By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
Text: "It is the man of God who was disobedient unto the word of the Lord." -- I Kings 13:26.
The history surrounding this case is about as follows: On this occasion King Jeroboam "ordained a feast like unto the feast in Judah." For, he "said in his heart, now shall the kingdom return to the house of David." So, in order to hold the ten tribes, he built an altar at Bethel where he initiated a cheap imitation of the true worship at Jerusalem. While the king was in the act of burning incense a man of God from Judah suddenly appeared and cried against the altar of false worship. The altar was rent in twain and the ashes poured out. The enraged king put forth his hand, saying, "Lay hold on him " But his hand was "dried up" so that he could not pull it in again. Immediately he perceived that a true prophet stood before him and now besought him to restore his arm. The prophet did so and God was entreated. Apparently repentant the apostate king insisted on the man of God going home with him, refreshing himself and receiving a reward. But the prophet replied:
"If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place; For so it was charged me by the word of the Lord." Strange that though this man of God did not yield then and there, yet afterward he listened to an old backslidden prophet and as a result lost his life. In our study today, I wish to consider three things concerning this prophet and his untimely end.
I. He trilled with convictions.
II. He mingled too freely with compromisers.
III. He fielded to self-indulgence.
I. He trifled with God-given convictions. God is always ready for every emergency. He is preparing, or has his man already prepared to "cry aloud" against every departure from righteousness. He had Nathan ready to reprove David. He had Micaiah ready to rebuke Ahab. He had Paul ready to convince Agrippa. O, how much it means to so live in advance, that God will not need to wait upon and get us ready to deliver his truth.
Here was a man of God, we do not know his name, nor from whence he came -- except from Judah, a distance of nearly fifty miles. His was a very strict and unmistakable command. It may have seemed a little severe to walk this distance and return another way, without any nourishment. But God's commandments are "not grievous" when fully complied with.
It is a wonderful favor for the Great God to take us into his confidence and trust us with his plans and purposes. He seldom does this. Why? Because we either do not live close enough to him to hear his gentle voice, or when we do hear, we lack the courage to go against the tide and implicitly obey. Perhaps I am speaking right now to those who, in the past have had strong convictions on various lines, but because they trifled with them are now befogged and hardly know what to believe, or practice.
There are at least four classes of people: (1) Those who never had clear, well-defined convictions. These are harmless, easy-going souls who are naturally drawn into the current and follow the crowd. They must have a leader who thinks and takes the initiative for them and then they will follow whether he lead them right or wrong. Such souls are to be pitied rather than censured. (2) Another class are those who at one time had strong convictions on certain lines, as for instance, on tithing, voting, plainness of dress, Sabbath observance, entertainments, eating and drinking to the glory of God. But, by mingling too freely with worldlings, they have gone back on those former convictions entirely, or so toned down to please others, that it is hard to know on which side now to place them. They have become "good mixers" and like Ephraim, have lost their identity. What a pity! (3) A third class have held on tenaciously to their original views, but unfortunately have become harsh and driving, so that they now have more grit than grace. They repel rather than draw; they sour rather than sweeten. How sad, that they have given up so much and gotten so little in return. (4) But thank God there is another class and I hope you are among this number. These have had strong light and as a result have taken a pronounced stand on every vital question. By so doing they have become unpopular and are branded by many as ':extremists" and "unsafe." But instead of letting the opposition sour them, it, like frost on persimmons, has ripened and mellowed them. They stand out as beacon lights, strong and forceful, yet tender and unassuming. They do not swerve one inch to escape censure, or gain recognition. O, that we had more of this type!
Brother, settle it here and now, that you will not trifle, tone down, or become critical, but hold firmly, yet without an intolerant spirit to the "pattern shown thee in the mount." If God had to frequently ring this in the ears of Moses, how much more do we need to heed it today. You must look straight ahead and not at this one, or that one. For instance, God may hold you, like a few saints in the past, to a line of renunciation that not many will take. If he does, do not pity yourself, but rather count it a great compliment. Daniel saw the "vision" while those who were with him saw not the vision, but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. The same glory that gladdened the heart of Daniel, frightened those who were with him. Though associating with him, they were evidently living on a lower plane. Those who travel on upper deck will always see mountain peaks and land before those who are beneath. Your own companion, your co-worker, yea, your pastor may not appreciate or understand your leadings.
II. He mingled too freely with compromisers. Here was a mighty man of God who had the courage to withstand an apostate king, but could not survive the flattery and influence of a fellow prophet. When the king invited him to dine, he positively replied, "I will not." But when invited by one of his own profession he modified it by saying, "I may not." Strange, but it is a fact that most men who fall away, do so through the subtle influence of relatives, or those of a similar occupation, rather than through total strangers or those with whom there is no community of interest. For instance: Students lose out through the association of students rather than through foreigners. Musicians become jealous of musicians, not physicians. Preachers change their views and practices through the influence of each other rather than from the outside world. It is easier to resist the coarse, debasing things of the world, than the refined compromise inside the church. A railroad engine cannot well turn a right angle, but it is easy to finally make a complete circle, through a switch as thin as a knife blade. More than one man and movement have lost the fire and cooled off by indulging in little departures and mingling too freely with those who were not bitter enemies, but conservative advisers.
Jehoshaphat, that good, easy-going king, almost lost his life and his kingdom by going down to pay Ahab a friendly visit. Ahab took advantage of it and after killing "sheep and oxen for him in abundance," suggested that they join hands and retake Ramoth in Gilead from the king of Syria. Jehoshaphat, like a jelly fish, consented and said, "I am as thou art, and my people as thy people." However, he was conscientious enough to suggest that they "inquire of the Lord." Yet, having now made an alliance and "joined affinity" with the cunning, covetous Ahab, he could not well back out. During the battle he came near being captured and killed, but "cried out and the Lord helped him." This ought to have been a life-long lesson. But Ahab had hardly died, (in the same battle) until we read, "Jehoshaphat joined himself to Ahaziah," Ahab's wicked son. "And he joined himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish. Then Eliezer prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, because thou hast joined thyself to Ahaziah, the Lord hath broken thy works. And the ships were broken."
Say beloved, if you would "keep yourself free to follow the Lord in all things," do not become a great "joiner." Never put yourself under obligation by accepting certain favors. This will hold good in business relations as well as in religious circles. Of course there are two extremes to avoid, but especially that of mixing too freely.
Here are two preachers or two churches. The first takes the attitude of seclusion. He keeps to his line of work and has little to do with other movements. He or his people are seldom seen or heard in popular gatherings. Perhaps he is a little too churchy and narrow; so much so that he fails to enter an open door of usefulness. But, though he may not accomplish so much, yet he as a rule will hold what he does gain better than the other fellow.
The second man takes the other attitude -- that of aggressiveness. He pushes to the front and is in nearly everything, civic and evangelical. Such a man must have great depth of soul and be very outspoken against shams, or he will soon be swallowed up and lose his identity. If he is true to his convictions he is likely to be ousted and this generally means a new order of things, with him at the head. Few are strong and wise enough to take this route without spiritual loss. Personally, I feel like sticking to the motto which God gave me twenty-five years ago: "A clean work, rather than a big work." It has meant more or less ostracism and misunderstanding, but it has also meant a peculiar anointing and victory well worth the sacrifice.
III. He yielded to the clamors of the flesh. This good man was like other men in that he had natural appetites and desires. But he disobeyed when he returned to eat and drink. While at the table, it seems the spirit of prophecy suddenly came upon the old backslidden prophet and he "cried unto the man of God that came from Judah," saying, "Thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers." This is one of the mysteries: That though a man may not be right himself, he may, like the lying prophet be used in declaring God's message. Inspiration may come upon a man when in fact the Holy Ghost does not possess him. God spoke through Balaam, but did not endorse him. God permitted some things among the patriarchs that he did not sanction. He does the same with us today. It is too bad that we are exemplary on some lines and fearfully lopsided on others.
This man of God yielded on but one point, while we have frequently yielded on many. He lost his life, while we continue to live and disobey. He let a present enjoyment, yea, a seeming necessity, blind him to a greater good. One step of self-indulgence led to another. See him l After hearing his death sentence it appears he deliberately finished his meal and allowed his host to saddle for him the donkey on which to ride. O, that he had fallen to his knees, or sprung to his feet and started on a dead run! God might have given him repentance and a lease on life. But having disregarded the checks of the Spirit once, it was easy to go farther.
Beloved, do not be too severe in your criticism of this, or any other man of God who has gone astray. If you are absolutely sincere doubtless you will confess that many a time have you set aside your covenant, or convictions for a present gratification. It was the mere mercy of God that you did not go farther and apostatize. It was when you were not prayed up and prayed through that the devil saw the open gap and slipped up on you. You were off your guard, became blinded to future joys, and down you went. "Self denial is the law of life; self indulgence is the law of death," said one of the early fathers.
William Law, in his "Serious call to a Holy Life," says: "If religion requires us sometimes to fast and deny our natural appetites, it is to lessen that struggle and war that is in our nature; it is to render our bodies fitter instruments of purity and more obedient to the good motions of divine grace; it is to dry up the springs of our passions that war against the soul, to cool the flame of our blood and render the mind more capable of divine meditations. So that although these abstinences give some pain to the body, yet they so lessen the power of bodily appetites and passions, and so increase our tastes of spiritual joys, that even these severities of religion, when practiced with discretion, add much to the comfort of our lives."
Many a man has lost his soul who started out well and was a flame of fire for years; then because of overwork, or physical infirmities, began to ease up and finally settled down to such an extent that he never regained the old-time glory and unction of former days. It is so easy to step aside for the time being, in order to get out of debt, or educate the children and one step leads to another until soul-saving becomes a secondary thing.
In fact this is the way the experience of holiness is lost -- through legitimate channels. Since there is no carnality within to appeal to, Satan appeals to the natural, innocent desires of the flesh. And when these are gratified for the mere satisfaction they bring, rather than the glory of God, it is at this juncture, Mr. Finney says, that yielding becomes sin. "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof and did eat." Satan tried the same steps of temptation on Jesus, but failed ingloriously, thank God.
Reader, if you ever fall into sin it will be through one of these three channels -- through the eyes, through natural, fleshly desires, or through unsanctified ambitions to be wise. We shall never be exempt from temptation, or solicitation. Jesus was tempted, Joseph was solicited. The danger point is at that juncture where we find it necessary to resist and yet, in spirit, do not. So long as God knows that in the integrity of your soul, you are absolutely sincere and mean to be pure and upright, you are as innocent as heaven. But the moment you inwardly consent to that thing which weakens your standing with God, "sin lieth at the door."
I knew a valuable minister who suffered at times with a severe headache. On one of these occasions a good sister, a member of his church, suggested that she could relieve him by massaging his forehead. This delicate touch was so pleasant that it called for a repetition and finally brought about a familiarity that resulted in their downfall. O, brother! Be careful of the little beginnings. Watch against the first departures! Insist that you leave every home as pure as you found it. Remember, Satan does not at first tempt to open sin. If he did, the conscientious soul would quickly perceive it to be from beneath and resent it. With the wholly sanctified, Satan uses natural things to appeal to natural desires and, through their misuse, or abuse, carnality enters the soul.
He who is able to keep the victory over the flesh-his natural desires and appetites -- will easily keep the victory over the world and the devil. Eating, sleeping, and ease-taking may seem to be trivial things, but he who readily yields to these, proves that he does not have the entire body thoroughly in hand and would, if enticed, yield to grosser gratifications.
"O, wouldst thou, Lord, thy servant guard
'Gainst every known, or secret foe,
A mind for all assaults bestow;
A sober vigilance bestow;
Ever apprised of danger nigh,
And when to fight and when to fly.
"O never suffer me to sleep
Secure within the verge of hell;
But still my watchful spirit keep
In lowly awe and loving zeal;
And bless me with a godly fear
And plant that guardian angel here.
"What though a thousand hosts engage
A thousand worlds my soul to shake;
I have a shield shall quell their rage,
And drive the alien armies back:
Portrayed, it bears a bleeding Lamb;
I dare believe in Jesus' name."