And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thess. 2:10-12).
It is quite a popular idea that it makes very little if any difference in religious matters, what a man believes, so he is sincere in regard to it, and faithfully lives according to his belief; but while men thus think in regard to religion, no man has the same thought in regard to any other human interest.
For instance, a man believes in the soundness and good management of a bank, when it is about to break: does any one think that the sincerity of his belief, backed up by large deposits and the purchase of large blocks of the stock, will make safe his investment? Does not everybody know that the more sincerely a man believes in such a bank, the worse it is for him? The hand of a young lady is sought by a designing man in whom she has the most unlimited confidence: will the sincerity of her faith in him prevent the life-long misery which he is sure to inflict if she marries him? The more sincerely she believes in him, the worse it is for her.
The same is true of false beliefs in every department of human life and interest. The same is true in matters of State, of science, and of war. False theories of government work evil continually; false theories in science are clogs in the way of knowledge; and the belief of a lie has caused the defeat of many a brave army and the sinking of many a gallant ship.
Strange, then, if it is not so in matters pertaining to the soul. Strange if the belief of an error in religion is just as well as belief of the truth.
Paul was very far from entertaining this opinion. In the passage before us, he represents certain persons as perishing because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. He says, that “for his cause,” that is, because they receive not the love of the truth, “God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie.” He can not mean that God causes them to believe a lie by any direct exertion of His power; for He never interferes in that way for the injury of any human being; but that in the workings of His providence He allows those who do not love the truth to be worked upon by error, so that they shall believe a lie. And the result of this he declares to be, “that they all might be judged who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
There is an incident in Old Testament history, recorded in First Kings 13, which I think must have been brought about, so far as God directed it, for the very purpose of illustrating this great lesson to us, as well as for teaching it to the generation in which it occurred. It is the incident of the young prophet from Judah, who was sent to rebuke the image-worship set up at Bethel by Jeroboam. Having established himself as king of the ten tribes after their revolt against Rehoboam, son of Solomon, he soon concluded that if his subjects should continue going to Jerusalem to worship, as the law required, and especially if they continued to attend the annual festivals, where all the twelve tribes were accustomed to meet in religious fellowship, they would eventually grow discontented with their divided state, and would kill him and return to their old allegiance under the house of David. To avoid this disaster, he made two calves of gold, set one up at Bethel, and the other at Dan, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” He was the first king of whom we read who set up a religion of his own to support the throne; but he has had a multitude of followers; for this is the real purpose of every State religion down to the present day. He also appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in imitation of the Feast of Tabernacles, which was held in Jerusalem on the same day of the seventh month; and on the first day of that feast he went up to his new altar to burn incense for the first time.
God was of course beholding these proceedings, and He sent a prophet out of Judah, who arrived in Bethel just in time to witness this first burning of incense. He made his way through the great crowd, close up to the king, who stood before the altar, and cried out, “O altar, altar, thus saith Jehovah: Behold, a child shall be born in Judah, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he sacrifice the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall they burn upon thee.” And he gave a sign that these words should be fulfilled, saying, “Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.” The altar was immediately rent asunder, and the ashes, including the incense, I suppose, was spilt upon the ground. The king in great wrath put forth his hand, and exclaimed to those about him, “Lay hold of him.” But the moment he uttered the words he felt a stiffening of his arm, and realized that he could not draw it back to his body. The bystanders saw this, and not one of them dared to lay hands on the prophet. The king’s tune changes. He says to the man of God, “Intreat now the favor of the Lord thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored”. The prophet did so, and the hand was restored as suddenly as it had been stiffened. The prophet is now a wonderful man in the eyes of the king. Wrath is turned into admiration, and he says, “Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward.”But he answered, “If thou wilt give me half thy house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread or drink water in this place: for so was it charged me by the word of God.”
Now here is a man to be admired. He was so courageous that in obedience to the command of God he defied the power of the king; he was so free from ambition as to resist the flattering invitation of the king; and he was so unselfish as not to be influenced by the king’s money.
In this same city of Bethel, almost under the shadow of Jeroboam’s golden calf, we are told that there dwelt another prophet, an old one. He, of course, was opposed to this false worship; but he had consulted expediency, and had kept his mouth shut. One of his own sons had been in the crowd which assembled to witness the inauguration of the new altar. The son ran home when the young prophet had disappeared, and told his father all that had been said and done. Though too cowardly to act such a part himself, the old man was instantly fired with admiration for his daring fellow-prophet, and he felt that he must have him in his house to break bread with him: so he ordered his son to saddle the ass, and he hurried off to bring the prophet back. He found him dismounted, and sitting under the shade of an oak. Hurrying up to him, he said, “Come home with me and eat bread.” The young man answered him as he had answered the king about eating and drinking in the place. But the old man was so eager to have him come that he made up a lie, and said to him,
“I also am a prophet as thou art; and an angel spake to me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thy house, that he may eat bread and drink water.” This lie prevailed. Notice, now, that it is not a bad man, but a brave and good man, who is thus overcome. Even such a man is not free from danger at this point. Many a man just as brave and true in many particulars, has been led to his own undoing by the belief of a lie.
No doubt the old man’s table was spread with the best the house afforded, and the two were enjoying themselves to the utmost when the Spirit of God came upon the old prophet and forced from his lips this solemn sentence: “Thus saith Jehovah: Forasmuch as thou hast been disobedient to the mouth of Jehovah, and hast not kept the command which Jehovah thy God commanded thee, but had come back, and eaten and drunk in this place, thy carcass shall not come to the sepulchre of thy fathers.”
The joyful feast ended in gloom. The young man departed with a sense of guilt weighing him down; and he wondered, no doubt, what mysterious fate was involved in the words which had come from the Lord. He was not long in finding out; for he had gone but a short distance toward home when he saw a lion rushing upon him.
The same day there came into the city from that road some men who said that they saw the strange sight of a lion standing by the side of a dead man, whom he had slain but had not eaten, and the man’s ass standing by unharmed. The old prophet knew what it meant. He ordered out his ass once more, hastened down the road, found it as the men had said, brought the carcass home with him, and buried it in his own sepulchre.
You can now see very plainly that this incident happened for a type, as Paul said of many other Old Testament incidents, and that it was written for our admonition. It was written to warn us against the belief of a lie. The fate of the young prophet cries out like the blast of a trumpet to startle us from our fancied security, and makes us look around to see if we, too, are in any such peril.
Perhaps you are ready to say that the sin of the old prophet in this case was greater than that of the young one; and you think it strange that the less guilty was the one who perished. Well, there was an abundance of texts and incidents to show the sin of lying, and the evil consequences which must follow it; and nobody, either then or now, needed any particular instruction about the sin of the old prophet; but the world needed a lesson on the subject of believing a lie; so the young prophet was slain to teach this lesson, while the old man was left to God’s ordinary method of dealing with liars. No doubt he got his deserts sooner or later. I think you will all agree with me that this very singular piece of inspired history confirms most strikingly, and illustrates most aptly the teaching of Paul and of Jesus on the subject of believing a lie — of being guided by blind guides.
In view of the solemn lesson now before us, taught both in the Old Testament and in the New, it becomes a question of transcendent importance, How shall we be sure that we are not believing lies; that we are not being led by blind guides? How can I determine who among all those proposing to guide me in religious matters are the men who can see—who are not blind men? I answer, there is one set of men, and only one, whom we can trust implicitly. We know that they are not blind: I mean the Lord Jesus and his apostles. We have their written instructions on the way of life, and they are not so voluminous or so obscure as to be unintelligible in regard to what is sinful. We may be in doubt, as we study them, over many questions of history and of exegesis, but rarely can we be in the least suspense, if we have a willing heart, as to what is sinful. Having found this, we ought to be able, and we shall be, to prevent any man from leading us into such error as shall cause us to commit sin — sin of omission or sin of commission.
All sorts of doctrines are being taught by all sorts of men and women; and it becomes a man who wishes ever to please God, to keep his head level, and his eye fixed on the plain teachings of the Lord and the apostles, if he would not believe a lie and be condemned.
The belief of any lie leading men to neglect baptism, is the more likely to be fatal from this fact that the forgiveness of all our past sins is connected with it. Who is willing to risk his soul on an uncertainty like that? I beg of you to cast aside the fatal delusion that there is time enough for you to surrender to the authority of your Lord, and any delusion which may have been palmed off upon you in regard to the importance of prompt obedience in baptism. Let not a day pass over your heads till, with a penitent soul, you are buried with Christ in baptism, and shall have risen to walk with him in a new life (Rom. 6:3-5).