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CONTEMPLATION III.-THE SEDUCED PROPHET.
1 KINGS, XIII
JEROBOAM's hand is amended; his soul is not that continues still dry and inflexible. Yet, while he is unthankful to the Author of his recovery, he is thankful to the instrument: he kindly invites the prophet whom he had threatened; and will remunerate him, whom he endeavoured to punish. The worst men may be sensible of bodily favours: civil respects may well stand with gracelessness: many a one would be liberal of their purses, if they might be allowed to be niggardly of their obedience.
As God, so his prophet, cares not for these waste courtesies, where he sees main duties neglected: more piety would have done well, with less compliment: the man of God returns a blunt and peremptory denial, to so bounteous an offer; If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place. Kindness is more safely done to an idolater, than taken from him: that which is done to him, obligeth him; that, which is taken from him, obligeth us: his obligation to us, may be occasion of his good; our obligation to him, may occasion our hurt: the surest way is, to keep aloof from the infectiously wicked.
The prophet is not uncivil, to reject the favour of a prince, without some reason. He yields no reason of his refusal, but the command of his God. God hath charged him, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest. It is not for a prophet, to plead human or carnal grounds, for the actions of his function : he may not move, but upon a divine
Would this seer have looked with the eyes of flesh and blood, he might have found many arguments of his yieldance. "He is a king, that invites me: his reward, by enriching me, may benefit many; and who knows, how much my further conversation may prevail to reform him? How can he be but well prepared for good counsel, by a miraculous cure? How gainfully should my receipt of a temporal courtesy be exchanged with a spiritual to him! All Israel will follow him, either in idolatry or reformation: which way can be devised of doing so great service to God and the Church, as by reclaiming reclaiming him? what can yield so great likelihood of his reclamation, as the opportunity of my further entireness with him?" But the prophet dares not argue cases, where he had a command. Whatever become of Jeroboam and Israel, God must be obeyed. Neither profit nor hopes may carry
us cross to the word of our Maker. How safe had this seer been, if he had kept him ever upon this sure ward; which he no sooner leaves, than he miscarries.
So deeply doth God detest idolatry, that he forbids his prophet to eat the bread, to drink the water, of a people infected with this sin; yea, to tread in those very steps, which their feet have touched. If this inhibition were personal, yet the grounds of it are common. No pestilence should be more shunned, than the conversation of the mis-religious, or openly scandalous: it is no thank to us, if their familiarity do not enfeoff us of their wicked
I know not what to think of an old prophet that dwells in Bethel, within the air of Jeroboam's idol, within the noise of his sacrifices; that lives, where the man of God dares not eat; that permitted his sons to be present at that idolatrous service. If he were a prophet of God, what did he now in Bethel? why did he wink at the sin of Jeroboam? what needed a seer to come out of Judah for the reproof of that sin, which was acted under his nose? why did he lie? why did his family partake with idolaters? If he were not a prophet of God, how had he true visions, how had he true messages from God? why did he second the menacing word of that prophet, whom he seduced? why did he desire, that his own bones might be honoured with his sepulchre? doubtless, he was a prophet of God; but corrupt, resty, vicious.
Prophecy doth not always presuppose sanctification. Many a one hath had visions from God, who shall never enjoy the vision of God. A very Balaam, in his ecstasies, hath so clear a revelation of the Messiah to come, as scarce ever any of the holiest prophets; yea, his very ass hath both her mouth miraculously opened and her eyes, to see and notify that angel, which was hid from her master: yea, Satan himself sometimes receives notice from God of his future actions, which else that evil spirit could neither foretel nor foresee. These kinds of graces are both rare and common: 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 admire; or, whether out of desire to make trial of the fidelity of so powerful a messenger; the old prophet hastens to overtake, to recall, 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.
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 from 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. Perhaps, 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.
O woeful prophet! When he looks on his host, he sees his executioner; 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 eating 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 expostulations, 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 seducemeut. It is a poor recompence, when he hath betrayed his life and wronged the soul, to cast some courtesies upon the body.
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 hanged over that obnoxious head. Thus the mischievous guides of wickedness leave a man, when they have led him to his bane; as familiar devils 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 warrant, 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 unpunished, 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 our 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
credulous 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 torn, 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, O 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, commands 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 himself.
This old seducer hath so much truth, as both to give a right commentary upon God's intention in this act for the terror of the