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tians are strong in the graces of the Spirit, and the world around are awed by evident tokens of the divine presence. Hesitation, delay, will only ren
. der reform more difficult; opposers will regain their courage, and deferred efforts will usually be vain.
The service of God has its seasons both for active duties and for religious worship and joy. They operate powerfully on each other, and should never be separated. The faithful discharge of active duties is the best preparation for the pleasures of religious worship; while the legitimate pleasures of religious worship will be followed by a prompt and efficient discharge of active duties, however trying or difficult. If the Israelites, satisfied with their sacrifices and gladness, had not attempted to check idolatry or vindicate the honor of Jehovah, well might the prophet have been commissioned to proclaim, “ Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination to me. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes.”
A step in the reformation was now to be taken, which displays Hezekiah’s fixedness of purpose, strength of character, and fervor of piety, more than any thing yet done. When he overturned the altars and cut down the groves devoted to idols, no doubt respecting duty could assail his mind. The law was express in its language, and his own feelings were in harmony with its injunctions. In accom
plishing that work, he had to confront only superstition and idolatry. But now he felt constrained to perform an act which to himself must have been painful, and which, to some of his pious subjects whose religious sensibilities and discernment were less keen than his own, might seem of doubtful utility. The brazen serpent which God had directed Moses to form for healing the people bitten by fiery serpents, had been carefully preserved as a memorial of that wonderful occurrence.
In process of time it became an object of worship, as if itself the cause and not the instrument of the cure. It must now be destroyed, or the reformation could advance no further. Indeed, if the brazen serpent was spared, the ground already gained must be given up, and idolatry would soon fill the land with grosser evidences of its power.
But how shall Hezekiah destroy this signal proof of the regard of Jehovah for the nation in ancient days? How shall he break in pieces a work made at the command of the great lawgiver and leader of Israel, and transmitted with so much care from century to century through a long succession of holy men ?
Many would be ready to say, “How often has the sight of it strengthened the faith and excited the gratitude of the pious in other times. Let Hezekiah correct the abuse of it by the people, and not lay ruthless hands on a relic venerable from its sacred associations, and worthy of preservation as a remnant of the arts of a former age. As to its worship by the people, is it any thing more than a medium through which they render homage to Jehovah himself? May not their dull minds need the aid of material objects to give vividness to their conceptions respecting the spiritual world?
Hezekiah was not to be misled by suggestions like these. If, possibly, a few might employ it merely as a medium for the worship of Jehovah, Hezekiah was aware that even that was a form of idolatry ; while the vast multitude would
their devotions to the brazen serpent itself. God, who knows best what will aid mankind in the spiritual worship of himself, had enjoined, " Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them ;” and Hezekiah would not set theories, however plausible, against this express divine command. He doubtless knew that the worship of serpents was common among the heathen, whose idolatrous practices the law often warned the Israelites to avoid. At the risk therefore of being thought narrow-minded by some and overscrupulous by others who had gone thus far with him in extirpating idolatry, he ordered the brazen serpent to be broken in pieces, and termed it, in contempt, “Nehushtan”—“ a brazen bauble.” Efficacious as it was in accomplishing the end for which it was made, as an object or in
strument of worship it was no better than
other “piece of brass."
Whatever turns the soul from God and perverts or dims the truth, however sacred the use to which it has been applied, must be relinquished, and if needful be destroyed. God is “a jealous God." "His glory he will not give to another, nor his praise to graven images.” The holy city in which the people gather for his worship—the temple of his residence itself, however sacred and however magnificent as a work of art, he will forsake and utterly overthrow in avenging the honor of his name.
No richer field for relics was ever presented than is found in the early history of the Israelites; and if their tendency is good, we should expect no system of religion would use them more freely than the Mosaic, which addressed itself so much to the senses and the imagination. Yet under this system no relics were preserved by divine appointment except the pot of manna and Aaron's rod; and even these were concealed in the holy of holies from public inspection. The brazen serpent was preserved by human contrivance. At first no harm followed the interest with which it was regarded by the people; but in later ages, when religious feeling had declined, it became the occasion of idolatry. The history of relics is everywhere the
No matter how pious are the intentions of those who introduce them, they soon lead to super
stition and imposture. The greater the interest which attaches to a relic, the greater the danger of its abuse. How often has absurd veneration for a fancied piece of the wood on which the Saviour was crucified, been substituted for love to Christ himself! How many have rested their hope of heaven on perishing matter, instead of trusting in “the Son of man,” who, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” was “ lifted up” on the cross for the salvation of the world!