeling of its malignity; he

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