"All Israel will mourn for Abijah and bury him. He is the only one belonging to Jeroboam who will be buried, because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord has found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel." 1 Kings 14:13
God, who calls His people by His grace, calls them, for the most part, early in life. That there are countless exceptions to this we do not question; for the Lord God is a Sovereign, and He works all things after the council of His own will, and gives no account of any of His matters. Many, we admit, are called by grace in the meridian of life, others at the eleventh hour of its closing scene, and not a few even when the eleventh hour has passed, and the twelfth was about to strike its last solemn note. All that the Father has given to the Son shall come to Him sooner or later, whether it be the babe and the suckling--sanctified as from the womb--or the hoary-haired sinner being a hundred years old; not one shall perish.
But the majority of conversions are in favor of early life. Divine grace, in the sovereignty of its exercise, has ever delighted to engraft itself upon the spring-bud of youth bursting into beauty, or upon the tall and graceful sapling just shooting up into life, as if, while seeking emblems of its own loveliness and strength, it yet would illustrate the truth how infinitely the beauty of grace transcended and eclipsed the most surpassing loveliness and attractions of nature.
We have selected from God's Word a most touching and instructive confirmation of this fact. It places before us an example of early piety in its feeblest and most limited form. Abijah, to whom the case refers, was the young son of Jeroboam, and heir-apparent to the throne. Jeroboam was one of the worst of the kings of Israel. Scarcely had he reached the throne than he turned aside from the worship of the only true and living God, and established in its place a system of the vilest idolatry. After a while his son Abijah was smitten with sickness. Jeroboam, a wily diplomatist, as an unholy man, sent his wife in disguise to inquire of the prophets of the Lord whether the child should recover. Why of the prophets of Israel did he inquire? Why not seek the gods his own hands had set up, and which he and his court worshiped? The fact supplies the solution of a solemn problem.
When God sends affliction and adversity upon ungodly men, they then discover how little faith they had in, and how little support they derive from, the vain confidences in which they had been accustomed to repose. The world, the heart's idols, and theoretical and speculative notions of God's Word, utterly fail to administer light, consolation, and hope when God's hand is upon them, when adversity crushes them, when health and wealth, creatures and reputation, take wing and fly. How often the most ungodly and profane discover that there is but one Being who can help them!--that one Being is GOD. How true the language of the prophet--rather, how true the word of the living God--"Lord, in trouble have they visited You; they poured out a prayer when Your chastening was upon them," (Isa. 26:16.)
The wife of Jeroboam brought back to the king a sad and woeful message--that the entire family of the king, with a solitary exception, should die, dishonored, unmourned, and unwept. "Him that dies of Jeroboam in the city shall the dogs eat; and him that dies in the field shall the fowls of the air eat--for the Lord has spoken it." All this came to pass. Thus we read–"Baasha killed Nadab in the third year of King Asa's reign in Judah, and he became the next king of Israel. He immediately killed all the descendants of King Jeroboam, so that not one of the royal family was left, just as the Lord had promised concerning Jeroboam by the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh." (1 Kings 15:28, 29.) To this terrible infliction of divine judgment there was, as we have intimated, one solitary exception. It was Abijah, the young son of Jeroboam. Of him said the Lord, "All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only one belonging to Jeroboam who will be buried, because he is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has found anything good."
Let us now turn our attention to the SPIRITUAL INSTRUCTION which this remarkable instance of early piety inculcates.
1. The first important inference we draw is, GOD'S TENDER REGARD FOR THE YOUNG. It is a period of human life especially dear and interesting to the Lord. Christ in His own person passing through this stage of life, honored and sanctified it. He was "the holy child Jesus." It is the golden period of human life. It is to life what the bright morning is to the day, and what the spring-time is to the year. It gives to the future its character, mold, and complexion. It is the preface to the history of our being, present and future; and he who ponders thoughtfully this preface may, without the sagacity of a prophet, form a correct conception of the character of the volume. As a young person sows in early years, so shall he reap in later life. Approach the crowd of hoary heads bending to the grave beneath the snows of many winters, and ask of each what relation their youth sustained to that distant and solemn period of life, and each will testify that, the memories of early years, sad or joyous, clouded or sunny, clustered around that closing scene; imparting to it a character, a solemnity, and an impressiveness indescribable and ineffaceable. Memories of early consecration to God, or of the sins of youth against Him; memories of a father's counsels and of a mother's prayers, of first religious thoughts and impressions, of prayers and promises and vows--oh, how they link the past with the present, sunny youth with hoary age, life's first dawn with its last sunset!
Such is the importance of youth in its relation to conversion. This period of human life passed unawakened, unsanctified by the new birth, the probabilities of conversion lessen with each revolving year. We speak now after the manner of men. Well assured are we that all the Lord's hidden ones shall be brought in, were it when the twelfth hour of life were about to strike its last moment, or, were the working of a miracle necessary for its accomplishment. The eternal Word of the living God affirms it; the everlasting covenant of grace provides for it; the atoning blood of Jesus secures it; and the covenant engagement of the Spirit in conversion gives to it its fullest and most blessed realization.
Cheering, consolatory truth to those who, amid much discouragement and despondency, little or no fruit, and, perhaps, much difficulty and opposition, are laboring in the Christian ministry, or by other means, to win souls to Christ. What though you see no immediate result from your arduous, anxious, self denying labors, the promise yet remains sure--all Israel shall be gathered, and as many as are ordained to eternal life shall believe. You are only responsible to your Divine Master for the fidelity and integrity, the singleness of eye and honesty of purpose, the prayer, the earnestness, the watching, and the faith with which you plough the soil and sow the seed. The blessing, the harvest--the golden and waving grain, the sickled and garnered fruit--are the Lord's.
And yet, tracing the Lord's work in the sovereignty of His grace in conversion--especially in this the last of the latter days--the great majority of those who are called by grace are taken from the ranks of the young, the very babes and sucklings perfecting His praise. Oh, spectacle of surpassing loveliness! Earth has none to compare with it, the Church not one to surpass it.
2. The loveliness of early piety can only be equaled by its ADVANTAGES. They who are born again early in life; who, while the sun is but just seen above the horizon, have set out in the Christian pilgrimage, are thoroughly armed and equipped for the temptations, duties, and trials of their course. The pleasures of religion--transcending all pleasures--are theirs, amid the toil, the battle, and the sufferings of life. They begin their race with the surrender of their hearts to Christ--continue it with His presence encompassing them--and close it with the crown of life, which His own hands will place upon their brow. And should their sun go down while it is yet day, it will but the sooner rise again in that land of glory where there are no more sunsets of life; for it is written, "There shall be no night there." Oh, seek the Lord early in life, for He has said for your encouragement, "I love those who love me, and those who seek me early shall find me."
But what made the youthful Abijah an exception to Jeroboam's family? "Because in him there is found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel." And what was that good thing? It was not rank, nor talent, nor influence. It was nothing of nature or of man. It was some good, some gracious, some spiritual, some holy thing, not born with Abijah, but implanted in his heart when, by the grace of God, he was born again. No interpretation but this fully meets the expression, "some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel." Observe, it had reference to God. It was "toward the Lord God of Israel." It came from God, and it returned to God. What could it be but the new, spiritual creation of the soul--the converting grace of God--filial fear and holy love--"the root of the matter" implanted in his young heart by the power of the Holy Spirit? It is said, "SOME good thing.'' The expression seems to imply the ''incorruptible seed" sown, or the seed in the first stage of growth--just germinating, budding; perhaps, the first gentle blade bursting through the crustations of the heart.
How feeble and obscure may be the first appearance and growth of Divine grace in the soul. No one may discover it, know it, acknowledge it, but the Lord. Yes, he in whose heart the good thing is wrought may be the last one to recognize it. But the Lord knows His own work in the heart of a poor sinner--recognizes His own image in the renewed soul; and He who has begun the good work will perfect it. "As for God, His way is perfect." "Some good thing." What is it?
Is it a broken and a contrite heart? What a good thing is this! It is the beginning, the groundwork, the earnest of good things to come. Apart from true repentance for sin, there is no good thing. If the Lord the Spirit has given you, my reader, to see and know and feel yourself a sinner, a marvelous "good thing" has been wrought in your soul. The world thinks lightly of repentance; the formalist ignores it, the self-righteous despise it; but if there is a "good thing" in the heart of man in which God takes delight, over which saints and angels rejoice, and upon which all heaven looks down with ineffable wonder and praise, it is a penitential spirit, a broken and a contrite heart for sin; it is the spectacle of a soul prostrate in the dust--self-abased, self-abhorred, sin-loathing--before the holy Lord God. If, beloved, you have nothing to offer to God except the sacrifice of a broken and a contrite heart, there is some good thing in you towards the Lord God of Israel; and a more costly and acceptable sacrifice you could not lay upon His altar, (Ps. 51:17.)
Is it a simple, childlike, believing acceptance of the Lord Jesus that marks us? Then, there is some "good thing" in our heart towards the Lord of priceless worth. Faith is a good and precious thing. There is more real good and worth in one infinitesimal grain of real faith wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit--the faith which gets the dimmest view of Jesus, which touches but His robe--than in all the good of which the world can ever boast. How small the degree of faith in the youthful Abijah! Yet God pronounced it "good."
As a young believer but just setting out in the Divine life, with but slight views of sin, little knowledge of self, still less of Christ, your faith may be weak and trembling; nevertheless, if it has led you to trample your own righteousness in the dust, and has brought you, as a sinner, to a simple, believing reliance upon the Savior, then you possess a "good thing" in reality, before whose beauty earth's highest type of loveliness fades, and the luster of its most dazzling gems pales into darkness. Is this good thing found in you? Do you believe in the Son of God? Has your faith led you to turn your back upon the world, and upon your sins, and upon a life of sense and sensuality--henceforth to be the decided follower of the Lord Jesus? Then, God sees some good thing in you in which He delights.
And is there any degree of real love in your heart towards the Lord God? God has set a high estimate upon love to Him! Marvelous grace! wondrous condescension! that He should say, "My son, give Me your heart." Standing, as it were, a lowly suitor at the door of your young affections, he says, "I love those who love Me. Do YOU love Me? Does my beauty charm you? does my love win you? does my grace draw you? does my cross attract you? have my sufferings and my death subdued you to penitence, faith, and love? Am I dearer to you than earth's dearest attractions, more precious than the heart's most precious treasure? Can you part with all, and every one for Me?"
Oh, if from that young heart, beating high with warm and noble impulse, there rises the gentlest response, "Lord, I love You! You who know my heart's most sacred cloister, who have Your finger upon its faintest pulse, read its most hidden thoughts, and know its most secret desire, You know that I love You!" then a "good thing" has been wrought in your heart which shall never perish.
"Do I not love You, O my Lord?
Behold my heart and see;
Gently dislodge each idol thence
That seeks to rival Thee.
"You know I love You, dearest Lord;
But, oh, I long to soar
Far from the sphere of mortal joys,
And learn to love You more!"
And who will say of the prayer of a young heart that there is not some "good thing" there towards the Lord God? It is a precious thing when a young person is led to pray. The spectacle in its spiritual beauty is unsurpassed. What would thrill the heart of a pious parent with deeper joy, next to his personal salvation? Would it not be the intelligence that the child of countless parental prayers had now become himself a praying child? Would it not be to witness the door closed for prayer, and to hear the gentle breathings, the fervent petitions of the young heart as they ascended in holy prayer to God? Truly, if the heart is incited by the Holy Spirit to pray--feeble, imperfect, stammering as its accents may be--there is "some good thing" in that heart towards the Lord God which marks that soul as born again of the Spirit, as a new creature in Christ Jesus.
Once more mark the expression, "some good thing." It is not EVERY good thing. Young believers are often perplexed and discouraged because they do not find in themselves all the grace and knowledge and Christian attainment they see in others. But this is not to be expected. It was not so with Abijah, the young son of Jeroboam. And yet there was some good thing in his heart towards the Lord God, and for that God marked him as His own. Thank God for the least degree of life, for the smallest measure of faith, for the faintest spark of love; and press on for more. Place no limit to your Christian attainments. Be not satisfied with your measured knowledge of the Lord Jesus. "That I might know Him," was the language and the desire of a saint of God far in the ascendant of the greatest saint among us. Imitate the great Apostle of the Gentiles, and, forgetting the things that are behind, press on to know Christ more--to love Him more--to serve Him more--to glorify Him more--that for you to live may be Christ, and that for you to die may be gain.
The young Abijah died, and God honored him in his death and burial. The Lord, my young reader, is perhaps taking you early home to glory. Disease, insidious and fatal, is slowly wasting your frame, and bringing you to an early tomb. The anticipations of youth, the hopes of life--once so ardent and bright--are now darkening with the shadow of death. Be it so! What a matter of rejoicing is this! Early ripe, early gathered. Think it not hard to die so soon, deem it not sad to relinquish life so early. Think of the sins and temptations, of the conflicts and the sorrows, you so soon and forever shall escape. Think of the heaven of glory into whose joy and bliss and society you so soon and forever will enter. And let not the reflection distress you that you cannot be fitted for heaven because your Christianity has not been matured and tested by many years of experience--that your spiritual knowledge of the Bible has been so deficient--your acquaintance with Christ so short--your service for the Lord so unfruitful--your battles so few and your laurels so scanty--your holiness for heaven so imperfect.
Remember that, if there is only "some good thing in your heart towards the Lord God," you have an unmistakable evidence of being born again; and, born again, though but a babe in Christ, with the smallest faith, the weakest love, the dimmest hope--that faith, that love, that hope, the "good thing" wrought in your soul by the Holy Spirit--when you die, though your sun go down while it is yet day, Jesus will take you to His bosom, and your happy spirit shall repose within its Divine pavilion forever.
"It matters little at what hour of day
The righteous fall asleep; death cannot come
To those untimely, who are fit to die;
The less of this cold world, the more of heaven;
The briefer life, the earlier immortality."