And he went up to the house of the LORD with all the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as well as the priests and the prophets--all the people small and great--and in their hearing he read all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD.
stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears;" they did "always resist the Holy Ghost" (see Acts 7:51). No doubt there was always a true "Church of God" within the nation (1 Kings 19:18); but to call the whole nation "the Jewish Church" is a misnomer, and far from a harmless one. It has encouraged Christian nations to fashion their communities after the Jewish model instead of after the Christian one. The verses I have selected record and illustrate good aims and bad methods.
I. GOOD AIMS. Josiah's aims, as here presented, were confessedly high, noble, and good. I offer two remarks concerning his purposes as presented in these verses.
1. To reduce his people to a loyal obedience to Heaven. His aim was to sweep every vestige of religious error and moral crime from his dominion. Truly, what more laudable purpose could any man have than this, to crush all evil within his domain, to crush it not only in its form but in its essence? This was indeed the great end of Christ's mission to the world. He came "to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."
2. Generated within him by the discovery of the Divine will. Somehow or other, as was seen in the last chapter, the book of the Law which was to regulate the lives of the Jewish people had been lost in the temple, lost probably for many years, but Hilkiah the high priest had just discovered it, and Josiah becomes acquainted with its contents. What is the result? He is seized with the burning conviction that the whole nation is gone wrong, and forthwith he seeks to flash the same conviction into the souls of his people. "And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. And the king went up into the house of the Lord, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant." Thus sprang his noble purpose. It was not a capricious whim or the outcome of a sudden and fitful impulse; it was rooted in an enlightened conviction. A noble purpose must be righteously founded.
II. BAD METHODS. Real good work requires not only a good purpose, but a good method also. Saul sought to honor the God of his fathers, and this was good; but his method, viz. that of persecuting the Christians, was bad. How did Josiah now seek to realize his purpose to sweep idolatry from the face of his country? Not by argument, suasion, and moral influence, but by brute force and violence (vers. 4-28). "All the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove" (ver. 4), that is, all the apparatus for idol-worship, these he ordered to be burnt outside Jerusalem, "in the fields of Kidron." He "stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the children of the people. And he brake down the houses of the sodomites" (vers. 6, 7). He also "brake in pieces the images, and cut down the groves, and filled their places with the bones of men" (ver. 14). Moreover, "he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men's bones upon them" (ver. 20). In this way, the way of force and violence, he essayed to work out his grand purpose. I offer two remarks concerning his method.
1. It was unphilosophic. Moral evils cannot be put down by force; coercion cannot travel to a man's soul. The fiercest wind, the most vivid lightnings, cannot reach the moral Elijah in his cave. The "still small voice" alone can touch him, and bring him out to light and truth. After all this, were the people less idolatrous? Before Josiah was cold in his grave idolatry was as rife as ever. You may destroy to-day all heathen temples and priests on the face of the earth, but in doing this you have done nothing towards quenching the spirit of idolatry - that will remain as rampant as ever; phoenix-like, it will rise with new vitality and vigor from the ashes into which material fires have consumed its temples, its books, and its feasts. Ay, and you might destroy all the monastic orders and theological tomes of the Roman Catholic Church, and leave the spirit of popery as strong, nay, stronger than ever. Truth alone can conquer error, love alone can conquer wrath, right alone can conquer wrong.
2. It was mischievous. The evil was not extinguished; it burnt with fiercer flame. Persecution has always propagated the opinions it has sought to crush. The crucified Malefactor became the moral Conqueror and Commander of the people. Violence begets violence, anger begets anger, war begets war. "He that taketh the sword shall perish by the sword." - D.T.
And the King went up into the house of the Lord.
1. Because that duty had become an extraordinary one, through the long neglect of it.
2. And the other reason was, because they were desirous to hear the Word of the Lord. These were indeed two good reasons for this solemn assembly of all the people in the Lord's house. But what a terrible lesson does it read to us! We read of a wonderful deliverance of His people by Almighty God out of the hands of their enemies, when to the eye of man their situation was utterly hopeless. We should expect that this would have awakened them, especially as God had performed it on their turning back, under the pious Hezekiah, from their false gods to the true and living God; yet here, in the third generation from that time, we find the altars and temples of the false gods up again, and the Word of God lost, not only out of the hearts, but of the very sight and ears of the people. Once again, however, and, alas! for the last, time, both the temple and that Word were restored under the care of the pious Josiah; and the people of God once again, and for the last time, showed themselves as the people of God. Such is the example before us; the example of a people, too, in whose place we are standing, being grafted in as a wild olive, in place of the branches which had been broken off because of unbelief. And their example is our example, as we have been told by St. Paul. Let us review, then, some of the plainest applications of this example.(1) St. Paul warns us, saying, "Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them" (1 Corinthians 10:7). But it may he said that we are not in the least danger of being idolaters. We are thoroughly convinced of its besotted folly and desperate wickedness. But then, there are always two things to all our dealings with God, — there is the spirit, and there is the deed; and the deed depends upon the spirit for its quality, as the fruit depends upon the nature of the tree for its kind. Although, therefore, we bow not down before the work of our own hands, putting it in the place of God, we may bow down before the work of our own hearts, and put that in the place of God. And this idolatry may go on while the other is scorned and mocked at. For what is the worship of God? Is it not in lifting up the thoughts and affections of the heart unto God on His throne in heaven, and acknowledging Him as our maker and continual keeper? Thus God is the first and last object of the heart; but an idol is a thing of this world, put in the place of God. Oh how is the heart in its devotion to the things of this world full of images, which it worships, in the place of the Maker of this world and all therein, with the kiss of affection, with the bowing of the spirit, with the adoration of the soul! But of one image only will God allow in the heart for worship, and not reckon it idolatry; in one image will He allow Himself to be honoured, and in one only; and what is that? It is the image of Himself. But how shall we possibly have the image of God, whom no man hath seen, neither can see, in our hearts? He hath given us this image of Himself in our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom St. Paul says, "that He is the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15); "the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person" (Hebrews 1:3); and who says concerning Himself, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9); if, therefore He shall be dwelling in our hearts by faith, then we have there the image of God, and we are worshipping Him in spirit and in truth. And this, therefore, is necessary to our worship, the keeping His image there, not letting the things of this world to take its place, but looking upon Him crucified by crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts; looking upon Him dead, by our death urge sin; looking upon Him as risen again, by our new life unto righteousness; looking upon Him ascended into heaven, by setting the affections on things above; looking on Him as coming again, through the denial of all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and in the blessed hope of His glorious appearing. To this worship we have all been called, and to this all must turn from the vain idols of worldly desires.(2) That the Word of God should be lost out of the hands and hearts of idolaters, who can wonder? It expressly forbids idolatry of every kind, both within and without the heart: it says, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve"; and it is full from beginning to end of severe rebuke and awful threats against all that are holding the truth in unrighteousness, knowing that the Lord God is a jealous God, that will not share His honour with another, and yet preferring to his worship and service the devotion to the world, and the service of the flesh. And the first token of sincere repentance is now, as it was in the days of Josiah: men go up to the house of the Lord to hear the Word of God; they go to His house in the place of the public assembly of His people; they go to His house in the inner chamber of their hearts; for then being bent on amendment, they desire reproof, they wish to forsake the wrong way for the right, they long to understand the will of God that they may do it; to hear His sentence upon sin, that they may justly dread and abhor it; to listen to His promise of pardon, that they may lay fast hold of it; to hear the call to repentance, that they may instantly and sincerely obey it; thus the Word which was before full only of rebuke, now abounds to them wire consolation; that which smote their consciences now soothes them.
(R. W. Evans, B. D.)
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