And Jehoash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.
1. And, first, let us advert to the habit of mind itself against which we are cautioned, in order that we may detach from it for separate consideration so much as may be due to a constitutional weakness of character — to a natural diffidence end dread of having to go alone, which, as not coming within the scope of our moral powers entirely to eradicate, we must believe either the mercy of God will pardon, or His grace will rectify and render harmless. We cannot doubt that the existence of this is a common form of mental infirmity, which allies itself to intellects of the highest reach, and to souls of the most indomitable and commanding power. That tyrant, who at the beginning of the present century made more than half the nations of Europe tremble, had as little of the self-reliant element in his nature as the lowest subaltern he ever ordered to the field. True, when he had resolved upon a step, neither difficulty nor danger moved him; but to make him resolve upon it he must have the consents of some trusted and approving mind; in private life, being as much influenced by his empress, as in public matters, he leaned on the counsels of Talleyrand. If this practical subjugation to the will and counsel of another, this tendency to hang on, and hold on by what is felt to be a stronger judgment, be found among the higher and more towering spirits of our race, how much more shall we look for it in the humbler and more dependant ranks. Some men are born into the world with a soft, pliant, treacherous debility of will. They must have somebody to think after, and speak after, and act after. They hold their wills, as it were, by feudal tenure under other people's will, changing both Lord and service, if need be, seven times a day. Such persons appear, at first sight, to be a good deal at the mercy of their providential lot, in the power of those accidents and associations which shall bring them under the permanent ascendant of a better or of a more corrupt mind; of a Jehoiada who will lead them in the good and the right way, or of the dissolute princes of Judah who will be as oracles to mislead, and as guides to destroy. But we allow not that our soul's life can be suspended on any such precarious issues. we must not make a god of temperament, nor a god of circumstances; but we must believe of original tendencies of character as of any other cause which may be injurious to our moral steadfastness, that there is provided for us, in the economy of grace, a way of escape, an ordained antidote to our nature's evil, whereby God may get honour upon our infirmities, and out of weakness make us strong. But passing from the case of any constitutional liability to be influenced by other minds, let us address ourselves to the evil of the habit itself, when it allows others to think and act for us in the great concerns of personal religion. And proceeding upon the example furnished by our text, we ought to take a case where the influencing or ascendant mind is, according to our common human estimates, a strong mind, a good mind, a mind formed to lead, and honestly and earnestly bent on leading right. In many cases, no doubt, this may be a great advantage. It is a happy thing for young people setting out in life to be under the instruction and control of one whose desire is always to lead them in the good and the right way. And yet we ought to show that if our religion stands only in the power which this mental control wields over us, and goes no lower down to the depths of our moral being than that example can reach, or that influence can minister to, such religion will be vain, will never become more than a surface religion, will not keep itself fixed and fastened in the roots of our moral nature, and consequently in time of temptation we shall fall away. The relation out of which this subordinating influence arises, makes no difference in the evil and danger of becoming enslaved to it. It may be that of a parent exercising a control over the filial conscience which belongs to him by the eternal prescription of heaven; or that of a husband drawing the wife into assimilations of thought and feeling, almost before she is aware of it — affection promoting the influence, and the marriage sanctities giving to it the force of law. Or it may be that of a pastor, having begotten us, in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. You will ask me why? I answer, first, because such a religion is essentially false and defective in principle. It originates neither in love to God, nor gratitude to Christ, nor deep views of sin, nor in delight in holy service, nor in aspirations after the sanctity and bliss of heaven; but chiefly in a desire to approve itself to some dominant and controlling influence. Water cannot rise above its level; and as Jehoiada, whether from temperament or policy, had done nothing to remove the high places of sacrifice, though confessedly a reproach to the temple service, Jehoash would do nothing either; and so the eulogium, even of his early goodness, has to be qualified by the remark, "But the high places were not taken away." The examples are rare where, in the race of goodness, the disciple outstrips his chosen guide; and if he does so, it is because a better guide has taken him in hand, and the master influence has become merged in the mightier power of the Spirit of God. But, as a rule, the subject mind will keep below the religious standards and measures of its superior. All its goodness is derived goodness, and it shines only in a borrowed light. And as the standard of piety is low, so the acts of which it specially consists are prompted, often by a feeble sentimentality, or perhaps with a view to the praise of men. Conspicuous among the pious acts of Jehoash was his zeal in setting about the repairs of the temple, injured less by the hand of time than by the sacrilegious spoliations of idolators. It were easy to account for this zeal on other grounds than those of personal goodness. That temple was very dear to him. How natural to address himself vigorously to a work so gratifying to Jehoiada, so easily mistaken by himself for the dictate of pious emotion, and so calculated to gain him favour with his subjects for a loving attachment to the truth of God. And so, also, it may be with us, while our religion is in other's keeping. We may love the temple, have joy in ordinances, feel a thrill of sacred pleasure under the power of the Word, and for the largeness of our alms be called "the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the path to dwell in," while of any principle of vital godliness we may be as destitute as Jehoash was. Rooted and grounded in the depths of the carnal heart may be hidden the seeds of an unsuspected idolatry, which wait bus the scorching sun of temptation to develop into pernicious fruit, to turn the repairer of the temple into a worshipper of the grove, and lead a lover of faithful teaching to slay between the temple and the altar a servant of the living God.
2. But, secondly, we say of a religion that owes its being to any merely mental deferences, that it will always be feeble and languid, and inefficient in itself, that it will leave its possessor unprepared for the struggles, and temptations, and rough discipline of life, a prey to the first evil influence that shall try to make a captive of him, and to be overcome by the first afflictive trial which shall send him to the foundation of his trusts. So weak was the hold which the religion of Jehoash had upon his conscience, that he yielded to the most visible and transparent lure ever man's soul was taken withal, namely, the fawning sycophancy of a few unprincipled courtiers, asking as the boon price of their service, that he should cast off the worship of his fathers, violate the covenant of his God, and bow the knee only before the divinities of the grove. "And the king hearkened to them." Yes, for why should he not? His religion had all along been the creature of influence, and therefore, must change as often as the ascendant influence changed. Strength of its own, such religion has none, either to resist or attack. It is impotent as the autumn leaf, now lifted up in circling eddies by the blast, now waiting in passive helplessness the first footstep that shall crush it to the earth. And hence, I say in all this religion obtained at second hand, this derived Christianity of another mind, there will generally be found a sickly irresolution Of purpose, a sort of letting out of one's moral powers to the highest and most powerful bidder. The man who trusts in it is not his own master; he is the property of the first strong will that shall think the appendage worth having. But true religion, that which is rooted in a Divine principle and a Divine influence, is a hardy thing, a manly thing. It is furnished for the cloudy and dark day, and expects its coming. Deep in the springs of its unseen life is an element of strength which gives dignity to the character, composure to the spirit, a settledness and perseverance to the once-formed resolve which nothing can bend, nothing can turn aside.
3. But the text suggests a third reason for predicting the inevitable miscarriage of a religion which is dependant for its life on surrounding influences, namely, that the very friends that helped to make us as good as we are, may, in the providence of God be taken away. "Jehoash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him." But Jehoiada died; and what did he do then? Why, evil, and evil only. The morning cloud disperseth not sooner, nor the early dew when it passeth away, than did that fabric of gossamer and unsubstantial goodness, which a breath was to destroy even as a breath had made. And it seems to be in obedience to a law, as if it was a Nemesis of God on the mind that leans on human trusts, that Jehoash became more impious and profane for having known something of the semblance of piety before. Just as the emperor Nero, conspicuous for humanity and virtue while he had the counsels of Seneca to guide him, went down to the grave a monster with the execration of posterity upon his head. Some lessons arise from this aspect of our subject brethren, whether as applied to those who consciously and of purpose have joined themselves to the train of a superior mind, and, only to please him, kept up a show of goodness, or to those who, having a loving and leaning confidence in another's wisdom and piety, have been content to draw from him all their soul's life and strength, and, unconsciously to themselves, to let him be to them instead of God. To the former Jehoash leaves the lesson that it would have been better for them never to have known good things at all. They are fretting under a yoke for a season, only to indulge in more unrestrained licence as soon as it shall be taken off. The instant the weight is lifted off, the bent bow will fly back with more violent rebound. There may be love for a season, zeal for a season, concern for holy things for a season, but when Jehoiada is dead, the long pent-up energies of evil will burst forth, and like the heir long kept out of the expected inheritance, the heart plunges into the thick of its carnal thoughts, and as if to take revenge on itself for its forced early goodness, the man endeavours to crowd as much iniquity as he can into the remainder of his days. But there is a lesson also to those who do not fret under their mental subjection, who, in heart love their Jehoiada, and indeed, whose chief danger is that they love him too much, and who, therefore, think within themselves, "If he should be taken away what good will our lives be to us, or what power shall keep us faithful unto our pious work?" So may reason the son, who, breathing from his youth the pure atmosphere of domestic piety, has seen in the life of his parents all that could ennoble godliness, and all that could make virtue loved. But I must conclude with a few practical counsels, am helpful to guide us from the danger of which this history warns us.(1) And first, I would say, have a care of being deceived as to your spiritual state, by what may be called the amiabilities of religion. Cradled in the sanctuary, nursed by a pious aunt, his early years watched over by a faithful servant of God, it had been a wonder if the early outward life of Jehoash had not been full of grace and promise.(2) A second counsel I would offer, is, see to it that there be no holding an undecided course in your religion. Jehoash does not seem to have actually joined the princes of Judah. But, "he hearkened to them," and from that they knew his mind. "He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea," saith St. James, "driven of the wind and tossed" — an unsettled, divided heart, the absence of all serenity and repose, and an acute sensitiveness to every disturbing influence, a never continuing in one stay. Lastly, as ye would have a goodness that shall stand with us in time, and shall abide the ordeal of that fire which is to try every man's work of what sort it is, see that ye have an inward experience of the vital realities of religion — the regenerate will, the renewed mind, the revival of that spiritual image upon the conscience which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness. You cannot be too severe, too searching in ascertaining your personal participation in these essentials of the spiritual character.
(D. Moore, M. A.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
And Jehoash said to the priests.
Monday Club Sermons.1. The house of God is apt to show a decline of religion, and should share the blessings of a reformation. The tabernacle, and the temple which replaced it, were constructed with the utmost care. They were designed to resist wear and decay; but because the most durable materials are perishable, provision was made for the care of these sacred buildings. Moses, under Divine direction, created a temple fund, which was sustained by a uniform tax of half a shekel upon every member of the congregation of twenty years old and upward. In the troubled times which preceded the succession of Joash to the throne, this fund had not been collected; and in the general decline into irreligion, the temple and its furniture had been neglected, plundered, and wasted. One of the conspicuous signs of the religious condition of the nation was this house. By viewing it one could see at a glance that the service of God had been exchanged for idolatry. It is a pretty safe rule that we may judge of the state of religion in a town by the condition of the churches; if these are in good repair, without and within, the inference is, — it will not always hold, but it is the rule — that the religious institutions are flourishing, God is honoured, and His blessings are with His faithful people.
2. One reason why the temple had been neglected was that the people worshipped in the high places. We have references to these places in all the Jewish history. They were not necessarily places of idol worship. God was worshipped in them. Devout Jews, who worshipped in the temple, worshipped also at private or local altars, the high places. But, as religion declined, the tendency was to prefer the high places to the temple, and to corrupt the purer worship of these shrines by idolatries. The high places became rivals of the temple.
3. The king thought of the temple before Jehoiada, though the great priest was the reformer of his age. This seems strange. The position of Jehoiada throughout the work was strange; he seems never to have fully appreciated the importance of the repair of the temple. Probably the reason was that he was absorbed in other parts of the mighty task to which he had devoted himself. It has not been uncommon for reformers to be guilty of extraordinary oversight, their very zeal preventing their viewing their work in its true proportions. But while this was the case, the training of Jehoiada appears in the devotion of the king.
4. The first plan adopted for raising money for the repair was excellent. The priests were directed to set apart the regular income of the temple, and also to go through the country, among their acquaintances, and raise a general subscription. Each priest was to present the case to his personal friends. There could be no better plan. This is the simple scriptural method by which religion is extended. Every Christian is to go among his friends and acquaintances, and enlist them one by one.
5. The most excellent plans may fail. The plan of Jehoash failed. The failure lay immediately at the door of the priests. These good men seem to have shared the want of interest of Jehoiada in the work. They failed to collect the popular tax. And instead of using the collections which they made for the purpose for which they were raised, they expended them for current needs, and for furniture which needed to be replaced, candlesticks, tongs, and spoons.
6. A new and poor plan succeeded. His patience at length worn out, the king called a conference, discovered how things had been mismanaged, and changed his course. He learned that, notwithstanding his order, the temple tax, the half-skekel, had not been collected. With the counsel of Jehoiada, he had a collection chest placed at the gate of the temple; he stopped the private subscriptions, and had a proclamation issued, calling upon the people throughout the nation to pay the ancient tax of Moses. Simply the uniform sum fixed by Moses was required from all. The princes were not permitted to pay more; the poorest man might not pay less. The confidence of the king in the people was justified. The chest rapidly filled, and, when it was emptied, was refilled again and again. The plan was a very poor one: one of the very poorest which man has ever devised, this of a box at the church door. It succeeded because the people were interested to get the work done. It is of interest to note that, when the repair was completed, enough money was left to r furnish the temple throughout with vessels of silver and gold.
7. The depth of the reformation in the nation is shown in what is said of the honesty of Joash's master-workmen. The taxes, as they were taken from the chest at the gate of the temple, were put into the hands of these men to pay out in wages, and, moreover, they reckoned not for materials with the men into whose hands they delivered the money to be bestowed on workmen; for they dealt faithfully. This is most extraordinary. This was one of the times when Israel had a dim realization of the coming millennium, when Holiness should be written on the bells of the horses, when public money could be trusted to officials, high and low, with such confidence that they would deal faithfully that they were not required to give any account.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
I. THE DILAPIDATING INFLUENCE OF TIME UPON THE BEST MATERIAL PRODUCTIONS OF MANKIND. The temple had not been built more than about one hundred and sixty years, had got into a state of dilapidation, there were breaches in it; where the breaches were we are not told, whether in the roof, the floor, the walls, or in the ceiling. The crumbling hand of time had touched it. No human superstructure, perhaps, ever appeared on the earth built of better materials, or in a better way, than the temple of Solomon. It was the wonder of ages. Notwithstanding this, it was subject to the invincible law of decay. The law of dilapidation seems universal throughout organic nature; the trees of the forest, the flowers of the field, and the countless tribes of sentient life that crowd the ocean, earth, and air, all fall into decay; and so, also, with the material productions of feeble man. Throughout the civilised world we see mansions, churches, cathedrals, palaces, villages, towns, and cities, in ruins. All compound bodies tend to dissolution, there is nothing enduring but primitive elements or substances. This being so, how astoundingly preposterous is man's effort to perpetuate his memory in material monuments. The only productions of men that defy the touch of time and that are enduring are true thoughts, pure sympathies, and noble deeds.
II. THE INCONGRUITY OF WORLDLY RULERS BUSYING THEMSELVES IN RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS. Jehoash was no saint, the root of the matter was not in him; he had no vital and ruling sympathy with the Supreme Being, yet he seemed zealous in the work of repairing the temple.
III. THE VALUE OF THE CO-OPERATIVE PRINCIPLE IN THE ENTERPRISES OF MANKIND. It would seem that the work of repairing the temple was so great that no one man could have accomplished it. Hence the king called earnestly for the co-operation of all. They obeyed his voice. The people gave the money, and all set to work. Two remarks concerning the principle of co-operation.
1. It is a principle that should govern all men in the undertakings of life. It was never the purpose of the Almighty that man should act alone for himself, should pursue alone his own individual interests. Men are all members of one great body, and was ever member made to work alone? No. But for the good of the whole, the common weal.
2. It is a principle that has done and is doing wonders in the undertakings of life. This principle, however, has its limits. In spiritual matters it must not infringe the realm of individual responsibility. There is no partnership in moral responsibility. Each man must think, repent, and believe for himself. "Every man must bear his own burden." The narrative reminds us of —
IV. THE POTENCY OF THE RELIGIOUS ELEMENT IN EVEN DEPRAVED MEN. At this time Israel was morally as corrupt as the heathen nations. Notwithstanding this, the religious sentiment was in them, as in all men, a constituent part of their natures, and this sentiment is here appealed to, and roused into excitement, and being excited men poured forth their treasures and employed their energies for the repairing of the temple. This element in man often sleeps under the influence of depravity, but mountains of depravity cannot crush it, it lies in human nature as the mightiest latent force. Peter the Hermit, Savonarola the Priest, Wesley the Methodist, and others, in every age have roused it into mighty action even amongst the most ignorant and depraved of the race.
V. THE POWER OF MONEY TO SUBDUE ENEMIES. Here is a man, a proud, daring monarch, who was determined to invade Judea, and to take possession of Jerusalem. Relinquishing his designs, what was the force that broke his purpose? Money. It is said that Jehoash sent gold to Hazael, "and he went away from Jerusalem." Truly money answereth all things. Money tan arrest the march of armies and terminate the fiercest campaigns.
(David Thomas, D. D.)
And Jehoiada the priest took a chest.
I. SOMETIMES RELIGIOUS DEPRESSION SHOWS ITSELF IN MATERIAL DILAPIDATIONS. Everything is running behind-hand in the public spirit of the town, the city, or the congregation.
1. It is a bad sign when the church edifice is going into ruinous condition. Can it be said that the zeal of the Lord is eating any one up there?
2. It is a worse sign when the income of any congregation has begun to fail. In the story here, somebody must have pushed up that little seven-year-old king Jehoash to try to collect some money, for he issued a call almost at once for help to put the temple under repair. But it all came to nothing; the house of the Lord continued to discourage and chill the devotions far more than to awake them, because it was so forlorn and unclean.
3. It is a worse sign still when the minister and the employees exhaust the funds in their own uses and luxuries. That was the trouble during those sad sixteen years of Jehoash's infancy. Money went in, but the priests swallowed it up.
4. It is the worst sign of all when the people's heart is unmoved; when everybody knows and nobody cares about the cheerlessness of the facts or the prospects.
II. SOMETIMES THE SPEEDIEST RELIEF IS FOUND IN THE PEOPLE'S TAKING THE REFORM WHOLLY INTO THEIR OWN HANDS.
1. In this case, it was the young king and the people who did the work, though the high-priest organised the new movement, under royal direction. Let us look into the whole facts and philosophy of this uprising of the community there in Jerusalem. The religious and ordained officers in the congregation of the temple cheerfully arose to say, "Let anybody do this great and needed thing that can do it better than we can." They consented to receive none of the money, and they withdrew from ordering the repairs. In that historic hour there came first to light the earliest contribution-box used in the service of God. Was there ever anything imagined so rude or inartistic as an instrument of devotion?
2. But before you smile at the prosaic expedient, pause a moment to do simple justice to one of God's instruments of good. From that day the contribution-box has been an institution for the Church under the Old Testament and the New, probably as well known as any other in the range of our experience. It deserves now and then a decent eulogy. Its record is honourable and fair.(1) The contribution-box exhibits the wide reach of religious obligation. This one stood beside the altar.(2) The contribution-box kindles the fires of love and hope in the believer's heart. For it seems to say, "All are at work now, and all together; what are you doing for your Lord?"(3) The contribution-box keeps good and true men up to the exact end in view.(4) The contribution-box develops and commissions the most capable workers in the Lord's cause. When men have given hopeful hearts and open hands alike to the service of the Master, it is not necessary to guard them; they will surely deal faithfully.
III. SOMETIMES PIETY IS BROUGHT BACK TO ITS LEVEL UNDER A FRESH IMPULSE OF MATERIAL PROSPERITY. This is a reflection also that we might expect to be suggested by the history here.
1. The philosophy underlying such a conclusion is simple. We are all creatures of human build and constitutional weakness in relation to the practical world we live in. When the church is repulsive and the services dull, when the carpets are soiled with long using, when the prayer-circle is languishing; then, good friends, it is almost hopeless for even the best of saints to try and keep up his spirits.
2. The relief is close at hand.
3. The facts, which might be offered in illustration, are without limit.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.).