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acts more powerfully and more incessantly, which betrays the best of men into wilder inconsistencies, or which instigates the worst into more atrocious enormities, than the passion of envy? The man of God who came from Judah held the same office which he himself professed to hold; he had been honoured with a commission for which the prophet of Beth-el might believe himself to have equal qualifications, and to which, in consequence of his residence there, he might suppose himself to be invested with a prior and a superior right. That commission had been executed with undaunted firmness, and with brilliant success. The person, to whom it was delegated, had fortified his claims to the dignity of his prophetic office by an act of mercy, which gave new energy to a preceding act of severity. His conduct was in all respects uniform and perfect ; his reputation was unsullied by any one instance of ti. midity or precipitation; he was at once distinguished by the approbation of his heavenly employer and by the praise of an earthly king.
In this situation of affairs, if any root of bitterness can be supposed to have been lodged within the breast of the old man of Beth-el, who was more likely to become the object of it than the man of God that came down from Judah? Are not the best of men subject occasionally to sins which, in point of magnitude, bear no inconsiderable proportion to their habitual and most distinguishing excellencies? Is not our hatred pointed with the sharpest severity against those who excel in the arts to which we are indebted for our own cele
brity? Are those persons whom the deity has especially appointed to reveal his commands, always exempt from great and glaring sins · Was not the resolution of Balaam for a long time suspended between avarice and duty, and must we not at last ascribe his recovery from the dreadful struggle, not to human virtue, or to human wisdom, but to a miracle from Heaven? Did not ambition find its way to the hearts of the Apostles, and were they not, even in the presence of their meek and humble master, engaged in angry contentions, who among them should be the greatest in the kingdom of the Messiah? Was not Peter, after the warmest and most solemn protestations of adhering to the cause of his master, betrayed within the space of a few hours into the most abject pusillanimity; and did he not rush into the aggravated crimes of apostacy and perjury ? When our own observations, and when the records of Scripture set before us so many examples of frailty, the man of God who dwelt at Beth-el may, without improbability, be supposed to act under the malignant influence of envy. The action itself was corrupt, and therefore the motive to it could not be honourable. The sacred historian has not indeed laid open all the foul and rancorous sentiments that were concealed within the bosom of the old prophet, but upon his crime he has set a strong and deep mark of reprobation. He stops short to point out explicitly what the narrative itself would have proved most abundantly.
Now it is proper for me to observe, that the sacred writers, however largely and warmly they may expatiate upon the good qualities of men, usually relate their bad actions without endeavouring to excite our horror by elaborate description and accumulated reproaches ; but upon the present occasion we have an exception to the general rule, where the sacred writer, for a moment, gives vent to the emotions of a deserved and poignant indignation. These are his words—the old man of Beth-el said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art, and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. The historian adds, but he lied unto him.
Here the limits assigned to discourses of this kind compel me to close, for the present, my remarks upon the introductory part of the narrative, and reserve the argumentative and more interesting consideration of the sequel for a future opportunity. Weighty, be assured, are the reasons, which induce me to be thus minute in exploring the collateral and subordinate parts of this singular and most striking event. For well do I know, that from the blindness of our judgments, and from the perverseness of our will, we are often tempted to seek a shelter in particular and circumstantial difficulties, so as to weaken the conviction which a broad and general statement of facts is calculated to impress. I know that it is common for us to treat those arguments as very pertinent and important while they are not answered, which, after they have been answered even to the confutation of reluctant and prejudiced hearers, we affect to consider as immaterial. I know, also, that in forming our opinions upon the awful, and in some degree incomprehensible, dispensations of the Almighty, we give an undue and artificial force to every slight and plausible objection; we studiously resist the humble and sober conclusions of true philosophy; and we yield a languid and unwilling assent to the express authority of Revelation itself.
To guard you, therefore, from the guilt and dan. ger of such self-delusion, I have endeavoured to anticipate almost every scruple which captiousness can dictate—to answer every enquiry which even curio sity could propose ; and by these means to plant your very prejudices, if prejudiced you will be, on the side of virtue, and to leave the operations of your reason unencumbered by the perverse suggestions of your imaginations. The observations already made are, I trust, not in themselves altogether uninstructive; but they acquire a greater importance, as being preparatory to the dreadful revolution which is hereafter to be considered in the conduct, and, alas ! in the fate, of the man of God. Hitherto, indeed, he has acted up to the full spirit of the command that had been given him. He has eaten no bread, he has drunk no water, and he was on his return by another way from that in which he came. This steadiness of conduct, while it entitles him to our praise, encourages us also to expect that his vigilance and his intrepidity would have risen superior to every succeeding trial that might await him. But these expectations, however pleasing, will ultimately prove fallacious. In the conclusion of his history, we shall see that general rectitude of intention does not secure us from the assaults of sudden temptation. We shall have occasion to lament, that, in the very moment when virtue is ascending to her highest triumphs, she may be staggered into irresolution, surprized into guilt, and overwhelmed with infamy and ruin. In a word, we have before us the stubborn evidence of facts to assist us in learning a lesson most humiliating to our pride, but most necessary to our innocence. I mean, that he who, conscious of his past safety, supposes himself to stand, yet has need, nay, in consequence of that very consciousness, has more urgent need, to be cautious lest he hereafter fall, and by falling incur a condemnation far heavier than he has hitherto escaped.