He removed the high places, shattered the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He also demolished the bronze serpent called Nehushtan that Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had burned incense to it.
he trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him" (ver. 5). What was the consequence? Just what the consequence will be to all who put their trust in the Lord and walk in his ways: "The Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth."
I. TRUST IN GOD LEADS TO PERSONAL RELIGION. Hezekiah's faith in God was not a mere idle profession. It did not consist in the mere belief of certain historical facts. It did not consist in the mere assent to certain doctrinal truths. It did not consist in the mere observance of certain outward forms and ceremonies. It was a real faith. It extended to his whole life. "He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did" (ver. 3). "He clave unto the Lord, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses" (ver. 6). Suck is true religion. Religion is the dedication of the heart and life to God. A man may differ from me in creed, and in the way he worships the same God; but if he loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and serves God in sincerity, he is a truly religious man. "In every nation he that feareth God, and. worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." How expressive and instructive are some of these quaint old phrases! "He clave unto the Lord." Hezekiah set before him one great aim at the commencement of his life, and that was to please God. Whatever it might cost, he made up his mind to keep close to God. It is a grand resolution for the young to make. It is a grand aim to keep before them in life. But Hezekiah had not merely a goal at which he aimed. He had certain well-defined lines along which he reached that goal. He knew that, to please God, he must keep his commandments. He did not set up his own will in opposition to the will of God, king though he was. He did not dispute the wisdom of God's commands. He felt that God knew much better than he did the path of wisdom and of duty. This is one of the best evidences of true faith - of real trust in God. We may not see the reason for a command of God, but let us obey it. A parent will give his child many commands, for which it is quite unnecessary, perhaps undesirable, that the child should know the reason. Obedience based on faith is one of the first principles of life. Here, then, was the beginning of Hezekiah's success in life. It began with the state of his own heart. He trusted in God. That trust in God molded his whole character, and character is the foundation of all that is permanent in life.
II. TRUST IN GOD LEADS TO PRACTICAL EFFORT. Hezekiah very soon showed by his conduct that he was determined to serve God. He did not leave the people long in doubt as to which side he was on. In the very first year of his reign, and in the first month of it, he opened the doors of the temple of the Lord, which his father had closed, and repaired them (2 Chronicles 29:3). As soon as the temple was set in proper order, he caused the priests and the Levites to commence at once the public service of God. Then, in the second month, he issued a proclamation throughout all the land of Israel and Judah, inviting the people to come to Jerusalem to keep the Passover in the house of the Lord. What a festival and time of rejoicing that was! For seven days they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread with great gladness, and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the Lord. Peace offerings were offered; confession of sin was made, not to the priests, but to the Lord God of their fathers; and the presence of the Lord was so manifested among the large congregation, that when the seven days of the Passover were ended, the whole assembly unanimously agreed to keep seven days more. "So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David King of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem" The effect of the service was electrical When the Passover was finished, the people went out to all the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars until they had utterly destroyed them all. In all this work of destroying the symbols of idolatry, Hezekiah the king took a leading part. Even the brazen serpent which Moses had made did not escape the destroying hand. It was an interesting relic of Israel's journeying in the wilderness, and of their wonderful deliverance by God. But it had become a snare to the people. It had become an object of worship to some, as relics and images become to many professing Christians. They worshipped it and burnt incense to it. Hezekiah was not the man to destroy anything that was a help to true devotion. He encouraged the Levites to use the trumpets, the harp, and the psaltery, to stir up and stimulate the singing of the congregation, and to render to God a hearty and glorious service of praise. But he saw that the brazen serpent had become an idol in itself, and was leading the thoughts of the people away from the true Object of worship. So be broke it in pieces. All honor to the determined reformer, who destroyed everything that had become dishonoring to God! All honor to those stern reformers who from time to time have broken in pieces the symbols of idolatry in the Church of Christ! Would that in the Church of Rome today some such reformer would arise, who would denounce and overthrow its image-worship and Mariolatry! Such was the work of reformation which Hezekiah accomplished among his people. It shows how God honors those who are determined to serve him, and how he blesses immediate and decided action. Hezekiah might well have hesitated in this work. The whole country was given over to idolatry. He might have dreaded a rebellion. In some parts of the country he got little sympathy in his efforts to restore the ancient religion. When the messengers inviting the people to the Passover passed through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh and. Zebulon, the people there laughed them to scorn and mocked them. Such manifestations of popular feeling might have caused Hezekiah to falter in his decision. He might have thought that he would introduce his reforms gradually. But no! the idolatry was wrong, and it must be put down at once. The worship of the true God was right, and it must at once be resumed, Hezekiah was right. Had he waited, had he begun his reign by tolerating idolatry for a while, he would have found it much harder to overthrow afterwards. Is there not here a lesson for us all? If you see the right loath clearly pointed out to you, resolve to walk in it, though all men should be against you. Remember the brave words of Athanasius. He was mocked at for his zeal for the truth. Some one said to him, "Athanasius, all the world is against you; ' then said he, "Athanasius is against the world." Follow the light of conscience and of duty. What matter though you may incur danger or worldly loss by so doing?
"And because right is right, to follow right III. TRUST IN GOD LEADS TO SUCCESS IN LIFE. "And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth" (ver. 7). He was victorious over his enemies. He threw off the yoke of the King of Assyria, and drove back the Philistines, who had made great inroads during the previous reign. When the people honored God, their God honored them and gave them victories over their enemies. As a reward of Hezekiah's faith and faithfulness, God gave him much riches and honor. Hezekiah had trusted God at the beginning of his reign. He had done God's will, though he did not know what it might cost him, and before he was established on the throne. And God did not disappoint his trust, but made him greater and more honored than all the kings of Judah before or after his time. Even in a temporal point of view, no one ever loses by trusting God and doing what is right. Christ promises that every one who is willing to give up every earthly possession for his sake will receive an hundredfold more in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting. We saw, above, the dangers of prosperity. Hezekiah's career shows us what is the safeguard of prosperity. "The Lord was with him." Where that can be said, there is no danger in prosperity. In the godless man, prosperity is often a curse. It hardens his heart. He thinks that he is rich and increased in goods and has need of nothing. But the prosperity of the Christian may be a great blessing to himself and others. Take with you into your business, into your social relations, into every plan you make and every work you undertake, the presence of God, the fear of God, the commandments of God; and then there will be no fear of your success. Trust in the Lord. Put your eternal interests into the hands of Jesus. He is worthy of your trust. They that trust themselves to him shall never perish. Trust in the Lord, that it may lead you to personal religion, to practical effort, to success in life. "Set thou thy trust upon the Lord.
III. TRUST IN GOD LEADS TO SUCCESS IN LIFE. "And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth" (ver. 7). He was victorious over his enemies. He threw off the yoke of the King of Assyria, and drove back the Philistines, who had made great inroads during the previous reign. When the people honored God, their God honored them and gave them victories over their enemies. As a reward of Hezekiah's faith and faithfulness, God gave him much riches and honor. Hezekiah had trusted God at the beginning of his reign. He had done God's will, though he did not know what it might cost him, and before he was established on the throne. And God did not disappoint his trust, but made him greater and more honored than all the kings of Judah before or after his time. Even in a temporal point of view, no one ever loses by trusting God and doing what is right. Christ promises that every one who is willing to give up every earthly possession for his sake will receive an hundredfold more in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting. We saw, above, the dangers of prosperity. Hezekiah's career shows us what is the safeguard of prosperity. "The Lord was with him." Where that can be said, there is no danger in prosperity. In the godless man, prosperity is often a curse. It hardens his heart. He thinks that he is rich and increased in goods and has need of nothing. But the prosperity of the Christian may be a great blessing to himself and others. Take with you into your business, into your social relations, into every plan you make and every work you undertake, the presence of God, the fear of God, the commandments of God; and then there will be no fear of your success. Trust in the Lord. Put your eternal interests into the hands of Jesus. He is worthy of your trust. They that trust themselves to him shall never perish. Trust in the Lord, that it may lead you to personal religion, to practical effort, to success in life.
"Set thou thy trust upon the Lord.
He removed the high places, and brake the images.
I. WE HAVE MUCH IDOL-BREAKING FOR CHRISTIANS TO DO. There is much to be done in the Church of God, there is much more to be done in our own hearts.
1. There is much idol-breaking to be done in the Church of God. When God gives a man to the Church, fitted for her enlargement, for her establishment, and her confirmation, he gives to her one of the richest blessings of the covenant of grace; but the danger is lest we place the man in the wrong position, and look to him not only with the respect which is due to him as God's ambassador, but with some degree of — I must call it so — superstitious reliance upon his authority and ability. In the Christian Church there is, I am afraid, at this moment too much exaltation of talent and dependence upon education, I mean especially in reference to ministers. Just the same also may be said of human eloquence. Continuing still our remarks with regard to the Christian Church, I will further remark that much superstition may require to be broken down amongst us in reference to a rigid adhesion to certain modes of Christian service. We have tried to propagate the truth in a certain way, and the Lord has blessed us in it, and therefore we venerate the mode and the plan, and forget that the Holy Spirit is a free Spirit. There are persons in our churches who object very seriously to any attempt to do good in a way which they have not seen tried before.
2. Now let us turn to the temple of our own hearts, and we shall find much work to be done there.
II. THOSE WHO ARE SEEKERS OF JESUS. There is some idol-breaking to be done for them. I pray God the Holy Spirit to do it. The way of salvation lies in coming to Christ, in trusting in Jesus Christ alone.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
(J. Parker, D. D.).
I. THEN HEZEKIAH HAD THE SEEING EYE. Let us mark that as a primary quality, essential both to Hezekiah and all else who seek to free the people from slavish or debasing customs. He saw clearly that what they accounted a god, and worshipped as such, was only a lifeless, senseless piece of brass — that, and nothing more. This quality lifted the king an immeasurable distance above the people. They did more than treasure it as a precious relic, a memento of Divine compassion in a case of pressing need, or hand it down from sire to son as an heirloom of priceless worth because of its associations and teaching — "they burned incense to it." So to-day, if a man would be a reformer, and stand out as a hero for the truth, he must have this essential quality — broad and sweeping vision. He must be able to see things in their true nature and tendency, to see correctly and beneath the surface of things. Men look at things in different ways, and many from peculiar standpoints. Some, for instance, never bring the object of vision near, but contemplate it as through an inverted telescope, while others look at things through tinted mediums, and all appear of uniform colour; some, again, never see only through another's eye, and are incapable of independent vision; a few are cross-eyed, and all things appear to them in an oblique form; many are purblind, and men appear as trees walling; whilst a few will persist in looking at all things through some distorted medium, which always gives the wrong size, and a false shade of colouring; and others are stone blind to the weightiest things in life, and can see nothing that needs touching, helping, renewing, or reforming. Such men can never be heroes, and do noble work in the people's cause. Others again, from motives of personal interest, love of ease, prejudice, ambition, or blind adherence to party, will wilfully close their eyes; they will not see. And some, though they see clearly enough, yet are so politic, or quiescent, or have become such slaves to popular opinion and usage, that they will not, or, what is worse, dare not, declare the vision. See the next rare quality Hezekiah displayed in this transaction.
II. HE WAS OUTSPOKEN. "NEHUSHTAN" — A PIECE OF BRASS. What a hard name to give to a god! and what a frank and fearless honesty is here displayed! Might he not have toned it down a little, and led them to the truth by degrees? "Nehushtan" tells it all, fully, clearly, so at that it must stand. There were some very polite people in that day who felt themselves shocked, and their feelings outraged by hearing their darling god called a name so base. To-day, in some of the high places of the land, when men venture upon what has come to be regarded as an unfashionable and undesirable thing — calling things by their right names — what pious horror! And what bitter invectives and scathing denunciations are hurled against the poor delinquent who dares to use such speech! And yet, for all this, we might not have far to seek to-day, and in the Church even, for things quite as senseless as this serpent of brass — nay, worse, because devoid of its precious memories and suggestive teachings, and yet held with as firm a faith and regarded with as profound a reverence. Two or three thoughts are suggested by this plain speaking of Hezekiah we shall do well to observe.
1. Here is honest candour. You will remember some passages in the life of Luther not unlike the one under consideration. Take that historic circumstance of the hawking through Germany of the famous certificate of indulgence by Tetzel. Very wide and expressive that indulgence, promising to remit the pains and penalties of purgatory, and grant to the purchaser an easy access to paradise; an indulgence, too, that not only atoned for the past, but provided for the future, by shifting from the culprit all the penal consequences of sin, and granting a paradise to the most depraved — if only money enough should be handed over for the sacred paper. All this the Pope guaranteed in the parchment, in virtue of the power given to him as God's vicegerent on earth. How Luther met this infamous pretence all the world knows. As Hezekiah looked upon the serpent-god, and found for it a name, so Luther at once saw through the whole trick of this monstrous paper, and, holding it up before the world, brands it as the "Pope's emparchmented lie."
2. That this announcement of Hezekiah's assailed an established article of Jewish faith, and overturned an ancient rite. That serpent-god was blended with their religious life. Their fathers had worshipped it down through the ages, and for seven centuries it had held a conspicuous place in their services. Was it not now late in the day to call its divinity in question? To a less bold and energetic man, these considerations would have had weight and influence, but not so here. Now it is just here where the work of a reformer becomes most stubborn, and where his valour will be tested most severely. It is not nearly so difficult to set up a new god as to throw down an old one. People are tenacious of old customs. The established order of things is difficult to move, and in time comes to be regarded as existing by Divine right. There is nothing that men are more sensitive about than of matters touching religious usages.
3. This would provoke murmurs and secret opposition, if not open dissent, and render him for the time unpopular among many. His "Nehushtan" would ring in their ears as a most unpleasant sound; the word was very unpalatable, and altogether too degrading. "What a thing to say of so good a god! Only a piece of brass! Why, we and our fathers have burned incense to it all these years, and we have had wise and good men among us who never disputed its claims as a god! Brass only! it cannot be, it is a god notwithstanding his statement!" But Hezekiah is unmoved, nothing daunts or turns him aside from his purpose, it is Nehushtan still, just that, and nothing more. Let them murmur, oppose, reproach; let his popularity be jeopardised by throwing him into conflict with priest and leader, all is nothing to him compared with the truth; and here is truth touching the people's highest interests; it will help to lift them to freer, purer regions, and the people must have it at any cost.
III. PROMPT AND ENERGETIC ACTION. He "brake it in pieces." What a thoroughness there is in this determined encounter with popular error. Many can see, and do not hesitate to give things their right names, but stop short of this third and grander step — they raise no smiting hand to break in pieces anal destroy.
1. An act of determined prowess. He brake it. How short the history of the transaction, but how eloquent of meaning! What a wide field of human interest it covers, and how complete is the act! Like a true and trusty knight of lordly chivalry, he smites with unerring aim, and the well-struck blow shivers to atoms the brasen god. He brake it in pieces. Let us mark that. He did not bury it, nor have it removed to some secluded spot, nor content himself by passing a law forbidding the people under pains and penalties to worship it.
2. This was an act of prompt decision. No waiting, or parleying with the enemy; no deferring of the matter to a more opportune time, when the deed might be done with less risk, or with greater ease.
3. Hezekiah had strong faith. Faith in what? Faith in God, faith in the revelation, and faith in the truth. Doubt would have paralysed; faith made him heroic. May the God of Hezekiah anoint our eyes that we may see clearly, and inspire us with a holy courage to speak the vision, and to strike boldly for truth and freedom. One question of supreme importance presses upon us.
1. To what are we burning incense?
2. The subject suggests an admonition. The blessings of the Divine Father should be used, and not abused by us.
(J. T. Higgins.)
And he called it Nehushtan
I. THAT A BLIND VENERATION FOR THE PAST IS ALWAYS AN OBSTACLE IN THE PATH OF PROGRESS. An intelligent regard for the past is, of course, a help and not a hindrance in the direction of all true advance. But a clinging to customs, institutions, modes of thought and worship, and a refusal to surrender them for no other reason than that they have existed for centuries — this is an unintelligent attachment to the past, and has often obstructed progress. Right across the path of Hezekiah, in his endeavours to purify the religious life of Ins people, stood this blind veneration for the brasen serpent. They could have given no intelligent account of their burning incense to this image; only, it had long ago been a medium of healing influence; and as, doubtless, their fathers had burnt incense to it, why should not they? But Hezekiah rose above the superstition which blinded his countrymen. A similar attitude was taken up by Oliver Cromwell against the blind veneration which existed in his day for the institution of monarchy. The doctrine of "the divine right of kings" was then imperilling the liberties of England. We may not, perhaps, justify the execution of Charles; and yet we may feel that the time had come when it was necessary to strike a decisive blow at the root of this superstitious doctrine. Sacred associations might surround the person of the "Lord's anointed"; it might be reckoned "sacrilege " to touch a hair of his head; but Cromwell's resolve was taken, that the liberties of the country should not be sacrificed on the attar of this king-worship; he was sure that (all sacred associations notwithstanding) the king was, after all, just a man like other men. Cromwell had the courage to say "Nehushtan."
II. EVEN THAT WHICH HAS BEEN ORDAINED BY GOD HIMSELF FOR A BLESSING, MAY BE SO MISUSED AS TO BECOME A CURSE. This brasen serpent was not merely a relic of antiquity. It had originally been made by Divine appointment. By Divine appointment also it had once been the means of saving many lives. And yet this very thing which had been so great a blessing when used as Jehovah had directed, became a curse when it was misused. It is thus that even a God-ordained help may be perverted into a hindrance. Many similar illustrations might be given of this misuse of things Divinely ordained. Art and science, for example, are intended by God to be handmaids of true progress; but the worship of science tends only to materialism, and the worship of beauty tends ultimately to sensuality. The weekly day of rest: that, too, is a gift of God, and fitted to be a source of blessing, But it may be so misused as to become a hindrance rather than a help. It may be spent in an idleness or debauchery, which turns it into a source of weariness or exhaustion. But it may also be misused by being idolised. See how the Pharisees burnt incense to the Sabbath I And this is only a typical instance of the manner in which the Pharisees misused the whole law. That law was appointed by God as a blessing; but by their worship of the mere letter they changed it into, a hindrance. The Bible, again; — what a blessed boon it is — containing, as it does, a revelation of the character and will of God. But the Bible will not bring us all the good which it is fitted to impart, if we begin to worship itself instead of Him whom it reveals. The Bible is to be used — not worshipped.
III. EVERY SYMBOL LOSES ITS SIGNIFICANCE AND VALUE, IN PROPORTION AS IT IS CONVERTED INTO AN IDOL. The significance of a symbol lies in its pointing to something more precious than itself, which it expresses or enshrines. And the practical value of any symbol depends, not only on the importance of that which it symbolises, but also on the extent to which its significance is apprehended and realised. Now, the brasen serpent, when it was lifted up in the wilderness, was not only the means of bodily healing, but also a symbol of spiritual facts. It was a material token of the pitying mercy of God.
1. Every creed is a symbol. It is an attempt to express the truth of God in the words of man. Such words are valuable, only as pointing to that which is more precious than themselves. And a creed or confession of faith — thus regarded and thus used — may prove most helpful to the student of theology, It may put him on his guard against many an error; it may often serve as a finger. post, directing him in the way of truth. But the moment a creed begins to be worshipped, that moment its value is diminished.
2. The sacraments are also symbols. Our simple Christian feast of the Supper is a most expressive emblem of the nourishment and enjoyment which are to be found in our communion with Christ, and with one another in Christ. And the sacrament of Baptism — symbolical of the cleansing power of the Gospel — is a most fitting initiatory rite of the "new covenant." Using these simply as symbols — and looking through them to those spiritual facts to which they point — our faith is strengthened and our spiritual life deepened, But, whenever the sacraments begin to be in any way idolised, they lose much of their significance and value.
3. Finally: the cross is the grandest symbol in all history. Jesus Christ suffering and dying on Calvary: here is an actual event of the past which, by an exercise of the imagination, we can bring before "the mind's eye." But it is not intended that we should rest in the outward circumstances of the Crucifixion. It is God's purpose that we should use the cross as a symbol, not worship it as an idol.
(T. C. Finlayson.)I. FIRST OF ALL, CONSIDER THIS SERPENT OF BRASS AS MADE BY MOSES.
II. CONSIDER THIS SERPENT OF BRASS AS WORSHIPPED BY THE JEWS. We have no mention of it, after the circumstances at which we have briefly glanced, for nearly eight hundred years. We then come upon this passage, in the record of the life of King Hezekiah: "He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan." Though no mention is made of the fact, yet it is evident that the Israelites treasured up this brasen serpent as a sacred memorial or relic, kept it, perhaps, as a monument of God's goodness, to awaken their gratitude, and help them in future troubles to remember His Name. They carried it with them during their subsequent journeyings in the wilderness; and in after times, when they became a settled and great nation, it appears to have been preserved with other memorials of historical and national interest in Jerusalem. The fact that this serpent of brass became an object of worship to the Jews is instructive in two or three ways. It suggests to us the danger attendant on going beyond the Divine command in religious duty. God ordered the serpent to be made, and to be used for the purpose and in the way He named; but, so far as we have any record, He gave no command for its preservation. As it was, the tempts. tion was ever present; and in due time it brought forth sin. Other memorials were preserved — "the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant" — but these were preserved by Divine command. In all religious observances and duties it is wise and safe to keep close to the Word of God. This serpent-worship of the Jews shows us how forms may be abused. In its proper place, and for its proper use, the place and use assigned it by God, this symbol was useful. But when the invention of man stepped in, and began to employ it for another purpose, it became hurtful. In all ages of the Christian Church we see illustrations of the use and misuse, the helpfulness and mischief of forms. The conduct of the Jews in relation to this brasen serpent is also an illustration of the growth and development of evil. Possibly the persons who first began to worship the relic reasoned thus: "Here we have an object made by Divine command. Our fathers were delivered by it from a sore trouble. It represents to us the power and the goodness of our God. Surely we may offer incense to it as the representative of the unseen power and goodness." This, perhaps, was the modified form which their idolatry took in the first instance, before at a later stage it became more gross and positive. This worship of the brasen serpent teaches us yet another lesson we shall do well to remember; that is, the corrupting influence of sinful associations and example. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." "Evil communications corrupt good manners." In the conduct of the Jews we see the influence of their neighbouring nations, the Egyptians and Phoenicians. They were continually imitating the heathen around them, and importing into their midst the various forms of surrounding idolatry.
III. LET US NOW MARK THE DESTRUCTION OF THIS SERPENT OF BRASS BY HEZEKIAH. No sooner was this monarch established on the throne of Judah than he began a great work of national reformation. Idolatry covered the land. Ahaz, his father, was one of the worst kings that had sat upon the throne, and, under his influence, the nation had become utterly corrupt. Hezekiah knew the history of this serpent — how it was made at first by Divine command, and for a most beneficent purpose; and he, no doubt, could appreciate all proper feelings of veneration for so sacred a relic. But he saw the evil use to which the idolatrous tendencies of the nation had put it; and, therefore, without any hesitation, he determined on its destruction. The monarch's conduct furnishes us with an example worthy of imitation. Its principles should be our law in relation to the evils of social and national life. We are surrounded by crying iniquities — iniquities that affect not only individuals, but the life and interests of the nation at large. Instead of sitting down in a spirit of indifference as to the existence and tendencies of prevailing vices, we should resolve, in the strength of God, to seek their destruction.
IV. WE COME, IN THE LAST PLACE, TO CONSIDER THE BRASEN SERPENT AS EMPLOYED IN THE MINISTRY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Nearly fifteen hundred years after it was made by Moses, and seven hundred after it was destroyed by Hezekiah, Christ used it as a theme of instruction. Our Lord here recognises the sinful and lost state of mankind. It was the poisonous bite of the fiery serpent that made the brasen serpent necessary; so it was the ruined character and condition of men that constrained God to appoint Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
(W. Walters.)pieces; and when it could not resent the sacrilege, if sacrilege it was, the people could not but allow that he was right. Among things that are outgrown by men, or that, having served one or two generations well, fail to be of any further use, nothing is more curious and instructive than the popularity and the decline of books. To one age they are like the brasen serpent — channels of life; to another they become almost sacred, and to succeeding ages they are no more than a piece of common brass. In the history of the religious life it is instructive to notice how institutions, missions, and agencies of one kind and another spring up, do their work, die, and pass away. Institutions are created to meet a contemporary need, and as long as the need lasts they should last, but when it is gone they too should go. It is enough either for a man or a thing to serve its own generation; to do that is to do well. But you sometimes see an unwise and unhealthy attempt to prolong the existence and operations of an agency which, having done its work, only serves now to cumber the ground. The important matter is that we should intelligently understand that the Church is a living body; that its forms should suit its life at every stage of development; and that its agencies should be adapted by it to the work it has to do. It is the life that must be held sacred, and not the forms through which it expresses itself and the agencies by which it operates upon the world around.
(J. P. Gledstone.)I. LOOK AT THINGS IN THEIR RIGHT LIGHT. Thus the king acted. He regarded "the brasen serpent" from the true standpoint. Others beheld in it a god; he recognised nothing but brass. To them it was supernatural; to him idolatrous. How true it is that what we are we behold. The scene is in the seer. To no small extent the spectacle is in the spectator. Nothing can be more accurate than the lines of the Poet Laureate —
But any man that walks the mead,
In bud, or blade, or bloom may find,
According as his humours lead,
A meaning suited to his mind.
Cowper puts the same thought in another aspect —
And as the mind is pitch'd, the ear is pleased
With melting airs or martial, brisk or grave;
Some chord in unison with what we hear
Is touched within us.A blacksmith hammers a piece of iron on his anvil "with measured beat and slow." Ordinary people hear in it only an ordinary sound. Not so the great Handel. He listens, and it inspires him with one of the sweetest tunes in existence. The sun is setting, and as it sinks the whole western horizon is irradiated. Let three different men be called to witness it, and what diversified effects it will have on them! The meteorologist sees in those clouds before him signs of the weather, and confirmations of his theories touching certain natural laws. The agriculturist sees in them the premise of a good harvest or warning of a poor one. But the artist sees in them gorgeous tints and graceful forms, which he seeks to impress on his memory that he may reproduce them on the glowing convas.
II. CALL THINGS BY THEIR RIGHT NAMES. Hezekiah did so. He "called it Nehushtan," which means brass. Brass it was, and brass he called it. He spoke of it as he found it. A rare virtue! Thorough honesty of speech is not by any means too common Dr. South preached four fine discourses on The. Fatal Imposture and Force of Words." The title is a sermon in itself. There is, indeed, a "fatal imposture" in some words. They are used to disguise sin and conceal the truth. No wonder that the inspired seer should exclaim, "Woe unto them that call darkness light, and light darkness; that put good for evil, and evil for good." The practice is still a popular one. A prodigal is spoken of as "gay" or "fast." A drunkard is "the worse for liquor." A dishonest tradesman is "unable to meet his engagements." The bad-tempered have "nervous irritability." Notorious gambling is "financiering." An army that lays hold of all that it can pilfer is said to "requisition." An aggressive war is termed the "rectification of frontier." A rude and inquisitive intrusion on the privacy of a distinguished man is "interviewing" him. A silly and wicked duel is "an affair of honour." Slavery is alluded to as "a domestic institution." We repeat it, therefore — call things by their right names. The common, colloquial caution is one which we may well lay to heart. "Mind what you say." It is wise to ask, "Let the words of my mouth be acceptable in Thy sight."
III. GIVE THINGS THEIR RIGHT TREATMENT. When John Knox was remonstrated with for sanctioning the abolition of the monasteries he said, "While the rookeries stand the rooks will return." Hezekiah was evidently of the same opinion. He was not content with condemning "the brazen serpent." He first denounced, then destroyed it. He " brake in pieces." While the idol remained there was danger of a relapse into idolatry. Its preservation could not be beneficial, and might be extremely injurious, therefore he demolished it. His conduct is the more justifiable when we recollect a certain fact. Serpent-worship has, from early times, been a favourite practice in the East. Both Africa and Asia bear witness to it. Whence this singular custom arose it is not altogether easy to say, It is contrary to what might have been antecedently expected. Possibly it grew out of the well-known tendency in human nature to propitiate and coax a power which is felt to be dangerous. Men often fawn on what they fear. Whatever the correct explanation may be, however, there is the indisputable fact of serpent-worship. The writer has himself seen Buddhists present their offerings of money before a hideous image of a cobra di capello, the most poisonous snake in India and Ceylon. The application of Hezekiah's conduct to ourselves is clear enough. We also must be iconoclasts. No idol is to be tolerated by us. What is your idol? To which of the many false gods are you tempted to do homage? Break it in pieces, as the king did the serpent. Let not any person, pursuit, or pleasure come between you and your Maker. Whether your "brasen serpent" be Mammon or friendship, or influence whatsoever it be, banish it from the temple of the soul, "and the King of Glory, shall come in."
(T. R. Stevenson.)i.e. a bit of brass. The principle which lies at the root of this somewhat dating and very decisive act, is this — that no good thing, however good it be, must be allowed to come between our souls and God, to rob Him of His service; that, if anything does so come, a strong hand must be used — if need be, a destructive one — to take it away: or, to put the truth in a more positive form, that whatever means we use for worship or instruction, must not be turned into an end, but must be resolutely and determinedly employed as a means to bring the mind into the presence of God's truth and the heart into communion with Himself. Let us apply our principle to —
I. OUR TREATMENT OF THE BIBLE. Wherein resides its virtue? There is nothing in the words which are employed more sacred than in those which are found in any book of devotion. There is no virtue or charm in the mere sound of the sentences which it contains. If we suppose that we are any better for having a Bible on our shelves, or on our tables, or in our hands, apart from the use we make of it; or if we think that we are any better before God because we go regularly and perhaps slavishly through an allotted portion of it, casting our eyes over it, or uttering in regular sequence the sounds for which the letters stand, whether or not we take its truth into our minds, then are we making the same kind of mistake which the children of Israel made in burning incense to the brasen serpent: we are making an end of that which is only valuable as a means. We are putting our trust in an outward observance, we are "having confidence in the flesh," we are assuring our hearts vainly, mistakenly, dangerously. This principle will apply to —
II. THE EMPLOYMENT OF APPROVED EVANGELICAL PHRASEOLOGY. Much might be said of —
III. OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD THE MINISTRY OF THE GOSPEL. Open to a like abuse is —
IV. OUR PROFESSION OF PERSONAL PIETY. Only too often is this regarded as the attainment of an end, rather than the employment of a means of good. Men are apt, having reached that stage, to settle down into a slumberous state of spiritual complacency, instead of feeling that, by taking this step, they have entered into a wider realm of privilege and opportunity, where their noblest powers may engage in fullest exercise. It becomes a haven of indolent and treacherous security, instead of a sanctuary for intelligent devotion, a field for active Christian work, and thus it is perverted from a blessing to a bane.
(W. Clarkson, B. A.)
I. THAT THE REVERENCE AND AFFECTIONS OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE TOWARDS THE OLD BRASEN SERPENT IS VERY EASILY ACCOUNTED FOR. In those days the people had few instructors, and fewer books. As a nation the Jews were in a state of childhood, scarcely capable of furnishing any materials for history. In such states of society there is a natural and strong clinging to the past. So there was this serpent of brass, which had been preserved from the days of Moses.
II. THAT THE BURNING INCENSE TO THIS SERPENT OF BRASS WAS AN INDICATION OF THE PEOPLE'S FORGETFULNESS OF GOD'S PURPOSE IN ITS PRESERVATION.
III. THAT THIS DESTRUCTION OF THE BRASEN SERPENT DERIVES MUCH OF ITS SIGNIFICANCE FROM THE FACT THAT IT WAS DONE BY HEZEKIAH IN HIS YOUTH. Hezekiah came to the throne at the age of twenty-five; and this appears to have been one of the first acts of his reign. Lessons herein for young men.
1. None but young men know how hard it is to be religious. The other sex are mercifully spared many of man's perils, difficulties, and temptations.
2. On many things young men when they become religious will have to write "Nehushtan": on bad books; bad company; frivolous pursuits; and old associations of evil.
3. Only a high order of principle will enable young men thus to act independently of the world's suffrage.
4. Only the resources of Almighty love and power will carry a religious young man through the perils and temptations of his career. God will always tell young men what Nehushtan to break in pieces, and He will give them strength to do it.
(W. G. Barrett.)I. TRUTH ITSELF NEVER WEARS OUT; BUT ITS DRESS DOES. Carlyle, in his never-to-be-forgotten Sartor Resartus, has shown us how all truth takes to itself some form, or dress, or skin. Life craves manifestation. Truth without a body is powerless. Facts need words to describe them, and make them live and act. It is through the words, or the expression, or the dress or body, that we come to get our ideas of the truth or life these contain. The world itself is but God's thought put into form; the movements of the stars are the expressions of God's delight in the orderly; the flowers, His thoughts of beauty; the waves, the expression of His might and gentleness; music, one of love's voices, the expression of the affections and emotions, as words express reasoning and intellectual processes. Christ Himself is the completest expression in form of the invisible and otherwise unknowable. Truth, thought, spirit, deity we cannot know apart from form. All must clothe themselves before we can recognise them and make them our friends and helpers. The Incarnation of Christ is only the highest expression of a universal series of similar experiences. This being so, it is easy to see how important form, clothing, may be. Mr. Ruskin, "in" the Ethics, boldly says: "You can always stand by form against force. The philosophers say there is as much heat, motion, or energy in a tea-kettle as in a sier-eagle. Very good; it is so. It requires just as much heat as will boil the kettle to take the eagle up to his nest. The kettle has a spout, the eagle a beak. The kettle a lid, and the eagle wings. But the kettle cannot but choose sit on the hob, whilst the eagle can choose to recline on the air, sail over the highest cliffs, and stare with undimmed eye at the full glory of the sun." The eagle's glory is her form; the steam kettle's force. Here we see the beauty and use of form. The truth to be remembered about form is — that it dies, that it is often defective at the best, and that as it grows old it loses its force. The body of the old eagle is not equal to the flights of its youth. Words which are truth's body are at best. often a poor body, an inadequate garment; and words grow old and lose their force.
II. AT TIMES WE NEED GIVE TRUTH A NEW DRESS. The very beauty of some forms is their danger. We love them so much we keep on using them, until familiarity robs them of their full force, and we treat them as we should not — that is, with much less respect and attention than we treat stranger sounds and forms. Splendid words, like grace, glory, blessing, mercy, faith, pardon, come to be tripped so lightly with the tongues and so often, that hundreds never get to know their real meaning at all. Hence it is that dear old tunes and texts may become idols. When we use words in song or in prayer, and only use them because they have been so often used, and are the correct thing, or were the correct thing, to say, then our worship is a farce and a delusion, and the time for a change has come. It is impossible not to know that we all often ask for blessing and grace with no clear definite thought or purpose of what blessing and grace mean or involve; and when we do so, then the words grace and blessing are become as the serpent of brass — a delusion and danger, a mere Nehushtan. God Himself has had regard to this very need in man; and for man's sake He has condescended to use variety in giving and expressing truth.
III. This need of realness leads me to observe THAT WE ARE PRONE TO SET AN ENDUE VALUE ON THE OLD, AND WE MUST GUARD AGAINST THAT DANGER. What history is the history of the conflict which has raged ever when change has had to be made! If Galileo said the world was not a fiat surface; if Walton said the Hebrew vowel points were not inspired; if geology said the world was not made in six times twenty-four hours; if ever a new view of the method of inspiration were suggested — nay, if the Church itself undertook to revise the Bible translation — what a Babel of contention and conflict arises; what gloomy prophecies of ruin and disaster are indulged in!
IV. This brings me to notice our duty — THAT IT MAY BE WISE AND RIGHT SOMETIMES TO SACRIFICE THE CLOTHING FOR THE TRUTH'S SAKE. The Bible, specially the New Testament, is a wonderful example of this duty. It is said that there is only one spot in all Palestine of which we can say, with absolute confidence, It was on this very spot Christ must have been (so carefully have the New Testament writers guarded against the worship of localities); except in the solitary case of Jacob's well.
V. Our last point is this — IN CHRIST ALONE (THE TRUTH) THE CLOTHING NEVER WEARS OUT. That is a marvellous statement about Christ — that "He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." He never needs revise His truth; He never has more experience or wisdom. We should not think it a compliment to a man to say be thought at sixty just what he did at thirty. We expect riper experience, larger views, and sounder judgments. But Christ never needs thus grow; He is for ever perfect in form and spirit. The Gospels are a wonderful illustration — in fact, the whole Bible is a wonderful illustration — of this truth. The Book never grows old; it is always young and in the front of life's race and battle.
(R. H. Lovell.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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