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eye can but
not glow with an astonishing commiseration. What then, O God, what shall that plague be, which thou threatenest with so much preface of horror? I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab; and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down : and I will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance, and I will deliver them into the hand of their enemies ; and they shall become a prey and a spoil unto all their enemies.
It is enough, O God, it is enough. What ear can but tingle, what
weep, what hair can but start up, what heart can be but confounded, at the mention of so dreadful a revenge? Can there be a worse judgment than desolation, captivity, desertion, spoil, and torture of prevailing enemies ? But, however, other cities and nations have undergone these disasters, without wonder ; that all this should befal to thy Jerusalem, the place which thou hast chosen to thyself out of the whole earth, the lot of thine inheritance, the seat of thine abode, whereof thou hast said, Here shall be my rest for ever, it is able to amaze all eyes, all ears.
No city could fare worse than Samaria ; whose inhabitants, after a woeful siege, were driven, like cattle, into a wretched servitude. Jerusalem shall fare no better, from Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon; Jerusalem, the glory of the earth, the darling of heaven. See, O ye vain men, that boast of the privileges of chairs and churches, see and tremble. There is no place under heaven, to which the presence of God is so wedded, as that the sins thereof shall not procure a disdainful and final divorce. The height of former favours shall be but an aggrayation of vengeance.
This total vastation of Jerusalem shall take time. Onwards, God begins with the person of wicked Manasseh ; against whom, he stirs up the captains of the host of the late friend and old enemy of Judah. Those thorns, amongst which he had shrouded his guilty head, cannot shelter him from their violence. They take him, and bind him with fetters of iron, and carry him to Babylon. There he lies, loaded with chains, in an uncomfortable dungeon, exercised with variety of tortures, fed with such coarse pittances of bread and sips of water, as might maintain an unwilling life to the punishment of the owner.
What eye can now pity the deepest miseries of Manasseh ? What, but bondage, can befit him, that hath so lawlessly abused his liberty? What, but an utter abdication, can befit him, that hath cast off his God, and doated upon devils? What, but a dying life and a tormenting death, can be fit for a man of blood ?
Who, now, would not have given this man for lost ; and have looked, when hell should claim her own? But oh the height, oh the depth, of divine mercy! After all these prodigies of sin,
Manasseh is a convert ; When he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. How true is that word of the prophet, Vexation gives understanding! The viper, when he is lashed, casts up his poison. The traitor, when he is racked, tells that truth, which he had else never uttered. If the cross bear us not to heaven, nothing can. What use were there of the grain, but for the edge of the sickle, wherewith it is cut down; the stroke of the flail, wherewith it is beaten ; the weight and attrition, of the mill, wherewith it is crushed; the fire of the oven, wherewith it is baken?
Say now, Manasseh, with that grandfather of thine, who was, till now, too good for thee, It was good for me, that I was afflicted. Even thine iron was more precious to thee, than thy gold : thy gaol was a more happy lodging to thee, than thy palace : Babylon was a better school to thee than Jerusalem. What fools are we, to frown upon our afflictions ! These, how crabbed soever, are our best friends. They are not, indeed, for our pleasure ; they are for our profit : their issue makes them worthy of a welcome. What do we care, how bitter that potion be, which brings health ?
How far a man may go, and yet turn! Could there be fouler sins than these? Lo, here was idolatry in the height, violation of God's house, sorceries of all kinds, bloody cruelty to his own flesh, to the saints of God; and all these against the stream of a religious institution, of the zealous counsels of God's prophets, of the checks of his own heart !
Who can complain, that the way of heaven is blocked up against him, when he sees such a sinner enter? Say the worst against thyself, O thou clamorous soul : here is one, that murdered men, defied God, worshipped devils ; and yet finds the way to repentance. If thou be worse than he, deny, if thou canst, that to thyself, which God hath not denied to thee, capacity of grace: in the mean time, know that it is not thy sin, but thine impenitence, that bars heaven against thee.
Presume not yet, О man, whosoever thou art, of the liberty of thy conversion; as if thou couldest run on lawlessly in a course of sinning, till thou come to the brim of hell; and then couldst suddenly stop, and return at leisure. The mercy of God never set period to a wilful sinner : neither yet did his own corrupt desires ; so as, when he is gone the furthest, he could yet stay himself from another step. No man, that truly repents, is refused ; but many a one sins so long, that he cannot repent. His custom of wickedness hath obdured his heart, and made it flint to all good impressions. There were Jeroboams, and Abijams, and Ahabs, and Joashes, and Ahazes, in these sacred thrones; there was but one Manasseh. God hath not left in any man's hand the reins of his own heart, to pace, and
turn, and stop as he lists. This privilege is reserved to him that made it. It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that sheweth mercy; and that mercy neglected, justly binds over to judgment.
I wonder not at Manasseh, either sinning or repenting : I wonder at thy goodness, O Lord, who, after thy just permission of his sin, callest him thus graciously to repent; and so receivest him repenting: so as Manasseh was not a more loathsome and monstrous spectacle of wickedness, than he is now a pleasing and useful pattern of conversion. Who can now despair of thy mercy, O God, that sees the tears of a Manasseh accepted ? When we have debauched our worst, our evil cannot match with thy goodness. Rather it is the praise of thy infinite store, that where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. O keep us from a presumption of grace, that we may repent; and raise us from a a distrust of grace, when we have repented.
No sooner is Manasseh penitent, than he is free. His prayers have, at once, loosed him from his sins, and from his chains; and of a captive have made him a king ; and from the dungeon of Babylon have restored him to the palace of Jerusalem. How easy
is it for the same hand that wounds, to cure ! What cannot fervent prayers do ; either for our rescuing from evil, or for our investing with good!
Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God. Then? and not before ? Could his younger years escape the knowledge of God's miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians ? Could he but know the slaughter, that God's angel made in one night, of a hundred fourscore and five thousand? Could he but have heard the just revenge upon Sennacherib? Could he be ignorant of his father's supernatural recovery ? Could he but see that everlasting monument of the noted degrees in the dial of Ahaz? Could he avoid the sense of those fifteen
which were superadded to his father's age? What one of these proofs doth not evince a Deity? Yet, till his own smart and cure, Manasseh knew not that the Lord was God.
Foolish sinners pay dear for their knowledge ; neither will endure to be taught good-cheap : so we have seen resty horses, that will not move, till they bleed with the spur : so we have seen dull and careless children, that will learn nothing, but what is put into them with the rod.
The Almighty will be sure to be known for what he is; if not by fair means, yet by foul. If our prosperity, and peace, and sweet experience of his mercy can win us to acknowledge him, it is more for our ease; but, if we will needs be taught by stripes, it is no less for his glory.
Manasseh now returns another man to Jerusalem. With what indignation doth he look upon his old follies! And now, all the amends he can make is, to undo what he did ; to do that, which he undid : He took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the Lord ; and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the Lord, and in Jerusalem ; and cast them out of the city. True repentance begins to decline at the ablative ; destroying those monuments of shame, which former error had reared. The thorns must first be stubbed up, ere the ground can be capable of seed. The true method of grace is, first, Cease to do evil; then, Learn to do good.
In vain had Manasseh professed a repentance, if the strange gods had still held possession of Jerusalem; if the idol had still harboured in God's temple ; if foreign altars had still smoked upon the holy mountain. Away with all his trash, when once Manasseh comes to a true sense of piety.
There is nothing but hypocrisy in that penitent, who, after all vows and tears, retains his old abominations. It is that poor piece of satisfaction which we can give to the divine justice, in a hearty indignation to fling down that cup of wickedness, wherea with we have been bewitched, and to trample upon the sheards; without which, confession is but wind, and the drops of contrition, water.
The living God loves to dwell clean. He will not come under the roof of idols, nor admit idols to come under his. First, therefore, Manasseh casts out the strange gods, and idols, and altars; and then He repairs the altar of the Lord, and sacrifices thereon peace-offerings and thank-offerings. Not, till he had pulled down, might he build ; and when he had pulled down, he must build. True repentance is no less active of good. What is it the better, if, when the idolatrous altars are defaced, the true God hath not an altar erected to his name? In many altars was superstition; in no altars, atheism.
Neither doth penitent Manasseh build God a new altar, but he repairs the old; which, by long disuse, lay waste, and was mossy and mouldered with age and neglect. God loves well his own institutions: neither can he abide innovations, so much as in the outsides of his services. It is a happy work, to vindicate any ordinance of God from the injuries of times, and to restore it to the original glory.
What have our pious governors done other in religion? Had we gone about to lay a new foundation, the work had been accursed : now, we have only scraped off some superfluous moss, that was grown upon these holy stones ; we have cemented some broken pieces; we have pointed some crazy corners, with wholesome mortar, instead of base clay, wherewith it was disgracefully patched up. The altar is old ; it is God's altar: it is not new; not ours. If we have laid one new stone in this sacred building, let it fly in our faces, and beat out our eyes.
On this repaired altar, doth Manasseh send up the sacrifices of his peace, of his thankfulness; and, doubtless, the God of Heaven
smells a sweet savour of rest. No perfume is so pleasing to God, as that which is cast in by a penitent hand.
It had not served the turn, that Manasseh had approached alone to this renewed altar. As his lewd example had withdrawn the people from their God; so now he commands Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel. Had he been silent, he could not have been unfollowed: every act of greatness is preceptive; but now that religion is made law, what Israelite will not be devout?
The true God hath now no competitor in Judah. All the idols are pulled down; the high places will not be pulled down. An ill guise is easily taken up; it is not so easily left. After a common depravation of religion, it is hard to return unto the first purity: as when a garment is deeply soiled, it cannot with
lavers recover the former cleanness.
CONTEMPLATION XII.-JOSIAH'S REFORMATION.
2 KINGS XXII., XXIII. ; 2 CHRONICLES XXXIV., xxxv. YET, if we must alter from ourselves, it is better to be a Manasseh, than a Joash. Joash began well, and ended ill; Manasseh began ill, and ended well. His age varied from his
, youth, no less than one man's condition can vary from another's. His posterity succeeded in both. Amon, his son, succeeded in the sins of Manasseh's youth ; Josiah, his grandchild, succeeded in the virtues of his age
What a vast difference doth grace make in the same age ! Manassseh began his reign at twelve years; Josiah, at eight : Manasseh was religiously bred under Hezekiah ; Joash was misnurtured under Amon: and yet, Manasseh runs into absurd idolatries; Josiah is holy and devout. The Spirit of God breathes freely ; not confining itself to times or means.
No rules can bind the hands of the Almighty. It is, in ordinary proof, too true a word, that was said of old, Woe be to thee, O land, whose king is a child! The goodness of God makes his own exceptions. Judah never fared better, than in the green years of a Josiah : if we may not rather measure youth and age, by government and disposition, than by years. Surely thus, Josiah was older with smooth cheeks, than Manasseh with grey hairs. Happy is the infancy of princes, when it falls into the hands of faithful counsellors.
A good pattern is no small help for young beginners. Josiah sets his father David before him ; not Amon; not Manasseh. Examples are the best rules for the inexperienced: where their choice is good, the directions are easiest. The laws of God are the ways of David. Those laws were the rule; these ways were the practice. Good Josiah walks in all the ways of his father David.