"The rest of the events in MANASSEH'S reign and all his deeds, including the sins he committed, are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. When Manasseh died, he was buried in the palace garden, the garden of Uzza. Then his son Amon became the next king." 2 Kings 21:17-18, 2 Chron. 33:1-21.

Here is an unostentatious, an unhonored, an unepitaphed grave! Though one of the kings of Judah, MANASSEH is laid, not in pomp and splendor, amid the dust of his ancestors, but in a private tomb, in the garden of his Jerusalem palace.

Striking is the contrast between these funeral rites of Manasseh and those of his royal father Hezekiah. The funeral cortege and burial of the latter was one of unprecedented splendor. "They buried him," we read, "in the chief of the sepulchers of the sons of David--and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem honored him at his death." But however brief be the chronicle of Manasseh's departure and funeral, however lowly or unregal the monument reared over his ashes, he is himself a wondrous "monument"--a monument of Divine grace and mercy and forgiveness. As we gather around his tomb, let us ponder the spiritual epitaph for ourselves, which many have read through tears of guilt and despair, thanking God and taking courage--"The chief of sinners, BUT I obtained mercy!"

We have to trace, in his case, as described in the motto-lines of the Christian poet, a "sunrise" of promise, soon obscured with clouds of guilt and crime. These clouds burst in floods of penitence and sorrow. A meridian of sudden brilliancy succeeds. The sky clears, and the orb of a chequered life sets cloudless and serene on the hills of Judah. Standing by his grave, under the shadow of Zion, let us take a retrospective view of his strange history. He is the prodigal son of Old Testament story. We have the departure from the hallowed parental home; the life of alienation, misery, and sin, and his final restoration and return. In other words, let us consider, in their order, these three points--Manasseh's sin; his conversion; and his new life.

I. His career of SIN was a peculiarly sad one; and all the more so, when we reflect that his infancy and boyhood were nurtured under the training of the best and holiest of fathers. Hezekiah, when he received the respite from sickness and expected death, was divinely apprized that fifteen additional years would be added to his life; and it was three years subsequent to this, that Manasseh was born. With the precise knowledge which the good king of Judah thus possessed as to the assigned limit of existence, (a knowledge given indeed to none else,) and knowing, moreover, how susceptible youth is of lasting impressions, we may well imagine, as year by year drew near when the crown would devolve on the head of his young boy, how faithfully he would employ the brief allotted period in training him for his great duties; educating him in that noblest of inheritances, a father's piety and devout example. How zealously would he echo the dying exhortation and benediction of his great progenitor, "And you, my son, know the God of your father, and serve him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind--for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts--if you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever," (1 Chron. 28:9). Above all, how would Hezekiah (man of special prayer as he was) baptize that child's infancy and youth with these burning devotions?--these earnest petitions, which, mightier than all his armies, had laid the proud chivalry of Sennacherib low in the dust.

But ah! we are too truthfully, too painfully reminded, in the case of Manasseh, that grace is not hereditary; that piety, despite of the most devout and religious training, is not always transmitted from father to son. To take an older illustration; Adam, with all the recollections fresh on his memory of Eden lost, the galling bitterness of forfeited bliss, would doubtless often and again rehearse in the ears of his children the dark story of transgression. He would paint to them, as he alone of all the human race could do, the unsullied beauties of holiness, in order to scare them from that accursed thing which had entailed upon himself so terrible a ruin! Yet what was his success? What effect had these blinding tears of penitence and remorse, shed before his children at the very gates of the lost paradise? His own first-born, despite of all, turned out a murderer and a vagabond.

And here, in a later age, we have another child of prayers and tears, scarce mounting the throne still fragrant with parental piety, before he insults a parent's ashes, tramples on his counsels, mocks his tears, and becomes a desperado in guilt. Altars to Baal and Ashtaroth were erected within the Temple's sacred enclosures. The groves in the valley of Jehoshaphat and on the slopes of the Mount of Olives were polluted with defiled altars, on which incense rose to the host of heaven. Deep down in the valley of Hinnom, behind his palace, he caused his own son to pass through the fire, dedicating him a votary to bloodthirsty Moloch. With servile credulity, while he rejected the God of his fathers, he listened to lying oracles, and did homage to those who pretended communion with dead spirits.

Proud, passionate, overbearing, he became the persecutor and fanatic of his day. He poured out the blood of Jerusalem like water. Innocent lives were sacrificed. Those who loved the God and the religion of their fathers better than existence, were given over to massacre. Cruelty and torture were added to death; and tradition has it, that good old Isaiah was, at the savage command of the royal master whom he had too faithfully reproved, ordered to be "sawn asunder." "He wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger," (2 Chron. 33:6).

Nor was his guilt and ruin confined to himself. There is a terrible contagion in moral evil. We read that "He made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to sin, and to do worse than the heathen whom the Lord had destroyed before the children, of Israel," (2 Chron. 33:9). This tells the malignant influence his creed and example had on his subjects--that he sowed the seeds of his own wickedness among the thousands that owned his sway.

It is a dreadful and solemn thought, continually recurring to us in these Bible characters, that individual influence assumes greater and more responsible proportions according to position or scale in society. The influence of mind upon mind, and especially of those in exalted position, is truly gigantic--the magnetic power of moral attraction or repulsion. It is often said that "the age makes the man." We believe that the converse is oftener true, that "the man makes the age." At the close of last century, in France and England, there was, in high places, a galaxy of great and commanding intellect. In France, the infidelity of a few, gave the first impulse to that wild wave of moral ruin which is chafing and eddying there to this day. Simultaneously in England, a number of influential minds appeared in prominent positions. They cast their talents and influence as trophies at the foot of the cross. But while they themselves are gone--long slumbering beneath the storied urns which a nation delighted to rear over their honored ashes--the seed wafted from these Trees of righteousness is this day springing up, in a forest of holy influences, to the praise and the glory of God.

So it was with HEZEKIAH and Manasseh. In the case of the former, how marvelous the influence for good. How his own faith and piety were reflected in the hearts of his people. Look at that memorable instance to which we have already incidentally referred, when Sennacherib and his giant host came up against Jerusalem and the fenced cities of Judah. It was enough to strike panic and dismay into the boldest and bravest. But Hezekiah, undismayed, because he knew where his true strength lay, gathered together his soldiers and captains of war in the open street, and thus addressed them--"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles." And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said. (2 Chron. 32:7-8)

See, on the other hand, in the case of MANASSEH, the influence for evil; and that, also, long after he had mourned his sins, with breaking heart, and sought repentance carefully and with tears. Yes, it was an influence that survived his death, and bore bitter fruit after he himself was laid in his grave, when his own son perpetuated the idolatries of his father's earlier years; for we read, "Amon, his son, sacrificed unto all the carved images which Manasseh his father had made, and served them."

Let us never forget, each of us, our solemn individual influence; an influence, also, not confined to place or time, but made up of words and deeds that transmit their endless echoes and images from age to age--giving us very life when we are dead--putting speech into our ashes. After the stone is sunk in the quiet lake, and lying still in the bottom, the waves generated by it, are being propelled in concentric circlets to the shore. They are chafing and rippling on the pebbles, when the disturbing cause has been for many minutes lost to sight, and buried in unconscious rest in the underlying bed of sand or mud. When we are sunk in our last long rest, lost from the sight and from the land of the living,"gone down into silence"--the ripple of influence, for good or for evil, will be heard murmuring on the shores of Time!

Note again, as an aggravation of Manasseh's sin, HIS REPEATED AND OBDURATE REJECTION OF DIVINE WARNING. "The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not hearken," (2 Chron. 33:10).

He may have spoken to him as He does to us, in varied ways. He may have spoken to him by blessings. He may have sent His holy prophets and seers to expostulate with him. He may have knocked at the door of his seared conscience by the hallowed remembrances of a parent's piety, and a youth of rare spiritual privilege. But it was all in vain. And now He prepares the ROD for severer punishment. He makes ready the bow, and puts the arrow on the string, to send the dart of deeper conviction home to his heart! Let us here admire God's patience and forbearance with this guilty, daring, aggravated apostate. He might have cut him down in a moment--He might have commissioned the lightning from heaven, or the pangs of some sudden disease, or the hand of righteous violence, to rid the nation of a villain. He might have sent him out, like Ahab, in his chariot to battle; and some bowman might have drawn his arrow at a venture, and sent him reeling to a grave of despair! But, no! Manasseh's name is in the Book of Life. He is one of God's chosen ones from before the foundation of the world; that lost sheep must be brought home to the fold--that lost son must be brought to the paternal halls. "O Israel, you have destroyed yourself, but in me is your help found," (Hosea 13:9).

And how does God deal with this self-destroyer? What are the means He employs to humble his hard heart, and evoke from the wretched prodigal the cry, "I will arise, and go to my Father." He sends one of the generals of Esarhaddon, the king of Assyria, against him and his fenced cities. The panic-stricken monarch presents a painful and humiliating contrast with the brave, bold heart of Hezekiah. The latter, when the same hosts were encamped against him at his very gates, led his men up the temple steps, singing, as they marched, his own sublime psalm, written for the occasion--"God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear, even if earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!" (Ps. 46:1-3). His son, without, perhaps, the shadow of resistance, flees humiliated from his palace, and takes shelter in a thicket of thorns to elude the fury of the invader. But the commissioners of the Divine vengeance track out his guilty footsteps. He is loaded with chains, marched in ignominy to Babylon, and consigned there to a dungeon-vault. What a comment on the striking parallel made by the wise man--"The wicked flee when no man pursues; but the righteous are bold as a lion!" (Prov. 28:1.)

II. Let us consider next, Manasseh's CONVERSION--the great turning point in his history. That dungeon became to him as the gate of heaven. His God, in a far higher than natural sense, "brought him out of darkness and the shadow of death. He broke the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder," (Ps. 107:14, 16).

We are called to note here the power of sanctified affliction.

There is a twofold effect of trial and adversity. Sometimes it hardens the heart, leading a rebellious spirit to murmur and repine under the hand that chastens, and to say, like Gideon, "If the Lord is with us, why has all this befallen us?" or to utter the worse infidel scoff, "Let me curse God, and die." But it has another effect--the more blessed one, of humbling the rebellious spirit, bringing it to consider its ways, bewail its sins, and, instead of kicking against the pricks, to cry, "Lord, what would you have me to do?"

It was so with Manasseh. In that dungeon, God knocked at the door of his obdurate heart. The prison in Babylon became his spiritual birthplace. "Behold, he prays!" Knees that never bent before the God of his fathers, since he knelt a child by his parents' side, are now bent on that dungeon floor!

We can imagine his exercise of soul. How, in that solemn, silent prison, the memory of years on years of past sin would rise up before him. His father's prayers and saintly counsels--the innocent blood he shed in Jerusalem--the terrible desecration of the holy place--the thousands he had involved, by his guilty example, in apostasy and ruin! Oh, as the rush of the past came on his lonely spirit, in the midnight hour, and the tears of burning remorse and shame rolled down his cheeks, would not this be his despairing thought--Can iniquities such as mine be pardoned? Can there be forgiveness for such aggravated transgression--such unparalleled, presumptuous sin?

Who knows but, as the vision of the holy prophet he had slain rose up before him, adding a new scorpion sting to his agonized conscience--who knows but at the same moment, balm-words of comfort which that prophet had spoken may have fallen on his tossed soul like oil on the troubled waters. Did they not seem to speak home to him, as if the seer, in uttering them, had his own case of agonizing despair specially in view--"Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord--though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool," (Isa. 1:18). "Scarlet and crimson," indeed, his sins were. But he will take the God of his fathers, the God who had borne with him so long and so patiently, at His word--"When he was in affliction," we read, "he sought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers," (2 Chron. 33:12). God heard the voice of his groaning. A light, brighter than the sun, broke through his prison bars. He could say with Jeremiah in his dungeon, "I called upon your name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon. You drew near in the day that I called upon you. You said, Fear not!" (Lam. 3:55.)

Perhaps one of his bitterest and saddest thoughts may have been that same terrible influence, already alluded to, which he had exerted, in the past, over his subjects. This thought, in that moment of penitence and illumination, may have been uppermost in his spirit, and hardest to bear--"Oh, that I could undo that guilty past! Oh, that God would spare me to recover strength, and bring me back again to my palace and capital, that I might declare what He has done for my soul, and seek to counteract these memories of blood-guiltiness and sin!" God did hear him in this matter too; for "he prayed unto him--and he was entreated by him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem, into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God," (2 Chron. 33:13). He left Jerusalem bound (soul and body) in fetters, after having closed on himself and his people the temple-gates, and quenched the sacred fire on his fathers' altars. Now he returns, the possessor of a nobler liberty than he ever before enjoyed, saying, "Open unto me the gates of righteousness; then will I enter into them and praise the Lord." "O Lord, I am your servant; yes, I am your servant, the son of your handmaid, and you have freed me from my bonds! I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. I will keep my promises to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the house of the Lord, in the heart of Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!" (Ps. 116:16-19).

Does not all this teach us, that God's grace can reach any heart, in any place? The soul that despised God in the consecrated ground of Canaan and Jerusalem, was reached in the heathen city, and in the military prison in heathen Babylon. Prayer, also, needs no sacred places--no high altar--no temple-court--no gorgeous cathedral to give it power and efficacy. Wherever there is an earnest heart, there is a present God. The prayer of Saul of Tarsus in heathen Damascus, or when tossed at midnight on the sea of Adria, or when immured in the dungeons of Philippi; and the prayer of Manasseh, here narrated, in this dungeon in Babylon--these, and similar penitential cries of earnest, broken spirits are heard, when many an imposing service and intoned liturgy dies away in empty echoes within "consecrated walls!"

And mark what was the instrumental cause of Manasseh's conversion. What was it that drove him to his knees, and led him to know God as the hearer of prayer? It was "when he was in affliction he sought the Lord his God, and humbled himself." It is Manasseh, "taken among the thorns, and bound with fetters," who stands before us a new man!

And is not affliction still God's own angel-messenger? Does not He still drive His own people amid the thorny thickets of severe trial, hurl them from their thrones of prosperity, and immure them "in darkness and in the deeps"--just that He may dash to pieces all their earthly confidences, break their hard, stubborn hearts, send them to their knees, and save their souls?

Ah, how many can tell, "But for these thorn-thickets, these fetters of trial, I would still have been an enemy to my God, plunging into greater and greater sin? But I may well take these thorns and chains together, and weave them into a garland of triumph." It is said that the mother eagle inserts a thorn in the nest, to drive her young brood to the wing. God puts many a thorn in His people's downy nest of ease and worldly prosperity, to urge them to rise heavenward. If Manasseh had not known the thorns, the fetters, and the dark prison, in all human probability, he would have lived and died an idolater. If Moab had not been "emptied from vessel to vessel" he would have "settled on his lees." If many of the redeemed, spoken of in Revelation, had not "come out of great tribulation" they would not have been in their white robes "before the throne!"

III. Let us now proceed to consider Manasseh's NEW LIFE.

The grand test of the reality of conversion, is the regenerated being. The tree is known by its fruits. The purified fountain is known by its streams. With many, alas! returning prosperity only hardens the heart, causing it to lapse into its old state of callous indifference.

It might have been so with Manasseh when the dungeon-vault was left, and when, under a royal escort, he was once more conducted back to his palace and crown. He might have basely spurned the hand that rescued him, and relapsed into his old courses. But he stood the test. We read that it was WHEN God had brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom, "THEN Manasseh knew that the Lord was God."

It must have been a noble sight, to see him, in the face of his whole people, not only manifesting the saving change in his own heart and life, but as all true religion is expansive, and seeks the good of others, commencing at once religious and civil, ecclesiastical and political, reform. He began by cutting down, root and branch, all his old abominations. The statues of Ashtaroth--the heathen groves, the defiled altars--all are swept away. Nor was it a mere external reformation--a mere negative religion--the "ceasing to do evil." But he taught himself, and he taught his people, "to do well." "He repaired the altar of the Lord, and sacrificed thereon peace-offerings and thank-offerings." Offerings for sin, and offerings of gratitude for mercies. He became himself a preacher of righteousness. It was a great revival in Judah. "He stood by the altar, and" we read, "commanded Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel." He evidently returned in the spirit of Zaccheus the publican, resolved to "restore fourfold;" saying, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?"

Strange but joyous sight to the true Israel of God in Jerusalem--those who for years had wept in secret over their monarch's sins, and over "the holy and beautiful house where their fathers worshiped"--to behold now the long-smouldering ashes again kindled on the altar for the morning and evening sacrifice--the king's own voice joining in the solemn hymn, "Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endures forever."

Add to all this, and as a proof that worldly wisdom and prudence, in the best sense of the word, go hand in hand with true piety, he set himself with equal vigor to the strengthening of his kingdom. He raised a wall on the defenseless side of his capital, besides augmenting the strongholds of his fenced cities. He was more a king than ever. All his praying, and praising, and temple-worship, had made him no fatalist, no presumptuous dreamer. It was no creed of his--"God will save us; we need not trouble ourselves about defense or munitions--walls or standing armies, horses or chariots, the Lord will fight our battles!" No! his piety served only to invigorate his patriotism. He acted out the truth of that grand apostolic maxim, "Not lacking in zeal, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord."

True piety does not require us to sink into sentimental devotion--a dreamy life of inaction or enthusiasm, but to interfuse all worldly work with religion--to let life's duties be saturated with the fear of God--erecting our churches, yet building our dockyards--rearing our altars, yet casting our cannon--letting the white wings of commerce be studding our seas, and bringing back laden stores from distant continents, yet sending, at the same time, to heaven the winged vessels of prayer--waiting in faith for their return, laden with costlier merchandise--taking religion and incorporating it with daily life, letting it regulate our transactions behind the counter, in the exchange, in the family, in the world, and proving to all the truth of that noble aphorism--"A Christian is the highest style of man."

We may conclude this chapter with a word of warning, and a word of encouragement.

The word of WARNING may be read from the consequences of Manasseh's guilt–

He was a penitent, a sincere penitent. His aggravated sins were all pardoned and forgiven, and he afterwards lived and died, a true "Hebrew of the Hebrews," an "heir of promise." But the deadly influence of his early life of sin, was not so easily obliterated. We have already casually alluded to the fact, and return to it once more. If you read the sequel to his brief history, you will find that with all his efforts and zeal, he could only at best effect a partial reformation. He found that personal repentance was an easier thing than national; that it was easier far, in the earlier part of his reign, to undo the effect of his father's virtues, than in the latter part, to undo his own crimes. "Nevertheless," we read, "the people still sacrificed in the high places." Ah! how it would embitter his closing days to see, here and there, polluted incense still rising from unhallowed groves and altars, and the trumpet of vengeance sounding its retributive note in his ear--"Be sure your sin will find you out!"

Even in his own private funeral rites and secluded tomb, we can see a fruit of his early sin. By his reformation, and return to the worship of his father's God, he had alienated the companions of his guilt and the abettors of his idolatrous practices. Those, on the other hand, who gladly hailed his change of mind, would be slow, as is generally the case, to credit the reality; and even if certified of this, they could never heartily forgive, or at least forget, the murderer of their fathers or mothers or children. Dying, therefore, though he did, a believer--a true child of Abraham--many tears did not follow him to the grave, nor did willing hands rear a monument to his memory; moreover, he himself, painfully aware how his inconsistent former life had compromised him in the eyes of his people, might forbid the funeral pomp usually accompanying royal burials. With no pretended humility, he had probably, as the shedder of the blood of God's prophets, pronounced his ashes unworthy to mix with that of his nobler ancestry, and on his death-bed given instructions that his interment might take place within the precincts of his own garden.

Reader, beware of sin. Think of the bitter consequences it entails, how by unholy acts or inconsistent deeds, influence is lessened or character lost. Avoid debatable ground. Keep off from what is likely to compromise you. Remember righteous Lot. He made little after all of the rich plains of Sodom and its luxurious capital. Men pointed at him with the finger of scorn. Dark stains blotted the close of his life. Even in the case of Manasseh, with a nobler and more consistent termination to existence (many years, as we may surmise, of devotedness to the God of Israel), yet it was easier for men to remember Manasseh the infidel, the scoffer, the profligate, the persecutor, the reckless prodigal--than Manasseh the converted, the royal penitent, the prodigal restored, the wondrous monument of divine grace and mercy!

But we have also, as we watch this singular "sunset," a lesson of ENCOURAGEMENT

We have a glorious testimony, in the case of Manasseh, that no sinner need despair. Manasseh is now stooping over the walls of heaven, in company with Saul the blasphemer, Zaccheus the extortioner, the Magdalene of the Pharisee's house, the dying felon of Calvary, and proclaiming that, for the vilest sinner, there is mercy. Yes, although this man had defied his God; had scorned pious counsels; had added bloodshed and cruelty to rampant unbelief and lawless lust; yet when the blast of God's trumpet sounded over the apparently impregnable citadel of his heart, it fell to the dust; and from that hour, in which grace triumphed, its walls became "salvation and its gates praise."

And that grace which saved Manasseh, can save every one of us--the poorest, the vilest, the most desponding.

Is there one such whose eye traces these pages--some one whose whole past life is one sad foul retrospect--a story of aggravated guilt and impiety--a father's counsels, a mother's prayers, mocked and scorned--deep, dark stains blotting every page of conscience and memory? Have God's bowmen of conviction found you in the thorns? Have they dragged you to some dungeon of despair, and left you, amid the darkness of its rayless vaults, to brood over impending death? Oh! send up your cry for mercy to Manasseh's God. HE will not scorn you. No; though you have scorned Him, scorned His people, scorned His mercies, scorned His afflictions, scorned His providence, scorned His ministers, yet He will not scorn you. "He will regard the cry of the destitute, and will not despise their prayer." This story of Manasseh has been "written for the generations to come, that the people who shall be created may praise the Lord," (Ps. 102:18).

And is there no special encouragement here to Christian parents? We have alluded, more than once, to Manasseh scorning his father's piety and prayers. We have spoken of good Hezekiah, as his end approached, imbuing that young heart with these prayers, pouring on that young kingly brow this best anointing oil. Alas! is it another case on which to found the sneer of the infidel?--"What need is there of prayer? Here is another testimony that the prayer of pious lips ascends in vain. Hezekiah prays. But the heavens are as brass and the earth as iron. The Lord has 'not heard,' the 'God of Jacob has not regarded.' This child of prayer grows up a daring and defiant unbeliever. 'Is there a God on the earth?'"

No, O man; who are you that replies against God? Hezekiah's prayer is heard. His cries have not entered in vain into the ears of the God of Sabbath. "The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and shall not lie--though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry," (Hab. 2:3). Years upon years--half a lifetime--had elapsed--since the arrow of prayer had sped from Hezekiah's bow. But when the good old king is sleeping his deep sleep, in the regal sepulcher on Zion, lo! in yonder far-off dungeon, washed by the tide of the distant Euphrates, the arrow has reached its mark; the word of the Lord is tried--"Cast your bread upon the waters, and you SHALL find it after many days." (Eccles. 11:1).

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