Goodness, as a Morning Cloud
“And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest.”— 2 Chronicles xxiv. 2.
“Now after the death of Johoiada came the princes of Judah, and made obeisance to the king. Then the king hearkened unto them. And they left the house of the LORD God of their fathers, and served groves and idols: and wrath came upon Judah, and Jerusalem for this their trespass.”— 2 Chronicles xxiv. 17, 18.
THERE is a book called The Museum of Natural History, and the most singular animal in that museum is man. It would be far more easy to understand any other creature than to understand a human being. He is worthy of very great study; and the more he is studied, the more will he surprise you. There are certain characters that are great curiosities. Alas, there are also other characters that are great monstrosities! You can never tell, from what a man is, what he will be. The case before us is a very extraordinary one, because here is a man with every possible advantage, who through a number of years exhibited the brightest form of character; and yet in the end he was not thought worthy to be laid in the sepulchres of his fathers with others of the kings of Judah; neither was he worthy of any royal interment, for the latter part of his life blackened and defiled the whole of his career, and he who began his reign like the dawning of the day ended it like the middle of the night.
I wonder whether there are any persons here who will turn out to be very sinful and wicked before life is over; I mean, those who have begun well, who are now the hope and joy of those who know them, but who will end badly, in dishonour to themselves, and grief to their households? If there be such here, probably you can find them out by this one test. Those who say, “It is impossible that it should be so with us,” are probably the persons; while those who are afraid lest it should be so, and ask for grace that it may not be so, are probably those who will be preserved, and whose path will shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.
Dear friends, what need there is to go below the surface in the examination of moral and spiritual character! I shall have to prove this to you to-night, for in appearance Joash was all that we could wish; yet, had he really been what he seemed to be, he would have continued so. If there had been that work of grace within his soul which there appeared to be in his life, he would not have turned aside as he did; for where a work of grace is real and true, it is known by its abiding influence throughout the whole of life. Where godly principles have been imparted, and a divine life has been infused, these things are not taken from a man. “They went out from us, but they were not of us;” said the apostle John, “for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” So was it with Joash. He turned aside from God because he had never truly known the Lord at all, and his last end was worse than the first because his beginning was really not such as it had seemed to be.
I trust that every person here desires to have genuine religion, and not to have the sham. There is a prayer that I recommend to everyone as I desire to use it myself, “Lord, let me know the very worst of my case! Do not suffer me either to deceive myself, or to be deceived by others. If I am not thine, let me know that I am not thine. If my repentance be but a seeming repentance, and my faith but the mere shadow of faith, and not the substance of it, Lord, by thy good Spirit convince me of my dangerous delusion, and let me know just where I am, and what I am!” I am sure many of you desire to pray like that; and perhaps, while I am speaking, that petition may be answered, especially in the case of some of our young friends.
I was very happy, last Sunday night, in preaching as I believe so as to suit the case of one young man of whom I knew but very little; yet it seems that I described him so accurately that he felt that I was speaking specially to him. At the same time, there was another young man, sitting in quite another part of the Tabernacle, who came in on Thursday to tell me how pointedly and distinctly I had described him. On Saturday, I received a letter from the centre of England, from a father who sent me his son’s letter saying that he was here, and that I had looked at him, and distinctly and accurately described him. It is not always that we can hit three birds with one shot; but I have been praying that I may have still better success to-night, and that many may feel, “The preacher is speaking of me, he is describing my character.” God grant that it may be so!
My first head will be taken from the first verse of our text: “Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” This is my first division: It is a great blessing when young people yield to godly influences. The second division will be,— But this is not all that is needed; and the third will be,— This yielding spirit may prove a source of mischief. Instead of being a blessing, it will be a curse, if it has not something more added to it.
I. First, then, IT IS A GREAT BLESSING WHEN YOUNG PEOPLE YIELD TO GODLY INFLUENCES.
Although Joash came of a bad family, yet he had a good aunt, who was married to the high priest, and the aunt and the uncle took care of young Joash. When lie was but an infant, they stole him away, so that Athaliah might not kill him with the rest of the seed royal; and thus Joash had this remarkable privilege that for six years he lived in the temple: “He was with them hid in the house of God six years.” That is a splendid beginning for any life, to be hid in the house of God six years. I do not think we ever value enough those first six years of a child’s life; impressions then made have a remarkable influence over the rest of life. Joash was where God’s praise was sung from day to day, and where holy prayer was perpetually offered. He was seldom beyond the fragrance of the perfumed incense, or away from the sight of the white-robed priests. He heard nothing that could defile him, but everything that could instruct and purify him. He was hidden in the house of the Lord so as not even to go out of it, concealed with godly people for the first six years of his life. Perhaps, nay, I am sure, some of you present had similar felicity. The first thing that you can remember is your mother taking you to a place of worship; you can never forget the time when father also led you there, and did not seem to be happy unless his boy was trotting by his side when he went to hear the gospel. Amongst our earliest recollections are the memories of holy hymns, and the sayings of gracious people, in whom, as children, we took an interest when they came to our father’s house. It is a grand thing that the first days of one’s life should bear the impress of the divine finger. It is well when the vessel begins to revolve upon the wheel, and the clay is soft and plastic, that the first fingers that should touch and shape it should be the fingers of God’s servants. God grant that they may be as the very finger of God upon our souls! Thus Joash began his career by being hid in the house of the Lord six years.
After he was seven years of age, he was started on his life’s business in a very admirable way. He was to be the king, but there had to be great care taken to sweep away the usurper from the throne, and to put the little king upon it, and Jehoiada managed the whole affair with great skill. He also drew up a covenant for the king to sign, a covenant with God that he would be obedient to Jehovah as the supreme King, and a covenant with the people that he would rule according to equity and right, and not tyrannize over them. It was all done so well that no objection was ever taken to it; and Joash reigned with great prosperity and happiness over a people who were blessed by his rule, Jehoiada all the while being his faithful prime minister and guide. It is a grand thing to be started in life aright; it is half the battle, you know, to begin well. Some young men, and some young women, too, are launched in life wrongly; it seems almost a matter of course that they should be too strongly tempted, and in all probability yield to the temptation. But many of you were not started so; you began with a father’s blessing, and with a mother’s prayers. You recollect your first going out into life; some of us remember the ride on the coach when, early in the morning, we had to leave our father’s house for the first time. Perhaps it was a cold and bitter frosty morning when we started in those old days to go across the country; we recollect it well, and how God cared for us, and blessed us; and we desire to praise him that he has preserved us even unto this day.
I am showing you the bright side of Joash’s career first. After the six years in the house of God, he had a grand start in life with everything to his advantage. Alas, alas, alas, that, with such a bright beginning, he should come to such a sad end!
Notice also that, being thus well started, “Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” While that good man lived, the king was under his influence; he consulted him in every matter of importance, he seems even to have been guided by him to some extent in the matter of his marriage. He was plastic under his uncle’s hand, and he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord; mark you, not only that which was right in the sight of good people, but that which was right in the sight of the Lord. His life seems to have been at least outwardly obedient to the law of Jehovah, and he yielded himself up, apparently at any rate, to be a loyal servant of the great King; and that he did, not for a short time only, but all the days in which Jehoiada lived. Well, now, have we not known men and women, whose lives have been under the benign influence of some kind elderly person, uncle or aunt, father or mother, and they have done what was right year after year, as long as their godly relatives lived? They have been diligent in going up to God’s house, apparently devout in Bible-reading and prayer, willing to assist in holy work in the Sabbath-school and all sorts of service for the Lord, and leading outwardly most useful, admirable lives all the time that these higher influences were over them, even as “Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.”
Yes, and more than this, he was zealous for the externals of religion: “It came to pass after this, that Joash was minded to repair the house of the Lord.” He actually chided Jehoiada, his uncle, because of the slowness of the Levites: “The king called for Jehoiada the chief, and said unto him, Why hast thou not required of the Levites to bring in out of Judah and out of Jerusalem the collection?” Yes, and there are some whose hearts are not right towards God, who nevertheless are very zealous about the externals of divine worship. It is a much easier thing to build a temple for God than it is to be a temple for God; and it is a much more common thing for persons to show zeal in repairing temples than in reforming their own manners. So this young man, you see, went even beyond his uncle in intense zeal for the cause of God, just as there are many now who, trained up in the ways of the Lord, are indefatigable in rendering some external service to the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ. They would give to the building of a church; they would work hard to promote the paying for it, and so forth; but, alas, you may give, and you may work, and you may attend to all the externals of religion, and yet have no part nor lot in the matter I Mr. Bunyan says that, when he was an ungodly man, he yet had such a reverence for the outwards of religion that he would fain have kissed the ground that the clergyman walked upon, and every nail in the door of the church seemed holy to him. That is all very fine; but unless there is a great deal more than that in us, we shall fall far short of the requirements of God.
All this while, Joash influenced other people for good. As king, he kept back the nation from the worship of idols; as king, he threw the cloak of his patronage over those who worshipped Jehovah; and things seemed to go well for years, “all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” As long as Jehoiada lived, Joash seemed to be all that he should be.
II. Now I am going to turn, for a few minutes, to the second point, to show you that, good as all this is, IT IS NOT ALL THAT IS NEEDED.
For, mark you, this is not yielding the heart to God. “My son, give me thine heart,” says God. All that Joash had done was to give his heart to Jehoiada, not to Jehovah. It is very easy to be outwardly religious by giving your heart to your mother, or your father, or your aunt, or your uncle, or some good person who helps you to do what is right. You are doing all this out of love to them, which is at best but a very secondary motive. God says, “My son, give me thine heart.” If your religion is taken up to please any creature, it is not the religion which pleases the Creator. Your homage is due, not to any one here below, but to him who sitteth in the heavens, whose kingdom ruleth over all. Dear Christian friends, as you think yourselves to be because of the Christianity of your parents, I do beg you to remember that true religion must be a matter of your own heart, and of your own soul. If you merely attend to it out of respect to the dearest and most precious person under heaven, you do not reach the standard that the Lord has set up.
Note next, that this yielding to godly influences may exist without any personal, vital godliness whatever. You may meet with God’s people, and yet not be one of God’s people. You may give attention to God’s servant, and yet not be yourself God’s servant. A young man may yield to his mother’s advice, and yet never be really repentant on account of sin. He may listen to his father’s word, and pay respect to the externals of his father’s religion, but yet never have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. You must yourselves repent, and yourselves believe in Christ, or else all the rest will aggravate your sin by increasing your responsibility, but it will not go even a hair’s breadth towards your salvation. I would have every person here, whether young or old, examine himself to see whether his religion is vital to his own soul. Have you been born again? I enquire not now about your mother, or father, or friends. Have you been born again? Are you now condemned under sin, or are you justified by faith in Jesus Christ? There can be no proxies, and no sponsors here; every man must give account for himself to God; and each man, each woman, must come to the Saviour personally, and accept him, and be saved by him, or else eternal ruin is certain.
I do believe also, dear friends, that a character like that of Joash, a yielding character, an externally pious character may even prevent men from being saved at all. I mean, you may take it for granted that you are saved; but you must not take anything for granted between God and your soul. I charge you to make sure work here; take your wealth for granted if you like; take the title-deeds of your estate for granted if you please; but between God and your soul let everything be settled, and straight, and clear, and sure, and have no mistakes about this matter. It is so easy to have been under religious influence from our youth up, and then to go on, year after year, never having raised the question whether we are Christians or not, saying to ourselves, “Of course it is all right.” You will be much nearer the truth if you say, “Of course it is all wrong.” You will be much more likely to come to an honest conclusion if you rather suspect yourself too much than believe in yourself too much; I am sure that, in speaking thus, I am giving you sound teaching.
After all, to be under godly influences year after year, without any great trial or temptation, may leave the personal character altogether undeveloped. Some put children under restraint continually, never suffering them to have any sort of temptation. It is so with children sometimes in large institutions; they have not any money, and they cannot steal any, because there is nobody else who has any; they are kept out of the world altogether, they live only amongst their own company, and there is very much of prayer and everything that is good; and often, when they go out into the world, those who have trained them are altogether disappointed with them; yet they need not very much wonder. If a person on dry land thinks he can swim, it is not certain that he will swim when he gets into the sea. We must have some kind of test, or else we cannot be sure of the character; we cannot know whether a child is honest or not if it never has any chance to take that which is not its own. You cannot be sure about principle being in any young man if he has been kept under a glass case, and if his principles have never been tried. That was the condition of Joash; the real character of the man had never come out at all, because Jehoiada, as it were, covered him. He was guided and influenced by the high priest; but his own disposition only wanted an opportunity of developing itself. I have heard of an officer in India, who had brought up a young leopard. It was completely tamed, apparently it was as tame as a cat, and the officer had no fear of his leopard. It went up and down the stairs, and entered into every room of his house; he never suspected for a single moment that it would be guilty of blood-shedding; but, while he was asleep, one afternoon, in his chair, the leopard licked his hand in all tenderness as a cat might have done; but after licking for a while, it licked too hard, and a little blood began to flow. It no sooner tasted blood than the old leopard spirit was up, and his master was his master no more. So does it happen to many that, by being shut in, and tamed, as it were, but not changed, subdued but not renewed, kept in check but not converted, there has come a time afterwards when the taste of blood has called out the old nature, and away the man has gone. You would have never thought that he could act as he did; but he did so because he had not a new nature. It was human nature held in check for a while, not the Spirit of God creating a new life, and infusing a new character into the soul.
Do you see where I am coming to, dear friends? I am speaking to those of you who have not passed from death unto life, to you who have never been renewed in the spirit of your mind. I do pray you not to imagine that natural religion is spiritual religion. Do not mistake the lessons learnt at your mother’s knee for the teachings of the Holy Ghost, do not confuse a change with the change; and do not think that anything that can come to you by your first birth can serve your turn without a second birth. “Ye must he horn again” or else, though you spent the first six years of your life in the house of God, and though you were started under the most hallowed influences, you only want an opportunity, a temptation, a peculiar stress laid upon you, and you will go off: whither the old nature carries you, and you will find out for yourself and to the horror of others that all your early training had effected nothing because it stopped short of the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
III. Now, in the third place, I wish to show you that THIS YIELDING CHARACTER MAY EVEN PROVE A SOURCE OF MISCHIEF.
We like young people to be obedient, we are very glad to have to do with those plastic characters that are readily shaped; but, at the same time, we ought never to be too sure about them. A person with grit in his character, if really affected by the grace of God, may turn out a far better man than your too plastic, pliable character. Oh, dear, how many we know who are very good, but there is nothing in them at all! We have known some others who were dreadfully hard to manage, and to get at; but when at last a change has been wrought by divine grace, that very obstinacy and wilfulness of theirs, when sanctified, has given a strength to their character, and instead of being a drawback, it has been a help.
This young Joash was exceedingly supple in the hand of Jehoiada, but alas! Jehoiada was dead. Other counsellors came and flattered him: “Now after the death of Jehoiada came the princes of Judah, and made obeisance to the king.” Do you not see those gentlemen coming, bowing and scraping a hundred times before they get up to him? They “made obeisance to the king.” Jehoiada had not often made much obeisance to him; he had treated him with due respect as his king, but he had also spoken to him honestly and faithfully. Joash had somebody to look up to while Jehoiada lived, and now he found himself a great man, with everybody looking up to him; and the princes of Judah, the fashionable part of the realm, the respectable people who never had been worshippers of Jehovah, but who had always preferred the more recondite, ritualistic, and sensuous service of Baal, the philosophical god, came, and bowed, and made obeisance to the king. I think I can hear what they said: “Royal sir, we congratulate you upon being released from leading-strings. Now you can think for yourself. It is a fine thing for a young man to be delivered from the power of his old uncle; he was no doubt a very excellent person, we were present at his funeral, and we paid him all due respect; still, he was a regular old fossil, one who never had made any progress at all. He clung to the worship of Jehovah, and served the God of his fathers. Royal sir, we congratulate you upon the liberty to which you have attained. Besides that, we fear that you have been considerably priest-ridden. This Jehoiada was a priest, and of course you respected and venerated his character; but you could not indulge yourself as long as he lived. We have always had high thoughts of you, royal sir, we always believed that you would break out one of these days; and now that the good man is laid asleep, we are sure that you will not let his dead hand rest upon you, but you will wake up, and be abreast of the age, and keep up with the spirit of the times.” You know how they do it; it is always being done, this pouring of drops of poison into the ear, these soft, subtle flatteries. Even when a man has reached Joash’s age, he is not beyond the power of flattery; I wonder how old a man would be when he would be too old to love flattery. Of course, he always likes to be told, “Ah, dear sir, I know that you could not bear flattery,” being at that moment more highly flattered than at any other time in his life. So these princes of Judah did; and poor Joash, good Joash, Joash who repaired the temple, Joash who was even more intensely earnest than Jehoiada himself, was led astray by the soft words of the deceivers, and we find him burying his religion with his uncle. In Jehoiada’s grave he buried all his piety. Some whom I have known, and over whom I have wept, have acted in the same way.
After that, he went off to sin. The images which he had broken down were set up again; the groves which he had cut down were planted again; and he who seemed so zealous a servant of Jehovah had now become a worshipper of the foul Ashtaroth, and bowed before the accursed Baalim. Oh, sad, sad, sad mischief this! There was a want of principle in Joash, and it is of that I want to warn all our friends. Do not, I pray you, be satisfied with the practice of piety without the principles of piety. It is not enough to have a correct creed; you must have a renewed heart. It is not sufficient to have an ornate ritual; you must have a holy life, and to be holy you must be renewed by the Holy Spirit. If this change is not wrought in you by the Holy Ghost, you who yield so readily to good will yield just as quickly to evil.
What happened next? Joash refused reproof. God sent prophets to the people, and they came, and warned them, testifying against the idolaters: “But they would not give ear.” This Joash, who had spent his first six years in the temple, now would not give ear to the Lord’s prophets. He was always ready to listen to Jehoiada, but now he would not give ear. He was a tremendous zealot for repairing the temple, with most costly architecture, and gold and silver without limit; but now he will not give heed to God’s servants at all. They may speak with all their heart and soul; but he is as the deaf adder that will not hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely. Yet he was once your good young man, your pious young man! Oh, what a sifter London has been to many like Joash! Many do I remember whose story was like this. They had been to the house of God always; they were brought up where there was a family altar in the house; everybody reckoned them to be Christians; and they came to London. At first, they went where their father exhorted them to go, to some humble place where the gospel was preached; but after a time they thought it was not wrong to go on the Sunday to see one of the more showy religious places. That done, they went to some showy place that was not religious. They worked so hard all the week that they must go out a little into the fresh air on the Sunday; and by degrees they found companions who led them, little by little, from the path of integrity and chastity till “the good young man” was as vile as any on the streets of London, and he who seemed to be a saint became not only a sinner, but the maker of sinners.
What did Joash do next? He slew his friend’s son. Old Jehoiada’s son, Zechariah, one of those who had helped to put the crown upon young Joash’s head, was at last moved to come out, and speak in the midst of the temple service to the people, as he had a right to do; and he began to upbraid them for turning aside from Jehovah to the worship of the foul idol gods. Now, see, the tiger’s blood is up! Joash bids them kill him.. How dare he testify against his king? True, he is the son of his best friend, he is his own cousin, he is one who helped him to ascend the throne; but what matters all that to this once good young man? The milk of human kindness is soured now. The oil that was so soft bums fiercely when it once takes fire. “Let Zechariah die. Kill him in the temple. Bespatter the sacred altar with his blood. Stone him. He has dared to speak against me.” See your soft clay, how hard and coarse, and rough it has become! I have seen this change come over men. I believe that the worst persecutors in the world are generally made of those who once were tender and soft-hearted. Nero would at first scarcely sign the death-warrant of a criminal; and yet he lived to delight in wholesale murder. When the son of perdition was wanted to betray his Lord, the raw material of the traitor was found in an apostle. You cannot make an out-and-out bad man except from one who seems to be good. You must take the man who has been six years in the temple, the man who has done that which is right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada, to make such a devil as Joash turned out to be when he killed the son of his benefactor in the court of the house of the Lord. Oh, I could look steadily in the face of some here to-night, and in the spirit of prophecy I could burst out into tears to think of what they will yet be, what they will yet do, and what they will yet say! Perhaps you look at me, and ask, “Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?” Oh, sir, you are worse than a dog; there lurks within you a heart “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” Oh, that you did know it, and would turn to God, and say, “O Lord, renew me! Lord, make a new creature of me! Lord, save me, that I never may do such things as now, to-day, I think it impossible that I should ever do!”
This Joash, perishing, miserable, having no faith in God, robbed the temple, and gave all the gold and treasures unto Hazael the Syrian. Personally, he was full of disease, and by-and-by his own servants, disgusted with him for his conduct towards Jehoiada’s son, slew him on his bed. What a death for the young man who was six years hidden away in the house of the Lord! Oh, if I could tell some of you what will become of you, you would never come to this place again, you would be so angry with me! If I could prophesy to some good young fellow here,— I mean, outwardly good as Joash was at first, but without a new heart, without the grace of God in his soul,— if I could prophesy to him what he will be, he would spit in my face in indignation that I should dare to foretell such a thing. There is not a man or woman here who is safe from the most abominable sin until they yield themselves to Christ. There is not one of you who is sure that the deepest damnation of hell will not be your portion unless you come and commit your soul into the hands of Jesus, who is a faithful Keeper of them that put their trust in him. Can there be a Character Insurance Society? There can be no such Society formed by men that can insure our character; yet God has formed one. “The righteous also shall hold on his way; and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.” The Lord will keep him, and preserve him from evil, for “the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” I do adjure you, by the living God, my hopeful young friend, yield yourself to Jesus Christ, and seek his guardian care, lest the fair blossom of today should never bring forth fruit, but end in disappointment.
The Lord grant that we may all of us meet in heaven, for Jesu’s sake! Amen.