The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars out of all Judah and Benjamin, in Ephraim also and Manasseh, until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned, every man to his possession, into their own cities.2 Chronicles 31
"Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars out of all Judah and Benjamin, in Ephraim also and Manasseh, until they had utterly destroyed them all" (2Chronicles 31:1).
The Prosperity of Hezekiah
THIS enthusiasm is well balanced. It prayed well, struck well; it was noble in homage, it is majestic in assault. It does not strike with a feeble hand, as if reluctantly or doubtingly. Mark the word "utterly." It is for want of that word that so many men have failed. Many men have cut off the heads of weeds. Any man can do that. The weed is in the root, and the root is not straight down in the earth, so that it can be taken out easily; after a certain depth it ramifies, and care must be taken that we get out every fibre and filament, and having got it out turn it upside down, and let the sun do the rest. A man has undertaken to abstain from some evil pursuit for a month: he has clipped off the top of the weed and looks just as well as anybody else; but he is not; he has still the root in him, and that must be taken out, though he be half murdered in the process. What advantageth it any man that he should gain the whole world and lose himself? What if God makes me a present of the sun if I have no hands to take it?—I have lost myself! This word "utterly," then, must be brought into the speech, or the eloquence is imperfect; it is not only rhetorically incomplete, it is morally without balance and dignity and force. Sometimes we need a redundance of words in order to explain our whole meaning. The sentence would have read well without the word "utterly"; the word "destroyed" would seem not to require any qualification; but man is more than a grammarian, he is a sinner; and if every word in every language that can mean limitation, purification, discipline, destruction, be not applied to him, he will find out where that word is wanting, and go from it into his old habits. Every man who knows himself knows that he needs to be guarded, braced up, watched, fortified at every point, even at the risk of being a little rhetorically redundant For want of an epithet a sentence may appear to be so thin that the sinner can break through the cordon and get back to his evil ways.
This, then, is what we have to do. We must also move by the same logic. To utterly destroy an idol first, even were it possible, would not be lasting. What must come first in the order of time? Religious enthusiasm, religious conviction; deep, intense spiritual fellowship with God; a look into heaven; vital sympathy with the cross; a purification of hand, and lip, and tongue, and body, soul, spirit, by the passover, rightly eaten; and then what giants will go forth with axes of lightning to smite pillar and asherah and idol and every vain thing. Men cannot strike finally if they act only as reformers. Reform is an active word, and is to be regarded with great favour, and is the only word that is permissible under some circumstances; but the greater word is regeneration. Reform that does not point to regeneration is a waxen flower that will melt when the sun is well up in the heavens. It is not in man to regenerate therefore; this is the mystery of God's action in the soul. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost." When the man is new the action will be new. The great process docs not begin with the action, but with the soul. Make the tree good, then the fruit will be good. Do not take beautifully moulded fruit, tinted with a fine cunning mimicry of nature, and tie it with silken threads to the branches. It is a lie! presently the sun will come and look upon it and say, "Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?" Are we rooted in God?
If this view of things required confirmation we should find it in another verse of the narrative. The explanation of Hezekiah's enthusiasm and success we find in 2Chronicles 31:21—
"And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered." (2Chronicles 31:21).
Heartless piety is the worst form of infidelity. Have hope of every energetic infidel; but have no hope of heartless professors of Christianity. They are dead. They know the right, they acknowledge it, they nod assent to its claims; but they are never moved to passion of homage or passion of praise by a due and comprehensive recognition of the mystery of the cross. Nearly all churches are dying out. "Respectability" is killing them. The word of the Lord cannot thrive on intellectual patronage; because there is no deepness of earth it soon withers way. The Church will die a respectable death unless it draw its life from the heart. Everything is dependent upon the condition of the moral emotions, the moral aspirations of mankind. Who that has seen the summer sun would think of turning aside to see a newly-lighted candle? A sense of contempt would be immediate, and as definite as it would be intelligible. So he who has seen Christ—really seen him, transfigured; he who has, so to say, caught Christ at unawares by waking up suddenly in the midst of the nighttime and seeing him, would never care to come downhill again, or speak to crowned king or mighty man who dies as he boasts his might. When the heart has been once filled with the Son of God, and thrilled by the consciousness of his presence, carried away by the enthusiasm of his love, everything looks small and mean and unworthy; the jingle of gold is harshness, the flutter of beauty is but the palpitation of weakness, the charm of art is but a trick of necromancy. There is no life but in Christ, no joy but in Christ, no hope but in Christ; he is all our salvation and all our desire.
Is Hezekiah to stand before New Testament saints in this matter? We cannot create enthusiasm by any mechanical arrangements. It is impossible to organise a revival that is worth the process through which it passes. We cannot make flowers and plant them; we must wait for their coming up at the bidding of the sun. Simulation means weakness. But in our hatred of hypocrisy we need not be afraid of the passion of enthusiasm. Some people do reason thus, and reason viciously. They are afraid of making too much profession; they are afraid of being demonstrative in piety, because they have seen so many demonstrative persons come to humiliation and shame. The reasoning is neither exact, generous, nor pious; especially is it not godly, because it ignores the action of the Divine Spirit in the creation and sustenance of true enthusiasm. Any passion we can excite will die, leaving behind it nothing but coldness, and a memory, it may be, of the abjectest humiliation. We are speaking of divinely created enthusiasm, passion that expresses itself in the whole life because the organ of the soul is touched by the fingers of God. When the organ keys are touched by the mysterious fingers of sympathy and all manner of masonry, and yet they yield no sound, what say you? You say, This is a mimic organ; this is a lie! But if when so touched every key responds and the whole instrument is alive with answering love, then you say, This is not the organ only but the player; the organ was silent until these skilled fingers touched it: oh that this magician would continue his magic! for every sound ennobles and enlarges and gladdens the life of the listener. This is the enthusiasm for which we are pleading. True, there have been hypocritical imitations; but they must go only for what they are worth, and they must not be allowed to intrude upon right values and right actions. What should we say to this man? His speech is clear enough, and runs thus—I cannot take the money, because there is a good deal of counterfeit coin in the world. How should we really estimate that man? should we not say, how can there be any counterfeit coin in the world if there is no good coin? Precisely so. When a man says, "I cannot be enthusiastic in piety, because I have seen a good many enthusiastic individuals whose profession has turned out to be a lie," do not blame the enthusiasm; their very hypocrisy is a tribute to the truth; they found it worth their while to be hypocrites; it was a living for them; it was a card that gave them admission to respectable circles; without that hypocrisy no man would have spoken to them whose word was worth listening to. Hypocrisy is a tribute to sincerity. He who imitates a good man unconsciously pays a tribute to the goodness of the man whose morality he imitates. On the other hand, there is a quiet enthusiasm. All men do not express themselves in the same language, with the same fervour, with the same sacred frenzy. There is some enthusiasm so quiet that we are not aware of its existence; the children at home are not aware of it; those who are associated with such enthusiasts in the companionship of life are wholly unaware of the existence of the enthusiasm; the Church is unaware of it; the only man who is aware of it is the man himself, and when it becomes thus confined to his consciousness, what wonder if the world should begin to feel some suspicion of its existence? Every man is not an enthusiast simply because he is quiet; ingratitude can be silent; want of appreciation need never enter into demonstration of neglect, indifference, or hostility. The only thing we ought to aim at is true, genuine consecration, seeking our work, and doing it with all our heart.
What came after this? "Prosperity." Hezekiah "prospered"; wherever he walked flowers sprang up in his footprints; every thought was followed by a miracle of realised love. God walks with the good man. God rewards enthusiasm. We do not throw our divinely-inspired passion away to a cold selfish world; our passion may appear to be frenzy, enthusiasm, insanity, but the reply is before us, we can return it, and if we can return it with a sound heart blessed are we, for then we can say, with moral emphasis, If we be beside ourselves, it is unto God. May we understand what it is to eat the passover, and having eaten it to rise with moral dignity, that we may smite every unholy thing, and go about our whole business with a united heart, expecting the blessing of God which created the enthusiasm daily to sustain its holy fury. Then shall the world know that there are Christians in it, spiritually-minded men; men whose citizenship is in heaven; men whose whole life is kindled by a great expectation, being nothing short of the descent of the Lord from heaven, in what form soever it may please that Lord to come.
Almighty God, them hast come unto us in the person of thy Son. We cannot see thyself, but we can see Jesus Christ, Son of man, Son of God; we can hear his voice, and feel the power of his words, and answer the tenderness of his appeal. We come to the incarnate God, to the everlasting word, to the mystery of godliness; we need it all, we can receive it all; we become larger as we gaze upon it: this is the mystery of our constitution, which thou thyself hast created, and by which thou dost prove to us that we are made in the image and likeness of God. We bless thee for all religious aspirations and desires, and for all impulses that compel us to look above for satisfaction; these are the creations of God, these are the miracles of grace. The dust cannot satisfy us; we have drunk the rivers dry, and our thirst still burns; we must drink of the river of God, which is full of water. Only life's river can satisfy our burning thirst. Herein, too, we see that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and to God we must go in daily prayer, and constant love, and heightening expectation. Give us bread in thy house, and in thy house give us water to drink; open our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of thy law; purify our tongue than no unclean word may escape our lips, and grant unto us that simplicity of heart, that loftiness of purpose and of motive, which can only be created and directed by God the Holy Ghost. Dry all our tears; help us to carry our burdens with the dignity of patience, and may we always look to the Strong for strength, and not mock ourselves by calling upon our own weakness. We pray at the cross, we tarry at the cross; at the cross thou wilt find us, at the cross thou wilt answer us. Amen.