THE NAMELESS PROPHET.

By REV. ALFRED ROWLAND, LL.B., B.A. Preached in Park Chapel, Sunday January 24th, 1886.

I Kings xiii. 7, 8. " And the king said unto the man o<" God. Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward. And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place."

This passage forms part of a very remarkable narrative. The miraculous element is so prominent that certain critics would have the chapter expunged from Holy Scripture. Such an eclectic process, however, if it were followed to its legitimate conclusion, would leave us nothing worth calling a Divine revelation. The natural and the supernatural are closely interwoven, as are the woof and web of a fabric, and the destruction of either would be the practical dissolution of the whole; indeed, nowhere is this more manifestly true than in the life and death, in the resurrection and ascension, in the works and claims of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

If ever miracles and signs occurred, they were appropriate, if not absolutely necessary, to God's cause in the days of Jeroboam. Idolatrous practices were being established in the kingdom of Israel as its distinctive mark, and most of the worshippers of Jehovah had been seduced from their allegiance to Him by the allurements of worldly policy and of social

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influence. The extravagant prosperity of Solomon's reign had emasculated the people; their simplicity had been corrupted, and their spiritual life had been almost extinguished. Now, if ever, it was needful that peculiar and startling revelations of God should be given, and that the sea of spiritual life, which is always silently surging around the material world, should break into the visible sphere. As afterwards, in the days of Ahab, so now, in the days of Jeroboam, God in His wisdom gave special

The Nameless Prophet. 49

manifestations of His presence and power. And although the effect on the idolatrous king was only transient, doubtless some godless people were warned, and some secret worshippers of Jehovah were encouraged.

The tragic history of the nameless prophet, which is recorded in this chapter, is startling and suggestive. The man wins our admiration, and yet calls for our pity. He seems at once heroic and foolish. He delivers his message with splendid courage, and then unaccountably falls into disobedience and disaster. If we judge of him from ordinary biographies, his character will appear utterly incomprehensible ; but if we judge of him from ourselves, he will appear sadly natural, both in the waywardness of his temper and in the entanglement of his motives. Thus, by God's blessing, we may be led by our thoughts about him to a deeper knowledge of our own possibilities and perils.

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Jeroboam had just been founding the kingdom of Israel, having rent away the ten tribes from the nerveless rule of Solomon's son, Rehoboam. It. was as a shrewd politician, rather than as an idolater (for he was essentially a man of the world, a clever opportunist) that he was now engaged in setting up the worship of the calves at Bethel. The place already had many sacred associations, for it was here that Abraham had held his own against the Canaanites, and here Jacob had seen the heavenly ladder, and had built his altar unto the Lord. For these and other reasons Bethel was chosen as a site for the new worship, which was now being inaugurated by splendid rites in imitation of those with which Solomon had consecrated the Temple at Jerusalem. That great king had chosen the feast of Tabernacles as the season of dedication, and therefore Jeroboam did the same, although he daringly altered the date of the festival from the seventh month to the eighth. We can imagine the assembling of the people, the erection of tents and booths for their shelter during the week, and the magnificent procession of heathen priests to the altar erected before the golden calf. Beside that altar Jeroboam, the king, himself stood ; for as Solomon had led his people in prayer, so Jeroboam intended to act as prince, and leader, and priest, personally to offer incense to the idol. Hidden till now in the crowd was one man who dared to brave the king's wrath in this supreme moment of triumphant sin. He was a prophet from the neighbouring and rival kingdom of Judah. Just at this critical time — regardless of consequences — he stepped boldly out into the vacant space 7

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50 The Nameless Prophet.

around the altar, and suddenly stood beside the king. Then, without uttering a word either to Jeroboam or to the people, treating them as if they were more deaf and hard than the very stones of which the altar was built, he thundered out this message : " O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord : Behold a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name, and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee,"

Who was this bold prophet? Josephus identified him with Iddo, the seer ; but the statement is merely conjectural. The man must remain nameless, as he is left in this chapter. God has had many servants besides this one who have contentedly done their work without emblazoning their names upon it. And there are not wanting now those who are forming the characters of the next generation by educational work ; those who are secretly combatting in obscure haunts the vices which prevail ; those who are affecting by literature the policy of the country, and the thought of the Church, whose names are unknown outside the narrow circle of those who love them. But not one of them is forgotten before God. Let us first consider —

I. The Message delivered by this nameless prophet. i. Its Divine origin is expressly asserted in the second verse : " he cried

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. . . in the word of the Lord." This is a remarkable phrase. It is not said that he cried the word of God, but that he cried " in" it — as if his message were the sphere in which he lived, the atmosphere he breathed. Nothing could more forcibly suggest the source from which all religious teachers draw their power. It is the consciousness of having a Divine message, the sureness of a Divine call, the confidence that what they have to say is " the. Word of the Lord," which is the sign of the true prophet. Samuel would never have become what he did become but for the call of God which reached him in the Temple. Moses could never have accomplished his noble service for the world had he not known and spoken with Jehovah, who appeared to him in the bush. Isaiah received his inspiration when he "saw the Lord," whose train filled the Temple, and learnt to say: "Heie am I, Lord, send me." And this was equally characteristic of the apostles of Jesus Christ, each of whom could state his credentials in this challenge : " Have not I seen the Lord?" This is equally necessary for us, who aspire to be religious teachers, whether in the home or in the church. In earnest prayer we must wait upon our God ; in the

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depths of inward experience we must listen to His voice ; His Spirit must lead us into truth, and then all that He has commanded us we are bound to speak. We are not to think out our difficulties aloud, or to propound uncertainties and ill-digested speculations, but we are called upon to

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deliver messages. In this the scientific teacher and the religious teacher are unlike. In the investigations of science all has to be discovered by the co-ordinate observations and discussions of various minds ; but in religious truth much is revealed; and it is this revelation which rebukes sin and upholds righteousness, which proclaims a Saviour and foretells a Judge, which we have to announce to the world as ambassadors of God. We have to think and to pray in our studies over truths not yet made clear to our own minds ; but as teachers we have to proclaim what we have already tasted, handled, and felt of the good Word of Life. Depend upon it the world will be stirred now, as it was in former ages, by those who feel that the Word of the Lord is as a burning fire shut up in their bones, who are weary with forbearing and cannot stay. Do not be too greatly troubled, then, because you are still ignorant of much that you want to know. It is something if you have one real message to deliver to the world, it is something if you can place one little child in safety in Jesus's arms ; and all that is demanded of you is that you should be faithful to the message and the Master. May God help us to live in an atmosphere that is Divine, rather than human ; to speak and act " in the Word of the Lord."

2. The definite nature of this message deserves attention. The very name of the avenger, Josiah, is mentioned, though it was 300 years before he was born ; and it was distinctly foretold that idolatrous priests would be slain on the altar erected in defiance of God, and that the site now being set apart for heathen worship would be defiled and dishonoured by the bones of the dead. Centuries elapsed before the fulfilment of this threat, but it came at last, and came at the appointed time, proclaiming to

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all future ages this solemn truth, which it is madness to ignore: "the wages of sin is death."

You cannot fail to have noticed how, not only on this occasion, but on many other occasions, the nature of the punishment was determined by the nature of the sin, as if the well-known lex talionis was a theocratic law. God's punishments are never arbitrary. They are the legitimate issues of the crime or vice they belong to. The sinner is destroyed by his own sin. And this is in harmony with all that we know of God's works. Science is showing the links between cause and effect with ever growing

52 The Nameless Prophet.

clearness and certainty ; and the doctrine of evolution reveals that limbs may perish by disuse or may be developed by necessities of life in newsurroundings. This is true everywhere, not least in the punishments and privations threatened in Scripture, here and hereafter. Hell, for example, is not a place of material fire, as mediseval theology declared, but it is not less to be dreaded as the legitimate and necessary outcome of passions uncontrolled, and of sins unrepented. If only we knew the horrors of it, we should thank God yet more earnestly for the cross of Christ which ever stands between it and the true penitent as an impassable barrier.

After our glance at the message this prophet delivered, let us turn to

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admire

II. The courage he displayed. — His boldness it is not easy to over-rate. He was a Jew, appearing alone among the men of Israel, at a time when hatred to Judah was fiercest ; yet he dared to face them. They were inaugurating idolatrous worship, which was to be the special glory of their kingdom ; yet he openly condemned it in the name of Jehovah. Jeroboam was no weakling to be frightened by bold words ; but a man of despotic and resolute temper, who at the time was rejoicing in the pride of his new royalty; yet this prophet braved his wrath. Though he knew that his cry " O altar, altar !" might be the last cry he uttered and that he might the next moment be torn to pieces by infuriated fanatics, he risked it. Well would it have been for him if then and there he had died, at the post of duty.

Now, we believe that it was the consciousness the prophet had that he was God's messenger (to which we have already referred) that gave him this heroism. It was this which prepared Moses to dare the wrath of Pharaoh; this which nerved Elijah to stand alone face to face with the prophets of Baal ; this which enabled Peter and John undauntedly to face the Sanhedrim ; and this which made Ambrose, and Knox, and Luther, and Zwingle types of a truer heroism than any field of battle has revealed.

Brethren, that same sense of the Divine presence may be yours and mine — it will be if we live lives of prayer ; and then there will be no peril so great that in facing it we shall not be able to say : "I will fear no evil, for

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Thou art with me." Some of you have had times when this has been intensely realised ; but, unhappily, there has been ebb as well as flow in your experience. Sometimes you have boldly protested against what you knew to be wrong ; you have offended dear friends by your earnestness in maintaining God's cause ; you have endured the scorn of some who, assuming

The Nameless Prophet. 53

an intellectual superiority they are far from possessing, condemned you as an old-fashioned saint ; you have rebuked conversation which was inimical to purity or to reverence. All this has been possible and even easy when you have realised that God was near, that He knew your difficulties, and would help you in your witness bearing ; and remembering this, you may take home to yourself, with humble thankfulness, the words of the Lord Jesus when He said : " Whosoever, therefore, shall confess Me before men, him, also, will I confess before the angels of heaven."

III. The safety of the prophet was assured, and credentials of his commission were given, when the altar was suddenly cleft in twain, and all the ashes poured out. We see nothing incredible here, or in many other miraculous signs mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. Supernatural signs are surely the legitimate evidences of a supernatural revelation. They are simply the assertion of the supremacy of the spiritual and unseen over the material and visible ; and if we really believe that the things seen

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were not made of things which do appear, we need not be incredulous when evidences of the existence of these are given. Among the phenomena of Nature, we all know that a mountain may be still and silent for ages, villages cluster round its base, men toil and children play on its sides, and they have no suspicion that it is volcanic ; but at last the subterranean fires may burst out, and just as that force, long hidden, asserts itself within the limits of half-known law, so it may be, so it has been, within the limits of unknown law. Our Lord Jesus Christ boldly said of His own miracles : "If ye believe not Me, believe the works," the works which modern admirers of His moral teaching would rule out of court ! — and the apostles put the resurrection of Christ, which some would explain away, into the very forefront of Christian evidences. There are periods in the world's history when that kind of evidence is specially needed, and those who live in other periods have no right to deny its existence, on the ground that it is outside the range of the observations they have been able to make in their own limited sphere. This prophet was preserved by miracle, because nothing short of it could keep him ; and the rending of the altar, and the withering of Jeroboam's arm were visible, and therefore appropriate, signs for an idolatrous and sensual people.

IV. But there were greater dangers than those which arose from physical force surging around this prophet, and we must look at the temptation he resisted to which our text alludes. Jeroboam failed in the use of violence ; but, nothing daunted, he sought to overcome the messenger

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54 The Nameless Prophet.

of Jehovah by craft. With bland courtesy he invited him to his house. He did this not because he wished to honour the messenger of the Lord, but because he meant to destroy the effect of his message. The assembly was breaking up ; the people were departing for their homes profoundly moved by what they had heard and seen ; and if they were left thus they might possibly return to their allegiance to Jehovah, and thus destroy the independence of the newly-founded kingdom. With his usual keenness, Jeroboam saw that if only this prophet, through whose prayer his arm had been restored, would go home with him in seeming friendship, the impression made by his previous opposition would be greatly lessened. It was on this account that the man of God had been strictly commanded not to enter any house whatever within the limits of Jeroboam's kingdom, for he was the representative of Jehovah, who, through him, would declare that He could not dwell amongst these impenitent idolators. Hence the king's invitation was firmly refused. "If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place ; for it was so charged me by the Word of the Lord." His first temptation was resisted, and the victory thus far was won.

Doubtless there are many who have had such conflicts and conquests. Tempted to sin, you have replied : " How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Sitting among the sinners, when you could not avoid them, you did not approve their mockery even by the faintest smile.

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Able to win wealth and position, you resolutely refused to stoop to do what you knew was base and false. There are times with you when such victories are easier to be won ; perhaps when you have come fresh from a Christian home, and the blessed dew of life's morning has yet rested on you ; perhaps when you still felt the impression made on your mind by some book you had read or by some address you had heard ; perhaps when you renewed your vows before God at the sacramental feast, or in the hour of secret prayer. Then, rising up in God's strength, you have resisted the devil, and he has fled from you. In such hours of triumph I would entreat you most vividly to remember, and most humbly to acknowledge, that the victory came only through Him that loved you, or you may ultimately experience the fall which came to the prophet after his first victory was won.

V. The second temptation, which we must not overlook, was successful and fatal. It came from an "old prophet," who lived near by, who approached his fellow-servant when he was tired, and who, professing

The Nameless Prophet. 55

to have received a message from God, induced him to enter his house in Bethel, and thus to disobey the command of the Lord.

What was the motive which prompted this successful tempter ? Proba-

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bly he was not a " false prophet" in the technical sense, although such men abounded ; nor ought we to charge him with the malignant design of bringing about this man's death. He appears to have been one who knew the Lord's will, but did it not. He was living at Bethel, where this idolatrous worship was being instituted ; but he appears to have uttered no protest against it, and now his cowardice was rebuked by the daring of this stranger. He naturally wished to have him under his roof, partly, perhaps, to assuage his own convictions by entertaining hospitably the man of God, and partly to reinstate himself with the people as being also a prophet and

the friend of prophets.

If it be further asked why this temptation succeeded, while that of Jeroboam failed, we should attribute it to the self-complacence and self-confidence engendered by successful resistance to the king, and to the sense of false security which generally succeeds a crisis of peril. Evidence of this is seen in the fact that he rested under a terebinth, instead of pressing homeward, as he had been told to do.

1 . Learn from this, brethren, that the conquest of one evil often leads to an assault from another. — You may, for example, be overcome by scepticism, although you have conquered sensuality. You may be enthralled by avarice, though you have escaped the entanglements of pleasure. You may be ruined by spiritual pride, though you havegot rid of sinful indifference. Never forget that it is a life-long conflict you have to wage. If the Egyptians are drowned, the Amorites and Canaanites still await you.

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If gross sin fail in its attempts, subtle sin may bring you into bondage. Therefore, do not say to your soul at any time: " Take thine ease ! " Listen in your home, in your business, and in the sanctuary, to the voice of the faithful Master, who evermore is spying : " Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."

2. Learn also that it is a perilous thing to linger in a scene of temptation though for a time we may have to g) into it in order to do God's work . — If this prophet had not rested, instead of hurrying forward, he would not have been overtaken before he crossed the border line of safety between the two kingdoms.

We have often seen a moth singe its wings in the light, and yet return to it again and again, until, scorched and shrivelled, it has dropped down dead

56 The Nameless Prophet.

before our eyes. And we have known those who have stood in the way of sinners, and have enjoyed the companionship of the godless, until at last — in defiance of early teaching and youthful promise — they have sat in the seat of the scorner. God says to us all — but most emphatically to the young, whose characters are still plastic — about evil literature, and evil haunts, and evil companionships: "Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away."

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In conclusion, let us notice —

VI. The trifling disobedience which brought about so terrible a retribution. — It seemed a very small offence to go home with a brother prophet for pleasant, and perhaps profitable, intercourse. But there was no doubt about the will of God in this matter. His messenger was not for a moment deceived by the lie told by his tempter about a Divine message having been received by him. He knew perfectly well that he had been forbidden to enter any house for weighty reasons, and that God would not contradict himself or change his mind. Yet, in spite of his better knowledge, this man allowed his sensuous wish for food and rest to prevail over his convictions of duty.

Brethren, with you and me an act may seem as trifling as that ; and yet it may involve a momentous principle. It was a small thing for Eve to take the fruit of the tree ; but it was an act of direct disobedience, and therefore brought death into the world, and all our woe. It is in what we call trifles that God tests our obedience and love. If a child refuses to do a little act, because it is forbidden, we are more pleased, as parents, with his refusal than if the act had been notoriously evil, because it is a sign that his loyalty to us is sensitive. And if you sin for the mere sake of passing pleasure, you do greater moral wrong than if you had sinned under some great and pressing temptation.

Let the lurid light of this Old Testament tragedy fall upon your sins of

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omission and of commission, until you learn anew to pray with the publican : " God, be merciful to me a sinner," and, knowing your weakness and waywardness, let your petition daily be —

Lead me not — for flesh is frail — Where fierce trials would assail, Leave me not, in darkened hour, To withstand the tempter's power.

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