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likely to soothe either the importunity of appetite or the pride of opinion. But on the first serious review of our actions and their motives—nay, upon the first involuntary return of calm and impartial reflection, all these unlicensed expedients will be quite unavailing. Under the pressure of adversity they will be rejected with disdain-amidst the pangs of sickness they will be remembered with horror-in the hour of death they cannot assuage our fears--and in the day of judgment they will most assuredly aggravate our condemnation.
To conclude. Whether the old Prophet of Bethel made his peace with Heaven by complete repentance, or whether he be reserved to that condemnation which finally will overtake the impenitent in proportion to their sins, are subjects on which the sacred writings are wholly silent. They do, indeed, mark in the strongest terms the guilt of both. Of the one, they inform us that he lied; and of the other, that he believed the lie and perished. In saying more, the historian might have amused our curiosity, but in saying only so much he has amply provided for our edification. He points out the duty of the most unreserved assent to the declarations of the Deity, and of the most implicit, direct, and plenary obedience to his commands. He cuts off every plea we may hope to allege from our own ignorance, negligence, and irresolution. He shews us that the artifices used by other men, however specious, will not be a sufficient excuse for us, if we yield to them in opposition to the clear and express voice of God. This, indeed—and I beseech you to remember it well—this, I say, is the chief lesson which the story itself is calculated to impress upon every attentive reader, and to which the mind of the historian seems to have been principally directed. The disobedience of the prophet from Judah he relates minutely and forcibly, in its origin, its progress, and its fatal end. And though he abstains from pointing, in his own historical character, any severe reproach against the unhappy sufferer, he has arrayed the history with circumstances so numerous and so striking, that every serious examiner must see distinctly and fully the guilt of the deluded prophet. But the treachery of the prophet who dwelt at Beth-el, however atrocious in itself, is very properly branded with only one mark of reprobation; for it belongs, as it were, to a person of secondary importance in the drama; and, according to the rules of probability established by custom and founded on experience, while the fate and the conduct of the principal agent are clearly and judiciously stated, the strict claims of justice, as they stretch over subordinate characters, are not to the utmost possible extent satisfied. Unnecessary it was for the sacred writer either to be circumstantial in his narrative or keen in his censures, in order to provoke the indignation of his readers against this execrable act of perfidy in one of the prophets. The shortest and simplest relation was sufficient to excite it. And even if any tremendous punishment had fallen upon the head of the betrayer, it was scarcely necessary for it to be recorded, as the offence is too shocking to our sensibility to become
58 THE MAN OF GOD SENT FROM JUDAH TO BETHEL.
the object of deliberate imitation ; but it was requisite, highly requisite, to point out both the sin and the danger into which the other prophet had so unhappily and so unexpectedly fallen. Even the worst of men would blush to urge any positive and unqualified excuse in behalf of the deceiver ; but the best may find a most salutary warning in the sudden temptation, the sudden crime, and the sudden perdition of him that was deceived.
SERMON III. *
MATT. IX. 5.
“ For whether is easier to say, thy sins be forgiven thee
or arise and walk."
It is my intention at our present meeting to consider the import of these words, as they stand connected with other circumstances relating to the cure of the palsied man, and to illustrate the very decisive argument which they contain for the confutation of those persons who misunderstood our Lord's design, and insulted his dignity. From this view of my subject, I shall be enabled, at some future opportunities, to insist upon such useful remarks as the text suggests for the conduct of our speculations. The last discourse will be employed in enforcing those practical directions which it abundantly supplies.
To every intelligent reader the words of my text convey a striking representation of our Lord's character, and fix the attention both on the dignity of his office and the amiableness of his temper. When the palsied man was brought forth, his ghastly looks, his debilitated limbs, his long and complicated miseries, did not pass unnoticed. Instead of trifling with such extremity of distress, or aggravating it by painful uncertainty, our blessed Lord at once yields to the impulses of a generous and active compassion. He contrives to throw a new lustre around his favour by the condescension with which he bestowed it, and in these affectionate terms addressed the unhappy suppliant-Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.
* Written Nov. 1779.
They who cavil malignantly, because they reason superficially upon sacred subjects; they who perplex what they do not understand, or depreciate what they cannot deny; they who catch at every seeming impropriety, and triumph in every imaginary objection, may, like the Jews, take offence at this declaration. Yet I will venture to pronounce it not less proper than it was kind, not less consistent with our Lord's station than expressive of his benevolence. For this end, I must carry back your thoughts to the express sanctions of the Jewish law, which were only temporal. The Jews were indeed habitually and authoratively taught to expect that the finger of God would be visibly pointed out in the chastisement of notorious sinners, and that his
vengeance would take place in the ruin of their fortunes, in the destruction of their health, or in the untimely death and heavy calamities of themselves or their families. During that extraordinary providence which prevailed upon the establishment of the Mosaic economy, dispensations of this sort were neither unfrequent nor obscure; and even in later