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The Enticement of Ahab
HOW singular, how tragical is the experience of life! For example, who could have expected to find in history such an inquiry. Strange words are imputed to the divine Speaker. There is a mystery in every interpretation of these words. Probably the minimum of mystery is to be found in the interpretation which boldly accepts the doctrine that there cannot be evil in the city without the Lord having done it. The mistake is to call it evil, in any final and inclusive sense. If it ended in itself, then the word "evil" might not be too superficial a term to employ in its description: but the evil is but evil momentarily. Do not interrupt the divine literature at a comma or a semicolon; the Lord may need to work not only to-day and tomorrow, he may ask for part of the third day; he has always done so, and not until he has concluded the whole process himself are we entitled to venture to form any judgment of God's purpose and meaning in life. We have no hesitation in accepting the doctrine that God leads men into temptation. All the endeavours that have been made to strike that petition out of the Lord's prayer would seem to be utter failures. Jesus Christ was driven of the Spirit to be tempted of the devil in the wilderness. Here again the admonition stands in all its proper force, namely, that we are not to interrupt the Almighty in his speech or in his action: tomorrow we shall see what is invisible, tomorrow shall bring an adequate light, and when the glory shines upon the mystery it will be found that everything has been conceived in infinite wisdom and sanctified by infinite grace. Your poverty may be from the Lord. The number of graves you have dug in the churchyard is not accidental; it may be but a transcript of what was written before the earth was formed. You must live in the sanctuary of the eternal if you would have calm in storm, if you would have a table spread in the wilderness, if in a frowning, inhospitable rock you would find a home radiant with the presence and affluent with the benediction of God.
"Entice"; not even persuade, certainly not force, or overwhelm, or unduly urge, or violently overcome, but "entice," a step at a time, a beckoning of the finger in directions that seem to be lighted up with sweet flowers, and made tuneful by songs of birds; a very little at once, so that familiarity may be produced by a finely graduated process of descent. A man may resent the idea that he is under any process of enticement; because the process is so gradual, so gentle, so utterly wanting in anything that is apparently aggressive and violent: but unless we are under the ministry of God's grace we are being enticed in the other direction; unless we are able to keep up to the rule of discipline we have lost ground; if we are not as far on to-day as we were yesterday we have failed in duty, and we have parted with some of our strength to do the duty that will come upon us tomorrow. We cannot stand still and go forward at the same time. Enticement is the deadly plague of life. The lying spirit has a subtle tongue; he does not proceed with broad dogmatic propositions, he has nothing of a violent nature to suggest or propose; it is, to the end of the line, to the turning of the corner, to the ascent of the hill; it is resting awhile, then walking awhile, or returning, and reascending, the liar by our side all the while watching the pulsation of the soul that he may know how the enticement is proceeding. Life itself is a temptation: to live is to die. How often have we laid down the doctrine that to be is to be in pain. This is the mystery of life. Life without pain would be life without joy; life without winter would be life without summer; heaven would be a surprise to us of an unwelcome kind if we had not made acquaintance with temptation and sin and sorrow whilst we were upon the earth.
What then is our duty in view of this varied experience? Here we have men shouting with a loud voice, playing upon cornets and trumpets, and uttering themselves in ecstatic enthusiasm because of their love of God; and then we have men turning away from the Lord, and seeking ministries which without him are worse than useless; and then we have that discipline in life which is best described by the word enticement. "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not." That power is always at our disposal. We are able to say, No. But we must not say it tremulously, hesitatingly, as if half-surrendering the argument; we must say it with unction, with passion, with a tone that is itself a battle. May not the word enticement be used in a better sense? May not men entice one another to do good? What is the meaning of the word enticement there? It is that there is to be no attempt at force or violence, in any form or in any degree. Church-going is not to be a matter of task and penalty. It should be the joy of the child to go to church. Sweet little children should ask on the Lord's day morning, Is this not the promised day, when we shall hear music, and see the flowers of the kingdom of heaven? a day when all may feel that this earth is but a door opening upon paradise and rest? We cannot flog men into virtue. We may flog them because of vice; but to go into virtuous courses, to accept the ministry of purity and nobleness, this comes of the consent of the heart. How, then, is this consent to be obtained? Here again we come upon the old evangelical doctrine, and there is none better, that all this ministry is the action of the Holy Ghost upon the life. Why should men trouble themselves by endeavouring to enlarge the sphere of instruction instead of accepting the instruction which is made possible to them? Thus, there are many who insist that the poets are inspired. That is not the question; the immediate question before us, as pupils in God's school, is, What are we to do with the moral injunction and inspiration of the Holy Scripture? There may be more Isaiahs in the world than we have ever heard of, but what are we going to do with the Isaiah we are quite sure about? There may be transcendentalists, spiritualists, noble psychological seers, who can see farther than the Apostle John ever saw; meanwhile, do not let us lose the advantages which the Apostle John contributes to our education and our comfort. There may be a better kind of bread in some parts of the world than we know of: fool is he who would say that and neglect to eat the bread that is provided for him when he is dying of hunger. This is what we mean, therefore, by a dogmatic position; we have certain truths, injunctions, and instructions laid before us, and they are so proportioned to human life, and so adapted to human necessity, that whosoever walks according to their teaching will have strength and rest and hope of a kind which the world can neither give nor take away. Understand that we do not say there is not another Bible in the world; we only say we have not yet found it. Far be it from us to assert that there is not a heart that can love infinitely more than the heart of Christ ever loved; but we have never heard of it, we have never seen it; we are not going to be delighted by conjectures and speculations when there stands before us a Man whose heart is all tenderness, who receives sinners, and who leads all men into the kingdom of heaven. Do not so live in an imaginary gallery of inconceivable dignities as to forget that there standeth One among you, the Son of God, who meanwhile oilers the heart all it can receive of pardon and pureness and liberty.
Almighty God, thine eye is upon all men; there is nothing hidden from thy judgment; all things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do: this is our supreme joy, and this is our supreme dread; when our hearts are rising towards thee our delight is to know that thou art looking on, and drawing us toward thyself with new love and new power; but when our hearts are going astray from righteousness and truth and light, the onlooking of God is the plague of our life. Work in us so mightily by thy Holy Spirit that we shall be thy children, sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty, always desiring to ascend to things heavenly and enjoy communion with our Father; then shall thine onlooking eye make our day, thy presence shall be our defence, and thy comfort shall enlarge and delight our souls. Thou hast stretched out thine hand towards us in offers and welcomes; the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost: we are lost, we need to be sought; Son of God, Shepherd of the Universe, come after us, recover us from our wandering, and bring us home again! We bless thee that the door stands open for returning men; thou dost open the door, it is the door of our Father's house, it is written all over with the welcomes of our Father's love; if we are outside, it is because of our perversity; and if we are within the door, by the grace of God we are where we are. Direct us in all the affairs of our life; when we do wrong, smite us; when we attempt to turn away to conceal the wrong we have done, send thy prophet after us to make our faces burn with shame; and in all things by gain and loss, by health and affliction, by hope and by fear, bring us onward and upward in our life course. Meet us every morning at the cross; every night bring us to the cross; at mid-day may we find shelter within the shadow of the cross; we have no other hope, we have no other joy; other hope and joy we need not; in Christ we have all things, yea we have unsearchable riches. Let thy blessing be with us, then our poverty shall be wealth, our failure in life shall be our truest success, and all our victories shall be purged of vanity and cleansed of all earthliness, and shall be as crowns set upon our head by the Lord of life. Baffle every bad man, turn his counsel to confusion; when he has dug his pit, may he fall into it himself, and when his arm is stretched out to smite weakness may he never be able to take it in again. The Lord be with all good men: make them courageous, fearless, confident, resolute, and zealous, and may their way be prosperous, may every step they take elicit blessings from the hearts of men whom they help and honour and enrich. The Lord hear us in these things, seeing they are bound up in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord, and seeing that they are poured out of our hearts on Calvary, at the foot of the cross, where prayer was never lost. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 18". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany