« PreviousContinue »
Whenever the kings gave commands in the concerns of religion, or adopted measures, which accorded to the letter or spirit of the law of Moses, the priests and Levites, who most readily and zealously executed their commands, and carried their measures into effect, are spoken of with the greatest approbation. But, when the commandment or conduct of the king was contrary to the law, then the priests were commended or blamed, according as they withstood or complied with the criminal conduct of their misguided prince. Thus the decided conduct of the priests who withstood Uzziah, when he entered into the sanctuary to burn incense contrary to the law, is recorded with honour; while that of Urijah, who, without making any objection, executed the impious orders of wicked Ahaz, is mentioned in a manner which stamps his character with deep and indelible infamy.2
Not one of the kings of Judah exercised his authority more fully in the peculiar concerns of religion, than Hezekiah. He was the first mover, director, counsellor, and encourager, in every thing that related to the suppression of idolatry, and irregular worship in the high places, and in establishing the instituted sacred worship of God at the temple; and in all that was connected with the regular attendance of the priests and Levites, and the provision appointed them by the law :3 and in all this his princes and counsellors concurred with
'2 Chron. xxvi. 16-20.
22 Kings xvi. 10—16.
32 Kings xviii. 3, 4-22. 2 Chron. xxix. 2-11, 15, 16, 18– 36. xxx. 1,5-12, 22-27. xxxi. 2-5, 11, &c. xxxii. 12.
him, and exercised authority even over the chief priests. But it is expressly and emphatically noticed, that "the commandment thus given by "the king and his princes" was " by the word " of God;" and, therefore, " in Judah the hand of "God was to give them one heart to do the com"mandment." 1 But, had the commandment been contrary to the word of God, would "the "hand of the Lord have thus given one heart" to the people to obey it? In this respect at least, even he and his princes, as well as the ministers of religion, "can do nothing against the truth, "but for the truth."2 And, if kings, and counsellors, and senates, employed their authority as Hezekiah and his princes did, the same marked and extensive success might be expected from the same measures; the hand of God would be to give" the people one heart to do the command"ment of the king and his princes, by the word "of the Lord." This would be the proper improvement of their important talent, and would be accepted and prospered; even as a similar conduct of a rich man, in the use of his riches in supporting and promoting the cause of religion by scriptural means, and no other, is accepted and prospered. "Thus did Hezekiah through"out Judah, and wrought that which is good, "and right, and truth, before the Lord his God; " and in every work that he began, in the ser"vice 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."
1 2 Chron. xxx.. 12.
22 Cor. xiii. 8.
It may be conceded, that, with not very many exceptions, the commands of kings and princes, in respect of Christian establishments, have by no means been so entirely "by the word of the Lord," as those of Hezekiah were; many, alas! have been against it, many beyond, many beside or beneath it: but this is the fault, not of the exercise of all authority, in this respect, but of an undue, an erroneous, and ignorant, or an ungodly exercise of authority.
It is observable, that Hezekiah seems to have made little use of the high priests in inquiring the will of God; but principally consulted Isaiah the prophet and Josiah sent even the high priest Hilkiah himself to consult the prophetess Huldah, when the book of the law was found, and he was greatly alarmed at what he read in it. 1 Before this time, his exercise of authority in religion, and his orders and commands to the priests and Levites, had not been regulated by any exact rule: but from this event he proceeded more exactly, as Hezekiah had done, " by the word of the Lord;" and his measures were unexceptionable, and met with decided approbation. But his sons, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, imitating the worst part of Manasseh's conduct, used their authority against the law of God, and against his prophets, and so brought destruction on themselves, and on Judah and Jerusalem.
After the Babylonish captivity, the governors of the restored remnant of Judah concurred with the priests and Levites in the concerns of religion;
2 Kings xxii. 12-14. 2 Chron. xxxiv.
yet exercised authority over them in the same manner that Hezekiah and Josiah had done: and, while Zerubbabel and others, till the days of Nehemiah, regulated their interference, and the exercise of their authority, in the concerns of religion, according to the holy law of God, their conduct was approved and prospered. But, after a time, the rulers and priests, and the high priests (then become, in some respects, the political rulers of the nation,) too generally "made void the law of "God, to keep their own traditions," or in subserviency to their own interests: and then they were neither approved nor prospered. Thus the exercise of authority in religious concerns was not that in their conduct which was either approved or condemned, but the scriptural or antiscriptural use of that authority: and why should it not also be the same under the Christian dispensation?
In the most approved conduct of the rulers of Israel and Judah, when exercising authority in the immediate concerns of religion, one thing is peculiarly observable, namely, that they decidedly enforced the payment to the priests and Levites, of those emoluments which had been allotted to them by the divine law, and the proper distribution and division among them of these revenues; while they required them to attend on those services, for the performance of which they had been allotted. But, when no exercise of authority by the ruler intervened, the priests and Levites too generally neglected their special duties; and the
2 Chr. xxxi. 4-10, 18-21. xxxv. 2-6. Neh. x. 32-39. xiii. 5-13.
people alienated, or appropriated, what was the due and portion of the priests and Levites out of the estates of the other tribes.
Now, as the apostle expressly argues from the law of Moses, in respect of the equitable right which the ministers of Christianity have to a maintenance for their labours; what reason can be assigned, why it is not the duty of Christian rulers, to take care that a provision should be allotted to the ministers of religion; and that they who receive it should be required to attend to those services for which it is given; and that those should be most approved and encouraged, who labour with the greatest diligence in the word and doctrine? It is chiefly to be regretted, that the examples of Hezekiah and Nehemiah have not been more exactly imitated: and the deviations from these may be considered as objections to the unscriptural use of authority, but not to the scriptural exercise of authority in this particular. Indeed, the piety, or the superstition, at least the liberality of our ancestors, appropriated funds for the support of the ministers of religion, and for other religious and beneficent purposes; which, if they had not been diverted into other channels, would have been abundantly sufficient for the purpose: and even, after all depredations, if properly apportioned and distributed, would go far towards rendering any new tax or impost needless. Yet it is manifest, that the largest sums, which could in any case be required to defray the expenses incurred by supporting the
'. 1 Cor. ix. 9-14.