As for the rest of the acts of Azariah, along with all his accomplishments, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?
that dangerous compromise of which Amaziah, his father, had been guilty, of permitting the high places to remain. But still he worshipped the true God. He sought God's help and guidance. He honored God's prophet. Moreover, he used his power well, not as a tyrant, but for the good of his people and for the prosperity and strengthening of the nation. And God prospered him in his efforts, as he will prosper all those who seek his help and blessing (2 Chronicles 26:5-15). But in an evil hour Uzziah (he is also called Azariah in this chapter) forgot that, though he was a king, he owed allegiance to a greater King. His prosperity turned his head. He forgot how much he owed to God. There was an old command of God, given after the rebellion of Korah and his sons, that none but the sons of Aaron - the priestly family - were to offer incense before the Lord. The obvious lesson was that special fitness, special holiness, was required of those who would stand as representatives of the people before God. But Uzziah disregards both the letter and the spirit of the command. He - poor weak mortal! - dares to defy the living God, and enters into the sanctuary to burn incense. It is another case of compromise and its consequences. He had been so accustomed to the violation of God's command in the matter of the high places, that now he thinks very little of this flagrant act of high-handed defiance. The priests remonstrated, but in vain. The proud king seizes the censer, and thrusts the priests aside with gestures of impatience and anger. But stay! What means that growing whiteness in his forehead? Ah! the symptoms are too well known. The hand of God is upon him. He is a leper. The censer falls from his hand. He can resist no longer. The priests thrust him forth from the holy place, and beyond the very precincts of the temple. Henceforth he is a king and yet an outcast, separated and secluded from the haunts and enjoyments of men (see 2 Chronicles 26:16-21).
I. PROSPERITY AND ITS UPWARD PATH. For a long time the career of Uzziah was an upward path. His motto would seem to have been, as the motto of every young person, of every one of us, ought to be, "Excelsior!" There were three elements in his progress, three sources of his prosperity, three steps in his upward path. Along these three steps every one of us may fairly and with advantage follow Uzziah.
1. First of all, there was the fear of God. As a young man, unquestionably he had the fear of God before his eyes. We read of him in 2 Chronicles that "he sought the Lord." This implies that he honored God's worship. He honored God's house. He honored God's Word, and sought guidance from the Divine Law. And what was the consequence? Just what the consequence of a God-fearing life will always be. "As long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper." It is so still. God keeps his word. He has never yet broken that promise, "Them that honor me I will honor." This was the starting-point in Uzziah's prosperity, and, so long as he prospered, the secret of it was that he sought the Lord. Godliness is the best foundation of all true and lasting prosperity. Men like the late Samuel Morley, or the late Sir William McArthur, were not less successful because they were God-fearing men, and their business did not suffer because of the large amount of time and attention and money they devoted to religious work. To seek God's guidance in everything, God's blessing on every undertaking and every event of life - that is the secret of true prosperity and success.
2. The second step in Uzziah's prosperity was a good man's influence. We read in 2 Chronicles that "he sought the Lord in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God." While the Word of God and our own conscience are to be our chief guides, there are many details and plans of daily life in which we shall be greatly the better for the experience and advice of others. To what kind of men do you go for your advice or guidance? Go by all means to those who have best experience of the business or subject in question. But if you are to choose between the advice of a practical Christian man and that of a practical worldly man, surely for a Christian the Christian man's advice will carry most weight. Some one has well said, "You can never rise above the level of your companionship." Cultivate the society, seek the advice, look for the sympathy, of good men and good women.
3. The third step in Uzziah's prosperity was his diligence in business. Uzziah was no idler. He realized the responsibility of life. He realized the responsibilities of his high position. So we find him improving the defenses of Jerusalem and building towers; improving also the condition of the country and digging wells, so useful to the traveler and the husbandman in the East; and, as it was a time of warfare, providing suitable equipments for his soldiers, and encouraging new inventions of military engines and weapons. No success is won without hard work. Whatsoever our hand findeth to do, we should do it with our might. By these three methods, then, Uzziah attained to great prosperity. "He was marvelously helped, till he was strong," are the words of the writer in 2 Chronicles. His name and fame became well known. If you want to attain to prosperity and success in your business - and it is a desirable thing to see wealth, honorably earned and wisely spent, in the hands of Christian men - then, with the strong arm of a vigorous resolution, cut these three steps in your upward path, and plant your feet firmly in them - the fear of God, the influence of good men, and diligence in business. This is prosperity and its upward path. But we have reached the summit of Uzziah's career. Hitherto all has been progress upward. Hitherto all has been bright as the path of the just. But the scene changes. The shadows gather. The footsteps that pointed upwards now are turned downwards. We must look now at the other side of the picture, at -
II. PROSPERITY AND ITS DOWNWARD PATH. We may gain prosperity by rightful means, but sometimes the difficulty is to keep our prosperity and our religion at the same time. Riches bring with them their own temptations and dangers. We see in Uzziah's case the way to prosperity, which we should follow; we also see the dangers of prosperity, which we should avoid.
1. Prosperity leads to pride. We read of Uzziah in 2 Chronicles: "But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction." He became filled up with ideas of his own importance, and, instead of giving God the glory, reflected with complacency on all the great deeds that he had done, and all the benefits he had conferred upon the nation. When he was younger, and in the beginning of his career, he was humbler. He was very glad then to seek God's guidance, to have the help and influence of Zechariah. But now he has got beyond all that. His whole character is completely changed.
"For lowliness is young ambition's ladder, 2. Prosperity leads to presumption. It is a step further than pride. Uzziah's pride was bad enough, but when it led him to trample on the Law of God and to violate the sacredness of God's holy place, his presumption was a bad example to others. Yet how many there are whose prosperity or whose wealth leads them to violate the laws of God! They think anything becomes them. They have become inflated with success, and the Law of God is a very small matter indeed in their eyes. Look at Claverhouse, inflated with his triumphs over the Scottish Covenanters, as with his dragoons he surrounded the cottage of John Brown of Priesthill. Touched by the prayers of John Brown, and the sight of his wife and helpless children gathered round him, the dragoons, with moistened eyes, refused to do their deadly work. Snatching a pistol from his belt, Claverhouse himself shot the good man through the head. Turning to the wife whom he had widowed, he said, "What do you think of your husband now?" "I always thought much of him, sir," replied the brave woman; "but never so much as I do this day. But how are you to answer for this morning's work? To men," he replied, "I can be answerable, and as for God, I will take him in my own hands." Four years afterwards, in the Pass of Killiecrankie, Claverhouse died by an unknown hand. How many think as Claverhouse did! Because they have rank, or wealth, or power, there- fore they imagine they can trample on God's laws, or trample on morality. Napoleon the Great thought that when he divorced his innocent and faithful wife; and be afterwards testified that that false and guilty step was the beginning of his downfall and disgrace. Because, by their wealth or their position, men think they can defy public opinion, therefore they imagine they can also disregard the commands of God. But it is a great mistake. No prosperity, no riches, no position in life, can ever lift us above the Law of God. "In the corrupted currents of this world,
2. Prosperity leads to presumption. It is a step further than pride. Uzziah's pride was bad enough, but when it led him to trample on the Law of God and to violate the sacredness of God's holy place, his presumption was a bad example to others. Yet how many there are whose prosperity or whose wealth leads them to violate the laws of God! They think anything becomes them. They have become inflated with success, and the Law of God is a very small matter indeed in their eyes. Look at Claverhouse, inflated with his triumphs over the Scottish Covenanters, as with his dragoons he surrounded the cottage of John Brown of Priesthill. Touched by the prayers of John Brown, and the sight of his wife and helpless children gathered round him, the dragoons, with moistened eyes, refused to do their deadly work. Snatching a pistol from his belt, Claverhouse himself shot the good man through the head. Turning to the wife whom he had widowed, he said, "What do you think of your husband now?" "I always thought much of him, sir," replied the brave woman; "but never so much as I do this day. But how are you to answer for this morning's work? To men," he replied, "I can be answerable, and as for God, I will take him in my own hands." Four years afterwards, in the Pass of Killiecrankie, Claverhouse died by an unknown hand. How many think as Claverhouse did! Because they have rank, or wealth, or power, there- fore they imagine they can trample on God's laws, or trample on morality. Napoleon the Great thought that when he divorced his innocent and faithful wife; and be afterwards testified that that false and guilty step was the beginning of his downfall and disgrace. Because, by their wealth or their position, men think they can defy public opinion, therefore they imagine they can also disregard the commands of God. But it is a great mistake. No prosperity, no riches, no position in life, can ever lift us above the Law of God.
"In the corrupted currents of this world,
And the Lord smote the King.1. The character and conduct of King Uzziah are very full of instruction. His life was marked by one fault, and by one signal act of punishment from God. His fault was the offering sacrifice, that which only the priest might do; and his punishment a leprosy, inflicted on him by the word of a priest on his persevering in his fault. This is the more remarkable as he is on the whole described as a good character. One notable circumstance is, that in the Book of Kings he goes by the name of Azariah, and is there also described as a good king, and all that we are told is that he died a leper, having dwelt in a several house until the day of his death. He made constant reference to Zachariah the prophet, and we are told, as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper. He made war on Philistia, and prospered. Again, we are told that God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabians. Having come back, he built towers in the desert, and he had much cattle. It appears that in his campaigns he won a high name for courage. He transgressed against God by going into the temple and offering incense on the altar. The priest went in after him with fourscore other priests — all valiant men; and they withstood Uzziah, saying, "It appertaineth not to thee, O Uzziah, to burn it." Uzziah, having a censer in his hand, was wroth; and while angry, holding the censer in his hand, the leprosy rose up into his forehead, and the priests thrust him forcibly out; and he himself hasted to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.
2. It seems clear that Uzziah was a man whose life throughout, until the finishing act of it, was in conformity to God's will, and blessed with God's mercy. That crowning act of his life — the offering the incense, we are told, was the result of a presumptuous spirit brought on by the success of his life. But while this cause is assigned for the fault, and the fault is mentioned to explain the punishment in the Book of Chronicles, in the Book of Kings the punishment only is mentioned; and we are simply told that the Lord smote the king till he was a leper; and that he dwelt in a several house; so that any one reading the account in this book, without referring to Chronicles, would be in the dark as to the motive of the Almighty in afflicting the king. We must refer to one portion of God's counsels to understand the other. The light shed from one page of His will, will irradiate and explain that which hitherto may have appeared to be obscure; and how often is this the case in daily life!
3. And this leads us to consider that particular form of sin in King Uzziah which called out the vengeance of God, and which developed itself into so singular an act, and one, at first sight, so little in keeping with the former portions of his life. His early career was one of a good and religious man, blessed by God with prosperity on that account. Trusting to his success as a sign not only of God's favour, but of his own moral security, he became inflated with pride and self-sufficiency, and his temptation was to fall into that very sin, so natural to those who, having once been earnest or sincere in their religion, have by degrees familiarised themselves with it; so that they think they may play with it as a bauble, or use its influence to serve their own ends, and, like Uzziah, thrust themselves into the very office of the priest, by a profane and irreverent handling of holy things. This familiarity with the things of religion is the natural result of that precocity of spiritual knowledge which belongs to many. It ends in more than one false condition of mind. Familiarity itself quickly shades off into irreverence, pride and self-sufficiency, and independence of those means of grace and elevated helps to the religious life which are so inseparably mixed up with the life of the earnest Christian. Into these faults Uzziah fell. A disposition of independence, which his seems to have been, would naturally lead him to think very much for himself in things religious; and thinking for himself would naturally lead him to too subjective a view of religion generally.
4. There are many forms which this particular error takes that come before our eye — familiarity with holy things and holy names, which look upon reserve with the same eye as they look on hypocrisy, and on reverence with the same feeling with which they regard superstition. Many sad conditions result from this so great a familiarity of treatment of the external objects of religion, that, by degrees, such men lose sight of objective religion altogether, and blend it into themselves. In the realms of faith, where the shadowy forms which pass before the mind's eye are matters of apprehension more to the mind than to the sense, there is ever a danger of our ignoring the separate existence of those forms, making them after all but the idols of our own creation. The attitude necessary towards those objects is one of reverence and reserved delicacy. The forms of the unseen world are in themselves to our eye infinitely fine; the rude touch, the over-curious gaze, may dissipate them as far as our perception of them goes. So that some have dealt with the Second blessed Person of the Trinity, till they have denied His Divinity, and with the Holy Spirit until they have denied His Personality. With an unauthorised touch they have entered the holiest place, and dared to intrude upon scenes for which they have neither warrant nor commission. Another end in which this kind of spirit results is, very naturally, pride and self-sufficiency. In proportion as we melt off the outlines of the objects of our creed, we lower our estimation of them; and in proportion as they are made parts only of our own interior self, we by degrees find nothing on which we can place reliance, save on our own opinion or personal energy. It is to this condition of mind that our familiarity with religious subjects will judicially bring us, and those whose intentions were best, may in this life have to bewail Uzziah's end.
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