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S E R M O N
AT THE ORDINATION
REV. MR. ABRAHAM BOOTH:
IN GOODMAN'S FIELDS, FEB. 16th, 1769.
explain and enforce the duties a people owe to their minister, is the service which you, my friends of this church, have requested of me. It is, I am sensible, a service attended with no small difficulty; as some kind of partiality may be supposed to mingle itself with addresses usual on these occasions. Labouring, however, to divest myself of all undue prejudices in favour of the office I sustain, and presuming on your candour and friendship, I shall without any further apology proceed.
The interest of religion, and of consequence the welfare not only of individuals but of society in general, is the professed object of the Christian ministry. And as it is by this truly noble and important end I would be guided, in prosecuting the subject before me; it may not be improper to accommodate the words of the sacred historian to our present purpose,
which recorded in
2 Chron. xxx. 22.- And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto
all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the
MEAN not by this accommodation to enter into a particular comparison of the Jewish with the Christian dispensation; much less to draw any absurd inference from thence in favour of what has been called, arrogantly by some and as contemptuously by others, the priesthood. No. What I mean, is to take occasion from the pious zeal which Hezekiah and other good men in those days expressed for the interest of religion, to animate you, my friends, to such a cheerful and hearty concurrence with your minister in the discharge of his office, as may happily tend, with the blessing of God, to the same important end.
The event to which the text refers makes no inconsiderable figure in the history of the kings of Judah. Ahaz, the immediate predecessor of Hezekiah, was a profane and wicked prince. He forsook God, disgraced his worship, established idolatry by law, and introduced among his people the vilest practices of the heathen nations. So that when Hezekiah came to the throne, he found the affairs of his country in miserable disorder, and very justly apprehended the most tremendous consequences. His heart, however, being right with God, he immediately sets about a reformation. The first thing he does, is to open the doors of the house of the Lord, to remove thence the abominations which Ahaz had brought into it, and to restore the worship of God to its original state. This done, he goes up thither with the princes and the rulers of the city, and there offers solemn sacrifice to make atonement for all Israel; which is followed with a prodigious number of burnt-offerings from the whole congregation. Upon this occasion it is remarked, that the Levites were more forward in the service of God than the priests: so that these not having all sanctified themselves so carly as they should have done, the others were obliged to help their brethren the priests, till the work was ended. There might, in point of form, be some irregularity in this; but the necessity of the case was a sufficient excuse. And indeed the zeal which the Levites thus expressed for the true religion, reflected no small honour on their character.-So was this first service closed, and so was the temple, which had been defiled and prostituted to idolatry, again dedicated to the worship of the living God. Nor was the pleasure small which the king and the people felt on this occasion; for the matter was of God who had prepared their hearts, and it was done suddenly a.
The next thing good Hezekiah resolves upon, is to celebrate the feast of passover. And in order to make it the more general and solemn, he not only issues a proclamation requiring his own subjects to attend; but he sends letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting all the people of Israel to come up to Jerusalem on this occasion. It was a service to which they
a 2 Chron. xxix. 36.
were all obliged by the law of Moses; though alas ! it had been neglected for a long time. But, notwithstanding the pious expostulations and earnest entreaties of Hezekiah and his princes, great numbers of the Israelites treated the message with contempt. Some however of the ten tribes, and all the people of Judah, were obedient to the king's command. And being assembled at Jerusalem, a very great congregation, they first removed the idolatrous altars which had been set up in the city; and then kept the feast with a solemnity that had not been known since the time of Solomon. Now upon this occasion, the text tells us, Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the Lord.
The Levites, strictly speaking, were all those who descended from Levi, priests as well as others. But the character is most commonly applied in Scripture to one part of that tribe only, by way of distinction from the priesthood. The priests were of a superior, and the Levites of an inferior order. The business of the former was to sacrifice, and to perform the more solemn and sacred parts of public worship; and of the latter to assist the priests in their office, and to take care of the temple, and of the furniture and treasure that belonged to it. Now the Levites were the persons for whom Hezekiah expressed a special regard on this occasion ; not out of any indifference to the priesthood, but because these, as we have seen, were more forward to the service of God than the others. He paid a due respect to the ministers of the temple according to the rank they held there, and out of regard to the divine appointment: but his respects were chiefly influenced and guided by the zeal, faithfulness and diligence, with which each one discharged the duties of his office.
One important branch of their duty is particularly mentioned, as a ground of his esteem and affection for these Levites. They taught the good knowledge of the Lord—the knowledge of the one living and true God, and of his will as revealed by Moses and the prophets—all the great doctrines and duties of religion, so far as they were discoverable under that dark and imperfect dispensation. A knowledge this of all others most excellent and useful: adapted to enlighten the eyes, convert the