THE LYI G PROPHETS. BY THOMAS AR OLD, D.D.

1 Kings xzii. 23. ew therefore, hehM, the Lord hath put a lying epirit m the mouth of aU these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee, Wb have heard in this afternoon's service the chapter from which these words are taken, so that I need only briefly remind you of the circumstances to which they relate. Ahab, going to make war against Syria, consults the prophets as to the success of his enterprise. All promised him victory, and encouraged him to go to war ; all, with one only exception, Micaiah the son of Imlah. Micaiah, on the contrary, told him that the prophets were deceiving him with false hopes ; that the war would end in his death, and that God had put a Ijring spirit into the mouths of all the prophets, because He had spoken evil concerning him ; because the time of his judgment was now come. The fact is told in the language of a vision, which very much resembles the opening chapter of the book of Job. There, as in the present instance, spirits both good and evil are represented as presenting themselves before the throne of God, and the evil crave permission of Him to exercise their power upon mankind. It is added that the permission is granted, but so as that it may appear from both stories that evil is made an

86 THE LYI G PROPHETS.

instrument of God's purposes, and that He suffers it to go

so far as He sees fit, and no farther. Again the multitude of considerations which these passages of Scripture suggest, can scarcely be confined within the limits of a single sermon. Again there is room for explanation on the one hand, for practical improvement on the other ; and I shall try, as shortly as possible, to give something of either sort. First, in these visions, and in all other passages of Scripture which relate to things invisible, to the things, that is, of another world, it is of great consequence to remember that the descriptions are but the shadow of unseen things, and not the very image of them ; that the language is not to be taken as literally true, but as intended, like a parable or story, to convey a truth through the means of fiction. The very words, *the throne of God,' or, * God sitting on his throne,' which occur so often in Scripture, are seen, the moment that our attention is drawn to them, to be merely figurative ; and * the spirits standing by on the right hand and on the left,' is an image of the same character. All that we can conclude safely from these visions is the general truth, that God allows us to be tempted, allows us to be deceived ; and that both the one and the other may serve for our trial or for our punishment: it is for us so to use them that they may become the former only, and not the latter. In the next place, in these stories, and in many others in the Scripture, there is but one diflSculty, and this difficulty would not be lessened though the doctrine taught by these passages were false instead of true. The difficulty is simply that great one, — I had well nigh said, that only one of our condition ; * Why there is an evil at all in the world ? ' It is always right to say plainly on the one hand that this is a difficulty which no human understanding

THE LYI G PROPHETS. 87 can explain ; and to show on the other hand, that, allowing this one difficulty to be inexplicable, — as it must be equally, whether we believe the Scriptures or no, — and trusting at the same time that it will be explained to God's faithful children hereafter as one of the greatest rewards of those who believed though they did not see, — that then the truths in the Scripture which many cavil at, are not only true, but most profitable ; that we need not be afraid of the passages which contain them, nor try to explain away their meaning, but that we should consider them and study them attentively, and that then we shall find, if I may be allowed to repeat words which I have used before, that the deepest difficulties and the most blessed truths are to be found hard beside one another. Are we then offended to hear that the Lord hath put a lying spirit into the mouth of any man ? Let us confess indeed, that how there should be such a thing as a lying spirit in the universe, where the God of truth is Lord, passes all our comprehension ; but that this being so, — ^though how or why wq know not, — and our own experience telling us too certainly that it is so, it is no wonder that Grod should not leave it utterly running wild ; that He should subject it in some sort at least to His dominion, and make it, evil as it is in its own proper nature, the instrument at least to others, (since He sees fit not to destroy its nature,) of His own purposes of good. And if we say again. What purposes of good ? — for Uiat this lying spirit was put into the mouth of the prophets not to benefit Ahab, but to help forward his ruin ; the answer is, — and we were all at once fit for heaven if we felt the truth, as well as expressed it with our lips, — the answer is, that the existence of evil is indeed a mystery, but that the punishment and destruction of evil is one of the greatest of goods. And if we laboured in this

88 THE LYI G PROPHETS. —--——'— work where alone we can labour at it quite purely and safely, that is, at the utter destruction of .all evil within our own hearts ; for while destroying it in others, evil passions so mix in the work that we create as much as we destroy ; — ^but if we did labour heartily and intensely at the destruction of our own hearts' evil, if we did feel how great it was, how entirely God abhors it, and how blessed a thing it must be to destroy it, then indeed we should share the mind of the Spirit of God and be fit for communion with Him. It is indeed a solemn truth that the destruction of evil should be so great a good ; for it is one which is our own condemnation. Yet so it is, and it is an attribute no less closely connected with the nature of God, than His unfailing mercy to the good. God then makes evil the instrument of good, when He makes it the instrument of the destruction of evil. And this was the case when He put the lying spirit in the mouth of the prophets, because the time of judgment upon Ahab was come. Only here is God's long suffering, that He is slow to consider any man as evil, and therefore fit for destruction : He suspends His judgment upon them till the very hour of death ; till then, even His punishments are not without something of chastisement ; that is, they may be used for the destruction of the evil that is in the man, so that he himself may be saved. And this was the case with Ahab. For when Micaiah opened the secret of God's counsel against him, the opportunity was given him of turning it to good. God had resolved to encourage to his ruin the wicked and hard-hearted Ahab ; but Ahab, humbled and penitent, became another man, and the judgment against his evil self was revealed to him, that he might become another self, and so escape

from it. For so it is ever true, that God desireth not the

THE LYI G PROPHETS. 89 death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live. I have dwelt upon points which will not be generally interesting ; but yet it was right to mention them, as there are some to whom it would have appeared unnatural to pass them over unnoticed, and as, iminteresting and obscure as they are to those who have never thought on them at all, so are they in proportion full of interest to those whose minds have once become alive to them. But what remains is of a different character, and concerns us all. The same thing may happen now, does happen in a degree to all of us. An evil spirit is sent into the mouths of the prophets, and it tempts us continually to our ruin. I notice the circumstance of its being put ^ into the mouths of the prophets,' — not into the mouths of the prophets of Baal, but of the very prophets of the true God, — for the sake of remarking that we are tempted to evil, not always by those who might be supposed to be in fi&vour of evil, but by those too sometimes from whom we might expect good : that even the very love of our friends becomes sometimes a snare to us : and that there is nothing, up to the very Scriptures themselves, the very vohune which contains God's revelations to His creatures, from which the evil heart may not expect to find encouragement to evil, from which it may not be tempted to believe a lie, that so its condemnation may be the surer. This perhaps may be particularly applied to us, when we, like Ahab, are meditating upon some enterprise; when we propose to do something, the event of which may be

either a great hurt or a great good to us. I am not now supposing the case of a man like Balaam, revolving whether or no he shall do a wicked thing which he much desires to do, and looking out for some excuse to lull his

90 THE LYI G PROPHETS. conscience in doing it. The case of Ahab is different from this ; the war against Syria to recover Samoth-Gilead, which had been formerly taken from Israel, was not in itself a thing unlawful : it was not a thing which it was tempting God so much as to think of. Ahab was deceived, not for his wickedness in the actual matter then before him, but for the general evil of his life ; which made that which was innocent in common cases a snare to him. I cannot give what seems a more complete picture of the general meaning of this passage of Scripture, than by supposing a man of very careless life considering whether or no he should enter into holy orders. It is Ahab's very question, ^ Shall I go up against the enemy of God's Israel to battle, or shall I forbear ? ' And then there are many to answer, ^ Go up, for the Lord shall deliver him into thy hand ? ' You are desiring a good work, and may expect upon it a good issue. And this is true ; but what are we that desire it ? Are we such as God loves ? Have we been so living as that we may be thought fit to be the honoured instruments of His glory? We are desirous now to fight against the enemies of the Lord, but have we ourselves faithfully served Him ? or have we not rather been serving Baal ? o doubt the work which we desire is good in itself, but it is not good for us. To us, such as we now are, it will }je our destruction if we attempt it ; and they are but lying spirits, counselling us to our ruin who urge us to venture on it. What follows from this ? Surely, not that we should turn away our thoughts and desires from the ministry of

God, but that we should rather fix them on it more steadily long beforehand ; that so what is good in itself may be good also to us. Then the lying spirit will have no room to tempt us to our ruin, or rather his words will be no lie, but the very truth ; we may go up to the battle of the Lord, and He will be with us, and bless us.

THE LYI G PROPHETS. 91 ow, 80 many years beforehand, most safely may you be encouraged to desire highly the service of Christ's ministry, to think of it as your object, and so to fit yourselves for it. But if not thinking of it now, if not thinking of it at college, if living carelessly and sinfully, serving Baal and despising God, — if then, at the time when it shall suit your worldly convenience, you turn roimd and say that you desire now to fight the battles of the Lord, then are you become such as that the very loving counsel of your firiends is a snare to evil ; their encouragements to go on in the course which you propose, are but urging you on to bring upon yourselves the heavier condemnation. But this need not be confined to one profession only, it belongs to all. In all we may strive against the enemies of the Lord ; all are good in themselves, all are lawful objects of desire. Yet all, like Ahab's war against Syria, will be entered on only to our ruin, if we like him have been habitually serving Baal beforehand. Our friends say well, * this is an honourable and profitable profession ; enter on it and prosper.' They say what is well in itself, but to us it is but the spirit that tempts us to destruction. We have fitted ourselves to receive not the good of the profession, but only its evil ; not to make it a means of glorifying God, and being useful in our generation, but to encourage in us either our pride, or our indolence, or our covetousness ; or that fault, whatever it be, which the peculiar line of life on which we are going to enter is

most likely to foster. For we all know that every line of life has its own temptations ; every calling may be made the means of destroying our souls, as well as of saving them ; and it is our previous evil dispositions and low principles which will make it to us the evil and not the good. And then it is too late to turn back ; we must do something in life, yet we can do nothing safely; God

92 THE LYI G PROPHETS. urges us on to Kamoth-Gilead that we may fah and perish. Such is the state of those who are preparing to enter upon life, — whatever may be their particular views in it, — under the curse of careless or corrupted principles, with their earlier years unimproved or marked only with sin. If they are saved at last, it may be truly said that they are saved so as by fire ; it is God's marvellous long-suffering and abundant grace, which enables them to turn what was to them evil into good, by being changed themselves from evil ; even as they had in the banning turned into evil that which was in its nature good, because they had corrupted their way before the Lord, and were marked by Him for judgment.

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