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that a particular event is designed to be accomplished; and we all along trace the finger of God in producing its completion. We are thence led to expect, that the agents employed shall in some degree resemble the purity and excellence of Him, whose instruments they are sometimes no doubt unconsciously to themselves. But a little reflection will satisfy us, that such expectations are unreasonable.
There is often this difference only between the transactions, recorded in sacred and in ordinary history. In both, the great God of heaven and earth directs the course of human affairs according to His good pleasure. But in the one case He works visibly, and we are allowed to trace the intention, as well as operation : in the other He moves invisibly; and we know nothing of an event, till it has actually come to pass. We are therefore to apply a similar process of reasoning to what we read in sacred, as in profane, history. The Almighty employs for the purposes of His own high will those passions and desires of His creatures, which He foresees they are disposed to bring into action. He does not control their free will; still less does He occasion the abuse of that free will; but He knows the thoughts of men's hearts long before, and disposes their counsels and plans, as it seemeth best to His godly wisdom.
Thus He foresaw, that the foolish tyranny of Rehoboam would prompt the majority of the tribes to revolt; and that the proud and aspiring spirit of Jeroboam would induce him to avail himself of the discontents, which prevailed in his own tribe of
Ephraim; and put himself at the head of the insurrection. It pleased Him to avail Himself of the temper and disposition of these two princes, and convert them into instruments for punishing the apostasy of Solomon; and effecting that separation between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, which He had thought fit to ordain. But we should not be justified in inferring that He controlled the mind and heart of Rehoboam, so as to compel him to adopt the foolish and fatal measure, which caused the dismemberment of his kingdom; nor that He inspired Jeroboam with a spirit of discontent, and actually prompted the act of resistance, to which the folly of Rehoboam gave occasion.
We reason in the same manner concerning those parts of the narrative before us, which have called forth these observations. Our belief of the transactions here recorded, and of other occurrences described in Holy Writ, need not be in the slightest degree shaken; although the prophet, who came from Judah, proved so ignorant or foolish, as to commit an act of palpable disobedience towards God, who had honoured him with such a high commission -although one, who laid equal claim to the sacred office, conducted himself as the old prophet did—nor although, in the last place, he, who was guilty of seducing a brother-prophet into an act of disobedience, should appear to escape punishment, while the other was, in a miraculous manner, slain by a lion.
If, from the various causes which have been mentioned, in addition to the very great brevity, with which
events are frequently narrated, we have reason to expect à priori that difficulties will be found in some parts of the Bible, we ought neither to be surprised nor distressed, when they do occur. It will be an act of wisdom as well as piety to remember, that points of doubt and uncertainty are inseparable from the contents of these compositions; and our great business and earnest study should be to turn every thing we there read into a lesson of conduct; to take warning by the instances of misbehaviour, which are at any time presented to us; and to treasure up every example of virtue and goodness, as an object for our careful imitation.
Now the principal lessons, which we may learn from the perusal of the chapter before us, besides the confirmation of our faith by the manifest proofs of Divine power and knowledge which it exhibits, are the following:
First, we are warned against every act of disobedience to God; not only by the example of Solomon himself; not only in the instance of Jeroboam; but in that of the prophet, who was sent to reprove him, though he was himself unhappily seduced to act in a manner, contrary to an express command of the Almighty.
These things “ are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come”; and so surely as these mighty sovereigns, with the more humble instrument of the Divine will, ventured upon acts at variance with it, and suffered the heavy
a 1 Cor. x. 11.
penalty of their misconduct; so surely will every one of us be called to account before the judgement-seat. of Christ, for every act of transgression against the rules laid down for the performance of our various obligations, social and moral; for the faithful observance of “ whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report.” *
Lastly, we may derive a lesson of prudence from the conduct of the old prophet of Beth-el; and from the fatal consequences, which attended the insidious or foolish advice, which he gave to the man of God who came from Judah. Some doubt has in this instance arisen as to the motives of his conduct. It may have been thought, that it was influenced by the wish to make trial of the firmness and rectitude of principle in the unfortunate man, whom he misled. It certainly must be allowed that the declaration which he made, and the persuasions which he used, had the effect of a trial; and it has already been shewn, that the Almighty employs both the foolishness and wickedness of man for such purposes, as He thinks fit. But although the conduct of this officious prophet served as a trial, and tended to illustrate the foreknowledge and power of the Almighty; yet I see no reason for thinking, that it was intended by the man himself to produce such effects. It appears on the contrary probable, that he acted, as too many people are ever disposed to act, in giving bad and
dishonest advice, for the purposes of their own foolish curiosity or selfish gratification. He had heard of the important commission, with which the man of God was intrusted; he wished to learn something more of his character and proceedings; and therefore invited him to share his hospitality. The invitation was at first declined ; and the express directions of the Almighty alleged, “ He said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place : For it was said to me by the word of the Lord, thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest.”a Happy would it have been for him, if he had persisted in this wise and virtuous determination !
The old prophet however would take no denial. He argued, that the other might be mistaken as to the nature of the instructions he had received; or, that the offence would be so slight, that it would surely be overlooked. Nay, he actually pretended, that he had received a Divine intimation to that effect.
Unhappily, his officious and evil suggestions prevailed; the other grew less firm in his denial; at length he was persuaded, and perished! In like manner, miserable will be the consequences, whensoever any one prevails upon another to act in opposition to the declared will of God, or to the dictates of honour and conscience. The young, in particular, will do well to take heed and profit by this memor
vv. 16, 17.