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no place in all the world, whence thy God hath excluded thee, but only this : this, he hath reserved for his own use : and canst thou think much, to allow one room as proper to him, who hath not grudged all the rest to thee? But if it be thy zeal of a personal service to God, that hath carried thee hither; alas ! how canst thou hope to please the Almighty, with a forbidden sacrifice? Which of thy holy progenitors ever dared to tread, where thy foot now standeth? Which of them ever put forth their hand, to touch this sacred altar! Thou knowest that God hath set apart and sanctified his own attendants. Wherefore serves the priesthood, if this be the right of kings? Were it not for the strict prohibition of our God, it could seem no other than an honour to our profession, that a king should think to dignify himself by our employment; but now, knowing the severe charge of the great King of Heaven, we cannot but tremble to see that censer in thy hand. Who ever, out of the holy tribe, hath wielded it unrevenged? This affront is not to us; it is to the God, whom we serve. In awe of that terrible Majesty, as thou wouldest avoid some exemplary judgment, О king, withdraw thyself, not without humble deprecations, from this presence; and lay down that interdicted handful, with fear and trembling. Be thou ever a king; let us be priests: the sceptre is thine ; let censers be ours."
What religious heart could do other, than relent at so faithful and just an admonition ? But how hard is it, for great persons to yield they have offended ! Uzziah must not be faulty. What is done rashly shall be borne out with power. He was wroth; and thus expresseth it : “ What means this saucy expostulation, O ye sons of Levi? How dare ye thus malapertly control the well-meant actions of your sovereign? If ye be priests, remember that ye are subjects; or if ye will needs forget it, how easy is it for this hand to awake your memory! What such offence can it be, for me to come into that house, and to touch that altar, which my royal progenitors have made, beautified, consecrated ? Is the God of this place only yours? Why do ye thus ambitiously engross religion? If princes have not intermeddled with these holy affairs, it was because they would not; not because they might not. When those laws were made for the sanctuary, there were no kings to grace these divine ceremonies; yet even then, Moses was privileged. The persons of princes, if ye know not, are no less sacred, than your own. It is your presumption, to account the Lord's anointed profane. Contest with those, whose dry and unhallowed heads are subject to your power : for me, I will not ask your leave to be devout. Look ye to your own censers : presume not to meddle with mine. In the mean time, can ye think this insolence of yours shall escape unrevenged? Can it stand with the honour of my sovereignty, to be thus proudly checked by subjects? God do so to me and more also, if,"
While Uzziah yet speaks, God strikes. Ere the words of fury can come forth of bis mouth, the leprosy appears in his forehead. Leprosy was a most loathsome disease: the forehead is the most conspicuous part: had this shameful scurf broken forth upon his hand, or foot, or breast, it might have been hid from the eyes of men: now the forehead is smitten with this judgment, that God may proclaim to all beholders, “ Thus shall it be done to the man, whose arrogance hath thrust hím upon a sacred charge.” Public offences must have open shame.
It is a dangerous thing, to put ourselves into the affairs, into the presence of God, unwarranted. There cannot be a more foolish misprision, than, because we are great on earth, to think we may be bold with Heaven. When God's messengers cannot prevail by counsels, entreaties, threats, it is time for God to show his immediate judgments. Wilful offenders can expect nothing, but a fearful revenge.
Now begins Uzziah to be confounded in himself; and shame strives with leprosy, for a place in his forehead. The hand of God hath done that in an instant, which all the tongues of men had attempted in vain. There needs no further solicitor of his egress: the sense of his plague sends him forth alone. And now he thinks, “ Wretched man that I am, how have I angered God; and undone myself! I would needs come in like a priest, and now go forth a leper. The pride of my heart made me think myself worthy the presence of a God: God's just displeasure hath now made me unworthy of the presence of men. While I affected the altar, I have lost my throne. While I scornfully rejected the advice and censures of God's ministers, I am now become a spectacle of horror and deformity to my own servants. I, that would be sending up perfumes to heaven, have made my nastiness hateful to my own senses. What do I under this sacred roof? Neither is God's house now, for me, nor mine own. What cell, what dungeon is close enough for me, wherein to wear out the residue of mine unhappy and uncomfortable days ? O God, thou art just, and I am miserable.”
Thus, with a dejected countenance, and sad heart, doth Uzziah haste to retire himself; and wishes, that he could be no less hid from himself, than from others. How easy is it for the God of Heaven, to bring down the highest pitch of earthly greatness, and to humble the stubbornest pride!
Upon the leisure of second thoughts, Uzziah cannot but acknowledge much favour in this correction, and confess to have escaped well. Others, he knew, had been struck dead, or swallowed up quick, for' so presumptuous an intrusion. It is happy for him, if his forehead may excuse his soul.
Uzziah ceased not to be a king, when he began to be a leper. The disease of his forehead did not remove his crown. His son Jotham reigned for him, under him; and while he was not seen, yet he was obeyed. The character of sovereignty is indelible; whether by bodily infirmity, or by spiritual censure. Neither is it otherwise, O God, betwixt thee and us: if we be once a royal generation unto thee, our leprosies may deform us, they shall not
dethrone us. Still shall we have the right, still the possession, of that glorious kingdom, wherein we are invested from eternity.
2 Kings xiv, xv. 2 Chron. xxvi.
AHAZ WITH HIS NEW ALTAR. AFTER many unhappy changes of the two thrones, Ahaz succeeds Jotham in the kingdom of Judah : an ill son of a good father; not more the heir of David's seat, than of Jeroboam's sin, · Though Israel play the harlot, yet who can abide that Judah should sin? It is hard, not to be infected with a contagious neighbourhood. Who ever read, that the kingdom of Israel was seasoned, with the vicinity of the true religion of Judah? Goodness, (such as our nature is,) is not so apt to spread. A tainted air doth more easily affect a sound body, than a wholesome air can clear the sick. · Superstition hath ever been more successful, than truth. The young years of Ahaz are soon misled, to a plausible misdevotion,
A man, that is once fallen from truth, knows not where he shall stay. From the calves of Jeroboam, is Ahaz drawn to the gods of the heathen; yea, now, bulls and goats are too little for those new deities : his own flesh and blood is but dear enough; He made his son to pass through their fire. - Where do we find any religious Israelite, thus zealous for God? Neither doth the holiness, and mercy, of our God require so cruel a sacrifice: neither is our dull and niggardly hand ready to gratify him, with more easy obediences. O God, how gladly should we offer unto thee our souls and bodies, which we may enjoy so much the more, when they are thine ; since zealous Pagans stick not to lose their own flesh and blood in an idol's fire!
He, that hath thus shamefully cast off the God of his fathers, cannot be long without a fearful revenge, The king of Israel galls him on the one side ; the king of Syria, on the other, To avoid the shock of both, Ahaz doth not betake himself to the God whom he had offended, who was able to make his enemies at peace with him; but to Tiglath Pileser king of Ashur. Him doth he woo with suits, with gifts; and robs God of those presents, which may endear sa strong a belper. He, that thought not his son too dear for an idol, thinks not God's silver and gold too dear for an idolatrous abettor.
Oh the infinite patience of the Almighty! God gives success, awhile, to so offensive a rivalry, This Assyrian king prevails against the king of Syria; kills him ; and takes his chief city, Damascus, The quarrel of the king of Judah hath enlarged the ter, ritories of his assistant, beyond hope, And now, while this Assyrian victor is enjoying the possession of his new-won Damascus, Ahaz goes up thither to meet him ; to congratulate the victory ; to add unto those triumphs, which were drawn on by his solicitation,
There he sees a new-fashioned altar, that pleases his eye. That old form of Solomon's, which was made by the pattern shewed to Moses in the Mount, is now grown stale and despicable. A model: of this more exquisite frame is sent to Urijah, the priest; and must be sampled in Jerusalem. It is a dangerous presumption, to make innovations, if but in the circumstances of God's worship. Those human additions, which would seem to grace the institution of God, deprave it. That infinite wisdom knows best what will please itself, and prescribes accordingly. The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. Idolatry, and falsehood, is commonly more gaudy and plausible, than truth. That heart, which can for the outward homeliness despise the ordinances of God, is already aliened from true religion, and lies open to the grossesť superstition.
Never any prince was so foully idolatrous, as that he wanted a priest to second him, A Urijah is fit to humour an Ahaz. Greatness could never command any thing, which some servile wits were not ready, both to applaud and justify.
Ere the king can be returned from Damascus, the altar is finished. It were happy, if true godliness could be so forward, in the prosecutions of good. * Neither is this strange pile reared only, but thrust up betwixt God's altar and the temple; in an apparent precedency; as if he had said, “Let the God of Judah come behind the deities of Syria.",
And now, to make up the full measure of his impiety, this idolatrous king will himself be sacrificing upon his new altar, to his new gods; the gods of Damascus. A usurped priesthood well becomes a false deity. Because, saith he, the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me.
O blind superstition ! How did the gods of Syria help their kings, when both those kings and their gods were vanquished and taken by the king of Assyria ? Even this Damascus and this altar were the spoil of a foreign enemy. How then did the gods of Syria help their kings, any other than to their ruin? What dotage is this, to make choice of a foiled protection ? But had the Syrians prospered, must their gods have the thanks? Are there no authors of good, but blocks or devils ? or is an outward prosperity the only argument of truth, the only motive of devotion ? 0 foolish Ahaz, it is the God thou hast forsaken that plagues thee, under whose only arm thou mightest have prevailed. His power beats those pagan stocks, one against another; so, as one while, one seems victorious, another vanquished; and at last he confounds both, together with their proudest clients. Thyself shall be the best instance.
Of all the kings of Judah hitherto, there is no one so dreadful au example, either of sin, or judgment, as this son of good Jotham. I abhor to think, that such a monster should descend from the loins of David. Where should be the period of this wickedness?. He began with the high places : thence he descends to the calves of Dan and Bethel: from thence he falls to a Syrian altar; to the
Syrian god : then, from a partnership, he falls to an utter exclu. sion of the true God, and blocking up his temple : and then, to the sacrifice of his own son: and at last, as if hell were broken loose upon God's inheritance, every several city, every high place of Judah hath a new god. No marvel if he be branded by the Spirit of God, with, This is that king Ahaz,
What a fearful plague did this noisome deluge of sin leave behind it, in the land of Judah! Who can express the horror of God's revenge, upon a people that should have been his ? Pekah, the king of Israel, slew a hundred and twenty thousand of them, in one day : amongst whom was Maaseiah, the son of Ahaz, O just judgment of the Almighty! Ahaz sheds the blood of one son, to an idol : the true God sheds the blood of another of his sons, in revenge,
Yet, the hand of the Lord is stretched out still. Two hundred thousand of them were carried away by the Israelites captive, to Samaria. The Edomites came, and carried away another part of them for bond slaves, to their country.
The Philistines came up, and shared the cities of the south of Judah, and the villages thereof. Shortly, what other is miserable Judah, than the prey and spoil of all the neighbouring nations ? For the Lord brought Judah low, because of Ăhaz king of Israel, for he made Judah naked, and transgressed sore against the Lord,
As for the great king of Ashur, whom Ahaz purchased with the sacrilegious pillage of the house of God, instead of an aid, he proves a burden. However he sped in his first onsets, now, he distressed Judah, but strengthened it not. The charge was as great, as the benefit small : sooner shall he eat them out, than res, cue them. No arm of flesh can shelter Ahaz from a vengeance.
Bewise, O ye king's ; be instructed, () ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.
His subjects complain, that he died so late ; and, as repenting that he ever was, deny him a room in the sepulchres of kings: as if they said ;“ The common earth of Jerusalem is too good for him, that degenerated from his progenitors, marred his kingdom, deprayed his people, forsook his God.”
2 Kings xvi. ? Chron. t.rviii.
THE UTTER DESTRUCTION OF THE KINGDOM OF
ISRAEL, Junah was at a sore heave; yet Israel shall miscarry before it, Such are the sins of both, that they strive whether shall fall first; but this lot must light upon the ten tribes, Though the late king of Judah were personally worse than the most of Jeroboam's successors, yet the people were generally less evil; upon whom the encroachments of idolatry were more by obtrusion, than by