Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
SOLOMON PUTS SHIMEI TO DEATH
1 Kings 2:44. The Lord shall return your wickedness upon your own head.
FEW parts of Scripture have given more occasion for the cavils of infidels, than that which relates the close of David's life, and the commencement of Solomon's reign. Those who delight in disparaging the characters of all the most exalted saints, represent David as dying under the influence of a vindictive spirit; and Solomon as beginning his reign with most flagrant acts of cruelty. But both the one and the other of these saints may be vindicated in what they did; yes rather their conduct must be highly approved, if only we view it in a proper light. Some indeed have vindicated David's advice, by saying, that though he had sworn to Shimei that he should not be put to death for his offence, Solomon was not bound by his oath. But I answer, that David was as much bound by his oath not to procure the death of Shimei through the instrumentality of another, as he was not to put him to death with his own hand. The true way of vindicating both David and Solomon in reference to all the seeming acts of severity which were recommended by the one and executed by the other, is by viewing them as acts of retributive justice. It is in that light that Solomon himself speaks of the execution of Shimei; and he even represents the punishment as inflicted not by himself only, but by God also.
In considering the subject of retributive justice, we shall show,
I. How it should be exercised by men—
By men in their individual capacity, it should not be exercised at all—
We are forbidden to think of retaliating an injury, or of avenging ourselves at all Proverbs 24:29. Yes rather we are taught patiently to bear injuries Matthew 5:38; Matthew 5:41; and tenderly to requite them with acts of kindness Matthew 5:44; and to persist in this conduct until we have melted our adversaries into shame, and overcome them with love Romans 12:19-21; Our blessed Lord, who died for his very murderers, has "left us an example that we should follow his steps 1 Peter 2:21-24."
But, as public men, we may, and must execute justice on those who transgress the laws—
Magistrates are invested with authority by God himself for this very end: and they are "not to bear the sword in vain:" they are to be a terror to evil-doers, as well as a protection to those who do well.
Now this throws the true light on the advice which David gave to Solomon at the close of his life, and on the conduct which Solomon maintained. David was not actuated by revenge when he advised Solomon to put Joab to death, and to take the first opportunity of visiting on the head of Shimei the sins of which he had been guilty. David knew the characters of both: he knew that Joab would not fail to advance Adonijah to the throne, if ever it should be in his power; and that Shimei still cleaved to the house of Saul as much as ever, and would use all his influence in concert with Joab to dethrone Solomon: David therefore advised him to remove as soon as possible those who would destroy the peace and prosperity of his kingdom. As for Joab, he ought to have been put to death long ago, for the murders he had committed; and David had brought guilt on himself and the whole nation by suffering him to live: and therefore, now that there was no prospect of the people rising in favor of Joab, he recommended that justice should be executed upon him. That David was actuated by no bad spirit in this advice, appears from the charge he gave Solomon at the same time to walk in the strictest observance of God's commands. We may justly say therefore that the advice was precisely such as a dying monarch ought to have given to a young man, who was just ready to ascend the throne. In like manner Solomon was justified in all the steps he took to establish his kingdom. He had pardoned Adonijah for his conspiracy against him, on the express condition that he should act the part of a good and loyal subject: but seeing speedily his restless ambition, and that the request to have Abishag for his wife was but a device to increase his influence in the state, and to pave the way for his attainment of the throne, he very properly recalled the promise he had made to Bathsheba respecting him (which by no construction whatever could be supposed to extend to such a case as that); and inflicted on him that punishment which his treasonable intentions deserved.
In Adonijah's late conspiracy Abiathar and Joab had joined, though they all knew that the appointment of Solomon to the throne was not from any partiality in David, but from God himself. Solomon therefore now thrust out Abiathar from the priesthood, and banished him to his native town. This was a mild sentence, in consideration of the services he had rendered unto David in his afflictions.
Joab now saw that justice was coming home to him also: and he fled to the altar, hoping to find the same protection there that Adonijah had found before him: but he was a murderer; and God had expressly ordered that his altar should be no sanctuary for such persons Exodus 21:14; accordingly Solomon ordered that, if he would not come from thence, he should be slain there; that so he might the more manifestly appear to be sacrificed to the justice of his God.
The person spoken of in our text is Shimei, who cursed David in the day of his calamity; but had received from David a free pardon for his offence. This was a very powerful man; for no less than a thousand men attended him when he came to ask pardon: and he retained all his former enmity to David, though he had not been able to manifest it with effect. Him therefore Solomon also pardoned, on condition that he should never go out of the city of Jerusalem, where he might be constantly under the eye of the government. This condition he thankfully accepted: but after three years he violated it, and thus forfeited his life, which Solomon therefore, agreeably to the advice given him by David, required at his hands.
Now, while we acknowledge that these acts of retributive justice would have been bad, if they had proceeded from a vindictive spirit, we must affirm that they were both just and necessary, in order to prevent disturbances in the state, and to secure the welfare of the whole nation.
Such is the way in which retributive justice should be exercised by man. Let us now consider,
II. How it will be exercised by God—
God is the Sovereign of the universe: and though he bears long with his rebellious subjects, he often executes vengeance upon them in this world, as preparatory to the judgments he will inflict upon them in the world to come. In a peculiar manner, as our text expresses it, "he returns their wickedness upon their own head,"
Sometimes indeed sinners are left, as it were, wholly to themselves in this world: but even this is a mark of God's displeasure against them: "Ephraim," says he, "is joined to idols; let him alone Hosea 4:17." They harden themselves against him, and he gives them up to judicial hardness, as he did Pharaoh of old Isaiah 6:9-10. "They will not believe his word, that they may be saved; and he gives them up to believe their own lie, that they may be damned 2 Thessalonians. 2:10-12." "They will not hear him when he speaks to them; and he turns a deaf ear to them, when in the day of their calamity they cry to him;" thus leaving them to be "filled with their own devices Proverbs 1:24-31."
But in temporal judgments he often marks his indignation against them, and shows them their sin in their punishment. How strikingly was this shown in the judgments inflicted on Adoni-bezek Judges. 1:6-7. and how awfully was David made to behold his crimes in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah, in the ravishment of Tamar by his son Amnon, in the defilement of all his concubines by his son Absalom, and in the murder of Amnon by Absalom! Thus we see now that multitudes are punished in a way so suited to their crimes, that they may even read their crimes in their punishment: their wicked examples are imitated by their children; and they are made to feel the bitterness of their own sins from the sins and calamities of their dearest relatives.
In all such instances we may behold the retributive justice of God. And though it would not be right for us to be hasty in putting this construction on the judgments inflicted upon others, we shall do well to examine how far our own trials may be so interpreted; and to take occasion from our afflictions to put away the sins which they are intended to chastise.
Whether God overlook or punish our sins in this world, he will proceed according to strict equity against us in the world to come. The day of judgment is emphatically called, "the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God." Then shall everything be taken into consideration, either to extenuate or aggravate our crimes: "The servant that knew his lord's will and did it not, shall he beaten with many stripes; while the more ignorant transgressor shall be beaten with few." Every one's "end will be according to his works:" he will be weighed in a perfect balance, and will "receive according to that he has done in the body, whether it be good or evil." His views, his motives, his principles will all be judged: "God will make manifest the counsels of his heart:" and every one shall be constrained to confess that his doom is just.
Let us then learn from this subject,
1. To be candid in judging others—
A person looking only superficially at this history would be ready to condemn both David and Solomon for their conduct: but when we view their situation, and enter properly into their motives, we are constrained to approve it Thus it must often happen. We see an action, but we do not exactly enter into all the circumstances that gave it birth: and therefore we judge erroneously respecting it. But we should leave all judgment to the Lord, who alone is able to decide on the motives and principles from which it springs. We must indeed of necessity pass judgment in many cases, where the crimes are so glaring that they cannot possibly be mistaken: but where there is the least ground for favorable interpretation, we should exercise that "charity which hopes all things and believes all things." That rule cannot be too strictly attended to, "Judge not, that you be not judged."
2. To be severe in judging ourselves—
Here we are in little danger of excess. A person of a gloomy disposition may indeed write bitter things against himself without occasion; but, in general, self-love will lead us rather to extenuate everything that is amiss, and to justify many things which God will condemn. Let us remember, therefore, that God will not accommodate his judgment to ours: "he will judge righteous judgment:" "to him all things are naked and open:" "his eyes are as a flame of fire," that will search the inmost recesses of the heart, and try every disposition of the mind. Let us endeavor to bear in mind, that his eye is over us; and let us strive to walk as in his immediate presence. And let our every act and word and thought be regulated by the consideration, that the hour is quickly coming, when every the minutest circumstance of our lives will be brought to light, and our eternal state be fixed by a righteous and unerring God.
1 Kings 3:11-13
1 Kings 3:11-13. And God said unto him, Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life; neither have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies; but have asked for yourself understanding to discern judgment: behold, I have done according to your words: lo, I have given you a wise and an understanding heart, so that there was none like you before you, neither after you shall any arise like unto you. And I have also given you that which you have not asked, both riches, and honor: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto you all your days.
SUCH is the condescension of Almighty God, that he not only conversed familiarly with man in a state of innocence, but even in his fallen state has talked with him as a man talks with his friend. So free was the fellowship which he maintained with Abraham, that that patriarch was "called the friend of God." With Solomon too his communications were most familiar, as the instance recorded in our text will evince. Solomon, after he was seated on the throne of David his father, offered a thousand burnt-offerings at Gibeon, where God's principal altar was, previous to the building of the temple. After that pious work was performed, God visited him, and revealed himself to him in a dream or vision, and bade him ask any blessing that he chose; assuring him that it should certainly be granted. Solomon accepted the offer, and made known to God the request contained in our text.
Let us consider,
I. The choice of Solomon—
His request was for a more abundant measure of wisdom—
In this request, he desired intellectual wisdom, whereby he might be fitted for all the duties and services of his high station. He was conscious, that, without this, he should but ill discharge the office to which God in his providence had called him. He felt the awful responsibility attached to the office of a monarch; and he longed to approve himself both able and faithful in the execution of his trust.
But it is evident that he desired spiritual wisdom also; for he wanted "to discern in all things between good and bad," which he could not do without a clear discovery of the Law, which is the only true test of good and evil.
Now this was a wise choice. He might, as God tells him, have asked for riches, or honor, or power over his enemies: but he felt that none of those things could make him happy, or render those happy who were committed to his care. Indeed we need only look at those who have been most famed for their conquests, and we shall find, that no acquisitions of wealth or territory could satisfy them; and that they have been no less a curse to the people they governed, than to those whom they endeavored to subdue; since they sought only to gratify their own ambition at the expense of those, whose welfare they should have solely regarded. But without extending our views to them, we need only look within the narrow circle of our own acquaintance, and we shall see, that wisdom conduces more to the happiness of men, than all other things whatever. See the man that is enabled to conduct himself well in the most arduous affairs of life, how happy does he make all who are connected with him; especially, if he be endued with spiritual wisdom also, so as to have a spiritual discernment in everything relating to God and man! What a light then shines around him; and what blessings does he communicate wherever he comes! Compare such an one with the great, the rich, the mighty, and he will be found far happier than them all.
This choice moreover was approved of God himself, who not only commended it as wise, but honored it with a rich reward; giving him in a very abundant measure the blessing he desired 1 Kings 4:29-31, and bestowing on him also those minor blessings which he had forborne to ask.
From this brief view of Solomon's choice we may easily collect,
II. The instruction to be gathered from it—
It clearly shows,
1. That an ability to discharge our duty aright is the most desirable of all blessings—
In whatever line of life we be, this will be found a truth. Persons in higher life may, if truly gracious, do extensive good: but wealth and power are abused, so as rather to diminish than augment the happiness of those who are within the sphere of their influence. Besides, in many cases, wealth and power can do no good at all; whereas wisdom is serviceable in every situation in which we can be placed; nor is there a man existing who may not be benefitted by the possessor of it. "Wisdom," we are told, "is profitable to direct:" and while it regulates the motions of others, it will enable a man to "guide his own affairs with discretion," and to "walk wisely before God in a perfect way Psalm 101:2."
Need I say from how many difficulties and evils it will keep a man; or what peace and joy it will bring into the soul? Truly, as in the want of this not all the world can give any permanent satisfaction, so, in the absence of all other things, this will afford the richest comfort and support. We may well therefore say, that nothing in the universe is to be compared to it Proverbs 3:13-18. Would to God that the rich and great in every place made it, in the days of youth too, the one object of their pursuit!
2. That it is the gift of God alone—
Education will improve our talents; but it will never confer solid wisdom: that "comes from above James 1:17." We may go to every creature in the universe, and they will all give us the same answer, "It is not in me; it is not in me See that eloquent passage, Job 28:12-23." The man famed for wisdom almost as much as Solomon himself Ezekiel 28:3, has directed us to God as the only true source of all wisdom Daniel 2:20-21. We must seek it therefore, not by study only, but by prayer; for "it is God that gives wisdom; and out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding Proverbs 2:1-6." If any man could have derived it from any other source, surely Solomon might; seeing that he was naturally possessed of strong mental powers, and had the advantage of being instructed by the most pious and experienced of kings. But he felt that none but God could open the eyes of his understanding, or enrich him with that spiritual knowledge, which alone could qualify him for the discharge of his high office.
3. That where a desire after it is supreme in the soul, God will signally honor and bless us—
The desire after wisdom ought to be so predominant in the soul as to have no rival there: if it be not supremely coveted, the desire after it is not sincere. But where it is really sought as the supreme good, there God promises that he will grant it, yes and liberally too, if we come to him in faith, and ask it at his hands James 1:5; Ephesians 3:20. To desire this is the best way of obtaining other blessings in the measure that is good for us: for God promises, that, if we "seek spiritual blessings first, all other things shall be added unto us Matthew 6:33." We are far from saying, that other things are not to be sought at all; we only say, that they must be regarded as altogether subordinate to spiritual blessings, and be valued only as they may be subservient to the advancing of God's honor and the good of mankind. In this view, riches, honor, and power may be desired; but in comparison of true wisdom, they must be regarded only as the small dust upon the balance.
1. Those who are ambitious of earthly honors—
Think but how speedily they will vanish, and you will raise your ambition to that which shall endure forever Psalm 90:12.
2. Those who desire the approbation of their God—
God makes the same offer to you that he did to Solomon John 14:13-14; John 16:23-24. Let your choice then be the same as his: and seek it with all the ardor and earnestness it deserves Proverbs 4:5-7.
1 Kings 6:7
THE STILLNESS WITH WHICH THE TEMPLE WAS BUILT
1 Kings 6:7. And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building.
NEVER was there upon the face of the globe a building, that in point of elegance or grandeur could be compared with the temple of Solomon. It had been the desire of David to erect it; but he was forbidden of God to do so, because he had been engaged in many wars, and had shed much blood. God however approved of his desire, and told him, that his son should have the honor which was denied to him. Nevertheless David began immediately to make preparations for the building; and Solomon in three years after he came to the throne was ready to begin the work; which in somewhat more than seven years he was enabled to complete. There is, in the structure of this edifice, one circumstance so remarkable as to deserve very particular attention: the wood and stones were all prepared at a distance, and brought to the place perfectly fitted for the situation in which they were to stand: and with such unerring skill were they all framed, that, during the whole time of building the temple, there was no occasion for an axe or hammer to be used; and the whole structure was completed without the smallest noise. Now whoever considers the figurative nature of the Jewish dispensation must see, that such an extraordinary circumstance as this could not have happened from mere chance, or have occurred at all without some very important meaning. We doubt not but that it was intended by God to shadow forth some truths for the instruction of his Church in all ages. What these were, we cannot declare with certainty, because no inspired writer has specified them: but we apprehend that, whatever else this circumstance might intimate, it was particularly calculated to represent,
I. The perfection of God's designs—
Every part of the edifice, and every vessel in it, was formed, as it were, in the mind of the Divine Architect, long before Solomon or David ever entertained the thought of executing such a work. Before Moses constructed the tabernacle, there was a model set before him by God, and he was ordered to make everything according to the pattern shown to him in the mount Exodus 25:40. A similar model was given by God to David, and shown by him to Solomon, for the constructing of the temple 1 Chronicles 28:11-13; 1 Chronicles 28:19; so that, as existing in the divine mind, the work was perfect before it was begun.
Now this shows us what is really the case with respect to everything in the whole creation. As the creation itself was all formed in the divine purpose, though it occupied six successive days to complete it, so all things to the very end of time are present in the mind of God, having been ordained of him before the foundation of the world.
We are aware that to many this appears "an bard saying:" but it is "a true saying:" for how could so many things have been foretold by prophets in different and distant ages, if they had not been previously fixed in the purposes of God? Had there been anything left to chance, some of these prophecies must have failed: but not even the minutest circumstance that has been predicted has ever failed: and this proves that God foresaw everything that should ever come to pass; and that he foresaw it, not as probable, but as certain, and therefore certain, because he had ordained it. This is true respecting the vilest iniquities of men, no less than their greatest virtues. The whole treatment which our blessed Lord should meet with, was foreseen, and fore-ordained; though the agents were perfectly free in their actions, and were as much accountable to God as if nothing had been foreseen or fore-ordained Acts 2:23. Nor is it only unwittingly that men have accomplished the divine purposes, but against their will: for Joseph's brethren were bent upon defeating the divine purposes, and yet actually accomplished them by the very means which they used to defeat them Genesis 45:5; Genesis 50:20. There does indeed appear on some occasions a change of the divine purpose, as in the sparing of Nineveh, and in the prolonging of Hezekiah's life: but these were not changes in the divine purpose, but changes in the divine dispensations, agreeably to the purpose which had been previously formed in the mind of God.
If this doctrine were not true, God would not be a perfect Being. If anything were left unfixed in the divine counsels, God could not be omniscient, but would become wiser by the events of every successive day. But can any one doubt whether God be omniscient or not? Surely, as James declares, "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world Acts 15:18." To deny that God possesses the attribute of foreknowledge would be downright atheism: and to separate this attribute from his pre-ordination appears to me inconsistent and impracticable: nor do they who take refuge in this distinction find themselves at all better able to reconcile their doctrine with the freedom of man's will, and his responsibility for his conduct, than those who consider everything as fore-ordained: and if they get rid of some difficulties, they involve themselves in more and greater than they avoid. In truth the language of Scripture is so strong respecting the divine decrees, that it is not possible to explain away many passages which relate to them Isaiah 46:9-11; Ephesians 1:4-5; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 3:9; Ephesians 3:11. We acknowledge that the subject is deep, and far beyond the comprehension of man: we would therefore never speak of it but with the deepest reverence; nor ever without reminding our hearers, that it is with the divine commands, and not the divine decrees, that they have to do: it is to those, and not to these, that they must look, as the rule of their actions. Still however we dare not deny that God is the Sovereign of the universe, who acts in all things "according to the counsel of his own will, and for the praise of the glory of his own grace Ephesians 3:9; Ephesians 3:11;" and though we would by no means make this a prominent subject of our ministrations, yet we cannot but think that the occasional contemplation of this mystery is, as our Article expresses it, "full of pleasant, sweet, and unspeakable comfort."
Besides the perfection of God's designs, we see prefigured in this account,
II. The mode in which they are accomplished—
The stillness with which the work of the temple proceeded intimated the still and silent way in which God carries on all his works, in the world, in the Church, and in the souls of men.
In the world we behold men carrying on their designs with great noise and tumult: but God is secretly and silently effecting his own purposes in the midst of all. Each of the four great empires, the Chaldean, Persian, Grecian, and Roman, successively rose on the ruins of that which preceded it; but none of the conquerors imagined whose counsels they were fulfilling, or whose instruments they were. Sennacherib boasted what victories he had gained; but he was only an axe or saw in the hand of Omnipotence Isaiah 10:5-7; Isaiah 10:13-15; Isaiah 37:24-27. We shall have a perfect insight into this matter, if we look at the transactions which took place at the death of Christ: all parties followed the bent of their own hearts; but all accomplished with the utmost possible exactness the counsels of the Most High. God spoke not to them by any audible voice to direct them; nor did he interpose in any visible way to guide their motions; but he presided in the storm, and overruled every disposition of their hearts for the accomplishment of his own eternal purpose Acts 4:27-28. And it is a most consolatory thought, that, in all the great events which are now taking place in the world, "the counsel of God shall stand, and he will do all his will."
In the Church more especially does God carry on his work in this way. It was said of our Lord, that he should "not lift up his voice, nor cause it to be heard in the street Isaiah 42:2;" he was to found his kingdom upon earth by a secret and invisible influence on the minds of men. His Apostles also were to go forth in dependence on that power, and, by their simple testimony, to convert the world unto him. In their attempts to subdue men to the obedience of faith, they were to use "no carnal weapons," but only such as should derive their efficacy from the grace of Christ 2 Corinthians 10:4-5; agreeably to that prophetic declaration, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts Zechariah 4:6." Accordingly it was in this way that they prevailed over all the power and policy of earth and Hell: and in this way will Christ continue to extend his conquests, "until all his enemies be put under his feet."
In the same way also does God accomplish his purposes in the souls of men. It is "not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, that God manifests himself to them, but in the still small voice 1 Kings 19:11-12." The "seed sown in their hearts, grows up, they know not how:" changes occur, which threaten to destroy it; but still it survives, and springs up, and brings forth fruit in its season. This operation is compared by our Lord to leaven, which continues to spread, until it has diffused itself through the whole mass. Thus does the grace of God silently, but progressively, renew the whole man, until we are changed into the very image of our God.
From this subject we may learn,
1. What ought to be the character of our religion—
Nothing is more common, and nothing more delusive, than a noisy, talkative religion. True religion is a humble, silent, retired thing, not affecting public notice, but rather wishing to approve itself to God Psalm 131:2 with James 1:26. It is "not in saying, Lord, Lord, but in doing the will of our heavenly Father," that we shall find acceptance in the last day. Happy would it be, if many, who place all their religion in running about, and hearing sermons, and talking of the qualifications of ministers, and disputing about religious opinions, would attend to this hint, and endeavor to acquire more of that wisdom which evinces its divine origin by the excellence of its fruits James 3:17.
2. How we should judge of growth in grace—
We would not undervalue the inward feelings of the heart: but, if not accompanied with more substantial evidences of piety, they are very deceitful. We should examine whether we are fitted for the duties of our respective stations. Of all the stones in the temple, there was not one which did not exactly suit its place: so will it be with us, if we have really been wrought upon by the Spirit of God: whether we be parents or children, masters or servants, magistrates or subjects, true grace will lead us to discharge our own duties aright. This is properly to act as members of a body, all fitly framed together, all performing their proper functions, and all contributing to the good of the whole Ephesians 4:15-16. That this idea is just, as arising from the present subject, is certain; for both Peter and Paul have placed the subject in this very point of view 1 Peter 2:4-5; Ephesians 2:20-22. Let us therefore particularly attend to it; and while we all profess to stand on the same foundation, and to be connected together by one Corner-stone, let us approve ourselves "living stones," by contributing as much as possible to the union, the beauty, the stability, and advancement of the whole building.
3. How the dispensations of God will appear in the last day—
A person who should have seen the materials of the temple in their rough state, would have formed no conception of their appearance after they were all fashioned by the workmen, and placed in the order appointed by the Divine Architect: but when the whole building was completed, it was the wonder of the world. Thus at present we have a very imperfect conception of the beauty of God's Church, or of his wisdom in all his various dispensations: but when his temple shall be complete in Heaven, what a glorious edifice will it appear! How will each admire the way in which he was taken out of the quarry, and formed for the particular place that has been allotted him! Here men are apt to wonder, why they must have so many and so severe blows: but there none will think that he has had one stroke too much, or more than was absolutely necessary to fit him for his place: if by the most painful experiences he may have been formed for a more conspicuous station in the temple above, he will feel no regret at anything he suffered in the body, but will adore the heavenly Workman, that condescended to use such means for his advancement. Let us then, if anything perplex us now, remember that we see only in part; and be contented to wait until that day, when "God shall be glorified in all his saints, and be admired in all them that believe."
1 Kings 8:18
GOOD INTENTIONS APPROVED
1 Kings 8:18. You did well that it was in your heart.
THE sovereignty of God is a subject from which the minds of men in general revolt. But this arises from their considering it almost exclusively in relation to things which have an arbitrary and painful aspect. For instance, when "God says to Pharaoh, Even for this purpose have I raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth;" Paul represents the proud heart of man as rising against it: "You will say then unto me, Why does he yet find fault? for who has resisted his will Romans 9:17-19." But, if we behold the same divine attribute as displayed in the appointment of Saul to the Apostleship, and the making of him "a chosen vessel to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles Acts 9:1; Acts 9:15 with Galatians 1:15," we must surely acquiesce in the exercise of it, and adore our God as doing all things well. Now, in the passage before us we have a remarkable instance of divine sovereignty, in the refusal given to the wishes and desires of David, relative to the building of a temple for the Lord, and the transfer of that honor to David's son. On David's expression of his wish, the Prophet Nathan had encouraged him to carry it into effect. But God forbade it; and devolved the office of constructing the temple on David's son and successor: at the same time, however, commending David's purpose, and telling him, "You did well that it was in your heart verse 17–19 with 2 Samuel 7:1-3; 2 Samuel 7:12-13."
Now, from this commendation, we may observe,
I. That there is in the hearts of God's faithful servants more good than they are able to carry into effect—
In the hearts of the ungodly there is more evil than they can execute. If the restraints of Divine Providence and of human laws were withdrawn, so that men could perpetrate all that is in their hearts, this world would be little better than Hell itself. Of the godly, on the contrary, it may be said, that there is more good in them than they can execute: not because Divine Providence or human laws impose restraints on them, (though, in some cases, that may be found true;) but because there is in the regenerate man a principle of evil as well as of good: "he has the flesh lusting against the spirit, as well as the spirit lusting against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that he cannot do the things that he would Galatians 5:17."
There is in a regenerate man's heart much that he would gladly do for himself—
Gladly would he extirpate from his soul all the remains of sin, and practice universal holiness: But he finds himself utterly unable to do these things. The experience of Paul is common to every true believer: "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not; for the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death Romans 7:18-24." The saint, if he could accomplish his own wishes, would be "holy as God is holy," and "perfect even as his Father which is in Heaven is perfect." But he feels imperfection cleaving to him in everything, so that his very best actions need to be cleansed in the Redeemer's blood; yes, his very tears need to be washed, and his repentances to be repented of.
Moreover, could the regenerate man have his heart's desire, he would walk continually in the light of God's countenance, and bask incessantly, as it were, in the beams of the Sun of Righteousness. But clouds frequently arise, to intercept his views of God, and to abate the joy with which, for a season, he has been favored. The disciples would gladly have built tabernacles on Mount Tabor, to protract their vision of the divine glory. But they must descend again into the plain, to renew their conflicts with sin and Satan, and to finish the work which had been given them to do Luke 9:33-34. And similar alternations of light and darkness, ease and conflict, joy and sorrow, are the portion of every saint, while in this valley of tears.
There is much, also, that the regenerate man would gladly do for the world around him—
Where is there a servant of God who would not, if it were possible, extend the blessings he enjoys to every child of man? Where is there a real saint that does not attempt this, so far as his influence extends? Is the very first petition which our Lord has commanded us to offer at the throne of grace, that "God's name may be hallowed;" and does not the real saint endeavor to carry this into effect, both in his own soul, and in the souls of those around him? Does he further pray, "Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven;" and does he not long to see these things effected? He says from his heart, "O that the wickedness of the wicked might come to an end!" yes, he prays with David, "Let the whole earth be filled with the Redeemer's glory. Amen, and Amen Psalm 72:19." But how little of this is he able to accomplish! Even ministers, who "labor most assiduously, and for many years, in the blessed work of bringing souls to God, how universally are they constrained to adopt the prophet's complaint, and to say, "Who has believed our report? and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" The parent for his children, and the children for their parents, have but too much reason to acknowledge, that "whoever may plant or water, it is God alone who can give the increase."
It is a comfort to them, however, to know,
II. That not the smallest good that is in them shall pass unnoticed, or unrewarded, by their God—
God inspects the inmost recesses of the heart—
So he himself declares: "I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them Ezekiel 11:5." To the same effect, also, it is said by an inspired Apostle: "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do Hebrews 4:13.
And this he does in order to a future judgment—
"He will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ Romans 2:16;" and "will bring every secret thing into judgment, whether it be good or evil Ecclesiastes 12:14." It is in this way that the ungodly shall be judged: for the motions of anger or impurity, though not operating to the extent of the outward act of murder or adultery, will be construed as violations of the commandments which prohibit those particular sins, and be visited with the penalties due to such transgressions Matthew 5:22-28. So, also, the good desires of men shall be rewarded, though, from circumstances, they were never carried into full effect. Young Abijah had "in his heart some good thing towards the Lord God of Israel," and it was not overlooked 1 Kings 14:13. And not those only who "spoke of God one with another," shall be approved by him in the day of judgment, but those also who, without having embodied their thoughts in language, only "thought upon his name Malachi 3:16-17." The look, the sigh, the groan, the tear, shall all be recorded by God in the book of his remembrance, or be treasured up in his vial: and all "the counsels of men's hearts," though never realized in act, shall be made manifest, to their honor; and every man, according as his inward dispositions have been, shall in that day "receive praise from God 1 Corinthians 4:5."
1. In a way of caution—
Certainly this subject should be entertained with great jealousy: for there is "a desire which kills;" because it is not productive of suitable exertions Proverbs 21:25. If a mere wish or desire would save us, who would ever perish? Even Balaam could say, "Let me die the death of the righteous; and let my last end be like his Numbers 23:10." But David, though not permitted to build the temple, contributed to the amount of eighteen millions of our money towards it. In like manner must our desires operate to the extent of our ability: and, if we cannot do what we would, we must do what we can.
2. In a way of encouragement—
Men are often cast down because of their short-comings and defects. But they would do well to consider, that the more ardent their desire is to honor God, the more will they discern and lament their incapacity to fulfill the dictates of their hearts. Suppose, for a moment, that a man were to express himself satisfied with his attainments, what judgment would you form of him? You would surely set him down as a self-deceiving hypocrite See Philippians 3:12-14. Distinguish between humiliation and despondency: the former is called for in our best estate: but to no sinner in the universe is the latter suitable; for "Christ is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him."
1 Kings 8:28-30
FOR THE OPENING OF TRINITY CHURCH AT CHELTENHAM
1 Kings 8:28-30. Have you respect unto the prayer of your servant, and to his supplication, O Lord my God, to hearken unto the cry and to the prayer, which your servant prays before you today: that your eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which you have said, My name shall be there: that you may hearken unto the prayer which your servant shall make toward this place. And hearken you to the supplication of your servant, and of your people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: and hear you in Heaven your dwelling-place: and when you hear, forgive The Author being taken ill at Cheltenham at the time that this Discourse was to have been preached, it was not delivered according to his intention.
THE consecration of buildings erected for public worship obtained very early in the Church of Christ. We have the most authentic testimony that it was practiced, to a very great extent, in the days of Constantine Eusebius mentions it with peculiar satisfaction. See "Bingham's Antiquities of the Church," Book viii. ch. 9. sec. 2. Whether it existed in the first three centuries, we have no certain information: but when we consider for what a holy purpose they are set apart, we can have no doubt but that it is a service highly reasonable in itself, and truly acceptable unto God. We are not to suppose that the giving of the names of saints to churches was any mark of their being consecrated to them: it was to God alone that they were dedicated: and the names given to them were merely commemorative of their founder, or tokens of respect to the particular saint whose name they bore.
The idea of consecrating such edifices seems evidently to have been suggested by the dedication of Solomon's Temple, which exhibited altogether as glorious a scene as ever was beheld on earth. On that occasion, the king himself, a paragon of wisdom, and the greatest monarch of his day, bowed his knees before God in the sight of all the congregation of Israel, and, with up-lifted eyes and out-stretched hands, implored the favor of his God. To this prayer was given an answer which filled all the spectators with the deepest awe: for fire came down from Heaven, in the sight of all, to consume the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord so filled the temple, that the priests could no longer continue their ministrations there 2 Chronicles 7:1-2.
But that to which I would more particularly call your attention at this time is, the prayer which Solomon offered, and which brought down so signal a blessing upon them all. It affords a noble specimen of man's fellowship with his Maker; and shows us,
I. What we may hope for in God's house of prayer; and,
II. How we may secure every blessing which our souls can desire.
I. Let me state what we may confidently hope for in God's house of prayer—
Whatever there may be in this history that should be limited to that particular occasion, I think we may at least gather this instruction from it, that, whenever we draw near to God in the public services of his Church, we may expect these two things; namely, His gracious presence to receive our prayers, and His merciful acceptance to forgive our sins.
That there is great caution to be used in deducing general conclusions from particular premises, I readily acknowledge. But such conclusions are drawn by the inspired writers: for, from a particular promise made to Joshua, it is inferred, that all true believers, of whatever age or nation, may assure themselves of effectual aid from God; and, in the confident expectation of it, may hurl defiance at all the enemies of their salvation. The same general inference, I think, may well be drawn from God's gracious answer to this prayer of Solomon. Doubtless, a suppliant, in his secret chamber, shall find favor with God: for "God never says to any, Seek you my face in vain." But, in public, when presenting his petitions in concert with others, the suppliant has a double assurance that he shall be heard: for God has especially promised, that "where two or three are gathered together in his name, he will be in the midst of them;" and that "whatever such persons, so associated, have agreed to ask, it shall be granted unto them." I well know, that persons may very easily and very materially err in relation to the subject of answers to prayer; and that to expect fire to descend from Heaven, as on that occasion, or a visible manifestation of God's glory before our eyes, would be the height of enthusiasm. But still there are ways in which God may manifest his acceptance of our prayers, and in which he will manifest it: what else can be meant by that promise, "It shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear Isaiah 65:24." and again, "You shall call, and the Lord shall answer; you shall cry, and he shall say, Here I am Isaiah 58:9." The whole Scriptures attest, that, "if we draw near to God, he will draw near to us;" and that "he will manifest himself unto us, as he does not unto the world;" yes, that "he will come unto us, and make his abode with us:" and, I think there is not in the universe a person who has sought after God with humble, fervent, and believing prayer, but will acknowledge, that God does fulfill his promises, "satisfying the hungry soul, and replenishing the sorrowful" with the richest consolations of his Spirit.
This, then, we may expect, and this we should expect, in God's house of prayer: nor should we ever be satisfied, if we have not a sensible access to God in prayer, and a well-founded hope that he has heard the petitions which we have presented before him.
But I have also observed, that we may hope for the actual forgiveness of our sins in answer to our prayer. And, in truth, if we obtain not this, we pray to little purpose. In drawing near to God, this must be chiefly kept in view. We go as sinners, to obtain mercy at the hands of God. And in this respect, the Liturgy of our Church is admirably fitted for our use. The extemporaneous effusions that are used in other places bear no comparison with the formularies of our Church. In truth, our churches themselves are, not houses for preaching only, but, in a pre-eminent degree, what our Reformers designed them to be, and what God ordained his Temple of old to be, "houses of prayer." And those who make light of the Prayers, and regard them only as a kind of decent prelude to the Sermon, show that "they know not what spirit they are of:" since all the preaching in the universe will be of no use without prayer; whereas the souls of men will prosper if they abound in prayer, though they are less favored as to the ministrations of sinful men. Let any one consult our Liturgy in this particular view. The Introductory Sentences all bear on this point, to show us what sinners we are, and how much we stand in need of mercy, and how ready God is to receive returning penitents. But, as I shall have occasion to enter somewhat more fully into this point under my next head, I will wave all further mention of it now; observing only, that a congregation uniting fervently in the prayers of our Liturgy would afford as complete a picture of Heaven as ever yet was beheld on earth: in spirit, there would be the most perfect accordance that can be imagined: the only difference would be, that the one are uniting prayer with praise, because of their still-continued necessities; whereas the other engage in praise alone, having all their necessities forever supplied. And here I would particularly call your attention to the prayer of Solomon, that you may see how much the subject of forgiveness is dwelt upon throughout the whole of it. He requests God's attention to all who, under any calamity, shall, in future, direct their supplications towards that house: and, in every distinct case, he takes it for granted that sin has been the true and proper source of their calamity; and he implores in their behalf, not merely the removal of the judgment, but especially, and above all, the forgiveness of their sin See verse 21, 22, 24, 26, 30, 36, 50. Nor must we overlook this, in God's answer to his prayer: on the contrary, we must regard it as a pledge, that he will receive returning prodigals, and that all who approach him with deep contrition shall find that "there is mercy with him, yes, with him is plenteous redemption." I say, then, that this is a blessing which we are to look for, whensoever we approach God in the house of prayer. Every promise in God's blessed word authorizes this hope: and no one should be satisfied with having offered up his petitions, if he carry not away with him a comfortable hope, that "his iniquities are forgiven, and his sins are covered."
If it be asked, How shall we secure these blessings? I answer, Use the means which Solomon employed: and by them we may,
II. Secure to ourselves every blessing that our souls can desire—
We have seen that Solomon diversified his petitions according to the supposed conditions to which, at any future period, the people might be reduced. Whatever, therefore, our condition be, we must apply to God in prayer, with humility of mind, with fervor of spirit, with confidence of heart, and with consistency of life and conversation.
We must apply with humility of mind. Solomon particularly prays for those who "know every man the plague of his own heart See verse 38." Nor can we ever come before God with acceptance, unless we approach him weary and heavy laden with the burden of our sins. To "draw near to him with our lips, while our heart is far from him, is vile hypocrisy: and "all such worship is vain," yes, worse than vain, because it serves to lull our consciences asleep, and supersedes in our own minds the necessity of any better service. It is not possible for any man to have better direction, or more suitable help, than that provided for him in our Liturgy. The whole Service, from beginning to end, is the service of a sinner imploring mercy at the hands of God. What can express deeper humility than our General Confession? "Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep; we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts: we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us." He can know little of "the plague of his own heart," who does not find those acknowledgments exactly suited to his state. At the beginning of the Litany, what can express the desires and feelings of a contrite spirit more justly than that reiterated cry to every person of the Holy Trinity to "have mercy upon us, as miserable sinners?" In the Communion Service, after the recital of every distinct command, we cry, "Lord, have mercy upon us for our past breaches of it, and incline our hearts to keep it in future." Now this is the very frame in which we should draw near to God. There must be nothing in us of a self-righteous and self-applauding spirit. Blasphemy itself is not more hateful to God than that pride of heart, and formal self-delight, with which the generality approach their God. The self-applauding Pharisee, with all his pretended thankfulness, was to God an object of abhorrence; while the poor self-condemning publican was liberated from the guilt of all his sins. And wherever there is a prayer like his, there shall also be the same success: for "the broken and contrite spirit, God never did, nor ever will, despise."
But we must seek God, also, with fervor of spirit. Prayer is not a service merely of the lip and knee, but of the heart; and the whole heart should go forth to God in the performance of it. This was well understood by the compilers of our Liturgy; and ought to be understood, and felt, by every worshiper in the Established Church. The whole of the Liturgy breathes an ardor suited to the feelings and necessities of a contrite soul: "Lord, have mercy upon us: Christ, have mercy upon us: Lord, have mercy upon us." Oh! what would not be obtained by a congregation pouring out those prayers with corresponding emotions? I will not say, that the house would be shaken, as it was when the Apostles prayed Acts 4:31; but I will say, that the worshipers would all "be filled with the Holy Spirit," not indeed in his miraculous powers, but in his enlivening, comforting, and transforming energies. We may form some idea of the frame which is proper for us, from the very attitude in which Solomon addressed his prayer to God: "He fell down on his knees, and spread forth his hands to Heaven." How different this from the irreverent and careless attitude of many among us, who, instead of prostrating themselves before God with becoming reverence, sit during the prayers; showing, thereby, how little they feel the elevation of a devout worshiper, or the humiliation of a contrite one! Be it known unto you, that God must be importuned in prayer, and that "the kingdom of Heaven must be taken by violence," if ever it be taken at all: and, if you find that common efforts will not suffice to bring you to your Savior's presence, you must resemble those who went up to the top of the house and let down the paralytic through the roof: you must "cry unto God," and "give him no rest," and not cease from your importunity, until you have obtained an answer to your prayer. It was in this way that the widow in the parable prevailed over the unjust judge; and in this way shall every child of man prevail, if only he will "pray, and not faint."
The confidence of the heart is yet further necessary: for our hands must be lifted up "without doubting;" "nor can we hope to receive anything from God, if we supplicate him with a wavering mind." It must be remembered, that the Temple was called, "A house of sacrifice 2 Chronicles 7:12." On this occasion sacrifices were offered without number; and on every morning and evening throughout the year they were regularly presented to the Lord. Now this showed, that every prayer which was there offered was to find acceptance by virtue of those sacrifices; and that no blessing whatever could be obtained from God, but through faith in the atonement which those sacrifices prefigured. The same is strikingly illustrated in the Liturgy of the Church of England; not a prayer of which is offered, but in the name and through the mediation of Jesus Christ. To him must we look in all our addresses at the throne of grace, and to the Father through him. Indeed, this is very particularly marked in the whole of Solomon's prayer. In the greater part of that prayer he intercedes in behalf of those who should direct their supplications "toward that house." Now the Temple itself was a very eminent type of Christ, "in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." The body of the Lord Jesus is, on this very account, represented as "a tabernacle, not made with hands:" and towards him, as our incarnate God, must we direct our supplications, if we would obtain answers of peace unto our souls. If we come to God in this way, we then have an express assurance from God himself, that "we shall in no wise be cast out;" but that, on the contrary, "the Lord Jesus Christ himself will confer upon us whatever we ask, that the Father may be glorified in the Son:" so indispensable is it that we look towards that Temple; and so certain is the success of prayers when so directed.
One thing more is necessary, and that is, consistency of life and conversation. "The prayer of the wicked," so far from finding acceptance with the Lord, is altogether "an abomination to him." How can it be expected, that persons coming to the house of God with all the professions of real piety, and going from thence into all the dissipation and vanity of the world, shall obtain mercy of the Lord? Behold them on their knees, crying, "From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, Good Lord, deliver us;" and then, perhaps, spending the remainder of the day, not in reading the Bible, not in instructing their families, not in fervent prayer to God, but in any light conversation and specious amusement, that may enable them to relieve the weariness of a Sabbath evening. Say, Is this consistent? Nay, would these people themselves, if they saw persons who were truly religious, and who had entered fully into the spirit of the prayers, so spending the Sabbath, account them upright and consistent characters? No: they would see at once the glaring inconsistency between such professions and such practice. But, perhaps, they will say, "We do not make any such profession of religion." Then, I answer, you have gone to God with a lie in your mouths. What mean you when you pray, "that you may lead a righteous, sober, and a godly life, to the glory of God's holy name?" Is dissipation, or carelessness to his praise and glory? Has he not required that "you should refrain from doing your own pleasure on his holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and should honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words; but should throughout that day delight yourselves in the Lord Isaiah 58:13-14." Yes, this is what you will do, if you are consistent Christians; nor can you in any other way expect to obtain any blessing from the Lord. This, also, is very particularly noticed by Solomon in his prayer: he does not venture to hope for mercy on behalf of any, unless "they return unto God with all their heart and with all their soul verse 47, 48." He prays, "The Lord our God be with us, that he may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments, which he commanded our fathers verse 57, 58." And then, to impress this the more deeply on the people's minds, he addresses them also, saying, "Let your heart be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day verse 61." Solomon would have the solemnities of that day carried, as it were, into their daily converse; and the engagements then entered into, remembered throughout their whole lives. Thus it should be with us: and thus it must be with us, if we would prosper in our souls. Our prayers are to be the pattern of our whole lives. What we have sought for, and obtained in the house of God, must be exhibited and exemplified in our daily walk: and, if there be not a correspondence between the two, what do we but proclaim ourselves hypocrites before the whole world? We "cannot serve God and Mammon too;" nor must we pretend to "fear the Lord, while we are serving other gods." But, if we will indeed devote ourselves to the Lord, then shall our prayers descend in blessings on our souls, and the services of time be a prelude to the enjoyments of eternity. Hear the answer which God made to Solomon on this very occasion: "Now, my eyes shall be open, and mine ears intent unto the prayer that is made in this place: for now have I chosen and sanctified this house: and my name shall be there forever: and my eyes and mine heart shall be there continually. If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land 2 Chronicles 7:14-16."
Permit me now, in conclusion, to take yet further the example of Solomon for my guide; and, as he in his prayer addressed himself to God in behalf of his own people, and of the strangers who sojourned among them, so now to address myself, first, to the stated inhabitants of this place, and then to those, who, as strangers, are sojourning here only for a season.
The stated inhabitants I would congratulate on the further accommodation which they will now receive for the worship of Almighty God. For though the provision now made is very inadequate to the wants of this daily augmenting population, it will doubtless be of important service, and serve as a prelude, I trust, to somewhat which shall be still more effectual.
The necessity of waiting upon God in public is here obviously proclaimed. But there is an improvement of the occasion, which, though less obvious, is not a whit less necessary, and which I would take the liberty earnestly to recommend; and that is, the establishment of prayer in your own families. Who that sees the zeal of Solomon on this occasion, does not perceive the duty of every head of a family? We cannot all raise public edifices to the Lord; but we may all set up altars in our own houses, and promote the worship of God among those who are within the sphere of our own influence. God has said, that "where two or three are met together in his name, there will he be in the midst of them;" and that, "when two or three agree respecting what they shall ask," he will confer it upon them. If any say, that they feel unequal to the task of conducting family worship, they need not be discouraged on that account, because there are abundant aids afforded them, both in the formularies of our. Church, and in other books that are written for that express purpose.
And let me not omit this occasion of inculcating the duty of private prayer. This is absolutely indispensable to every child of man. Without this, no soul can prosper: without this, no sinner in the universe can find acceptance with God. In the public Services of the Church, your petitions must be, for the most part, general, and such as all the congregation can join in: but in your private chambers you may, every one of you, spread before the Lord your own personal transgressions, and implore at his hands those blessings which you more especially stand in need of. Remember, I pray you, that on your own personal application to God in prayer is suspended all your hope of mercy and forgiveness. "God will be inquired of by us" for those gifts which he has most freely promised and covenanted to bestow. "Ask, and you shall have; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." These are the terms with which we must comply: and, if we will not ask, it is in vain to hope that we shall obtain any thing of the Lord.
Let the duty of prayer generally, of public, social, and private prayer, be this day impressed upon your minds; and you will have reason to bless God to all eternity for the occasion that has suggested to you so important and necessary a reflection.
To the occasional visitors who are here present, I would beg leave, also, to offer a seasonable suggestion. You will observe that Solomon, in the benevolence of his heart, was especially mindful of strangers. "Concerning a stranger, that is not of your people Israel, but comes out of a far country for your name's sake, when he shall come and pray toward this house, hear you in Heaven your dwelling-place, and do according to all that the stranger calls to you for verse 41, 43." So would I now be mindful of you, and affectionately entreat you to improve the occasion which may have brought you hither. The improvement of your bodily health may be supposed to have had some influence in directing you to this place: in truth, many are brought hither, even from a great distance, for the promoting of this end. And shall not the soul, also, have a just measure of your regard? Shall nothing be deemed too expensive or self-denying for the obtaining of bodily health, and no attention whatever be paid to the soul? Consider, I pray you, of what infinitely greater importance the interests of eternity are than the concerns of time; and how far more certain in its efficacy the fountain of salvation is, which is opened for us in the Gospel, than any which this place, or any other in the universe, can boast. And I thank God that this fountain of salvation is here opened to you, and is accessible to all. Here you may be cleansed from sin and impurity, so as to be made altogether pure, without spot or blemish. And O! how rich a mercy will it be, if, when coming hither only for the restoration of your bodily health, you should find health also to your souls! Then, when you have left this place, you will look towards it with affectionate remembrance, from the very ends of the earth: and, above all, you will look to Him whom the Temple of old typified, the Lord Jesus Christ, and bless him for the dispensation which led you to the knowledge of him, and to the acquisition of his favor.
1 Kings 8:38-39
THE REQUISITES FOR ACCEPTABLE PRAYER
1 Kings 8:38-39. What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all your people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth hit hands toward this house: then hear you in Heaven your dwelling-place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart you know.
RELIGION is often thought to be an employment fit only for weak minds, or for those who have nothing else to engage their attention; but it is worthy the pursuit of the wisest and greatest of men. Never did Solomon appear more glorious than when uttering these words. At the head of all his subjects he dedicated his temple to God. He set them a bright example of piety and devotion; and interceded, not for them only, but for all succeeding generations.
In this portion of his instructive prayer we may sec,
I. The requisites for acceptable prayer—
An humble, upright, fervent, believing, submissive, obediential frame of mind is necessary when we approach the throne of grace. But the most essential requisites for acceptable worship are comprised in,
1. A deep sense of our own depravity—
The "plague of one's own heart" is, one's in-dwelling corruption Some understand "plague" as expressing some loathsome disorder; and the rather because it is translated "sore" in the parallel passage, 2 Chronicles 6:29. This is the true sense of it when it relates to the body; but here the heart is represented as the seat of this disorder, and therefore it must be understood of sin. This is confirmed by what is said in the text, of God's knowing the heart. "Every one" has some "sin that more easily besets him;" and this sin he ought to know. Not that a mere acquaintance with this plague is sufficient: we must know the depth and inveteracy of our disorder. Our knowledge too must produce an sincere self-abhorrence, and a full conviction of our utter helplessness: nor without this knowledge can we offer up one acceptable prayer. We cannot lament what we neither feel nor know; or seek for mercy, when we perceive not our need of it. While ignorant of our depravity, we are not in a state to receive mercy: we should not even be willing to accept of mercy on God's terms. The very offers of salvation would rather excite our displeasure than our gratitude A man, not sensible that he had subjected himself to capital punishment by breaking the laws of his country, would reject with indignation an offer of deliverance from an ignominious death: but a self-condemned criminal on the eve of his execution would receive such an offer gladly.
2. A believing view of Christ—
The temple of Solomon was the more immediate residence of the Deity: all were on this account directed to look towards it when they prayed. That temple was typical of the Lord Jesus Christ See John 2:19; John 2:21 and compare Exodus 23:21 with the expression "My name shall be there," 1 Kings 8:29; in him "dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily:" to him our eyes are therefore to be directed Isaiah 45:22. We are to offer all our petitions to him, or in his name John 14:13-14. This regard to him is necessary to the acceptance of our prayers: it is through him alone that we gain access to the Deity Ephesians 2:18. We cannot approach the Father in any other way John 14:6; nor is there any other channel whereby the divine blessings can flow down to us John 1:16. On these accounts we must "stretch out our hands towards" him: we must view him as our only source of spiritual blessings.
They who truly seek after God will soon experience,
II. The efficacy of prayer when attended with those requisites—
Cold or unbelieving petitions will receive no answer James 4:3; Matthew 15:8-9; James 1:6-7; but humble and believing prayer will obtain the richest blessings:
The passage before us relates to the whole Jewish nation: it supposes them to have incurred the heavy displeasure of God, and teaches them how they are to avert his wrath; nor did God leave them in suspense about the issue of such humiliation: he declared in a vision to Solomon that his petitions were accepted 2 Chronicles 7:12-14. The Jewish history affords many striking instances of deliverance given to a repenting people Jehoshaphat praying according to the direction in the text, 2 Chronicles 20:5-13, expressly reminded God of his promise, verse 9. And the success of his prayer far exceeded all reasonable expectation ; see verse 22–25; nor can we doubt but that the same means will still be crowned with the like success If this were a Fast Sermon, it would be proper to enlarge a little on this idea in reference to the peculiar state of the nation at the time.
He who "knows our heart" will grant all that we can desire 1 John 5:14-15.":
Forgiveness of sin—
Who more infamous and abandoned than that woman Luke 7:37; Luke 7:39. Yet she, in humility and faith, applied to Jesus Luke 7:38, and received an assurance that her iniquities were forgiven Luke 7:47-48; Luke 7:50. And shall not we obtain mercy if we apply to him in the same humble and believing way?
Peace of conscience—
How troubled, almost to distraction, were the murderers of our Lord Acts 2:37. But, according to Peter's direction, they looked to Jesus Acts 2:38, and were immediately filled with "peace and joy in believing Acts 2:46."
Those particulars which are marked with an asterisk under the second head may be omitted. Deliverance from temporal troubles—
We cannot conceive greater temporal affliction than that endured by Jonah Jon. 2:1-3; yet, when to appearance irrecoverably lost, he prayed in this manner Jon. 2:4; Jon. 2:7, and experienced a most unparalleled deliverance Jon. 2:10.
Those particulars which are marked with an asterisk under the second head may be omitted. Victory over our spiritual enemies—
With what vehemence did Satan assault the Apostle Paul 2 Corinthians 12:7. The afflicted saint cried with earnestness to the Lord Jesus 2 Corinthians 12:8; his troubles were immediately turned into triumphant exultations 2 Corinthians 12:9.
Renewal after the divine image—
Nothing on earth does a believer desire so much as this; yet this shall be attained in the same way. An humble and believing view of Christ shall effect it 2 Corinthians 3:18.
Those particulars which are marked with an asterisk under the second head may be omitted. A peaceful death—
Stephen died by the hands of cruel and blood-thirsty enemies Acts 7:54; but he offered a humble and believing prayer to Christ Acts 7:59, and his death was to him as a serene and peaceful sleep Acts 7:60.
A glorious immortality—
He who died justly by the hands of the public executioner must have merited in an high degree the wrath of God Luke 23:41; nevertheless in his last hour he directed his eyes to Christ Luke 23:42; and that very day was he admitted with Christ to Paradise Luke 23:43.
Let none despair on account of the greatness of their sins, or of the judgments of God which are already inflicted on them. God will suffer none to "seek his face in vain." Let every one then bewail "the plague of his own heart," and offer up believing prayers "towards God's holy oracle This will suffice for two Sermons; the first head being the subject of one, and the second head of the other. If it form the ground of one Sermon only, those particulars which are marked with an asterisk under the second head may be omitted."
1 Kings 8:54-61
SOLOMON'S THANKSGIVING PRAYER
1 Kings 8:54-61. And it was so, that when Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication unto the Lord) he arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to Heaven. And he stood, and blessed all the congregation of Israel with a loud voice, saying, Blessed be the Lord, that has given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there has not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant. The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers: let him not leave us, nor forsake us: that he may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments, which he commanded our fathers. And let these my words, with which I have made supplication before the Lord, be near unto the Lord our God day and night, that he maintain the cause of his servant, and the cause of his people Israel at all times, as the matter shall require: that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord is God, and that there is none else. Let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day.
TO men Solomon might appear most glorious when seated on his throne, and surrounded by all his courtiers: but in the eyes of God he never was so glorious, as when he was leading the devotions of all his people, and imploring blessings on them from above. Neither actuated by ostentation, nor restrained by shame, he erected a stage or pulpit in the court of the temple near the altar, and there in the midst of all the congregation kneeled down upon his knees, and with his hands stretched out to Heaven poured forth his soul in the devoutest supplications. The prayer he uttered was of considerable length, and, as it should seem, the extemporaneous effusion of his own heart. How happy would it be, if all our kings were so disposed, or even if all the ministers of the sanctuary were alike earnest in their acknowledgment of God, and qualified to conduct, from the abundance of their own hearts, the service of his sanctuary!
After having offered to God his prayer and supplication, he rose from his knees to bless the people. By "blessing them," we are not to suppose that he pretended to have any fullness in himself, whereby to make them blessed: it is not in man, however great, to make others blessed; he can only ministerially declare what God has promised, or implore in their behalf the blessing of God upon them. This is what was done by the priests of old Numbers 6:23-26, and this is what he did on this occasion.
The words in which he blessed them contain,
I. An address to God—
This consisted of two parts:
1. A thanksgiving for mercies received—
God had now fulfilled in its utmost extent the promises which he had given to Israel. "The whole land, from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates Genesis 15:18 with Deuteronomy 11:24," was under Solomon's dominion: the most perfect rest and peace prevailed throughout the whole empire 1 Kings 5:4; and a place was now erected, on a spot chosen by God himself, for his worship and service Deuteronomy 12:11. Of "all the promises which God had given by Moses, not one word had failed:" all was come to pass; and the whole nation enjoyed a state of unprecedented prosperity. For these things Solomon now "blessed the Lord," both in his own name, and in the name of all the people.
Have we received such blessings from the Lord? let us then bless him too. Have we a peaceable enjoyment of God's ordinances, and freedom from the assaults of open enemies? Have we union also and harmony among ourselves? let us be thankful for these mercies: it is not every Church that enjoys them; nor can anything but the peculiar favor of Heaven continue them to us.
But what if we have experienced an accomplishment of that promise of our Lord, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest?" What if we have obtained a victory over all our spiritual enemies, and be living in a sweet sense of God's love, and the habitual enjoyment of his presence? Shall not we bless the name of our God, yes, bless him too with all our faculties and all our powers?.
2. A prayer for the continuance of them—
The presence of God with them comprehended every blessing that Solomon could desire; and therefore Solomon entreated God "never to leave them nor forsake them verse 57." This alone could "incline their hearts" to serve the Lord verse 58; this alone could secure to them a complete enjoyment of their happiness verse 59: this alone could enable them to glorify their God in the world verse 60.
And what can any one desire more in your behalf? If "God be with you," and operate in you effectually for these ends and purposes, you are blessed, you must be blessed forever. On the contrary, "Woe be to them," says God, "when I depart from them Hosea 9:12." Yes, if he depart, we shall have no more "inclination to walk in his ways," but shall surely "walk after the imagination of our own evil hearts:" we shall no more be able to "maintain our own cause" against our spiritual adversaries, but shall fall a prey to every lust: we shall no more constrain the world to admire "the exceeding grace of God in us," but shall rather cause them "to blaspheme his holy name.
May God therefore bless you with his continued presence and his effectual grace!
This address to God he concluded with,
II. An exhortation to the people—
Solomon would not dismiss the people without exhorting them to perform their duties to God, who had so loaded them with his richest benefits: he therefore besought them,
1. To be perfect with the Lord—
Absolute perfection is not to be attained in this world Ecclesiastes 7:20; James 3:2; but there is a perfection which every Christian must attain, a perfection of desire, of purpose, and of endeavor. We should see such a beauty in holiness as to long for the utmost possible attainment of it: we should desire to "be holy as God is holy," and "perfect as our Father which is in Heaven is perfect." At this too we should aim: the great object of our lives should be to mortify everything that is contrary to God's will, and to get his law perfectly engraved upon our hearts. To be "cast into the very mold of the Gospel," and to be "renewed after the perfect image of our God in righteousness and true holiness," should be the ambition of our souls. After this also should we labor; never thinking that we have attained anything, while anything remains to be attained. This was the state of the Apostle Paul Philippians 3:12-14, and must be the state of every one that would be approved of his God Philippians 3:15.
Is it thought by any, that, in requiring this, we require too much? I ask, For what has "God given us such exceeding great and precious promises," but that "by them we may be partakers of the divine nature, and escape the corruption that is in the world through lust 2. Peter 1:4." I ask again, What is the use which God teaches us to make of his promises? Is it not to "cleanse ourselves by their means from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God 2 Corinthians 7:1." I ask yet further, What is the desire which every pious minister will feel in behalf of his people; and to what will he endeavor, both in his private prayers and his public labors, to bring them? Is it not, "that they may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God Colossians 4:12." Away then with all apprehensions that we require too much: we require only what God requires, and what every soul that shall ever be saved, must possess: in actual attainments there will, in spite of our utmost exertions, be much lacking; but in desire, purpose, and endeavor, we must be perfect, not willingly harboring the smallest imperfection 1 Chronicles 28:9, but striving to "grow up into Christ in all things, as our living Head."
2. To preserve continually the frame they now possessed—
The people now, as well as their king, were in a very devout and heavenly frame: there was nothing they would not now have done, or sacrificed, for the honor of their God. Solomon therefore says to them, "Be perfect with the Lord, as at this day." Now there are times when every godly person has felt himself more especially alive to the concerns of eternity: he has been humbled in the dust, under a sense of his own guilt and helplessness; he has been filled with admiration at the divine goodness to him; he has longed to have God ever with him, and to find all his happiness in the presence of his God. If such, then, have ever been our state, is there not the same reason that it should be so now? Does God deserve less at our hands, than he did at the period referred to? Why then do we not feel the same towards him? Perhaps we may be disposed to look back upon such seasons with delight; but we should rather look upon all other seasons with shame and sorrow. O labor, Brethren, to preserve upon your minds those better feelings which you have at any time experienced; and, instead of declining from them, to get them revived and strengthened from day to day!
Such is the blessing, which, were it at our disposal, we would bestow upon you; and such is the blessing which we entreat of God to confer on every one among you.
1 Kings 10:6-7
THE QUEEN OF SHEBA'S VISIT TO SOLOMON
1 Kings 10:6-7. And the said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of your acts and of your wisdom. Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and my eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me.
IT not unfrequently happens, that when the mind has been raised in any extraordinary degree by the representations of others, its expectations are disappointed: either the excellencies which appeared so fascinating to others, have been over-rated; or they are found blended with such defects, as greatly lessen their value. This is particularly the case with respect to the characters of men; in estimating which, it is easy to conceive, that our admiration may be too great, and our applause be too unqualified. But, in the passage before us, we have an instance where report, though heightened to the utmost, fell short of the reality. The wisdom of Solomon had attracted the attention of all the nations around him; insomuch that persons were sent from all the surrounding potentates, to ascertain whether the reports concerning him were true 1 Kings 4:34; and in the chapter before us, we are informed, that a queen of great power and authority came herself, in order to see with her own eyes, and hear with her own ears, the wonderful things which had been reported to her: and her testimony, after the fullest investigation, was, not only that all was true which had been told her, but that the half had not been told her; so greatly did the truth exceed her most sanguine expectations.
This circumstance deserves particular consideration, not merely for the honor of Solomon, but chiefly for the honor of Him whom Solomon prefigured, even of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Let us notice then,
I. The surprise occasioned by an acquaintance with Solomon—
We do not know the precise reports which the Queen of Sheba had heard; but they related principally, we apprehend, to the wisdom of Solomon. His splendor and magnificence indeed were unparalleled; but his wisdom was that which most of all induced her to come so far; for "she came to prove him with hard questions," and "to commune with him of all that was in her heart." Now "his wisdom excelled that of all mankind 1 Kings 4:30-31;" it was not confined to any one branch of science, but embraced the whole extent of philosophy, natural and political, moral and religious. It extended, I say, to things,
Universal nature seemed, as it were, to be open to his view: "He spoke of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon, even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall: he spoke also of beasts and of bird, and of creeping things, and of fishes 1 Kings 4:33." The distinctive properties of each in their several classes were comprehended by him; but whether from study or from revelation, we do not know: such knowledge however, though curious and entertaining, was probably in point of utility the lowest that he possessed. Still it could not fail to interest an inquisitive mind, and to excite an high admiration of him in the breast of this intelligent queen.
The perfection of his laws, the equity of his administration, the penetration exercised by him in his judicial capacity, the order in which everything, whether in his civil or domestic concerns, was arranged; the grandeur of his edifices, the splendor of his court, the peacefulness of his reign, the prosperity of his people, and the whole extent of his political economy, bespoke him almost more than human; and made the admiring queen envy the lowest of his servants, who were honored with access to his presence verse 4, 5, 8.
He had spoken three thousand proverbs, and composed above a thousand songs 1 Kings 4:32. What depths of wisdom were contained in these we may judge from those which have come down to us. The whole subject of ethics was familiar to his mind, so that he needed not to draw conclusions in a way of rational argumentation, but was enabled to declare with unerring certainty the duty of man in every relation, and in every circumstance of life. The most difficult cases were easy to his comprehensive mind; and the clouds with which they were enveloped were dispelled by him as before the rising sun. We wonder not that, when she heard his oracular discourses, she was lost in utter amazement.
This, after all, was the wisdom by which the Queen of Sheba sought most to profit: "When she heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to prove him with hard questions verse 1." Earnestly did she desire to be informed concerning the nature and perfections of God; and the way in which he was to be worshiped; and how a sinner might find acceptance with him. These and numberless other points Solomon no doubt opened to her with such clearness and perspicuity, as carried the fullest conviction to her mind. Nor can we doubt but that as she would inquire respecting the sacrifices and oblations, he would point out to her the figurative nature, and typical intent, of everything that she beheld; the temple, its furniture, its ordinances, its ministers, its service altogether. Glorious would be the opportunity afforded him of commending to her the God of Israel, and of pointing out to her that Messiah in whom all these types should receive their accomplishment; and no doubt he availed himself of it. Well therefore might such transcendent wisdom overwhelm her with astonishment, so that "there was no more spirit in her verse 5;" and well might she say, that "the half had not been told her."
Let us now turn from Solomon, to contemplate,
II. The surprise which an acquaintance with Jesus Christ will occasion—
Our views must not be confined to Solomon; for beyond all doubt "a greater than Solomon is here." Solomon was an eminent type of Christ; as is clear from many passages of Scripture, and especially the 72d Psalm, which is not more applicable to Solomon in the letter of it, than it is to Christ in the spirit. Solomon was the first who could be called "a king, and a king's son;" and therefore a fit type of that Son of David who is "King of kings, and Lord of lords."
Now of Jesus are great things spoken in the Holy Scriptures: and as the Queen of Sheba "believed not the reports concerning Solomon, until she came to see him with her own eyes," so respecting Jesus it must be said, "Who has believed our report Romans 10:16." But if once we behold him with the eye of faith, we shall then indeed say that the half had not been told us. Two things in particular we shall be amazed at;
1. The glory of his person—
Let us behold him in his whole office and character, and so behold him as to have any just conception of his excellency, and we shall be altogether lost in wonder, so that there will be "no more spirit in us." Even in his human nature, wherein the glory of his majesty is veiled, we are utterly astonished at all his spotless perfections. His wisdom, his goodness, his love, and all his other virtues, surpass our utmost conceptions. In the view of him many hundreds of years before he came into the world, the Church exclaimed, "He is chief among ten thousand," "he is altogether lovely Son. 5:10; Son. 5:16." In his divine nature, "he is the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person Hebrews 1:3.": In his mediatorial character, he is "the power of God and the wisdom of God 1 Corinthians 1:24." He has within himself all fullness treasured up Colossians 1:24; nothing is wanting that can secure the happiness and salvation of his redeemed people. His meritorious sacrifice is a sufficient satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. His unspotted righteousness affords a robe, whereby all the fallen race of Adam may "cover their nakedness," and stand spotless in the presence of a holy God. In him is a fountain of all grace, from which every believer may receive an inexhaustible supply John 1:16. Let us only "behold, I say, his glory, as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth John 1:14," and we shall immediately exclaim with the prophet, "How great is his goodness, how great is his beauty Zechariah 9:9; Zechariah 9:17."
2. The felicity of his people—
This in particular was contemplated by the Queen of Sheba in reference to Solomon. After saying to him, "Your wisdom and your prosperity exceed the fame which I heard," she added, "Happy are your men, happy are these your servants, which stand continually before you, and that hear your wisdom verse 7, 8." But with how much greater propriety may this be said respecting the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ! Much is said of it indeed in the Scriptures Psalm 89:15-17; but little of it is believed, until it is known by actual experience. But let it once be felt, and truly we shall say, "The half had not been told us." Indeed the Scriptures speak of it in this very view: their "peace passes all understanding;" and their "joy is unspeakable and glorified." To this, as well as to the mysteries of faith, may we apply those words of the Apostle, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him: but God has revealed them to us by his Spirit 1 Corinthians 2:9-10." It is to what is experienced in this world that those words are to be applied: but if we look forward to the eternal world, with what emphasis may we pronounce them then! If the glory of Christ be so bright when beheld only through the dark medium of faith, how will it appear when we shall behold him face to face! And if our happiness be so great now that we carry about with us a body of sin and death, what shall it be, when our corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and we shall possess without alloy the full fruition of our God! Happy, happy beyond conception shall we be, when we are enabled to say, "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you!"
This subject furnishes us with abundant matter,
1. For reproof—
It was in this view that our Lord himself improved it in his day Matthew 12:42; and may not we take up the same complaint against you and say, "The Queen of the South (of Sheba) shall rise up in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold a greater than Solomon is here?" How little is Christ sought after and admired among us! The Queen of Sheba counted no expense or trouble too great to obtain an acquaintance with Solomon; but we grudge any labor that may be necessary to bring us to an acquaintance with Christ: almost anything is a sufficient excuse to keep us from the public ordinances, and especially to make us neglect the private duties of religion. Oh, let us blush and be ashamed, that when our means of access to Christ are so easy, we are so indifferent about him; that we rest contentedly without the knowledge of him, when, if we judged aright, "we should count all things but dung in comparison of it Philippians 3:8." The Queen of Sheba did not consider even the affairs of a large empire of sufficient importance to keep her from seeking an interview with Solomon: let nothing detain us from visiting the Lord Jesus. To sit at his feet and hear his gracious instructions should be regarded by us as "the one thing needful Luke 10:42."
2. For encouragement—
That the Queen of Sheba derived much spiritual benefit from her visit to Solomon is manifest, from the manner in which she adored Jehovah for his mercy and grace in raising Solomon to the throne of Israel verse 9. And will the Lord Jesus Christ suffer any one to "seek his face in vain?" Are we not told, "Then shall you know, if you follow on to know the Lord?" and, "The meek he will guide in judgment, the meek he will teach his way?" Let us take encouragement and go unto him; for we have advantages which the Queen of Sheba had not. Solomon could impart knowledge to her, but could not enable her to comprehend it: but Jesus can both "open to us the Scriptures," and "open our understandings also to understand them:" yes, and if we go humbly unto him, he will return with us to our respective homes, and be our instructor even unto death. Let us then "buy the truth," whatever it may cost us, and "not sell it" for the whole world. Methinks the Queen of Sheba never afterwards regretted the labor she had bestowed on that great object; and sure I am that none who seek the Lord, shall ever have to complain that "they have labored in vain, or spent their strength for nothing Isaiah 49:4."
1 Kings 11:9
1 Kings 11:9. And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice.
IF we had beheld the temple of Solomon, with all its exquisite workmanship, destroyed, as soon as it was finished, methinks we should have wept over it as a calamity never to be forgotten. But we are now called to survey a far more grievous desolation, even the destruction of the fairest edifice that ever was raised,—the soul of Solomon. Most eminently had the grace of God wrought in him, as all his preceding history informs us. Since the foundation of the world there was not a grander spectacle, than that of Solomon elevated on a brazen platform in the midst of the temple, and crying unto God with bended knees and out-stretched hands in the behalf of himself and people to their latest posterity. But "how is the gold become dim, and the most fine gold changed!" We behold in nature some clouds occasionally obscuring the brightest sky, and sometimes even the meridian sun eclipsed; but here was such an eclipse as never had been seen, since Adam fell in paradise: here was the brightest day turned suddenly into the darkest night; the most eminent of saints relapsing into a state of most aggravated and abiding transgression.
Let us turn, like Abraham surveying the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah the morning after they were destroyed Genesis 19:27-28, and contemplate,
I. The fall of Solomon—
In order to get a just view of it, let us distinctly notice,
1. How it began—
It began the very instant he was raised to the throne, though in a way that was not perceived by him at the time. We do not condemn him for marrying Pharaoh's daughter, because we take for granted that she was a proselyte to the Jewish faith. That she was so, may be presumed from the very circumstance of his connection with her; for we cannot conceive that he would have so grossly violated the divine law as to marry an heathen woman, at the very time that his piety was so transcendently conspicuous: and this presumption is confirmed by the circumstance, that among all the idolatrous temples that he built for his other wives, he never erected any for the idols of Egypt. But the evil of which he was guilty in the commencement of his reign was, the offering of sacrifice in high places, instead of confining himself to the altar which was in the tabernacle. We are decidedly of opinion that he should not have done this himself, nor should he have suffered his people to do it Compare 1 Kings 3:1-3 with Deuteronomy 12:2-6; and we are persuaded that this error, continued as it was for eleven years at least, rendered him less averse than he would otherwise have been, to the erection of temples afterwards to heathen gods.
Other evils of his which gradually crept in, were, the multiplying of gold and silver for himself; the multiplying of horses also, and that from Egypt; and, above all, the multiplying of wives. All of these things were forbidden in as plain and express a manner as could be conceived Deuteronomy 17:16-17; yet, as if he had never read any such prohibition in the word of God, did he go on violating it from day to day In amassing gold, not, as David, for the Lord, but for his own aggrandizement: see 1 Kings 10:21. In increasing horses; see 1 Kings 4:26; 1 Kings 10:26 and especially from Egypt; see 1 Kings 10:28. In multiplying wives; see verse 3.
2. To what an extent it proceeded—
There was not anything more strongly prohibited in the Law than the forming of connections with heathen women Deuteronomy 7:3-4; yet it was not from among the women of his own nation that he took his wives and concubines, but from among the "Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites." What an astonishing infatuation was here! Perhaps in the first two or three instances he might hope to convert them, as Pharaoh's daughter had been converted: but after having broken down the fence of the divine law, he roved afterwards at pleasure throughout the world. Soon the consequences which might have been expected, ensued: his heart was drawn away from God; and he not only suffered them to commit idolatry in the land, but he even favored their idolatry, and actually built temples for their gods, and that too even in Jerusalem itself, where Jehovah's temple was: nor did he do this only for one or two whom he peculiarly favored, but "for all his strange wives;" yes, incredible as it may appear, he actually united with them in the worship of their idols, and alienated to them the affections due only to the God of Israel verse 4–8. His wives turned away his heart after other gods …he went after Ashtoreth, etc. Who that had seen Solomon at the dedication of the temple, would ever have conceived that he should fall at last to such a degraded state as this?
3. With what aggravations it was attended—
Solomon had from a child been eminently beloved of the Lord: God had even given him the name Jedidiah in token of that love 2 Samuel 12:24-25. He had been especially appointed to build the temple of the Lord 1 Chronicles 22:9-10; and both before and after he had built the temple, was honored with peculiar visits from God himself Compare 1 Kings 3:5; 1 Kings 9:2. In the latter of these visits God had strongly warned him against the very evils which he afterwards committed 1 Kings 9:3-7; and yet did Solomon very speedily rush into the commission of them He had reigned at least twenty years before the second visit. 1 Kings 9:1; 1 Kings 9:10. Now these things God himself notices as aggravations of his guilt: he complains, that Solomon did these things "after God had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not do it." Surely such ingratitude and impiety were scarcely ever combined in any other child of man!
4. With what consequences it was followed—
"God was angry with him," as well he might be; and he declared to Solomon that the kingdom of which he had rendered himself so unworthy, should be taken from him, and given to a servant of his verse 11. This judgment however should be both deferred and mitigated; yet not for his sake, but for his father David's sake. Great as David's crimes had been in the matter of Uriah, he had never for a moment countenanced idolatry; and therefore for his sake should two of the tribes be reserved for his descendants, while the other ten should be rent away from them; and for his sake should the evil be deferred, until Solomon himself should be removed into the eternal world verse 12, 13. Thus was the very mitigation of the punishment as humiliating, as the denunciation of it was painful. Immediately did God stir up adversaries to Solomon, to disquiet his peaceful reign, and to embitter the remainder of his days verse 14, 23, 26–33. What the event of his transgression was in the eternal world, we cannot certainly declare. We hope and believe that Solomon repented, and was forgiven; (the Book of Ecclesiastes seems to have been written alter this period, and to contain the evidence of his repentance:) but there is no express mention of any such thing; so that it must remain uncertain until the day of judgment, whether he was not left to suffer the everlasting displeasure of an offended God. What a fearful thought! that so bright a sun should set at last under so dark a cloud!
Inexpressibly awful is the account here given us. Let us now proceed to consider,
II. The instruction to be gathered from it—
Never was a history more replete with instruction than this. We may learn from it,
1. That temporal prosperity is very unfavorable for spiritual advancement—
Doubtless the facility with which Solomon could gratify all his natural appetites, rendered him the more easy prey to his own corruptions: and as his carnal gratifications increased, his spiritual affections would decay. And do we not find it thus in all ages? Adversity has been a source of benefit to thousands; but few have ever been permanently quickened by prosperity. If we look into the Church of God, we shall find innumerable instances of persons, who have suffered loss in their souls, in proportion as their wealth or honors have been increased: "The cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lust of other things have choked the word, and rendered it unfruitful." The account given of Jeshurun Deuteronomy 32:15. contains the history of many; over whose tombs it might be inscribed, "The prosperity of fools destroys them Proverbs 1:32."
Let us not then covet earthly gains or honors: they are but as "thick clay" around the feet of one that runs in a race Habakkuk 2:6, or as a garment that obstructs the motion of his legs Hebrews 12:1.
2. That however advanced any man may be in age or piety, he is still in danger of falling—
It is said of Solomon, that, "when he was old, his wives turned away his heart verse 4." Had it been in the days of his youth, we should have the less wondered at his folly; because versatility of mind is incident to that time of life: but after years of wisdom and piety, to turn in old age to such extreme folly and wickedness, what shall we say? Well may we exclaim, "Lord, what is man?" Can anything speak more loudly to us than this? Can anything more strongly enforce that warning of the Apostle, "Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall?" O "let us not be high-minded, but fear." "Let us fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into God's rest, any of us should seem to come short of it." This is certain, that, as our wickedness shall not be remembered if we truly turn from it, so "neither shall our righteousness be remembered if we turn from that." It is not he who "runs well for a season," but "he who endures unto the end, that shall be saved." If we turn back, at whatever period of our life it be, "we turn back unto perdition." Let all of us then cry to God, "to hold up our goings in his paths, that our footsteps slip not." Our motto to the last must be, "Hold you me up, and I shall be safe." To all then, whatever eminence they may have attained, I would say, as our Lord did to his disciples, not only "Remember Lot's wife," but, Remember the fall of Solomon.
3. That smaller sins, if not guarded against in time, will issue in the greatest—
Solomon might frame some excuse to himself for the sins in which his fall commenced: he worshiped on high places, because the temple was not yet built: he multiplied wives and concubines, because his father had had several before him: he procured much gold, and a multitude of horses, because they would add to the splendor of his court, and perhaps also to his security. But he found at last what a dangerous thing it is to tamper with sin, or to deviate knowingly even an hair's. breadth from the divine commandments. Sin will soon blind the eyes, and harden the heart, and sear the conscience. Sin is a downward road, whereon, if we fall, our descent may soon be accelerated beyond a possibility of recovery. A leak may appear but a small thing; yet will it sink a ship, if left without timely repair. The voice of inspiration suggests to us, "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindles!" Let us not then account any sin small: let us watch and pray against every deviation from the divine commands: and, from a sense of our own blindness, let us pray to God, "Search you me, and try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
4. That every sin we commit is aggravated by the mercies we have received—
This, as has been observed, was intimated by God in the case of Solomon: and the universal voice of Scripture attests the same. "If our Lord had not come and spoken to the Jews, they had been comparatively without sin:" but his discourses and his miracles rendered them altogether without excuse; insomuch, that "it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that generation." In like manner we are told, that the superior information of a servant who knows his Lord's will and does it not, will cause him to be beaten with more stripes, than he, whose ignorance forms some kind of plea for his neglect.
What then will be the state of us who have had such ample instruction, and such repeated warnings? If our minds have never been awakened, our misimprovement of the means of grace has involved us in the deeper guilt: but if the Lord has ever "manifested himself to us as he does not unto the world," and we have turned back from following him, our guilt is proportionably increased; so that "it would have been better for us never to have known the way of righteousness, than, having known it, to turn from it."
1 Kings 12:24
REVOLT OF THE TEN TRIBES
1 Kings 12:24. This thing is from me.
IN histories written by men, events are always traced to human efforts and sagacity; but in the inspired history everything is traced to God. We always find, even in things apparently most contingent, a secret over-ruling Agent, accomplishing his own purposes of mercy or of judgment, and operating with unerring wisdom to the production of his own ends. As "every good and perfect gift" is represented as "coming from above," so the prophet asks respecting things most calamitous, "Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord has not done it Amos. 3:6." In the account given us of the revolt of the ten tribes, and their establishment as a separate kingdom under Jeroboam, the proceedings of all the different parties appeared to spring wholly from themselves: but God says of the whole together, "This thing is from me." We will,
I. Confirm this assertion—
We will begin with stating what was "the thing" here referred to—
After the death of Solomon, the different tribes assembled at Shechem, to acknowledge Rehoboam as his successor to the throne. But previous to their investing him with regal authority, they sought from him a promise that he would lighten their burdens, and redress their grievances. That they had been aggrieved and burdened in some degree, we may easily conceive; because the keeping of seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, together with the building of temples for them all, and maintaining of worship for so many idols, in addition to all the expenses of his own government, must have necessitated Solomon to lay heavy taxes upon his subjects. But still the taxes were not such an intolerable grievance, when it is considered how much wealth Solomon had brought into the kingdom, and what peace and prosperity they had enjoyed during the whole of his reign. Had they complained of the licentiousness and idolatry which Solomon had introduced, and sought the removal of those great abuses, they would have acted well: but it was not about God's honor that they were concerned; they regarded nothing but their own interests: and, like the generality of discontented patriots, they overlooked all the blessings they had enjoyed under his government, and were unreasonably clamorous about the taxes levied for its support.
Rehoboam took three days to consider of the proposal; and by this delay he at once discovered his unwillingness to comply with their wishes, and gave them time to form and mature a conspiracy against him. He first consulted the old men, who had been his father's counselors; but, not relishing their sage advice, he consulted his own young companions; who recommended rather a system of intimidation: this was more congenial with his own pride; but it exasperated to the utmost those whom by conciliatory measures he might easily have won verse 5–14.
The event was such as might have been foreseen: the ten tribes would no longer acknowledge any allegiance to the house of David, but appointed a king of their own, even Jeroboam, whom they had sent for out of Egypt, to be an head, or center of union to them, on the present emergency verse 2, 3. The contemptuous way in which they spoke of David was most ungrateful, seeing that his whole life had been spent in their service verse 16; but past obligations weigh but little with men irritated by a sense of present injuries.
The mode adopted to appease their minds, was no less absurd than the measure by which they had been incensed. Rehoboam sent Adoram, his tax-gatherer, the most obnoxious of all persons, to confer with them: but him they immediately stoned to death verse 18.
Rehoboam then fled to Jerusalem, and raised a large army of a hundred and eighty thousand men from among the two remaining tribes, to reduce the rebels by force: but God sent a prophet to him, and to the whole army, forbidding them to proceed, and declaring that the whole matter had been ordered by God himself: "Thus says the Lord, You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren, the children of Israel: return every man to his own house; for this thing it from me."
That this thins was from God, we now proceed to show—
Hitherto nothing had appeared to be from God, except the sending of a prophet to declare his will respecting the prosecution of the war: but the whole was really of God, in its rise, its progress, and its termination.
From God it took its rise. On account of Solomon's transgressions, God declared to Solomon himself that he would rend the ten tribes out of the hand of his son, and give them to his servant 1 Kings 11:11-13. He sent also a prophet to Jeroboam, to announce to him, by a very expressive emblem, that ten of the tribes should be taken from Solomon on account of his iniquities, and be given to him 1 Kings 11:26-35. These matters were well known to all Israel; for Solomon had on this account sought to kill Jeroboam 1 Kings 11:40; and constrained him to flee to Egypt for protection: and from thence had the ten tribes sent for him as soon as Solomon was dead. Jeroboam was indeed of an ambitious turn of mind, particularly after he had been raised by Solomon from a low station to a place of great honor and authority 1 Kings 11:37; but it was the declaration of God's purpose that called it forth into activity, and directed all the ten tribes to look to him as their future head.
Every step of its progress must also be traced to the same source. The complaints of the tribes, and the infatuation of the young monarch, might be supposed to originate wholly with themselves, and to spring entirely from the discontent of the one, and from the other's pride: and it is true, that God did not infuse these evil dispositions into their minds: but it is also true that he suffered these dispositions to rage, and the collision to arise, on purpose that he might accomplish his own purposes by them. This is expressly asserted in the history before us: "The king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform hit saying, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat verse 15."
That its termination was from him is plainly declared in the words of our text; "This thing (from first to last) is from me:" and, that it was from him, he showed, by constraining Rehoboam, and the whole army that he had raised, to acquiesce immediately in the loss they had sustained, and to rest satisfied with having all the other tribes for rivals and enemies, whom hitherto they had had for friends and brethren.
Now this kind of statement is by no means uncommon in the Holy Scriptures. God is often represented as overruling both men and devils for the accomplishment of his own purposes. God had determined to deliver the Amorites into the hand of Israel, though he would not deliver into their hand either Moab or Edom. Hence he influenced the minds of both the Moabites and Edomites to supply his people with food for money, that they might be spared; and equally influenced the minds of the Amorites to refuse that support, that they might be destroyed Deuteronomy 2:28-30. In like manner he left king Amaziah to disregard the warnings of the prophet, whom he had sent to remonstrate with him about his idolatries; "because God had determined to destroy him 2 Chronicles 25:14-16." The agency of evil spirits is also sometimes called in for the same end. In the case of Ahab, a whole host of them were permitted of God to stimulate the false prophets to give such counsel to Ahab as should infallibly terminate in his ruin 1 Kings 22:22-23. In a word, the whole conspiracy of Jews and Gentiles against our blessed Lord, under the same infallible direction, accomplished in every particular, "what God's hand and his counsel had determined before to be done Acts 4:27-28." The doctrine of our text therefore, though strange at first sight, is no other than what the Scriptures plainly and universally assert.
Let us then proceed to,
II. Make some reflections upon it—
In contemplating Jehovah as he is represented in this place, we must of necessity observe,
1. How sovereign his power!
God gave the kingdom to Saul; then rent it from him, and gave it to David and Solomon; then reduced it to two tribes only, in the hands of Rehoboam, giving the other ten to Jeroboam. In all this he acted sovereignly, disposing of it according to the counsel of his own will. And thus he does in all the kingdoms upon earth Daniel 2:21; "He does according to his will in the armies of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What do you Daniel 4:17; Daniel 4:35." Nor is this true in reference to kingdoms only: he disposes equally of families and individuals; "He is the judge; he puts down one, and sets up another Psalm 75:7."
How effectually does this consideration cut off all occasion for pride in those who are elevated, and for complaint in those that are debased! for as, on the one hand, "they who have received a gift can never reasonably boast as if they had not received it," so, on the other hand, every sufferer must say, "I was still and opened not my mouth, because them did it." Seeing then of what practical use this reflection is, let us recur to it on all occasions, for the humbling of our minds in prosperity, and the quieting of them in adversity.
2. How mysterious his influence!
In all the circumstances before mentioned, the different persons acted freely; and yet, as we have seen, were overruled by God in every step they took. How incomprehensible is this to our finite understandings! We know not how spirit acts upon matter; how then can we expect to know in what manner the Spirit of God acts upon our spirits! Yet if we know from experience that our own spirit does assuredly act upon our material body, we may be equally assured, upon the testimony of God, that there is a spiritual influence exercised by him upon the mind of his people. There is indeed a considerable difference between the mode in which that is exercised towards the godly, and the ungodly: in influencing the ungodly, he merely gives scope for the exercise of dispositions which already exist in their own minds; but, in influencing the godly, he first infuses holy dispositions into their minds, and then calls forth those dispositions into exercise by the operation of his own grace, exciting and strengthening the soul for the duties to which it is called.
Do we not then see, that God only is to be feared? that, if we secure his favor, not all the universe can hurt us? Let a Laban, or an Esau, come forth against us, God can restrain his rage Genesis 31:29; Genesis 33:1; Genesis 33:4, and make "the wrath of man to praise him:" or let an enraged army determine to destroy us, he can by a single word assuage their malice, and avert the storm. "The hearts of kings are in his hand as the rivers of water, and he turns them wherever he will Proverbs 21:1. If this were a subject for the Fifth of November, it might here be shown in what a mysterious way God preserved our nation from the plot that had been formed for its destruction." "If therefore God be for us, we may be sure that none can be against us."
3. How sure his word!
In the instance before us it was fulfilled, notwithstanding all the parties strove to counteract it. The ten tribes would have submitted to Rehoboam's yoke, if only he had spoken kindly to them at first: they had no design in the first instance to separate from him. The advice of the young men was given with a view to keep the people in subjection by fear: and the determination of the army was to reduce them by force. Thus all endeavored to preserve the kingdom entire; yet all were accessory to the division of it. Thus shall every word of God be fulfilled in its season. If that did not fail which depended, so to speak, on the voluntary actions of men, much less shall that which shall be executed by God alone. He has told us that "the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of Heaven;" but that "the wicked shall be turned into Hell, with all the people that forget God:" and shall either of those declarations fall to the ground? No; not a jot or tittle of them shall ever fail. O that we may be wise, and learn to "tremble at the word of God," while yet we may escape his threatenings, and secure the possession of his promised inheritance!
1 Kings 13:4
JEROBOAM'S IDOLATRY REPROVED
1 Kings 13:4. And it came to pass, when King Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Beth-el, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him.
TO be raised to a situation of eminence and authority is generally thought a subject of congratulation: but if preferment be not accompanied with a proportionable increase of grace to fit us for it, it is rather to be dreaded than desired. Distinctions of every kind open a wider sphere for the exercise of our own corruptions, and too frequently become to the possessors of them an occasion of deeper condemnation. This is strongly illustrated in the case of Pharaoh, who was raised up to the throne of Egypt on purpose that he might have an opportunity of showing all that was in his heart, and that God's power might be displayed and magnified in his destruction Romans 9:17. In like manner Jeroboam was raised to the throne of Israel, not, alas! for any benefit either to himself or others, but for the ultimate augmentation of his own guilt and misery. While in a humble situation, he was industrious, and trust-worthy 1 Kings 11:28; but when he was preferred to a higher post, he became ambitious 1 Kings 10:3-7, turbulent, rebellious 2 Chronicles 13:6; and when he was placed on the throne of Israel, he drew away that whole people to idolatry; and has from that hour been never mentioned but with abhorrence, as the man "that caused Israel to sin." In considering the account here given of him, we shall notice,
I. His unbelieving expedient—
Scarcely was Jeroboam raised to the throne, before he established idolatry throughout his dominions—
Wishing to make the breach between Israel and Judah irreparable, he determined to cut off all fellowship between them; and to establish a worship of his own devising, that the people might not go up any longer to worship at Jerusalem. He knew that it would be in vain to prohibit religion altogether; but that to establish a false religion would be comparatively easy; since, if men have something with which to satisfy their own minds, they are not very scrupulous about inquiring what is agreeable to the mind of God. Having recently come out of Egypt, he introduced the idols that were there worshiped, even golden calves; and set them up in Dan, and Beth-el. One would have supposed that such an innovation would have shaken his throne to its foundation; but it seems to have created no uneasiness at all, nor to have produced one single remonstrance throughout the land. Do we not in this behold a true picture of human nature in every age and place? The worst of men must have some forms, by the observance of which they may satisfy their own consciences: but the easier and cheaper their religion is, the more suited it will be to their taste. To be told they need not comply with the self-denying commands of God 1 Kings 12:28, will be agreeable to their corrupt hearts: "Master, spare yourself," is to them a gratifying advice; and, wherever the Gospel is faithfully administered, the effect of this advice is clearly seen: the express commands of God oppose, in many instances, but a feeble barrier to the solicitations of carnal ease.
To this he was instigated by unbelief—
He was afraid lest his subjects, by going up to Jerusalem at the stated feasts, should be drawn away from him, and be induced to return to their former prince. Nor were these fears altogether groundless. The very exercises of religion would tend to convince them that they had sinned in casting off the yoke of Rehoboam; and the familiar fellowship which they would have with the other two tribes, would tend to reconcile their minds to the idea of being again united with them under one head. But Jeroboam was bound not to listen to any such considerations as these, because he had the express promise of God, that "his house should be built up, like the house of David 1 Kings 11:38," provided he would walk in the path of duty. This was a sufficient security to him, that the evil which he dreaded should never happen, while he remained faithful to his God. In God therefore he should have put his trust. But he gave way to unbelief, and sought for that in the violation of God's commands, which was only to be obtained in the observance of them; yes, he madly sought the establishment of his throne by the commission of those very crimes which had subverted the throne of Solomon. This is a weakness to which even the best of men have yielded on some occasions: the great father of the faithful himself repeatedly denied his wife through fear, as Isaac also did; and Jacob gained by deceit and falsehood the blessing, which he could not wait to receive in God's own time and way. But such unbelief, even in the smallest instances, is most sinful; and, in the instance before us, it brought the curse of God upon that whole people. Let us therefore guard against its influence on our hearts; for its suggestions are always evil, and its effects are uniformly destructive.
His conduct, when reproved for this device, leads us to consider,
II. His vindictive wrath—
A prophet was sent from Judah to reprove him—
God had decreed that the utmost indignity should be offered to the altar at Beth-el, where Jeroboam was now officiating in his own person. He had appointed the priests, and sacrifices, together with the sacred feasts, without any reference to the divine commands, having "devised them of his own heart:" and now he was warned before all the people, that the very priests who offered their sacrifices upon it, should have their own bones burnt upon it by a prince of the house of David, whose name was Josiah. Now it is remarkable that no king of the house of David had a son named Josiah, for the space of three hundred years; and that then it was a wicked 1 Kings 11:38. king who so named his son: so far was man from making any attempt to fulfill this prophecy. But God had ordained that such an one should m due time arise; and that he should execute what was now foretold: and, as a certain pledge of its ultimate accomplishment, the altar was miraculously rent in the very presence of Jeroboam, and "the ashes that were upon it were poured out verse 3, 5." This was humiliating to Jeroboam, not only on account of the indignity that should be offered to his altar, but because its being offered by one of the house of David was a pledge, that Judah should regain the ascendant, and thereby be enabled to execute the threatened judgments.
This, instead of humbling him, incensed him in the highest degree—
Instantly "he stretched out his hand to lay hold" on the prophet, determining probably to put him to death. Thus it is that the carnal heart is ever ready to rise against God. Men will insult God by every means in their power; yet, if reproved for it by a servant of the Most High, they account it an indignity, to be expiated only by the death of the offender. This was strongly exemplified in Jeremiah, and John the Baptist Jeremiah 26:7-8; Jeremiah 26:11; Matthew 14:3-5; Matthew 14:10; and indeed in every company we go into, we see the hand stretched out by wicked men against every one that dares to advocate the cause of God: Not that the servants of God are on this account to refrain from bearing their testimony against iniquity: they must do so wherever they are, without fearing the face of man, or regarding any consequences that may come upon them.
This rage of his brought on him, what we are next to consider,
III. His exemplary punishment—
God instantly smote his arm, so that he could not pull it in again to him—
On many occasions has God vindicated the cause of his afflicted people, and shown himself the avenger of their wrongs. Ahab menaced Micaiah; but God cut him off, according to Micaiah's word. Pashur smote Jeremiah, and put him in the stocks; but God "soon made him a terror to himself Jeremiah 20:2-4." In truth, God regards everything that is done against his people as done to himself. When Paul was persecuting the saints, the language of Jesus to him was, "Saul, Saul, why persecutes! you me?" We do not indeed expect that God will often interpose in the visible manner that he did in the instance before us; but he will record everything in the book of his remembrance, and requite every man according to his works. Then shall it be seen, that, however contemptible the saints may now appear, "it were better for a man to have a millstone hanged about his neck and be cast into the depths of the sea, than that he should offend one of those little ones who believe in Christ." "He who touches you," says God, "touches the apple of my eye."
Now was this proud persecutor constrained to ask for the prayers of him, whom he had just before endeavored to destroy—
Thus was Pharaoh reduced to seek the intercession of Moses: and thus are many among ourselves compelled in a season of adversity to desire the prayers of those very ministers, whom in time of prosperity they have reviled and persecuted. And happy will it be for those who find their error now, and have grace given them to repent of it: for assuredly they who will not humble themselves in this world, will be made monuments of God's wrath to all eternity.
1. Let nothing ever induce us to sin against God—
The hope of preserving his temporal interests led Jeroboam into all his sins: and similar hopes are apt to produce the like baneful influence on us. But, supposing we should succeed, what can repay us for the loss of the divine favor? To adhere with steadfastness to the path of duty is our truest wisdom. While faithfully serving God, we may safely leave events in his hands. If we suffer for well doing, we may console ourselves with this reflection, that to lose by virtue is infinitely better than to gain by sin. Our losses will be soon made up in the eternal world; but our gains will terminate in everlasting woe.
2. If we have sinned at any time, let us be thankful for reproof—
How thankful should Jeroboam have been to the prophet, who at the peril of his life declared the unalterable purpose of his God! So should all be who are reproved for sin. It is no pleasing task to denounce the judgments of God against sin or sinners: but it is necessary: and it is at the peril of his own soul, if the watchman forget to warn the citizens of their approaching danger. A necessity is laid upon God's ministers; and woe be to them, if they neglect their duty! Let reproof then be ever welcome to you; and let all watch over each other with tender love, and inflexible fidelity.
1 Kings 13:26
THE DISOBEDIENT PROPHET SLAIN
1 Kings 13:26. And when the prophet that brought him back from the way heard thereof, he said, It is the man of God, who was disobedient unto the word of the Lord: therefore the Lord has delivered him unto the lion, which has torn him, and slain him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke unto him.
IT not unfrequently happens, that they who are enabled to maintain their steadfastness in more arduous circumstances, are surprised and overcome in situations of less difficulty. Noah and Lot, while living in the midst of ungodly men, were circumspect and exemplary in the highest degree; but when freed from those restraints, and enjoying repose in the bosom of their families, they fell, and greatly dishonored their profession. The case of the disobedient prophet was not indeed to be compared with theirs in point of enormity: but, in withstanding greater temptations, and falling when his victory appeared complete, he exhibits another instance of human instability. Much indeed is to be said for him, because he was deceived: but his history affords a solemn warning unto all. In illustration of it we shall consider,
I. The character of the seducer—
Many have thought him to be a pious man: and certainly there are many features in his character which have a favorable aspect. He is called "an old prophet," which intimates that God had made use of him in revealing his will to men. He expressed a very high regard for the prophet that came out of Egypt, and, with considerable trouble to himself, sought to enjoy communion with him. Beyond a doubt he was at that time inspired of God, because he confirmed with divine authority the prediction that had been delivered, respecting the burning of men's bones on Jeroboam's altar; an event that did not take place until after the expiration of three hundred years. When he heard that the prophet whom he had deceived was dead, he went boldly, and as it were in faith, up to the very face of the lion, and took away from him the corpse, and returned with it to his own house. For the loss of so good a man he greatly mourned; and he determined to honor him to the utmost of his power. He interred his body in his own tomb; he wrote an inscription over it to commemorate his fidelity, and to record the prophecy he had delivered; (which, considering the offence it might give to Jeroboam, was no small instance of holy zeal:) and finally, he desired that his bones might be laid by the side of that pious man, to intimate, that he desired to have his portion with him at the resurrection of the just.
As to the deceit practiced by him to obtain the society of that godly man, it may be said, that, though wrong in itself, it proceeded from love, and was a kind of pious fraud, for the obtaining of a privilege he could not otherwise enjoy.
But after all, if we candidly consider the other parts of his character, we cannot but pronounce him a wicked man. For,
1. He forbore to testify against the sin of others—
That he was a prophet, there is no doubt, even as Balaam had been before him. But to what purpose was he endued with a spirit of prophecy, if not to exert himself in reproving sin, and in maintaining the cause of God in the world? Was that a time to be silent, when idolatry was being established throughout the land, and God himself was set aside as no longer worthy of men's regard? When God had set him there as a light, was he to put his light under a bushel? Should he not rather have "raised his voice on high, and shown the house of Israel their transgressions?" Yet, behold, no testimony did he bear against the reigning abominations: he was "a dumb dog that could not bark, sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber Isaiah 56:10-11." Methinks, if God had ever enjoined him to be silent, (as on some occasions he has done Ezekiel 3:26,) his experience should have accorded with that of Jeremiah, who tells us, that "God's word was in his heart as a burning fire shut up in his bones, insomuch that he was weary with forbearing, and could not stay Jeremiah 20:9." But no such feelings had he: he was content to let all go on their own way, provided he might but enjoy his ease: and therefore he was no better than an idol shepherd, against whom are denounced the heaviest woes Zechariah 11:17. The watchman that omits to give warning of the approaching enemy, and the shepherd that cares not for his flock, are among the most faulty of characters, and the most injurious of mankind Ezekiel 33:1-9; Ezekiel 34:1-10.
2. He countenanced sin in his own children—
Every parent is bound to "bring up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord:" and every good man can have that testimony from God which Abraham had, "I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord Genesis 18:19." But how did this prophet act? Did he restrain his sons? Did he insist that they should "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them Ephesians 5:11." No: when they had attended the idolatrous service, they came home and told everything to their father, assured that they should meet with no rebuke from him, nor receive at his hands any testimony of his displeasure. What pretensions then could he have to piety? Eli had reproved the impieties of his sons; yet, because he had not authoritatively interposed to prevent or punish their abominations, God visited him with a very signal judgment. How reprehensible then must this prophet have been, who both connived at, and consented to, a crime, for which he was bound by the law to put even his own children to death Deuteronomy 13:6-9. Let parents know, that if, by neglecting to "provide for their own household they deny the faith and become worse than infidels," much more must they incur the heaviest guilt by neglecting to provide for their eternal interests.
3. He even tempted another to the commission of sin—
Here his conduct was most wanton and cruel. He knew how steadfastly the man of God had resisted every temptation, and had withstood every inducement either of hope or fear; and behold, he calls falsehood to his aid, and pretends to a divine commission, in order that he may prevail to divert the holy man from his purpose, and to involve him in sin. Nor do we find that, when he was inspired to denounce the judgments of God against him for his transgression, he ever humbled himself, or implored pardon for his offence: methinks, the least he could have done would have been to intercede with God, as David did for his suffering people, "Let your hand, I pray you, be against me, and against my father's house, and not against this poor man whom I have deceived 2 Samuel 24:17;" but he felt no such compunction, notwithstanding the enormity of his offence. Unhappy he, who was thus led to offend! But unhappier far that wicked man, who cast the stumbling-block before him Matthew 18:7. He probably thought it but a light matter to deceive a person in so small a point as this: but, if to tempt a Nazarite with wine was no light sin Amos. 2:12, neither could this be light, "where the guilt of falsehood and blasphemy was superadded to that of causing his brother to offend."
The success of the seducer leads us next to contemplate,
II. The fate of the seduced—
There our proud hearts are almost ready to sit in judgment upon God. But "his ways are in the deep;" "neither gives he account of any of his matters:" and whether we discern the equity of his dispensations or not, it becomes us to silence every murmuring thought with this, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Certainly we cannot but compassionate the fate of the unhappy man, when we see him falling a victim to the divine displeasure: nevertheless we derive from it much important instruction. The judgment inflicted on him shows us,
1. That no command of God is to be trifled with—
The command not to eat bread or drink water in that place might appear small; but, however small in itself, it was sanctioned by the same authority as the greatest. That there are degrees of importance in a moral view between one command and another, is certain: but as bearing the stamp of divine authority, all are alike, and to be regarded by us with equal reverence James 2:11. Our Lord informs us, that "whoever shall break one of the least of his commandments, and teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven Matthew 5:19," or, as that expression seems to import, be the furthest from it. Accordingly we find in Scripture very heavy judgments inflicted for, what might be considered, very small offences: the man who gathered sticks upon the Sabbath-day was stoned to death by God's express command: and Uzzah, who stretched forth his hand to support the tottering ark, was "struck dead for his error." Let us therefore not presume to violate any commandment under the idea of its being but a small command, or a venial offence: for we behold in the instance before us, that God is "a jealous God," and will vindicate the honor of his insulted law.
2. That the more nearly we are related to God, the more aggravated is every sin that we commit against him—
It might have been hoped, that so small a sin, committed so inadvertently, by one who was actively engaged in God's service, might have passed unnoticed: but, on the contrary, he was punished, while the idolatry of Jeroboam, and the impiety of the old prophet, were overlooked. But God has taught us that "judgment shall begin at the house of God Ezekiel 9:6;" and that the more distinguished we have been by his unmerited favors, the more certainly shall our transgressions be visited upon us Amos. 3:2. Of this we have a most remarkable instance in the case of Moses, who for one inadvertent word was excluded from the land of Canaan; nor could any entreaties of Moses get the sentence reversed. Let us not then presume upon our relation to God, or upon the mercies we have received from him, but rather be the more fearful of offending him, in proportion to the kindness he has exercised towards us.
3. That there is a time coming, when the present inequalities of the divine dispensations shall be rectified—
The sight of such lenity exercised towards the two great offenders, and such apparent severity towards this holy man, naturally leads our minds forward to a day of future retribution, when rewards and punishments shall be dispensed with impartial justice and unerring wisdom. At present, the saints are "chastened; but it is that they may not be condemned with the world:" whereas the ungodly are in many instances unpunished; but "are reserved unto the day of judgment to be punished;" being left in the mean time to fill up the measure of their iniquities, and to "treasure up wrath against the day of wrath." Whatever therefore may now appear inexplicable to us, let us wait to have it cleared up at that day, when the whole assembled universe shall confess, "True and righteous are your judgments, Lord God Almighty Revelation 16:7."
From this subject we will take occasion to suggest some useful advice—
1. Guard against conforming to the world—
This holy prophet was forbidden to eat bread or drink water in that idolatrous land, or even to return by the way that he came into it: and this was to show the people that he would not have the smallest communion with them, or any acquaintance with their ways. The same precise conduct is not enjoined to us, nor indeed would it be practical; for then, as the Apostle says, "we must needs go out of the world." But the spirit of that conduct must be found in us: we must "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds." We are commanded to "come out of the world, and be separate, and not to touch the unclean thing:" and the reason of this injunction is assigned to us, namely, that "the believer can no more have communion with the unbeliever than light with darkness, or Christ with Belial." And our Lord constantly characterizes his followers in this way, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." Let us remember then that we are merely sent here for a little time to fulfill the particular duties assigned us, and that our home and our rest are in a better world.
2. Be careful whom you select for your acquaintance—
As we are not to select our friends from among the openly profane, so must we be careful whom we confide in even among the religious world. It is not every person that makes a profession of religion who will make a profitable companion. There are many who "have a name to live, and yet are dead;" and many "profess that they know God, but in works deny him." John cautions us well on this head: "Brethren, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; for many false prophets are gone out into the world 1 John 4:1." Had the good prophet inquired into the character of the old prophet, instead of giving implicit credit to his professions, he would not have fallen. And it is a melancholy fact, that multitudes of simple-hearted and godly Christians are essentially injured by their hypocritical associates Romans 16:18. We would earnestly advise, therefore, all young Christians to be on their guard, and to take those only for their confidential friends, whose lives they have found to correspond with their professions.
3. Let the word of God be the only rule of your conduct—
The man of God had not the same evidence for the reversal of the command, that he had for the command itself: he was wrong therefore in giving such implicit credit to a stranger, whatever his character or professions might be. And is it not wrong in us to suffer the assertions of men, whatever their general character may be, to supersede the express declarations of God himself? Who among us has not heard a thousand times from human authority, that God does not command this or that; and that such strictness is not required of us? But we have an infallible standard by which we should try every sentiment that is proposed to us: "To the law, and to the testimony: if men speak not according to this word, there is no light in them." Having "the sure testimony of God, we shall do well to take heed to it," with jealous vigilance, undeviating constancy, and unabated firmness.
1 Kings 14:13
ABIJAH'S PIETY REWARDED
1 Kings 14:13. He only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, became in him there is found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.
MEN most addicted to wickedness, or most confident in their avowal of infidelity, no sooner come into circumstances of great affliction, than they feel the weakness of their principles, and their need of other supports than any they have yet experienced. In such seasons they secretly begin to see the value of that faith and piety, which they have been accustomed to deride. No man ever appeared more confident in his iniquities than Jeroboam; yet, when he was in deep affliction on account of the dangerous illness of his son Abijah, to whom did he go? to his idols? No; he knew that "an idol was nothing in the world." Did he send for those whom he had constituted his priests? No; he expected no good whatever from them. But there was in the land a prophet of the Lord, even that very prophet, who, many years before, had been sent to declare to him his destined elevation to the throne of Israel. To him he sends in his affliction, even to him whom hitherto he had neglected and despised. But, ashamed to have his sentiments known, he will not go himself; nor will he send a servant, lest he should be betrayed: he therefore sends his wife, who, on the one hand, was as deeply concerned as himself about the issue of his son's illness; and, on the other hand, was equally concerned to preserve an appearance of consistency in his conduct: her therefore he sends in disguise, that he may at once obtain the information he desires, and prevent the discovery which he fears. Unhappy and foolish man! What favor could he expect from God, when he was seeking him in such a way; when he did not even ask for any spiritual blessing, or desire to be instructed how to obtain one, but sought merely relief from a state of painful suspense? The answer was such as he might well expect; namely, that his unparalleled iniquities should be visited on him, and on his whole family. Respecting the son about whom he was so anxious, there was some exception: all the rest should die unlamented, and be devoured by birds and beasts; but he should come to the grave, because there was in him "some good thing towards the Lord God of Israel."
We propose, in considering what is here said of young Abijah, to notice,
I. His commendation—
This appears at first sight exceeding low: and so indeed it is, if compared with a more advanced state of religion, even as an infant appears scarcely worthy of consideration, when compared with a person of mature age: but if compared, as it ought to be, with a state of spiritual death, it is really great, and worthy, if we may so speak, of the notice taken of it. Consider it,
1. As it was in itself—
The state of a natural man is that of "enmity against God Romans 8:7." Now though the state of Abijah was the lowest that could consist with real piety, yet was it worthy of commendation when compared with that. There was certainly in Abijah a disapprobation of the reigning idolatry: there was also a sincere desire after God's favor, and a secret purpose, if ever it should be in his power, to check the prevailing abominations. Less than this could not consist with sincerity of heart: and more than this does not appear to have manifested itself in him. But this involved in it a change of heart: this was a fruit of divine grace, and formed the first lineaments of the divine image on the soul: and hence it was that God so noticed and approved it.
2. As existing under his peculiar circumstances—
He was a young man, and at a time of life when contrary dispositions most generally prevail. This therefore rendered it the more pleasing to God, who, as the Father of his whole family, loves "the new-born babes" as truly, if not as ardently, as those who have attained to riper years. Besides, he was a youth of high distinction, the son of a king. Now, though "God is no respecter of persons," but loves the poor as well as the rich, yet, inasmuch as the maintenance of holy principles is far more difficult in high life than it is in a humbler sphere, he approves most eminently that, which exerts itself under circumstances of greatest difficulty. Above all, he cultivated holy principles in a family and a nation sunk in all manner of iniquity. Now to withstand such a torrent, and to exhibit even the feeblest light in a place of such gross darkness, was a most honorable distinction; and it rendered him, who in another situation would have been undeserving of notice, a proper object of God's approbation.
In this view his character is peculiarly deserving the attention of the young, and especially of those in the higher circles of life, and in places where impiety abounds: and happy will they be who have grace to seek such a distinction as his, and courage to maintain it.
Small as his stature was in grace, he, even in this world, met with,
II. His reward—
The reward bestowed on him seems, like his attainments, of little value; for, as the body is insensible after death, and the soul is unconscious either of the honors that may be paid to the mortal frame, or the indignities it may suffer, it seems to signify very little, whether our body be committed to the grave, or be devoured by beasts. But there is in all of us a desire to have the customary respect paid to our body, after the departure of the soul from it: and, if we knew beforehand that after death it would be treated with all manner of indignities, we should feel life itself considerably embittered to us: we may therefore regard the distinction conferred on young Abijah, as of great value; more especially as it was intended to express the divine approbation of him, in opposition to the displeasure exercised towards his offending family. In this, at all events, it was of great use, in that it served to show,
1. That God loves piety wherever he beholds it—
God himself is not only holy, but "The Holy One;" and wherever he beholds his own image, he delights in it. There is not a grace without some appropriate expression of God's high regard for it. The poor, the meek, the contrite have all their peculiar promises, and are represented as possessing "ornaments, which in the sight of God are of great price": and such is the estimation in which he beholds these dispositions, that he looks with peculiar delight upon every person in whom they are found; nor can all the glorious angels around his throne divert his attention from them; yes rather, the angels themselves participate the pleasure, and derive new joys, even in the very presence of their God, from such a sight Isaiah 66:2; Luke 15:10.
2. That he will reward it, wherever it is found in the lowest degree—
When God himself asks, "Who has despised the day of small things Zechariah 4:10." we may be sure that he himself does not. The smallest gift to a person for his sake, even "a cup of cold water, shall not lose its reward." In like manner the silent thoughts of the heart are noticed by him with a view to their ultimate reward. The prophet tells us that not only they who spoke one to another, but they also "who thought upon his name," had their thoughts recorded in the "book of his remembrance, and were to be his, in the day that he should count up his jewels Malachi 3:16-17." Nor can we doubt but that David's desire to build the temple was as much accepted of God, and as liberally rewarded also, as was the actual raising of the edifice by Solomon.
1. Those in whom there is no good thing towards the Lord God of Israel—
Jeroboam's family bore the name of Israelites, as we do of Christians; yet was there only one among them that had any good thing in him. And is not this the state of many individuals at least, if not of families, among us? How many are there who feel no concern about the iniquities of the land, no desire after God in their own souls, and no purpose ever to exert themselves in his sacred cause!: What then can such persons expect at the hands of God? What, but to be made monuments of his heavy displeasure? O that we would consider what his Prophets and Apostles have spoken respecting such characters, and that we would seek for mercy before it be too late!
2. Those in whom it is doubtful whether there be any good thing or not—
There frequently are found some transient motions in the heart, like those in the stony-ground hearers, which yet are not regarded by God as good, because they have no solid principle as their foundation. And from hence arises a considerable difficulty in judging of our real state: our self-love is apt to flatter and deceive us. But let us remember that God "searches the heart and tries the reins:" he "discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart:" yes, he "weighs the spirits," and that too with such exactness as enables him to ascertain with infallible certainty whether there be in them the smallest measure of solid good. Let us fear lest we deceive our own souls, and lest, after all our favorable appearances, "our religion at last be found vain James 1:26." It is "by the fruits alone that the tree can be known," and that we can ascertain with comfort to ourselves, that "the root of the matter is found in us Job 19:28."
3. Those in whom there is evidently some good thing—
Rejoice, and give glory to "God, who has begun a good work in you." But do not rest satisfied with any attainments. Have you reason to hope that you are "as new-born babes?" then "desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby." Wherein soever you have hitherto done well, seek to "abound more and more:" and let it be your daily endeavor so to "grow up into Christ in all things as your living Head," that you may "come to a perfect man," even to "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
1 Kings 17:15-16
ELIJAH AND THE WIDOW OF SAREPTA
1 Kings 17:15-16. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Elijah.
MUCH as temporal calamities are to be dreaded and deprecated, there are occasions whereon a pious man may desire, and even pray for, the infliction of them upon his fellow-creatures. As Paul "delivered an offender unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus," so we may wish for some divine interposition to arrest sinners in their course, and to bring them to a sense of their guilt and danger. It was in this view that Elijah prayed for a famine that should correct and reclaim the whole nation of Israel: and, when he had obtained from God an assurance that the judgment should be inflicted upon them, and never be reversed but in answer to his prayers, he boldly warned Ahab of the impending calamity, advertising him for what end it would be sent, and how it was to be improved for the nation's good Compare verse 1 with James 5:17-18. As for himself, in obedience to the divine direction, he retired to the brook Cherith, and was for a long time supported there by ravens, which brought him bread and meat regularly twice a day: and, when that brook was dried up, he went to Zarephath, or Sarepta, which belonged to Sidon, and was there nourished by a widow woman, whom God had appointed to sustain him. Thus, while the iniquities of the nation were severely punished, the care which God takes of his obedient servants was the more signally manifested.
The account given us of his abode with the Sidonian widow is very interesting, inasmuch as it displays the unbounded goodness of God to her in return for her kindness towards his faithful servant. Let us consider,
I. Her work—
Elijah going, as he was commanded, to the city of Zarephath, found the widow gathering a few sticks for the purpose of dressing the last remnant of provision that remained to her for herself and her son: and after soliciting a draught of water, he requested her to give him a morsel of bread. This led to a disclosure of the circumstances in which she was: but he assured her, that she need not fear; for that God would so multiply her little store, that it should never be exhausted until after the famine should have ceased. On this occasion we behold,
1. The extent of her liberality—
Having but a sufficiency for a single meal for herself and her son, and having no prospect whatever of obtaining from man any further supply, she imparted to this stranger a portion of her provision, and dressed it with her own hands on purpose for him. Perhaps since the foundation of the world there never was so striking an illustration of the character given many centuries afterwards to the Macedonian churches; of whom it is said, that, "in a great trial of affliction, their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality 2 Corinthians 8:2." We admire, and justly too, the astonishing liberality of the widow in the Gospel, who, possessing only two mites, cast them both into the treasury: but great as that was, it by no means equaled that which is recorded in our text: for the widow who gave her two mites, had herself only to support; whereas the other widow had a son also: and, though the widow with her two mites knew not where to obtain more, yet there was no general pressure at that time and place; so that her neighbors, if willing, were able to supply her wants; whereas the other widow was surrounded by those only who were involved in the same calamity with herself; and consequently could hope for no relief whatever; since, however her neighbors might have the inclination, they had not the ability, to relieve her. Well therefore may this act of the Sidonian widow be "published, (as that of the Jewish widow is,) through the whole world, as a memorial of her."
2. The strength of her faith—
Though a Gentile woman, she may well be called a daughter of Abraham; for she very closely walked in the steps of Abraham Romans 4:12. The declaration made to her as from God was made by a perfect stranger, and was unsupported by any miracle; yet was it made the ground of action by her without a moment's hesitation: we may say of her therefore, as of Abraham, She "staggered not at the promises of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded, that what He had promised, he was able to perform Romans 4:20-21."
Let us now contemplate,
II. Her reward—
Richly was she repaid for this act of faith and love—
"Her barrel of meal wasted not, nor did her cruse of oil fail," for the space of two years, during which time the prophet and herself and family were supported by them. We behold in the common course of providence, seed producing "thirty, sixty, and even an hundred-fold:" but never was there seen, either before or since, such an harvest as this. But truly, if "God is known by the judgments that he executes," so is he also by the gifts that he bestows. He has said, that "what we give to the poor, we lend unto the Lord; and that whatever we lay out, he will repay us again:" but, in the instance before us, "the handful of corn sprang up as the woods of Lebanon."
This fitly represents what shall be done in the eternal world—
There will be a proportion between the works of men and their reward, so far, that the more we have done for the Lord the more we shall receive from him, reaping sparingly or bountifully according as we have sown 2 Corinthians 9:6. But what proportion exists between any work of ours, and the lowest reward that can be conferred in Heaven? Surely none: a whole life spent in the service of God is nothing when compared with, an eternity of bliss. We need not however doubt on this account the certainty of God's promises; but rather may enlarge our expectations to the utmost extent of them, assured, that in the accomplishment of them our most sanguine hopes shall be more than realized.
But let us never forget what it is that God has promised to reward; it is the obedience of faith. Had the widow bargained, as it were, to receive a recompense for her provisions, she never could have hoped for such a return as she received: but when she gave freely for the Lord's sake, and cast herself wholly upon him, then God esteemed nothing too great to confer upon her. So, if we would purchase Heaven by our works, we shall in vain look for such blessedness: but if in a way of holy self-denial we will consecrate all that we are and have unto the Lord, for the exalting of his name, then will God load us with his richest benefits both in time and in eternity.
Let not any one say, "This mercy may be shown to others, but not to me:" for God is sovereign in the distribution of his gifts; and, if he has already given us a desire to serve him, he will infallibly recompense our services in a better world. The widow of Sarepta was a Gentile: yet, as our Lord told the Jews, was Elijah sent to her, while all the widows that were in Israel were passed by Luke 4:25-26. In like manner may God send his blessings to us, however far we are off from him; yes he may send them to us in preference to those who appear more likely to obtain them. This to a proud Pharisee is an offensive truth Luke 4:28-29; but to a humble penitent it is replete with comfort. Let us only attend to his word, and it shall be well with us: "Believe in the Lord, so shall you be established; believe his prophets, so shall you prosper 2 Chronicles 20:20."
1 Kings 17:22-23
THE WIDOW'S SON RAISED BY ELIJAH
1 Kings 17:22-23. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, your son lives.
THOUGH God was pleased to separate for himself a peculiar people, to whom alone he communicated the knowledge of his will, he gave frequent intimations to them, that his mercy should in due time be extended unto the Gentiles also. The history of the Sidonian widow was particularly noticed in that view by our Lord himself. In his first sermon at Nazareth, he warned the Jews, that they must not rest in their outward privileges, since, if they walked unworthy of them, God would again, as he had frequently done before, transfer to the Gentiles those blessings to which they foolishly supposed themselves exclusively entitled Luke 4:25-27. The peculiar mercy referred to by him is that which we have already considered, the feeding of her by miracle during the years of famine, while no such mercy was granted to any widow in Israel. But in our text we are informed of another mercy which she received, and which was the first of the kind that was ever given to any child of man, namely, the restoring of her son to life. In bringing this part of her history before you, we shall distinctly notice,
I. Her trouble—
She had lost her son, her only son. This was a very heavy affliction to her: it would be so to any parent; but it was more especially so to her, because she had previously been reduced to widowhood, and therefore had none to be the support and comfort of her declining years. In him all her affections were centered, and with him all her hopes were destroyed. But the affliction was the heavier, because,
1. It was unexpected—
Two years before, when she thought her child near to death, she spoke of it with the most perfect composure verse 12; but now her distress and sorrow were exceeding great: on the former occasion she saw her little provision gradually consuming, and death advancing with rapid strides; and therefore her mind was prepared for the event: but here the event was so sudden that she had not time even to go to the prophet, and desire his intercessions in her behalf: hence the stroke was almost insupportable; and made her even reflect upon the prophet, as though he had occasioned her calamity.
2. It was singular—
Had the calamity been general, she had found some consolation in the thought that she suffered nothing but what was common to those around her. We doubt not but that this consideration rendered the famine more supportable to each individual than it would have been if the calamity had been peculiar to himself. In like manner, if she had found many other widows despoiled of their children like herself, her sympathy with others would have lessened her grief on her own account. But no such consolatory thought was left for her: she seemed to be singled out to bear her burden alone.
3. It was, in her apprehension, penal—
This adds a ten-fold weight to any calamity which we are called to suffer: the wrath of God is the bitterest ingredient that can be infused into any cup. Hence was her grief so different from that which she had manifested on the former occasion: she regarded her calamity as a judgment sent from God. She knew that the famine had been sent for the wickedness of Israel, in answer to Elijah's prayers; she thought therefore that this affliction had been sent to her by the same means, and on the same account, namely, for some transgressions she had committed previous to his visit, or for some which he had seen during his continuance with her. And here we may observe, that this is a view in which afflictions readily appear to a humble mind. A person truly humbled, is jealous of himself, and apt to fear that he has offended God: and while an affliction regarded as a paternal chastisement, would be borne by him with grateful submission, the same, as a vindictive judgment, would utterly overwhelm him. To this consideration chiefly we ascribe the impatience that was manifested in the widow's address to the prophet on this occasion: she spoke, not the result of her deliberate judgment, but the hasty dictate of an oppressed mind.
Let us now turn our attention to,
II. Her deliverance—
The prophet, animated by the highest and best of principles, overlooked her unjust reflections; and, filled with tenderest sympathy, took the child out of her bosom, and carried it to his chamber, and laid it on his own bed, and, as though he would have infused life into him out of his own body, thrice stretched himself upon the corpse; and, after crying earnestly to the Lord in behalf of the child, restored him back again to the mother a living child. This was a wonderful deliverance to the afflicted mother: let us notice,
1. How it was wrought—
It were absurd to imagine, though some have been guilty of the absurdity, that the animal warmth of the prophet had any efficacy towards restoring a dead corpse to life: it was by prayer alone that he prevailed. He begins with a humble expostulation with the Deity; not as though he thought the stroke unjust, but as fearing lest the enemies of Jehovah should take occasion from it to represent him as a hard master, whom it was in vain, and even dangerous, to serve. Such was the expostulation which Moses offered, when God had threatened to destroy the whole Jewish nation Numbers 14:13-16; and no doubt, when dictated solely by a concern for the honor of the Deity, it is highly pleasing unto God; as its prevalence on this occasion fully proved. Next, he offers a petition, such as never had been before offered: "O Lord, my God, I pray you, let this child's soul come into him again!" What a wonderful petition! How presumptuous does it at first sight appear! But it is our misfortune and our fault that we are not more enlarged in our petitions at the throne of grace. I mean not to say, that we are authorized to ask for such an exertion of Omnipotence as this; but this I say, that "we are not straitened in God, but are straitened in our own affections;" and that that is the true reason of our receiving so little from God. However "wide we might open our mouths, God would fill them," provided we asked in faith, and according to his will. Great as the petition was, God answered it in its utmost extent, and enabled the prophet to present to the widow her child restored to life.
2. How it was received—
We may in some measure conceive the joy that would pervade the minds both of him who had obtained the blessing, and of her who received it. But the effect which the deliverance produced in enlarging her knowledge and confirming her faith, is that which particularly calls for our attention. Her trial had so discomposed her mind as for a moment to shake her faith in God. 'How can this be the true God, who, after all his mercies to me, afflicts me thus? and how can this be a man of God, who makes me such a recompense for all my attention to him?' Nor let us wonder that a poor Gentile was thus shaken in her faith, when a similar effect was produced by an unexpected trial on one of the most distinguished servants of the Lord. Joshua, on the discomfiture of Israel before Ai, and the loss of about six and thirty men, actually expressed more than this poor widow even ventured to imagine Joshua 7:7-9. Indeed this is the common fruit of affliction on our impatient minds: we are ready to ask, "Is the Lord among us, or not Exodus 17:7." But the manifestation of God's power and mercy dispelled the cloud, and led her to confess him as a gracious and faithful God. This was the effect produced on Moses after the passage of Israel through the Red Sea Exodus 15:11; and it is the proper effect to be produced on all.
Let us learn then from this history,
1. How to interpret providences—
We are apt to listen to sense rather than to faith, and to say, "All these things are against me." But how can they be really against us, when God has promised, that all things shall work together for our good. Against us they may be in some points of view; but they shall be for us on the whole. With what abundant benefit did this widow receive her child again! It is needless to repeat the benefits which Jacob ultimately received from the dispensation which he regarded as so calamitous. You all "know also the end of the Lord" in reference to Job, how abundantly his happiness was increased after his afflictions James 5:11. It may be that your temporal happiness may not be increased; but the loss of it shall be more than counterbalanced by your spiritual prosperity. What our Lord said respecting Lazarus, may be justly applied to every afflictive dispensation; "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby John 11:4;" and the reproof which our Lord afterwards gave to Martha, may justly be given to most of us; "Said I not unto you, that, if you would believe, you should see the glory of God John 11:40." Let us learn to regard afflictions as blessings in disguise; and let it be our endeavor to walk more by faith and less by sight; according to that direction of the prophet, "Who is among you that fears the Lord, that obeys the voice of his servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God Isaiah 50:10." If the dispensation be impenetrably dark, let it then suffice us to know, that "what we know not now, we shall know hereafter."
2. How to improve them—
Every leaf in the book of providence is full of instruction respecting the perfections of our God. O what might we not learn of his wisdom, his power, his love, his faithfulness, if we were observant of his dispensations towards us? Many a time should we exclaim with the widow, "Now I know that his word is true;" I do not take it upon trust; I see it, I know it; and am ready to attest it before the whole universe. This is the kind of evidence which Job had, when he said, "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you." A small measure of such experience as this is of unbounded value. If it were only for our own comfort, we should cultivate it to the uttermost; but it is of unspeakable benefit to those around us, inasmuch as it encourages them also to trust in God. See how David represents this when emerging out of temporal affliction; "Many shall see it," says he, "and fear, and shall trust in the Lord Psalm 40:1-4;" and again, when brought up from the depths of spiritual trouble; "For this shall every one that is godly pray unto you in a time when you may be found Psalm 32:3-6." The knowledge which we have of God and of Christ is mere theory, until we have learned the same by our own personal experience; but when our faith is confirmed by actual experience, then it is as convincing as sight itself. O that we may all aspire after this knowledge, and improve every dispensation for the attainment of it! then will it be to us a source of unclouded peace, and prepare us for that blessed place, where faith shall be lost in sight, and hope in enjoyment
1 Kings 18:12
OBADIAH'S EARLY PIETY
1 Kings 18:12. I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth.
IT is comfortable to reflect, that in the worst of times there are some who fear God, and that the state of religion is rarely so bad as it appears. The days of Ahab were peculiarly unfavorable to the existence of real piety in Israel: for, in addition to that king's personal aversion to everything that was good, he was stirred up by Jezebel his wife to destroy every prophet in the land: and so bitter was he against Elijah in particular, that he sought him in all the adjacent countries, and even exacted an oath of their governors that they could not find him. But in the midst of all this wickedness, there was one even of Ahab's household, and he "the governor of his house," who retained his integrity, and used all his influence to protect the servants of the Lord. This man, constrained in vindication of his own character to bear testimony to himself, was enabled to declare to the Prophet Elijah, "I your servant fear the Lord from my youth."
In considering the subject of early piety, we shall notice,
I. Wherein it should consist—
We would not on any account disparage devotional feelings: but we must entertain some jealousy respecting them as a criterion of early piety. We know their immense value; but we know also how susceptible of strong impressions the youthful mind is, on whatever subject it is occupied: and that the characteristic mark of a very numerous set of unprofitable hearers is, that "anon they receive the word with joy." We must therefore look for some better and safer test of piety than this.
Nor would we by any means undervalue a clear knowledge of the Gospel. A view of ourselves as sinful creatures, altogether helpless and hopeless in ourselves, and a view of Christ as the only and all-sufficient Savior of the world, and an habitual consciousness that we must receive everything out of his fullness, all this, I say, is absolutely essential to the Christian character: but then it may all exist in the mind as a theory, without entering into the heart as a principle of life. Not only do the thorny-ground hearers evince this melancholy truth, but daily observation and experience compel us to acknowledge it.
There is however a test which is subject to no such uncertainties, namely, "the fear of God." By this we mean a reverential awe of the Divine Majesty, a dread of offending him, and a determination through grace to obey every one of his commandments: This must be an abiding principle in the soul, operating as forcibly upon us in our most secret actions, as the presence of a fellow-creature would in reference to anything which would expose us to universal execration.
Let it not however be supposed that we are now speaking of a slavish fear, arising from an apprehension of God's judgments: we speak of a filial fear, which is excited as much by a sense of "his goodness," as by a dread of his displeasure. And it is remarkable, that, when the Prophet Hosea foretold the piety that should reign under the gospel dispensation, and in the millennial period, he characterized it in the very way that we have now done: "They shall seek the Lord, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days Hosea 3:5."
That we may be led to cultivate piety in early life, let us consider,
II. The great advantages of it—
"Godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come:" and the earlier it is acquired, the more will its inestimable value appear. Consider its use,
1. To the person who possesses it—
When religion has acquired a just ascendant over a young person, it will determine his connections; (he will not be unequally yoked with unbelievers as friends, and much less in that relation of life which death only can dissolve:) it will also form his habits, leading him to the study of the Holy Scriptures, to constant prayer, to holy watchfulness and self-denial, and to a conscientious regard for God in everything that he does: It will also facilitate his attainments: it is scarcely to be conceived what difficulties they have to struggle with through life, who have spent their early days in sensual indulgences: but those who have been early trained in the exercise of self-denial are enabled with comparative ease to restrain forbidden appetites, and to mortify unhallowed affections. Not that a life of holiness is easy to any one: it is a constant warfare, as long as we continue in the body: but the more we exercise ourselves in it, the more effectual will our efforts be, and the more certain our victory.
2. To the world around us—
Early piety attracts particular attention, and produces great effects, in encouraging the young, and in putting to shame the old. Only compare the benefits which the world receives from one who has the fear of God in his heart, with the evils it derives from one who lives, as it were, "without God:" how many are instructed, and comforted, and edified by the one, while multitudes have reason to curse the day that ever they beheld the other! It is truly said by Solomon, that "one sinner destroys much good." Yes, one sinner encourages and hardens many others in their iniquities, and places a stumbling-block in the way of all who desire to return to God: and, if he afterward have repentance given him from the Lord, he would in vain attempt to undo a thousandth part of the evil that he has done: many of his former associates in iniquity cannot be found; many are gone into the eternal world beyond a possibility of redemption; and if he were to warn all those to whom he could get access, the greater part of them would only laugh at him, and think him mad. All these distressing consequences of iniquity are avoided by him who devotes his early years to the service of his God: and perhaps, instead of having to reflect on the ruin that he has brought on others, he will find many in the day of judgment to whom his words and his example have been a source of good.
What may be done by a single person even under the most unfavorable circumstances, we see in Obadiah: no less than an hundred of the Lord's prophets did he conceal and nourish at his own expense, and at the risk of his own life; when, without his interposition, they would all have been put to death. And though we may never be in a capacity to render such a public service to the Church of God, we may be the means of keeping many from destruction, and of saving their souls alive.
1. Those who are fearing God in their youth—
We rejoice that there are many Obadiahs among us, and perhaps some Timothys also, who even "from their childhood have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make them wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus." Happy people, and greatly to be envied, in thus consecrating to the Lord "the first-fruits" of your days! Regard not then the scoffs and ridicule of those who have no fear of God before their eyes. The day is coming when they will reproach themselves more than ever they reproached you, and applaud your choice far more than ever they condemned it.
2. Those who have lost their youth without having yet obtained the fear of God—
Ah! what have you lost! But blessed be God that you have not yet been given up to final condemnation. O listen to the voice of God, who says to you, "Today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." Learn to improve the present hour, for you know not how soon your day of grace may terminate, and all possibility of salvation be cut off forever.
1 Kings 18:21
DECISION OF CHARACTER
1 Kings 18:21. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt you between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.
IF a heathen should visit this country in order to ascertain what our religion was, and whether it was such as it became him to embrace, he would be altogether at a loss what judgment to form respecting it. From what he saw and heard in our churches, he would form a most favorable conclusion: he would say, Those people worship one God: they approach him through one Mediator, who died for them on a cross, and now lives to make intercession for them in Heaven: they receive from God a divine almighty Agent, whom they call the Holy Spirit; through whose gracious operations they are enabled to turn from sin, and to walk in the ways of righteousness and true holiness. They are certainly a holy people; for from time to time they entreat of God that they may be enabled to live a righteous, sober, and godly life, to the glory of his holy name. But if he followed us home to our houses, he would begin to doubt whether we had any religion at all among us. He would find no worship of God in our families; perhaps none, or at best a mere formal worship, in our closets: he would hear nothing about religion in our daily conversation: he would see nothing in our conduct that would distinguish us from the better sort of heathens, and much that the more decent heathens would be ashamed of. He would therefore conclude, that we had no fixed opinion about religion at all; that we did not believe our own creed; and that we thought people would be as happy without any religion, as even Christianity itself could make them.
Such was the state of Israel of old, except that there was an outward idolatry established among them, whereas the idols which we worship have their temples only in the heart. To bring the Jewish nation to a more consistent state, the Prophet Elijah expostulated with them in the passage before us; and, for their conviction, proposed to put it to the trial, whether Baal or Jehovah were the true God.
We do not intend to consider the text as connected with the history, because we reserve the history for a distinct DISCOURSE we propose at present to illustrate and recommend decision of character.
Now decision of character ought to show itself,
I. In our sentiments—
To form our opinions strongly upon doubtful points, or without sufficient evidence, is no part of that character which we wish to recommend: on the contrary, we would advise all to examine carefully every sentiment before they embrace it, and, when they have "proved all things, then to hold fast that only which is good." But
The sentiments which we profess to hold, are not doubtful—
As members of the Established Church, we hold that "there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all." We hold also, that "all who worship this God, must worship him in spirit and in truth;" and that it is not a mere bodily service that he requires, but the service of the heart, and the entire devotion of the soul. Respecting these two points, the proper object of our service, and the service which we are required to render him, we apprehend there can be no doubt at all. Whether we consult the precepts of the Gospel, or look at the examples of the holy Apostles, the matter is equally clear; we can have no doubt but that it is both our duty and our privilege to serve God, yes to serve him with our whole hearts.
On these things therefore our minds should be fixed and decided—
If we consult the opinions of those around us, we shall be continually wavering in our judgment. But it is not from the vain conjectures of men that we are to form our sentiments: let men speak as they will respecting the propriety of serving Mammon, and of being satisfied with mere forms of godliness; let them agree to call everything else by the odious terms of fanaticism or hypocrisy; our judgment must not be in the least altered, unless they will undertake to convince us from the Holy Scriptures. The word of God is the only standard of true doctrine; and to it we must adhere, though the whole universe should oppose us. The number of Baal's prophets gave them no advantage with respect to truth; nor were Elijah's sentiments the more questionable, because he alone was found openly to maintain them: truth is the same, whether maintained by many or by few: and when we know what is truth, we should suffer no considerations whatever to invalidate its force, or to obstruct its influence.
But decision of character must show itself also,
II. In our conduct—
The only use of right sentiments is to regulate our conduct. When therefore we are convinced that there is a God who has a right to all the love of our hearts, and the service of our lives, we should then set ourselves to serve him,
1. With ardor—
Lukewarmness is but ill suited to the service of our God. "We might as well be altogether cold, as neither cold nor hot." We should be "fervent in spirit, while we serve the Lord." Do we pray to God? we should "pour out our souls before him." Do we render thanks? we should call forth "all that is within us to bless his holy name." "Whatever our hand finds to do, we should do it with our might." The people who contended in the games, whether they ran, or wrestled, or fought, should be just representations of us: yes, inasmuch as our contests are more important than theirs, our exertions should be proportionably greater.
2. With fortitude—
No man can engage heartily in the Lord's service without finding much to try his courage. To be a thorough Christian, especially in some circumstances, requires as much intrepidity as to face an armed host. Many thousands there are, who could brave death on a field of battle, who yet could not endure scorn and contempt from an ungodly world. But in whatever way we may suffer persecution for righteousness' sake, we should be ready to meet it: instead of being intimidated by the cross, we should rejoice and glory in it; and account death itself, in such a cause, to be rather an object of ambition than of dread. If only we be convinced that the Lord is God, we should serve him without the smallest concern about the consequences which such conduct may bring upon us.
3. With perseverance—
We are as much in danger of drawing back through weakness, as of being turned aside by fear. There are many who have suffered much for the cause of Christ, who yet become "weary in well-doing." But we must never think that we have attained anything, as long as anything remains to be attained. We must "forget what is behind, and reach forward to that which is before." We must engage in the service of our God, not for a season only, but for life: and as long as life lasts, our motto must be, "This one thing I do." "If we put our hands to the plough, and look back, we are not fit for the kingdom of Heaven."
To recommend this decision of character to all who are journeying towards Heaven, we observe, it is,
1. The easiest way—
We know it is not easy to attain such a fixedness of mind and purpose: but, when we have attained it, our way is rendered far easier than when we are halting between two opinions or two courses Matthew 6:22-24. The man who has not a fixed principle is doubting and hesitating, every step he takes: but he who inquires simply, What is duty? and, What does my God require of me? has a plain path before him, and has nothing to do but to "walk in it."
2. The safest way—
When a man is desirous of going to the utmost verge of what is lawful, and of conforming to the world as far as will consist with a hope of final salvation, he must often stand on very slippery ground; and it must be a miracle indeed if he do not one day fall. But he who, with a noble contempt of earthly things, is enabled to seek only what shall be most conducive to his spiritual welfare, stands at a distance from temptation, and, by "walking uprightly, walks surely James 1:8; 2 Peter 1:10."
3. The happiest way—
Any deviation from the path of duty must of necessity weaken the testimony which conscience might give respecting the rectitude of our minds: and it is certain that God will not grant the witness of his Spirit to those whose hearts are not right with him. These sources of happiness therefore must be closed to those who are not of a fixed decided character. Indeed such persons have very little comfort in anything: their regard for God prevents their full enjoyment of the world; and their love of the world renders it impossible for them to find any real delight in God. Their prospects of future happiness too are by no means cheering to their souls: for they have reason to fear, that God will not accept the service of a divided heart. On the contrary, the man "who follows the Lord fully," enjoys now that peace of God which passes all understanding, and looks forward with confidence to that day, when he shall receive the plaudits of his Divine Master 1 John 3:20-21.
In every view, therefore, decision of character is most desirable: and it is better to maintain a holy firmness with Elijah, though we be opposed by the whole world, than to halt between two opinions, or to be attempting to reconcile the inconsistent services of God and Mammon.
1 Kings 18:24
ELIJAH'S CHALLENGE TO THE PROPHETS OF BAAL
1 Kings 18:24. Call you on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answers by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
UNBOUNDED is the dominion which God exercises over the minds of men: "the hearts of kings are in his hands, and he turns them wherever he will." The heart of Ahab was exasperated against Elijah in the highest degree; insomuch that he sought him not only throughout his own kingdom, but through all the neighboring kingdoms, in order that he might wreak his vengeance upon him. Yet, behold, now Elijah presents himself before him; and the hands of the infuriated monarch are tied; yes, the prophet sends him word that he is coming to meet him; and yet the king, who might have had a band of soldiers at his command, uses no means whatever to apprehend him. Moreover Elijah retorts upon him his injurious accusation, and tells him plainly, that he was "the troubler of Israel, by forsaking the Lord and following Baalim:" nay more, he enjoins the king to summon all the prophets of Baal to meet him at Mount Carmel; and the king obeys the mandate, as if he had been the subject, and Elijah the sovereign. When they were convened, the prophet appears in the midst of them all, unprotected and alone; yet can neither the king, nor the people, put forth a hand to touch him; so awed were they and restrained by the invisible agency of Jehovah.
I. The challenge which Elijah gave the worshipers of Baal on this occasion, is the first point to which we shall call your attention—
Neither Ahab nor his prophets would submit to the declarations of God's word: of course, any appeal to the Mosaic writings would have been in vain. But the claims of Baal and of Jehovah might be tried by an appeal to miracles: to them therefore, doubtless by divine direction, he makes his appeal; and proposes, that "the God who should answer by fire," should be acknowledged as the true and only God. Mark,
1. The test proposed—
No proposal could have been more wise than this. By such a test as this, the matter might be decided without giving any undue advantage to the worshipers of Baal. On their side were the king, the court, the prophets; so that, if anything could have been effected by means of a confederacy, no doubt they would have strained every nerve to gain their point: and he, being alone, would have been borne down, as it were, by the popular current: but here was no scope for fraud; no contrivances of theirs could counterfeit the sign proposed; nor could any doubt remain on the minds of the spectators when the sign itself should really appear.
Nor could any proposal be more equitable. The very idea of a God supposes, that he is one who can vindicate his own honor, and maintain his own authority; and that he will do so when a just occasion calls for it. When therefore the point at issue between Jehovah and Baal was to be settled for the satisfaction of the whole world, it was reasonable that there should be some display of omnipotence resorted to as the means of establishing their respective claims.
Of all tests that could have been devised, none could be more decisive than that proposed. Omnipotence alone could so control the elements, as to send down fire at the request of man. Satan indeed is called "the prince of the power of the air;" and on some occasions he has agitated the elements in a tremendous way. But his power is limited; and he can exert it only when, and as far as, God sees fit to suffer him. Could he have produced the sign in favor of Baal, doubtless he would have been glad to do so: but God's own character was at stake; and no such permission could be given him.
2. The issue of the trial—
The worshipers of Baal prepared their sacrifice, and continued from morning to mid-day imploring from Baal the proposed evidence of his divinity. No answer coming to them, Elijah taunted them, and ridiculed their vain hopes: But they did not yet despair; yes rather, they renewed their application to Baal with redoubled earnestness, leaping upon, or around, his altar, and cutting themselves with knives and lancets, to mix their own blood with that of their sacrifice. But all their efforts were in vain: no voice, no answer came; and Baal was proved an impotent and senseless idol.
At the time of the evening sacrifice, the very hour when the sacrifice was offered at Jerusalem, Elijah repaired an altar of the Lord, which had been broken down, and laid the bullock upon it in order, and, to show that there was no collusion on his part, poured water in great abundance on the sacrifice, and on the wood, and filled with water also the trench that was round about the altar, and then made his supplication to his God, imploring from him the appointed sign, for the establishment of his own honor, and for the conversion of the people's souls. Instantly God answered in the appointed way; "a fire came down from Heaven, and consumed not only the sacrifice and the wood, but the very stones of the altar; and licked up the water that was in the trench."
No doubt now remained. The people in the first instance had approved the proposed method of determining the point; and now "they fell upon their faces, and exclaimed, The Lord, He is the God! the Lord, He is the God!"
Thus we see the triumphant issue of the contest, and the indisputable right of Jehovah to the worship and service of the whole world.
II. We now propose to give a similar challenge to all who worship the idols of their own hearts—
That all men are by nature idolaters is certain; for they all without exception "worship and serve the creature more than the Creator Romans 1:25." The prophet speaks of men "setting up idols in their own hearts;" and what those idols are, we are at no loss to declare; they are "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life".
Now we have before established the principle, that the right of any Being to our worship ought to be judged of by his power to benefit those who devote themselves to him. Even the worshipers of Baal acknowledged the equity of this saying in reference to it, "It is well spoken." Let us then examine the claims of the world, and of Jehovah, by this test. Which of them ever has "answered by fire," or ever imparted spiritual blessings to his worshipers? Which can communicate the blessing
1. Of light?
Behold the votaries of the world; What insight have they ever gained into any one spiritual truth? What do even the most learned among them know of the evil of sin, the beauty of holiness, the glory of Christ, or of a thousand other subjects connected with the spiritual life? Is it not found a truth, that "the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned 1 Corinthians 2:14.".
On the other hand, is it not found, that the followers of Christ have the "eyes of their understanding enlightened;" and that "the things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man to conceive, are revealed unto them by the Spirit 1 Corinthians 2:9-10." Yes, it is as true at this day, as it was in the hour when our Lord himself declared it, that "God has hid these things from the wise and prudent, and has revealed them unto babes; even so, because it seems good in his sight Matthew 11:25-26." He can have very little knowledge of the Christian world who is not acquainted with innumerable instances, wherein this assertion of our Lord is verified.
2. Of strength?
What lust have the votaries of the world been ever able to subdue? All, it is true, are not equally enslaved; but all are slaves to sin and Satan, though they do not all serve him in precisely the same way: as children of disobedience, they are under him as their God Ephesians 2:2; nor do any "recover themselves out of his toils, until Jehovah gives them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth 2 Timothy 2:26.": Indeed the people of the world themselves confess this; for, when urged to walk according to the commandments of God, they do not hesitate to vindicate their disobedience by saying, that the obedience required of them is impracticable.
But does not our blessed Lord and Savior communicate strength to his followers, so that they are enabled to "over-come the world," to "mortify the flesh," and to "bruise even Satan himself under their feet?" Yes, there is armor provided for them, through the proper use of which they are made victorious over all their enemies; "nor does any sin retain its dominion over them": They do indeed often cry, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of sin and death?" but they may always add, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
3. Of peace?
The voice of inspiration has plainly told us, that "there is no peace to the wicked." Their consciences indeed are often stupefied, and even "seared as with a hot iron," so that they are altogether insensible of their state: and this insensibility is often mistaken for peace: but the votaries of this world are strangers to that delightful feeling which results from a sense of acceptance with God, and an assured hope of dwelling with him forever.
But the follower of Christ has "a peace that passes all understanding." "Being justified by faith, he has peace with God," together with a "joy unspeakable and glorified." This peace he has even when all his guilt is most present to his mind, and when death and judgment appear close at hand; because "he knows in whom he has believed," and is assured, that "there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." Hence he determinately obeys that injunction, "You shall know no God but me: for there is no Savior besides me Hosea 13:4."
Such are, in some little measure, the grounds on which we may decide between God and the world. We beg leave then to put to this whole assembly the following Questions;—
1. What is your judgment?
Which has the better title to your love and service,—the world, or God? If "God be a wilderness to Israel," or, if the world can do more for you than He, then we are content that the world shall be your God, and that Jehovah shall hold an inferior place in your esteem: but if God is a fountain of living waters, and the whole creation be only as broken cisterns, then we call upon you to acknowledge "God as your God forever and ever".
2. What should be your determination?
"Every man, as the prophet tells us, will walk in the name of his God," whatever his idol may be, whether pleasure, or riches, or honor: "and we also should walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever Mic. 4:5." In this resolution we should be fixed Hosea 14:8. What though all Israel be against us, and we stand alone? shall we withhold our testimony on that account? No: truth is truth, whether embraced by many or by few. The prophets of Baal were not at all the more right in their views, because they were so numerous; nor was Elijah the less right, because he had none to concur with him: nor did he account his singularity in what was good any reason for relinquishing it: on the contrary, though alone, he determined to adhere with all steadfastness to the Lord; and we in like manner should say with Joshua, "Though all Israel should depart from God, we and our houses will serve the Lord Joshua 24:15."
1 Kings 19:11-14
ELIJAH VISITED AND REPROVED BY GOD
1 Kings 19:11-14. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What do you here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
THE history of all the saints of old sufficiently proves, that there is no such thing as sinless perfection to be found. There certainly have not been many more distinguished characters than Elijah; yet was he not exempt from sinful infirmities. Circumstances of peculiar difficulty are like a furnace that tries the gold; and highly favored indeed must he be, who, when in them, does not show that he has yet a remainder of dross, from which he needs to be purged. Doubtless the trials of Elijah were very heavy: he had asserted the honor of Jehovah in opposition to Baal; and had obtained such a triumph as might well lead to expect a most successful issue to his labors, in bringing back the people to the acknowledgment and worship of the true God. Methinks, this hope gave lightness to his spirits, and added wings to his feet, when he ran before Ahab to Jezreel. But behold, he had scarcely arrived at Jezreel, before Jezebel sent him word with bitter imprecations, that she would have him put to death within the space of one day. This so discouraged him, that he fled instantly to the land of Judah: and not thinking himself secure even there, he "left his servant behind him, and proceeded a day's journey into the wilderness." The condescension of God towards him on this occasion forms a striking contrast with his conduct. Let us notice,
I. The weakness of the prophet—
It is justly said of him, and most probably in reference to these very events, that "Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are James 5:17." In this part of his history we behold,
1. His unbelieving fear—
On former occasions he had shown great fortitude: he had just before dared to accuse Ahab to his face as "the troubler of Israel;" and to confront alone all the worshipers of Baal with four hundred and fifty of his prophets at their head: he had also put all those prophets to death, and then had accompanied Ahab to Jezreel: but now his faith failed him, and he doubted whether his God could protect him from the rage of Jezebel. Hence, instead of prosecuting the advantage which he had gained, and encouraging all the people to follow up their convictions, he fled from the scene of danger, and, by his cowardice, caused the whole people of Israel to return to the worship of Baal, whom for a moment they had disclaimed. Alas! what is man, if left to himself! the most eminent saint, if unassisted by fresh communications of grace, sinks, and becomes, like Samson shorn of his locks, as weak as other men. In the instance before us we have a striking evidence, that man of himself can do nothing.
2. His impatient desire—
Wearied and disconsolate, he requested of God to "take away his life verse 4." He had seen how little effect had been produced by former prophets; and from present appearances he thought that "he was no better than they," nor likely to have any more success; and therefore he desired a speedy termination of his fruitless troubles. But how unfitting was this! Whether successful or not in his endeavors, he was glorifying God by them, and should have accounted that an ample reward for all that he could do or suffer in his cause. Had he desired to depart in order that he might have a richer enjoyment of his God, the wish might have been good: but to desire death through mere disgust and weariness of life, was the sad fruit of criminal impatience See the two contrasted; 2 Corinthians 5:4. "Not to be unclothed, but clothed upon."
3. His hasty self-vindication—
When the Lord interrogated him, "What do you here, Elijah?" he thought of nothing but his own services, and the sins of others: yes, when the question was repeated, he returned the same answer. How strange that he should not, on the repetition of the question especially, suspect himself, and acknowledge that he had come thither without any call or direction from his God! But so it too often is with the best of men: they are more ready to look with delight on their virtues, than with contrition on their sins; and to censure with severity the faults of others, while they overlook their own. According to the prophet's own account, he had done nothing amiss: but, if he had fairly stated the whole matter, his criminality would instantly have appeared. This shows, that there is not a man in the universe whose representation can be fully trusted in things which affect his own character: there is a partiality in all, which leads them to some degree of concealment in their own favor, and that, not only in the things which concern their conduct towards men, but even in the things which relate to God.
Let us now contemplate,
II. The goodness of God towards him—
God, ever slow to anger, and rich in mercy, exercised towards him the most astonishing kindness. Instead of noticing with severity what the prophet had done amiss,
1. He supplied his wants—
The prophet had fled to the wilderness, where he could have no provision except by miracle; and he had little reason to expect, that, while he was fleeing from the path of duty, God would again interpose to feed him by ravens, or to point out another hostess that should sustain him by a miraculous supply of meal and oil. But God would not forsake his servant in his extremity: on the contrary, he now ministered to his wants by the instrumentality of an angel, giving him a miraculous supply of food, and afterwards sustaining him forty days and nights without any food at all. How marvelously gracious is God to his offending creatures! Indeed, if he did not display in this manner the riches of his grace, where is the creature that could hope for anything at his hands? But this is the constant method of his procedure with sinful men: he finds us outcast and helpless, and he bids us live; and makes the depth of our misery an occasion of magnifying his own abundant mercy Ezekiel 16:4-6; yes, "where sin has abounded, grace oftentimes much more abounds Romans 5:20."
2. He reproved his errors—
The question put to him was a kind reproof; it was, in fact, the same as saying, "Think whether you have not deserted the path of duty?" And when the question had not produced its desired effect, he displayed before him the terrors of his majesty in three successive manifestations of his power; and then, to soften and abase his yet unbroken spirit, he spoke to him more effectually in a still small voice; thus renewing to him the wonders formerly exhibited on the same mountain unto Moses, both the terrific scenes of Sinai, and the milder display of his own glorious perfections. Truly it is amazing that the Almighty God should so condescend to the weakness of his creatures, and labor so to prepare their minds for the richer effusions of his grace and love.
3. He rectified his apprehensions—
Elijah supposed himself to be the only one in Israel that maintained a regard for God; but God informed him, that there were no less than seven thousand persons who had not yielded to the prevailing idolatry. What an encouraging consideration was this to the desponding prophet! Well might he return to his labors, when so many yet remained, either to co-operate with him in his exertions, or to be benefitted by his instructions. Indeed it is a most consolatory thought to the Lord's people in every age, that there are many "hidden ones," who serve and honor God in secret, though their light has not so shone as to attract the attention of the world around them: and the answer which God made to the prophet on this occasion is adduced by Paul for this very end, namely, to show us, that, in the very lowest state of the Church, there is, and ever shall be, "a remnant according to the election of grace Romans 11:2-5."
Among the various lessons which this history is suited to teach us, we may learn,
1. To be diffident of ourselves—
Who that sees how the great Elijah failed, while at the same time he was unconscious of his failings, must not be ready to suspect himself? If God say, "One of you shall betray me," the reply of every one should be, "Lord, is it I?" Let us then inquire with ourselves, "What do I here?" Am I in the place that God would have me? and in the spirit that God would have me? Even the Apostles themselves on some occasions "knew not what spirit they were of." Let us remember, that the less we suspect ourselves, the more reason we have to fear that there is somewhat amiss in our conduct.
2. To be confident in our God—
We need look no further than to the history before us to see how exceeding abundant are the riches of God's grace and mercy. Surely the backsliders in heart, or act, may take encouragement to return to him: In reference to the Church also, we may be well assured, that "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it."
1 Kings 19:18
A REMNANT IN THE WORST OF TIMES
1 Kings 19:18. Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him.
WE cannot always judge by outward appearances in religion. There is in some a forwardness, and display of piety; while in others there is a reserve and a delicate withdrawment from public notice. Among the former, a very great proportion turn out like the stony or thorny-ground hearers; who, if they fall not altogether from their profession, never truly honor and adorn it. Where, on the contrary, there is little of outward zeal, we are ready to imagine that the word has produced little or no effect. In the days of the Prophet Elijah, there were none to bear him in countenance, by a bold and open testimony for God; so that he conceived that he stood alone in the midst of an apostate and idolatrous people. But there were many of the class referred to, even seven thousand, who had not been carried away by the general torrent of iniquity, but had maintained in secret a faithful adherence to their God. This, in answer to Elijah's complaint, was declared by God himself: and from that declaration I shall take occasion to show,
I. That in the worst of times, God has an elect people in the world—
In support of this very position, Paul quotes the words before us:—
It appeared in the Apostle's days, that God had "cast off" his ancient people entirely. But Paul adduces himself as a proof to the contrary; and then, citing the answer given by Jehovah to his complaining servant Elijah, who thought that he was the only person in Israel that had remained faithful to his God, "Yet have I reserved to myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal Romans 11:1-4," or "kissed it, in token of their religious veneration Hosea 13:2," he takes occasion to say, "Even so at this time, also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace Romans 11:5."
And on these words we may ground the same observation at this time—
Through the tender mercy of God, we live in very different times from those of the Prophet Elijah. But the exercise of God's sovereign grace is still the same; and every person who faithfully adheres to God, amidst the wickedness that abounds in the world, is indebted altogether to the distinguishing grace of God, whose power alone has quickened and upheld him.
This is a truth which many are extremely averse to hear: and, if it were really and of necessity connected with all the evils with which men load it, I should not wonder at the prejudices which are entertained against it. But indeed, when stated as it is revealed in Scripture, it is replete with godly comfort. For, who is there that would ever be saved, if he were left, like the fallen angels, without any support from on high? Who would ever turn effectually to the Lord his God, if "God did not first give him both to will and to do of his good pleasure Philippians 2:13." And I may further ask, Who is there, of whom we need despair? I will suppose him to be at this moment as bitter a persecutor as ever Saul was; yet may he, if God see fit, become a vessel of honor, like Paul, who was, even in the midst of all his violence, a chosen vessel, and had been so even from his mother's womb Galatians 1:13-15 with Acts 9:1-2; Acts 9:14-15. If any man ever seemed beyond the reach of divine grace, it was Manasseh, who filled the temple of God itself with idols, and "made the streets of Jerusalem to run down with the blood of innocents:" yet even he, in consequence of God's electing love, was converted, and sanctified, and saved 2 Chronicles 33:3-13. So it may be, that some of our dear friends and relatives, who are at this moment immersed in wickedness of every kind, may yet have the eye of God fixed upon them for good, and, in despite of all their impiety, be "made willing people in the day of God's power Psalm 110:3." We read, that "whom God did foreknow, he did also predestine to be conformed to the image of his Son; and whom he did predestine, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified Romans 8:29-30;" and, for anything that we know, the same process may await some of whom we are ready to despair; and we may have the joy of seeing God's purpose, which was formed before the world began, effected in the conversion of our friends, and consummated in their glorification before the throne of God. In fact, the persons who are now most eminent in the divine life were once dead in trespasses and sins, even as others: and they all, without exception, will gladly acknowledge, in their own case, the truth of our Lord's declaration to his Apostles, "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you John 15:16;" for all of them have within themselves an unquestionable evidence, that as soon would a cannon-ball return of its own accord to the orifice from whence it has been discharged, as they, if left to themselves, would ever have returned to God, from whom they had so deeply revolted.
But to this cheering truth I must add,
II. That the number of these elect far exceeds all that the most sanguine of God's saints would imagine— In the days of Elijah they amounted to "seven thousand men in Israel"—
True, these were but few, when compared with the whole nation of Israel: but they were many, when compared with one single individual.
And who can tell but that they may, even in this kingdom, be many times as numerous as they appear to be?
We are apt to estimate the number of the Lord's people by the numbers who make an open profession of religion: but there may be, and I doubt not are, multitudes throughout the land, who serve their God in sincerity, while, from a variety of circumstances, they have not been led to such displays of piety, as should attract the attention of the public. They conform not to the corrupt habits of the world around them, but "bow their knee to Jesus," their Divine Savior Romans 14:10-11; and "kiss the Son," as the exclusive object of their homage Psalm 2:12. They may possibly be secluded in the bosom of a family who are unfriendly to religion: or they may not be within the reach of an energetic ministry or pious associates: or they may be in a station of life where occupation and confinement preclude them from any great fellowship with their neighbors. But, whatever be the occasion of their privacy, I doubt not but the fact is as I have stated; and that God has, "in this and other lands, many hidden ones," who, like plants in a wilderness, blossom unseen, and diffuse their fragrance unperceived, except by God himself.
But to all of you I would say,
1. Let your religion be such that God himself may bear witness to it—
God saw Nathanael under the fig-tree, and bare witness to him, as "an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no deceit." Let "your hearts also be right with God," my beloved Brethren. Let him see that you resolutely withstand "the corruptions that are in the world;" and that you "walk with him," even as Enoch did, in sweet communion, and in unreserved obedience.
2. Let your religion be such, that God may be glorified by it—
Certainly it is the duty of every man to confess Christ before men, and to glorify him by an open profession of his faith. Where an opportunity is afforded, this is absolutely indispensable: and, if we be deterred from it by any consideration under Heaven, we must pay the penalty, even the loss of our immortal souls. "With the heart, indeed, man believes unto righteousness: but it is with the mouth that confession is to be made unto salvation Romans 10:10." Be not, then, ashamed of Christ; but "take up your cross daily, and follow him:" and "so make your light to shine before men, that all who behold it may glorify your Father who is in Heaven."
1 Kings 19:21
CALL OF ELISHA TO THE PROPHETIC OFFICE
1 Kings 19:21. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.
IT is an unspeakable consolation to an aged minister to see others springing up around him, who shall carry on the same blessed work in which he has spent his life, and promote among the rising generation the Redeemer's interests, when he shall be removed to a better world. This happiness it pleased God to confer upon his servant Elijah. Elijah had thought himself alone in the kingdom of Israel; but God informed him, that there were no less than seven thousand others who had in heart adhered to him, though they had not openly testified against the worship of Baal. He moreover directed him to anoint Elisha to be a prophet in his room; and assured him, that the nation of Israel should continue to be benefitted by the ministrations of his successor, when he should be removed from the world.
According to the direction given him, Elijah sought Elisha; and, finding him engaged in agricultural labors, called him from them to an employment altogether new and heavenly.
In this appointment of Elisha to the prophetic office there are two things to be noticed;—
I. His peculiar call—
Elijah, in passing by, cast his mantle upon Elisha. In this action there was nothing that could at all convey the intent for which it was done; nor did Elijah utter a word in explanation of it: on the contrary, when he saw Elisha instantly running after him, he said, "Go back again; for what have I done unto you?" But there was a secret power accompanying this act, which wrought effectually on the mind of Elisha, and constrained him to devote himself wholly to the Lord.
Now this will serve to show the true nature of conversion in general.
God makes use of different means for the conversion of mankind—
Many he awakens by some remarkable dispensation of his providence Matthew 27:54; Many he enlightens by the preaching of his word: and many, without any external means, he leads to the knowledge of himself by the teaching of his Holy Spirit.
But whatever be the means, the work is his alone—
There is not any more power in the creature, no, not even in miracles, to effect the conversion of men, than there was in the mantle cast upon Elisha. There were thousands who saw and heard all that took place at our Savior's death, as well as the centurion, and yet remained unaffected with it. Multitudes also heard the preaching of our Lord and his Apostles without experiencing from it any saving influence. The external call, by whoever given, has been resisted by myriads in every age Romans 10:21; Matthew 23:37. That which alone has made the difference between one man and another, has been the influence of the Holy Spirit accompanying the word: "Neither Paul nor Apollos could effect anything; it has been God alone that gave the increase 1 Corinthians 3:5-7;" He has "revealed his arm Isaiah 53:1," and made men "willing in the day of his power Psalm 110:3;" He has "breathed upon the dry bones, and bid them live Ezekiel 37:1-10."
A divine energy was felt by Elisha; as appears clearly from,
II. His prompt obedience—
Instantly he ran after Elijah in token of his desire to become his stated attendant—
What appears to have expressed reluctance, proceeded in reality from no such feeling—
Elisha desired to go home first and salute his parents, and then to wait upon Elijah. Had this arisen from a desire to defer his obedience to the heavenly call, it would have been wrong; because the call of God supersedes every other consideration under Heaven Luke 9:59-62. But it arose from a love to his parents, and a desire to approve himself to them as a duteous son. He was sensible that they must wonder at the sudden change that had taken place in his views and conduct; and he was desirous to show them at least that his zeal for God had not diminished his regard for them. In this view there can scarcely be a more useful example found in all the sacred records. Young people, when first made to feel the importance of a heavenly life, are apt to forget, that they ought by every possible means to win their parents. They should cultivate to the uttermost a meek, humble, conciliatory spirit; and show, that, if they be constrained to act in opposition to the wishes of their superiors, they are not actuated by conceit or self-will, but by a sense of paramount obligation to God. They should be as careful as possible to evince the excellency of their principles by the modesty of their demeanor, and by their increased endeavors to fulfill every relative and social duty. This would render religion amiable in the eyes of many, who, in the conduct of their children or dependents, find nothing but stumbling-blocks and occasions of disgust.
The making a feast also of two of his oxen may appear strange: but we apprehend that it was done in much the same spirit as that which he manifested towards his parents. His destroying a yoke of oxen with their instruments might be intended, in part, to show, that he henceforth renounced all secular employments; and, in part, to express love to all for whom he made the feast. In this view it strongly confirms all the foregoing observations respecting his parents; and teaches us to cultivate every benevolent disposition towards the people of the world, while we separate from their company, and condemn their practice. If from a sense of duty we "come out from them and are separate," and shun all unnecessary conformity to their ways, we should give them no room to think that we either hate or despise them; but should convince them, that, like Noah, we would press them all into the ark, if they would but listen to our voice, and comply with our advice.
He instantly became an attendant on Elijah, and "ministered unto him"—
Though from his ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen it appears that he was a man of some consideration, yet he did not think it any indignity to wait upon Elijah as a menial servant 2 Kings 3:11. His reasons for this were various. He did it doubtless from a sense of love to God. Knowing that Elijah was greatly beloved of the Lord, and feeling that he himself had received through his instrumentality the richest blessings to his soul, he delighted to express his love to God by his zeal in the service of this distinguished prophet.
Moreover Elisha hoped now to be himself useful in advancing the cause of God in the land. It was true, that, as a novice, he could add but little to Elijah: but he hoped to learn from that honored servant of the Lord, and to receive from his instructions and example, lessons, which might be of the utmost service to himself in the future execution of his own office: and for the attainment of such benefits he judged that no sacrifice could be too great, no service could be too laborious.
This showed that there was on Elisha's mind not a mere transient impression caused by the novelty of this extraordinary call, but a real radical change of heart, agreeably to that which has been manifested by all true converts Exodus 3:1; Matthew 4:18-25; Matthew 9:9; Matthew 19:27, and that which Paul represents as having taken place in the Macedonian Church; "They gave themselves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God 2 Corinthians 8:5."
We shall conclude with a few words,
1. Of inquiry—
We ask not whether any of you have ever been called either suddenly or in any extraordinary manner to serve God? but we ask whether your mind and heart have ever been so changed, that, from following nothing but this world, you have been brought to serve and follow the Lord Jesus Christ? This is a change which all must experience. This is conversion, in whatever way it is effected: and nothing but this constitutes conversion. Put away then all fanciful and enthusiastic notions about the time or the manner of conversion, and examine carefully into its effects as daily visible in your life and conversation.
2. Of advice—
If any of you are convinced that it is your duty to give up yourselves to God, guard against everything that may cause you to waver in your purposes. Your dearest friends and relatives will be ready to say, "Spare yourself:" but you must not yield to any such entreaties. They will tell you, "That you will injure your worldly prospects:" but so did Elisha—"That there are few who approve and countenance such conduct:" but so Elisha found it, there being not one, except his master Elijah, that openly espoused the cause of God—";That you will subject yourself to persecution:" but it was in a season of bitterest persecution that Elisha joined himself to Elijah. As to the manner of conducting yourselves towards your parents or superiors, we again say, Behave with meekness, with modesty, with love: "Kiss your father and your mother;" but do not prefer them before your God Matthew 10:37. There are two extremes against which you must guard, namely, a rough, petulant, self-willed determination to follow your own way, without any regard to the feelings or sentiments of your superiors, on the one hand; and an easy complying temper that sacrifices duty to interest, on the other hand. The union of meekness with fidelity, and of love with firmness, is that at which you must aim; combining "the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove."
1 Kings 20:11
1 Kings 20:11. Let not him that girds on his harness boast himself as he who puts it off.
HOWEVER blinded men are in reference to their own sins, they can easily discern sin in others, and declare sagaciously enough what true wisdom requires. We should certainly not have expected Ahab, of all men, to become a monitor: the dictates of wisdom seem but ill suited to his lips. But the counsel, which he here gave to the king of Syria, was excellent, and is deserving of all the attention that can be paid to it.
In considering this counsel, it is my intention to point out,
I. The wisdom of it—
It may be noticed either,
1. As a political maxim—
The history of all mankind attests the propriety of this advice. In every age there will be found unnumbered instances to prove that "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor yet bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill Ecclesiastes 9:11." The event of Benhadad's boasting, as recorded in the chapter before us, is a remarkable illustration of this truth. So numerous were his forces, that he declared the very dust of Samaria would not suffice for each man to take an handful: yet were they all put to flight by a very small force (the whole of Ahab's army scarcely exceeding seven thousand men); and not by experienced warriors, but "by the young men of the princes of the provinces," and those amounting to no more than two hundred and seventy-two verse 13–21. Whether in public or in private life, undue confidence will be sure to entail on us the most bitter disappointments.
2. As a religious theorem—
For man to boast of anything that he will do, argues an utter forgetfulness of what human nature is, (imbecility itself: 2 Corinthians 3:5.): of what God is, (the sole Governor of the universe, who "works all things after the counsel of his own will Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11."): and of what he himself is; (for who has not, from bitter experience, learned, that "he who trusts in his own heart is a fool Proverbs 28:26.") Indeed, an overweening conceit of our own powers is the most ready way to arm God himself against us, and to ensure the defeat of our own purposes Isaiah 10:13-19; With God on his side, a stripling, with his sling and stone, may overcome a vaunting Goliath 1 Samuel 17:44-47; but, without God's assistance, the strongest man on earth can effect nothing John 15:5; Jeremiah 10:23.
That we may see the practical utility of this advice, I will proceed to mark,
II. The importance of it—
It is of special importance,
1. To those who are just entering on their spiritual course—
Persons in this situation are often ready to imagine, that their warfare is almost accomplished, when it is, in fact, scarcely yet begun. But, if God, as in the case of Israel coming out of Egypt Exodus 13:17, keep off those trials which you are not yet prepared to encounter, do not think that you have no warfare to maintain. The way to Heaven will not prove so easy as you imagine. If you become "a soldier of Jesus Christ," you must prepare for war, and be ready to "fight the good fight of faith." Sooner or later, you shall have occasion for all the armor that he has provided for you Ephesians 6:10-18.
2. To those who are going on victorious—
Satan's devices are more than can be numbered. He may, and no doubt often does, recede for a time, that he may renew his assaults to greater advantage. See the stratagem of Joshua against the men of Ai, and you will have a just picture of the wiles by which Satan, that subtle serpent, is laboring to destroy you 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Peter 5:8. Your only safety is in watchfulness and prayer Mark 14:38.
3. To those who are most advanced in the divine life—
To you, no less than to others, is this counsel of great value. Did Lot, after withstanding the temptations of Sodom, fall in the cave? Did David, after all his high attainments, fall; and Solomon, "after the Lord had appeared to him twice?" Did Peter violate all his resolutions; and Demas, after his long course of steadfastness, relinquish at last all his professions? Who, then, are you, that you shall be secure? "Let him that thinks he stands, whoever he be, take heed lest he fall 1 Corinthians 10:12;" let him "not be high-minded, but fear Romans 11:20;" "blessed is the man that fears always Proverbs 28:14." If Paul needed to keep his body under, "lest, after preaching to others, he himself should become a castaway 1 Corinthians 9:27," there is no creature under Heaven to whom the counsel in my text is not altogether suitable and necessary. To all, then, I say, "Look to yourselves, that you lose not the things that you have wrought, but that you receive a full reward 2 John verse 8."
1 Kings 20:42
AHAB'S SIN IN SPARING BENHADAD
1 Kings 20:42. And he said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people.
IN every page of the Holy Scriptures we are reminded, that the Lord disposes of all events according to his sovereign will, while at the same time he suits his dispensations to the conduct of mankind. Between the parties spoken of in our text there was little difference with respect to their desert before God: Ahab was an idolatrous Israelite; and Benhadad was a proud atheistical heathen. God appointed them, as his instruments, to punish each other: his primary purpose indeed was to destroy the heathen prince, and to rescue from his tyranny the king of Israel. For this end, God left Benhadad to follow the dictates of his own proud spirit, and gave to Ahab the directions and encouragements that were necessary to ensure success. But Ahab neglected to execute the commands of God; and then God reversed his sentence, and denounced against Ahab and his people, the destruction that had been designed for Benhadad and his people. This is told us in the words which we have read; and which will serve to show us,
I. The power which God will exercise towards us—
Great has been the temporal deliverance Preached a few days after Buonaparte's return to Paris, from his invasion of Russia (1812), after the destruction of his army, and just previous to its utter annihilation. recently given unto us—
What has been done for our northern allies, has in reality been done for us. And, behold what a wonderful deliverance that is which the official reports announce to us! The resemblance between it and the facts recorded in the chapter before us is so striking, that, notwithstanding we do not in general approve of minute statements of this kind in a public discourse, we cannot forbear to point it out to you.
Behold then the origin of the contest between Benhadad and the king of Israel; the war was altogether unprovoked on the part of Ahab, and proceeded from the insufferable pride and tyranny of the Syrian monarch. Behold his boastings, while yet he was "only girding on his armor:" yet, notwithstanding his confederate armies were so numerous, he was vanquished by a little band of princes, whose efforts he utterly despised: and this proud boaster fled away on horseback from the field of battle, while his army was defeated with great slaughter. Mortified beyond measure, but not humbled, he determines to collect another army, numerous as the first, and to effect the destruction of his victorious enemy. At the return of the year he renews his attempts; but, notwithstanding the immense disproportion of the contending armies, he is again defeated with the loss of a hundred thousand men; and God completes his destruction by causing the walls of Aphek to fall, and bury in their ruins twenty-seven thousand more of those who had escaped the edge of the sword. Thus was this tyrannical oppressor constrained at last to hide himself in an inner chamber, and to become a suppliant for his own life.
Behold the parallel. The proudest and most tyrannical oppressor that has appeared in modern ages, invaded Russia for no other reason than because she would not be subservient to his will, and aid his ambitious designs. He went at the head of an immense army of confederate princes; boasting that no power could withstand him: but through the merciful intervention of Providence he has been vanquished, and that too by men whom he had despised as incapable of standing before a single regiment of his warriors; and he himself fled on horseback from the field of battle, and hastened back in disguise to his own country, leaving his whole army to be a prey to the sword of the avenger, and to the elements, which have left scarcely any remaining to record the history of their disasters. This man however is now boasting, like Benhadad, that he will with the returning spring replace his armies, and renew his assaults. He pours the same contempt on God that the Syrian monarch did. Benhadad indeed did acknowledge his defeat to have proceeded from a superior Being, though he limited his power to the hills, and thought to overcome him in the plains: but this atheistical ruler discards God entirely, and talks of nothing but "fate and fortune." What shall be the issue of his future attempts, God alone knows: but we think it highly probable, that he is working out his own destruction as Benhadad did.
We cannot fail of acknowledging the interposition of Heaven in the history of Benhadad: let us be willing also most thankfully to acknowledge it in the events which we have just recited.
Great also is the spiritual deliverance which God will grant to all who look unto him—
The power of our spiritual enemies is infinitely more disproportionate to ours, than that of Benhadad to the king of Israel Ephesians 6:12; But God has instructed us how to overcome them, and will enable us to do it Ephesians 6:13-18; No enemy shall prevail against us, if only we rely on him, and follow his directions Isaiah 54:17; Romans 8:31-39; His people in every age have been made victorious Hebrews 11:32-34; and we also, if we fight manfully under the banners of the cross, shall have "Satan himself shortly bruised under our feet".
In this connection it is highly requisite to contemplate,
II. The fidelity we should exercise for him—
God punished Ahab for not executing faithfully the work assigned him—
As Agag, king of Amalek, had formerly been delivered into the hands of Saul in order to his destruction, so was now Benhadad into the hands of Ahab. But Ahab, elated with vanity, spared the captive monarch, and restored him to his throne; and thus brought upon himself and upon his own people the destruction which was primarily intended for their Syrian enemies.
The way in which this sentence was denounced against him was very remarkable. A prophet was required to personate a wounded soldier, and by a well-contrived parable to get Ahab to condemn himself. The artifice succeeded; and Ahab did unwittingly condemn himself, and thereby justify God in executing upon him the sentence which he had passed upon the supposed offender. And it was but about three years afterwards that Ahab himself was slain in battle with the Syrian monarch, whom he had so inconsiderately spared.
And shall not we be called to account for the manner in which we execute his commands in relation to our spiritual enemies?
As to what may be God's will in reference to our great temporal foe, we presume not to judge: and where an express revelation is wanting, we must be guided by justice and political expediency. But respecting our spiritual enemies we have no doubt. He requires them all to be slain without exception: not one is to be spared. The great master-sin, whatever it be, "the sin that most easily besets us," must be the object of our more determined hostility Hebrews 12:1. If one sin be spared, our life must go for the life of that: if it be dear as "a right eye," or necessary as "a right hand," we have no alternative, but to destroy it utterly, or to perish eternally "in Hell fire See how frequently this awful truth is repeated, and this terrific language used, in Mark 9:43-48.": Shall we then rest content with any victory, while so much as one lust remains to be mortified and subdued?.
1. The proud and presumptuous—
Let not any imagine it an easy thing to get to Heaven: our foes are exceeding numerous and powerful; and the more secure we are in our own conceit, the more certain we are to be subdued before them: "Let us not be high-minded, but fear."
2. The timid and desponding—
Our weakness, though a reason for crying mightily to God for aid, is no reason for despondency. "When we are weak, then are we strong," because God will then interpose to "perfect his own strength in our weakness." If, as we are told, "a worm shall thresh the mountains Isaiah 41:14-15," then need not any man fear, if only he go forth in Jehovah's strength, and follow the directions which God has given him. The language of the feeblest saint should be, "Who are you, you great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain Zechariah 4:7."
3. The humble and victorious—
Some there are who, though crying occasionally, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?" are yet able to add with joy, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Yes, many there are who can say, "Thanks be to God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ!" Let them therefore be more and more joyful and confident in their God. But let none ever forget, that their enemies, however often repulsed, are watching for opportunities to renew their assaults. While we are in this world we must not for a moment lay aside our armor, or intermit our exertions. Soon the period of final victory shall arrive; and then shall we be invested with that glorious kingdom which God has promised to all that overcome Revelation 3:21.
1 Kings 21:20
AHAB AND ELIJAH IN NABOTH'S VINEYARD
1 Kings 21:20. And Ahab said to Elijah, Have you found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found you.
THE office of a minister is doubtless the most honorable that can be sustained by man; but it is at the same time the most arduous. If indeed the people to whom we carry the glad tidings of salvation were willing to put away their sins and embrace the offered mercy, there would be comparatively little difficulty in discharging our duty: but men are averse to receive our message: they "love darkness rather than light;" yes, "they hate the light," and would even extinguish it, rather than be constrained to see the evil of their ways. Hence those ministers who are faithful, are universally accounted "the troublers of Israel," and the "enemies" of those whom they labor to convert: and they must go with their lives in their hands, if they will approve themselves to God and to their own conscience. The justice of this observation is manifest from the address of Ahab to the Prophet Elijah: in which we see,
I. How greedily men commit sin—
Horrible beyond measure was the conduct of Ahab which is here recorded—
We blame not his wish to be accommodated with Naboth's vineyard, nor the equitable offers which he made to obtain it: but we blame the inordinate desire which he entertained for so worthless an object, and the vexation which the disappointment of it occasioned. What a striking proof have we here of the misery which unsubdued lusts create! A king possessed of large dominions, augmented lately by the acquisition of immense power, is dejected, and sick at heart, because he cannot obtain a little plot of ground adjoining to his palace, of ground which the owner could not alienate consistently with the commands of God.
Jezebel his wife, indignant that a potent monarch, like him, should be thwarted in his desires, undertakes that they shall not long be ungratified. She takes his seal, and gives orders in his name, that the elders of Israel shall proclaim a fast, as if some great iniquity which menaced the safety of the state had been committed; that then they shall arrest Naboth as the guilty person, and suborn false witnesses, who shall accuse him of blaspheming God and the king; and that they shall instantly proceed to stone him to death. Shocking as this injustice was, methinks its enormity was small in comparison of that impious mockery of religion with which it was cloaked. But what must have been the state of that nation where such an order could be given so confidently, and be carried into execution with such facility! Truly we can never be sufficiently thankful for the equity with which our laws are administered in Britain, and the security which we enjoy, both of our lives and properly, under their protection.
The tidings of Naboth's death being announced by Jezebel, Ahab instantly proceeded to take possession of his vineyard; manifesting thereby his perfect approbation of all that Jezebel had done. Conscious of his cordial participation in her crimes, he could make no reply to the prophet's accusation, "Have you killed, and also taken possession?" He could only say, "Have you found me, O mine enemy?" In truth, his own conscience testified against him, that "he had sold himself to work evil in the sight of the Lord."
Horrible as this was, and far surpassing anything which is commonly found among us, it yet is in many respects imitated by the great mass of mankind—
It is surely no uncommon thing for men at this day to covet what belongs not to them, and so inordinately to desire it as to use unlawful and dishonest means of obtaining it. Nor is it uncommon for men to feel a disappointment so acutely, as to lose the enjoyment of everything they possess through vexation about something unpossessed. And so are the consciences of some men formed, that they will connive at wickedness which of themselves they would not perpetrate, and avail themselves of the advantages which the iniquity of others has procured for them. Let valuable articles be offered for sale as having been clandestinely imported without a payment of the accustomed due; how few will turn away from them on account of the unlawful way in which they have been procured! How few will say, "Perhaps a conflict has been maintained for these, and the blood of some revenue-officer has been shed to preserve them:" at all events such risks are incurred by this traffic, and the lives of multitudes are daily endangered by it; and shall I satisfy my appetite with that for which so many "have jeopardized their lives 2 Samuel 23:15-17." No: the generality of persons, who yet pretend to be honest and humane, will be as pleased with the possession of what has been thus iniquitously gained, as ever Ahab was with the acquisition of Naboth's vineyard.
Again, there are those who for lucre sake will aid in betraying or corrupting an innocent unsuspecting female: and how many are there who would readily enough avail themselves of an advantage so obtained; or at least conspire to rivet the chains once forged, and to derive pleasure to themselves from the misery of their fellow-creatures!
Alas! the world is full of characters, whose "hearts are exercised with covetous practices 2 Peter 2:14," and who "work all impurity with greediness Ephesians 4:19," or, as the prophet expresses it, "do evil with both hands earnestly Mic. 7:2-3. This paints with great exactness the conduct of multitudes who tread in the steps of Ahab: and the last clause expresses their delight in their sins."
If we presume to remonstrate with such persons, we shall soon see,
II. How indignantly they take reproof—
Great was the indignation which Ahab expressed against Elijah—
Possibly there might be some surprise expressed in that question, "Have you found me, O mine enemy?" Certain it is that Ahab little expected to find Elijah there; nor would he have gone down to the vineyard of Naboth, if he had at all conceived that he should have met there such an unwelcome monitor. But there was also much wrath contained in this address: "What business have you here? What do you mean by presuming to interfere with me? Are you privy to what has been done? and are you come to gratify your spleen as in past times by denouncing judgments against me?" Never was a human being so odious in Ahab's eyes, as Elijah was at this moment.
This however only shows what is in the heart of all against the faithful servants of the Lord—
Ministers are sent by God as monitors, to "show the house of Jacob their sins Isaiah 58:1;" but who welcomes them in that character? Let them go to any company, or even to an individual, that is violating the laws of God, and let them testify against the evil that is committed; will their admonitions be received with thankfulness? Will not their interposition be deemed rather an impertinent intrusion? Yes; such is the light in which it will be viewed, however gross and unjustifiable the sin it that has been committed. When Amaziah had conquered the Edomites, he took their gods to be his gods in preference to Jehovah: and when Jehovah sent him a prophet to remonstrate with him on the folly and impiety of his conduct, instead of yielding to the reproof, he threatened the prophet with death, if he did not instantly "forbear 2 Chronicles 25:16." In the same light it is viewed, however gentle and kind the expostulation may be. When the inhabitants of Sodom required of Lot to deliver up to them the men whom he had received under his roof, nothing could exceed the tenderness of his reproof; "I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly." Nay, he even adopted the unjustifiable expedient of offering them his two daughters in their stead: yet, notwithstanding this astonishing condescension, they were full of wrath against him, and threatened to "deal worse with him than with them Genesis 19:5-9." We must further say, that it was viewed in this light, when God himself became the monitor. When Cain had murdered his brother Abel, God came to him and asked, "Where is Abel your brother?" to which this impious reply was made, "I know not: Am I my brother's keeper Genesis 4:9." The truth is, that men think themselves at liberty to do what they please against God; but no one is to presume to espouse the cause of God against them Amos. 5:10. The plain language of their hearts is, "Our lips are our own: Who is Lord over us Psalm 12:4."
It would be well too if this presumptuous spirit were confined to those who are the open enemies of God: but it is not unfrequently found even among the professed followers of Christ; for it was to such that the Apostle addressed himself, when he said, "Am I become your enemy because I tell you the truth Galatians 4:16." Let religious professors be on their guard against this great evil; for, in proportion as it prevails, it gives reason to fear that they are deceiving their own souls, and that their religion is vain.
But how boldly soever they reply against God, we may see in the answer of Elijah,
III. How certainly they ruin their own souls—
The fearless prophet soon taught the murderous monarch what he was to expect—
"I have found you;" and God has found you, and his judgments before long will find you too. Agreeably to the prediction of Elijah, though the judgments were deferred in consequence of Ahab's forced humiliation, the blood of Ahab, like Naboth's, was licked by dogs, and the body of Jezebel was devoured by them in the very place where Naboth had been destroyed by her command. And, not long after, the elders of that very city Jezreel, who at the command of Ahab had slain Naboth, slew all the seventy sons of Ahab in one single night at the command of Jehu 2 Kings 9:26; so exactly were the threatened judgments of Elijah executed upon him and upon his whole family.
In like manner shall the judgments of God overtake all who continue obstinate in their sins—
"He who being often reproved, hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, says the Lord, and that without remedy." Men hope that "they shall escape for their wickedness:" but God beholds it, and will call them to account for it in due season. It is in vain to think that anything shall be hid from him: for "there is no darkness nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves Job 34:21-22." Adam, after the commission of his sin, hoped to hide himself from God; but God sought him out; "Adam, where are you?" Achan thought he had altogether escaped notice; but God appointed the lot to fall upon him, when, according to human calculations, the chance was two millions to one in favor of his escape. On many occasions too the punishment has instantly followed the detection, as in Gehazi's leprosy, and the sudden death of Ananias. But where the sins of men remain concealed or unpunished in this world, they shall not escape notice in the world to come; for "God will bring every secret thing into judgment;" and fulfill in its utmost extent that awful declaration of the Psalmist, "making them like a fiery oven in his anger, and swallowing them up in his wrath Psalm 21:8-9."
This subject speaks powerfully to different characters;
1. To willful and impenitent transgressors—
What Moses said to all Israel, we must say to you, "Be sure your sin will find you out." You may glory in your success, and "roll your iniquity under your tongue as a sweet morsel, as Ahab did, but your sin shall before long meet you to your sorrow and confusion; yes, every sin that you have ever committed shall meet you at the bar of judgment; and, when addressed by you as Elijah was, shall return you the same answer as he did to Ahab; "Have you found me, O mine enemy? I have found you." The long-suffering of God may bear with you for a season; but "your judgment lingers not, and your damnation slumbers not 2 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 3:9."
2. To those who have repented of their sin—
Your sins, purged away by the precious blood of Christ, shall be sought for, but not be found Jeremiah 50:20; God has "blotted them out as a morning cloud," and "cast them all behind him into the very depths of the sea Mic. 7:18-19." It is an express engagement of his covenant, that "your sins and iniquities he will remember no more Hebrews 10:17." Think, my Brethren, what an unspeakable mercy this is, and let it be your daily and hourly employment to abase yourselves before God, and to wash in the fountain of your Redeemer's blood.
3. To those who are God's messengers to a guilty world—
It is at the peril of the watchman's soul, if through sloth or cowardice he neglect to warn men of their approaching danger. Brethren, we must, like Elijah, put ourselves in the way of sinners, and bear testimony for God against them. This is a painful, but necessary duty. You admire the discharge of it in Elijah; do not then disapprove of it in us. But we must "speak, whether you will hear, or whether you will forbear." God's command is plain, "He who has my word, let him speak my word faithfully Jeremiah 23:28-29." O that every servant of the Lord might resemble this man of God! and that instead of having to appear as witnesses against you at the bar of judgment, we might now find you obedient to the word, and have you in that day as "our joy and crown of rejoicing" for evermore!
1 Kings 21:27-29
THE FEIGNED REPENTANCE OF AHAB
1 Kings 21:27-29. And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, See you how Ahab humbles himself before me? Because he humbles himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son's days will I bring the evil upon his house.
MUCH there is which bears the semblance of religion, and which brings with it a present reward, while in the sight of God it is of no avail for the salvation of the soul. The hopes of the presumptuous, the fears of the desponding, the joys of the hypocrite, and the sorrows of the worldly, are of this kind. An instance of the last occurs in the passage which we have just read; wherein Ahab's repentance was honored with the notice and approbation of Heaven to a certain degree, though we have no reason to think that it ever availed for his final acceptance before God.
In speaking of Ahab's repentance, we propose to show,
I. What there was in it that was good—
If there had not been something good in it, God would never have called the attention of Elijah to it, or have honored it with a reward. The two principal things in it that were good, were,
1. A fear of God's judgments—
Many, when God's judgments are denounced against them, only "puff at them Psalm 10:4-5." as unworthy of any serious regard. They do not believe that God will execute them: the language of their hearts is, "God will not do good, neither will he do evil Amos. 9:10; Zephaniah 1:12; Malachi 2:17.": But Ahab credited the predictions of the prophet, and sought deliverance from the judgments he foretold. This it was that prevailed in behalf of the Ninevites, when "they repented at the preaching of Jonah Jon. 3:5; Jon. 3:10;" and God on the present occasion was so pleased with it, that he pointed it out with special approbation to the Prophet Elijah.
2. An acknowledgment of God's justice in inflicting them—
Had Ahab thought himself unjustly dealt with, he would have complained of the severity of the sentence that was passed against him: but he complained only of his own sins, which had so justly brought on him the divine displeasure. This was a public testimony that God was worthy to be served, and that the most exalted monarchs are bound, as much as others, to be obedient to his laws. Such an acknowledgment, from so abandoned a character, was honorable to the Lord: it "gave glory to him Joshua 7:19; Jeremiah 13:16; Jeremiah 13:18." as a God of holiness and power, and consequently was so far good and acceptable in his sight.
Still, as it availed not for his salvation, it will be proper to show,
II. Wherein it was defective— The terms wherein it is set forth are doubtless strong; but yet it was altogether defective;
1. In its principle—
If there had been no punishment denounced against him, Ahab would have felt little concern about his iniquities: he had no real hatred of sin, no sincere shame on account of his having transgressed against so good a God. It was fear, and fear only, that called forth his penitential acknowledgments. But, if his repentance had been genuine, he would have mourned for his sins even though there had been no punishment annexed to them Ezekiel 20:43; Ezekiel 36:31; he would have seen an hatefulness in them, as transgressions of the holy law of God; and would have hated and abhorred himself on account of them, even though God should have blotted them from the book of his remembrance Ezekiel 16:63. Hatred of sin, and not fear of punishment, is the true source of penitential sorrow.
2. In its measure—
His repentance was expressed only by external signs, such as fasting and clothing himself with sackcloth: but it should have proceeded to operate in the renovation of his heart and life. He should have instantly begun to put away his sins. But we read not of any such effects produced upon him. He turned not from his idolatry, nor did he, as far as we know, restore the vineyard to Naboth's family. But true repentance would have led him to mortify his besetting sins Hosea 14:1-3; Hosea 14:8; that alone is the repentance which is not to be repented of.
3. In its end—
Could Ahab have escaped the miseries he had brought upon himself, he would have been contented though God had still been as much dishonored as ever. He had no view to God's glory, but only to his own safety. But if his sorrow had been of a godly sort, he would have inquired, how he might best counteract all the evil he had done, and cause his subjects to honor Jehovah as much as they had before slighted and despised him 2 Corinthians 7:10-11.
Nevertheless God was pleased to reward it: and it is of importance to inquire,
III. What the honor which God put upon it was
designed to teach us—
It was designed to show,
1. That God will not overlook the smallest things that are done for him—
We have many instances in Scripture of actions rewarded, even where there was little, if any, reference to him in the minds of the actors. Ebed-melech had some regard to God in the services he rendered to Jeremiah the prophet: Jehu was more actuated by pride than any feeling of true piety: and Nebuchadnezzar, in his siege of Tyre, had not the least idea that he was doing Jehovah's work: yet were they all rewarded for the services they performed 2 Kings 10:30; Jeremiah 38:7-10 with 39:15–18; Ezekiel 29:17-20; and if those of us who have done the least for God would consult the records of their lives, they would find that he has in some way or other recompensed to them whatever they have done, and never long continued in their debt.
2. That he will surely receive every true penitent—
St. Paul, in reference to the rites of the ceremonial law, argues thus: "If the blood of bulls and of goats availed for the least things, how much more shall the blood of Christ avail for the greatest Hebrews 9:13-14." In like manner we may justly say in reference to the history before us, if the feigned repentance of Ahab availed for the deferring of temporal judgments, how much more shall true repentance avail for the removal of all sins, and for the everlasting salvation of the soul! Let any one only see how God longs to behold his people returning to him Luke 15:5; Luke 15:9; Luke 15:23-24,: and how he rejoices over them when they do return Jeremiah 13:27; Hosea 8:5; Hosea 11:7-8,: and we shall not doubt, but that instead of "willing the death of any sinner, he desires that all should turn from their wickedness and live Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9." "He will not despise the day of small things Hosea 4:10;" but will hear the groans, and regard the sighs, and treasure up the tears, of all who truly turn unto him. He never has said, nor ever will, "Seek you my face in vain."
We cannot conclude without a few words,
1. Of caution—
Many there are who conceive that they have repented, because they can look back upon some time when they were humbled before God, either in an hour of sickness, or after some awakening discourse. But those temporary affections of the mind are a very small part of true repentance: they have been experienced by thousands, who yet have "turned back with the dog to his vomit, or the sow to her wallowing in the mire Psalm 78:34-37; Hosea 5:15." Let it be remembered therefore, that if we dissemble with our God, his sword shall certainly overtake us Jeremiah 42:20-22; You have been long and faithfully warned of your danger; and if you despise the admonitions of the weakest of God's servants, it will ensure and aggravate your eternal condemnation 2 Chronicles 36:12; 2 Chronicles 36:17.
2. Of encouragement—
It is not said of him in vain, that "with him there is mercy and plenteous redemption." Do but bear this in mind, and you will frequently put yourselves in the posture of Ahab, and "walk softly" before him all the days of your life. Were it only temporal deliverance that you were authorized to expect, it would be right to mourn as Ahab did: but when God promises to multiply his pardons beyond the utmost reach of your sins Isaiah 55:7; Romans 5:20, you maybe sure that nothing shall ever be wanting to those who seek him with their whole hearts. O that God might now see in us occasion to address the angels as he did Elijah; See how those people humble themselves before me! Because they so humble themselves, and "wash in the fountain" of their Redeemer's blood, "their iniquities shall all be blotted out," and "cast behind me into the depths of the sea!"
1 Kings 22:8
FAITHFUL MINISTERS OBJECTS OF HATRED
1 Kings 22:8. I hate him; for he does not speak good concerning me, but evil.
IT is generally supposed that sentiments adopted by the great mass of mankind, especially if they be maintained also by those who from their personal advantages and official character are considered as best qualified to judge, must, of necessity, be right. But, whatever deference may be due to the opinions of others, we cannot concede to any man, or to any number of men, that measure of confidence which is due to God alone. Even in relation to arts and sciences, we frequently find that universally received axioms are at length exploded, and systems of a very different aspect established in opposition to them. In religion there is but one standard, to which everything must be referred; and how numerous or learned soever the persons may be who would impose their sentiments upon us, we must bring them all "to the word and to the testimony," and discard everything which accords not with that unerring test. On a subject of great importance to the kings of Israel and of Judah, no less than four hundred prophets were consulted: and they all, with one voice, gave their judgment in such a way, as to flatter the pride, and gratify the inclinations, of those who consulted them. But there was one poor despised prophet, Micaiah, whom Ahab had intentionally kept in the back-ground, because he dreaded the advice which he might give: and, when inquiry was made respecting him, Ahab said, "I hate him; because he does not speak good concerning me, but evil."
Now, though this saying had respect to one individual, and may therefore be supposed to be confined to him, the reason assigned by Ahab is of a general nature, and is applicable to all who faithfully declare the mind of God. This saying therefore of Ahab will furnish me with a fit occasion to show,
I. The necessity imposed on every faithful minister—
A servant of God must declare the truth with fearless and impartial freedom. Fidelity is essential to his very character.
1. God requires it of us—
Ministers are ambassadors from God, and must deliver faithfully the message entrusted to them. An unfaithful man may be called a servant of God; but he is, in fact, a servant rather of the devil, who assumes in him the appearance of "an angel of light 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Corinthians 11:15." Paul's representation is this: "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful 1 Corinthians 4:1-2." And to every such character God gives this solemn charge: "He who has my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat Jeremiah 23:28." We are not to fear the face of man, but to speak the truth of God, "whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear Ezekiel 2:6-7." And when men say to us, "Prophesy unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits Isaiah 30:9-10," our answer must be like that of Micaiah, "As the Lord lives, what the Lord says unto me, that will I speak verse 14." God has plainly told us, that "if we seek to please men, we cannot be the servants of Jesus Christ Galatians 1:10."
2. It is of the utmost importance to all to whom we speak—
It is to be expected that men who look to us for instruction will imbibe the sentiments we convey. And if we deceive them in relation to temporal matters, the mistake, though injurious, may be rectified: but if we mislead them in their everlasting concerns, the consequence must be fatal. It is doubtless a great misfortune to any, if, like Ahab, they be betrayed by false prophets and by blind guides: but, like Ahab, they will reap the bitter fruits of such erroneous counsels. Our blessed Lord, by a very simple figure, conveys to us this truth in a most convincing way: "If the blind lead the blind, shall they not both fall into the ditch Matthew 15:14." We cannot doubt of this, in relation to this world; nor is there any more reason to doubt of it in relation to eternity. It will be no excuse to any, especially to any who have had the Scriptures in their hands, that they were deceived. They had access to the fountain of knowledge; and they might have obtained by prayer the influences of the Holy Spirit to instruct them: and therefore they are altogether responsible for the errors they have imbibed, and for the counsels they have followed. In them will surely be fulfilled that declaration of the prophet, "The leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed Isaiah 9:16."
3. The salvation of our own souls depends upon it—
As from God we have received our commission, so to God are we responsible for our execution of it. In truth, so awful is our responsibility, that nothing but a conviction that "a dispensation is committed to us," and that we are "called to it by the Holy Spirit," could prevail upon us to undertake the office of ministering to immortal souls. Hear what God himself has spoken to us: "Son of man, I have made you a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, You shall surely die; and you give him not warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at your hand Ezekiel 3:17-18." Here you see, that if the consequences be fatal to others, they are doubly so to ourselves: for they who perish through our unfaithfulness, have only their own souls to answer for: but we must perish under the accumulated guilt of destroying, not our own souls only, but the souls of all that have been committed to our charge. Well does the Apostle Paul again and again make that request: "Brethren, pray for us:" for indeed we need your prayers; since we are sure to incur man's displeasure, if we are faithful; and God's displeasure, if, through any motive whatever, we shrink from a full discharge of our duty.
Ahab's mind towards the faithful Micaiah shows to every minister,
II. The recompense he must expect for his fidelity—
It might be supposed, that in proportion to the fidelity with which he exercises his office, a minister should be loved: but by the ungodly world he will rather be hated like Micaiah, and for the very same reason, "because he does not speak good concerning them, but evil." This hatred to him will be,
If we go back to the beginning of the world, we shall not find one faithful minister that ever escaped the hatred of those around him. Noah "condemned the world" in his ministrations; and was regarded by them with scorn and contempt. If we ask how Moses, David, Elijah, and all the prophets were treated? our Lord has told us; "Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?" As for the Apostles, our blessed Lord plainly warned them, that they also should have their cross to bear, being "hated, reviled, persecuted, for his sake." But it may be thought that our blessed Savior could never become an object of aversion to any; since the perfection of his wisdom, and the extent of his goodness, and the efficiency of his power, would preclude a possibility of his being regarded with any feelings but those of love and gratitude. Yet, though "he spoke as never man spoke," and wrought miracles far more numerous than those which had been wrought from the foundation of the world, he was more an object of hatred than any other: as he says; "The world cannot hate you: but me it hates, because I testify of it that the works thereof are evil John 7:7." Even at this day there is not to be found on earth one faithful minister who does not experience the truth of that assertion, "If they have hated me, they will hate you also." It matters not what wisdom these servants of God exercise, or what talents they possess, or what blamelessness they maintain; if they will discharge their duty faithfully to God and man, they shall surely be made conformable to their Savior's image in this respect: for, "if men called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household."
It is not the profane and profligate alone that will hate the servants of God; but the moral, the sober, and those who have in some respect a regard for religion. Indeed, those who are of more decent habits are, for the most part, the very leaders in opposition to the faithful ministers of Christ; insomuch that Satan found not any more willing or more efficient instruments to persecute Paul and Barnabas, than a number of "devout and honorable women Acts 13:50." Bound as kings are to protect the servants of the Most High, they have often been found their most cruel oppressors. Ahab would gladly have wreaked his vengeance on Elijah, even as Jezebel had already done on a vast multitude of the Lord's prophets: and at different periods have the great and mighty of the earth exerted all their power to extirpate the servants of the Lord. From this enmity no rank or order of men is exempt: "the fat bulls of Bashan" have been forward to lead the way; and "dogs have joined in compassing" about the servants of the Lord, to destroy them. Even little children have encouraged one another in this impious work. No less than forty-two of them ridiculed Elisha, saying, "Go up, you bald head! go up, you bald head!" expressing thereby their contempt, if not their disbelief, of the miracle that had been wrought in the assumption of the prophet Elijah in a fiery chariot to Heaven. And so, at this day, we can scarcely have a surer criterion of the state of men's minds towards religion, than in the conduct of their children towards the faithful ministers of Christ. So true is that declaration of our blessed Lord to his faithful servants, "You shall be hated of all men for my name's sake."
There is no other thing which excites so much enmity as this. Persons guilty of any crime meet with some compassion: and, if they be treated with too much severity, they will find some to vindicate their cause. But a faithful servant of Christ may be persecuted with ever so much virulence, and none will venture to interpose for him. Ahab acknowledged that he had no other ground of displeasure against Micaiah, than his fidelity in declaring the messages of the Most High. And when he avowed both his hostility to him, and the grounds of it, Jehoshaphat, notwithstanding his piety, dared not to espouse the cause of this injured prophet any further, than merely to suggest, "Let not the king say so." And, when he heard the prophet doomed to imprisonment and all its attendant horrors, he uttered not one word in his defense, but left him to experience all the wrath of his vindictive persecutor. So it was with our Lord. When he stood at Pilate's bar, not one, out of the many thousands whom he had healed, would bear testimony in his favor, or endeavor to avert from him his impending doom. So it is at this day: "all manner of evil may be spoken, and spoken falsely," respecting a pious minister; and the utmost that any one will dare to say in his behalf, is, "Let not the king say so." True it is, that persecution does not rage to the same extent as formerly; but this is owing to the laws of the land, and to the spirit of toleration which has superseded the bigotry of former times: the enmity of men's hearts, if unrestrained, would break forth with the very same fury that it ever did; and the cry of "Crucify him, crucify him," would be heard, wherever the character of Christ and his Apostles was exhibited.
Desirous, however, of approving myself to God, let me address,
1. Those who, like Ahab, determinately follow their own way—
Of Ahab's idolatries, I say nothing. The point before us is, his determination to follow his own way for his own temporal advantage. And need I say how common a character this is? I dare not, then, "speak flattering words" to such persons. No: "I cannot speak good concerning them, but evil." Indeed, my Brethren, God's will must be regarded by you as of paramount obligation; and, if you will not obey his voice, you must inevitably perish. Tell me not whether a Jehoshaphat concurs with you, or false prophets uphold you: if all the Jehoshaphats in the universe concur with you, or all the false prophets in the world support you, I care not for it: it is at their own peril so to do; and it is by God's word, and not by man's precept or example, that you shall be judged in the last day. Let me not, then, be deemed "your enemy, because I tell you the truth Galatians 4:16." I cannot "sew pillars to your arm-holes," or "daub your wall with untempered mortar." "I cannot speak peace to you, when there is no peace Ezekiel 13:10-11; Ezekiel 13:16; Ezekiel 13:18 with Jeremiah 6:14." Believe me, Brethren, there is no happiness but in serving God; there is no safety but in an entire surrender of your souls to him.
2. Those who are induced to make compliances which their own consciences condemn—
Be assured that a holy firmness in the way of duty is best. Your ill-advised compliances will only bring shame and trouble to your own souls. Who can tell what might have been the result to Ahab, if Jehoshaphat had acted with the firmness that became him? He might, perhaps, have prevented all the evil that ensued. And you also, my Brethren, if you will be faithful to your God, may prove blessings to many, whom by your dissimulation and cowardice you deceive. Let every child of God consider himself as a witness for God: let him "shine as a light in a dark world:" let no consideration under Heaven tempt him to be "a partaker of other men's sins." Let him "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them Ephesians 5:11." Yes, let him rebuke sin, though he be hated for it; and act uprightly, though he be abhorred for it Amos. 5:10. And whatever any man may suffer for righteousness' sake, let him rejoice in the thought, that they so persecuted the prophets that were before him, and that in proportion to his sufferings will be his reward in Heaven Matthew 5:11-12.
1 Kings 22:19-23
SATAN'S STRATAGEM TO DECEIVE AHAB
1 Kings 22:19-23. And he said, Hear you therefore the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of Heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. And the Lord said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him. And the Lord said unto him, With which? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, You shall persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets, and the Lord has spoken evil concerning you.
IN order to have a correct view of Scripture truths, we must consider particularly the style in which the Scriptures are written. They are accommodated to the weak apprehensions of fallen man. Hence in various descriptions of the Deity, he is represented as having eyes and ears and hands, and as deliberating and acting according to circumstances, just as if he were a man like unto us. But we must not therefore conceive of him as a man, but only as ordering his dispensations towards us with unerring wisdom. In like manner he is represented in the text as holding a conference with Satan, and as adopting a plan proposed by him for the effecting of purposes originating with himself. But we must not therefore suppose that God did not know how to effect his own purposes without any help from Satan: we must only understand that God overruled the devices of that wicked fiend for the accomplishment of his own will.
Indeed the particular representation here given, has an evident reference to what had actually taken place between the two confederate kings. They had put on their royal robes, and seated themselves on thrones in the midst of all their courtiers verse 10, in order to receive the counsel of the prophets respecting the projected war: and, agreeably to that, the prophet represents the Deity as enthroned amidst all the heavenly hosts, and holding a counsel with them about the best method of inflicting on Ahab his deserved punishment. It is not intended that we should construe this literally, as if all these questions and answers were really uttered by the different parties in a public assembly; but merely that God determined to make the designs of Ahab the means of his destruction.
There is however one point which may obviously be collected from this account, namely, the power of Satan to deceive men; and it will form a very profitable subject for our present consideration. Let us then inquire into,
I. The sources of his power—
Satan has from the beginning been the great deceiver of mankind. But whence has he this power to deceive? We answer,
1. From his having so many other spirits under his command—
The fallen angels are many in number, and so numerous, that one single person possessed by devils called Himself "Legion," because of the exceeding greatness of the number that dwelt within him. Of these there are different ranks and orders, just as there are of the good angels; and they are all united under one head, even "Beelzebub, the prince of the devils." Of Ahab's prophets there were four hundred; and, through the influence of one spirit, they were all possessed by spirits perfectly united with each other for the accomplishment of one end. Now this gives them an immense advantage. Had there been but one, or only a few, we might have hoped to escape their notice, or be visited by them but seldom: but there is reason to believe that they are immensely more numerous than the human race, so that there is not a human being that is not infested with them, nor a moment of time when they are not ready to take advantage of us.
2. From his wisdom and subtlety—
" The serpent was the most subtle of the brute creation," and was therefore made use of by Satan as an instrument whereby to deceive our first parents: and in reference to that event, Satan is called "that old serpent, the Devil Revelation 12:9." Of his subtlety there is much spoken in the Holy Scriptures. Like a fowler he spreads his net, and "takes men alive in his snare 2 Timothy 2:26. The Greek;" and so deep are his "wiles" and "devices," that no human wisdom can fathom them, no human sagacity escape them. As a spirit, he is a pure intelligence, like the holy angels, disrobed indeed of his holiness, but not of his intellectual powers. He knows what is suited to the dispositions of men, and what is most likely to prevail with them under all the circumstances wherein they are placed. In his assaults on our blessed Lord, he seized the moment most favorable for his purpose, and urged the temptations most likely to prevail: and it is reasonable to suppose, that the experience of six thousand years has contributed not a little to his proficiency and advancement in every species of deceit.
3. From his easy access to the minds of men—
A material being would have found difficulty in presenting himself to men on many occasions: but an immaterial or spiritual being finds no obstacles, except what arise from the internal principles of those whom he would assault. He has access to one as well as another at all times. What an immense advantage does this give him! Indeed, if it were not that we have good angels also attendant on us and ministering unto us, and, above all, that we have the Spirit of the living God continually dwelling in us for the express purpose of counteracting and defeating his influence, we could have no hope whatever of escaping from his toils.
4. From the number and influence of his confederates—
There is not a wicked man in the universe who is not actuated by him, and made subservient to his designs: from all of them therefore he derives much support; but especially from those, whose situation in life gives them greater sway over the public mind. If he can prevail on a prince or monarch to exert his influence, he will gain a rapid ascendency over a whole kingdom. The instant that Jeroboam set up his golden calves, the whole people of Israel "willingly ran after his commandment." And if he can prevail on those in the prophetic office to sanction error by their preaching, or iniquity by their conduct, he will easily draw in their train the great mass of their followers. The text shows us how the united testimony of four hundred prophets deceived even the pious Jehoshaphat: and the more pretensions to piety such prophets make, the more useful to Satan will their labors be; since he never exerts himself with more effect than when he "transforms himself into an angel of light 2 Corinthians 11:13-15."
5. From the willingness of men to be deceived—
This perhaps is the greatest source of his power. Men are not impartial judges of good and evil, or of truth and error: their judgment is warped: they have corrupt inclinations which bias them Isaiah 44:20; Jeremiah 8:5; Jeremiah 9:6; their own "heart is deceitful and desperately wicked:" and hence, when Satan has undertaken to assault them, he finds traitors in their own bosoms ready to open the gates to him, and to admit him into the very citadel, before they are aware of his approach. The truth of this is manifested whenever an attempt is made to suppress evil or inculcate good. We see in a moment to which side men lean, and that arguments are weighed, not according to their real solidity, but according to the aspect they bear on our favorite propensities. Of course, this is extremely favorable to the interests of Satan, who needs only to present things to us in a specious view, and is sure beforehand that we shall be as ready to comply with his temptations, as he is to solicit our compliance. The case of Ahab is one of daily occurrence: thousands there are who hate the light, and say to their ministers, "Prophesy unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits Jeremiah 5:31." It is obvious therefore that Satan finds in the very dispositions of men the most successful advocate, and able coadjutor.
Having seen the sources of his power to deceive, we proceed to point out,
II. The limits—
Doubtless his power is inconceivably great, since he deceived man even in his state of innocence, and from that time has "deceived the whole world Revelation 12:9." But his power is limited,
1. In its duration—
Satan shall not always have the ascendant that he now has: there is a time coming, (and, we hope, at no great distance now,) when he shall "be bound, and deceive the nations no more for the space of a thousand years Revelation 20:1-3; Revelation 20:7." What a blessed period will that be! What peace, and joy, and holiness will abound in the Church, when that wicked fiend shall cease from defiling and troubling the souls of men Zechariah 14:20-21 with Isaiah 30:26; Isaiah 60:19-22; O that the happy period were arrived! May "God hasten it in his time!"
2. In its objects—
Wide as his influence is, it is not universal; for God has delivered his chosen people from his malignant influence. We say not indeed that there are any so delivered, but that they need to be continually on their guard against him Zechariah 4:1; Matthew 26:41; 2 Corinthians 11:3. But our Lord has assured us, that "it is not possible for him to deceive the elect Matthew 24:24;" and the reason of this is, that God has discovered to them his devices 2 Corinthians 2:11,: and armed them against his assaults Ephesians 6:11,: and engaged to "guide them by his counsel, until he receives them to glory Psalm 73:24.": A further reason is, that Jesus, our all-prevailing Advocate, "intercedes for them, that their faith may not fail Luke 22:31-32;" and hence it was, that, while "Satan desired to have Peter, as well as Judas, to sift him as wheat," he could prevail over him only for a season; so that Peter rose again and overcame him, while Judas hanged himself, and became the everlasting prey of the destroyer.
3. In its operations—
Satan could only "persuade" Ahab; he could not compel him; nor can he influence any man in opposition to his own will. He is "a roaring lion;" and all before him are but as lambs: yet in prosecuting his malignant purposes against them, he destroys those only "whom he may devour," not those whom he would 1 Peter 5:8. This is a most encouraging circumstance: for, if only we cry to God for grace to desire, and strength to do, his will, we may defy all the hosts of Hell: such resistance overcomes Satan, and makes him flee 1 Peter 5:9 and James 4:7. No fiery dart that he can cast at us will pierce the shield of faith; nor all his skill enable him to withstand the sword of the Spirit Ephesians 6:16-17, when wielded by a believing hand.
1. Guard against obstinacy in sin—
A willful perseverance in sin constrains God to give men over to their own lusts Psalm 81:11-12; Romans 1:24; Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28; Isaiah 66:4, and to leave them in the hands of their great adversary. To what a fearful extent God will proceed against us in this way, we cannot even read without horror 2 These. 2:11, 12. Beloved Brethren, let me entreat you not so to provoke your God, as to bring upon yourselves this fearful curse. If once God say, "He is joined to idols, let him alone Hosea 4:17; Hosea 9:12," it were better for you that you had never been born.
2. Seek an interest in the Lord Jesus Christ—
Christ has vanquished that great enemy of God and man, agreeably to what was foretold to man in Paradise Genesis 3:15; in the garden, and upon the cross, he vanquished him Matthew 4:10; Colossians 2:15; and he has engaged to "bruise him under our feet Romans 16:20." Seek then an interest in his death, to ransom you; in his intercession, to preserve you; and in his grace, to strengthen you: so shall you "be more than conquerors through Him that loved you," and shall enjoy the fruits of victory in Heaven, when "the deceiver of mankind shall be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone" to receive the due reward of his exertions in everlasting torment Revelation 20:10.