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On the CHARACTER of HAZAEL.
2 Kings, viii. 12, 13.
And Hazael said, Why weepeth my Lord? And he
answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel. Their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child. And Hazacl said, But, what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, The Lord hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria.
IN the days of Joram, king of Israel, flourished the
prophet Elisha. His character was so eminent, and his fame so widely spread, that Benhadad the king of Syria, though an idolater, sent to consult him concerning the issue of a distemper which threatened his life. The messenger employed on this occasion was Hazael, who appears to have been one of the princes, or chief men, of the Syrian court. Charged with rich gifts from the king, he presents himself before the Prophet, and accosts him in terms of the highest respect. During the conference which they held together, Elisha fixed his eyes stedfastly on the countenance of Hazael ; and discerning by a prophetic spirit, his future tyranny and cruelty, he could not contain himself from bursting into a flood of tears. When Hazael, in surprise, enquired into the cause of this sudden emotion, the Prophet plainly informs him of the crimes and barbarities which he foresaw that hereafter he should commit. The soul of Hazael abhorred, at this time, the thoughts of cruelty. Uncorrupted, as yet, by ambition or greatness, his indignation arose at being thought capable of such savage actions as the Prophet had mentioned ; and, with much warmth, he replies, But, what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing ? Elisha makes no return but to point out a remarkable change which was to take place in his condition; The Lord hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria. In course of time, all that had been predicted came to pass.
Hazael ascended the throne; and ambition took possession of his heart. He smote the children of Israel in all their coasts. He oppressed them during all the days of king Jehoahaz *; and from what is left on record of his actions, plainly appears to have proved what the Prophet foresaw him to be, a man of violence, cruelty, and blood.
In this passage of history, an object is presented which deserves our serious attention. We behold a man who, in one state of life, could not look
upon certain crimes without surprise and horrour; who knew so little of himself, as to believe it impossible for him ever to be concerned in committing them; that same man, by a change of condition, transformed in all his sentiments, and, as he rose in greatness, rising also in guilt; till at last he completed that whole character of iniquity which he once detested. Hence the following observations naturally arise. I. That_to a mind not entirely corrupted, sentiments of abhorrence at guilt are natural. II. That, notwithstanding those sentiments, the mind may be brought under the dominion of the vices which it had most abhorred. III. That this unhappy revolution is frequently owing to a change of men's external circumstances and condition in the world. These observations are to make the subject of the present Discourse ; and will lead us to such a view of human nature, as it is hoped, may be of general use.
* 2 Kings, xiii. 32.
I. SENTIMENTS of abhorrence at guilt are natural to the human mind. Hazael's reply to the Prophet, shows how strongly he felt them. Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? Is he, or can he ever be so base and wretched, as to perpetrate crimes which would render him unworthy of bearing the name of a man? This is the voice of human nature, while it is not as yet hardened in iniquity. Some vices are indeed more odious to the mind than others. Providence has wisely pointed the sharpest edge of this natural aversion against the crimes which are of most pernicious and destructive nature; such as treachery, oppression, and cruelty. But, in general, the distinction between moral good and evil is so strongly marked, as to stamp almost every vice with the character of turpitude. Present to any man, even the most ignorant and untutored, an obvious instance of injustice, falsehood, or impiety; let him view it in a cool moment, when no passion blinds, and no interest warps him; and you will find that his mind immediately revolts against it, as shameful and base, nay, as deserving punishment. Hence, in reasoning on Such power,
the characters of others, however men may mistake as to facts, yet they generally praise and blame according to the principles of sound morality.
With respect to their own character, a notorious partiality too generally misleads their judgment. But it is remarkable, that no sinner ever avows directly to himself, that he has been guilty of gross and downright iniquity. Even when engaged by his passions in the commission of the greatest crimes, he always palliates them to his own mind by some extenuation or apology, some pretended necessity, or some borrowed colour of innocence. the undeniable dignity of virtue, and the acknowledged turpitude of vice, possesses over every human heart. These sentiments are the remaining impressions of that law, which was originally written on the mind of man. They are gleams of that light which once shone clear and strong within us; and which, though it be now greatly obscured, yet continues to shoot a feeble ray athwart the darkness of human nature. But whatever sentiments of abhorrence at vice we may at any time entertain, we have no reason to build upon these a presumptuous confidence of our continuance in virtue. For the next instruction which the text suggests, is,
II. THAT such is man's ignorance of his own character, such the frailty of his nature, that he may one day become infamous for those very crimes which at present he holds in detestation. This observation is too well verified by the history of Hazael; and a thousand other instances might be brought to confirm it. Though there is nothing which every person ought to know so thoroughly
as his own heart, yet from the conduct of men it appears that there is nothing with which they are less acquainted. Always more prone to flatter themselves than desirous to discover the truth, they trust to their being possessed of every virtue which has not been put to the trial; and reckon themselves secure against every vice to which they have not hitherto been tempted. As long as their duty hangs in speculation, it appears so plain, and so eligible, that they cannot doubt of performing it. The suspicion never enters their mind, that in the hour of speculation, and in the hour of practice, their sentiments may differ widely. Their present disposition they easily persuade themselves will ever continue the same; and yet that disposition is changing with circumstances every moment.
The man who glows with the warm feelings of devotion, imagines it impossible for him to lose that sense of the divine goodness which at present melts his heart. He whom his friend hath lately saved from ruin, is confident that, if some trying emergency
put his gratitude to proof, he will rather die than abandon his benefactor. He who lives happy and contented in frugal industry, wonders how any man can give himself up to dissolute plea
Were any of those persons informed by a superiour spirit, that the time was shortly to come when the one should prove an example of scandalous impiety, the other of treachery to his friend, and the third of all that extravagant luxury which disgraces a growing fortune; each of them would testify as much surprise and abhorrence as Hazael did, ' upon hearing the predictions of the Prophet. Sincere they might very possibly be in their expres