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rare, in that they are seldom given to any ; common, in that they are indifferently given to the evil and to the good. A little holiness is worth much illumination.
Whether out of envy, to hear that said by the seer of Judah which he either knew not or smothered, to hear that done by another which he could not have effected and could not choose but ad. mire; or, whether out of desire to make trial of the fidelity of so • powerful a messenger; the old prophet hastens to overtake, to recal, that man of God, who had so defied his Bethel : whom he finds sitting faint and weary under an oak, in the way; taking the benefit of that shade, which he hated to receive from those contagious groves, that he had left behind him. His habit easily bewrayed him, to a man of his own trade; neither doth his tongue spare to profess himself. i The old prophet of Bethel invites him to return, to a repast; and is answered with the same words, wherewith Jeroboam's offer was repelled. The man of God varies not a syllable from his message. It concerns us, to take good heed of our charge, when we go on God's.errand.
A denial doth but invite the importunate. What he cannot do by entreaty, the old man tries to do by persuasion ; I am a prophet also, as thou art, and an angel spake to me, by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. There is no temptation so dangerous, as that which comes shrouded under a veil of holiness, and pretends authority of God himself. Jeroboam threatens, the prophet stands undaunted; Jeroboam fawns and promises, the prophet holds constant: now comes a grey-headed seer and pleads a counter-message from God; the prophet yields and transgresses. Satan may affright us as a fiend, but he seduces us as an angel of light.”
Who would have looked for a liar, under hoary hairs and a holy mantle ? Who would not have trusted that gravity, when there was no colour of any gain in the untruth? Nothing is so apt to deceive, as the fairest semblances, as the sweetest words. We cannot err, if we believe not the speech for the person, but the person for the speech.
Well might this man of God think “ An aged man, a prophet, an old prophet, will not, sure, bely God unto a prophet. No man will forge a lie, but for an advantage. What can this man gain by this match, but the entertainment of an unprofitable guest? Perhaps, though God will not allow me to feast with Jeroboam, yet, pitying my faintness, he may allow me to eat with a prophet. Peroaps, now that I have approved my fidelity in refusing the bread of Bethel, God thinks good to send me a gracious release of that strict charge. Why should I think that God's revelations are not as free to others, as to me? And if this prophet have received a countermand from an angel of God, how shall I not disobey God,
if I do not follow him?”. · Upon this ground, he returns with this deceitful host; and,
when the meat was now in his mouth, receives the true message of death, from the same lips that brought him the false message of his invitation; Thus saith the Lord, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the Lord, and hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, but camest back and hast eaten bread, and drunk water, in the place forbidden thee, thy carcase shall not come to the sepulchre of thy fathers.
() woeful prophet! When he looks on his host, he sees his ex. ecutioner; while he is feeding of his body, he hears of his carcase; at the table, he hears of his denied sepulchre ; and all this for cato ing and drinking where he was forbidden by God, though bidden as from God. The violation of the least charge of a God is mortal. No pretences can warrant the transgression of a divine command,
A word from God is pleaded on both sides : the one was received immediately from God; the other related mediately by man: one, the prophet was sure of; the other was questionable. A sure word of God may not be left, for an uncertain. An express charge of the Almighty admitteth not of any check. His will is but one, as himself is; and therefore, it is out of the danger of contradiction.
Methinks, I see the man of God change countenance, at this sharp sauce of his pleasing morsel. His face before-hand is dyed with the paleness of death. Methinks, I hear him urging, many unkind ex postulations, with his injurious host: who yet dismisses him, better provided for the ease of his journey, than he found him. Perhaps this officiousness was out of desire, to make some amends for this late seducement. It is a poori recompence, when he hath betrayed his life, and wronged the soul, to cast some cour: tesies upon the body. : sciiii'..:: itis,
The old Bethelite, that had taken pains to come and fetch the man of God into sin, will not now go back with him, to accompany his departure. Doubtless, he was afraid to be enwrapped in the judgment, which he saw langed over that obnoxious head. Thus the mischievous guides of wickedness leave a man, when they have led him to his bane; as familiar deyils forsake their witches, when they have brought them once into fetters. ,
The man of God returns alone; careful, no doubt, and pensive, for his offence; when a lion out, of the wood meets him, assaults him, kills him. Oh the just and severe judgments of the Almighty, who hath brought this fierce beast, out of his wild ranges into the highway, to be the executioner of his offending servant ! . : Doubtless, this prophet was a man of great holiness, of singular fidelity, else he durst not have been God's herald, to carry a message of defiance to Jeroboam, king of Israel, in the midst of his royal magnificence; yet now, for varying from but a circumstance of God's command, though upon the suggestion of a divine ware rant, is given for a prey to the lion. Our interest in God is so far from excusing our sin, that it aggravates it. Of all others, the sin of a prophet shall not pass unrevenged.
The very wild beasts are led by a providence. Their wise and
powerful Creator knows how to serve himself of them. The lions guard one prophet, kill another, according to the commission received from their Maker. What sinner can hope to escape unpu. pished, when every creature of God is ready to be an avenger of evil ? The beasts of the field were made to serve us; we, to serve qur Creator. When we forsake our homage to him that made us, it is no marvel, if the beasts forget their duty to us, and deal with us, not as masters, but as rebels. : When a holy man buys so dearly such a slight frailty, of a cre. dulous mistaking, what shall become of our heinous and presumptuous sins ? :I cannot think but this prophet died in the favour of God, though by the teeth of the lion. His life was forfeited for example; his soul was safe: yea, his very carcase was left, though torne, yet fair after those deadly grasps; as if God had said, “I will only take thy breath from thee, as the penalty of thy disobedience. A lion shall do that, which an apoplexy or fever might do. I owe thee no further revenge, than may be satisfied with thy blood.” Violent events do not always argue the anger of God. Even death itself is, to his servants, a fatherly castigation.
. But oh, the unsearchable ways of the Almighty ! the man of God sins, and dies speedily; the lying prophet, that seduced him, survives: yea, wicked Jeroboam enjoys his idolatry, and treads upon the grave of his reprover. There is neither favour in the delay of stripes, nor displeasure in the haste: rather, whom God loves, he chastises, as sharply, so speedily, while the rest prosper to condemnation. Even the rod of a loving father may draw blood. How much happier is it for us, that we die now, to live for ever, than that we live awhile to die ever! · Had this lion set upon the prophet for hunger, why did he not devour, as well as kill him! Why did he not rather kill the beast, than the man? since we know the nature of the lion such, that he is not wont to assail man, save in the extreme want of other prey. Certainly, the same power, that employed those fangs, restrained them; that the world might see, it was not appetite, that provoked the beast to this violence, but the over-ruling command of God. Even so, () Lord, thy powerful hand is over that roaring lion, that goes about continually, seeking whom he may devour. Thine hand withholds him, that, though he may shed the blood of thine elect, yet he cannot hurt their souls; and, while he doth those things which thou permittest, and orderest to thy just ends, yet he cannot do lesser things, which he desireth, and thou permittest not.
The fierce beast stands by the carcase; as to avow his own act and to tell who sent him, so to preserve that body which he hath slain. Oh wonderful work of God! the executioner is turned guardian ; and, as the officer of the Highest, commapds all other creatures to stand aloof from his charge; and commands the fearful ass, that brought this burthen thither, not to stir thence, but stand ready pressed, to re-carry it to the sepulchre: and now, when he
hath sufficiently witnessed to all passengers, that this act was not done upon his own hunger, but upon the quarrel of his Maker; he delivers up his charge to that old prophet, who was no less guilty of this blood than himiself:
This old seducer hath $6 much truth, as both to give a right commentary upon God's intention in this act for the terror of the disobedient, and to give his voice to the certainty of that future judgment which his late guest had threatened to Israel. Sometimes it pleaseth the wisdom of God, to express and justify himself, even by the tongues of faulty instruments. Withal, he hath so much faith and courage, as to fetch that carcase from the lion; so muchi pity and compassion, as to weep for the man of God, to inter him in his own sepulchre ; so much love, as to wish himself joined in death to that body, which he had hastened unto death. It is hard to find a man absolutely wicked. Some grace will bewray itself, in the most forsaken breasts.
It is a cruel courtesy, to kill á man, and then to help him to his grave ; to betray a man with our breath, and then to bedew him with our tears. The prophet had needed no such friend, if he had ņot met with such an enemy. The mercies of the wicked are cruel.
i Kings xiii.
JEROBOAM'S WIFE. Ít is, no measuring of God's favour, by the line of outward welfare: Jeroboam, the idolatrous usurper of Israel, prospers better, than the true heirs of David. He lives to see three successions in the throne of Judah. Thus the ivy lives, when the oak is dead.
Yet could not that misgotten crown of his keep his head always from aching: he hath his crosses too. God whips sometimes more than his own : his enemies smart from him, as well as his children his children in love, his enemies in judgment. Not simply the rod argues love, but the temper of the hand that wields it, and the back that feels it.
First, Jeroboam's hand was stricken; now, his son. Abijah the eldest, the best son of Jeroboam, is smitten with sickness. Ås chil.. dren are but the pieces of their parents in another skin, so parents are no less stricken in their children, than in their natural limbs: Jeroboam doth not more feel his arm, than his son. Not wicked men only, but beasts may have natural affections. It is no thank to any creature, to love his own.
Nature wrought in Jeroboam, not grace. He is enough troubled, with his son's disease ; no whit bettered. I would have heard him say; " God follows me with his afflictions. It is for mine im. piety. What other measure can I expect from his justice? While mine idols stand, how can I look that my house should prosper?' I will turn from my wickedness; O God, turn thou from thy wrath."
These thoughts were too good for that obdured heart. His VOL. I.
the saken heard hieron
son is sick, he is sorrowful; but as an amazed man seeks to go forth at the wrong door, bis distraction sends him to a false helpa He thinks not of God; he thinks of his prophet: he thinks of the prophet, that had foretold him he should be a king; he thinks not of the God of that prophet, who made him a king. It is the property of a carnal heart, to confine both his obligations and his hopes, to the means, neglecting the Author of good. Vain is the respect that is given to the servant, where the Master is contemned. : Extremity draws Jeroboam's thoughts to the prophet; whom else he had not cared to remember. The king of Israel had divines, enough of his own; else he must needs have thought them miserable gods, that were not worth a prophet: and besides, there was an old prophet (if he yet survived) dwelling within the smoke of his palace, whose visions had been too well approved : why should Jeroboam send so far to an Abijah? Certainly, his heart despised those base priests of his high places; neither could he trust, either to the gods or the clergy of his own making. His conscience rests upon the fidelity of that man, whose doctrine he had forsaken. How did this idolater strive against his own heart, while he inwardly despised those, whom he professed to honour; and inwardly honoured them, whom he professed to despise! Wicked breasts are false to themselves; neither trusting to their own choice, nor making choice of that which they may dare to trust. They will set a good face upon their secretly unpleasing sins; and would rather be self-condemned, than wise and penitent. · As for that old seer, it is like Jeroboam knew his skill, but. doubted of his sincerity. That man was too much his neighbour to be good. Abijah's truth had been tried in a case of his own: he, whose word was found just in the prediction of his kingdom, was well worthy of credit in the news of his son. Experience is a great encouragement of our trust. It is a good matter to be faithful ; this loadstone of our fidelity shall draw to us even hearts of iron, and hold them to our reliance; as contrạrily, deceit doth both argue and make a bankrupt. Who can trust, where he is disappointed ? O God, so oft, so ever, have we found thee true in all thy promises, in all thy performances, that if we do not seek thee, if we do not trust thee in the sequel, we are worthy of our loss, worthy of thy desertions.
Yet I do not see, that Jeroboam sends to the prophet, for his, aid, but for intelligence. Curiosity is guilty of this message, and not devotion. He calls not for the prayers, not for the benediction of that holy man, but for mere information of the event, He well saw what the prayers of a prophet could do. That, which cured his hand, might it not have cured his son? Yet he, that said to a man of God, Entreat the face of the Lord thy God, that he may d'estore my hand, says not now in his message to Abijah, “ Entreåt thy God to restore my son.” Sin makes such a strangeness betwixt God and man, that the guilty heart either thinks not of suing. to God, or fears it. What a poor contentment it was to foreknow that evil, which he could not ayoid, and whose notice could but