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gether. 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. Ahab, 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 time of
his judgment was now come. The fact is told in the language of a vision, which very much resembles the opening chapter of the book of Job. There, as in the present instance, spirits both good and evil are represented as presenting themselves before the throne of God, and the evil crave permission of Him to exercise their power upon mankind. It is added that the permission is granted, but so as that it
may appear from both stories that evil is made an instrument of God's purposes, and that He suffers it to go so far as He sees fit, and no farther.
Again the multitude of considerations which these passages of Scripture suggest, can scarcely be confined within the limits of a single sermon. Again there is room for explanation on the one hand, for practical improvement on the other; and I shall try, as shortly as possible, to give something of either sort.
First, in these visions, and in all other passages of Scripture which relate to things invisible, to the things, that is, of another world; it is of great consequence to remember that the descriptions are but the shadow of unseen things, and not the very ima
image of them; that the language is not to be taken as literally true, but as intended, like a parable or story, to convey a truth through the means of fiction. The very words, “ the throne of God,” or, “ God sitting on his throne,” which occur so often in Scripture, are seen, the moment that our atten
tion is drawn to them, to be merely figurative; and “ the spirits standing by on the right hand and on the left," is an image of the same character. All that we can conclude safely from these visions is the general truth, that God allows us to be tempted, allows us to be deceived; and that both the one and the other may serve for our trial or for our punishment: it is for us so to use them that they may become the former only, and not the latter.
In the next place, in these stories and in many others in the Scripture, there is but one difficulty ; and this difficulty would not be lessened though the doctrine taught by these passages were false instead of true. The difficulty is simply that great one, I had well nigh said,—that only one of our condition; “ Why there is any evil at all in the world?” It is always right to say plainly on the one hand that this is a difficulty which no human understanding can explain ; and to show on the other hand, that, allowing this one difficulty to be inexplicable, as it must be equally, whether we believe the Scriptures or no,—and trusting at the same time that it will be explained to God's faithful children hereafter as one of the greatest rewards of those who believed though they did not see, that then the truths in the Scripture which many cavil at are not only true, but most profitable; that we need not be afraid of the passages which contain them, nor try to explain away their meaning, but that we should consider them and study them attentively, and that then we shall find, if I may be allowed to repeat words which I have used before, that the deepest difficulties and the most blessed truths are to be found hard beside one another.
Are we then offended to hear that the Lord hath put a lying spirit into the mouth of any man ? Let us confess indeed, that how there should be such a thing as a lying spirit in the universe, where the God of truth is Lord, passes all our comprehension ; but that this being so—though how or why we know not—and our own experience telling us too certainly that it is so, it is no wonder that God should not leave it utterly running wild: that He should subject it in some sort at least to his dominion, and make it, evil as it is in its own proper nature, the instrument at least to others, since He sees At not to destroy its nature, of His own purposes of good.
And if we say again, What purposes of good ? — for that this lying spirit was put into the mouth of the prophets not to benefit Ahab, but to help forward his ruin; the answer is,—and we were all at once fit for heaven if we felt the truth as well as expressed it with our lips,— the answer is, that the existence of evil is indeed a mystery, but that the punishment and destruction of evil is one of the greatest of goods. And if we laboured in this work where alone we can labour at it quite purely and