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THE USE OF COVENANTING WITH GOD
2 Chronicles 29:10-14.29.11. Now it is in mine heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that his fierce wrath may turn away from us. My sons, be not now negligent.
A TRULY pious man will not be satisfied with serving God in his closet. He will exert his influence to bring others also to a sense of their duty. The public exercise of the ministry indeed belongs to those only who are duly called to it [Note: Hebrews 5:4.]: but all who are possessed of authority (parents, masters, magistrates and kings) should use it for the promoting of virtue and religion. Christians of every rank and description should exhort one another [Note: Hebrews 3:13.]. We have a noble example set before us in the conduct of Hezekiah. As soon as he came to the throne, he set himself to restore the service of the temple, and called upon all, both ministers and people, to make a solemn covenant with their God.
The royal proclamation for the observance of this day [Note: Fast-day, March 1798.], speaks, in effect, the language of the text. From which I will take occasion to shew,
When we have reason to apprehend that God’s anger is waxed hot against us—
We cannot in all cases determine how far a dispensation may be sent in anger or in love: but in general we may say, that God is incensed against us,
When our sins are multiplied against him—
[Sin is invariably the object of God’s abhorrence [Note: Habakkuk 1:13.Psalms 5:5; Psalms 5:5.]. This truth is so evident that it needs not any confirmation. For, what lamentable depravity pervades every part of the nation! There is no iniquity, however heinous, which is not practised without remorse. If we look into our own bosoms, what reason for humiliation may we find! What ingratitude for mercies received, and what impenitence for sins committed! What rebellion against God, what contempt of his Son, what resistance of his Spirit, have we not occasion to deplore! And shall not God be avenged of such a nation as this? Yes, there is not one amongst us that does not deserve to be made a monument of his wrath.]
When his judgments are multiplied upon us—
[God often sends temporal afflictions to his people in love [Note: Hebrews 12:6.]. But spiritual judgments are a certain token of his wrath. Blindness of mind, obduracy of heart, and obstinacy in sin, are among his heaviest judgments [Note: Isaiah 6:9-23.6.10.]. And have none of us reason to fear that these are now inflicted on us? But it is by temporal judgments chiefly that he punishes nations. It was from these that Hezekiah judged of God’s anger against the Jews [Note: ver. 8, 9.]. And are not these multiplied upon our land at this time? Surely the displeasure of God can scarcely ever be more strongly displayed, than it is in the calamities under which we now groan [Note: Of course, these strong expressions must be modified according to circumstances.].]
But that none may yield to desponding fears we shall point out,
How it is to be averted—
Repentance towards God and faith in Christ are the means prescribed by God. But it is not a slight and superficial use of these means that will suffice; we should solemnly devote ourselves to God in a perpetual covenant—
[Not that we should attempt to renew the covenant of works. That would make void the Gospel, and seal our eternal condemnation [Note: Galatians 3:10.]. Nor should we think to add any thing to the covenant of grace. That was once made with Christ, and is ordered in all things and sure [Note: Hebrews 8:6.]. But we should patiently and deliberately renounce all our former ways. We should seriously give up ourselves to God as his redeemed people; and entreat him to perfect us in any way which he shall see fit.]
Such covenants as these have often been made by the most eminent saints—
[Under the Old-Testament dispensation they were judged acceptable to God. Omitting many other instances, we may notice the solemn covenant of Asa [Note: 2 Chronicles 15:12-14.15.15.]. We may notice also that which was entered into by Josiah [Note: 2 Kings 23:3.]. Isaiah and Jeremiah speak of the making of such covenants as characteristic of the gospel times [Note: Isaiah 44:5.Jeremiah 50:4-24.50.5; Jeremiah 50:4-24.50.5.]. St. Paul highly commends the conduct of the Macedonians on account of their having thus given themselves up to God [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:5.]; and recommends a similar practice to all Christians of every age and nation [Note: Romans 12:1.].]
Nor can we doubt of their acceptableness to God—
[Hezekiah manifestly supposed that God would accept him in this duty [Note: The text.]. It was recommended to Ezra in circumstances where there was but little hope remaining [Note: Ezra 10:3.]. And God himself expressly enjoined it as the means of averting his displeasure [Note: Jeremiah 4:4.]: not that we are to suppose that there is any thing meritorious in such an act; but it tends, of itself, to the humiliation and confirmation of our souls, and will be both accepted and remembered by our covenant God and Father [Note: Deuteronomy 29:12-5.29.13.].]
These means being at once so scriptural and so important, let me now in conclusion urge upon you the adoption of them—
We admire the tender and affectionate address of Hezekiah to the priests. And with similar concern would we now invite you to the performance of your duty. “Let this now be in all your hearts:” for,
There is no time for delay—
[Many are “negligent” at present in expectation of a more convenient season; but who can assure himself that he shall be alive on the morrow [Note: James 4:14.]? or that, if he be, he shall have an inclination to that from which he is now averse? or that God will grant him the aids of his Spirit, which are now contemned? The voice of God to every one is, Seek me to-day, while it is called to-day [Note: Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 3:15.]. With respect to the nation, who can tell how soon the cloud that hangs over us may burst, and overwhelm us utterly? Let us follow the example of the repenting Nine-vites [Note: John 3:5-43.3.9.]. If “it be in our hearts to make a covenant,” let it instantly be done [Note: Psalms 119:60.]. Let me address all of you as a father, and entreat all of you as “my sons” and daughters to “neglect your duty no longer;” but “now” while we are yet speaking, to surrender up yourselves to God with full purpose of heart.]
If we neglect this duty, we cannot hope to escape the wrath of God—
[Sodom was destroyed, because they laughed at God’s threatenings as idle tales: and the strongest empires, in succession, have fallen a sacrifice to their sins. Who then shall protect us, if we continue to provoke the Majesty of heaven? But, whatever be the fate of the nation, we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ: and there none will be acknowledged as his people, who have not voluntarily taken him for their Lord and Saviour. If then ye have any regard for your eternal welfare, neglect him no longer; but, in the penitent language of the prophet, devote yourselves to his service [Note: Isaiah 26:13.].]
If we heartily engage in this duty, we have nothing to fear—
[Were such a covenant general through the nation, God would soon remove his judgments. But whatever come upon the land, God’s faithful people shall be objects of his favour. Though they may be involved in the general calamities, they shall be comforted with the divine presence [Note: Psalms 34:18-19.34.19.]. They need not therefore be agitated with fear on account of God’s displeasure in this world; nor have they any thing to dread in the eternal world [Note: Malachi 3:17.]. Let us then enter into this matter with our whole hearts, and pray day and night for grace to perform our vows. Unfaithfulness to our engagements will incense God still more against us, and provoke him to inflict yet heavier judgments upon us [Note: Jeremiah 34:18-24.34.20.]. It were even better never to have vowed, than to vow and not pay [Note: Ecc 5:5. 2 Peter 2:21.]. He however, who puts it into our heart to make, can enable us to keep, our covenant [Note: Jude, ver. 24.]. Let us then engage simply in dependence on the divine strength; but found all our hopes of acceptance on that better and unchangeable covenant, which Christ has entered into on our behalf.]
RESTORATION OF THE TEMPLE WORSHIP BY HEZEKIAH
2 Chronicles 29:20-14.29.29. Then Hezekiah the king rose early, and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the Lord. And they brought seven bullocks, and seven rams, and seven lambs, and seven he-goats, for a sin-offering for the kingdom, and for the sanctuary, and for Judah. And he commanded the priests the sons of Aaron to offer them on the altar of the Lord. So they killed the bullocks, and the priests received the blood, and sprinkled it on the altar: likewise, when they had killed the rams, they sprinkled the blood upon the altar; they killed also the lambs, and they sprinkled the blood upon the altar. And they brought forth the he-goats for the sin-offering before the king and the congregation; and they laid their hands upon them; and the priests killed them, and they made reconciliation with their blood upon the altar, to make an atonement for all Israel: for the king commanded that the burnt-offering and the sin-offering should be made for all Israel. And he set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets. And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt-offering upon the altar. And when the burnt-offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel. And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt-offering was finished. And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshipped.
AMONGST the most eminent of the kings of Judah was Hezekiah. Of several indeed is it said, that they did that which was right in the sight of the Lord; but it was a high commendation of Hezekiah, that he did so “according to all that David his father had done.” He came to the throne under the greatest disadvantages. His father had exceeded in wickedness all the kings that had been before him; and had caused all public acknowledgment of Jehovah to cease from the land. Under such circumstances it might have been supposed that Hezekiah, at the age of twenty-five, would have been infected with the prevailing impieties of his father’s court, or, at all events, that he would not have dared to stem the torrent of iniquity that had borne down all before it: but no sooner was he placed upon his father’s throne, than, even in the first year, and the very first month of his reign, he ordered the temple to be opened, and all the defilements that were in it to be removed, and the worship of the Most High God to be restored. Though there was not that alacrity amongst the priests that might have been expected, the work was soon executed, and in sixteen days the temple, with all its vessels, was prepared and sanctified for the service of God. The very next day, Hezekiah, having his heart set upon the blessed work, “rose early, and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the, Lord.” The service which they performed on this occasion is related in the words which we have read: and it will serve as an excellent pattern for us on this occasion [Note: On the re-opening of a Church after it had been shut up for repair, in 1802.].
There are three things in particular to which we would call your attention:
Their numerous sacrifices—
[For the sin of a priest or of the whole congregation one bullock only was prescribed to be offered by the law [Note: Leviticus 4:3; Leviticus 4:14.]: but the impieties of the nation having exceeded all bounds, and been of long continuance, Hezekiah judged that seven bullocks, and an equal number of rams, and lambs, and he-goats, should be sacrificed as a sin-offering to the Lord: and of all of them in succession it is particularly recorded, that “their blood was sprinkled on the altar.” When the he-goats were offered, it is further noticed, that “the king and the congregation (by their representatives) laid their hands upon them.” Such was the way in which “an atonement was offered, and reconciliation made for all Israel.”
And who does not here see the gospel method of reconciliation with God through the great Sacrifice which was once offered on Mount Calvary? This it was which the sacrifices under the Law shadowed forth; and this it is which opeus a way for our restoration to the divine favour. “We are reconciled to God through the blood of the cross.” By this one offering there is a new and living way consecrated for us through the veil; and by it sinners of every description may draw nigh to God with full assurance of faith.
But here let me particularly call your attention to those two points, the sprinkling the blood upon the altar, and the laying of their hands upon the victims. Never must we draw nigh to God on any occasion without adverting to these significant emblems, or rather without realizing that which was here figuratively proclaimed. We must sprinkle the altar of our God with the Redeemer’s blood: we must actually bear in mind, and expressly declare before God, that all our hope of acceptance with him is through the atoning blood of Christ. That sentiment must be so fixed in the mind, and rooted in the heart, as never to be lost sight of for one moment. The repetition in our text shews us what must be continually repeated by us in every approach of our souls to God. As “without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins,” so without an express affiance in that blood as the only ground of our hopes there can be no application of that remission to our souls — — — O that this might be duly borne in mind by every one of us! But we must also with deep penitential sorrow transfer our sins to the sacred head of Jesus. “On him were the iniquities of all laid by God himself;” and we also must lay our iniquities upon him in the exercise of humble faith. It is by the mutual transfer, if I may so speak, of our sins to him, and of his righteousness to us, that we are to be freed from all our guilt, and to be made righteous in the sight of a holy God: “He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we (who had nothing but sin) might be made the righteousness of God in him [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:21.]” — — — When Christ is thus kept in view in all our transactions with God, we need not fear but that God will be gracious unto us, and seal upon our souls a sense of his forgiving love.]
Let us next notice,
Their joyful praises—
[Together with their humiliation, they offered unto God their praises and thanksgivings agreeably to the laws which had been prescribed by God himself. In this also are they worthy of our constant imitation: “In every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God [Note: Philippians 4:6.],” says the Apostle: and what God has so joined we ought not to put asunder.
But here also there are two things worthy of more particular notice: “When the burnt-offering began, then the song of the Lord also began:” and “all this continued until the burnt-offering was finished.” There was no need to wait: their hearts might well be tuned to praise the very moment they looked to their burnt-offerings as the means of reconciliation with God: nor, as long as they continued so to do, was there the smallest occasion for relaxing in the expressions of their joy. So the very moment we look to the Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ, and plead with God the merit of his blood, we may begin to rejoice in God as our reconciled God and Father. It is said, “All that believe are justified from all things;” not all that are strong in faith, or, all that have exercised faith for such a length of time; but all who believe (provided their faith be unfeigned) are from that very moment justified from all things, and may instantly “rejoice in hope of the glory of God [Note: Acts 13:39. with Romans 5:1-45.5.2.].” St. John, speaking not to fathers only, or to young men, but to the weakest babes in Christ, says, “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake [Note: 1 John 2:12.].” There are many who think it a mark of humility to put away from them all joy, till, as they imagine, the progress of their sanctification shall justify the entrance of it into their souls. But this is altogether founded on ignorance and error. A sinner is not to look into himself for his warrant to rejoice in God: the mercy, the love, the truth, and faithfulness of God, together with the ability and willingness of Christ to save all who come unto God by him, are the proper grounds of joy, irrespective of any change actually wrought in us. We say not that a believer may not afterwards have much joy in the testimony of his own conscience that he has made a progress in the divine life; (for St. Paul himself experienced this joy [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:12.];) but the affiance of his soul on Christ interests him in all that Christ has done and suffered for him, and gives him an immediate title to partake of the fatted calf, which his heavenly Father has prepared for him. “Being delivered from the horrible pit, and having his feet set upon the rock, a new song instantly should proceed from his mouth, even praise and thanksgiving to our God [Note: Psalms 40:2-19.40.3.].” Nor should that song ever cease; because the efficacy of his Redeemer’s sacrifice will never cease. We are bidden to “rejoice in the Lord always,” yea “again and again to rejoice:” and indeed, humiliation and joy must be united in all our services to the very end of time — — — as they will be united even in heaven itself, where we shall cast our crowns at the Redeemer’s feet, and sing to all eternity, “To him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, be glory and dominion for ever and ever, Amen.”]
At the close of that solemn service we particularly notice,
Their reverential obeisance—
[When they had made an end of offering, “the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshipped.” This remarkable termination of their worship indicated a grateful sense of the inestimable privilege which they had enjoyed of drawing nigh to God—an humble acknowledgment that they, and all that belonged to them, were the Lord’s—and a determination of heart henceforth to dedicate themselves unreservedly to his service.
And thus it is that we should close our worship, whensoever we draw nigh to God in his public ordinances [Note: See that admirable pattern, 1 Chronicles 29:14.]. It is painful to see persons going from the house of God without a due sense of the awful solemnities in which they have been engaged. The light and airy manner with which persons renew their conferences with each other upon the common topics of the day, demonstrates, that their worship has been by no means such as God requires: had they really felt as redeemed sinners ought to feel, the savour of that intercourse with heaven would not so soon be lost. O, if men did but reflect on the mercy vouchsafed to them, in being permitted to sprinkle the blood of Christ upon the altar, to transfer all their guilt to him, and to receive from him the gift of his unspotted righteousness; if they duly considered what a right the Lord Jesus Christ had acquired over them in having bought them with his blood, and how much they are bound to glorify him with their bodies and their spirits which are his; methinks they would depart from the house of God with a holy solemnity upon their mind, and would continue in their way homeward secretly to commune with their God, and to harrow in by meditation and prayer the seed which has been sown upon their hearts. For want of this, even religious people often lose all the benefit of the ordinances which they have been privileged to enjoy. Earnestly would we entreat all persons to attend to these suggestions; and to bear in mind, whether they enter into the house of God or depart from it, that it is the God of heaven and earth with whom they have to do, and to whom they must shortly give an account of all these privileges which by the generality are so lightly esteemed.
How the people remembered the vows that were upon them, was evident from the liberality with which they immediately presented their offerings to the Lord [Note: If any Collection be made on the occasion, the zeal and liberality of the worshippers, ver. 32, 33. may well be proposed as a pattern. Or, if the occasion required, the different Officers of the Church or Parish might be exhorted, from the example of the Priests, and of the Levites in particular, to exert themselves in their respective callings to serve and honour God.]. O let us give up our whole selves to him a living sacrifice: and from a constraining sense of redeeming love, let us henceforth live, not unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us and rose again.]
2 Chronicles 29:31. Then Hezekiah answered and said, Now ye have consecrated yourselves unto the Lord, come near and bring sacrifices and thank-offerings into the house of the Lord.
RELIGION is the brightest ornament of every state. Solomon was never more truly encircled with glory, than when he led the devotions of his people at the dedication of the temple: nor was Hezekiah at any period of his reign more honourably employed, than when he was purifying that temple from the abominations which had been introduced into it by his father Ahaz. The exhortation in our text was delivered by him to the whole congregation of Israel, after that the sacrifices for the purification of the temple had been offered. And to you who are of the younger part of our audience they may with great propriety be addressed, after the services which you have this day been called to perform.
With a more immediate view to your benefit, we will consider,
The act in which you have been engaged—
You have been to the bishop to be confirmed: and this is,
A solemn act—
[From the levity of too many who attend on these occasions, it may be thought to be a ceremony of no importance. But it is a most solemn transaction between God and your souls. You have this day been taking upon yourselves the vows which were made in your behalf at your baptism; and have been devoting yourselves to God as his servants: and, whether you have been sincere or not in the performance of the duty, the consequences of it will be very important: if you have given yourselves to the Lord in sincerity and truth, he has accepted you to his favour, and numbered you among his children: but, if you have lied unto God with your lips, you have riveted upon your souls your former iniquities, and provoked God to give you up to greater obduracy [Note: Isaiah 28:22.Romans 1:21; Romans 1:21.] — — —]
A reasonable act—
[The first-fruits of every thing were the Lord’s: nor could any man appropriate them to his own use without the greatest impiety. Thus are the first-fruits of your time and strength to be given up to God. It is generally thought that the Jewish children at about twelve years of age went up to Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord in a more solemn manner: and we know that our blessed Lord went thither at this age, that he might in a more peculiar way than he had ever before done, engage in the services of “his Father’s house.” We cannot do better than follow his example in this particular. As soon as we have arrived at an age when we are capable of understanding and executing the vows that are upon us, we should go up to the house of the Lord, and there solemnly acknowledge our obligations to serve our God, and implore from him the grace and strength that shall be needful for us. This, we are expressly told, is “a reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.].”]
An irrevocable act—
[It was an established law, that if anything whatsoever had been devoted to the Lord, it could not be recalled. Least of all then can you be liberated from the engagement which you have this day entered into, and which would have been binding upon you, even though you had never obeyed the call of your diocesan in relation to it — — —]
But confirmation is to be the commencement of a new and more determined course of devotedness to God. I will therefore proceed to mark,
The duty which yet remains to be performed—
The act in which you have this day been engaged must be,
[The whole remainder of your lives is the time for the performance of your vows. There never will arrive a period when you are absolved from them, or when you are at liberty to relax your attention to them. Every morning and evening were the sacrifices offered in the temple, and a double number on the seventh day: so must every day begin and end with fresh surrenders of yourselves to God; and the Sabbath in particular must be a day of more than ordinary communion with him. “If you look back, after having put your hand to the plough, you are not fit for the kingdom of God:” yea, “if you draw back, it is to certain and everlasting perdition [Note: Luke 9:62.Hebrews 10:38-58.10.39; Hebrews 10:38-58.10.39.].”]
[After all had been done that was necessary for the purification of the temple, Hezekiah called on the people to present sacrifices and thank-offerings unto the Lord: and, in consequence of this exhortation, they were presented in great numbers. The sacrifices which God desires of you, are, not sheep and oxen, but the offering of a free, a contrite, a devoted heart [Note: See Romans 12:1. before cited.]. And, as the first offerings which were presented, were from duty and necessity, and the last from a superabundant zeal for God, and gratitude to his name, so are your surrenders of your hearts to God to be daily more willing, more grateful, more entire [Note: Isaiah 44:3-23.44.5.Jeremiah 50:4-24.50.5; Jeremiah 50:4-24.50.5.] — — —]
To the young, we recommend the counsel of Hezekiah—
[Never think you can do enough for Him, who has bought you with his blood — — —]
To the more advanced we recommend his admirable example—
[Whatever influence you have, use it diligently for the Lord — — —]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 29". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany