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22-25.) was brought, as he tells us, into the dust of death, and, in answer to his prayer, was delivered from it, he said, “ I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. Ye that fear the Lord praise him; all ye, the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him all ye the seed of Israel: for he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him, but when he cried unto him, he heard: my praise shall be of thee in the great congregation; I will pay my vows before them that fear him.” Now such should be the desire of our hearts to glorify God for the King's recovery: not contented with offering up our praises in secret, we should say with him in the text, “the Lord was ready to save; therefore we will sing our songs in the house of the Lord.”
In discoursing upon these words, we will consider I. The import of the words
This will partly appear from the occasion on which they were uttered .
[This chapter begins with a very affecting account of king Hezekiah's sickness: a message was sent to him from the Lord to tell him that he should die of his disorder. These melancholy tidings no sooner reached his ears than he turned his face towards the wall and wept very sore. In the 9th and fol. lowing verses we have a copy of what he himself wrote concerning the workings of his own mind under that affliction: 6. The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness: I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave; I am deprived of the residue of my years: I said, I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord in the land of the living; I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world: mine age is departed and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent; I have cut off, like a weaver, my life; he will cut me off with pining sickness, from day even to night will he make an end of me: I reckoned till morning that as a lion so will he break all my bones, from day even to night will he make an end of me: like a crane, or a swallow, so did I chatter; I did mourn as a dove; mine eyes failed with looking upwards; O Lord I am oppressed, undertake for me.”
Now it is possible enough that he was, in a considerable degree, under bondage to the fear of death: but yet we cannot suppose that all this grief originated from that one cause: no, he doubtless felt much for the glory of God and the prosperity
of his people, both of which as far as he could judge, would be very materially affected by his removal at that particular crisis. He was one of the best kings that ever governed the Jewish nation. No sooner did he come to the throne than he began to reform the abuses which had been introduced in preceding reigns. He threw down the altars that had been built; he opened and repaired the temple which had been shut up and left to decay; he restored the sacrifices which had been long neglected; he stirred up the people throughout all the kingdom to reform their lives; and he ardently longed to see these beginnings of reformation carried further into effect. He had very lately beheld the whole country overrun by Sennacherib's army, and Jerusalem itself reduced to the utmost distress and danger; and though he had seen a great part of the Assyrian army destroyed by the hand of God, yet he knew that the Assyrians were still a powerful enemy, and that if the Jewish nation should relapse into their former wickedness, they could not expect another miraculous interposition from God. He was aware also that having no son to succeed him, there would probably be intestine divisions about a successor; so that if he were taken away at this time, the cause of religion would be neglected, and the whole Jewish nation be given over to suffer the consequences of their apostacy from God. That these reflections greatly contributed to his grief, seems plainly intimated in the answer which God gave to his prayer, as it is recorded both in 2 Kings xx. 6. and in the chapter before us; in both of which places God not only promises to prolong his life, but to deliver the city out of the hands of the king of Assyria, and to defend it for his own name's sake. Afflicted with these gloomy prospects he betook himself to the best of all remedies, prayer: and as we are expressly told that Isaiah joined with him in crying to heaven on a former occasion, it is reasonable to suppose that, when he saw the king so overwhelmed with the news which he had brought him, he did not neglect this opportunity of joining with him in prayer for his recovery. Behold, their prayer prevailed; yea, so speedily did it prevail, that before Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “ Tell Hezekiah, thus saith the Lord; I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears, behold, I will heal thee.” God moreover commanded the Prophet to make a plaster of figs, and to put it upon the boil, and to assure the king that in three days he should be well enough to go up to the house of the Lord. This was done to shew that we ought to use means, while at the same time we look not to the means, but to God, for the desired success. Being restored to health he comes into the house of the Lord, and pours out his soul in pious and devout thanksgivings: knowing that, if he had died in his illness, he should never have had any more opportunities of glorifying God before men, he exclaims, “ the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee, they that go down to the pit cannot hope for thy truth; the living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day; the father to the children shall make known thy truth;" and then he adds in the words of the text, “ The Lord was ready to save me, therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments, all the days of our life in the house of the Lord.”]
But we shall have a further insight into the meaning of the text, if we consider more particularly the words themselves :
[They contain a thankful acknowledgment to God for his recovery, and a determination to glorify him for it as long as he should live. “The Lord was ready to save me,” says the king. He does not blasphemously ascribe his recovery to his physicians, or to the means used, notwithstanding they were used according to God's own prescription; but he gives the honour, where alone it is due, to God. In disorders of any kind our eyes should not be so fixed upon the creature as they usually are; our expectation should be from God alone: it is “ he who killeth and maketh alive; he bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up." But that which Hezekiah seems to have been inore particularly affected with, was the Lord's readiness to help him; “ the Lord was ready to save me.” This is a matter of astonishment to all who have ever tried the power and prevalency of prayer: God does not indeed bind himself to answer prayer immediately, at least not in the way in which we expect it to be answered; yet does he often with marvellous condescension grant the requests of his people as soon as they are offered up; he often visibly fulfils that precious promise recorded in Isaiah, “ It shall come to pass that before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear.” David mentions this as his own experience, and seems to have been struck with it as Hezekiah was; “I will praise thee with my whole heart, O God; for in the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul. (Ps. cxxxviii. 1, 3.) So Hezekiah in the text; “ the Lord was ready to save me; therefore will we sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord." He determined that as the mercy vouchsafed to him was a public benefit, so he would manifest his sense of it by public acknowledgments. He recorded this mercy and had it set to music, that all the nation might join with him in singing praises to God for it. Nor would he suffer it ever to be effaced from his memory: he made the recital of this mercy a part of his daily devotions; and determined he would continue to do so as long
as he should live; judging very properly that his life, which had been so miraculously spared, should be spent whoily in the service of his God.]
Nothing more being necessary to illustrate the meaning of the words, we shall pass on to notice II. The use we should make of them 1. To excite our gratitude for the King's recovery
[There is a striking resemblance between the event which we are now met to commemorate,a and that recorded in the passage before us. I will beg leave to point it out in several particulars.
It holds good in the persons who were ill. Hezekiah, you have heard, was one of the most illustrious kings that ever sat upon the Jewish throne: the glory of God and the welfare of his people were ever near his heart. He set a good example to all his subjects, and ardently desired to see them no less obedient to their God than loyal to himself: he published his edicts prohibiting whatever was offensive to God, and enforcing the observance of the divine laws: in short, if you would know his character, see it drawn by the inspired penman, 2 Chron. xxxi. 20, 21. “ Thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good, and right, and truth before the Lord his God: and in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments to seek his God, he did it with all his heart and prospered.” Now compare that of our gracious Sovereign: he has but limited power, and therefore cannot effect all he would; but what he would do, if he were able, we see by the proclamation which was not long since issued. But this is a part of our subject on which it would not be proper to say much, nor is it needful that we should; for we trust his excellent qualities are too deeply engraven in all our hearts to need any repetition of them from this place
But further-The resemblance holds good in the probable consequences of their illness-Hezekiah was sick nigh unto death, so that till his recovery he was utterly incapacitated for the business of the nation. If he had been left in the state he was, or had been taken away, his subjects would have suffered an irreparable loss. What they would have suffered we may judge in part from what they did actually suffer, when Manasses the son of Hezekiah came to the throne: idolatry was re-established throughout the kingdom; and God, wearied as it were with the greatness of their provocations, gave them over, together with Manasses their king, into the hands of
a March 15th, 1780.
their Babylonish enemies. What would have been the consequence if our sovereign's illness had continued, none can tell. We mean not to cast reflections upon any person or party; we would abhor a party-spirit either in religion or politics: but this we may say without a possibility of giving offence to any; that, however wisely the defect of an executive power inight have been supplied, and however faithfully it might have been employed, still the nation would have suffered an almost irreparable injury; for the very sinews of government would have been cut asunder. This, we say, would have been the case, supposing that every thing had been planned with the most consummate wisdom, and executed with the most unblemished integrity: but what might have happenned, God alone knows: blessed be his name, he has delivered us now from the apprehensions of the calamities we have so earnestly deprecated, and so justly dreaded.
Again—The resemblance holds good in the means by which they were recovered from their illness. What was there in a plaster made of figs that could give so sudden a turn to a mortal disorder as to remove it in three days? Just as much as there was in the waters of Jordan to cleanse Naaman from his leprosy, or in the clay and spittle which our Lord used, to open the eyes of a blind man. It was prayer that healed Hezekiah; yes, prayer pierced the skies and entered into the ears of the Lord of hosts. “I have heard thy prayer, said God, and have seen thy tears, and will heal thee.” And what has healed our gracious Sovereign? we answer without disparagement to any, PRAYER: a spirit of prayer has been poured out upon all God's people throughout the nation: all that have an interest in the court of heaven, have cried day and night to God on his behalf. The prayers of the church prevailed for the delivering of Peter out of prison: so we doubt not but that the king's recovery is an answer to prayer; to the prayers of those very people, who yet are too often hated, despised, and persecuted. It is true; God has used means; but what means? not the art of medicine, but repose and quiet. We mean not to detract from the merit of those who have assisted in his cure; they deserve well of the nation at large; and we shall rejoice · to see them rewarded according to their desert: but the glory is God's, and his alone: the king's recovery is the gift of God; and that in answer to the prayers of his own people; and, we trust, that they will not discontinue their prayers for him even to the latest hour of their lives.
Once more-The resemblance holds good in the readiness with which God vouchsafed the desired mercy. Hezekiah's and Isaiah's prayer was answered before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court; and in three more days the cure was effected. So has it been with respect to the cure vouchsafed unto