Life and Times of Josiah: Part 4

2 Chronicles 34‑35  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 8
It is deeply interesting and instructive to mark the actings of Josiah, when his heart and conscience had been brought under the powerful influence of the Word of God. He not only bowed down under that Word himself, but he sought to lead others to bow likewise. This must ever be the case, where the work is real. It is impossible for a man to feel the weight and solemnity of truth, and not seek to bring others under its action. No doubt a quantity of truth may be held in the intellect-held superficially-held in a merely speculative, notional way—but this will have no practical effect; it does not tell upon the heart and conscience after a divine, living fashion; it does not affect the life and character. And, inasmuch as it does not affect our own souls, neither will our mode of presenting it be very likely to act with much power upon others. True, God is sovereign, and He may use His own Word, even when spoken by one who has never really felt its influence; but we are speaking now of what may properly and naturally be looked for; and we may rest assured that the best way in which to make others feel deeply is to feel deeply ourselves.
Take any truth you please. Take, for example, the glorious truth of the Lord's coming. How is a man most likely to affect his hearers by the presentation of this truth? Unquestionably, by being deeply affected himself. If the heart be under the power of that solemn word, "The Lord is at hand"—if this fact be realized in all its solemnity as to the world, and its sweet attractiveness as to the believer individually and the Church collectively, then it will assuredly be presented in a way calculated to move the hearts of the hearers. It is easy to see when a man feels what he is saying. There may be a very clear and clever exposition of the doctrine of the second advent, and of all the collateral truths; but if it be cool and heartless, it will fall powerless on the ears of the audience. In order to speak to hearts, on any subject, the heart of the speaker must feel. What was it that gave such power to Whitfield's discourses? It was not the depth or the range of truth contained in them, as is manifest to any intelligent reader. No; the secret of their mighty efficacy lay in the fact that the speaker felt what he was saying. Whitfield wept over the people, and no marvel if the people wept under Whitfield. He must be a hardened wretch indeed who can sit unmoved under a preacher who is shedding tears for his soul's salvation.
Let us not be misunderstood. We do not mean to say that anything in a preacher's manner can of itself convert a soul. Tears cannot quicken. Earnestness cannot regenerate. It is "not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the LORD" (Zech. 4:66Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)). It is only by the powerful action of the Word and Spirit of God that any soul can be born again. All this we fully believe, and would ever bear in mind. But at the same time we as fully believe and would also bear in mind, that God blesses earnest preaching, and souls are moved by it. We have far too much mechanical preaching—too much routine work—too much of what may justly be called going through a service. We need more earnestness, more depth of feeling, more intensity, more power to weep over the souls of men, a more influential and abiding sense of the awful doom of impenitent sinners, the value of an immortal soul, and the solemn realities of the eternal world. We are told that the famous Garrick was once asked, by a bishop, how it was that he produced far more powerful results by his fiction than the bishops could by preaching truth. The reply of the actor is full of force. "My lord," said he, "the reason is obvious; I speak fiction as though it were truth, whereas you speak truth as though it were fiction."
Alas! it is much to be feared that too many of us speak truth in the same way, and hence the little result. We are persuaded that earnest, faithful preaching is one of the special needs of this our day. There are a few here and there, thank God, who seem to feel what they are at—who stand before their audience as those who consider themselves as channels of communication between God and their fellows-men who are really bent on their work-bent not merely on preaching and teaching, but on saving and blessing souls. The grand business of the evangelist is to bring the soul and Christ together; the business of the teacher and pastor is to keep them together. True, it is most assuredly true, that God is glorified and Jesus Christ magnified by the unfolding of truth, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear; but is this fact to be allowed to interfere, in the smallest degree, with the ardent desire for results in reference to souls? We do not, for a moment, believe it.
The preacher should look for results, and should not be satisfied without them. He should no more think of being satisfied to go on without results than the husbandman thinks of going on from year to year without a crop. Some preachers there are who only succeed in preaching their hearers away, and then they content themselves by saying, We are a sweet savor to God. Now, we believe this is a great mistake, and a fatal delusion. What we need is to live before God for the results of our work-to wait upon Him-to agonize in prayer for souls-to throw all our energies into the work-to preach as though the whole thing depended upon us, although knowing full well that we can do just nothing, and that our words must prove as the morning cloud, if not fastened as a nail in a sure place, by the Master of assemblies. We are convinced that, in the divine order of things, the earnest workman must have the fruit of his labor; and that according to his faith, so shall it be. There may be exceptions; but, as a general rule, we may rest assured that a faithful preacher, working in his divinely appointed sphere, will, sooner or later, reap fruit.
We have been drawn into the foregoing line of thought while contemplating the interesting scene in the life of Josiah, presented to us at the close of 2 Chronicles 34. It will be profitable for us to dwell upon it. Josiah was a man thoroughly in earnest. He felt the power of truth in his own soul, and he could not rest satisfied until he gathered the people around him, in order that the light which had shone upon him might shine upon them likewise. He did not-he could not-rest in the fact that he was to be gathered to his grave in peace, that his eyes were not to see the evil that was coming upon Jerusalem, that he was to escape the appalling tide of judgment which was about to roll over the land. No; he thought of others, he felt for the people around him; and, inasmuch as his own personal escape stood connected with and based upon his true penitence and humiliation under the mighty hand of God, so he would seek, by the action of that word which had wrought so powerfully in his own heart, to lead others to like penitence and humiliation.
"Then the king sent and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. And the king went up into the house of the LORD, and all the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the priests, and the Levites, and all the people, great and small: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the LORD. And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments, and His testimonies, and His statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book. And he caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the LORD their God. And all his days they departed not from following the LORD, the God of their fathers."
There is a fine moral lesson in all this for us-yea, many lessons to which we, with all our light, knowledge, and privilege, may well sit down. What, first of all, strikes us at this moment, is the fact that Josiah felt his responsibility to those around him. He did not put his light under a bushel, but rather allowed it to shine for the full benefit and blessing of others. This is all the more striking, inasmuch as that great practical truth of the unity of all believers in one body, was not known to Josiah, because not revealed by God. The doctrine contained in that one brief sentence, "There is one body, and one Spirit," was not made known until long after the times of Josiah, even when Christ the risen Head had taken
His seat at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens.
But, although this truth was "hid in God," nevertheless there was the unity of the nation of Israel. There was a national unity, though there was not the unity of a body; and this unity was always recognized by the faithful, whatever might be the outward condition of the people. The twelve loaves on the table of showbread in the sanctuary were the divine type of the perfect unity and yet the perfect distinctness of the twelve tribes. The reader can see this in Leviticus 24. It is full of interest, and should be deeply pondered by every student of Scripture, and every earnest lover of the ways of God. During the dark and silent watches of the night, the seven lamps of the golden candlestick threw their light upon the twelve loaves, ranged by the hand of the high priest according to the commandment of God, upon the pure table. Significant figure! In it we have foreshadowed, in the most vivid way, the indissoluble unity of Israel's twelve tribes-a truth which must never be lost sight of-a truth which God has revealed, established, and maintained, and which the faith of His people has ever recognized and acted upon.
It was on this grand truth that Elijah the Tishbite took his stand when on Mount Carmel he built an altar with "twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name." 1 Kings 18:3131And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: (1 Kings 18:31). To this same truth Hezekiah had regard when he "commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel" (2 Chron. 29:2424And the priests killed them, and they made reconciliation with their blood upon the altar, to make an atonement for all Israel: for the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel. (2 Chronicles 29:24)). Paul in his day referred to this precious truth when, in the presence of King Agrippa, he spoke of "our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night" (Acts 26:77Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. (Acts 26:7)).
Now, if any one of those men of faith had been asked, Where are the twelve tribes? could he give an answer? Could he have pointed them out? Assuredly he could, but not to sight -not to man's view-for the nation was divided-its unity was broken. In the days of Elijah and Hezekiah there were the ten tribes and the two; and in the days of Paul, the ten tribes were scattered abroad, and only a remnant of the two in the land of Palestine, under the dominion of Daniel's fourth beast. What then? Was the truth of God made of none effect by Israel's outward condition? Far be the thought! "Our twelve tribes" must never be given up. The unity of the nation is a grand reality to faith. It is as true at this moment as when Joshua pitched the twelve stones at Gilgal. The Word of our God shall stand forever. Not one jot or tittle of aught that He has spoken shall ever pass away. Change and decay may mark the history of human affairs; death and desolation may sweep like a withering blast over earth's fairest scenes; but Jehovah will make good His every word, and Israel's twelve tribes shall yet enjoy the promised land in all its length, breadth, and fullness. No power of earth or hell shall be able to hinder this blessed consummation. And why? What makes us so sure? How can we speak with such absolute certainty? Simply because the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. We can be a great deal more sure that Israel's tribes shall yet enjoy their fair inheritance in Palestine, than that the house of Tudor once held sway in England. The former we believe on the testimony of God who cannot lie; the latter, on the testimony of erring man.
It is of the utmost importance that the reader should be clear as to this, not only because of its special bearing upon Israel and the land of Canaan, but also because it affects the integrity of Scripture as a whole. There is a loose mode of handling the Word of God, which is at once dishonoring to Him and injurious to us. Passages which apply distinctly and exclusively to Jerusalem and to Israel, are made to apply to the spread of the gospel and the extension of the Christian Church. This is, to say the least, taking a very unwarrantable liberty with divine revelation. Our God can surely say what He means; and, as surely, He means what He says; hence, when He speaks of Israel and Jerusalem, He does not mean the Church; and when He speaks of the Church, He does not mean Israel or Jerusalem.
Expositors and students of Scripture should ponder this. Let no one suppose that it is merely a question of prophetic interpretation. It is far more than this. It is a question of the integrity, value, and power of the Word of God. If we allow ourselves to be loose and careless in reference to one class of scriptures, we are likely to be loose and careless as to another, and then our sense of the weight and authority of all Scripture will be sadly enfeebled.
But we must return to Josiah and see how he recognized, according to his measure, the great principle on which we have been dwelling. He certainly proved no exception to the general rule; namely, that all the pious kings of Judah had regard to the unity of the nation of Israel, and never suffered their thoughts, their sympathies, or their operations, to be confined within any narrower range than "our twelve tribes." The twelve loaves on the pure table were ever before the eye of God, and ever before the eye of faith. Nor was this a mere speculation-a non-practical dogma-a dead letter. No; it was in every case a great practical, influential truth. "Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel." This was acting in the fullest harmony with his pious predecessor, Hezekiah, who "commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel."
And now, Christian reader, mark the application of all this to our own souls at this present moment. Do you heartily believe upon divine authority in the doctrine of the unity of the body of Christ? Do you believe that there is such a body on this earth now, united to its divine and living Head in heaven, by the Holy Ghost? Do you hold this great truth from God Himself, upon the authority of Holy Scripture? Do you, in one word, hold as a cardinal and fundamental truth of the New Testament the indissoluble unity of the Church of God? Do not turn round and ask, Where is this to be seen? This is the question which unbelief must ever put, as the eye rests upon Christendom's numberless sects and parties, and to which faith replies, as the eye rests upon that imperishable sentence, "There is one body, and one Spirit." Mark the words! "There is." It does not say there was at one time, and there shall be again, "one body." Neither does it say that such a thing exists in heaven. No; but it says, "There is one body, and one Spirit," now, on this earth. Can this truth be touched by the condition of things in the professing Church? Has God's Word ceased to be true, because man has ceased to be faithful? Will anyone undertake to say that the unity of the body was only a truth for apostolic times, and that it has no application now, seeing that there is no exhibition of it?
Reader, we solemnly warn you to beware how you admit into your heart a sentiment so entirely infidel as this. Rest assured it is the fruit of positive unbelief in God's Word. No doubt, appearances argue against this truth; but what truth is it against which appearances do not argue? And say, is it on appearances that faith ever builds? Did Elijah build on appearances when he erected his altar of twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob? Did King Hezekiah build on appearances when he issued that fine commandment, that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel? Did Josiah build on appearances when he carried his reformatory operations into all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel? Surely not. They built upon the faithful word of the God of Israel. That word was true whether Israel's tribes were scattered or united. If God's truth is to be affected by outward appearances, or by the actings of men, then where are we? or what are we to believe? The fact is, there is hardly a truth in the entire compass of divine revelation to which we could with calm confidence commit our souls, if we suffer ourselves to be affected by outward appearances.
No, reader; the only ground on which we can believe anything is this one clause, "It is written." Do you not admit this? Does not your whole soul bow down to it? Do you not hold it to be a principle entirely vital? We believe you do, as a Christian, hold, admit, and reverently believe this. Well, then, it is written, "There is one body, and one Spirit." (Eph. 4.) This is as clearly revealed in Scripture as that "we are justified by faith," or any other truth. Do outward appearances affect the saving fundamental doctrine of justification by faith? Are we to call in question this precious truth because there is so little exhibition of its purifying power in the lives of believers? Who could admit such a fatal principle as this? What a complete upturning of all the foundations of our faith is necessarily involved in the admission of this most mischievous line of reasoning! We believe, because it is written in the Word, not because it is exhibited in the world. Doubtless, it ought to be exhibited, and it is our sin and shame that it is not. To this we shall afterward refer more fully; but we must insist upon the proper ground of belief; namely, divine revelation; and when this is clearly seen and fully admitted, it applies as distinctly to the doctrine of the unity of the body, as it does to the doctrine of justification by faith.