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You need not to be told, that children of such parents, of so many prayers, of such hopes and expectations, cannot sin at so easy a rate as others. In every step you should take, in the way of folly and sin, you would meet with checks and rebukes. And if you should break through, and harden yourselves against all the remonstrances of your enlightened conscience and understanding, the issue would be unutterable remorse and anguish.
But this, I trust, shall not be your case. Your goodness, I hope, shall not be like a morning cloud, or the early dew, that soon passeth away," Hos. vi. 4, but rather be as the dawning light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day," Prov. iv. 18.
May you then willingly admit and entertain the wholesome instructions of those who wish you well: and may you in the way of virtue ever have countenance and encouragement. But if you should meet with obstacles, may you surmount them, and be faithful to God. And having experienced some good portion of peace in the way of God's commandments on earth, may you and yours partake with all the people of God in the full rewards and everlasting joys of religion and virtue, which are sure, and are reserved for the world to come.
THE VIRTUE AND BENEFIT OF EARLY PIETY, OR FEARING THE LORD FROM THE YOUTH.
—But I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth.-1 Kings xviii. 12.
THOUGH this character be here given by the person himself, we are not immediately to admit the suspicion of pride and vanity. What he says is only for the sake of self-preservation. If we never commend ourselves for a less weighty reason, we shall not incur the just censure of boasting and vain-glory. The person is Obadiah, whose history we have in the former part of this chapter. He is now speaking to the prophet Elijah: and the thing happened in the time of the long dearth in the reign of Ahab king of Israel.
At the beginning of the chapter it is said: "And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying: Go, shew thyself unto Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth. And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab: and there was a sore famine in Samaria. And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house."
Some have put the question, whether this be the same as Obadiah the prophet. But it does not appear that this person had at all the prophetical character. And Obadiah, whose short book of prophecies we have among the lesser prophets near the end of the Old Testament, seems to have lived a good deal later than the reign of Ahab.
It follows in verse third and fourth: "Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly. For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and gave them bread and water."
By prophets, as is generally supposed, we are not here to understand inspired persons, with a special commission from God: but men educated in the schools of the prophets. These Jezebel looked upon as her enemies, because they opposed her idolatrous worship, and taught the people the true religion. And, possibly, she suspected them of favouring the interests of the kingdom of Judah, where was the appointed place of worship for all the tribes of Israel.
It was therefore an act of great piety, and much resolution, in Obadiah, in a time of such danger, to protect those prophets. "He hid them by fifty in a cave, and gave them bread and water:" that is, all needful provisions, sending them meat and drink privately every day.
Ver. 5, 6. "And Ahab said unto Obadiah: Go into the land, unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks. Peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts. So they divided the land between them, to pass through it. Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself."
Obadiah was the only person in the service of Ahab whom he could confide in upon this occasion. It is a proof of the great regard which even this wicked prince had for him. And it affords good reason for us to suppose, that Obadiah had been wont to behave with singular fidelity, and uncommon discretion, in all affairs in which he was employed.
Ver. 7-12." And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him. And he knew him, and fell on his face and said: Art thou my lord Elijah ?" He was not a little surprised to meet Elijah, who for some time had lived very privately out of the reach of Ahab. "And he answered him: I am. Go tell thy lord: Behold Elijah is here. And he said: What have I sinned, that thou wouldst deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab to slay me? As the Lord thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord has not sent to seek thee. And when they said, he is not here, he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not. And thou sayest: Go, tell thy lord, behold, Elijah is here. And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee whither I know not. And so when I come, and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me."
The message, with which Elijah sent Obadiah, would be very grateful to king Ahab, who had earnestly sought for him. But Obadiah, supposing that the prophet could not appear before Ahab with safety, feared, lest by divine direction, he should, when he was gone away, remove to some other place. He excuseth himself therefore from delivering this message. And he pleads with the prophet, that he should not expose him to so imminent danger of death, by provoking the displeasure of Ahab. Thus he speaks in the text, and the words following: ver. 12-16. "But, I thy servant, fear the Lord from my youth. Was it not told my lord what I did, when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord, how I hid an hundred men of the Lord's prophets, by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? And now thou sayest, Go tell thy lord: behold, Elijah is here: and he shall slay me. And Elijah said: As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand," or whom I serve, "I will shew myself to him this day. So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him. And Ahab went to meet Elijah."
"But I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth." Or, "But thy servant feareth the Lord from his youth." Which is a more literal translation: for the word I is not in the original.
I. I now propose first to explain the words, and shew what is implied "in fearing the Lord from the youth."
II. Secondly to shew the virtue of so doing.
III. And thirdly the benefit of it.
I. I would shew, what is implied in "fearing the Lord from the youth."
It may include these four things, believing in God: worshipping him, and making an open profession of religion: observing the precepts of true religion, or making the will of God, so far as we are acquainted with it, the rule of our conduct: and doing this constantly from early age. 1. Fearing the Lord implies believing God: or, that Jehovah, the Lord, is the one living and true God. "He that cometh to God," says the apostle to the Hebrews, "must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him," Heb. xi. 6. So much Obadiah intends here to say of himself: that he always had a persuasion in his mind, that there is a God, and one God: which one God he believed to be the God of the patriarchs, the God who protected them, and whom they owned and served; the God that brought Israel out of Egypt, and delivered his laws and statutes to them by the hand of Moses.
He believed God to be the creator of the heavens and the earth, the sea and all things that are therein. His own reason led him to conceive of God in this manner. The books of Moses, that great prophet of the people of Israel, and most eminent servant of the true God, confirmed the belief of this truth. The creation of the world is related at the beginning of the writings of that lawgiver. And this notion of God is inserted distinctly in one of the ten commandments, the fourth in order, delivered with so great solemnity. He therefore, who in the preface to to those commandments says: "I am the Lord thy God, that brought thee out of the land of Egypt," is the creator of the whole world, and consequently the rightful Lord and disposer of all things therein.
This one consideration of God, as creator, would lead the thoughtful and pious person, here spoken of, to distinct apprehensions of every attribute and perfection, every notion and character of the Deity, that renders him the proper object of worship, obedience, trust and confidence.
He was persuaded, that to God belongs power, and that he is able to do whatever he pleaseth in heaven and on earth. He knew what David inculcated upon his son Solomon, that God "searcheth all hearts, that if men seek him, he will be found of them, and that if they forsake him, he will cast them off for ever," 1 Chron. xxviii. 9; or, as the apostle in the words before cited, "that God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
2. In fearing God the Lord, is implied worshipping him, or making an open profession of true religion. Obadiah so feared the Lord, as to worship him, and no other. It was known to Ahab, and to all his people in general, especially those who were in the chief city, and at court, that he feared the Lord.
He worshipped and served God according to the rules of reason, and the directions of the law of Moses, the revelation that had been made to the people of Israel. It was the first of the principal commandments of that law. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." The next commandment is: "Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image, the likeness of any thing. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, and serve them." And according to those laws, given to the people of Israel by Jehovah, as their king and governor, he who worshipped any other God was to be cut off from his people. This person respected those laws, and the sanctions by which they were enforced: and though many did not regard them, he did. He was persuaded, that God was able to reward the obedient and punish transgressors.
In the following chapter Elijah, lamenting his case, says, he "only was left," 1 Kings xix. 14. But God assures him, that he had left to him seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that had not bowed unto Baal," ver. 18. Obadiah was one of these, but more known as a worshipper and servant of the true God, than many of that number.
3. Fearing the Lord implies observing the precepts of true religion, or making the will of God, so far as we are acquainted with it, the rule of our conduct.
This is an ordinary meaning of the fear of the Lord in scripture. It includes all religion in general. At least obedience is represented as so connected with fearing God, as to be a necessary. concomitant, or immediate effect of it. For it is said, that "the fear of the Lord is to depart from evil," Prov. viii. 13. Again, "By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil,” ch. xvi. 6. And "Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty," or concern "of man," Ecc. xii. 13.
So Moses instructed the people under his care: "Now these are the commandments, and statutes, and judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you: that thou mightest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all his statutes and commandments, which I command thee,” Deut. vi. 1, 2.
For certain, religion, or the fear of God, is not a speculative science. It lies not barely in admiring thoughts and sublime conceptions of the Deity. God is not only a being of great power and understanding, but he is also a righteous, holy being; true, gracious, merciful. And a true worshipper of God is led to an imitation of him in those perfections. All hopes of his favour depend upon a conformity to him therein. And truth, righteousness, and goodness, are the great things in those laws which have been delivered by his authority.
Such an one the person in the text evidently was. There was no one besides, in whom Ahab could so safely confide for an upright and conscientious discharge of any office and commission in which the welfare of his kingdom was concerned.
4. It is here also said of Obadiah, that he feared the Lord from his youth; that is, from very early age to that time. As soon as he was arrived to a full exercise of his reason, and came to be sensible of moral obligations, he had by his own voluntary and sedate judgment and choice signified his approbation of the great truths, and principles, and precepts of religion. From the beginning he had been persuaded, that the Lord Jehovah is God alone; and all his days he had worshipped and served him as the one true God, and loved him with all his heart and soul: .esteeming his service the most honourable, the most delightful, and the most profitable service which any creature can be engaged in. He had likewise in the whole course of his life had a strict and conscientious respect to the great rules of right and wrong. Such had been his early resolution and practice: and the rest of his life to that time was of the same tenour.
I presume I do not put too much into the description of this property, fearing the Lord; or the character of the person here spoken of. I have studiously avoided so doing. We are not obliged to conceive of Obadia, as perfect, or without sin: but he was upright, he truly feared
God, and sincerely respected all his laws. He had been free from great transgressions: and the failing, or offences of a lesser kind, which he had been surprised into, were not allowed of, nor persisted in.
This is what is implied in fearing God from the youth.
II. In the next place we are to observe the virtue of this.
1. It was partly owing to a quick discernment of the truth and value of things. The things of religion were controverted in his time. The grounds and reasons of the worship of Jehovah and Baal were debated. Or if the idolatrous worship of Baal was not begun in Israel, in his early youth, it is, nevertheless, likely that there were some questions put concerning the high places set up by Jeroboam, who had been followed in some measure by all, or most of the suc-ceeding kings of Israel. Obadiah soon discerned the merits of the controversy. By the help of a good understanding he readily perceived who ought to be worshipped as the true God, and what is the most acceptable way of worshipping, and wherein true religion principally
2. He gave a serious attention to the things of religion, and carefully weighed and examined them. His right choice was not solely owing to a quick understanding and ready apprehension. But he used diligence and application. He perceived religion to be a weighty concern, and he bestowed many serious thoughts upon it. He was early sensible, that a right determination at first would have a great effect on the rest of his life.
If he had the advantage of good instructions from the beginning, he did not neglect them, but attended to them, meditated upon them, and iet those things which appeared reasonable sink down in his heart. Moreover, as he had opportunity, he studied the laws of God, recorded. in those scriptures, which were in the hands of the people of Israel. And he read with a mind open to conviction, resolving to receive what appeared to be the will of God, and act according to it: whether it should be for his own present interest, and tend to his promotion and advancement in the world, or not. By this means his judgment was well informed, and his resolutions settled upon a firm foundation.
I make no scruple of mentioning this particular here; for I think there is good ground for it. Without this, it is not easy to conceive how Obadiah's conduct should have been such as it was. And certainly this ought to be observed by young persons. It is desirable to understand some art or business by which men may subsist in the world. It is also desirable to understand the things of religion. They who have a quick apprehension, have a great advantage, provided they apply their thoughts this way. Nevertheless, there are few or none, but may attain to a competent knowledge of the great truths and obligations of religion, and the grounds of them, if they are attentive, and seriously inquisitive about them. Moses reminds the people of Israel: "The commandment, which I command thee this day, is not hidden from thee, neither is it afar off: but it is nigh thee, that thou mayest hear it and do it," Deut. xxx. 11, 12. The reve-lation of the gospel, superadded to that of the law, is not designed to make the principles of religion more abstruse and difficult: but more easy, more intelligible, more affecting, which must be for the good of all men.
3. Obadiah's fearing the Lord from his youth was partly owing to a fixed purpose and resolution of acting according to the rule of right, and that no temptations of any kind should induce him to act contrary to his sedate judgment.
We may well put this into the character we are observing. In the course of his life there had offered to him temptations of various kinds: some suited to youthful affections, others more especially suited to the common and prevailing passions of mature age. But in every stage of life his conduct had been uniformly religious and though he lived at a time when multitudes did evil, he had not followed them. Though the way of religion was then a strait path, and almost deserted, his feet had not declined from the way of it. We cannot but conclude from hence, that the resolution of Obadiah was very firm..
4. We do also reasonably suppose, that this steady good conduct was not without constant circumspection and watchfulness. Indeed, we are all encompassed with snares, which makes it needful to be upon our guard. Undoubtedly this person had "kept his heart with diligence,' Prov. iv. 23. He had attended to the frame of his mind. He used his best endeavours to maintain the fervour of his love to God, and a sincere respect for his laws. His mind was carefully
kept free from ambition and covetousness: and he looked with a jealous eye upon every thing and person, that tended to abate his zeal for God and religion, and lessen his abhorrence for that which is evil.
This temper of watchfulness he had preserved always, by which means he had been greatly assisted in fearing God from his youth.
III. In the third place I should shew the benefit of so fearing the Lord. But I need not enlarge, having had frequent occasions to touch upon this point.
1. They who fear the Lord from their youth up, enjoy the pleasure and comfort of a reli gious life which is no small advantage. For, as Solomon says of wisdom, "her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace," Prov. iii. 17. Such have the satisfaction of approving themselves to God, and doing the things that please the Sovereign of the world. Their minds are rightly disposed, and their conduct approves itself to their own judgment. And they avoid the bitterness of that repentance which is necessary for those who have greatly strayed from wisdom's ways.
2. They who fear God from their youth may, and often do become eminent in piety. Their continued practice of virtue renders them perfect in it. So was this person. It appears from the account which we have of him here. The writer of the history in the book of Kings observes it to his honour expressly: "Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly. His virtuous habits were confirmed, and almost above temptation. He had a post of high honour: but he possessed it without any sinful compliances. Nor did he at all conceal his regard for God and true religion: but was known to be a worshipper of the God of heaven. When his prophets, who were most zealous for God, and taught the people the knowledge of him, were in danger, at the hazard of all his own interests, he took care of them; he hid them from their persecutors, and provided for them. At the same time his disinterestedness and integrity in public affairs, and the discharge of civil offices, was so conspicuous, that he was chief minister to a prince who was an enemy to his religious principles. By which we perceive, that Obadiah knew how to give to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, without denying to God what was due to him. In a word, this person, who had "feared God from his youth," was now eminent in the various parts of good conduct, and ready to every good word and work.
3. They who fear God from their youth, especially if it be with much steadiness, are useful in the world many ways. Such men promote the good of society in their several stations. They also adorn, and recommend religion to others. By their means some are brought into a good liking of its ways: or are induced to consider and examine its pretensions, till they find them just and reasonable. Others are confirmed, and they persevere with joy and resolution. It is very likely, that many pious Israelites were animated and encouraged by the example of Obadiah: though their circumstances were such, that they could not all act with the same openness that he did. They were obliged to greater privacy. But yet they did not bow the knee to Baal, or render him any act of homage.
4. They who fear God from their youth have the happiness of being always prepared for the various events of providence. If they are removed hence, their end is peace, and their reward is sure. If they live, they go on to perform the duties of life: and are the best qualified of any men to bear the troubles and afflictions of this state with a calm and composed mind, and eomfortable trust in God. For "God is their refuge, and their portion in the land of the living,' Ps. cxlii. 5. 66 They have none in heaven but him. Nor is there any upon earth whom they desire in comparison of him. And when flesh and heart fail, God is the strength of their heart, and their portion for ever," Ps. lxxiii. 25, 26.
APPLICATION. What has been now observed should induce all, whatever is their age to fear the Lord.
They who are in early age have encouragement to give up themselves to God now, without delay, and to fear and serve him henceforward all the days of their life. There is great virtue in so doing. And it will be attended with very desirable advantages. None will discourage them from being early in this design. They who have feared God from their youth, will readily assure them, that it is the wisest thing that can be done. They who are now serious and religious at length, after trying the ways of sin, will likewise assure them, that if they neglect the present