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and polity.* This, say interpreters, is a remarkable passage, because it informs us of the general conversion and repentance of a whole people; we have scarce the like in all the scripture, except Acts ii.
From the words then results this doctrine : That when God's ark is long in obscurity, or ordinances are obstructed, it becomes God's Israel, or professing people, to lament after the Lord.
Serious lamenting after God is well becoming those whom God afflicts with the loss of privileges. The text presents to us,
1. The persons lamenting-God's peculiar people. These only love, and mind God's presence; when the lords and cities of the Philistines are weary of him and send him away, yea and the inhabitants of Bethshemesh, though a city of the Levites belonging to the church of God, through their ill management of matters send to get a release, yet God's Israel will look after their God.
2. Here is the object they lament after-not peace, plenty, or victory over enemies, but after the Lord. Jehovah is the object of their affections; it is he whom they love, and with whom they long for communion. Psal. lxiii. 1, 2, “O God," saith David, “thou art my God, early will I seek thee, my soul thirsteth for thee to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.”
3. Here is the universality of the number—all Israel. The whole house of Israel come; they that had wofully degenerated, and had gone after their idols; what a wonderful act of God's power and sovereignty was this upon their spirits ? by this he manifests that he is the true God, and that Samuel was his servant;
• Lachrymis deplorârunt summam miseriam religionis et reipublicæ.
something similar observe in Elijah's prayer, preaching, sacrifice, and success, 1 Kings xviii. 21, 37, 39.
4. You have here the manner and nature of the people’s repentance—they lamented after the Lord. Which is a very comprehensive word, and I shall explain it presently.
EXPLICATION OF THE PASSAGE UNDER
IN discussing this subject I shall proceed in the following method :
1. Shew how ordinances are obstructed, become obscured or tarnished.
2. What is implied in lamenting after the Lord. 3. How and why God's Israel thus lament. 4. Answer an objection, and then make application.
First, What is it for ordinances to be either obstructed, or in a state of obscurity, both of which circumstances may be a great affliction to God's people and oft occasion a lamentation.
1. For ordinances to be obstructed is a prevention of the liberty of dispensing them, and suppression of those who dispense them, by imprisonment, banishment, inhibition or suspension; as in Ahab's days, Jezebel cut off many prophets of the Lord, while the rest were hid by fifty in a cave, and fed with bread and water, 1 Kings xviii. 4; yea such scarcity was there at that day, that Elijah thought he was left alone, 1 Kings xix. 10, such as were left were latent,
and had indeed their lives preserved, but not liberty to proclaim the word, or to celebrate God's ordinances openly. It is true, truth seeks not corners; yet publishers of truth may be driven into corners.
God's candles may be put under a bushel ; the church's pleasant things may be taken away; sabbaths and solemn assemblies may be forgotten in Zion, and the ways of Zion mourn, Lam. i. 4.7. The church complains, Psal. lxxiv. 9, “ We see not our signs; there is no more any prophet.” The church may flee into a wilderness of obscurity and persecution, her witnesses may be slain by a natural or civil death,* some time or other these prophecies have an accomplishment; Jeremiah and Ezekiel may both have their mouths stopped by their brethren, and God himself may
be little sanctuary to such as want the open sanctuary privileges, Ezek. xi. 15, 16. The gospel in its course may be stopped or obstructed, so that Paul puts believers on to pray for him, that the word of the Lord may have free course, 2 Thess. iii. 1; intimating that it had met with hindrance; by what? by men's rage, or the devil's subtlety, or both, 1 Thess. ii. 16, the Jews forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles, and verse 18, Satan hindered us. Sometimes the devil stirs
up men to obstruct the course of the gospel. The history of the church in all ages will offer its service to bear witness to this truth, that liberty of ordinances is sometimes infringed, and so the ark is withdrawn into some sequestered place; for where God hath a people they must and will worship him, and attend his institutions; if they cannot do it openly, they act more privately, as Christ's disciples frequently met in houses, in the night, the doors being shut, and that for fear of the Jews, John xx. 19. And it may be that word Isa.
* Rev. xii. 14. xi. 7.
viii. 16, refers to such a day, “ Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.”
2. The ark and ordinances may sometimes be in a state of obscurity, as well as obstructed; the institutions of religion may be tarnished or corrupted. This observation has a reference to the purity, as the former has to the liberty of God's appointments. The light may be dimmed, as well as diminished. Painted glass obscures the light: so human inventions corrupt God's pure worship. Jeroboam's golden calves spoiled the purity of ordinances ; so that religious people, and priests fled to Ged's sincere worship at Jerusalem, ? Chron. xi. 13, 16. This defilement of ordinances makes God's poor children cry out, “ Death is in the pot.” Our Saviour saith of the Scribes and Pharisees, “ Thus have you made the commandments of God of none effect by your traditions, and therefore in vain did they worship God,” Matt. xv. 6, 9. God's institutions are ours, but men may mar and spoil them with their fond additions or alterations. Ezek. vii. 20, “ As for the beauty of his ornaments, he set it in Majesty, but they made the images of their aboininations, and of their detestable things therein,” though they called and accounted them delectable things, “therefore have I set it far from them.” Men may be guilty of treasonable practices, by adulterating the king's coin,* or setting their own stamp thereon, or clipping it. There is a sad woe, both in the beginning, middle, and end of the Bible, against those that add to, or diminish from God's word or institutions.f It is a dangerous thing to think to mend what God hath thought good to enjoin. Antichrist hath so corrupted God's worship, as well as truths, that they who love their souls or safety, are
• Crimen læsæ majestatis.
called upon to come out of her, Rev. xviii. 4. God is a jealous God, and will not hold such guiltless as take his name in vain, that is, he will deal with them as guilty malefactors. Nay, God bids them rather go serve their idols, than pollute his holy name, Ezek. xx. 39. Some shepherds also are said to tread down with their feet the residue of the pastures, and foul the waters with their feet; so that God's flock is in danger of pining, Ezek. xxxiv. 18. God's children know how to avoid a sinful separation on one hand, and a communion that necessitates them to sin, on the other; there is danger in both extremes. Poor scrupulous, tender consciences are too apt to run into the former, and adventurous spirits are too apt to run into the latter, for by and base purposes; sometimes the latter happens as well as the former, when godly ministers and Christians must either sin, or suffer; and to a conscientious soul, the case is soon determined : and hence it comes to pass that their persons and ordinances with them, have been forced into a state of privacy and seclusion. The witnesses will rather choose to prophesy in sackcloth with purity,* according to God's will, than live in the greatest pomp and splendour, betraying the truths and appointments of God, by superstition or idolatry, to gratify flesh, or comply with the humours of men; they judge it safer to be banished from the altar, than bring strange fire to it; they think it safer to venture on men’s displeasure, though the furnace be heated with seven-fold intenseness, than expose themselves to the dreadful vengeance of the great God, by sinning against him, and provoking the eyes of his glory. They resolve to cleave to the ark, though in Abinadab's house, and follow the Lambwhithersoever he goeth,t rather than be dragged down to sin and hell Rey. xi. 3.
+ Rev. xiv. 4.