There had been a great battle between the army of Benhadad and the men of Israel. Ahab, king of Israel, had scored a decisive victory; 100,000 Syrians had been slain on the battlefield, while a wall in a city had collapsed and killed 27,000 more. The Lord had appointed that the Syrian king should die; but Ahab compromised with Benhadad, and promised to permit him to return to Damascus. And having made a covenant of peace with him, he sent him away.
One of the sons of the prophets disguised himself, and waited the passing of King Ahab. And as the king passed by, the prophet called to him, and said: "Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle; and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man: if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver. And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it." 1 Kings 20:39, 40.
The leading thought in this graphic recital is the confession of the prophet. He admitted that he had voluntarily assumed a definite task in a stipulated agreement,—he had promised to keep a certain prisoner till called for. If he failed, he was to forfeit for the life of the prisoner either his own life or a talent of silver. But instead of watching closely all the time, as he should, he allowed his attention to be drawn to other matters. He himself says: "As thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone."
Here we have a striking example of unprofitable activity. The work of this man was to keep his prisoner safe. This he failed to do, not because he was not busy, but rather because he was so intensely busy about other things that he neglected his chief duty. The king showed no mercy, nor did the prophet show mercy to the king who had failed to do his duty in slaying the man whom God designed for destruction.
The Lord has given His watchmen a definite work.
"Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at My mouth, and give them warning from Me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul." Eze. 3:17-21.
Here it is life for life. All depends on the watchman. The message is plain. If the watchman does his work faithfully, he has saved his own soul. But if he is delinquent, indifferent, or neglectful, his own life answers for the life of the one he has failed to warn. It is evident that our very life depends upon our doing our full duty as messengers of the Lord.
As preachers we have our commission,—to build up the kingdom of God in the hearts of men, and so to fit them for our Lord's return. "Go, . . and make Christians of all nations," is the divine command. Paul declared to the church at Corinth: "We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." 2 Cor. 5:20. Plainly the minister's work is to bring reconciliation between sinners and the Lord, to build up the kingdom of God in the hearts of men. We are to be soul winners for Christ. That is our calling, our appointment, our service. In that work are centered our ordination vows, the ordination charge, our anointing by the Holy Ghost. Our solemn charge is: "Be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching." 2 Tim. 4:2, A. R. V. In most of our ordination charges, too, are these words: "I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus. . . Preach the word."
Thus we stand, having taken our vows before the Lord as in His very presence, and are there charged to "preach the word." We have received consecration by the laying on of hands and earnest prayer. We are to forsake all things earthly, and lead a life of prayer and humility, giving ourselves to preaching the word. What could be more solemn, more awful?
What about our other activities? You may inquire, Are we not to enjoy life, as other men do,—to buy, sell, take part in the activities of the world, its pleasure, its business?—Only in so far as these serve to forward our real work, which is to win souls. The great question ever before us is, What about these souls whom we could have won to Christ had we faithfully preached the word, but have failed to reach because of our other work? The king condemned the wounded, disguised prophet for activity that resulted in failure to do his duty. His sentence was: "So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it." The prophet tore off his disguise, and said to the king: "Thus saith Jehovah, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people." 1 Kings 20: 42, A. R. V.
Each of us must faithfully do our assigned work. No other activities, no matter how laudable in themselves, will substitute in God's sight for our failure to do the work that He has called us to do. We are responsible for the souls of men. If they perish through our neglect, we cannot claim that we were fully occupied and could not extend to them the invitation to accept Christ. Others cannot answer for us. Personal accountability here must be accepted as part of the commission received by all who become gospel workers.
God never requires what He will not help us accomplish. In the judgment day all will understand that the Lord is just and reasonable, and our failures are wholly our own. If we busy ourselves with unimportant matters, working ever so hard, we shall not be excused for our failure to do what God has appointed as our work. When we covenant with God to accept an ambassadorship to this lost world, and to promote the interests of His kingdom in the hearts of men, we assume a lifelong obligation. This covenant cannot be broken without serious soul risk. No work that we may take upon ourselves, or to which we may be appointed by others, can release us from the solemn covenant we made with God at our consecration and ordination.
We must, then, do our work of soul saving with prayerful diligence, never forgetting that we are ambassadors of Heaven to preach the gospel of the kingdom to lost men and women, and do our utmost to build up the kingdom of God.
I. H. E.