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the foregoing of a natural friend or kinsman, than of a noted and useful prophet, it argues more love to ourselves, than to the Church of God, than to God himself.
What use there was of chariots and horsemen in those wars of the ancient, all histories can tell us all the strength of the battle stood in these: there could be neither defence nor offence, but by them. Such was Elisha unto Israel. The greatest safeguard to any nation is the sanctity, and faithfulness, of their prophets; without which, the Church, and state lies open to utter desolation.
The same words, that Elisha said of his master Elijah, when he saw him taken up from the earth, doth Joash now speak of Elisha, near his dissolution; O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!
The words were good; the tears were pious; but where are the actions? O Joash, if the prophet were thy father, where was thy filial obedience? He cried down thy calves; thou upheldest them: he counselled thee to good; thou didst evil in the sight of the Lord. If the prophet were the chariots and horsemen of Israel, why didst thou fight against his holy doctrine? If thou weepest for his loss, why didst thou not weep for those sins of thine, that procured it? Had thy hand answered thy tongue, Israel had been happy in Elisha; Elisha had been happy in Israel, and thee. Words are no good trial of profession: the worst men may speak well: actions only have the power to descry hypocrites.
Yet even a Joash, thus complying, shall not go away unblessed. This outward kindness shall receive an outward retribution: these few drops of warm water shed upon the face of a prophet, shall not lose their reward.
The Spirit of Prophecy forsakes not the death bed of Elisha. He calls for bow and arrows, and puts them into the hand of Joash; and, putting his hands upon the king's hand, he bids to shoot eastward, and, while the shaft flies and lights, he says, The arrow of the Lord's deliverance from Syria; for thou shalt smile the Syrians in Aphek, till thou hast consumed them.
If the weak and withered hand of the prophet had not been upon the youthful and vigorous hand of the king, this bow had been drawn in vain. The strength was from the hand of the king; the blessing, from the hand of the prophet. He, whose real parable bath made the earth to be Syria; the arrow, revenge; the archer, Joash; hath obtained for his last boon from God to Israel, that this archer shall shoot this arrow of revenge, into the heart of Syria, and wound it to death. When then the hand of the king, and of the prophet, draws together, there cannot chuse but success must follow.
How readily doth Elisha now make good the words of Joash ! How truly is he the chariots and horsemen of Israel! Israel had not fought without him, much less had been victorious. If theirs be the endeavour, the success is his. Even the dying prophet puts life and speed into the forces of Israel; and, while he is digging his own grave, is raising trophies to God's people.
He had received kindness from the Syrians: amongst them was he harboured in the dearth, and from some of their nobles was presented with rich gifts; but their enmity to Israel drowns all his private respects: he cannot but profess hostility to the public enemies of the Church.
Neither can he content himself, with a single prediction of their ruin. He bids Joash, to take the arrows and smite upon the ground. He sets no number of those strokes; as supposing the frequence of those blows, which Joash might well, upon this former parabolical act, understand to be significant.
The slack hand of the king smites but thrice: so apt we are to be wanting to ourselves; so coldly do we execute the commands of God. The sick prophet is not more grieved, than angry, at this dull negligence. Doubtless, God had revealed to him, for his last gratification, that, upon his fervent prayers, so oft as Joash should voluntarily, after his general charge, smite the earth, so oft should Israel smite Syria.
Elisha's zeal doth not languish with his body. With a fatherly authority he chides him, who had stiled him father; not fearing to spend some of his last wind, in a mild reproof; Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then thou hadst smitten Syria, till thou hadst consumed it; whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice. Not that the unchangeable decree of the Almighty meant to suspend itself, upon the uncertain issue of Joash's will; but he, that puts this word into the mouth of his prophet, puts this motion into the hand of the king, which did not more willingly stay, than necessarily obey the Providence whereby it was stirred. Even while we have our freest choice, we fall upon those actions and circumstances, whereby the just and holy will of our God is brought about. Our very neglects, our ignorances shall fulfil his eternal councils.
Elisha dies, and is buried. His miracles do not cease with his life. Who can marvel, that his living prayers raised the son of the Shunamite, when his dead bones raise the carcase that touched them?
God will be free in his works. He, that must die himself, yet shall revive another. The same power might have continued life to him, that gave it by his bones.
Israel shall well see that he lives, by whose virtue Elisha was, both in life and death, miraculous. While the prophet was alive, the impetration might seem to be his, though the power were God's; now that he is dead, the bones can challenge nothing, but send the wandering Israelites to that Almighty agent, to whom it is all one to work by the quick or dead.
Were not the men of Israel more dead than the carcase thus buried, how could they choose but see in this revived corpse, an emblem of their own condition? How could they chuse but think, "If we adhere to the God of Elisha, he shall raise our decayed estates, and restore our nation to the former glory?"
The Sadducees had as yet no being in Israel. With what face
could that heresy ever after look into the world, when, before the birth of it, it was so palpably convinced, with an example of the resurrection?
Intermission of time and degrees of corruption add nothing to the impossibility of our rising. The body that is once cold in death hath no more aptitude to a reanimation, than that which is mouldered into dust. Only the divine power of the Maker must restore either, can restore both.
When we are dead, and buried in the grave of our sin, it is only the touch of God's prophets, applying unto us the death and resurrection of the Son of God, that can put new life into us. No less true, though spiritual, is the miracle of our raising up, from an estate of inward corruption, to a life of grace.
Yet all this prevails not with Israel. No bones of Elisha could raise them from their wicked idolatry; and, notwithstanding their gross sins, Joash their king prospers. Whether it were for the sake of Jehu, whose grandchild he was, or for the sake of Elisha, whose face he wept upon, his hand is notably successful; not only against the son of Hazael king of Syria, whom he beats out of the cities of Israel; but against Amaziah king of Judah, whom he took prisoner, beating down the very walls of Jerusalem, and returning laden with the sacred and rich spoil, both of the temple and court, to his Samaria.
Oh the depth of the divine justice and wisdom, in these outward administrations! The best cause, the best man, doth not ever fare best. Amaziah did that, which was right in the sight of the Lord; Joash, evil: Amaziah follows David, though not with equal paces; Joash follows Jeroboam: yet is Amaziah shamefully foiled by Joash. Whether God yet meant to visit upon this king of Judah, the still odious unthankfulness of his father to Jehoida; or, to plague Judah for their share in the blood of Zechariah, and their late revolt to idolatry; or, whether Amaziah's too much confidence in his own strength, which moved his bold challenge to Joash, were thought fit to be thus taken down; or whatever other secret ground of God's judgment there might be, it is not for our presumption to inquire. Whoso, by the event, shall judge of love or hatred, shall be sure to run upon that woe, which belongs to them that call good evil, and evil good.
What a savage piece of justice it is, to put the right, whether of inheritance or honour, to the decision of the sword, when it is no news, for the better to miscarry by the hand of the worse!
The race is not to the swift; the battle is not to the strong; no not to the good. Perhaps, God will correct his own by a foil; perhaps, he will plague his enemy by a victory. They are only our spiritual combats, wherein our faithful courage is sure of a crown. 2 Kings xiii.
EVEN the throne of David passed many changes of good and evil. Good Jehoshaphat was followed, with three successions of wicked princes; and those three were again succeeded, with three others godly and virtuous.
Amaziah, for a long time, shone fair; but, at the last, shut up in a cloud. The gods of the Edomites marred him. His rebellion against God stirred up his people's rebellion against him.
The same hands that slew him crowned his son Uzziah; so as the young king might imagine it was not their spite, that drew violence upon his father, but his own wickedness.
Both early did this prince reign, and late. He began at sixteen; and sat fifty-two years in the throne of Judah. They, that mutinied in the declining age of Amaziah the father, are obsequious to the childhood of the son; as if they professed to adore sovereignty, while they hated lewdness. The unchanged government of good princes is the happiness, no less of the subjects than of themselves. The hand knows best to guide those reins, to which it hath been inured; and even mean hackneys go on cheerfully, in their wonted road. Custom, as it makes evils more supportable, so, where it meets with constant minds, makes good things more pleasing and beneficial.
The wise and holy prophet Zechariah was a happy tutor, to the minority of king Uzziah. That vessel can hardly miscarry, where a skilful steersman sits at the helm. The first praise of a good prince is, to be judicious and just and pious, in himself; the next is, to give ear and way, to them that are such, While Zechariah hath the visions of God, and Uzziah takes the counsels of Zechariah, it is hard to say, whether the prophet, or the king, or the state be happier.
God will be in no man's debt. So long as Uzziah sought the Lord, God made him to prosper. Even what we do out of duty cannot want a reward. Godliness never disappointed any man's hopes; oft hath exceeded them. If Uzziah fight against the Philistines, if against the Arabians and Mehunims; according to his names, (Uzziah, Azariah,) the Strength, the Help, of the Almighty is with him. The Ammonites come in with presents; and all the neighbour nations ring of the greatness, of the happiness of Uzziah. His bounty, and care, makes Jerusalem both strong, and proud of her new towers; yea, the very desert must taste of
The outward magnificence of princes cannot stand firm, unless it be built upon the foundations of providence and frugality. Uzziah had not been so great a king, if he had not been so great a husband. He had his flocks in the deserts, and his herds in the plains; his ploughs in the fields; his vinedressers upon the mountains, and in Carmel: neither was this more out of profit, than
delight; for he loved husbandry. Who can contemn those callings for meanness, which have been the pleasures of princes?
Hence was Uzziah so potent at home, so dreadful to his neighbours: his wars had better sinews than theirs. Which of his predecessors was able to maintain so settled an army, of more than of three hundred and ten thousand trained soldiers, well furnished, well fitted for the suddenest occasion? Thrift is the strongest prop of power.
The greatness of Uzziah, and the rare devices of his artificial engines for war, have not more raised his fame, than his heart. So is he swoln up, with the admiration of his own strength and glory, that he breaks again. How easy it is, for the best man to dote upon himself; and to be lifted up so high, as to lose the sight, both of the ground whence he arises, and of the hand that advanced him! How hard it is, for him, that hath invented strange engines for the battering of his enemies, to find out any means to beat down his own proud thoughts!
Wise Solomon knew what he did, when he prayed to be delivered from too much: Lest, said he, I be full, and deny thee; and say, Who is the Lord? Upon this rock, did the son of Solomon run, and split himself: his full sails of prosperity carried him into presumption and ruin. What may he not do? What may he not be? Because he found his power otherwise unlimited; overruling in the court, the cities, the fields, the deserts, the arms, and ma gazines; therefore he thinks he may do so in the temple too: as things royal, civil, husbandly, military passed his hands; so why should not, thinks he, sacred also? It is a dangerous indiscretion, for a man not to know the bounds of his own calling. What confusion doth not follow, upon this breaking of the ranks !
Upon a solemn day, king Uzziah clothes himself in pontifical robes; and, in the view of that populous assembly, walks up in state into the Temple of God, and, boldly approaching to the altar of incense, offers to burn sweet odours upon it to the God of Heaven. Azariah, the priest, is sensible of so perilous an encroachment: he, therefore, attended with fourscore valiant assistants of that holy tribe, hastens after the king; and, finding him with the censer in his hand, ready addressed to that sinful devotion, stays him with a free and grave expostulation: "There is no place, wherein I could be sorry to see thee, O king, but this, where thou art; neither is there any act, that we should grudge thee so much, as this, which is the most sacred. Is it possible, that so great an oversight should fall into such wisdom? Can a religious prince, trained up under a holy Zechariah, after so many years' zealous profession of piety, be either ignorant or regardless of those limits, which God hath set to his own services? Oh, what means this uncouth attempt? Consider, O dear sovereign, for God's sake, for thy soul's sake, consider where thou art, what thou doest. It is God's house, wherein thou standest; not thine own. Look about thee, and see, whether these vails, these tables, these pillars, these walls, these pavements, have any resemblance of earth. There is