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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Kings 14". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ 1-kings-14.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Kings 14". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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1 Kings 14:1-18
At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam fell sick.
A good boy and a bad family
One beautiful flower in a desert; one lovely rose amongst thorns; one fruitful branch on a corrupt tree. We are going to speak of a boy who was like that flower, rose, or branch.
I. This boy’s father was very wicked. God had been kind to this man. Instead of remembering God’s kindness and obeying Him, he tried to put away all thoughts of God from his mind, and disobeyed Him. He caused two calves of gold to be made. One he placed in Dan and the other in Bethel These he worshipped himself. Sin is like descending a hill, a river in its course, a tree in its progress. This was seen in his life. Some of the kings who preceded him were wicked, but he was the worst.
II. This boy’s mother was a deceiver.
III. Although this boy had a wicked father and a deceiving mother, he was good. We are told that in him there was found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel.
1. This good thing was religion. It is called good for four reasons:
(1) It comes from the good God.
(2) It makes those good who truly receive it.
(3) It leads them to do good to others.
(4) It prepares them for the good place, heaven.
2. Religion was in this boy:
(1) In his mind.
(2) In his heart.
(3) In all his words and actions.
Religion was found in this boy.
(1) It was found by God, for He sees all things.
(2) It was found by the boy himself. It made him happy, strong and hopeful.
(3) It was found by all who knew him. To them he was a shining light, or as a city on a hill.
3. How could he be so unlike his father and mother?
(1) He believed what was written in the sacred Scriptures.
(2) He prayed to God.
(3) His win was the king of his circumstance.
Imitate him in these three things. If some of you have ungodly homes, you will then learn, as he did, that you can be godly there.
IV. This boy died. (A. McAuslane, D. D.)
1 Kings 14:6
Why feignest thou thyself to be another?
A cheat exposed
I. Wickedness involves others, trying to make them its dupes, its allies, and its scapegoats. Jeroboam proposed to hoodwink the Lord’s prophet. Iniquity is a brag, but it is a great coward. It lays the plan, gets some one else to execute it--puts down the gunpowder train, gets some one else to touch it off--contrives mischief, gets some one else to work it--starts the lie, gets some one else to circulate it. Jeroboam plots the lie, contrives the imposition, and gets his wife to execute it. Stand off from all imposition and chicanery. Do not consent to be anybody’s dupe, anybody’s ally in wickedness, anybody’s scapegoat.
II. Royalty sometimes passes in disguise. The frock, the veil, the hood of the peasant woman hid the queenly character of this woman of Tirzah. Nobody suspected that she was a queen or a princess as she passed by; but she was just as much a queen as though she stood in the palace, her robes encrusted with diamonds. Glory veiled. Affluence hidden. A queen in mask. A princess in disguise. When you think of a queen you do not think of Catharine of Russia, or Maria Theresa of Germany, or Mary Queen of Scots. When you think of a queen you think of a plain woman who sat opposite your father at the table, or winked with him down the path of life arm in arm--sometimes to the thanksgiving banquet, sometimes to the grave, but always side by side, soothing your little sorrows and adjusting your little quarrels. “Mother, mother!” Ah! she was the queen. Your father knew it. You knew it. She was the queen, but the queen in disguise. The world did not recognise it.
III. How people put on masks, and how the Lord tears them off. It was a terrible moment in the history of this woman of Tirzah when the prophet accosted her, practically saying, “I know who you are; you cannot cheat me; you cannot impose upon me; why feignest thou thyself to be another?” She had a right to ask for the restoration of her son: she had no right to practise that falsehood. It is never right to do wrong.
IV. How precise, and accurate, and particular, are God’s providences. Just at the moment that woman entered the city the child died. Just as it was prophesied, so it turned out, so it always turns out. The sickness comes, the death occurs; the nation is born, the despotism is overthrown at the appointed time. God drives the universe with a stiff rein. Events do not just happen so. Things do not go slipshod. In all the book of God’s providences there is not one “if.” God’s providences are never caught in deshabille. To God there are no surprises, no disappointments, and no accidents. The most insignificant event flung out in the ages is the connecting link between two great chains--the chain of eternity past and the chain of eternity to come. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
A hearer in disguise
I. We have before us the occasional hearer. Jeroboam and his wife did not often go to hear Ahijah. They were not people who went to worship Jehovah; they neither feared God nor regarded His prophet.
1. This occasional hearer was totally destitute of all true piety. Most occasional hearers are. Those who have true religion are not occasional hearers.
2. The second remark about these occasional hearers is, that when they do come, they very generally come because they are in trouble. When Jeroboam’s wife came and spoke to the prophet, it was because the dear child was ill at home.
3. This woman would not have come but that her husband sent her on the ground that he had heard Ahijah preach before. It was this prophet who took Jeroboam’s mantle and rent it in pieces, and told him he was to be king over the ten tribes. That message proved true; therefore Jeroboam had confidence in Ahijah.
4. They had one godly member of their family, and that brought them to see the prophet. Their child was sick and ill, and it was that which led them to inquire at the hands of the Lord.
5. But there is one sad reflection which should alarm the occasional hearer. Though Jeroboam’s wife did come to the prophet that once, and heard tidings, yet she and her husband perished after all.
II. The useless disguise. Jeroboam’s wife thought to herself, “If I go to see Ahijah, as he knows me to be the wife of Jeroboam, he is sure to speak angrily, and give me very bad news.” Strange to tell, though the poor old gentleman was blind, she thought it necessary to put on a disguise. There was a Judas among the twelve; there was a Demas among the early disciples; and we must always expect to find chaff on God’s floor mingled with the wheat. After the most searching ministry, there are still some who will wrap themselves about with a mantle of deception.
III. The heavy tidings. Sinner, unrepenting sinner, I have heavy tidings for thee. The wrath of God abideth on thee. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Kings 14:8-9
David kept my commandments . . . thou hast gone and made thee other gods.
Servitude or service-which?
The people of God had left their God, and He had left them, so that Shishak, the King of Egypt, came against them; and though the Lord had respect to their humble prayer, and would not suffer Shishak to destroy Jerusalem, yet He brought them into subjection to the Egyptian king. Our text tells us the reason for this servitude: “They shall be his servants; that they may know My service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.”
I. There are some who have already chosen the service of the kingdoms of the countless. We have many round about us who have deliberately chosen not to serve God, but to serve other masters.
1. Some choose to be the slaves of open sin.
2. There are many persons who are not the worshippers of vice, but they are the votaries of money-making. They are the slaves of the thirst for wealth.
3. There are some others who do not try to get much money, but they are lovers of fashion, lovers of society, admirers of the world.
4. Then there is another cult that has lately come up, which some have chosen, so that they have become the devotees of “culture.”
5. I will only refer to one more class of those who have chosen the service of the kingdoms; these are the seekers of self-righteousness. This is an old-fashioned and very respectable deity whom many still worship.
II. Some seem to be pining to give up the service of God, and to go to the service of the kingdoms. It is a strange thing; but this evil is always breaking out even among the people of God.
1. Some want to change out of sheer love of change.
2. Some want to be off to their idols, because of the outward aspect of the new thing.
3. Sometimes men turn aside because of their loss of joy in the service of God. They are not serving the Lord as they used to do; they are doing but little for Him.
4. Then there are many who are led to want a change from the service of God by the flagging of others.
5. There are some who turn aside because religion now has brought them to a point where it entails some extra self-sacrifice.
III. There is a great contrast between the service of God and any other service.
1. If you are about to engage in the service of God, there is nothing demanded of you that will harm you. There Is no commandment of God which, if you keep it, will injure either your body or your soul.
2. Next, notice that there is nothing denied you, in the service of God, that would be a blessing to you. The promise is, “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly”
3. Once more observe that in the service of God strength will always be given according to your day.
4. And all the while that you are the servant of God, you have a sweet peace in reflecting upon what you have done. As George Herbert said, when he helped a poor woman with her load, and men wondered that the parson of the parish should carry a poor woman’s basket for her, “The memory of this will make the bells ring in my heart at night,” so the service of God makes the bells ring in our hearts.
5. Lastly, there is above all this a hope of the eternal reward which is so soon to come. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Kings 14:13
And all Israel shall mourn for him.
Early cut off, but long remembered
That the grace of God may convert a man in the prime of life, ay, and bring even a grey-headed sinner to the foot of the cross, is a truth of which, happily, examples can easily be found. But, while this is true, let it never be forgotten that the great majority of conversions take place in early life.
I. This description of his piety. “In him there is found some good thing towards the Lord God of Israel.” What, think you, might this “good thing” be? Certainly, it was not his rank, nor wealth, nor power, nor intellect. And, as this “good thing” was not any mere material endowment, so neither was it any mere moral excellence, It does not mean simply that Abijah was what the world calls good-hearted, “a good-living lad”; that he was amiable and well-behaved; that, in the midst of abounding debauchery, he preserved his virtue unstained. This, indeed, would be much, but it would not be expressed in the peculiar language of the text; the “good thing” was a “good thing towards the Lord God of Israel,” a gracious, a spiritual, a Divine, a holy thing. It was a something that sprang not out of nature, nor of the flesh, something that his father did not give him, something that he never learnt from the royal but dissolute court of Israel.
1. There are two things which, when found in a man, are good and acceptable to God. The first Is true repentance, or what the Bible calls the “broken and contrite heart.” A second thing on which God specially sets the seal of His approbation is “faith in that one sacrifice which doth for sin atone.” Amongst all the princes of the royal house, Abijah alone refused to worship the golden calves which his father had made. Jewish writers tell us that Abijah would not bow down to the idols, but insisted on worshipping the true God at Jerusalem. His faith might have been but a little spark, but that secured his acceptance before God. But without these two things, “repentance from dead works, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, there is nothing m you that God can approve.
II. But now there are one or two special lessons to be drawn from the case of Abijah
1. Real piety may exist under most adverse and unfavourable circumstances. Here was a youth, all of whose surroundings were of the worst possible character. An ungodly home, an idolatrous court, parents both wicked, every relative he had under the curse of God: why, you would say, piety could not live a day amid such conditions as these. The brightest diamonds have been found in the darkest mines, and the richest pearls in the deepest seas. Satan sometimes outwits himself. Sin is used to secure its own defeat. Even unconverted men are shocked by wickedness which exceeds their own,
2. Even a young and brief life may be fruitful in blessing. Young as he was, the whole nation mourned for him. In the highest view of it, the length of life is not to be judged by the number of its years. It is possible for the longest life to be briefer than the shortest; and the smoothcheeked youth may die older, that is, with more of life crowded into his brief history, than he whose stagnant and profitless existence drags on to an inglorious old age. That life is the longest--however limited the number of its years--in which God has been best served, and the world most benefited.
3. Piety in life is the only guarantee of peace in death. An early departure from this world is not a thing to be dreaded, provided your heart is right with God. (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
I. We have here a beautiful description of religion. It is “some good thing in the heart toward the Lord God of Israel.” Religion is “some good thing in the heart” (not merely towards our fellow-man, but) “towards the Lord God of Israel.”
II. Genuine piety may exist under very unfavourable circumstances. Men need not say, their surroundings in life are sufficient excuse for their ungodliness.
III. Again, true piety of one who was a child. Abijah is always mentioned in the context as a child.
IV. True piety commands the respect and reverence of the ungodly. The subjects of Jeroboam were wicked men, who had repudiated the temple at Jerusalem, and had gone from bad to worse. Yet, when the death of this pious child was announced, these wicked men evinced for him a reverential affection, which the context touchingly records. “All Israel shall mourn for him,” was the prediction of the blind prophet: and so it was. (W. F. Bishop.)
In him there is found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel.--
Abijah; or, the pious youth in an ungodly family
This young prince was greatly respected in life, and in death he was highly honoured. He alone out of the house of his father died a natural death--he alone came to the grave in peace. Indeed, he only came to the grave at all.
I. That religion is a “good thing.” It is good in itself--in its very nature. What is true piety? It is a right state of the heart in regard to God.
1. Religion is a “good thing” because it comes from a good God. As to its origin, its first principle--it comes directly from Him. He is the fountain of all goodness.
2. Religion is a good thing, for it is good in its influence. Piety has the most beneficial influence upon the whole of our being; upon the faculties and ideas of our mind; upon the love and affections of our heart; upon the whole life and conduct.
3. Religion is good, because it leads into a good place. As all rivers run into the sea, whence they came, so the streams of goodness flow to the great ocean of love. God, like a mighty magnet, attracts the heart of the good man, and ere long He will draw him to the bosom of eternal love.
II. That religion is a good thing in man. “There is found in him,” etc. Piety is an inward principle. “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” “Christ in you the hope of glory.” Religion is essentially a matter of the heart. It proceeds from the centre to the circumference.
III. That religion is a good thing tending towards God. “Toward the Lord God of Israel.” There are people who have nothing good in them either towards God or man. Selfishness is their ruling principle. They never act from principle; they never ask, What is right, what is true? but “Will this course answer my purpose?--will it be of advantage to me personally?” They “live to themselves, and they die to themselves.” There are others who have something good in them towards man, but nothing towards God. The religious man seeks God’s glory in all things. The bias of his soul is also towards God; he moves Godward.
IV. That religion is a good thing ever manifest. “There is found in him,” etc. True religion always manifests itself where it exists; it is seen and felt. “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things.”
1. This “good thing” is “found “by the Searcher of hearts. He sees it first. He can see it when no one else can.
2. This “good thing” is “found” too by the man himself. He cannot remain ignorant long of the real state of his own heart. At first he may not possess a “full assurance of faith,” yet he must know his own moral state. He must know whether he is a hypocrite, or whether he is a true Christian.
3. It is “found” also by his fellow-creatures. Such a character tells powerfully upon a neighbourhood. He is influential. His “light is not hid under a bushel.” Religion is not a dead, worthless thing; no, it is a living principle. (H. P. Bowen.)
Abijah, or some good thing towards the Lord
I. Let us here admire what we cannot precisely describe.
1. There was in this child “some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel”; but what was it? A boundless field for conjecture opens before us. We know there was in him some good thing, but what form that good thing took we do not know. It was not merely a good inclination which was in him, nor a good desire, but a really good, substantial virtue.
2. Let us admire, also, that this “some good thing” should have been in the child’s heart, for its entrance is unknown. We cannot tell how grace entered the palace of Tirzah and gained this youthful heart. God saw the good thing, for He sees the least good thing in any of us, since He has a quick eye to perceive anything that looks towards Himself.
3. This “good thing” is described to us in the text in a certain measure. It was a good thing towards Jehovah, the God of Israel. The good thing looked towards the living God.
4. In this dear child that “good thing” wrought such an outward character that he became exceedingly well beloved. We are sure of that, because it is said, “All Israel shall mourn for him.”
5. The piety of this young child was every way of the right kind. It was inward and sincere, for the “good thing” that is spoken of was not found about him, but “in him.” He did not wear the broad phylactery, but he had a meek and quiet spirit.
II. Let us heartily prize what we are too apt to overlook.
1. Let us heartily prize “some good thing” towards the Lord God of Israel whenever we perceive it. All that is said of this case was that there was in him “some good thing”; and this reads as if the Divine work was as yet only a spark of grace, the beginning of spiritual life. There was nothing very striking in him, or it would have been more definitely mentioned.
2. Further, I am afraid we are too apt to overlook “some good thing” in a child. “Oh, only a child!” Pray, what are you? You are a man; well, I suppose that a man is a child who has grown older, and has lost many of his best points of character. A child is at no disadvantage in the things of God from being a child, for “of such are the kingdom of heaven.”
3. Another thing we are apt to overlook, and that is, “some good thing” in a bad house. This was the most wonderful thing of all, that there should be a gracious child in Jeroboam’s palace. The mother usually sways the house, but the queen was a princess of Egypt and an idolater.
III. Let us carefully consider what we cannot fully understand.
1. I want you first to consider the very singular fact which you cannot understand, that holy children should be often placed in ungodly families. God’s providence has arranged it so, yet the consequences are painful to the young believer.
2. The next thing that we cannot understand is this, that God’s dear little children who love Him should often be called to suffer. We say, “Well, if it was my child I should heal him and ease his sufferings at once.” Yet the Almighty Father allows His dear ones to be afflicted. There is a meaning in all this, and we know somewhat of it; and if we knew nothing we would believe all the same in the goodness of the Lord.
3. There is something more remarkable still, and that is that some of God’s dearest children should die while they are yet young.
4. Once more, it is a very singular thing that such a child as this should die and yet produce no effect whatever on his parents; for neither Jeroboam nor his wife repented of their sins because their child was taken home to God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The history of Abijah
I. There is “some good thing” spoken of “towards the Lord God of Israel.” I suppose that all who spiritually read their Bibles will acknowledge, by this “good thing” is not to be understood any mere external good thing, such as rank, title, influence, or his prospects. We cannot say these are good things; only as they are sanctified to us, they become good things. It is evidently a description of a righteous man. This young man was one that feared God and loved God; he knew God savingly. Nothing else can come up to the expression of there being “some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel”; nothing short of that can be a “good thing toward the Lord God of Israel.” It must be the new creation in the soul; it must be the principle of grace in the heart.
II. But this “good thing” was found in a place where it might have been but little expected. It was found in a place little calculated for its nourishment. If there is a spot on earth uncongenial to the life of God in the soul, it is within the precincts of a palace. The self-importance, the self-indulgence, the self-deception, the want of honesty so mark it. Yet here was the grace of God displayed. I see too the sovereignty of God’s grace in it. I see too the invincibility of His grace. Here is everything to impede, the most unlikely of all situations. One might as reasonably expect to find the most beautiful flower that seems to require great depth of earth, growing on the bare rock, as one might expect to find one of the Lord’s lilies growing in such a soil as this. Yet what can the grace of God not achieve? what can it not conquer?
III. Who it was that noticed it--who took notice of this “good thing”! Observe, it is spoken of as “some good thing.” Our translators have been so honest as to put the word “some” in italics; but there being no other word between “found” and “good thing,” the sense is this, “some good thing,” “a good thing.” When the Lord says “some good thing,” it gives one this idea. It might have been a very feeble work. Here was but “ some good thing,” a good thing; and that too was in a child; yet God the Spirit noted it. Why did He? Because it was His child; jeroboam’s child, Jeroboam’s after the flesh--His by adoption and by grace. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Abijah; or, early piety and evil parentage
Abijah was the good son of a bad father. His name meant “Jehovah is his father.” This name had probably been given before Jeroboam broke away from the service of Jehovah. The name and the character of the youth agreed. Abijah was possessed of real piety. To have religion is to possess the best thing possible. It is called a “good thing.” Similar descriptions of religion are given in other parts of Scripture. “That good thing which was committed to thee, keep.” Again, “Being confident that He who hath begun a good work in you will carry it on till the day of Christ.” “It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace.” “Mary hath chosen that good part that shall not be taken away.” Religion, is, undoubtedly, a “good thing,” in that it draws man near to God, leads to good actions, gives good aims. It has a good influence on a man’s companions, on the family, and on society. The possession of a real piety by Abijah brought him honour from men. He had found a deep place in the affections of the people. When he died all Israel mourned for him. Men would not have cared so much for him if he had been an indifferent, callous, wilful, cruel, passionate, self-indulgent youth. God, as well as man, honoured this early piety in Abijah. Christians should be earnest in seeking to lead others to early decision for Christ, remembering that youth is the most suitable because the most impressionable time. Religion is the best check to the weeds of evil, and it cannot be implanted too soon in the heart. As well forbear to teach the alphabet, or figures, or principles of science, or the customs of trade until manhood is reached, as forbear to instil in youth the principles of morality and the doctrines of Christ--doctrines which are the embodiment of the highest morality. No; these are flimsy objections. They are out of harmony with the Divine will and revelation. Abijah became pious none too soon. He died early. “Briers and thorns wither not so soon as lilies and roses.” Anyhow, Abijah was prepared to pass away, prepared to meet death. (F. Hastings.)
The piety of Abijah
Concerning the piety of Abijah, observe:
I. Its early existence. Piety, at any period of life, is pleasing. In old age, it is venerable. We cannot look on a Christian advanced in years, and more advanced in holiness, without feeling peculiar respect. In early youth, piety is chiefly amiable. It is the image of God restored on the soul, when its powers are most vigorous, when its passions are most warm, when its prospects of life are most fair and flattering.
II. Its sincerity. It was piety “in him,” not appended to him, or merely professed by him--“in him was found some good thing.” Of Job it is asserted, “the root of the matter” was found in him. That is not genuine piety which regards, with religious respect, any other but Jehovah; or which falls short of the one living and true God.
III. Its secrecy. This is what we cannot altogether commend. His goodness was real, but was in a great measure concealed. Small as might be his advantages of education, the Lord by His Spirit had taught him, had renewed his heart, and formed him for Himself. However secret a good work may be in the soul, however hid from the observation of men, it is visible to God: He beholds it with acceptance and pleasure. Yet remember, where “some good thing” exists, it is desirable it should more than exist--it ought to appear in corresponding fruits and effects. Good principle is valuable, but let it be seen in practice: good desires are laudable, but these should be attended with active efforts: good designs and resolves are entitled to commendation, but worthy deeds and useful service are much more beneficial.
IV. Its decision. There was evidently in his family much to oppose the spirit and practice of piety.
1. Rank opposed it. Men in elevated stations are rarely eminent for religion.
2. Idolatry opposed it. The insult offered to Jehovah which false worship implies, the absurdity and iniquity which it always involves, were directly inimical to spiritual devotion.
3. And wickedness opposed it. This doubtless prevailed in its varied forms, and to a serious degree, in the court of Jeroboam; for when men are alienated from the true God, none can say to what lengths they will run.
V. Its recompense. Abijah died, was buried, and all Israel mourned at his funeral. This may appear a singular recompense of piety; but the circumstances of the case must be considered. The Lord had threatened the utter destruction of the family of Jeroboam, on account of their sin. “Him that dieth of Jeroboam in the city shall the dogs eat, and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat; for the Lord hath spoken it.” But Abijah was exempt from the threatening, and saved from the calamity. Is it nothing to attain in youth, fixedness of character? When a young man’s character is fixed, he sets out in life as he means to proceed; he acts on such principles and adopts such conduct as create no regret, and are followed with advantages of the utmost importance. Is reputation nothing? Most people profess to prize it; and, in early life, to be devoted to God, secures it. Is it nothing to be useful? In such a world as this, is it not of acknowledged importance to live to some good purpose? They, surely, are most likely to be thus honoured, who are the subjects of early and decided piety. Opposite characters are at best indolent and heedless; but, in general, their example and efforts are pernicious in a very serious degree. And is it nothing, when you quit the world, to leave behind a fair example? You feel it desirable that survivors have the recollection that in you was exemplified, though with lamented imperfections, a disciple of Jesus, a lover of His truth and of His ways. “The memory of the just is blessed.” (T. Kidd.)
I. The scene of its development. It grew in very uncongenial soft. There are several stimulating instances where godliness has been pursued under difficulties. There were a “few names even in Sardis which had not defiled their garments.” These, in common with the one of the text, go to prove that religion can be practised under all imaginable circumstances. There are situations which make it very hard to be good, but none which make it impossible.
II. The seat of its power. “In him there is found,” etc. Out of the heart are the issues of life, keep it then with all diligence. Dwellers in the Isle of Anglesea say that they have a wonderful pool at the bottom of one of their native hills, into which if you throw pieces of old iron, or worthless tin, they will all come out in the course of time as precious copper. “All things work together for good, to them that love God.” Most assuredly then religion is the chief good--a good within, that overcomes all evils without--good for all, in all places, at all times, under all circumstances.
III. The sum of its quantity. It was not large by any means, but under such an inhospitable roof we are only astonished at finding any at all. “In him there is found some good thing.” (D. Thomas.)
Abijah; a good child in a bad home
1. What was the good thing referred to? The grace of God, or true religion. Religion is in itself a good thing--good for this life:
(1) in school,
(2) in situations,
(3) in home; and good for the life to come.
2. This good thing was in him. It was not a mere matter of outward show or of words.
3. This good thing had been put within him. We are not told how or when. But it certainly had been imparted to him. The gardener who wants to get very fine roses, first gets up the roots of the briar and plants them. The briar is then pruned and prepared for the rosebud. In a very skilful way the bud is inserted into the stem of the briar. The rosebud and the briar become one. But the rosebud rules, and makes the briar good. It is very likely St. James had seen some one doing this before he exhorted his hearers to receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. As the rosebud saves the briar from its degraded state, so the Word saves the soul that receives it. Abijah received the word of God’s grace, and it was in him a living power.
4. But this good thing went out toward God who gave it--towards the Lord God of Israel, not towards the gods his father had set up.
5. Some good was found. Not every good thing. Well is it not to despise the day of small things. Some good thing, however small, is the promise of greater. We cannot tell how much good may come of one word.
6. The good thing within him did not die when he was buried. The life of grace is one which the hand of death cannot touch. The memory of this good thing was a power for good in the lives of others who outlived him. All Israel mourned for him. Child though he was, he had exerted an influence for good.
Two or three lessons may be learned from this narrative:--
1. It is possible God may in His wise providence raise up in a bad family at least one true witness.
2. Such a witness may be but a child.
3. Such a youth may be alone in his testimony.
4. How much more possible is it to be a true witness in a good family where there are many faithful ones. (Henry Smith.)
The history and example of Abijah
I. That religion is a thing within us. Godliness is something in the heart and mind. Piety is an internal principle. It is the gift of God. It is the implantation or transfusion of a new nature. Then comes the inquiry--How is it to be had? in what manner is it to be gained? “If ye, being evil,” said Christ, “know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him!” How much more, I may add, will He give it to the inquiring, youthful, praying mind!
II. That religion is intrinsically good. It is called here “some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel.” It is intrinsically good. I mean, in its own nature and essence. Jesus Christ has pronounced it to be “the good part,” which shall never be taken away from us. And He likens it to a pearl, which it would be worth a man’s while to “sell all that he had” in order to gain. It is “good,” To whom is it good? It is “good” to yourselves. It is “good” for your souls. For the mind to be enlightened, for the will to be in subjection to the will of God, to reflect the beauty of Christ’s own image, to walk in the way which God’s own wisdom has appointed and ordained--is not this good for the soul? It is “good” to the eye of your parents. It is beautiful to the vision of your friends. It is lovely in the circle in which you move. They see the fruits of grace; they behold sweetness of temper, amiableness of demeanour, rectitude of conduct; they see high moral principles. How do they see all this? With indifference and insensibility? No, but with gladness and with gratitude. It is “good” to God. It is precious in the sight of God. You remember the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Job, where “wisdom” is said to surpass jewels and precious stones of every kind and description. What is this “wisdom”? The grace of God--internal purity. And as it is “good “for you in time, it will be better for you in eternity.
III. It has special regard to the Lord God of Israel. And here is its chief glory; this is the fairest, the most impressive aspect. You know how it is with the sun. Let the sun shine upon what it may--let the beams of the sun descend upon what they may--the object is illuminated; the object reflects the radiance more or less. I look upon God, according to this image, as the sun. Whensoever He comes in contact with the mind, He enlightens it; the mind reflects the brightness. And this is our chief good, this is our highest honour, this is our purest joy--that our religion has deeply and intimately to do with the Lord God of Israel.
IV. Real religion is very beautiful in youth.
V. Where it exists, in due time it will be discovered.
1. It may long be as the seed under ground, that has taken root, but has not yet sprung up. It will spring up; and you shall see the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear. Here is the bud; just opened--not expanded. It can be seen. There shall be the blossom presently. There shall be the ripe fruit in due time. So, if it be in the heart and mind, there is a period of its discovery.
2. It may be found sometimes in circumstances where it was not looked for.
VI. Religion may not excempt you from death, for “the child died,” but it will secure to you a blessed immortality. (J. Stratten.)
I. God can see the real thing in the obscure thing The “good thing” recorded in the text--that is, if any single special act is intended at all--is unknown. We are assured of the indwardness of his piety. The good thing was “in him.” He had a true heart, a right spirit, a righteous disposition and design. “The root of the matter” was in him. The root never shot up into a grand stem, never cast abroad strong branches, never held up a harvest of rich, ripe fruit; but whatever was above ground of beauty and promise, there was a living root below. Remember the inwardness of true goodness. Our goodness must not be merely a matter of social etiquette, of conventional propriety, of ecclesiastical prescription; it must unfold from the heart; it must be full of gratitude, love, trust, and hope. The living God loves living things, and most of all He loves living virtue. Neither was the goodness of Abijah lacking in outwardness. “It was found” in him. The original means the very opposite of what we might easily take it to mean. It was found in him without seeking; in other words, it was manifest and indisputable. And it is the same with genuine goodness; really in us, it will reveal itself. Some people are not naturally good organs for the expression of sublime thought, principle, feeling--they have defects of constitution, uncouthness of manner, educational limitations; but if they have the reality and enthusiasm of goodness it will be found in them without seeking, and their very frailty and failure of style will often prove a foil to set forth with greater impressiveness the Divine thing it cannot obscure. Do not believe in the goodness that ever fails to display itself. There may be grand character in a man when circumstances do not serve to bring that character out in its full majesty and beauty. But God knows all. The botanist will detect a rare flower where we should see only weeds and grasses; the geologist will discern a gem when we see only gravel; the astronomer’s eye will seize a star in what seems to us empty darkness; the mariner will descry a sail where we should see only mist and wave..Now, God delights in goodness, and in darkest corners and lowliest forms He recognises and blesses it. He knoweth the thought afar off, the latent quality, and reads the living epistle in invisible ink.
II. God can see many things in one thing. “Some good thing”; one good thing standing for many good things, for all good things. Our life does not afford occasion to illustrate many virtues, not to play many parts, not to achieve many works, and we are in danger of making ourselves unhappy over these limitations. God accepts your “only,” seeing He gave you no more than that. The assayer does not need to test the whole golden talent; a few ounces in the smelting-pot is enough: the draper does not need to unroll the whole web; a few yards will reveal the beauty and value of the fabric: the merchant does not need to examine the bulk throughout; a handful is enough to show the quality of wheat or wool. Life may afford few gifts, few opportunities, but the few are enough to show what we are made of, and what it is that we mean. God knows the quality of a man from the accomplishment of one simple calling. One act was quite enough to demonstrate the character of Grace Darling, and to cover her with glory. One act at Harper’s Ferry was quite enough to display the spirit of John Brown, and to give him rank with the immortals. And one calling worked out faithfully day by day is sufficient to reveal in any of us the hero, the saint, the martyr. “Faithful in a few things.” It is but “few things” that we have here; still we have enough. The painter has only a few colours out of which to paint his pictures, but what a wealth of glory he brings out from the meagre palette: the musician has but a few notes, and yet what a world of ravishing sound he brings out of the few chords! We have all but few things, some of us very few--few talents, few opportunities, few days--and yet if we are faithful and diligent we shall work out an exceeding and an eternal weight of glory. Faithful in a few things, He shall make us rulers over many.
III. God can see the greatest thing in the least thing. Just as we complain about the dulness of life and the narrowness of life, so we complain about the poverty of life--we cannot do magnificent things or give princely gifts. But we forget that God can see the great in the small, the greatest thing in the least. If the least thing has a great principle in it, it is great; if the least thing has a true love in it, it is great; if the least thing has a high aim in it, it is great; and although men may see only the least thing, God regards the essential thought and quality and aspiration, and blesses accordingly. See the Gospel story of the widow casting her two mites into the treasury.
IV. God can see the fulness of things in the first thing. Just as we complain about the dulness of life, the narrowness of life, the poverty of life, so do we complain about its brevity. But God can see the end in the beginning. In Abijah’s first act God saw the fulness of the longest life. In the acorn He sees the oak. Tradition tells us that Titian happened one day to see the sketches of a lad who had entered his school--or, as another account relates, the painter accidentally noticed a lad drawing roughly on the public wall--and the great artist divined at once that another painter of power had been horn into the world; and so it proved, for that boy was Tintoretto, who was destined to divide with Titian himself the artistic glory of Venice. That lad’s drawing was, be sure, rather a poor affair to a common eye, but the eye of a master saw in it galleries of masterpieces. This is but a faint image of God’s insight and foresight. In first rude sketches of character and action He distinguishes the artists, the cartoons, of eternity. Life may be short with us, but that is no matter; let us see to it that it be true. “And it was in the heart of David my father to build an house for the name of the Lord God of Israel. And the Lord said unto David my father, Whereas it was in thine heart to build an house unto My name, thou didst well that it was in thine heart” (1 Kings 8:17). We do not want great things to make us great, or to prove that we are great. The daisy--modest, wee crimson-tipped flower--was theme enough for Robert Burns to prove himself a prince of poets; a single string, stretched across a wooden shoe, was enough for Paganini to prove himself a prince of musicians; a bit of canvas, a few inches square, was enough for Raphael to prove himself a prince of painters; and in a dim corner, with a lowly task, with a short life, with no spectators but God and the holy angels, we may attain and reveal the veriest greatness of soul. “By patient continuance in well-doing” let us “seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.” (W. L. Watkinson.)
The good thing
I. The good thing found in abijah.
1. There was nothing good in him by nature. The passions of envy, pride, and selfishness show themselves in early life. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” It is implanted in his nature, sunk deep into his heart. It entwines round his faculties like the ivy, and is rooted like the oak.
2. No good thing could have been produced in him by mere human efforts. The father of the faithful could not do it. Hence his prayer for the son of the bondwoman: “O that Ishmael might live before Thee!” The man after God’s own heart could not do it. Hence his lamentation over the death of his wicked son: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
3. The good thing that was in Abijah must have been infused by the Spirit of God. The principle of a natural man in religious actions is artificial; he is wound up like the spring of an engine to a certain power;. but as the motion of the engine ceases when the spring is down, so the motions of a natural man hold no longer than they give him pleasure, or contribute to his earthly profit; but the principle of a spiritual man is internal, and the first motion of this principle is toward God, so that he acts from Him and for Him.
4. Observe, this “good thing” was found in Abijah.
(1) It was found of God, “Man judgeth by the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh at the heart.”
(2) It was found of angels. For “are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister unto them that shall be heirs of salvation?” And is there anything which can enhance their joy? O yes, for “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God, over one sinner that repenteth.”
(3) It was found of the godly around him. They saw it in the humility and love which beamed in his countenance--in the grace of his conversation, in the uniformity of his conduct, and in the zeal which he manifested for the glory of God, the prosperity of the pious, and the conversion of sinners.
5. Observe, this good thing was found in Abijah “in the house of Jeroboam.” This circumstance teaches us two things.
(1) The sovereignty of Divine grace in his conversion.
(2) The decision of his religious profession. Decision and firmness of mind and character are of essential service in all the affairs of life: and nothing that is great or good has ever been done without them. In religion it is of the greatest moment to be decided, so that when the question is asked, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” O that we could all answer without the fear of being confronted, one by one, “I am!”
II. The goodness of it.
1. It was a good thing for himself.
2. It was a good thing for others. As “one sinner destroyeth much good,” so one saint may (as an instrument in the hand of God) save from much evil. “I will bless thee,” said Jehovah to the patriarch Abraham, “and thou shalt be a blessing.” The circumstance of “all Israel mourning for him and burying him,” speaks volumes in his praise, and leads one to hope that his counsels were appreciated, and his prayers answered in the re-formation--if not in the saving conversion--of his survivors. (T. Hitchin, M. A.)
Grace in different degrees
Behold the goodness of God! a little good in him, and yet the great God takes notice of the little good in him. God found (as it were) one pearl in a heap of pebbles, one good young man in Jeroboam’s household, that some good in him towards the Lord God of Israel. In the whole verse, three parts:
I. A lamentation for the death of this son of Jeroboam. It is said, “All Israel shall mourn for him,” and so they did (verse 18)--which argued there was goodness in him; for if he had not been desired and prized while he lived, he would not have been so lamented at his death.
II. A limitation of his punishment; he only of Jeroboam’s family shall come to the grave, the rest of his posterity that died in the city, dogs should eat, and him that dieth in the field, should the fowls of the air devour (verse 11).
III. The commendation of his life, “In him was found some good,” etc (of this I am now to treat). He is commended by the Holy Ghost; for his goodness is set forth,
1. By the quality of his goodness; it was a good thing, not a good word only, or a good purpose or inclination, with which too many content themselves; but it was a good action.
2. By the quantity of it; it was but some little good thing that was found in him, and yet that little good God did not despise or overlook.
3. By the sincerity of his goodness; there are two notable demonstrations of this young man goodness:
1. It was towards the Lord God of Israel.
2. It was in Jeroboam’s house.
1. His goodness was towards the Lord God of Israel. This argued Paul’s sincerity, that in his speaking, writing, and actions he could and did appeal to God. That religion, saith the apostle, is pure and undefiled, that is so before God and the Father. Many hypocrites may be good towards men, who are not so towards God; to be rich indeed, is to be rich towards God. True repentance is repentance towards God; and he is unblamable indeed that is void of offence towards God, as well as towards men.
2. He was good in the house of Jeroboam. A wicked man may seem good in a good place, but to be good in a bad place argues men to be good indeed. To be good m David’s house, this was not so much; but for this young man to be good in the house of Jeroboam his father, whom the Scripture brands for his idolatry, that he made all Israel to sin, and yet could not make his son to sin; this argued he was sincerely good. There is only one difficulty in the text, viz.. What was that good thing that was found in Abijah? For answer to this, it is true, the Scripture doth not particularly express what that good thing was which was found in him: but Tostatus and Peter Martyr affirm from the Hebrew Rabbins, that when the Jews of the ten tribes did on their appointed times repair to Jerusalem to worship according to the command of God, and Jeroboam commanded soldiers to intercept them, this Abijah did hinder the soldiers to kill them, and gave them passes to go to Jerusalem to worship God, and encouraged them therein, notwithstanding the rage of his father, who had forsaken the true worship of God, and set up calves at Dan and Bethel. Others think the goodness of this young prince was in this, that he would not consent to his father in taking away the government from the house of David; but where the Scripture hath not a tongue to speak, we have not an ear to hear, and therefore we shall not undertake to determine what the Scripture hath not determined.
There are many collateral observations which I shall deduce from the several circumstances in the text, and but name some of them.
1. From the consideration that this good Abijah died: Good men, and useful and hopeful instruments may be taken away by death, when Wicked men may live long upon the earth. Bad Jeroboam lived long, his good son died soon; so true is that of Solomon. A righteous man may perish in his righteousness, when a wicked man may prolong his days in his wickedness. Briers and thorns and thistles wither not so soon as lilies and roses. They may be taken out of the world, of whom the world is not worthy; and they remain behind, who are not worthy to live in the world.
2. From the consideration of the death of godly Abijah, when wicked Nadab the other son of Jeroboam lived. Observe, That good children may be taken away by death from their parents, when ungodly children may live to be a shame and a curse to their parents. There are two other circumstances upon which I shall a little enlarge myself, before I come to the main point I intend to handle. From the age of this son of Jeroboam, who is here commended for his goodness, it is said, he was “a child” (verse 12). Whence it may be observed, It is very commendable to see goodness in young people: to see young men good men, is a very commendable thing. There were many good men in that time, but to be good so soon as Abijah was, when he was a child, the Scripture records this to his praise. I shall show you that it is a commendable thing to see young men good men. This I prove: First, because the Scripture makes very honourable mention of young men, when good men; as, first, of Obadiah, that he feared the Lord from his youth. And it is recorded to the honour of Timothy, that he knew the Holy Scriptures from a child. Jerome conceives that John was the most beloved disciple, because he was the youngest of all. Secondly, because God commends moral and common goodness in the young man in the Gospel, Christ is said to love him for his moral goodness and natural ingenuity.
1. The reason why it is so commendable in a young man to be a good man, is this, because their temptations are more, and their affections are stronger to carry them from God; youth hath a stronger aptitude and proclivity to sin than any other age.
2. The time of your youth is the freest age of your life to betake yourselves to the exercise of religion and duties of godliness.
3. Consider, if thou art not gracious in youth, the sins of thy youth may trouble thy conscience in thy old age. Many young men who are active and venturous in the heat of their youth, get those bodily bruises and blows that they feel the ache thereof to their dying day. A second remarkable circumstance is this, that this young Abijah was good in the house of Jeroboam. Whence observe, that it is a great commendation for men to retain their goodness whilst they live in bad places and families. To be a saint in Nero’s family is very commendable. And the reason thereof is,
1. Because many of God’s children have failed, and abated much of their goodness in bad places. How did Peter fall in the high priest’s hall! though when in good company he was zealous, yet there he denied Christ.
2. Because it is a clear evidence of the sincerity of a man goodness, to be good in a bad place. This shows thy grace to be grace indeed, when thou hast discouragements to be good, and then art holy. From hence learn the power and unloose-ableness of saving grace; grace keeps a man good in the worst times. Nehemiah in the court of Artaxerxes, Obadiah in Ahab’s court, Daniel in Nebuchadnezzar’s, the saints in Nero’s household, and Abijah in wicked and idolatrous Jeroboam’s house. Though it be a commendable thing to be good in bad places; vet you ought to bewail your living in bad places, it is your misery though not your sin; thus did Isaiah, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of unclean lips.” Hence we may gather, that it is our duty, the more bad the place or family is where God hath cast your dwelling, the better and more blameless you should labour to be; you will by this adorn your profession, stop the mouths of adversaries, allure and win others to embrace Christianity. Then certainly it is a vain plea for men to excuse their wickedness, because they live in bad places; this was Abraham’s fault, to excuse his lie by being at Gerar. Seneca blames men of laying the fault of their badness on the place where they live. “I am not ambitious by nature, but no man that lives at Rome can be otherwise. I am not given to costly and rich apparel, but I must do so when I am at Rome.” It is the badness of thy heart, and not the place that makes thee bad; no place, though never so good, can exempt a man from sin; the angels sinned in heaven, Adam in Paradise, Judas in Christ’s family, and no place though never so bad can excuse a man from sin. If it be so commendable to be good in bad places, then it is abominable to be bad in good places, to be dirty swine in a fair meadow. Oh how many are bad in good families, who despise good counsels, and hate the duties of religion in religious families! (C. Love.)
Grace with its different degrees
God doth not only exactly take notice of, but also tenderly cherish and graciously reward the smallest beginnings, and weakest measures of grace, which He works in the hearts of His own people. I might produce a cloud of testimonies to confirm this point. Our Saviour Christ said, that He “will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax.” Observe, it is not said, the strong oak shall not be broken; but the bruised reed shall not be broken. The green buds are regarded by Christ as well as the ripe and grown fruit. In opening of the doctrine, I shall endeavour to clear these two things:
1. That some of God’s people have but weak measures and small beginnings of grace.
2. Though there be but a little grace, yet God will regard and reward it.
1. That some of God s people have but a little grace--have but the beginnings of grace wrought in their souls. In the handling whereof are three things:
(1) The truth of the proposition may be made good from the Scriptures.
(2) I will lay down notes of discovery, to know such as have but small measures of grace wrought in them.
(3) And then show why God, in His wisdom, will not suffer His people to be all of an equal strength and stature in grace. How doth it appear that some of God’s people are but weak in grace?
1. By the different names and titles that are given unto Christians in Holy Scriptures, arguing they are of different measure and growth of grace.
(1) Some are called strong men, and others weak.
(2) Some are called babes in Christ, and others called grown men.
(3) Some are called trees of righteousness, plants of renown, that grow like cedars in Lebanon; others are but a bruised reed. Some are kids in Christ’s flock, and Iambs.
2. By the analogy that is between spiritual and natural differences of age, strength, and stature in man; the Holy Scriptures exactly sets down all the different degrees of grace under the similitude of the different ages of men.
(1) There is a forming of Christ in the heart, and so a spiritual conception.
(2) There are those that are but newborn babes in Christ.
(3) There are some who are advanced from infancy to be young men.
(4) There are some that are grown men in Christ, old men. And all this doth but set forth the different degrees of grace that are in Christians, some having less, and some more.
A second question, how may a man know himself, that he is but of a little measure and small beginning in grace?
1. To be much in dependence on duties, argues thou art but weak in grace. A young Christian is like a young carpenter, he makes many chips and hath many blows, but doth not make such smooth work as an experienced carpenter, who will make fewer chips, and at fewer blows better work; so young Christians, they are much in the use of duty, but they are apt to rely upon duty; they think duties make them saints, and they are apt to make saviours of their duties. Young Christians are,
(1) affectionate in duties, and
(2) frequent in their duties;
(3) and see not their failings in their duties, and so are apt to rest on their duties.
2. A weak Christian is not clearly insighted into the close and spiritual failings, which cleave to his performances. He doth see his gifts, and take notice of his affections, but he doth not see the vanity of his mind, the unsoundness of his mind, the unsoundness of his ends, his carnal dependence upon his duty, self-love, and vain-glory. An experienced Christian will take as much notice of his failing in duty, as of his ability in it.
3. To have a scrupulous conscience about matters of indifferency argues a weak Christian; for so the apostle calls them, weak in the faith, such as did bind conscience when the Scriptures left it free. One believer thought he might eat anything, and another doubted of lawfulness of eating sundry things. Now those that doubted, the apostle calls weak; and the weak conscience is apt to be defiled. Not to know our liberty, and to abuse our liberty, is an argument we have but little grace.
4. To be so intently set on the exercises of religion as to neglect our particular callings, is a sign we are but weak in grace. It was a good saying of that famous man of God, Dr. Sibs: “I like that Christian well, that will hear much and live much, that will pray much and work much.” In young converts their affections are strong and stirring, and they think they can never hear enough, and they many times do neglect the duties of their callings, which doth argue their weakness and infirmity. An experienced grown Christian is regular in his general and particular calling; so as the one shall not jostle and hinder the other.
5. To have men’s persons in admiration argues weakness in grace; such were the Corinthians, who had men’s persons in admiration. A solid Christian loves all good ministers, and can contemn none.
6. To be easily seduced and led away into error argues but weakness in grace. Those the apostle calls “children, who are tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” Weakness of head doth argue that grace is not very strong in thy heart.
7. Such as are only acquainted with the common principles of religion, without further search into the depths and mysteries of religion.
8. Weak Christians are strong in affections, and not in judgment, they have usually more heat than light; young Christians are like young horses, they have much metal, but are not so fit for a journey, because they are not so thorough-paced: there are many Christians that have much zeal and affection, but are not solid in their judgment; but this argues much weakness in grace.
9. A weak Christian is one that cannot bear reproof. Sharp weather will discover whether thou art of a weak or sound body. Be not then discouraged you that discern in yourselves but small measures of grace; look on your wants and imperfections, so as to grow in grace, and not to be content with any measure; but look not on the small beginnings in grace, as discouragement to you. When you see in a field a great oak, you may say this great tree was once but a small acorn. Those Christians who are now but small sprigs, may hereafter be tall cedars. Why doth God so order and ordain it, that among His own people all shall not be of an equal stature in Christ, but there are of them some in whom there shall be but the beginnings of grace found?
It is true, it is not with regeneration as it was in the creation; it is not with the trees of righteousness as it was with the trees of Paradise, which were created all perfect at the first: but it is not so in the work of grace, we are not perfectly sanctified, nor at once, but we perfect holiness in the fear of God, and that by degrees; and God hath given to some of His people but small beginnings and measures of grace, and that for these reasons:
1. To put a difference between our estate on earth and our being in heaven. In heaven we shall all have an equal stature in grace, though it be disputed that there are different degrees of glory. But in heaven the spirits of just men shall all be made perfect, and there we shall all come unto the measure, of the stature of the fulness of Christ. All believers here are justified by God alike. God doth not acquit the strong, and hold guilty the weak, but justification is alike to all, but our sanctification is not alike; but when we come to heaven, our sanctification shall be then as our justification is now, that is, perfect and equal, we shall have not only a perfection of parts, but of degrees.
2. This is to make men live in a continual dependence upon Divine influx and supplies from the Spirit of God.
3. For the greater ornament of the mystical body of Christ. In a natural body, if every member should be of an equal bigness, the body would be monstrous: but the body is so proportioned in its different members, that the lesser become serviceable to the greater, and so they all orderly discharge their mutual operations. As in music there would be no harmony if the strings were all of an equal bigness; but one string being the bass, and the other the treble, that makes the music to be more melodious; so it is in grace, the different degrees of grace makes the body of Christ more harmonious. It is here as in some curious piece of needlework; if all the silks were of one colour, it would not set out the work with so much lustre and amiableness as the variety of colours will do.
4. To make God’s people see a necessity of maintaining fellowship and communion together, to edify and build up each other. There would be no need of Christian discourse and holy fellowship, did not our weakness require it.
5. To set out the glory of God in all His glorious attributes.
(1) This different size of grace in Christians, doth glorify the mercy of God, and the free grace of God, who when there are some Christians that have but a little grace, yet God rewards those small measures of grace with great measures of glory.
(2) This magnifies the power of God, who, when we are weak, yet the great God manifests His power in our weakness, yea, His strength is made perfect in weakness. And therefore Paul adds (2 Corinthians 12:10), “For when I am weak, then am I strong, that is, in Christ. It is by God’s power that the least measure of grace shall be preserved. And as God’s power is seen in preserving of a little grace, so it is also seen in the increasing of small grace.
(3) God doth hereby glorify His wisdom. As God’s wisdom is demonstrated in the world by the variety of creatures, which are not all of the same bulk and bigness, but some bigger and some lesser: so in the Church of God His wisdom appears, that some Christians are of greater, and some of a lesser measure of grace. Search the whole creation, and you shall find the wisdom of God in the variety of creatures. In the heavens there are the greater and lesser lights. In the air, the great eagle and little sparrow: on the earth, the elephant and little dog: amongst the creeping things, there is the great serpent and the little pismire: amongst the vegetables, the tall cedar, and the hyssop on the wall. That in the Church there are found more weak Christians than strong, more young converts than old and grown Christians. As in a forest there arc more young sprouts than old trees, in a garden more young slips than old roots, in the world more young children than old men. In Nineveh there were one hundred and twenty thousand infants, but there was not such a number of old men. By how much things are perfect, by so much they are the fewer. Look amongst other creatures, those that are of a bigger bulk are of a lesser number, as in the sea there are more young and little fish than great whales; on the earth the smallest things are innumerable; in the air there are more swarms of flies than flocks of birds; so in the Church of God there are more that are young and weak converts than old Christians. That there are many that have but weak measures and small beginnings of grace, who have been a long time under the profession of religion, and under the means of grace; such were the Hebrews, “who for the time that they ought to be teachers, yet had need that one should teach then again, which be the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk and not of strong meat”; and I may accommodate to this purpose that speech of Christ, “Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” There are many who went out early, and took as it were the first step m profession of religion, and yet others have overgone them, who went out after them. Many who have but weak measures of grace, have been of long standing under the means of grace. It is not how many years you have been professors, but what experience and judgment have you gotten under ordinances?
That believers ought not to rest satisfied with the small measures of grace they have received; though a little grace may bring you to heaven, yet you are not to take up therewith, but if you have got a little grace, labour for more; and to quicken you hereunto, consider:
1. Small measures of grace are not so sensible and evidential to yourselves; little things because they are little are not seen: There may be little dust hovering up and down in the air, yet because it is small we see it not: this is the reason why Christians doubt; grace is little, and therefore it is not discerned.
2. Consider, that small measures of grace, though they may bring you to heaven, for they are not so useful to others; a weak Christian cannot do much good in Christian converse, because they want judgment and experience in the ways of God; and therefore such are not to be received to doubtful disputations, but are to be borne withal. Spiritual and strong Christians are most useful. Young converts are not fit for some exercises about religion; they are not fit to strengthen others.
3. Nor are small measures of grace so honourable to God. God is glorified, when His people bear much fruit. It is our duty to improve those small measures of grace which God hath given us. And consider, he that is faithful in a little, God will make him ruler over much. Use of grace will increase it; yet if thy grace be increased, ascribe all to God, it is God’s pound, and not thy pains hath gained. Use is of comfort to weak Christians, to those young Abijahs, in whom there is found but small little good.
Let such know to their comfort:
1. Though thy grace be but little in quantity, yet it is much in value. A pearl, though but little in substance, yet it is of great worth: so a little grace is of great value; the heart of a wicked man is nothing worth; you may have much knowledge and seeming grace, but no true worth. A shop full of barrels will not make a man rich, unless those vessels be full of commodities; gifts as to heaven are but the lumber of a Christian, it is grace that makes him rich towards God.
2. Though thy grace be little for the present, yet it will grow for the future to a greater measure. The little grain of mustard-seed (the least of seeds) will in time grow up to a tree.
3. The little measure of grace once begun in the soul shall be perfected. God will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, until judgment be perfected in victory.
4. The weakest Christian hath grace alike for quality, though not for quantity: though thy grace be not so much, yet it is as true as others: though but a convert of yesterday, yet grace as true as if an old stander in religion--faith is alike precious in all believers for quality, though not for quantity. Faith in all believers is alike.
(1) In respect of the Author, God.
(2) The object, it holds upon, the same Christ.
(3) The means working it are the same.
(4) The end, it hath the same salvation of soul (1 Peter 1:9).
(5) God will not put your weak grace to trial beyond your strength. God will debate with it in measure, He will stay His rough wind in the day of His east wind.
(6) Take this for your comfort, the least measure of grace is enough to bring you to heaven.
1. Consider, that things merely necessary and sufficient to maintain a natural life will not content a man; what man is content, though he hath clothes enough to hide his nakedness, and food enough to keep life and soul together--but he desires not only clothes for nakedness, but ornament, and only food for hunger and necessity, but delight? Now shall men be unbounded after their desires for outward things, and shall they sit down and say they have enough for heavenly things?
2. Consider, if thou contentest thyself with a small measure of grace, though thou shalt have the fruit of thy grace when thou diest, yet thou wilt want the comfort of thy grace whilst thou livest. It is strength of grace that gives assurance; weak grace will bring thy soul to heaven, but it is the strength of grace will bring heaven into thy soul. The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness shall be quietness and assurance for ever. The second caution is, Take not those things to be evidences of the truth of grace, which are evidences only of the growth and strength of grace. Weak converts do involve themselves in a labyrinth of misery, in judging themselves by those symptoms which are evidences only of the strength of grace. Thou must not judge thyself whether thou art in the state of grace by this; as whether thou hast ravishing joys and comforts of the Holy Ghost: these are things that God indulgeth unto some few, and those of a long standing in the school of Christ. In a school, a scholar must not compare himself with one of the highest form: if thou wouldst judge of the truth of thy grace, judge by the lowest measure. The reason why hypocrites and low-form Christians do mistake, is this: hypocrites judge they have grace because they have gifts, and weak Christians judge they have no grace because they do not find such measures of grace in them as are in others. We do not use to say, it is not day because it is not noon. It is unthankfulness to God, and uncharitableness to ourselves, to argue a nullity of grace from the weakness of it. Do not conclude you have small measures of grace, because you have but small measures of comfort; this is the fault of young converts; they take measure of their grace by their comfort, which is a false and deceitful rule; growth of grace is not to be measured by the working of joy: the sweet blossom of joy may fall off, when the fruit of grace may come on; yea, sometimes Christians of the greatest measure of grace may have the least measure of comfort; and all to let us know, that as the being and exercise, so the comforts of our graces, come from free grace. Do not conclude the measure of thy grace little, because thou hast but a little measure of gifts. Gifts are the issues of time and experience, and the fruits of studies advantaged by the strength of natural parts. A man may have a quick and pregnant invention, a profound judgment, a retentive memory, a clear elocution and the like, and yet none of these things can be arguments of grace, but all are but natural endowments.
Gifts may be high, and grace may be low.
1. Comfort yourselves, ye weak Christians, for you have a strong God. In Jehovah is everlasting strength.
2. You have a strong Saviour, though your grace is weak; yet he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him.
3. You lie under a strong Word, which is able to carry on the work of grace which is begun in you. The Word of God, though it be foolishness to them that perish, yet it is the power of God to them that are saved.
4. You are weak, but you stand on a sure foundation.
5. Weak believers are assisted by a strong Spirit. The Spirit of God is not only a Spirit of grace and supplication: but it is also a Spirit of power. I come now to the second part, which is this, that God doth exactly take notice, tenderly cherish, and graciously reward the least beginnings, and the smallest measures of grace in the hearts of His people.
In the prosecution of which point, I shall proceed in this method.
1. I shall prove the truth of it.
2. I will also endeavour to give you the grounds hereof, and then make application.
First, that God doth thus cherish the small beginnings of grace will appear, if we consider,
1. These Scripture instances, Matthew 12:20. He will not quench the smoking flax, that is, by the figure meiosis (as I have shown already) He will kindle it. He will not break the bruised reed, that is, He will strengthen it. God regards not the flame only, but the smoking of grace; not the ripe fruit, but the tender buds.
2. The truth of this point may be made out by those sweet and gracious promises God hath made to grace though weak. I will give you one instead of many, mentioned by the prophet Isaiah, “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd, He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”
3. By counsels that Christ giveth to us, how we ourselves should carry ourselves to those that are weak, viz., to use them with all tenderness. Why doth God cherish the least measures of grace in His people? Because the least measure of grace is of a very great value; the least grace, and least measure or degree of it, is the purchase of Christ’s blood, and the merit of His great sufferings. The smallest spark of a diamond is precious; pearls and precious stones are but little for quantity, but great for quality and esteem. The least degree of grace is the work of God, and God will not forsake His own work. Little grace is of the same nature and excellency with the greatest degree of grace; for as the very filings of gold are of the same nature with gold, so the least measure of grace is grace. The faith of all believers is the same faith specifically, though not the same gradually; their faith is in all alike precious, but not alike strong. Because God is the author of weak grace as well as of strong. Solomon gives a good rule why the rich should not slight the poor, because God is the Author and Maker of them both. The Lord will perfect His work that concerneth His people, i.e., He will perfect and encourage the least beginnings of grace, because grace is His work in His servants. It is a very good argument in prayer, O Lord forsake not the work of Thy hands. Property is the ground of love, care and tenderness: as a man will look to a weak child, because it is his child, and will repair a weak house, because it is the house wherein he dwells. And that is the third demonstration of God’s tender care over His people, that the meanest measure of grace shall not be deserted or forsaken, because God is the author of it. A fourth reason may be drawn from the covenant of grace, the nature and tenor whereof is to accept of sincerity instead of perfection, desires for deeds, purposes for performances, pence for pounds, and mites for millions; and therefore God will accept and reward the least measure of grace, that is, in truth and sincerity. If God doth cherish and will reward the smallest measure of graces, then it will follow that God takes notice of the smallest sins to punish them. He that graciously eyes the very buddings of grace, will also justly eye the buddings of corruption in His own people. Learn from hence, that the same mind should be in Christians of greater growth to the weak, as was in Christ Jesus; who, though He be higher than the highest, yet He looks upon the poor and lowly without disdain, and so should we. Learn from hence, bow God doth by leisure and degrees carry on in the hearts of His people the work of grace unto further perfection. Mushrooms and such like worthless things, like Jonah’s gourd, may spring up in one night; but things of most moment are of longest growth before they come to perfection. And therefore let young converts learn from hence not to be discouraged.
God’s works both of nature and grace are perfected by degree.
1. Though God regards the least measure of grace, let not this make you regardless to grow in grace.
2. Though you have but a little grace, yet do not despise it, or disparage it. O do not despise the day of small things in thy soul. Do not tread upon the bunch of grapes, upon the new wine in the cluster, but say, there is a blessing in it. (C. Love.)
1 Kings 14:16
Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin.
The sin of making others to sin
1. Here we see the tendency of sin to produce sin--to go on propagating sin; here is the connection between the first sinner, who sets the thing in motion--a connection, clear to the eye of God--between him and the very lass result. The Bible does not create this--that book is not accountable for it; for if you had not the Bible, or if you put it out of the question altogether, there is still the fact in the nature of things. People nowadays are perpetually wanting us to keep away from the supernatural revelation, and to take our stand on the natural. Very well. Let us now look at it in that way. I mean to say it is just the natural course of things. Whether there is a God or not, does not alter the question. Put that aside for the moment, and just hear the reality as seen amongst us. The thing is an obvious, absolute fact, wherever it came from, that bad men make bad men--the corrupt produces corruption, and the evil thought, word, or act exerts an influence and propagates itself. Take a man that is dead and buried, and who has been in his grave a hundred years, and you can conceive of his mind coming actually into direct contact with the minds of the present generation, and producing a corrupting influence upon them. Well, then, imagine a man--picture to yourselves the writer of a popular book, aiming to overturn the faith of the young, the indiscreet, and unlearned. Supposing such a man to write such a book which continues to be circulated from generation to generation; copies of it are multiplied and sent forth. Young minds come into contact with it; these minds are corrupted by it; they are defiled and led away from the faith, giving up their confidence in God, and perhaps seduced to what is immoral. Do you not see that though he has been dead two or three hundred years, this author has still a living presence in society? His mind is coming into contact with other living minds; and thus, though dead, he yet speaketh--speaketh against God--speaketh with blasphemy--speaketh to corrupt--and men are thereby corrupted, and taught to blaspheme, and he is thus living, speaking, and operating till the present day by the printing and publication of that work.
2. I want you to see, in the next place, that there is no help for this. On purely natural principles it cannot be helped. If you could get all the readers of Tom Paine to give up their bad books, and agree that they should all be burned, would it not be a miracle? I should like you to try to get that done! But you must do more than that--you must not only destroy the books, but you must annihilate all the impressions on their memories and their hearts that this man’s books have made, if you are to stop the evil influence he has set in motion by sinning and teaching others to sin.
3. If a bad man--a man that has sinned himself, and that has taught others to sin, seduced the innocent, sapped the foundations of virtue, destroyed the religious faith of men--supposing such a one to come to a better mind; supposing his heart is changed, and he becomes a penitent believer. He could never undo what he had done for the great mass of those on whom he had exerted a bad influence; and when he wanted to undo what he had done, and exert a good influence, they would just receive his words with mockery, and would go in the way he had led them at first. But even this could not be done. You know that it would be impossible for a man who has exerted a bad influence on others to collect them together and thus to reason with them. No! Before he comes to that better mind, some who were his associates, and whom he has influenced for evil, are dead and beyond his reach. Others are gone to the other side of the globe; and they are beyond his reach. He cannot find where these multitudes are; and they, because of what he did, have influenced others, and others have influenced again; and the thing has gone on, and it is not for him to know its ramifications and its consequences. Now this is the “course of nature,” and you cannot help it.
4. Now I want you again to make a supposition for the sake of argument. Supposing that there should be a future life; and supposing that, after death, the souls of men are awakened into a new life, with all the recollections of this--with all the memories of this? The only difference, in all probability, is that they would be delivered from what here darkens the judgment--from what here misleads the mind--and from what here hides a man from himself--and what hides from him the characteristics and properties of his sin. Suppose that he will waken into another life--that he will see things as they are in themselves, and see people as they are; and, perhaps, be able to see and to trace the connection between his sin and the sinning of others? Suppose that he will be able to see and trace the influence on generation after generation, of the evil that he did, and of the influence which he set in motion? Supposing that he should waken up, in this other life, to a moral perception of what he did while alive, and what he continues to do by the influences he then set in motion, and which continued to be a power in the world after he had departed? Well, now; only think of a man waking up to that! Where is it to end, supposing the human spirit does wake up to that? You must take your choice; that, I believe, is the real fact of the case. You must take your choice, looking at nature, at the course of things, at the real, awful, terrible facts of our existence! You must take your choice between two things--either that there is nothing but nature, or that there is a fixed course of things, and we must look forward, both in this world and in the next; and, depend upon it, nature never deceives with respect to those great instincts that she has planted In all her creatures. There is not an instinct, in all animated being, which has not an appropriate good. I only state this. Take your choice. You must believe either that nature is all you have, or you must believe that God in His mercy and grace, and looking down on our condition in its natural state of sin, has done something above nature to reach us--to lead us up--to give us hope!
5. The Gospel comes to destroy the spiritual consequences of your sin, and, through repentance, and faith in God, to give you a hope in mercy, and to save your souls; but as long as you continue unfaithful, you continue subject to the course of nature; and any consequences of sin which you have brought on yourself must be taken to the grave with you, and the Gospel will not help you out of it. If you ruin your health by vice, or your character by crime, you may repent, and God will save you, and the interposition of His grace will sanctify your soul, and you may get to heaven; but it will not give you health, nor will it destroy the consequences which sin has brought on your body--it will not set you in society where you were befog--you will still be remembered as having been a criminal and dishonest man, as long as you live; and though people may rejoice at your conversion, and hope for the best, you will never stand where you once did stand in society. Never! There is another thing I am obliged to submit to. I do not understand it. It is a matter of faith, and I say I do not know how it can be, but I believe that it is, in some way or other. That is to say, I believe this--that a very great sinner, who has led a great many into sin, and been the means of the utter destruction and corruption of many, influentially--well, it is a great mystery, but I believe the Gospel is such, that the grace of God can so operate that that soul may hereafter enjoy repose! It is wonderful to think it; but I believe the Gospel makes a provision for it--I believe that it is within the resources of God’s omnipotent mercy, that that soul may be happy in God, notwithstanding the consequences of its sin are going on injuring others! He will go to the grave mourning over that; but then his soul will enter into repose, though these consequences still remain going on. (T. Binney.)
1 Kings 14:27
King Rehoboam made in their stead brazen shields.
Shields of gold and bronze
Solomon in his reign decorated his court of justice, called the house of the forest of Lebanon, with three hundred shields of beaten gold. These shields of gold hung there until his son Rehoboam’s reign, when Shishak, King of Egypt, came up and pillaged Jerusalem. When he had taken these golden shields away, Rehoboam made for their empty places shields of brass or copper; and whatever trouble he may have taken to secure the shields of gold, he committed his brazen shields to the care of a trusty guard. “And when the king went into the house of the Lord, the guard bare them, and brought them back into the guard-chamber.”
1. The kingdom of Israel was a figure of that real kingdom which every man possesses--himself, with some good or evil principle regnant over its thoughts and desires, its life and aims. And this kingdom may be like the kingdom of Solomon, a realm regulated by a noble and wise power, and rich in the resources of a good and capable nature. Its protecting and inspiring principles may be as pure and as beautiful as shields of gold; justice and innocence, mercy and truth set up like shining shields within its inmost sanctuary. But if human life has any lesson more sad than another it is that which teaches that men often depart from their purest and best principles, and permit lower and less noble motives to guide them. Many men begin life with a real desire to become useful and a blessing to the world, who afterwards become mere seekers after wealth or pleasure. The bright, generous youth grows into the hard and selfish man; the frank, sympathetic, and lovable spirit shrivels up into the narrow, suspicious, grasping, and unloving seeker after self. A process of transmutation goes on, but not of baser metal into gold, but of gold into copper or bronze. This incident is a picture of this decline from high principle to something less noble and unselfish; it is the emblem of that change too common with us, from gold to brass.
2. There is one side of Rehoboam’s energy in making shields of copper that pathetically resembles our own sometimes--that which displays the haste and eagerness with which men hasten to conceal the loss of their highest feelings; how strenuously they strive to preserve the appearance of principle, of magnanimity, and of honour, when they have lost their essential spirit; how strictly they adhere to the forms of godliness when often its life is entirely gone! Burnished bronze is substituted for pure gold, and it often looks like gold and passes for it, but it lacks the true ring and the unsullied lustre of the genuine metal none the less. Yet it is important for us to learn that the substitution of copper for gold is a right thing when our gold is gone, if we do not deceive ourselves into the belief that our bronze is gold, for the loss of inward innocence and purity of motive can, at least, be partly atoned for by the steady pursuit of outward goodness and righteousness. It is sad, indeed, to depart from the best principles that we possess, but it is far more sorrowful not to repair our loss by the pursuit of some lesser good. Sometimes goodness seems instinctive, and we cannot do wrong, because it fills us with an unconquerable horror; but when such feelings fail, it is wise to resist evil from much lower motives rather than yield ourselves willingly to sin. If we cannot hearken to the voice of love, it is well for us to listen to the word of command; if full desire should fail to move us to do right, then it is wise to use the compulsion of law and obedience.
3. Many of our deepest and purest feelings do not seem able to bear the stress of this hard world. We quickly lose many of the sweetest and holiest feelings that were stored in our hearts in childhood; the teachableness, the peacefulness and humility, the sense of the Divine nearness, and our dependence upon our Heavenly Father; our reverence for truth and goodness, and our instinctive love of the right, are apt to fade away beneath the harsh light of this world of sin; but if our shields of gold should go, there is wisdom in making shields of copper; fitting up our minds with harder and lower principles; determining to obey the law of God; determining, at least, to keep our conduct pure; our hands, if not our hearts, clean; and doing our duty faithfully amongst men. It is Shishak, King of Egypt, the worldly principle, the principle of this life and its comforts, that robs us of our golden shields. We become engrossed with our earthly life, with its physical pleasures and pains, with its present hopes and disappointments, and the higher forces and influences lose their authority over us; what is better then, to use in preserving our religion, than those lower, but most needful, principles that bid us control our earthly and outward lives by a Divine law and force, that make religion a duty we owe to God, to ourselves, to our fellow-men, and unswerving fidelity to right our fixed course, because we must suffer and perish by any other way?
4. Men often make the mistake of giving up altogether their faith, their religion, their early principles and hopes, because they lose their charm, because they seem remote from their worldly daily life; but this is losing their shields altogether; they are depriving themselves entirely of what they might possess under another form; they should seek to make these things at least a check upon their lives, and follow what is right and good from a sense of duty if not from love. It is strange how precious such things become when we cling to them thus; it is easy indeed to lose the habit of prayer, which was once a pleasure to us; or the habit of attendance at the house of prayer, which was once a joy, when some fresh and more worldly influences come upon us; but it is remarkable how soon prayer and worship become a joy again, when we persevere in their use, and persist against our will in their practice. It is easy to lose our golden shields, but if we make for ourselves shields of copper, and guard them steadfastly and carefully, they will at length be transmuted into fine gold, for it is ever he that doeth the works that knows, and finds, and loves the doctrine. The pathway back to purity of heart is by purity of life; to the love of God’s commandments by obedience to them; to faith, and joy, and trust in heavenly things by steadfast duty to their laws in all we do below; and the method by which God restores to us our treasures of gold is by making us faithful over our treasures of bronze, for he that is faithful over a few things shall be ruler over many things. (W. F. Stonestreet.)
1 Kings 14:29-31
Now the rest of the acts of Rehoboam.
The power and weakness of external circumstances in the life of man
Though this man lived fifty-eight years in this world, and for seventeen years occupied the throne, how little is said of him! Inspired historians pay no more attention to the life of kings than to the life of ordinary men.
I. The power of external circumstances. Whilst we are far enough from admitting that man is by necessity the creature of circumstances, we cannot gainsay the fact that they tend greatly to shape his character and determine his fortunes. Here we find them investing the most worthless man with worldly opulence and regal power. Some men amass wealth and climb to power by skillful and persevering industry. But here is a man born to it. His ancestors made his position for him. He was not the architect of his own fortune. This is the case with thousands to-day. Experience teaches that to get wealth and power in this way is as undesirable as it is unmeritorious. Many sons have had reason to curse the day when their fathers bequeathed them a fortune. Here is a man whom circumstances made a king, who had nothing kingly in his soul.
II. The weakness of external circumstances.
1. They did not give him wisdom and piety.
2. They did not give him social respect. We are so constituted that we can have no true moral respect for a man, however elevated his position, if he is destitute of moral worth. To true souls corrupt men on a throne are far more contemptible than if they lived in hovels of obscurity.
1. That a man’s external circumstances are no just criteria by which to judge his character. To regard them as such, has been the tendency of men in all ages.
2. That man’s external circumstances do not necessarily shape his character. The circumstances into which the life of Rehoboam was thrown, did not by necessity make him the vile man and ruthless despot which he became. The fact is, there is a sovereign power in the soul, to subordinate external circumstances to its own interest. It can turn apparently the most adverse circumstances into blessings. (Homilist.)