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COVENANTING WITH GOD
2 Kings 23:3. 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.
LITTLE do men in general consider the benefit they receive from the sacred oracles, and the stated ordinances of divine worship. Without these, the remembrance of God would soon vanish: whereas by these we are constantly reminded of the obligations we are under to love and serve him. In the days of King Josiah the inspired volume was altogether lost, and the Temple of Jehovah had been suffered to fall into decay. The pious monarch having ordered the temple to be repaired, the book of God was found. Immediately the contents of it were read to him: and, when he saw what judgments it denounced against his nation, he sought to avert them by turning to the Lord his God. He summoned all the priests, and prophets, and people of Jerusalem, and engaged them to make a solemn covenant with God, that they would henceforth serve him with their whole heart.
This instructive record shews us, that,
Persons in authority should use their influence to promote religion—
[Many of the Jewish kings were patrons of real piety: but among them all there was not one who equalled Josiah in integrity of heart and devotedness of soul [Note: ver. 25.]. The use which he made of his authority is sufficiently declared in the history before us. But we must not imagine that such exertions belong only to rulers and governors: whether our influence extend over a kingdom, or only to a parish, or a single family, it should be improved for God. Ministers should labour by all possible means to bring their people to God: and every parent, or master of a family, should study to advance the eternal interest of those, who, by the providence of God, are committed to his care. Nor should any be deterred by the degeneracy of the times: for the state of religion cannot well be reduced to a lower ebb than it was in the days of Josiah: and, if it were, that would only be a reason for our more earnest exertions in the cause of God. Nor can we easily conceive how much good might be done by the labours of au individual. The effects of Josiah’s reformation continued throughout all his reign [Note: 2 Chronicles 34:32-33.]: and, though persons in inferior stations cannot hope to produce the sudden and extensive change that he did, yet their labours may convey incalculable benefit to the latest generations: the good impressions that are made on a few will stimulate them to impart the same benefits to their neighbours, and to seek the welfare of those who are within the sphere of their influence: those again will adopt the same line of conduct towards others; and thus the benefit will be perpetually transmitted from age to age. What might not be hoped for, if magistrates and ministers, parents and masters, would combine in this good work?]
To this we may be encouraged by the consideration that,
Such exertions will be acceptable to those who feel their need of mercy—
[They who are wholly unconcerned about their souls will probably regard such efforts as officious, ostentatious, hypocritical. But if once they become, like the Jews on this occasion, sensible of their guilt and danger, they will no longer consider a reformer as an enemy to the happiness of mankind, but as a blessing to the world. How often is it seen that they who once despised and persecuted a minister for his piety, will send for him in a time of sickness, and be exceeding thankful for his instructions and his prayers! and many who once joined in condemning him for his zeal, will afterwards go statedly many miles to attend his ministry. Such is the effect even among strangers and aliens: how much more therefore may we hope to find this acquiescence, when our counsels are enforced with the endearments of affection, or the weight of legitimate authority! Indeed, such interference is expected of us: and we lower ourselves in the estimation even of the ungodly, in proportion as we decline, whether through indolence or fear, these offices of Christian love.]
Such exertions, I say, will be acceptable to many;
Nor will the strictest commands of God’s covenant be deemed harsh by those who are in earnest about their souls—
[Men regardless of their eternal state will scarcely hear of any restraint: they will plead for the utmost latitude of indulgence: and when forced by their convictions to concede somewhat of their fancied rights, they will yield only as Pharaoh did, when necessitated by a sense of present judgments, and the fear of more. He at first would not suffer the Hebrews to sacrifice to their God at all: then he would permit it in the land of Egypt: then it might be in the borders of the wilderness: then the men might go, but they must leave their little ones as a pledge of their return: then the women and children might go, but not the cattle: at last he was glad to get rid of all [Note: Exodus 8:25; Exodus 8:28; Exodus 10:11; Exodus 10:24; Exodus 12:31-33.]. Thus sinners will plead for this and that sin as long as they can entertain any hope of safety in the indulgence of it; but when they feel themselves utterly undone, they will cast out of the vessel the tackle and the wheat itself, rather than perish in the great abyss [Note: Acts 27:38.]. Yes, let them be really persuaded that the care of their souls is the one thing needful, and they will consent that God shall prescribe his own terms: they will say, with Saul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do [Note: Acts 9:6.]?” The covenant which Josiah proposed was exceeding strict; they were to “keep God’s commandments, and testimonies, and statutes, yea, to keep them with all their heart, and with all their soul;” but they did not object to the terms; on the contrary, we are told “they stood to the covenant.” Thus it should be with us also: the most self-denying commandment should not appear grievous [Note: 1 John 5:3.], but “holy, and just, and good [Note: Romans 7:12.];” and we should cordially submit to it without any limitations or reserves.]
We shall not dismiss this subject without adding a word,
[How many instead of using all their influence for God, exert it in the service of the devil! We speak not merely of those who tempt others to drunkenness, lewdness, or any other gross iniquity; but of those who by their vain, worldly, or careless conduct lead others to think lightly of sin, and to live in a neglect of their souls. In this way every person, whatever be his station, exerts, however unintentionally, a very extensive influence, which by a different conduct might be turned to good account. Say not, like Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” for all of you are accountable to God for the use which you make of your influence; and you will receive from God, not only according to the good or evil which you have done yourselves, but according to that which you have occasioned in others.]
[We are ready in a time of sickness, and under convictions of sin, to make covenants with God; like the Israelites who said, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient [Note: Exodus 24:7.].” But when we make them in our own strength, we shall violate them exactly as they did. Let not any then be hasty in making vows, or think that they can execute them by any power of their own. To give up ourselves to God is certainly right; but in order to do it effectually, we must be strong, not in ourselves, but “in the Lord, and in the power of his might [Note: Ephesians 6:10.].”]
[If we were to be saved by our own faithfulness, who amongst us would be able to stand before God? Alas! “our own goodness has often been as the morning dew, and as the early cloud that passeth away.” But, thanks be to God! there is a covenant made by our great Head and Surety [Note: Psalms 89:3; Psalms 89:28; Psalms 89:34-36.]; a covenant in which we all are interested; “a covenant ordered in all things and sure [Note: 2Sa 23:5 with Jeremiah 31:31-34; Jeremiah 32:38-41.].” Let this then be the real ground of our hope: let us lay hold on it, and cleave unto it. Let not, however, our affiance in this tempt us to violate our own engagements; for negligence in performing our vows to God will infallibly prove us to be strangers to the Gospel-covenant. Let us rather “give ourselves wholly to the Lord;” that while we trust in “the blood of the everlasting covenant,” we may approve ourselves to him as “good and faithful servants.”]
THE CHARACTER OF JOSIAH
2 Kings 23:25. And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.
THIS is the character given of King Josiah. A similar eulogium had been passed on his progenitor, Hezekiah; of whom it is said, “He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him of all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him [Note: 2 Kings 18:5.].” But there is nothing contrary in the two accounts: each of these persons had his peculiar excellencies, in which he surpassed all others: Hezekiah was distinguished (as the words cited intimate,) for his confidence in God; and Josiah, as our text informs us, for his zeal and piety. No person, merely human, was ever perfect, since the introduction of sin into the world. There have indeed been bright characters, who have reflected with great lustre and fidelity some rays of “the Sun of righteousness;” but of Christ alone can it be said, that “He is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
The character here given of Josiah is as exalted as any that was ever ascribed to fallen man: and for the purpose of illustrating it, we propose to mark some of the chief features of which it was composed.
He began to serve God at a very early period of life—
[At eight years old he began to reign: and no sooner did he arrive at years of discretion, than he began seriously and devoutly to serve the Lord [Note: 2 Chronicles 34:3.]. At sixteen years of age, when it might have been expected that he should be studious only of pleasure, he turned from earthly vanities to seek his happiness in God: and at twenty years of age, when it is probable he began to exercise without control his regal office, he set himself to reform the whole nation. Not fearing the face of man, he stemmed the torrent of iniquity which had overwhelmed the land; and devoted to the service of his God all the powers with which he was invested.
This was doubtless most pleasing to God, who required by the law that the first-fruits of man and beast should be his, and who has given a peculiar promise to those who seek him in early life; “They that seek me early shall find me.” Happy would it be if all of us began at the early age of sixteen to serve the Lord; and if from that period every talent committed to our care were improved for God! How much better this, than to be wasting our youthful days in sin and vanity! True, we have not all the same authority as he; but all in our respective spheres should exert ourselves to the utmost of our ability; remembering, that if youth labours under some disadvantages in point of influence, it has a tendency to put to shame the indolence of more advanced years, and to impress more forcibly the minds of those who are yet young and tender. Whilst then we say to all, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,” we would exhort all, from the first moment that they feel the value of their own souls, to exert themselves with all diligence to benefit the souls of others — — —]
He proceeded in his career with extraordinary zeal and diligence—
[It seems almost incredible that this young monarch should effect so much as he did in so short a time. He first began to root out idolatry from those tribes which were under his own dominion; and then set himself (by the connivance or permission of the Assyrian monarch) to effect the same changes among the remnant of the ten tribes. Not choosing to devolve these labours on others, he proceeded himself “throughout all the land of Israel,” that he might see his orders carried into execution. The means he used to produce a reformation were of the most extraordinary kind; breaking in pieces all the images that he could find, strewing the dust of them on the graves of those who had sacrificed unto them; and burning on the altars the bones of the priests who had placed their offerings upon them [Note: See 2 Chronicles 34:3-7.].
Here we see how justly he deserved the character given him in our text: he entered into his work “with all his heart, and all his soul, and all his might.” And this is the spirit which we also should manifest in all our services for God. We should not indulge a lukewarm spirit, but “be zealously affected always in a good cause.” “Whatever our hand findeth to do, we should do with all our might” — — —]
He was as zealous in promoting piety as in suppressing vice—
[When he had put down the reigning abominations, he endeavoured to establish the worship of the true God: he repaired the temple, which had fallen into decay; he convened all his subjects, “the priests and Levites, and all the people both small and great,” and himself read to them the word of God, and made a covenant with the Lord both for himself and them to serve the Lord God with their whole hearts; and “he caused all the people to stand to the covenant.” After this he kept a passover, such as had not been kept even from the time of Samuel to that hour: and toward the expenses of it he himself very largely contributed.
Now here was real piety: here was a manifest regard for the honour of God and the good of men. This it is that most exalts a character. Many there are who will be extremely zealous against open profaneness, who yet have no real concern, for God’s honour and glory. But we must combine “godliness with honesty.” We must labour, each in his sphere, to promote the Knowledge and the worship of God: and having given up ourselves to him in a perpetual covenant, we must endeavour to engage others also to a like surrender of themselves to him. In a peculiar manner we should ourselves respect, and to the utmost of our power cause others also to regard, the wonders of redeeming love. Since “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us, we should keep the feast” — — — Here is scope for the best energies of our souls. In reference to these things it is not possible to be too earnest, provided we are alike attentive to every duty, and careful “that God in all things may be glorified through Christ Jesus” — — —]
In all he did he adhered strictly to the word of God—
[From the first moment that the Scriptures were found and read to him, he determined to make them the one rule of his conduct. He “humbled himself deeply before God” for the utter disregard of them which had obtained throughout the whole kingdom: and he himself read them in the ears of his people, and required a conformity to them in every particular. In celebrating the passover, he was especially mindful of every direction given by Moses relative to that divine ordinance; and indeed in the whole of his conduct he laboured to secure a perfect compliance with God’s revealed will. This is the thing noticed, both in the text and in many other places; and it forms a very essential part of that goodness, for which he is applauded in the sacred records [Note: 2 Chronicles 35:26.].
It often, happens, that men are zealous for their own party and their own opinions; and men in such a state will sometimes “compass sea and land to make one proselyte:” but unless we build according to “the model given us in the mount,” we lose all our labour. To please our God, we must have a strict regard to his revealed will: and for this end we must study the Holy Scriptures, and “turn from them neither to the right hand nor the left.”]
[Here we may rejoice, that we all have the Scriptures in our hands. They are not hid, as in the days of Josiah; but are so freely and universally dispersed, that every man in the kingdom who desires to study them, may obtain them. How signally blessed are we in this respect! Nay, we not only have access to the Scriptures, but have them read and expounded to us from Sabbath to Sabbath. Let us then learn to tremble at the word. Let us remember that every jot and tittle of it will be fulfilled in its season. Let us bear in mind, that our wilful deviations from it will be visited with the divine displeasure: and that, if we study to fulfil it “with all our heart, and soul, and might,” God, who knoweth our hearts, will bear testimony to us in the day of judgment, as here he has done to King Josiah; and will say to us before the assembled universe, “Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord.”]
END OF VOL. III.
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Kings 23". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany