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Now say, that Hezekiah's God, in whom he trusted, hath deceived him, and graced thy triumphs.
With shame and grief enough, is that sheeped tyrant returned to his Nineveh ; having left behind him all the pride and strength of Assyria, for compost to the Jewish fields.
Well were it for thee, O Sennacherib, if thou couldest escape thus. Vengeance waits for thee at home, and welcomes thee into thy place. While thou art worshipping in the house of Nisroch thy god, two of thine own sons shall be thine executioners. See now if that false deity of thine can preserve thee from that stroke, which the true God sends thee, by the hand of thine own flesh. He, that slew thy host by his angels, slays thee by thy sons. The same angel, that killed all those thousands, could as easily have smitten thee ; but he rather reserves thee, for the further torment of an unnatural stroke, that thou mayest see too late, how easy it is for him, in spite of thy god, to arm thine own loins against thee.
Thou art avenged, O God, thou art avenged plentifully of thine enemies. Whosoever strives with thee is sure to gain nothing but loss, but shame, but death, but hell. The Assyrians are slain ; Sennacherib is rewarded for his blasphemy; Jerusalem is rescued; Hezekiah rejoices; the nations wonder and tremble. Oh love the Lord, all ye saints, for the Lord preserveth the faithful, and plenteously rewardeth the proud doer.
CONTEMPLATION X.-HEZEKIAH SICK, RECO
VERED, VISITED. 2 KINGS xx., 2 CHRON. XXXII., ISAIAH XXXVIII. HEZEKIAH was freed from the siege of the Assyrians, but he is surprised with a disease. He, that delivered him from the hand of his enemies, smites him with sickness. God doth not let us loose from all afflictions, when he redeems us from one.
To think that Hezekiah was either not thankful enough for his deliverance, or too much lifted up with glory of so miraculous a favour, were an injurious misconstruction of the hand of God, and an uncharitable censure of a holy prince; for, though no flesh and blood can avoid the just desert of bodily punishment, yet God doth not always strike with an intuition of sin: sometimes he regards the benefit of our trial; sometimes, the glory of his mercy in our cure.
It was no slight distemper, that seized upon Hezekiah; but a disease, both painful and fierce, and in nature des O God, how thou lashest even those, whom thou lovest! Hadst thou ever any such darling in the throne of Judah, as Hezekiah? Yet,
he no sooner breatheth from a miserable siege, than he panteth under a mortal sickness.
When, as yet, he had not so much as the comfort of a child to succeed him, thy prophet is sent to him, with the heavy message of his death ; Set thine house in order ; for thou shalt die, and not live. It is no small mercy of God, that he gives us warning of our end. We shall make an ill use of so gracious a premonition, if we make not a meek preparation for our passage. Even those, that have not a house, yet have a soul. No soul can want important affairs, to be ordered for a final dissolution. The neglect of this best thrift is desperate. Set thy soul in order, O man; for thou shalt die, and not live.
If God had given Hezekiah a son, nature had bequeathed his estate: now, he must study to find heirs. Even these outward things, though in themselves worthless, require our careful disposition, to those we leave behind us; and if we have delayed these thoughts till then, our sickbeds may not complain of their importunity. We cannot leave to our families a better legacy Never was the prophet Isaiah unwelcome to this good king,
Even sad tidings must be carried by those messengers, which would be faithful ; neither may we regard so much, how they will be taken, as by whom they are sent.
It was a bold and harsh word to say to a king, Thou shalt die, and not live. I do not hear Hezekiah rage and fret at the message, or threat the bearer; but he meekly turns his face to the wall, and weeps, and prays.
Why to the wall? Was it for the greater secresy of his devotion? Was it for the more freedom from all distraction ? it that the passion, which accompanied his prayer, might have no witnesses ? Or, was it for that this wall looked towards the temple, which his heart and eyes still moved unto, though his feet could not?
Howsoever; the patient soul of good Hezekiah turns itself to that Holy God, from whom he smarts and bleeds, and pours out itself into a fervent deprecation; I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart; and have done that which is good in thy sight.
Couldst thou fear, O Hezekiah, that God had forgotten thine integrity; The grace, that was in thee, was his own work: could he in thee neglect himself? Or dost thou therefore doubt of his remembrance of thy faithfulness, because he summons thee to receive the crown of thy faithfulness, glory, and immortality? Wherein canst thou be remembered, if this be to forget thee? What challenge is this? Is God a debtor to thy perfection? Hath thy holy carriage merited any thing, from that infinite justice? Far, far were these presumptuous conceits, from that humble and mortified soul. Thou hadst hated thine own breast,
if it could once have harboured so proud a thought. This perfection of thine was no other, than an honest soundness of heart and life, which thou knewest God had promised to reward. It was the mercy of the covenant, that thou pleadedst; not the merit of thine obedience.
Every one of these words was steeped in tears: but what meant these words, these tears? I hear not of any suit moved by Hezekiah; only he wishes to be remembered, in that which could never be forgotten, though he should have entreated for an oblivion.
Speak out, Hezekiah. What is it, that thy tears crave, while thy lips express not? Olet me live, and I shall praise thee, O God.
In a natural man, none could wonder at this passionate request : who cannot but wonder at it, in a saint; whose happiness doth but then begin, when his life ceaseth; whose misery doth but then end, when his death enters? The word of faith is, “Oh let me die, that I may enjoy thee." How then doth the king cry, at the news of that death, which some resolute Pagans have entertained with smiles? Certainly, the best man cannot strip himself of some flesh; and, while nature hath an undeniable share in him, he cannot but retain some smatch of the sweetness of life, of the horror of dissolution. Both these were in Hezekiah ; neither of them could transport him into this passion : they were higher respects that swayed, with so holy a prince; a tender care of the glory of God, a careful pity of the Church of God. His very tears said, “O God, thou knowest that the eyes of the world are bent upon me, as one that hath abandoned their idolatry, and restored thy sincere worship. I stand alone, in the midst of a wicked and idolatrous generation, that looks through all my actions, all my events : if now they shall see me snatched away in the midst of my days, what will these heathen say? How can thy great name but suffer, in this my untimely extinction ? Besides, what will become of thy poor Church, which I shall leave feebly religious, and as yet scarce warm, in the course of a pious reformation? How soon shall it be miserably overgrown, with superstition and heathenism !
How soon shall the wild boar of Assyria root up this little vineyard of thine! What need I beseech thee, O Lord, to regard thy name, to regard thine inheritance ?"
What one tear of Hezekiah can run waste? What can that good king pray for, unheard, unanswered? Sennacherib came, in a proud confidence, to swallow up his city and people; prayers and tears send him away confounded : Death comes to swallow up his person, and that not without authority; prayers and tears send him away disappointed. Before Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, 1 have seen thy tears; behold, I will heal thee ; on the third day thou shalt go up to the house of the Lord; and I will add to thy days fifteen years.
What shall we say then, O God? Hast thou thus soon changed thy purpose ? Was it not thy true message, which thy prophet, even now, delivered to Hezekiah? Is somewhat fallen out, that thou foresawest not? Or dost thou now decree somewhat thou meanest not? The
very thought of
of these were no better than blasphemous impiety. Čertainly, Hezekiah could not live one day longer, than was eternally decreed. The decree of God's eternal counsel had from everlasting determined him fifteen years yet longer : why then doth God say, by his prophet, Thou shalt die, and not live? He is not as man, that he should repent. The message is changed, the will is not changed: yea rather the message is explicated, not changed; for the signified will of God, though it sound absolutely, yet must be understood with condition : that tells Hezekiah what he must expect, from the nature of his disease; what would befal him, without his deprecations, There was nothing but death in the second causes, whatever secret
purpose there was in the first; and that purpose shall lie hid for a time, under a reserved condition. The same decree, that says, Nineveh shall be destroyed, means, if Nineveh repent, it shall not be destroyed. He, that finds good reason to say, “ Hezekiah shall die,” yet still means, if the quickened devotion of Hezekiah shall importune me for life, it shall be protracted. And the same God, that hath decreed this addition of fifteen years, had decreed to stir up the spirit of Hezekiah, to that vehement and weeping importunity, which should obtain it. 0 God, thou workest thy good pleasure in us, and with us; and, by thy revealed will, movest us in those ways, whereby thou effectest thy secret will.
How wonderful is this mercy! Hezekiah's tears are not dry upon his cheeks, yea his breath is not passed his lips, when God sends him a comfortable answer. How careful is the God of Compassions, that his holy servant should not languish one hour, in the expectation of his denounced death! What speed was here, as in the errand, so in the act of recovery! Within three days, shall Hezekiah be upon his feet; yea his feet shall stand in the courts of God's house. He, that now in his bed sighs and groans and weeps out a petition, shall then sing out a thanksgiving in the temple. O thou, that hearest the prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come. With what cheerful assurance should we approach to the throne of that grace, which never failed any suppliant !
Neither was this grant more speedy, than bountiful. We are wont to reckon seven years for the life of a man; and now, behold, more than two lives hath God added to the age of Hezekiah.
How unexampled a favour is this! Who ever, but Hezekiah, knew his period so long before! The fixedness of his term is no less mercy, than the protraction. We must be content to live or die, at uncertainties. We are not worthy to calculate the date of our own times : Teach us, O Lord, so to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
There is little joy in many days, if they be evil. Hezekiah shall not be blessed only with life, but with peace. The proud Assyrian threatens an invasion. His late foil still sticks in his stomach, and stirs him to a revenge. The hook is in his nostrils : he cannot move whither he list. The God of Heaven will maintain his own quarrel; I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
Lo; for his life Hezekiah is beholden, next under the infinite goodness of God, to his prayers; for his protection, to the dear memory of his father David. Surely, for ought we find, Hezekiah was no less upright and less offensive, than David; yet, both Hezekiah and Jerusalem shall fare the better for David's sake, above three hundred years after. To that man after his own heart, had God engaged himself, by his gracious promise, to preserve his throne, his seed. God loves to remember his ancient mercies. How happy a thing is it, to be faithful with God! This is the way to oblige those, which are yet unborn ; and to entail blessings upon the successions of future generations.
It seems, it was some pestilent ulcer, that thus endangered the life of Hezekiah. Isaiah is not a prophet only, but a physician. And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. He, that gave an assurance of recovery, gives a receipt for the recovery,
The decree of God includes the means. Neither can the medicine work, without a word; neither will the word work, without the medicine: both of them must meet in the cure.
If we so trust the promise, that we neglect the prescript, we presume to no purpose. Happy is that soul, that so regards the promise of God's prophets, as that withal he receives their counsels.
Nothing could be more proper, for the ripening of hard and purulent tumors, than dry figs. Herein, Isaiah's direction was according to nature. Wherefore, should we balk the ordinary road, where it is both fair and near?
The sudden contradiction of the message causes a just difficulty in the assent. Hezekiah therefore craves a sign; not for that he distrusted, but that he might trust the more. We can never take too fast hold of those promises of God, which have not more comfort in the application, than natural impossibility in the performance. We believe, Lord, help our unbelief.
The sick king hath his option. His father was offered a sign, and refused it; he sues for one, and obtains it. Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or back ten degrees? as if heaven itself lay open to his choice; and were ready, either to mend his pace or