« PreviousContinue »
nothing but mischievous to do so; yet its spirit affords us here, too, a most valuable lesson. We know full well what is a going away from God's true worship, and setting up for ourselves our idols at Bethel and at Dan. There are enough who do so,-men who do not cast off the Christian name altogether; it was still the God of Israel whom Jeroboam professed to worship,-—but who take such a view of Christ's service as best suits their inclinations, forming their judgments and often regulating their practice by another standard. Now when God's prophets speak to such persons of God's holiness, of His righteous law, and of the entire service which He claims, when they tell them of the danger of their state, and that they are not living a life of Christian faith, are there none who, like the old prophet of Bethel, endeavour to lessen the effect of this language by tempting those who speak it to too free compliances with evil, or with doubtful things themselves, that so their lives and actions may seem to disclaim the strictness of their preaching, and they may appear not really to believe the judgment which they feel bound publicly and officially to threaten? Surely the true lesson taught us by the story of the disobedient prophet, is, that our actions should go along with our words; that the evil which in our speaking or writing or teaching we condemn, we should show that we renounce wholly in our con
duct, not stopping to parley with it, not going a certain way along with it, but utterly shunning it and abhorring it. Nor is this lesson only of use to those who are as the prophets of the Christian Israel, who are bound to speak openly to their brethren the words of God's commandments. Parents, masters of families, all who are ever called upon to exercise authority or influence over the conduct of others,—it is for them to see that they hold no intercourse themselves with the evil which they condemn; that they should appear plainly to speak to others not because it is decent or proper so to speak, but because they believe it to be true, and their hearts as well as their understandings go along with the truth in all its fulness. In our dealings with our children, how often does it happen that our reproofs are given by fits and starts, or because we think it proper to reprove; but our behaviour immediately afterwards, and generally when we seem acting most naturally, seems to show that we cannot really think evil so dangerous, or God so greatly to be feared. And if this be so, we shall neither profit our children nor save our own souls. We shall not profit them, because they look to actions more than to words. And if we tell them of God and Christ on a Sunday, and of heaven and hell and eternal glory, and all the week seem to care for none of these things ourselves, will our children think that we
are in earnest ? will not the familiar turning in to eat and to drink in the country on which God's judgment had been denounced, outweigh all the effect of our words in denouncing it?
And we shall not save our own souls, even though we delivered our message to others ever so faithfully, even though our advice to our children were all that the wisest and holiest man alive could say to them. For God's first command to every man is, that he serve God with all his heart himself, not that he call on others to do so; and he who does not so serve Him may counsel others with effect, but will surely be himself a castaway.
Yet there is one thing more to be gathered from the words in which the old prophet lamented the death of his disobedient brother. He said, “ The saying which he cried by the word of the Lord against the altar in Bethel, shall surely come to pass.” The man himself lay torn and · dead before him; he had acted as though he did not believe his own word, and therefore he had perished. But the word was true notwithstanding, and would come to pass not the less for the unworthiness of him who delivered it. So it is when God's message is delivered to us now by those whose lives deny it. On their head is the sin of their own unbelief and disobedience; but on ours will be our own sin no less, if we refuse to listen to their word. For what they said against the
altar in Bethel, against those idols of our own hearts which we make each man for himself to worship, shall surely come to pass. The altar shall be burnt together with those who worship on it: earth, and they that are of the earth only, and love the earth and bow down before it, shall all be destroyed together. And instead of passing a harsh sentence upon those who spoke to us, while they themselves were disobedient, may we not often, like the old prophet, take to ourselves some part of their ruin; thinking that our carelessness and disobedience tempted them to join with us in disregarding the message which they delivered, and that therefore our sin is not more to be ascribed to their faulty lives, than the guilt of those faulty lives of theirs belongs to our hardness of heart and contempt of that word which they declared to us.
July 20th, 1834.
THE LYING PROPHETS.
1 Kings, xxii. 23.
Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the
mouth of all these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee.
We have heard in this afternoon's service the chapter from which these words are taken, so that I need only briefly remind you of the circumstances to which they relate. Abab, going to make war against Syria, consults the prophets as to the success of his enterprise. All promised him victory, and encouraged him to go to war; all, with one only exception, Micaiah the son of Imlah. Micaiah, on the contrary, told him that the prophets were deceiving him with false hopes; that the war would end in his death, and that God had put a lying spirit into the mouths of all the prophets, because He had spoken evil concerning him; because the