2Ki_20:19. Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken.
IF of active virtues it may be said, that they are more fascinating and beautiful in the eyes of men; of passive virtues it may be said, that an equal degree of divine grace is displayed in them. It is as much an effect of divine grace to suffer patiently the will of God, as it is to perform it diligently. Accordingly we find, that most of the eminent saints of old were as remarkable for a meek submission to the divine disposals, as for a zealous execution of the divine commands. Aaron [Note: Lev_10:3.], Eli [Note: 1Sa_3:18.], Job [Note: Job_1:21.], David [Note: Psa_39:9.], and many others, are recorded as bright examples of the passive graces: and the history of Hezekiah, as contained in the words before us, furnishes us with an admirable specimen of pious resignation.
We shall consider his resignation,
As an act of piety—
The judgments denounced against his family and kingdom were of the most distressing nature—
[All the wealth that he possessed, together with the holy city and temple, were to be delivered into the hands of the Chaldeans; and his sons, whom he should beget, should be made eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. To a monarch, what could be more distressing than the overthrow of his whole kingdom? To a pious monarch, what more grievous than the destruction of God’s temple, and the triumph of idolatry over the true religion? And to a monarch that was a parent, what more terrible than such degradation and misery as were denounced against his offspring?
Some may think that these judgments were not very afflictive, because they were not to affect the king himself, but only to attach upon his descendants: but, we apprehend that any personal affliction whatever would have been esteemed light, in comparison of the calamities here threatened [Note: See 2Sa_24:17.].]
Yet were the tidings of them received with the most perfect submission—
[What could any man say more? Hezekiah justified in the strongest terms the denunciations that had been delivered. Though he was taken entirely off his guard, and had not the smallest expectation of any such message from the Lord, yet, on the delivery of it, he bowed at once, and “accepted it as the punishment of his iniquity [Note: Lev_26:41.].” Grievous as the chastisement was, he approved of it as coming from the hands of a righteous God, and declared it to be not only just, but “good.”]
Instead of murmuring against God for the severity of his judgments, he instantly expressed his gratitude for the mercy blended with them—
[He was informed that in his days the nation should enjoy “peace;” and that “truth” should triumph over the idolatry and wickedness which had overrun the land. These considerations, independent of his own personal welfare, were consolatory to his mind; because, if God had been “extreme to mark what had been done amiss,” he might have justly executed his threatened judgments instantly, without any intervention of grace and mercy. On these mitigated circumstances Hezekiah fixed his mind; and, whilst he acknowledged the equity of the judgments in their fullest extent, he more especially adored the goodness of God in suspending them for so long a period: “Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?” The prospect of the prevalence of true religion, though but for a season, was cheering to him: and he “accounted the long-suffering of God to be salvation.”]
If, as an act of piety, we admire his resignation, much more shall we do so,
As a lesson of instruction—
Truly in this view the history before us is very important. From it we learn many valuable lessons:
That pride, however light and venial it may appear in our eyes, is most offensive in the sight of God—
[It was pride which led Hezekiah to display before the Babylonish ambassadors all the monuments of his wealth and power: he felt an undue complacency in the things themselves, as though they of themselves could make us happy; and next, he relied on them as inducements to the king of Babylon to court his alliance. According to the common estimation of men, there would be no great evil in this conduct: but God regarded as a very heinous sin, the indulgence of such vain conceits; and marked the extent of his displeasure by the severity of his judgments.
Let not any one then imagine that an inordinate attachment to earthly things, or a vain confidence in them, is a light offence. Whatever we have that distinguishes us from our fellow-creatures, it is given us of the Lord; and, instead of engrossing our affections, it should lead us to him in thankfulness and praise. If we take glory to ourselves for our possession of it, we provoke him to jealousy, and excite his indignation against us. How highly did God resent the pride of Nebuchadnezzar [Note: Dan_4:29-33.], and of Herod [Note: Act_12:22-23.]! And shall we escape, if we “provoke the Lord to jealousy?” Let us be thankful for what we possess; but let our affections centre in God alone.]
That just views of sin will lead us to justify God in all the judgments that are denounced against it—
[We are ready to think that the punishment inflicted on Hezekiah was more severe than the occasion required: but he thought not so, because he saw his sin in all its malignity — — — In like manner, when the everlasting displeasure of God is denounced against sin and sinners, the proud heart of man is ready to rise up against God, and to say, that it would not be just to inflict eternal punishment for the sins of time, especially if those sins have not been of the most flagrant kind. But a just view of our demerit silences at once all those rebellious murmurs. We then say with David, “Thou art justified in thy saying, and wilt be clear when thou judgest.” It is remarkable, that the man who was cast out for not having on the wedding garment, is represented as not having one word to utter in arrest of judgment; “he was speechless [Note: Mat_22:12.]:” and so will it be with all at the last day, yea and with all in this life also, who are made sensible of their iniquities. Under the deepest of earthly afflictions they will say, “Shall a living man complain? a man for the punishment of his sins?” No; “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him.” Under the apprehension of his eternal displeasure also they will cry, “I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”
Let us beg of God then to give us an insight into our own wickedness; that under all circumstances we may approve of God as “doing all things well.”]
That a humble mind will be more thankful for the mitigating circumstances of an affliction than querulous about the affliction itself—
[We greatly admire this in the history before us. And who does not see what sweet composure such conduct is calculated to bring into the mind? The generality of persons are ready to fix on every circumstance that can aggravate their affliction; and hence they make themselves far more miserable than they would otherwise be: but if, like Hezekiah, they looked on the brighter side of their troubles, and noticed the mercies with which they were blended, they would be comparatively happy under them. Even self-love might dictate such a line of conduct, if we were actuated by no better motive: for, if once we saw, how much more afflictive our circumstances might have been, and how much heavier judgments we have merited, we should feel gratitude rise up in our bosoms, and “bless our God, no less when he takes away, than when he gives:” we should confess it to be “of the Lord’s mercies that we are not utterly consumed.”]
THE BENEFITS ARISING FROM PEACE AND TRUTH [Note: Thanksgiving for Peace, in 1816.]
2Ki_20:19. Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?
BY many it is thought that a knowledge of futurity would contribute to their happiness: but we are persuaded that it would prove only a source of misery: the good that would be foreseen would lose more than half its zest, whilst the evil that was anticipated would embitter the remainder of their days. It was as a punishment, and not as a favour, that an insight into futurity was given to King Hezekiah. He had displeased the Lord by his conduct towards the ambassadors of the king of Babylon: and God sent him word what calamities should befall both his family and nation through the instrumentality of that monarch. This judgment however was tempered with mercy; the execution of it being deferred to a generation yet unborn. Hence the judgment was submitted to with pious resignation: “Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken. Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?”
It is not our intention to enter any further into the Jewish history than just to fix the precise import of our text. The text is applicable to all persons in every age, and particularly so to this present season. We shall therefore take occasion from it to shew,
What blessings God is now conferring upon us—
What we are to understand by “peace and truth” will be best seen by a reference to the preceding context—
[God had declared that the king of Babylon should invade Judea, and take all the wealth of Hezekiah for a prey, and carry captive his children, and entirely destroy the whole Jewish polity. But, inasmuch as these judgments should be deferred, Hezekiah, instead of beholding the subjugation and captivity of his children, should have “peace;” and, instead of seeing the abolition of the temple worship, should have “truth” continued to him.]
Now these are the very blessings for which we are peculiarly called to render thanks this day—
[Peace is now happily once more restored: and such a peace as places our country in a state of greater security than it has ever enjoyed since it became a nation — — —
“Truth,” also, with an undisturbed enjoyment of all religious ordinances, is now secured to us. We are no longer in danger of having the temples of our God converted into barracks for a licentious soldiery, or magazines for the implements of war. No longer have we any reason to fear lest a victorious enemy should deprive us of our religious liberty, or a yoke of superstition be imposed upon us as the only worship tolerated in the land. Blessed be God! we enjoy the Gospel in all its purity; and every man throughout the whole land is permitted to serve his God in the way that seems to him to be most agreeable to the Divine commands — — —]
Such blessings being now insured to us, let us consider,
In what light they should be viewed—
The continuance of them to Hezekiah was deemed by him a mercy, a great and undeniable mercy: “Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?” To us then is the possession of them,
A rich mercy—
[How rich a mercy “peace” is, we, who have never had our country the seat of war, are but ill qualified to judge. It is our happiness indeed that we cannot judge of it; since it can only be known by an experience of those calamities which war brings in its train.
Nor can we adequately conceive how much we are indebted to God for the possession of “truth.” To estimate this aright, we should behold all the degrading superstitions of heathen nations, and see what self-tormenting methods they practice for the obtaining of peace with their senseless deities of wood and stone. We should see also how the far greater part of those who call themselves Christians are blinded by ceremonies of man’s invention, and debarred the use of those sacred oracles which are “able to make them wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Some sense, we trust, many of us have of the value of a Saviour, through whom the vilest of sinners find access to God, and obtain all the blessings of grace and glory. But we must go up to heaven and behold the felicity of the Saints made perfect; and go down to hell to behold the miseries of the damned, before we can fully appreciate that Gospel, by which we are quickened from death in trespasses and sins, and are “translated from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.”]
An undeserved mercy—
[Hezekiah felt that he might justly have been deprived of these blessings, and been made to experience in his own person all the calamities which were denounced against him in his posterity. And what was Hezekiah’s fault? It was this: that when the ambassadors came to congratulate him on his recovery from a dangerous illness, he neglected to commend to them the God of Israel, by whom their souls, and the souls of their countrymen, might be saved; and sought rather to aggrandize himself by an ostentatious display of his own wealth and power. Now we are far from wishing to extenuate his guilt: it was doubtless exceeding great: and the pride of his heart merited from God the severest chastisement [Note: 2Ch_32:25-26.]. But what was his guilt compared with ours? We scarcely hear on any occasion the glory of our successes ascribed to God; nor do we find one in a thousand who relies truly and simply on God for a continuance of them: self-glorying, and confidence in an arm of flesh, are the leading features of our whole people; so that we might justly have been left to experience defeats answerable to all our victories. And how is the “truth” improved amongst us? As, on the one hand, there is not a nation under heaven where it shines with purer lustre, so neither, on the other hand, is there a nation under heaven where it is treated with greater contempt. And as to those who profess to value it, how little are its fair and beauteous lineaments visible in their hearts and lives! Well indeed might our mis-improvement of the light have long since provoked God to “take away his candlestick from us:” and it is a most unmerited mercy that “the glorious Gospel of the blessed God” is yet continued to us.]
A mercy that may well reconcile us to all events connected with it—
[We are not to suppose that Hezekiah was indifferent about the welfare of his posterity: it was nothing but his sense of the greatness of the mercy vouchsafed to him, that led him to acquiesce so meekly in the sentence as it was denounced against him. The prospect of the calamities that would come on his posterity was doubtless a source of bitter anguish to his mind: but it was a great matter that he had obtained a respite, and that the judgment was not inflicted instantly upon him. This favour therefore he acknowledged as a mercy, which might well compose and tranquillize his mind.
Now it is certain that the blessings which we enjoy are far from coming without alloy. They will, it is to be feared, prove in the issue a source of misery to many. The peace, which leads to the disbanding of so many thousand troops, will leave multitudes in a state unfavourable to their best interests. Many will find it difficult to return to the employment of honest industry; yea perhaps may find it difficult even to get employment: and many who in the scenes of war have been accustomed to blood and pillage may bring home with them a disposition to exercise amongst their brethren the same evil habits which they deemed allowable amongst their enemies: and thus our domestic security may be invaded, and the perpetrators of these crimes be subjected to an untimely death by the hands of the public executioner. This is an evil felt at the termination of every war: yet must it by no means indispose us to acknowledge the blessings of peace.
The very truth of God also, even the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, brings on many, through their rejection of it, an heavier condemnation. Good would it have been for many, if they had never heard the Gospel; yea good, if Jesus Christ had never come into the world to save our ruined race. It was declared at the very time that he did come, that “he was set for the fall, as well as for the rising again, of many in Israel [Note: Luk_2:34.]” and that, though he should be “a sanctuary to some, he should prove to others a stumbling stone and a rock offence [Note: Isa_8:14.].Thus does the Gospel itself, that greatest gift of God to mankind, “become to some a savour of life unto life, but to others a savour of death unto death [Note: 2Co_2:16.].” Still however we must not suffer these things to diminish our value for the Gospel. If some abuse their food to intemperance, we must not therefore be unthankful for our food: nor if men abuse the Gospel, must we impute it to any defect in the Gospel, but to the depravity of their own hearts, which turns the blessing into a curse. We say then, that whatever evils may, by accident, be connected with the blessings we have received, even though those evils should fall upon our own children, it becomes us to adore and magnify our God that those blessings are not withheld from us, but that we are privileged to possess them in our days.]
A mercy which should be gratefully and diligently improved—
[A state of peace, and a quiet enjoyment of Gospel ordinances, is extremely favourable for the attainment of vital godliness. So it proved to the Christian Church in its infant state [Note: Act_9:31.]; and so it will be to us. Do we ask, In what way we should improve the present occasion? We answer, In the way that David and Solomon improved their circumstances, when God had favoured them with the blessings which are now conferred on us. David bethought him, What can I do for God? I will build him an house that shall be worthy of his divine Majesty [Note: 2Sa_7:1-2.]. Solomon also adopted precisely the same resolution under the same circumstances [Note: 1Ki_5:4-5.]. The same holy zeal should now inflame our hearts. We are not indeed called to build for the Lord an house of wood and stone, but a house of “living stones,” that shall be “an habitation of God through the Spirit” to all eternity. O see what myriads of stones there are lying in the quarry of corrupt nature, that through your instrumentality may be formed and fashioned to build the temple of the Lord. Look at the blind obdurate sons of Abraham, and see what may be done to bring them to the knowledge of that Saviour whom they have crucified. Look at the Gentile world, all lying in darkness and the shadow of death; and see what may be done for the enlightening of their minds, and for the saving of their souls alive. To employ our time, and property, and talents according as God shall give us opportunity, in such works, will be the best return that we can make to God for the light and peace that we enjoy: and, if we exert ourselves diligently in these labours of love, verily we shall have reason to all eternity to say, “Was it not good, that peace and truth were in our days?”]