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he seduced ? why did he desire that his own bones might be honoured with his sepulchre ? Doubtless he was a prophet of God, but corrupt, resty, vicious. Prophecy doth not always presuppose sanctification many a one hath had visions from God, who shali never enjoy the vision of God. A very Balaam, in his ecstasies, hath so clear a revelation of the Messiah to come, as scarce ever any of the holiest prophets; yea, his very ass hath both her mouth miraculously opened, and her eyes, to see and notify that angel, which was hid from her master: yea, Satan himself sometimes receives notice from God of his future actions; which else that evil spirit could neither foretel, nor foresee. These kinds of graces are both rare and common ; rare, in that they are seldom given to any; common, in that they are indifferently given to the evil and to the good. A little holiness is worth much illumination.
Whether out of envy to hear that said by the seer of Judah, which he either knew not or smothered; to hear that done by another, which he could not have effected, and could not choose but admire; or whether out of desire to make trial of the fidelity of so powerful a messenger, the old prophet hastens to overtake, to recall that man of God, who had so defied his Bethel, whom he finds sitting faint and weary under an oak in the way, taking the benefit of that shade which he hated to receive from those contagious groves that he had left behind him: his habit easily bewrayed him to a man of his own trade; neither doth his tongue spare to profess himself. The old prophet of Bethel invites him to return to a repast; and is answered with the same words, wherewith Jeroboam's offer was repelled: the man of God varies not a syllable from his message. It concerns us to take good heed of our charge, when we go on God's errand. A denial doth but invite the importunate; what he cannot do by entreaty, the old man tries to do by persuasion. “I am a prophet also as thou art,
and an angel spake to me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water.” There is no temptation so dangerous as that which comes shrouded under a veil of holiness, and pretends authority of God himself. Jeroboam threatens, the prophet stands undaunted; Jeroboam fawns and
promises, the prophet holds constant: now comes a grey-headed seer, and pleads a counter-message from God; the prophet yields and transgresses. Satan may affright us as a fiend, but he seduces us as an angel of light.
Who would have looked for a liar under hoary hairs, and a holy mantle ? who would not have trusted that gravity, when there was no colour of any gain in the untruth? Nothing is so apt to deceive as the fairest semblances-as the sweete words. We cannot err, if we believe not the speech for the person, but the person for the speech. Well might this man of God think, an aged man, a prophet, an old prophet, will not, sure, belie God unto a prophet; no man will forge a lie, but for an advantage. What can this man gain by this match, but the entertainment of an unprofitable guest ? Perhaps, though God would not allow me to feast with Jeroboam, yet pitying my faintness, he may allow me to eat with a prophet. Perhaps, now that I have approved my fidelity in refusing the bread of Bethel, God thinks good to send me a gracious release of that strict charge. Why should I think, that God's revelations are not as free to others, as to me? and if this prophet have received a countermand from an angel of God, how shall I not disobey God, if I do not follow him?
Upon this ground he returns with this deceitful host; and, when the meat was now in his mouth, receives the true message of death from the same lips that brought him the false message of his invita
tion ; "Thus saith the Lord, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the Lord, and hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, but camest back and hast eaten bread, and drunk water in the place forbidden thee, thy carcass shall not come to the sepulchre of thy fathers.” O woful prophet! when he looks on his host, he sees his executioner ; while he is feeding of his body, he hears of his carcass: : at the table he hears of his denied sepulchre; and all this for eating and drinking where he was forbidden by God, though bidden as from God. The violation of the least charge of God is mortal. No pretences can warrant the transgression of a divine command : a word from God is pleaded on both sides; the one was received immediately from God, the other related mediately by man: one the prophet was sure of, the other was questionable. A sure word of God may not be left for an uncertain: an express charge of the Almighty admitteth not of any check: his will is but one as himself is; and therefore it is out of the danger of contradiction.
Methinks I see the man of God change countenance at this sharp sauce of his pleasing morsel ; his face beforehand is dyed with the paleness of death. Methinks I hear him urging many unkind expostulations with his injurious host, who yet dismisses him better provided for the ease of his journey than he found him. Perhaps this officiousness was out of desire to make amends for this late seducement. It is a poor recompense, when he hath betrayed his life, and wronged the soul, to cast some courtesies upon the body.
The old Bethelite, that had taken pains to come and fetch the man of God into sin, will not now go back with him to accompany his departure. Doubtless he was afraid to be enwrapped in the judgment which he saw hanged over that obnoxious head. Thus the mischievous guides of wickedness leave a man, when they have led him to his bane; as familiar devils forsake their witches, when they have brought them once into fetters.
The man of God returns alone, careful, no doubt, and pensive for his offence, when a lion out of the wood meets, assaults, and kills him. Oh the just and severe judgments of the Almighty, who hath brought this fierce beast out of his wild ranges into the highway, to be the executioner of his offending servant ! Doubtless this prophet was a man of great holiness, of singular fidelity, else he durst not have been God's herald to carry a message of defiance to Jeroboam, king of Israel, in the midst of his royal magnificence; yet now, for varying from but a circumstance of God's command, though upon the suggestion of a divine warrant, is given for a prey to the lion. Our interest in God is so far from excusing our sin, that it aggravates it; of all others the sin of a prophet shall not pass unrevenged.
The very wild beasts are led by a providence; their wise and powerful Creator knows how to serve himself of them. The lions guard one prophet, kill another, according to the commission received from their Maker. What sinner can hope to escape unpunished, when every creature of God is ready to be an avenger of evil ? The beasts of the field were made to serve us, we to serve our Creator. When we forsake our homage to him that made us, it is no marvel if the beasts forget their duty to us, and deal with us not as masters, but as rebels. When a holy man buys so dearly such a slight frailty, of a credulous mistaking, what shall become of our heinous and presumptuous sins?
I cannot think but this prophet died in the favour of God; though by the teeth of the lion his life was forfeited for example, his soul was safe ; yea, his very carcass was left, though torn, yet fair, after those deadly grasps; as if God had said, I will only take thy breath from thee, as the penalty of thy disobedience: a lion shall do that which an apoplexy or fever might do. I owe thee no further revenge than may be satisfied with thy blood.
Violent events do not always argue the anger of God; even death itself is to his servants a fatherly castigation.
But, oh the unsearchable ways of the Almighty ! the man of God sins, and dies speedily; the lying prophet that seduced him survives ; yea, wicked Jeroboam enjoys his idolatry, and treads upon the grave of his reprover. There is neither favour in the delay of stripes, nor displeasure in the haste; rather whom God loves he chastises, as sharply, so speedily, while the rest prosper to condemnation: even the rod of a loving father may draw blood. How much happier is it for us, that we die now to live for ever, than that we live a while to die ever!
Had this lion set upon the prophet for hunger, why did he not devour as well as kill him ? why did he not rather kill the beast than the man, since we know the nature of the lion such, that he is not wont to assail man, save in the extreme want of other prey ? Certainly the same power that employed those fangs restrained them, that the world might see it was not appetite that provoked the beast to this violence, but the overruling command of God. Even so, O Lord, thy powerful hand is over that roaring lion, that goes about continually seeking whom he may devour! thine hand withholds him, that though he may shed the blood of thine elect, yet he cannot hurt their souls : and while he doth those things which thou permittest, and orderest to thy just ends, yet he cannot do lesser things which he desireth, and thou permittest not.
The fierce beast stands by the carcass, as to avow his own act, and to tell who sent him, so to preserve that body which he had slain. Oh wonderful work of God! the executioner is turned guardian ! and, as the officer of the Highest, commands all other creatures to stand aloof from his charge, and com