"And the King of Israel said to Jehosaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil." . . .--1 KINGS xxii. 8.
If you read the story of Micaiah the Prophet, and King Ahab in the 22d chapter of the 1st Book of Kings, you will, I think, agree that Ahab showed himself as foolish as he was wicked. He hated Micaiah for telling him the truth. And when he heard the truth and was warned of his coming end, he went stupidly to meet it, and died as the fool dies. Foolishness and wickedness often go hand in hand. Certainly they did in that miserable king's case.
But now, my friends, while we find fault with wretched Ahab, let us take care that we are not finding fault with ourselves also. If we do what Ahab did, we have no right to despise him for doing what we do. With what judgment we judge we shall be judged, and the same measure which we measure out to Ahab, God will measure out to us. All these things are written for our example, that we may see our faults in other men, as in a glass, and seeing how ugly sin and folly is, and to what misery it leads, may learn to avoid it, and look at home, and see that we are not treading the same path. Else what use in reading these stories of good men and bad men of old times? The very use of them is to make us remember that they were men of like passions with ourselves, and learn from their example; as we may do easily enough from that of Ahab.
"There remaineth yet one prophet--but I hate him." How often have we said that in our hearts! Do you think not? Let me show you then.
How often when we are in trouble or anxiety do we go everywhere to get comfort, before we go to God's word? When a young lad falls into wild ways, and gets into trouble by his own folly, then to whom does he go for comfort? Too often, to other wild lads like himself, or to foolish and wicked women, who will flatter him, and try to make him easy in his sins, and say to him as the false prophets said to Ahab, "Go on and prosper--why be afraid? Why should you not enjoy yourself? Never mind what your father and mother say, never mind what the parson says. You will do well enough. All will come right somehow. Come and drink, and drive away sorrow."
And all the while the poor lad gets no comfort from these false friends. He likes to listen to them, because they flatter him up in his sins; but all the while his heart is heavy. Like Ahab, he has a secret fear that all will not come right; he feels that he will not do well enough; and he knows that there remaineth yet a prophet of the Lord, who will not prophesy good of him but evil--and that is the Bible, and the prayer-book, and the sermon he hears at church--and therefore he hates them. And so, many a time he will not go to church for fear of hearing there that he is wrong, perhaps something in the sermon, which hits him hard, and makes him ashamed of himself, and angry with the preacher. So for fear of hearing the truth, and having his sins set before his face, he stays away from church, and passes his Sundays like a heathen, because he has no mind to repent and mend, and be a good Christian.
Foolish fellow! As if he could escape God's judgment by shutting his ears to it. As well try to stop the thunder from rolling in the sky, by stopping his ears to that! The thunder is there, whether he choose to hear it or not. And whether he comes to church or not, God's law stands sure, that the wages of sin is death. Does the man fancy that God's law is shut up within the church walls, and that so he can keep clear of it by staying away from church? My friends, God's law is over the whole country, and over every cottage and field in it--about our path and about our bed, and spying out all our ways. The darkness is no darkness to God. God's judgments are in all the earth; and whether or not we choose to find them out, they will find us out just the same, as they found out Ahab, when his cup was full, and his time was come.
How many a poor lad, too, who has got into trouble, thinks he shall escape God's judgments by going across the sea; but he finds himself mistaken! He finds that the wages of sin are misery and shame and ruin, in Australia just as much as in England, and that all the gold in the diggings cannot redeem his soul, or prevent his being an unhappy self- condemned man if he does wrong.
How many a poor lad, too, who has got into trouble, has fancied that he could escape God's judgments by going for a soldier, and has found out that he too was mistaken! Perhaps God's judgment has found him out, as it found out Ahab, on the field of battle, and a chance shot has taught him, as it taught Ahab, that there is no hiding-place from the Lord who made him. Or perhaps God's judgments have come in fever, and hunger, and cold, and weariness, and miserable lonely labour; and with that hunger of body has come a hunger of his soul--a hunger after the bread of life, and the word of God! Ah! how many a poor fellow in his pain and misery has longed for the crumbs which used to fall from God's table, when he was a boy at home! for a word of good advice, though it were never so sharp and plain spoken--or a lesson such as he used to hear at school, or a tract, or a bit of a book, or anybody or anything which will put his poor wandering soul in the right way. He used to hate such things when he was at home, because they warned him of his bad ways; but now he feels a strange longing for that very good talk which he hated once, and so like David of old, out of the deep he cries unto the Lord. And when that cry comes up out of a sinful conscience-stricken, self-condemned heart, be sure it does not come up in vain. The Lord hears it, and the Lord answers it. Yes, I know it for certain; for many a sad and yet pleasant story I have heard, how brave men who went out from England, full of strength and health, and full of sin and folly too,--and there in that blood-stained Crimea, when their strength and their health had faded, and there was nothing round them or before them but wounds, and misery, and death; how there at last they found Christ, or rather were found by Him, and opened their eyes at last to see God's judgments for their sins, and confessed their own sin and God's justice, and received His precious promises of pardon, even in the agonies of death; and found amid the rage and noise of war, the peace of God, which this world's pleasures never gave them, and which this world's wounds, and fever, and battle, and sudden death cannot take away.
And after that, it matters little for a man what happens to him. For if he lives, he lives unto the Lord; and if he dies, he dies unto the Lord. He may come home, well and strong, once more to do his duty, where God has put him, a sadder man perhaps, but at least a soberer and a wiser man, who has learnt to endure hardship, not merely as a soldier of the Queen, but as a good soldier of Jesus Christ too, ready to fight against sin and wrong-doing in himself and in his neighbours.
Or he may come home a cripple, to be honoured and to be kept too (as he deserves to be) at his country's expense. But if he be a wise man he will not regret even the loss of a limb. That is a cheap price to pay for having gained what is worth all the limbs in a man's body, a clear conscience and a right life. "If thy hand offend thee cut it off." Better to enter into life halt and maimed, as many a gallant man has done in war time, than having two hands and two feet to be cast out.
Or perhaps his grave is left behind there, upon those lonely Crimean downs, and his comrades are returning without him, and all whom he knew, and all whom he loved, are looking for him at home. There his grave is, and must be; and "the foe and the stranger will tread on his head, and they far away on the billow."
But at least he has not died like Ahab--a shameful and pitiable death. He has done his work and conquered. He has died like a man, whom men honour. Even so it is well. And if he have died in the Lord, a penitent Christian man, he is not dead at all. He does not lie in that grave in a foreign land. All of him that strangers' feet can tread upon is but what we called his body; and yet which was not even his body, but the mere husk and shell of him, the flesh and bones with which his body was clothed in this life; while he, he himself, is nearer God than ever, and nearer, too, than ever to his comrades who seem to have left him, and to the parents and the friends who are weeping for him at home. Ay, nearer to them, more able, I firmly believe, to help and comfort them, now that he is alive for ever, in the heaven of God, than he would if he were only alive here on the earth of God--more able perhaps to help them now by his prayers than he ever would have been by the labour of his hands. Be that as it may, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them. A fearful labour is the soldier's, and an ugly work; and he has done it; and doubt not it has followed him, and is recorded for him in the book of God for ever!