2 Kings 22, 23.
Christian Friend vol. 19, 1892, p. 299 etc.
The history of Josiah has an important bearing upon our own times. Inasmuch as his days were very similar to ours, the same principles which guided him are just what we need. Did he live in a day of departure from God? So do we. Was his day characterized by weakness and decay? So is ours. Had he to contend against evil amongst those who professed to be the people of God? So have we. But, notwithstanding all, he acted for God. Those words, "he acted for God," seem to describe his whole course. It is true he was at the last inconsistent with this when be went unsent against the Egyptian king; but apart from this his life was unblemished. "Why was darkness allowed to come before his sun had well set?" we may ask. Because that sun had shone so brilliantly from its earliest rise without a cloud, and God often judges of an offence according to the character of the one by whom it is committed. Moses is an example of this. The sin of Moses might have been passed by in meaner men, but in his case God must notice it.
In Josiah we have a fine example. He is conspicuous for intelligent zeal, unswerving faithfulness, and ardent devotion. He found himself in difficult times, everything seemed out of course, but his aim was to please God. This is why he succeeded, and it is the only way in which we can succeed. What was the condition of things around him? Such as ought to have filled the people of God with shame. He found the house of God neglected; so little regard was there for the word of God that it was entirely lost sight of, and as an inevitable consequence everything was in a state of decline. But by his holy activity he completely changed the face of things. Where did he commence? He commenced at the right place; viz., at the house of God. He put God's interests where they always should be put - first. And then other changes followed. While the house was being repaired the book of the law was discovered. Thus an immense gain accrued from this single-hearted devotedness. It must have afforded sweet comfort to Josiah, and it also directed him how to put down the evil around, and how to reinstate the worship of the true God in its own proper place. And the climax was reached when the passover was kept, a passover such as had not been observed within living memory.
Thus very briefly we have sketched the achievements of Josiah. But what about our own day? Are we not confronted with somewhat similar difficulties to those against which Josiah had to contend? Can we venture to think, much less say, that all that passes current as Christianity, all that is taught publicly in its name, is in strict harmony with divine revelation? No one who understands and appreciates that revelation can think so. Things are decidedly out of course. Let the enormities of the "church" of Rome, let the ritualistic practices of other communities, and let the false doctrine propagated by representatives of every sect, bear witness. Some will say, "What are we to do?" I believe we must do precisely what Josiah did. He cared for the interests of God. It is true there is no longer a visible temple; but there is something else, something equally important and equally dear to God. There is the church, composed of all true believers, which Christ loved and for which He gave Himself. Chosen by God the Father, redeemed by God the Son, and sanctified by God the Holy Ghost. We know that many who belong to the church have long since gone to be with the Lord, but there are others still on earth, members of Christ's body. Shall they not be dear to us? Shall we not seek their interest? Truly we can say, "They shall prosper that love thee."
There is another point in which we shall do well to imitate Josiah. When he found the word of God he obeyed it. It was only a small portion he had compared with what we possess. Ours is a greater responsibility and a greater privilege, and our only safety as well as our only happiness are to be found in strict adherence to its commands, wherever such a course may lead us. Scripture must be our only guide, whether as to individual conduct, ecclesiastical position, or anything else.
We have already noticed that Josiah began at the right place, and that the word of God was his guide. Before going a little more into detail, we may briefly notice one or two additional points. One is, he did not carry out his own ideas. He simply went back to what existed at the beginning, without attempting to introduce anything new.
Another fact worthy of attention is, he began young. This was much to his credit. He was only eighteen when he took an active part in caring for the interests of God.
And, lastly, he feared God, but he evidently had no fear of man. May the God of all grace lead us to be likeminded, and may the example of Josiah be made a blessing to us while we proceed to follow the narrative a little more closely.
The first important record in the history of Josiah is the mention of his zeal in repairing the house of the Lord. (2 Kings 22:3-5.) And indeed no one could be said to be true to God to whom the temple of Jehovah was not an object of deepest concern, for God had connected His name with it. That temple no longer exists, but may we be led to see what has taken its place, in order that we may discover how necessary it is for us to care for God's present interests.
Before the Lord Jesus left this world it is recorded, "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end." And in His prayer to the Father He said, "I am glorified in them," and asked that they all might he one. May these desires of our blessed Lord find an echo in our hearts. "His own" distinguishes them from the rest of the world, and if anyone asked, "How am I to care for God's interests now?" we should reply, "Care for Christ's own." When Saul of Tarsus was going to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus, he was arrested by these words, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" The Lord Jesus spoke on behalf of His hunted and suffering disciples. And He says, "Why persecutest thou Me?" This not only proved the means of the apostle's conversion, but revealed a wonderful truth to him; viz., that these very people, so despised and hated by him, formed the body of Christ here on earth; while he learnt also that they were united to Christ as Head in glory. Thenceforth to this once persecuting and injurious person, as he describes himself, every member of that body became dearer than his own life. Oh that this truth were instilled into every heart, and kept vividly before our minds ' It should be so even in this day of confusion. Things, it is true, are not as they were in the apostle's day, but we do well to remember that in spite of human failure, and in spite of declension on the part of Christians, divine principles ever remain the same. You may think that the tone of everything being so low is a reason for lowering the standard. Not so. We must never lower God's standard to a human level. The truth that all believers are members of the body of Christ still remains unchanged. Christ has not ceased to be the Head in heaven, nor to love those that are "His own." Let us learn a lesson from the example of Josiah. Times had sadly changed in his day. Things were not the same as they were under Solomon's reign. The kingdom was divided. The glory had departed. That splendid temple, that had once been the pride of the nation, was in a state of dilapidation. But did Josiah sit with folded arms, and say, "Nothing can be done, things must remain as they are"? No; he began by repairing the breach in the house. So let it be with us today. There are breaches enough amongst the people of God, do not let us make them any wider. Let us seek their good; let us promote fellowship; let us flee from anything and everything that would keep Christians apart; let us endeavour "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Thus we see that God's people should be in our eye today what in his day the temple was to Josiah.
We must pass on now to another important event in the history of this God-fearing king - the finding of the book of the law. (2 Kings 22:8.) That it had been lost was a sad reflection upon Israel's condition. But the word of God finds no attractiveness in the eyes of the wicked, and we can well understand it was not wanted in the days of Manasseh and Amon. These predecessors of Josiah were wicked kings, and no doubt were glad to have the law of the Lord forgotten. For "the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Heb. 4:12.) Such it proved to be to Josiah. "And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes." How appropriate! how becoming on the part of Josiah! What was not expressed by such an act? See him with rent clothes! It speaks volumes. There is no need to enlarge, for actions speak louder than words. We commend him to present-day critics, who, alas! rend the Bible instead of their clothes. They may learn a wholesome lesson if they will but behold him; and if once its power be felt in the same way, they will never want to criticize the Bible again. The attitude of Josiah is the only attitude that becomes us in the presence of God's word. If we treat it as an ordinary book, an ordinary book it will remain to us; if we sit in judgment upon it, its hidden treasures will never be disclosed to us, it yields its spoil only to those who read it reverently and with prayer.
The moment it was read to him he recognized its authority. King as he was, he owned God's word supreme, and bowed to it. He did not debate as to whether after all it was the inspired Word, nor did he say, "We must examine its contents, and get proper evidence as to its genuineness." He was in a right state of soul, and it spoke to him with its own divine authority. It was true it had long been laid aside and forgotten, but the moment it is listened to with an attentive ear, it is at once felt that there is no diminution of its power. This was true in Josiah's day, it was proved true also at the Reformation, and is equally true in our own day. At the Reformation it was the word of God which overthrew the papal power, and emancipated many a precious soul from its deadly thraldom. Then, as in Josiah's day, it had been long neglected, but it had only to be taken up again to prove that its edge was as keen as ever, and its power undiminished. And it is just the same now. It can gain the same victories. It is all that is needed. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes . . . . the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward." (Psalm 19:7-11.)
When Josiah heard what the book of the law contained he said, "Go ye, enquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us." Notice he enquired not only for himself, but for the people and for all Judah. He recognized what seems to be often overlooked, that God's word is applicable to everyone; and also that all God has written is of equal importance in its place, and equally to be obeyed. Josiah remembered this. The word of God spoke to him as king on his throne, but it equally addressed the humblest of his subjects. It was for "the people and for all Judah." And so likewise they were all equally responsible to hear and to obey it. It is the same with ourselves. There is no part we can leave out, no command we can be permitted to disobey, no truth we can be allowed to treat with indifference.
Dear reader, we would affectionately ask you if you accept the Scriptures intact? If there be any part you slur over, or are afraid to turn to, depend upon it there must be something wrong in your soul that requires searching out and putting right. Let it be done at once, for you cannot afford to be deprived of a single truth God has revealed, or even of a single letter of His word. Many, alas! today are teaching that part of the Bible is God's word, and part is not. They do not see that by such a proceeding they destroy the whole. It reveals their ignorance. Like some unskilful workmen, who, pulling away from a building what they think unnecessary, unacquainted with its structure, they reduce it to a heap of ruins. This is the result of man's meddling with divine revelation, as far as those who might otherwise get profit from it are concerned; though, thank God, it cannot be so as regards the word itself. Beloved reader, do not listen to their learned ignorance. When left alone, they will in course of time contradict themselves, and overthrow their own theories; we need not trouble to do it. "If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Let our concern be to read it more diligently, to value it more highly, to penetrate further into its sacred precincts, and tread with more reverent step; then shall we find it no barren field, but one which, if we only dig deep enough, will yield us infinite and untold reward. Do we read the word of God enough? Do we even read it as we used to do? Any falling-off here would be disastrous to our spiritual life. Appetite for food is a sure sign of a healthy body, and if a person lose his taste for food we become anxious about him; and shall we be less anxious for our souls? If the word of God does not seem so attractive as of yore, the reason is not to be found in the Bible, but in ourselves. No wonder, then, if our souls are in a low spiritual condition. It could not be otherwise. We shall have little joy in ourselves, and nothing to communicate to others, if we treat the Scriptures after that fashion. But if we give up our best time to the prayerful study of the word, if we come to it when we are fresh, we shall never be disappointed, but able to rejoice as one that findeth great spoil. We feel we cannot urge upon our readers too forcibly that daily study of God's word is absolutely essential to their spiritual growth and prosperity. Oh for more of the spirit of the Psalmist when he says, "O how love I Thy law! it is my meditation all the day." And again, "I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for Thy commandments." And once more, "Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in Thy word." (Psalm 119:97, 131, 148.)
We must briefly glance at another important event in this remarkable reign - we allude to the keeping of the passover. (2 Kings 23:21-23.) Such a passover had not been kept since the days of Joshua. Now this proves that if we are only faithful to God, He will display His power on our behalf. "Them that honour me I will honour" was certainly illustrated in Josiah's case. Think of how low the nation had sunk, and then consider that a passover was kept which surpassed anything that had been known, even when the nation was at the height of its glory. How encouraging to us! Well may we in this day "cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart."
The passover was the remembrance of Israel's deliverance on the night of judgment. It was the beginning of their history as a nation "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you." (Ex. 12:2.) On that memorable night they were sheltered by blood. This and this alone kept out of their homes the destroying angel who entered the homes of the Egyptians. The blood that sheltered them was provided by the slain lamb, type of Christ, and was placed upon the door posts of the houses according to directions given by God. And while the destroying angel passed over, the Israelites within fed upon the lamb, roast with fire. They were reminded of this in keeping the passover. In memory they went back to that never-to-be-forgotten night, and as they thought of it, and recalled their preservation and deliverance, what but deep thankfulness to God would fill their hearts to overflowing?
Thus we have arrived at this interesting point in our narrative. It was indeed a triumphant moment, but we need to be reminded of three things that led to such an achievement. First, the house of the Lord had been thought of; second, the word of the Lord had been obeyed; and, lastly, all that was evil had been put away. (Read 2 Kings 23:4-20.) And has not all this a voice to us? Is it not incumbent upon us to act in the same way? Indeed it is. For us the Lord's supper has taken the place of the passover, but can we just as we please, and how we please, according to any fashion, remember the Lord in His death? We have said that three things preceded the keeping of the passover in Josiah's day, and we can safely say, that without these, however solemnly it might have been observed, in God's eyes it would have been worthless. The three indispensable requisites were these, and we repeat them: The house of the Lord had been thought of, the word of the Lord had been obeyed, and evil had been put away. Dear reader, are you perfectly satisfied that all this has been provided for, when and where you eat the Lord's supper? Do not, we beseech you, be deceived by your own feelings, or by your surroundings, but, oh! we would entreat you to judge everything in the light of God's Word; accept the example of Josiah as your guide, and act accordingly.
How few partake of the Lord's supper according to the simplicity in which it is presented in 1 Cor. 11. Nothing is said there about who is to administer it. "I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you," says the apostle, and then, in a few simple words, instructs the church at Corinth how it was to be observed. We look in vain for any priestly intervention. The fact is, all who have the right to partake of this ordinance are priests. So much that we see around us today connected with this memorial supper is without divine authority, but would not you like to remember the One who died for you according to the manner originally intended? What could be more sweet than meeting with other Christians, members of Christ's body, with the object of remembering Him who loved us and gave Himself, and in entire dependence upon the Holy Spirit for guidance? To think of Him who bore all our sorrows, as well as all our sins; who endured the opposition and hatred of man - scorned, reviled, crowned with a crown of thorns, yet so perfect amidst it all; and all this sorrow heaped upon Him at the very moment when He was about to bear the heaviest burden of all as the sin-bearer. For He endured the wrath of God as well as the enmity of man.
"Oh what a load was Thine to bear
Alone in that dark hour!
Our sins in all their terror there,
God's wrath and Satan's power."
May it be our happy privilege, apart from human tradition and evil association (and everything is evil which is contrary to God's word), to remember in simplicity our Lord Jesus Christ "till He come."
And finally may we be stimulated by Josiah's example. He was a "burning and a shining light." May we be willing to walk in that light as it shines upon us today from the distant past. There were three great achievements which marked his reign; viz., the house of the Lord was restored, the word of the Lord was exalted, and the passover was properly observed. We may thus learn in closing -
1. How much can be accomplished by one man, where there is a single eye and a devoted heart.
2. That whole hearted service for God is our resource in dark and evil days. It is ever open to us to please Him, and He is still the rewarder of them who diligently seek Him.
3. That if we put God's interests first, such an aim will never end in failure. At least we shall have this testimony, that we pleased God. And lastly, that simple obedience to God's word should be our chief concern. Such a course may not always seem to command the greatest success in the eyes of men, but in the end it will be found to have most promoted the glory of God.
Does not Josiah's life illustrate and enforce these principles? His times were just as difficult as our own, yet how much was done! And we may be sure, if we adopt the same principles, we shall certainly arrive at similar results. And think of the commendation he received. "Like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him." (2 Kings 23:25.) This was in a dark day, a day when there was very little zeal for the Lord, and it only made Josiah's character shine with greater lustre. And in our day, when the professing church is neither cold nor hot, what we pre-eminently need is to be whole hearted for the Lord. R. E.