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they were incorporated into ourselves. There is no opposition whereof we are so sensible as that of religion.
That the royal altar should be thus polluted by dead men's bones, and the blood of the priests, was not more unpleasing, than that all this should be done by a child of the house of David; for Jeroboam well saw,
that the throne and the altar must stand or fall together; that a son of David could not have such power over the altar, without an utter subversion of the government, of the succession; therefore is he thus galled with this comminatory prediction. The rebellious people who had said, “What portion have we in David ?” hear now that David will perforce have a portion in them; and might well see what beasts they had made themselves in worshipping the image of a beast, and sacrificing to such a god as could not preserve his own altar from violation and ruin.
All this while I do not see this zealous prophet laying his hand to the demolition of this idolatrous altar, or threatening a knife to the author of this depravation of religion ; only his tongue smites both, not with foul, but sharp words of menace, not of reproach. It was for Josiah, a king, to shed the blood of those sacrificers, to deface those altars : prophets are for the tongue, princes for the hand ; prophets must only denounce judgment, princes execute.
Future things are present to the Eternal. It was some two hundred and sixty years ere this prophecy should be fulfilled; yet the man of God speaks of it as now in acting. What are some centuries of years to the Ancient of days? How slow, and yet how sure is the pace of God's revenge! It is not in the power of time to frustrate God's determinations; there is no less justice nor severity in a delayed punishment.
What a perfect record there is of all names in the roll of heaven, before they be, after they are past ! Whatever seeming contingency there is in their imposition, yet they fall under the certainty of a decree, and are better known in heaven ere they be, than on earth while they are.
He that knows what names we shall have, before we or the world have a being, doth not oft reveal this piece of his knowledge to his creature ; here he doth, naming the man that should be two hundred years after; for more assurance of the event, that Israel may say, this man speaks from a God who knows what shall be. There cannot be a more sure evidence of a true Godhead, than the foreknowledge of those things whose causes have yet no hope of being ; but because the proof of this prediction was no more certain than remote, a present demonstration shall convince the future; "the altar shall rend in pieces, the ashes shall be scattered.” How amazedly must the seduced Israelites needs look upon this miracle! and why do they not think with themselves, While these stones rend, why are our hearts whole? Of what an overruling power is the God whom we have forsaken, that can thus tear the altars of his corrivals ! How shall we stand before his vengeance, when the very stones break at the word of his prophet! Perhaps some beholders were thus affected; but Jeroboam, whom it most concerned, instead of bowing his knees for humiliation, stretcheth forth his hand for revenge, and cries, Lay hold on him. Resolute wickedness is impatient of reproof, and instead of yielding to the voice of God, rebelleth. Just and discreet reprehension doth not more reform some sinners, than exasperate others.
How easy it is for God to cool the courage of proud Jeroboam the hand which his rage stretches out, dries up, and cannot be pulled back again ; and now stands the king of Israel, like some antique statue, in a posture of impotent endeavour, so disabled to the hurt of the prophet, that he cannot command that piece of himself. What are the great potentates of the world, in the powerful hand of the Almighty ? Tyrants cannot be so harmful as they are malicious.
The strongest heart may be brought down with affliction : now the stout stomach of Jeroboam is fallen to an humble deprecation ; "Entreat now the face of the Lord thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again." It must needs be a great strait that could drive a proud heart to beg mercy, where he bent his persecution ; so doth Jeroboam, holding it no scorn to be beholden to an enemy. In extremities, the worst men can be content to sue for favour, where they have spent their malice.
It well becomes the prophets of God to be merciful. I do not see this seer to stand upon terms of exprobation, and overly contestations with Jeroboam, to say, Thine intentions to me were cruel ; had thine hand prevailed, I should have sued to thee in vain : continue ever a spectacle of the fearful justice of thy Maker, whom thou hast provoked by thine idolatry, whom thou wouldst have smitten in my persecution ; but he meekly sues for Jeroboam's release, and, that God might abundantly magnify both his power and mercy, is heard and answered with success. We do no whit savour of heaven, if we have not learned to do good for evil.
When both wind and sun, the blasts of judgment and the beams of favour, met together to work upon Jeroboam, who would not look that he should have cast off his cumbrous and mis-beseeming cloak of his idolatry, and have said, Lord, thou hast stricken me in justice, thou hast healed me in mercy; I will provoke thee no more: this hand, which thou hast restored, shall be consecrated to thee, in pulling down these bold abominations; yet now, behold, he goes on in his old courses, and, as if God had neither done him good nor evil, lives and dies idolatrous. No stone is more hard or insensate than a sinful heart; the changes of judgment and mercy do but obscure it, instead of melting.
THE SEDUCED PROPHET.
JEROBOAM's hand is amended, his soul is not; that continues still dry and inflexible : yet, while he is unthankful to the author of his recovery, he is thankful to the instrument; he kindly invites the prophet whom he had threatened, and will remunerate him whom he endeavoured to punish. The worst men may be sensible of bodily favours.
Civil respects may well stand with gracelessness. Many a one would be liberal of their purses, if they might be allowed to be niggardly of their obedience.
As God, so his prophet, cares not for these waste courtesies, where he sees main duties neglected. More piety would have done well with less compliment. The man of God returns a blunt and peremptory denial to so bounteous an offer: “If thou wilt give me half thine house I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread or drink water in this place. Kindness is more safely done to an idolater, than taken from him ; that which is done to him obligeth him, that which is taken from him obligeth us: his obligation to us may be occasion of his good, our obligation to him may occasion our hurt; the surest way is to keep aloof from the infectiously wicked.
The prophet is not uncivil, to reject the favour of a prince without some reason: he yields no reason of his refusal but the command of his God. God hath charged him, “Eat no bread, nor drink no water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest. It is not for a prophet to plead human or carnal grounds for the actions of his function: he may not move but upon a divine warrant. Would this seer have looked with the eyes of flesh and blood, he might have found many arguments for his yielding: He is a king that invites me; his reward, by enriching me, may benefit many; and who knows how much my further conversation may prevail to reform him ? how can he be but well prepared for good counsel by a miraculous cure? how gainfully should my receipt of a temporal courtesy be exchanged with a spiritual to him ? all Israel will follow him either in idolatry, or reformation ; which way can be devised of doing so great service to God and the church, as by reclaiming him? What can yield so great likelihood of his reclamation, as the opportunity of my further entireness with him? But the prophet dares not argue cases, where he had a command; whatever become of Jeroboam and Israel, God must be obeyed; neither profit nor hopes may carry us cross to the word of our Maker. How safe had this seer been, if he had kept him ever upon this sure guard, which he no sooner leaves than he miscarries !
So deeply doth God detest idolatry, that he forbids his prophet to eat the bread, to drink the water of a people infected with this sin; yea, to tread in those very steps which their feet have touched. If this inhibition were personal, yet the grounds of it are common. No pestilence should be more shunned than the conversation of the misreligious, or openly scandalous. It is no thank to us, if their familiarity do not infect us with their wickedness.
I know not what to think of an old prophet that dwells in Bethel, within the air of Jeroboam's idol, within the noise of his sacrifices; that lives where the man of God dares not eat; that permitted his sons to be present at that idolatrous service. If he were a prophet of God, what did he now in Bethel ? why did he wink at the sin of Jeroboam ? what needed a seer to come out of Judah for the reproof of that sin which was acted under his nose ? why did he lie ? why did his family partake with idolaters ? if he were not a prophet of God, how had he true visions, how had he true messages from God? why did he second the menacing word of that prophet, whom