ELIJAH THE TISHBITE


by


F. W. Krummacher, D. D.


Copyright © 1880


CHAPTER ONE ELIJAH’S FIRST APPEARANCE

It is a brilliant description which the Lord gives us of his true church here on earth, when, in the Song of Solomon, 4:4, he says, “Thy neck is like the tower of David, builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.”


He compares it to that strong hold of the Jebusites, on the hill of Zion, which David took. Thus the church of God also stands founded on a rock, and that rock is Christ and his blood. It rests upon the power and word of God; the eternal triune Lord bears it in his hands, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.


The tower of David was builded for an armory. And when was ever the fortress of the church of Jesus Christ unprotected. For nearly six thousand years has the infernal adversary bent his bow against it, and shot at it with his fiery darts; but it stands indestructible to this day. For there is one shield over it, which is better than a thousand: where is the lance that will penetrate it?


That shield is He who is the Alpha and the Omega, and his protection who can disannul? But David’s tower was hung with weapons of mighty men of valor.


- Here, the sword of the preacher of righteousness;

- There, of Moses the meek and much tried man:

- Here, the armor of Daniel;

- There, of Paul, who fought the good fight

- Peter, divinely surnamed a rock;

- Here, helmets, breastplates, and other equipments of Reformers, a Huss and a Wickliff, a Luther, a Calvin, and a Zuinglius.


All of these zealous for the truth for the honor of God and all valiant defenders of citadel of Zion. And behold! amongst the swords of these spiritual heroes, one which presents itself with peculiar effulgence to the eye, one which has wrought mightily for the glory of the kingdom of God, and was sharp and piercing as any could be in arduous and evil times. Who once handled that noble weapon!


[[@Page:2]]It was ELIJAH THE TISHBITE; a man mighty word, and deed, and in miracles besides; who broke forth like a fire, and whose word burnt like a torch, and who was so eminently distinguished by Divine grace, that, when the Lord of glory himself appeared upon earth, the Jews said, “It is Elias!”


The life of Elijah may be made an abundant subject of animation and encouragement, of strength and refreshment to our faith; we intend therefore to set forth the history of this man of God in a series of discourses. We shall accompany him at one time into the streets of the royal city, and to the prince’s throne; at another, into the solitary wilderness; upon the public and tempestuous scene of his labors, and into the quiet chamber and to the humble couch watered with his tears; and learn of him how the Lord guides his people, and how his imparted strength is perfected in weakness.


May the Spirit of the Lord God bless and seal these, our meditations, imparting to them such a life and power, that many a weary heart may be refreshed, and that the feeble knees of many may be strengthened!


“And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (I Kings 17:1).


Thus commences the brief record of the prophet Elijah, abruptly setting us at once in the midst of his life.


At this very first mention of him we see the whole man, living and moving, in spirit and in conduct. This manner of his introduction to our notice is itself remarkable.


In the preceding chapters the inspired historian had, as it were, dug through the wall, and discovered to us the horrible abominations in which Israel, during those melancholy times, was so deeply immersed.


- Clouds and thick darkness covered the whole land;

- The images of Baalim and Ashtaroth fearfully gleam everywhere;

- Idolatrous temples and heathen altars occupy the sacred soil;

- Every hill smokes with their sacrifices, every vale resounds with the blasphemous yells of cruel priestcraft.

- The people drink in iniquity like water, and sport in shameless rites around their idols.


Alas! alas! How is the glory of Israel departed! How is Abraham’s seed no longer discernible! Their light is become darkness, the salt has lost its savor; the fine gold has become dim! And now, while darkness reigns, a darkness which can be felt, while no cheering star gleams through the universal blackness, on a sudden the history changes, with the words, “AND ELIJAH SAID.” —The man seems as if drop from heaven into the midst of this awful night-piece without father, without mother, without descent, as is written of Melchizedec. Lo, he stands forth in the midst of the desolation, but not without his God.


[[@Page:3]]Almost the only grain of salt in the general corruption, the only leaven that is to leaven the whole mass; and that we may learn at once who he is, he commences his career with an unheard of act of faith, by closing, in the name of his Lord, the heavens over Israel, and changing the firmament into iron and brass. Thanks be to God! The night is no longer so horrible, for a man of God now appears, like the rising moon, in the midst of it.


Let us meditate for a few moments on what is here related of Elijah: I. His name and circumstances. II. His spiritual character. III. The prophetic denunciation with which he comes forward into notice.


I. His name is Elijah


It is no useless particularity to attach importance to the names of sacred personages, and to inquire into their meaning!


The names of Scripture characters were often given by God himself. Such names served to convey a Divine promise or assurance, or taught some rule of life, or carried some Divine memorial, or indicated the character and predominant disposition of the persons who received them, or expressed some Divine calling. Thus the name of Noah signified a comforter; the name of Abraham, a father of many nations. Names were to the people like memoranda, and like the bells on the garments of the priests, reminding them of the Lord and his government, and furnishing matter for a variety of salutary reflections. To the receivers of them they ministered consolation and strength, warning and encouragement; and to others they served to attract the attention and heart to God.


I am aware, that to make things of this kind the subject of any religious consideration at present, is to expose ourselves to the imputation of weakness and superstition. How few there are, even of professed Christians, who practically believe that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, that God’s providence extends to matters the most minute, and that he is often specially glorified in the “day of small things!”


But he who possesses this childlike faith, accounting nothing as really little in God’s sight, realizing his heavenly Father’s gracious presence in his house and garden, under his vine and his fig-tree—blessed indeed is that man; he possesses much joy and peace, and Divine delight at all times; wherever he is, he beholds the traces and hears the voice of God.


The name of this wondrous man was ELIJAH— that is, being interpreted, “My God of power,” or, “the Lord is my strength.” A great and excellent name and he bore it in deed and in truth. He was a man like thee or me; nothing in himself, but the strength of God was his; he could do nothing, and yet deeds of omnipotence proceeded from his hands; he lay in the dust, a worm, but was commissioned with Divine authority and power; he was a royal personage, who had power to open and shut heaven, to bid the dead to live, the living to die, and to hold judgment upon the enemies of God. Thus he might justly be called “Elijah.” And is the force of this name merely, “God strengthens me?” Certainly not; but rather, “God himself is my strength.”


[[@Page:4]] Here is a distinction with a difference. It is not the same thing to say, “God holds his shield before me;” and to say, “God himself is my shield.” If he holds his shield before me, not a hair of my head can be touched and the evil I dread shall not come nigh me. If God himself be my shield, I then lift up my head in the raging storm, as under a serene sky, and am a partaker of the happiness of God as much in the midst of tribulation as out of it.


Peter, when released from prison, when his chains fell from his hands, and the prison doors opened to him of their own accord, might shout for joy as he went on, and say, “The shield of the Lord is around me.” But Stephen, when stoned to death by his enemies might cry out, with the countenance of an angel “God is my shield!”


If “God strengthens me,” then, through his grace, I experience within me a Divine power by which I can accomplish something, and feel myself arrayed and armed with a courageous and joyful spirit; I smile at partition walls that would confine me, and at barricades that would exclude me, and I fear nothing. But if, finding nothing but weakness in my soul, and trembling at the sight of the danger that surrounds me, and at the immense mountains of difficulties which lie before me;—yet, with all the shrinking of nature, I advance with holy boldness to meet them, hoping against reason and feeling, in simple faith on Him who is eternally near, who will go with me, and to whom it is an easy thing to rebuke, with a word, the ocean’s waves, and to thresh the mountains so that they shall become a plain; and if I walk by faith on the waves of nature’s terrors, destitute of courage and yet a hero, out of weakness made strong, and out of despondency valiant—then I can exult and say, “God is my strength;” and my feet are placed upon a rock.


What a wonderful thing is faith, which lays hold of a power to do all things through Christ strengthening us; which brings man, who is a worm, into fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ; and is the means whereby strength is ordained, and praise is perfected out of the mouth of babes and sucklings!


Elijah owed not his greatness to high birth or station, or a native place of renown. He was born, as we see from the text, among the mountains of Gilead, on the other side Jordan; a region which, though famous for its plants, and its balms and spices, was mostly inhabited by blind idolaters, and overspread with the abominations of the Amorites. It lay not far from the country of the Gergesenes, where, in the time of our Lord, the devils entered into the swine; and it may be supposed that, unless from extreme necessity, no Israelite would take up his dwelling among these mountains.


It was probably in some poor abode, possibly in a wretched banished Jewish family, that Elijah was born and brought up. His birthplace, Tishbe, may he considered as only a mean and obscure village in the mountains; and the prophet in his childhood could not have known much of schools, or seats of learning, or of the great world. But it has constantly been the way of our God in all ages to take those, by whom he purposes to do things, rather out of the dust than from off the throne that all may see how everything depends upon his choice, and know that flesh and blood have not wrought his mighty works, but that to him alone belongs the glory.


[[@Page:5]]Hence it was that he thus prepared in Gilead the balm which should recover the health of the daughter of Zion; and in that den of murderers, the country of the Amorites, he raised up the man, by whose instrumentality he purposed to beat down altars, execute judgment upon kings, and destroy the priests of Baal.


If we translate the word “Tishbite,” it means a CONVERTER; and how well does this name befit the whole life and vocation of our prophet!


Elijah enters on the stage of history with a word of faith and power:—“And Elijah the Tishbite said;” —and where was it he spake, and to whom and when? Here surely is “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”


Ever since the death of Solomon the evil of idolatry had been coming in like a flood, and no barrier could any longer avail to keep out the torrent of general corruption. The despotic declaration of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, upon coming to the throne, that if his father had scourged the people with whips, he would chastise them with scorpions, had occasioned such a disaffection, that the ten tribes had revolted, and formed a separate kingdom under Jeroboam. Only the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained, subject to the house of David, and formed the kingdom of Judah; while the ten rebellious tribes styled themselves the kingdom of Israel.


The kings of Judah, who possessed the south of the promised land, resided at Jerusalem, on Mount Zion. The kingdom of Israel comprised all the northern districts, and its royal residence was first the fortified hill of Thirza, and afterwards the city of Samaria. The two kingdoms were at almost perpetual war with each other; but this was not the greatest evil. A thousand times worse was their internal disorder.


Jeroboam began his reign by introducing, from political motives, a new idolatry. He was apprehensive that, if the people continued in connection with the temple and the worship of God at Jerusalem, they would gradually fall away from him again, and return under the dominion of the house of David. He therefore made an imitation of the golden cherubim of the temple, transferred some of the festivals to other seasons, and chose priests out of all the tribes of the people, at his own pleasure, without restriction to the tribe of Levi.


This unlawful worship became open idolatry, when, in the year 900 before the birth of Christ, king Ahab, that tame obsequious slave of his bloodthirsty wife Jezebel, ascended the throne of Israel. Then it was, at the instigation of this ungodly woman of Sidon, that the worship of Baal became the established religion of the country, and the worshipers of the true God were persecuted with fire and sword.


O! The sad and evil times which now came on! The gross darkness which now covered the land; the horrible abominations which now went on accumulating! Gloomy idol temples rose in every direction; profane altars, stained with the blood of prophets and other holy men, bade defiance to the Most High, and called for Divine jealousy and vengeance. It seemed as if Satan had transferred his residence from hell to earth, and striving to obscure the light of heaven with the smoke and vapor of the most horrible idolatry.


[[@Page:6]] Such were the times, such the awful state of things, when Elijah, the man of God, stood up. The kingdom of Ahab and Jezebel is the dark field of labor on which he enters, in the name of God, and where we are to behold him employed.


- How will he conduct himself in the midst of such a crooked and perverse generation?

- How will he navigate this stormy sea?

- How will he surmount walls and barriers like these?


Such questions will be fully answered as we proceed, and by every answer I trust we shall be strengthened in the faith, and constrained joyfully to exclaim, “The Lord, he God! the Lord, he is God!”


II. Let us now take a view of Elijah’s spiritual character, the relation in which he stood toward God


This he indicates himself in the text, where he exclaims, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth before whom I stand.” Elijah stood before the God of Israel: such was his spiritual position and situation; such the characteristic state of his inward life.


Is it asked: Who is the God of Israel?


Who then was the angel that conversed with Abraham in the plain of Mamre, and the mysterious person in the form of man, who wrestled with Jacob till daybreak, and said to him, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and has prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).


What was that appearance in the burning bush at the foot of Horeb, and that bright and wondrous Presence, of which God the Father said unto Moses in the desert, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest” (Exodus 33:14).


Who was that living Rock which followed the people of Israel through the wilderness in their journey to Canaan; or that Captain of the Lord’s host who appeared, with a drawn sword in his hand, unto Joshua, and who was himself the sword of Joshua’s victories and the shield of his help? Joshua 5:13-15.


Dost thou know him well? MESSIAH is his name! He is the Lord, the God of Israel! Before him stand the thousands of thousands; before him, the angels whom he makes as the winds, and his ministers whom he makes as the flames of fire, before him stood Elijah.


“Happy are thy men, and happy are these thy servants, who stand continually before thee!” so spake the queen of Sheba to Solomon. I Kings 10:8. But a greater than Solomon is here! And how much happier are those servants who stand always in the presence of the God of Israel! But no one can ever stand before him in his own strength. Those whom he suffers to appear before him, stand on the foundation of the Lord; stand in his righteousness and beauty.


[[@Page:7]]For with an iron Sceptre he casts down all who dare present themselves before him in their own footing, or behold him in their own strength. Or lift up the head before him in their own righteousness; this he can never endure. But to the worm in the dust, to the Poor self-renouncing penitent, lying in his blood, he says, “Lift thyself up, stand before me, behold my face with comfort, and be not afraid!”


He that desires to lift up the head in his presence, must have drunk of the brook in the way, must have lain prostrate before him in the dust, must have abased and humbled himself.


How often may Elijah have fallen on his face before him among the mountains of Gilead, how many tears may he have shed in solitary caves and caverns, before he could say, “As the Lord liveth, the God of Israel, before whom I stand!”


Elijah was a man reconciled to God in Christ Jesus, the promised Messiah, and clothed with his righteousness. This is implied his words, “I stand before the Lord God of Israel;” and is further evident from his having received the honor, a thousand years afterwards, to be a witness with Moses, on Mount Tabor, of the transfiguration of his Lord.


But standing before the Lord, expresses something more than a state of reconciliation in general. I stand before the Lord, when I desire above all things that the will of the Lard may be at all times plainly manifested to me, and that I may do nothing, from one moment to another, but what shall please him and promote his glory; when I keep my eyes waking, and place myself as it were at my post, to watch for the tokens of my King, and listen attentively with my spirit to his voice, and his commands within me and without; when I desire, according to the least of his intimations, to run the way of his commandments—I then stand before the Lord.


Thus Elijah stood before the Lord. To be an instrument for the accomplishment of the divine will, and for the glorifying of his name, was his ardent desire; he could say with Isaiah’s watchman, “Lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the day-time, and I am set in my ward whole nights” (Isaiah 21:8). His life was a hearkening to God’s voice; he passed his days in the presence of his eternal King, and “Lord, speak! for thy servant heareth,” was his watchword.


Such was Elijah, by the grace of God, and thus did he stand before the Lord God of Israel.


III. We shall consider the denunciation Elijah proclaimed


Let us direct our eyes to Samaria, that idolatrous city. There stands the man of God in the midst of foes, before the tyrant Ahab, and opens his mouth boldly and valiantly, and exclaims in such a manner as to make the people’s ears tingle, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.”


Elijah—What art thou doing? What a risk thou art incurring! Is not this putting the honor of the Lord at stake? Will they not ridicule not only thee, but him also, if there be any delay in what thou hast announced? Yes; but Elijah is not afraid of this. He knows that the word of the Lord in his mouth is truth.


[[@Page:8]] But how was it that Elijah was empowered to make such an announcement? The prophet, full of holy jealousy for the honor of his God, felt an inward assurance that such a chastisement upon the land would tend to melt the hardened hearts of the people, and to restore the glory of the Lord’s name He brought this matter before the Lord, as James tells us at the end of his epistle, ch. 5:17.


“Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain?”


And Amen! was the answer from above in his soul. Amen, be it so! It is given into thy hands to shut and to open heaven. Elijah took this Amen of the living God as a sword in his hand: depending upon this Amen, he prophesied drought with Divine infallibility.


The whole country of Samaria seemed to shake her head at it, and to laugh at his prediction. The luxuriant pastures and the well-water; fields seemed to exclaim together, “This judgment shall not be executed!”—and a thousand springs and brooks, flowing through the land, and the vapory

hills, which form and attract the clouds, all seemed to join together to falsify his word. But Elijah was not confounded; with the Amen of his God in the hand of his faith, what were natural appearances or reasonings to him!


His voice was more mighty than that of many waters, for it was the voice of God within him; neither springs, nor brooks, nor clouds, nor the richest luxuriance of vegetation could aught avail against that word, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, over this land shall come a drought.”


So, sincere Christian, do thou also believe the Amen which thou hast received from God in thy heart respecting his adoption of thee, and his grace toward thee!


Suffer not thyself to be confounded either by thy objecting nature, or by the weakness of the flesh; either by the scruples of reason, or by the devil, the spirit that always gainsayeth. Keep a firm hold, by faith, of the Divine Amen once given thee, and abide by it, and say, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, and endureth forever, nothing shall condemn me, or separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.


“As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word!”


Elijah said it, and immediately heaven and earth changed their appearance. The one became as iron, and the other as brass, and the dew of heaven was restrained. The word of the prophet struck, like a fever, into the heart of the earth, withering and scorching; and all that was fresh and green faded and hung its head; every stream and rivulet dried up, and all that had breath lay gasping and languishing on the ground.


Neither dew, nor rain, fell during three years and six months. Such were the effects produced by the voice of man—but a man who was in communion and accord with the Almighty.


[[@Page:9]] In conclusion, I say unto you, my people, whom the Lord hath so highly favored; verily, if the high places in your hearts are not removed, the idolatry rooted out, the Baalim demolished, before Whom, alas, so many of you, secretly or more openly, bow the knee, it will be more tolerable for the land of Samaria and Israel than for you.


O it is already as if heaven had begun to close upon us. How sparingly does the dew of the Spirit fall! how few arise from the dead; and how long is it since a plenteous shower of heavenly rain has refreshed our vale! *


* The Valley of Barmen, where the author resides.


My friends, what is the cause of this? Has an Elijah stood forth in the midst of us with his word, “As the Lord liveth, there shall not be dew nor rain these years?” Or does Elijah sleep, forgetting to re-open what was shut up?


Church of God, thou little flock of Israel, thou people of his possession, thou art as Elijah. Yes, thy voice can call forth clouds and rain. Arise, and call upon thy God! for “the effectual fervent prayer righteous man availeth much!” (James 5:16)


Pray for dew and rain upon the dry land, and to announce it from the “Amen” of thy heart, say, The drought will soon be at an end; get thee up, eat and drink, and be joyful, for there is a sound of abundance of rain. May God graciously give it! Amen.

CHAPTER TWO ELIJAH AT THE BROOK CHERITH

[[@Page:10]] At that awful moment, when Israel stood at the brink of the Red Sea, perplexed which way to turn; while before them the deep waters roared behind them the enraged Egyptians were rushing upon them with chariots and horsemen, and on either side of them perpendicular rocks rising up like walls on high, making retreat impossible—the Lord came to Moses and said, “Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward” (Exodus 14:15).


There seems something very surprising in this command. But we have a God, my friends, who always knows exactly, and much better than we do, what is good and necessary for his children; and, in truth he never leads them otherwise than they would wish him to lead them, if they were able to see as clearly into their hearts and necessities as he does. But we very seldom know what is good for us; and therefore the ways by which God leads us are generally mysterious and obscure, just because the why and the wherefore are concealed from us.


“Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward!” What a commission was this!


- Lord, behold the sea with its billows at our feet! “Let them go forward!”

- Lord, are we able to walk upon the waves, and to find a highway upon the mighty waters “Let them go forward!”


Lord, Lord! but where is the passage over the flood, or,1 where are the vessels for our conveyance? Is it thy will that thy people perish in the sea, and that the Egyptians triumph “Speak unto them, that they go forward!” saith the Almighty; but still he does not touch a single wave to quell it, nor does he dry up the sea, but let its waves roar at their pleasure; and yet he points to its troubled surface and commands that “all the hosts of Israel go forward!”


They must venture upon his word, they must believe before they see, and go forward in faith. They venture, and lo! The very moment they prepare to advance in the name of their God, and to step upon the boisterous element—the waves, struck with the rod of Moses, part asunder, and become a wall on their right hand and on their left, a highway in the sea is opened before them, and the people pass over joyfully.


This is the way of our gracious God.


[[@Page:11]] We must venture upon his Word; and verily, however much we seem to hazard in his name, nothing is really hazarded. And when he commands us to go forward, be it into fire, tempest, or the sea, let us only advance in the path of duty, and the result will be glorious. Truths like these, of the most consolatory kind, we shall see confirmed as we now proceed with the history of our prophet.


“And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord; for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook” (I Kings, 17:2-6).


How refreshing a stream of instruction may this narrative prove to those who have to tread in any similar path, or to bear any similar trials to those of Elijah! Draw near then, ye that seem to dwell in a desert, and who are solitary in the midst of this wilderness world. Bring vessels with you and draw abundantly, and drink, and let your sorrows cease.


The subjects to which we would now direct your attention, are, I. Elijah’s perplexity; II. God’s command; III. The prophet’s faith; IV. The triumph of his faith.


I. Elijah had prayed


In zeal for the honor of God he had prayed that it might not rain; and, being assured of an answer to his prayer, had gone to Samaria, to meet Ahab. There, in his presence he declared with holy boldness—and no doubt the whole country was soon filled with the report of it—“There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word,” ver. 1.


The word was spoken in God’s name, and the judgment denounced immediately followed: first, in appalling harbingers; then, in complete desolation.


The sun glared upon the earth with its scorching beams, a memento of the eyes of the Lord, the righteous Judge, which are described as “a flame of fire;” those rays which heretofore had diffused a smile over the whole face of nature were now changed into arrows of destruction and death; while the sultry winds dried up with their burning gusts every rivulet from its bed, and every fountain from its source; the plants and trees dropped their leaves and withered away; the lowing herds and bleating flocks explored every spot upon the parched fields; the wild beasts moaned in the forests; the dearth rose to its height, and it was not long before the famine became universal, and turned every habitation into a place of mourning and woe.


And where is Elijah? Where should he be? He is sharing in the common calamity.


[[@Page:12]] No angel has come to convey him away—no chariot of fire has taken him up. There he stands with the criminals on the place of execution, apparently himself a sacrifice to the wrath he had drawn down, and exposed, with the ungodly, to famine and death. There he stands, panting and groaning like the rest, exposed to the same dangers, and, over and above, execrated by a whole nation, and devoted to ruin by the infuriated populace. He seemed likely to fuller the fate of Samson, who pulled down upon himself the pillars of Dagon’s temple roof, and was buried in the common ruin of his enemies.


Surely it was no small matter, in such circumstances, to keep faith alive. What a commotion must have arisen in his soul at beholding the universal misery around him and his own personal danger! How easily may we suppose natural pity at one time, and natural fear and despondency at another suggesting to him, “Why didst thou pray for this?”


It is not difficult to realize the perplexity in which the prophet must have felt himself. His joyful elevation of spirit must well nigh have subsided, and no support was left him but simple faith in the “Amen” of his God; the consciousness that all had been done in God’s name, and that now the Lord would provide.


Similar experiences to that of which Elijah was probably the subject are not uncommon to the children of God. Something like this every Christian occasionally undergoes, in one way or another. An individual is inwardly constrained to say or do some particular thing. The impulse is strong— the inward call seems not to be resisted. Stimulated by holy zeal, he cheerfully enters, in the name of God, upon a duty or a course of action, without any cold calculation of consequences— the measure is adopted, the word is uttered. Then all at once he is made aware of what he has risked; he finds himself cast into difficulties and dangers, which seem far to exceed the measure of his faith and ability; he has stepped with Peter upon the open sea; the wind becomes boisterous, and he is threatened with destruction. He would fain retrace his steps, but retreat is out of the question.


Then that cheerful zeal which actuated us seems to have burnt down into the socket, and the soul desponds and cries, “Lord! save us, we perish!”


This was the case with some excellent men, who very lately, on account of their faith, were obliged to leave their native land. In opposition to the spirit of the great and mighty of this world, and of the ignorant multitude, they preached to their congregations the pure Gospel—repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.


In so doing they had exposed themselves to danger, which however was somewhat held back by their prudently refraining from publicly attacking the national church, and the unchristian inroads which their superiors were making upon its ancient doctrine and discipline.


But, all unexpectedly, their lips were opened by another, so that they could not refrain from preaching what they had been reluctant to bring out, and would otherwise have shrunk from doing; and, carried away by a holy zeal; they declared the danger by which the national church was menaced.


[[@Page:13]] All mischiefs and abuses were then exposed without fear of consequences, so that the people’s ears tingled. They could no longer keep silence respecting the insidious design of reducing the religion of Christ ultimately to mere heathenism; they roundly declared nothing else was intended than craftily to bear away the ark of the covenant, and to smuggle images of jealousy— false doctrines and precepts— into the sanctuary.


They complained openly that the churches had been robbed of the invaluable standards of their faith; that books were imposed upon teachers and scholars, which were infected with the spirit of Antichrist; that the last pillars of their ancient ecclesiastical constitution were shaken, in order that the church of Christ might become a mere political institution; and many of the worthy preachers so lost sight of themselves, and gave themselves up so entirely to the impulse of the Spirit of God, that they openly avowed that they could net conscientiously belong to such a church any longer.


The words were uttered, the match thrown in the mine; and who would fetch it back. The people were amazed and confounded; many hastened to their teachers as soon as the sermon was ended, and expressed their determination to separate from such a church; others wavered, and were much perplexed. The mass of the people vented abuse and curses, threatening to stone these intrepid witnesses; and the strong arm of civil power came upon them with ejectments, imprisonment and exile.


The worthy men had not thought of consequences like these.


Consternation came upon them like an armed man. The heroic zeal, which had carried them away in their pulpits, and in which they regarded God only and his cause, but not themselves or their own lives, had now so subsided under the pressure of these floods of affliction, that they were forced to say, “Had we foreseen the consequences, we would fain have held our peace.”


Nothing now remained to them but the conviction that God had directed them; for their own prudence would have had it otherwise; and this assurance that God would have it so, is the pilgrim-staff which has supported and comforted them in their banishment and wanderings to the present hour.


Now, that which happened to these worthy men upon a public scale, happens to thousands of Christians in a more private way continually. One, under the influence of the Spirit of love, commits unsuspectingly his whole property to a brother in embarrassment, in the name of a disciple; but subsequently, in his own family, he experiences the temporal inconveniences of such an act, in his own privations or those of his children, and in other perplexing circumstances; then his joy departs, and his heart is terrified.


Another, animated by holy zeal, stands up at length among his friends or relatives, with a confession of Christ crucified, or even with a serious call to repentance; but afterwards, when he finds what misunderstandings and wrong feelings he has thus raised against himself, his zeal subsides, and he is wretchedly cast down. What now must he do? Must he recall what he has uttered? This he cannot, this he dare not do, for his Lord’s sake; no, he must let the fire burn.


[[@Page:14]] A third is constrained, from the fullness of his heart, to entreat the Lord to unite him more closely to himself; and if it cannot be done by gentle means, to effectuate it through affliction— the affliction comes—the waves of trouble roll over him; hut alas! Affliction, while he is under its chastening, no longer seemeth joyous, but grievous. The cheerful emotion, with which he once prayed respecting it, is gone; he is ready to repent of such a prayer; his heart can do nothing but mourn and complain.


Are we then to begin nothing without first calculating the consequences? I reply, Where it is possible previously to sit down and count the cost. Do so. But, as this is not always possible, it cannot be made a general rule.


- The lion roars—who can forbear to tremble?

- The Lord gives the word—who can forbear to publish it?

- The stream rushes along—who shall impede it?

- The love of Christ constrains—who shall restrain it?

- The Spirit is a fire in the bosom—who shall quench it?


What a man is bound to do, he must do; and if any evil resort from it, he may then say, “I was bound to do it; it was God’s command; it was not the dictate of flesh and blood:” and, with faith like this, much difficulty and perplexity may be overcome. And you may rely upon this, that if the arm of God is ready to assist any, it is those, who, upon his call, “ Come hither!” confer not with flesh and blood, but with joyful alacrity venture upon the waves, and at his bidding risk all consequences.


This we may learn from the example of Elijah.


II. He did not long remain in this solitary condition, left to the musings of his heavy heart


When he knew not what to do, counsel was given him; and when he saw no way of escape, the gates were opened to him. Such is usually the case. We read that now “The word of the Lord came to him.”


What a cheering visitation in a land overspread with desolation and misery! For when the word of the Lord comes to us, we are visited by nothing less than God’s eternal love and compassion; for the word of the Lord is Christ.


Nothing is so beautifying to the spirit of a man, as the visitation and manifestation of Christ. But this is especially blissful and desirable when we have undertaken something in his name, and have thereby kindled a fire which threatens to consume ourselves and others—when, at his bidding, we have ventured upon a duty, the consequences of which are such as to perplex us, and make us doubt whether it was really the will of God, and at his bidding.


Such a perplexity is indescribably painful, and raises our distress to the highest pitch.


[[@Page:15]]How gladly is He welcomed under such circumstances, when he unexpectedly knocks at our door and permits us again to hear his pleasant voice; when he again, in some way of his own, gives us to understand that we have acted rightly; causing something to transpire which leaves us no longer in doubt as to his approval of our conduct; and either by some external help, or by some spiritual testimony and assurance of his grace, giving us an evidence that he regards us not with displeasure, but with complacency; and that what we have done has been well done, for he has pronounced it good.


Oh! This surpasses all other joy in this world, and though our temporal burdens may remain as they were, we are wonderfully strengthened to bear them!


“The word of the Lord came to Elijah.” He had not to seek for it, but it came to him; and the Lord is kind, indeed, thus to comfort his children uninvited, and to anticipate their suit with his own counsel; for he does not always wait until they ask, any more than that saying is always true, that “Distress will compel men to pray.”


O how are men even at their wit’s end, when the waves of trouble come suddenly upon them, and imminent dangers encompass them. They are confounded at the winds; they shrink at the waves; they seize the rudder of human strength; they cling to the brittle anchor of human hope; but, “Master, awake, we perish!” is forgotten; or, if the Lord is thought of, there is a want of faith, or filial courage and confidence, or something else; and scarcely one step is taken towards seeking the Lord. How justly might he be offended at this, and requite us accordingly!


But, no! He rather prevents his children with the blessings of goodness, and heaps coals of fire on their heads. He often visits them uninvited and breaks in with his light and salvation, where he was not only not sought after, but even affronted with misgivings. Such visits of the Lord are surely well suited to humble and abase us, to melt the heart and stop the mouth, so that we have not a word to say for shame and confusion of face. Free and unmerited grace then appears in all its brightness; the Christian can find nothing in himself worthy to be thought on as a meritorious cause of the afforded aid—no prayer, no sigh, no looking up to the Lord; he cannot lift up so much as his eyes to look him in the face; he can only kiss his feet; and this humbling acknowledgment of mere unmerited grace, which our proud nature is so unwilling to make, how salutary is it—how good—how much for our spiritual welfare!


Hence the Lord sometimes purposely takes away from his children all that they have, withholding from them even the spirit of prayer itself; and then he helps and answers them, as if the best and most fervent prayer had been offered up to him, that they may become truly and thoroughly humbled, and convinced that in every respect “it is not of him that willeth, not of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Romans 9:16).


But to return to the narrative. The Lord interposed, not only to comfort the prophet, but to rescue him from extreme danger. This, however, was to be done in a way which should glorify the name of the Lord, as well as serve for a beneficial exercise of faith to Elijah. No fiery chariot was yet to bear him above his troubles; he was not yet to rise aloft amidst a convoy of angels. Here would have been little room for the exercise of faith.


[[@Page:16]]God, therefore, showed him another path.


“Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.”


A singular direction—as it would seem from a bad condition to a worse. But you remember it was said to Manoah, “Why askest thou after my name, seeing it is wonderful!” (Judges 13:18) And as is his name, so is his way. “Thy way is in the sea, and thy paths in the deep waters, and thy footsteps are not known!” (Psalm 77:19)


Do we inquire whether the Lord directs his children still, as thus in old time Undoubtedly he does, though not by any audible voice, yet with equal certainty and evidence; and this commonly by closing up, inwardly or outwardly, all other ways, and leaving only one open to us. And is not this equivalent to our hearing a voice behind us saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it, when we turn to the right hand, and when we turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21).


When he inwardly leads us—he impresses a scriptural conviction on the judgment as to what we ought to do, and it is scarcely possible for us any longer to hesitate. Would our feelings lead us in a different course? Then peace immediately departs, and such disquietude arises within us, that we are compelled to retrace our steps.


When he outwardly leads us—he brings us into such circumstances, connections, and situations, that only one way remains open, for we see every other obstructed by visible providences. The ways which the Lord thus points out to us seem, therefore, like that to the brook Cherith, selected and appointed purely for the exercise of our faith, the crucifixion of our old man, the mortification of our inveterate corruptions. Only then follow on courageously!


Whenever the Lord says to any of his children, “Get thee hence, and hide thyself,” he also adds, either expressly or by implication, “and the ravens shall feed thee there.” Every duty which He commands has its promise appended to it; and we need be under no concern except to know that the Lord has directed our way.


III. And how did Elijah obey this command his God?


There was doubtless in him, as well in every other man, something that would oppose this divine direction, and be dissatisfied with it. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and therefore his nature would have much to so against it. How could it please him, that, instead of an instantaneous and supernatural deliverance, he is obliged to make a long journey on foot, like any ordinary person? And why he should be directed to turn eastward into the land of Judea, which participated in the judgments of Samaria, he could not discover. To be directed into the lonely wilderness, and to the brook Cherith, amidst gloomy, uninhabited woodlands, was far from inviting. And even his security there, from the pursuit of Ahab and from the general drought, was not warranted by any natural appearances: while the prospect of being fed by ravens, those unclean and voracious creatures, must have appeared as disagreeable as it was contrary to reason and experience.


[[@Page:17]] But, however much nature might oppose, or the old man murmur and recoil, these were silenced and crucified within him. For there was a spirit imparted to Elijah which taught him that his own nature was wrong, and that Good’s will was right.


Not, perhaps, that Elijah was able, with fervency of joy, to thank God for the command given him, and triumphantly to rejoice in it. Possibly, his mind was much tried and depressed by it; but it proved courageous in the faith by which he endured, as seeing Him that is invisible.


“As it is the Divine command,” he might think, “therefore it is holy, just, and good. God’s commissions to his children, what are they but hidden promises? Since he saith to me, ‘Get thee hence,’ I am well assured that he will make a way for me, succor me, and preserve me on the way; for he can neither deceive nor be deceived. No serpent shall bite me, no wild beast devour me; for I am in God’s way. Since he commands me to turn eastward, I am certain, though I seem to be going towards the setting rather than the rising sun, still it will be morning over my head. Forasmuch as he bids me hide myself by the brook Cherith, which is before Jordan, that brook must be a safe place of refuge, though it were in the midst of Samaria itself. I am directed to drink of the brook; here then I have a pledge that the sun will not be permitted to affect this brook with his scorching rays.”


Thus might the prophet think, and then he would conclude further, that “God’s promises are, virtually, obligations which he imposes upon himself. If he say, ‘I will do this or that for thee,’ he must necessarily bring it to pass for his own name’ sake. Therefore the ravens will certainly come, and sooner will they themselves die of hunger, than I shall be suffered to starve.”


In this manner might Elijah have conversed with his own heart; and so, taking the word of the Lord into the hand of his faith, he made it the staff of his pilgrimage. Whenever he grew weary, he leaned upon this staff: his courage revived. When danger appeared his way, he feared not while he had this staff support him.


And have you such a staff in your hands, dear brethren? Are you assured, with this prophet, that the path you tread has been pointed out to you of God; and has any Divine promise been applied to you and become your own, either a particular promise, or a general one, like this; “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee. When thou passest through the waters, they shall not overflow thee” (Isaiah 43:1, 2).


O then, of a truth, all is well, sure, and certain! But now look at Elijah as he takes his journey, a solitary traveler. It seems almost as if we heard the sound of his footsteps, while we read that “he went and did according to the word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.”


IV. Come, let us pay a visit to this man of God in his new dwelling-place


A dreary wild, near the banks of the Jordan, is the scene now opened before us. Dead silence reigns around, interrupted perhaps by the cry of the solitary bittern, while amongst the heath and the juniper bushes broods the ostrich—no hunter disturbing its repose.


[[@Page:18]] No pathway opens to the view—not a human footstep is seen—all is wilderness and solitude. Let us follow him, in imagination, towards the Jordan, bonder lies our track, where the naked rocks rear their lofty heads and the forests frown. Then; through one thicket and another, through one narrow pass and another, we come at length down into a deep and narrow glen overhung with tangled wood, where a brook runs murmuring along and finds its way between the rocky masses.


O look! There sits the man of God! Here is his appointed dwelling: the blue sky his roof, the bare rocks his walls, the stone his seat, the shady wood his bed-chamber, the grass his couch; his company, the purling brook, and the hoarse ravens aloft among the trees. There he sits in his hairy mantle, silent and reflecting; and whenever solitude becomes wearisome, or the hissing of serpents or the distant roar of the lion would inject terror into his soul, he remembers, “I am imprisoned here for the Lord’s sake, and his footsteps are among these rocks;” and thus by faith and hope he regains courage.


For twelve months did Elijah dwell here. This may seem to you incredible, and almost dreadful! But how would you be astonished, were Elijah to assure you that the whole time never appeared tedious; that solitude daily became to him less solitary—nay lively and cheerful! And doubtless this was the case.


He needed neither books nor society—neither labor nor diversion to entertain him.


Silent nature around him was a sufficient book, and the treasure of his experience supplied him with an ample volume. Self-examination, prayer, and converse with Him who seeth in secret was employment enough for him. His Lord and God, whose gentlest whispers and footsteps he could far more readily perceive in this solitude than amidst the noise of the busy world, was sufficient company for him.


- The works of creation which encompassed him, soon served as a living epistle, which he found it employment enough to study.

- The rock by which he dwelt preached to him of a Rock that ever liveth, and whereon himself had built.

- The brook had something to say to him, and spoke many sweet and comfortable things to him of the truth and faithfulness of God, and told of other waters that were still to come—of waters that God would pour upon the dry ground, and of floods upon the thirsty land, and of springs which he would cause to break forth in the desert.

- At one time the shady trees would preach to him and suggest to him the comforts of the tree of life and of those heavenly palms from whose tops eternal peace would at length breathe upon him.

- At another, the cheerful songsters of the air, and the wild roses in the brakes would sing to him, “Be calm, Elijah, and free from care. How can He who is so faithfully mindful of us in this wilderness, feeding the one and giving fragrance and beauty to the other, be forgetful of thee?


In short, everything began to live, and breathe, and talk around him—the stars in the firmament, the flowers in the meadow, the drops on the leaves, and the zephyrs among the shrubs; so that Elijah experienced what the apostle says, [[@Page:19]] “There are so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification” (I Corinthians 14:10); and was able to sing with David, “The voice of the Lord is powerful, The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness” (Psalm 29:4, 8).


After having thus pleased and delighted himself awhile in the exterior world and its speaking emblems, he would then return to another world within him, and be absorbed in listening to what was stirring and passing there.


At one time a new insight was afforded him into his deep poverty of spirit and natural corruption; and then he would be led to weep, and mourn, and wrestle in prayerful conflict.


At another time he would contemplate the work of Divine grace within him, and the clear evidences of the indwelling and operation of the Holy Spirit in his soul; and now the cliffs of the wilderness would resound with psalms like a temple of God, and with pious hymns of thanks- giving, which vibrated strangely, with the mountain echo, far into the depths of his solitude.


Let no one be too much cast down, should the Lord ever direct him to the wilderness by the river Jordan, and to the brook Cherith: for he still is accustomed to do so with his children in a variety of ways.


- If he visit us with sickness, so that we must be alone upon our bed and in our chamber;

- If our friends forsake us and forget us;

- If we become regarded as outcasts, having neither house nor heart opened to us any longer;

- If we are called to sojourn in Mesech, and to dwell among those who are of a different mind from ourselves, who do not understand us, and who ridicule our way of life.

- In such situations we are shut in with Elijah by the brook Cherith. But be not alarmed; rather be of good courage! Such seclusion, or exclusion, how blissful and salutary may it become!


Numberless Christians have been constrained to declare that it was in their imprisonment, or place of exile—in their lonely sick chamber, or in the days when they were forsaken by men and cast out by the world, that they entered really into their own hearts, and ascertained their true spiritual state.


The leaven of the Pharisees was then put away from them, and worship was no longer paid to an imaginary Savior. They began to long in earnest for close communion with him; and the wrestling prayer of Jacob, lasting until daybreak, which they had only talked of before, now became a matter of reality and experience, an event in their own personal history. And a hundred other things pertaining to inward religion, which they had only in imagination appropriated hitherto, were then individually realized.


They were then also first truly brought into the number of those sheep who hear His voice, and were never so conscious that he really lives and speaks to his children, and walks and dwells with them: nor did they ever experience his tender consolation and support, or ever feel his love so strongly and unequivocally, as at that very time when their path was so solitary and through the wilderness, when they were obliged to be with their Lord alone.


[[@Page:20]] Therefore be encouraged, ye who dwell by the brook Cherith, in solitudes, for God’s dew can drop upon the dwellings of the wilderness, as David sings; and the pastures in the wilderness do spring with blessings.


“Thou shalt drink of the brook, and the ravens shall feed thee there.” Thus said the Lord; and, however marvelous and unheard of it might sound, Elijah bowed himself and believed, and his faith did not deceive him: all that the Lord had promised was “Yea and Amen,” and nothing remained unfulfilled.


It was not long before the whole country was like a heath, and fields and woods became scorched as by fire. One spot alone continued green and cool; that spot was the prophet’s rocky vale.


Every fountain was exhausted, and every forest stream dried up by the sultry heat; one brook alone continued to flow—the brook Cherith— that remained as fresh and as full as if nothing had happened. And the ravens also fulfilled their office.


How wonderful! Those ravenous carrion birds, impure according to the law, and so voracious and unfeeling that they would leave their own young to starve, did not God interpose, who asks, in the book of Job, “Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat” (Job 38:41); these creatures we find employed here in an occupation of disinterested kindness; dead, as it were, to the natural voracity of their species, coming and going at God’s bidding, denying their own appetites and performing a most beneficent office.


No sooner does the morning dawn in Cherith’s rocky vale, than their cry is heard aloft in the trees; and when Elijah wakes, he beholds the provision for the day lying before him. And when the evening shades advance, these black livery servants again appear, laden with meat and bread. And this takes place not merely once, but a whole year round, without intermission.


O wisdom of God, which carnal reason would account foolishness, how precious art thou! Let the world imagine to itself a magnificent Deity whose government is only general; we adhere to the Lord God of Elijah, and rejoice in his providential superintendence of the smallest matters.


And this God still liveth, a living Savior, who is always to be found of them that seek him, and is nigh unto them that call upon him; and whose delights are with the sons of men. About his servants and handmaids is encamped a mighty host; and when he saith, “ Come!” they come; or “Go!” they go: and there has been no end to his wonders, even to this day.


Who else was it but the God of Elijah, who, only a short time ago, in our neighborhood, so kindly delivered a poor man out of his distress—not indeed by a raven, but by a poor singing- bird? You are acquainted with the circumstance. The man was sitting, early in the morning, at his house-door; his eyes were red with weeping, and his heart cried to heaven—for he was expecting an officer to come and distrain him for small debt. And whilst sitting thus with his heavy heart, a little bird flew through the street, fluttering up and down, as if in distress, until at length, quick as an arrow, it flew over the good man’s head in his cottage, and perched itself on an empty cup board.


[[@Page:21]] The good man, who little imagined who had sent him the bird, closed the door, caught the bird, and placed it in a cage, where it immediate began to sing very sweetly, and it seemed to the man as if it were the tune of a favorite hymn, “Fear thou not when darkness reigns;” and as he listened to it, he found it soothe and comfort his mind.


Suddenly someone knocked at his door. “Ah, it is the officer,” thought the man, and was sore afraid. But no, it was the servant of a respectable lady, who said that the neighbors had seen a bird fly into his house, and she wished to know if he had caught it.


“O yes,” answered the man, “and here it is:” and the bird was carried away. A few minutes after, the servant came again. “You have done my mistress a great service,” said he; “she sets a high value upon the bird, which had escaped from her. She is much obliged to you, and requests you to accept this trifle, with her thanks.”


The poor man received it thankfully, and it proved to be neither more nor less than the sum he owed! And when the officer came, he said, “Here is the amount of the debt; now leave me in peace, for God has sent it me.”


Something very similar was experienced by another brother, who is perhaps now present, and could testify to the fact. He had at one time the grief to see his little child crying for hunger, and there was not a morsel of bread left in the house, nor a penny in his pocket, and his heart was bursting with sorrow. He crept away into a solitary corner, and prayed, with many tears, to that God who feedeth the young ravens and clothes the lilies of the field; he prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread!” with an earnestness which, perhaps, he had never felt before.


And on rising up from prayer in a comfortable state of mind and going to his house-door, a dog came running along with a piece of meat in his mouth, and on arriving at the poor man’s threshold he let it drop, and ran off.


The Lord has sent us this,” said the man, as he took it up from the ground. “A gracious God!” exclaimed he, as he brought it into the room; when it was cooked and laid upon the dish, and hungry people sat round it, and a blessing had been asked, it was to them all as memorable an occasion as if they had been partaking of the paschal lamb.


The God of Elijah still lives! and under this truth I may rank your own experience also, my dear friends, which some of you have related to me; that, in distressing necessities and perplexities, help has often come to you in a wonderful manner, from persons who were not only indifferent to you, but even disaffected towards you, and bore you some ill-will; from unbelievers, who, in general, cannot endure them that are “quiet in the land” (Psalm 35:20).


But, all at once, it suddenly occurred to one, he himself knew not how, that he must bring you some particular thing; or another could not sleep for the thought of not having done something for you, and however much he strove to drive the idea from his mind, he could not succeed in kicking against the pricks.


[[@Page:22]]Yes, He who turneth men’s hearts as the rivers of water, sends them to your aid; and his purpose who shall defeat?


What they did for you, was not done because they intended it, but because they were constrained by conscience, that is, by the God of conscience; and thus you experience that the God of Elijah, who can provide for his servants even by the ravens still lives.


Therefore let every child of God be strong and of good courage! Only believe, ye who are at the brook Cherith and in the wilderness! For faith can supply the want of everything temporal; and faith is the grave of care.


And remember, deal friends, that it is in vain for you to rise early and sit up late, and eat the bread of sorrows; for as David says, “He giveth it to his beloved sleeping” (German version) Psalm 127:2.


May He who giveth songs in the night, teach us all the song of the royal psalmist, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep; for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety!” (Psalm 4:8)

CHAPTER THREE THE DEPARTURE FOR ZAREPHATH

[[@Page:23]] Once, when the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, he delivered them into the hands of the Midianites, a fierce and warlike people; these God employed to drive back his erring and straying sheep under the crook of the Chief Shepherd. There was great distress in Israel at that time. A considerable number of the people forsook house and home, fled to the woods and mountains, or skulked into caverns and rocks; and a few entrenched themselves in deserted fortifications! Whenever they attempted to cultivate the land, the Midianites soon fell upon them, like locusts, destroying all growth in the field, and leaving no sustenance for man or beast. This severe scourge produced its effect. The Israelites acknowledged their sin and smote upon the thigh; every hand was etched to heaven and every tongue prayed, “Return, O Lord, to thine oppressed inheritance!” And God, who is faithful, heard them, and sent them relief.


In the field of Ophrah stood a solitary oak, near it was a threshing-floor. A young husbandman was there threshing his father’s corn, and while thus engaged he had to look about him every moment with no little anxiety, for he had reason to fear being surprised by the marauding Midianites. His name was Gideon. In the midst of his busy and anxious occupation he is surprised by the sudden appearance of a stranger of benevolent and noble aspect. The stranger sat down beneath the oak and said, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor!”


Gideon, with the regard of a true Israelite for his country, replied, “O my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where are all the miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt But now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites” (Judges 6:12, 13).


The history then informs us that the Lord looked upon him and said, “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” (ver. 14)


“Go in this thy might,” said the Lord, as he cast upon him a look of love and grace. He meant not, O Gideon, that thou shouldst subdue the enemy in thine own strength. He directed thee to His strength, and not thine own.


It is as if he had said, “Be this thy strength, that I have regarded thee graciously; and let it encourage thee, let it suffice for thee, that thou hast found grace in eyes of the Lord. Go in this thy strength, and conquer!”


[[@Page:24]] O invaluable assurance! Only possess the assurance that he is graciously inclined toward thee, and thou mayest well be a stranger to fear. Only appropriate such a testimony, that he is thy Beloved, that he is thy Friend, and no storms or tempests need dismay thee any more; thou mayest laugh at the shaking of the spear; yes, though there were thousands of deaths encompassing thee, or thousands of difficulties like mountains surrounding thee—they will all be surmounted. Falter not at thine own natural weakness, be not anxious about thy own ability.


Weak or strong, armed or unarmed; in these respects the race is not here to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.


The strength of Immanuel is thine, his love is like a victorious banner over thee; his word is thy sword, his salvation thy helmet, his righteousness thy breastplate; faith in him is thy shield and buckler: he is all that thou requirest; his grace is sufficient for thee.


Whithersoever he sends thee— be it into the fire of temptation or into the waters of affliction— be it into domestic embarrassments and necessities, or into severe conflicts and difficult undertakings— nay, were it even into agony and death—yet his having graciously looked upon thee, and his having made thee sensible of his love, may induce thee to go; yes, go in this thy might! Thou hast no real cause for fear—none for distrust. Thy Saviour will accompany thee and protect thee, because he loveth thee. He whose love is stronger than death, will make all thy way plain before thee. Thus was it that Elijah went to the brook Cherith, in the strength of that kindness and favor which he too had received from his Lord. We are now to view him entering upon a new path of duty, equally painful and difficult in itself, but rendered smooth and easy by the strength of which we have been speaking. Yea, it becomes a path of blessing, because the Lord is with him.


“And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying,


“Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.


“And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah” (I Kings 17:7-16).


[[@Page:25]] We find the prophet still at the brook Cherith. He would not leave his solitude till the Lord bade him remove. The howling wilderness was not too dreary for him; because God was with him. He was quite content to dwell among the rocks, and to rest upon a couch of turf; knowing well, that “the Lord will provide.” He was regularly supplied with sustenance, morning and evening, by his faithful messengers, whose very cry as they approached him would serve to awaken his heart to songs of thanksgiving and praise. The little brook of Cherith, whose very name, in the Hebrew language, denotes drought, as if it were generally more apt to dry up than most other brooks, had run on till now, and surely by a miracle; but it was only for an appointed time; for now we behold the scene changing. The change at its commencement was most unexpected and painful—it was also in its further development very mysterious—but its result was as delightful to man as it was glorious to God.


Three subjects here invite our consideration: I. Elijah’s perplexity; II. His departure from Cherith; III. Its blessed issue.


I. He had now, during a whole year, been miraculously fed and preserved


But a miracle perpetuated soon ceases to appear a miracle. And when it begins to be regarded as a matter of course, it fails of its due impression, and God’s hand or Presence in it is liable to be overlooked. There is an Eastern fable, of a boy having challenged his teacher to prove to him the existence of God by working a miracle.


The teacher got a large vessel filled with earth, wherein he deposited a kernel in the boy’s presence, and bade him pay attention. In the place where the kernel was put a green shoot suddenly appeared, the shoot became a stem, the stem put forth leaves and branches, which soon spread over the whole apartment. It then budded with blossoms, which dropping off, left golden fruits in their place, and in the short space of one hour there stood a noble tree in the place of the little seed. The youth, overcome with amazement, exclaimed “Now I know that there is a God, for I have seen his power!” The teacher smiled at him and said, “Simple child, do you only now believe? Does not what you have just beheld take place in innumerable instances, year after year, only by a slower process? But is it the less marvelous on that account?”


Now we, my friends, are but too often like such simple children. Suppose at rising in the morning we found a loaf added to our provisions, which we could be certain that neither we nor any human being had put there—we should then have no difficulty in saying that the Lord had sent it. Yet, we actually find such a loaf every morning added to our provisions, and it is equally true that God has sent it: but because he has sent it in a less direct and extraordinary manner, namely, by strengthening our own powers and blessing our labor to obtain it, and because this is an ordinary case, what is taking place all the world over, therefore, however unreasonable such a therefore may be, we find it difficult to realize in it his goodness, his providence, and himself. And let me tell you, that supposing he were to manifest himself in any extraordinary manner, so as to compel us to exclaim,


[[@Page:26]] “This is indeed a marvelous interposition of God;” yet let any such manifestation only become continual, and it will be no longer accounted marvelous; yea, it will be well if it do not cease to be regarded even as Divine. The manna falls once or twice in the wilderness, and it is wondrous in the eyes of all, and the Lord God is praised. But if it falls every day, its coming is a matter of course; and men learn to contemplate it as a natural event; they behold the manna, but not the hand that sends it. Water is produced miraculously from the rock; and if it be succeeded by heat and drought, men learn in some measure to give God the glory. But the smitten rock in the wilderness virtually follows the Israelitish host; its streams attend them in their daily course; they have no lack of water; and what is the consequence? They are ungrateful: and so are we. God is daily working wonders for us also, but in order to learn this, it is good for us sometimes to undergo privations.


Not that we mean to affirm this respecting Elijah at the brook Cherith. Far be it from us to think so ill of him. But the apostle James says, “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are;” and to any one like ourselves it is very possible for length of time to weaken the impression of what is really wonderful, strengthening to faith, and elevating to the affections; so that Elijah himself might possibly have begun to think, “Ah! This brook flows on only like other rivulets— that is, as long as its spring is supplied!” Thus it is that we children of men are too much disposed to consider things; thus are we apt to put the Divine longsuffering to the test, and as we account it a small thing to weary men, we are fain to weary our God also.


But among the many kind offices which our gracious God has taken upon himself for his children’s sake, there is that which he mentions in Isaiah 46:4, “Even to hoar hairs will I carry you” Indeed, how continually has he something to bear with in our conduct! And as he knows how easily a blessing perpetuated ceases to be a blessing, how wisely does he provide, in his faithful love, that there shall be no lack of changes in our earthly course! Hence he leads us through incessant alternations, as it were, of summer and winter, day and night, rain and sunshine, trouble and help, anguish and deliverance. It is thus that he preserves us in spiritual health, and prevents our wandering from himself. For thus we have always something to transact with him; there is constantly something to be asked of him, or something to thank him for; some deliverance from trouble, or some increased humiliation of spirit, some renewed watchfulness, or some more faithful waiting upon him is always needed. Doubtless this was one reason why our gracious God led, the prophet Elijah in such a circuitous way, and gave him to experience so many vicissitudes. How precariously changeful does his life appear! How interwoven with various necessities! Yet, on this very account it abounded in real and lasting blessings.


Our present text commences with the word, “And it came to pass, after a while, that the brook dried up.” From this it might be supposed the Elijah was only a short time in the wilderness; but this was not the case. In Genesis, 4:3, immediately after mention of the birth of Cain and Abel we read, “It came to pass, after a while, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.” Here the expression “after a while” cannot mean a short time, but must indicate a period of several years. And in the history before us the expression “after a while” denotes at least a whole year, for so long does Elijah appear to have continued in the wilderness.


[[@Page:27]]For we learn from the mouth of the Lord Jesus, Luke 4:25, as well as from the apostle James 5:17, that the drought prevailed during three years and six months. Now we find, from I Kings 18:1 that the time when the drought ceased was in the third year of the prophet’s residence at Zarephath. Supposing him, therefore, to have been two years and six months at Zarephath, where could he have spent the remaining year, except at the brook Cherith!


That year had now passed over, by the help of God, at one time in faith, at another in sight, certainly under many difficulties, but, on the whole, a thousand times better and more pleasantly than Elijah had probably expected at the commencement. How long he should still remain there he knew not—that he left to God. Perhaps it might be the whole time of the famine. “Well, be it so, it be the Lord’s will!” He had hitherto wanted nothing. The ravens did their office; the brook continued to flow, and if it had flowed this year, why should it dry up the next? Such were probably the prophet’s pious thoughts at the opening of a new year upon him in the wilderness. But ere long the flow of the brook begins to diminish, and Elijah perhaps can scarcely believe what his eyes behold.


Did not God say, “Thou shalt drink of the brook,” and thus virtually promise that water should not fail him? We may well imagine him now observing the brook more accurately. Yes—it is so—the brook is diminishing daily, the bed of the rivulet begins to appear, and soon, where water flowed, all is become dry. “What meaneth this?” Even an Elijah might well cast in his mind what manner of providential dealing this should be.


At last water was no longer to be found. O the depths of God! O what peculiar guidance! What a severe trial! “What meaneth it?—to be preserved so long, and now apparently forsaken? Such sure promises, yet such a result! Where is the Lord God of Israel? Am I no longer his prophet? Have I sinned against him, that I am now deserted? Does it repent him that he has employed me?”


Thus might he have thought; and who can say what other imaginations corrupt nature might have suggested, and how the prophet himself might have begun inwardly to complain? Elijah was evidently in a great strait, for death, by thirst, seemed imminent; and what is more, the temptation to false notions and hard thoughts of God was near, to which, if he had yielded, his faith had then dried up, and his confidence had disappeared, like the brook.


Yes, my dear brethren, it is one of the sorest trials that can possibly befall us, when having been placed by the kind providence of God in the midst of peculiar comforts, and just beginning to enjoy them with lively gratitude and hope, we are suddenly torn from them, or bereft of all. Our harp is then turned into mourning and our joy to heaviness.


Let us suppose any one of you to be under severe domestic affliction or embarrassment, in debt for instance, and threatened with an arrest in default of immediate payment. You wrestle with God in prayer that he would help you, and his providence sends you the very help you want.


Your heart is then melted with thankfulness, and you are disposed to say, “Truly the Lord liveth and seeth me; he heareth and answereth prayer!”


[[@Page:28]]But suppose that very night your house is broken into, your money stolen, and all your embarrassment returns. Again, suppose that, with much laborious industry, you have acquired the means of renting a small farm: you employ your whole little capital upon it, and you pray God that it would please him to bless your labor with increase, for the support of yourself and your family. And then you behold the seed sprung up, and your fields beautifully verdant. “Thanks be to God,” you will say, “I now see his goodness to his creatures.” But in a few more weeks, perhaps a dry summer or a Reason of excessive rain disappoints you of all.


What is your language now, in cases of this sort? D o you not call these hard trials, and account them the more severe because they have come upon you in the ordinary way of Providence? Had they been more like Job’s afflictions, something out of the common way, you are apt to imagine you could have borne them better; you would then have seen that they came from God, and you are perhaps vain enough to suppose you would have displayed extraordinary patience under them. For instance, had the money which you had so wonderfully received been melted in your coffer by a thunderbolt, then you would have said, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away” (Job 1:21). But now, as it has been carried off by thieves, you are apt to think these words of Job inapplicable to your own case; and as you cannot think it is the Lord who has taken it away, you are presently open to another suggestion; “ Perhaps it was not the Lord who gave it me, else why should he not have preserved it to me?” In instances like these it is too easy to imagine that God has well-nigh forgotten us, and that we have only been self-deceived in ascribing this and that benefit to his special kindness and love; that they must have been purely accidental, though at the time they appeared marvelous tokens of Divine favor.


In some such manner might Elijah’s trial of faith have been aggravated by the slow and natural exhaustion of the brook Cherith. Had its stream been discontinued supernaturally and at once, there had been no difficulty in seeing the Lord’s hand in this event; but in the present case he might have been tempted by the imagination that nature was very much left to herself. Indeed, the secondary cause why the brook dried up is mentioned in the text; for we read, it “dried up because there had been no rain in the land:” and perhaps this is added by the inspired penman, to give us a clearer idea of the trouble which befell Elijah. We can well suppose that it occasioned him no small trial and conflict, and put him upon a severe examination of himself. Corrupt nature might also be stirred within him, and suggest many gloomy and hard thoughts of God. But Elijah surmounted them all, kept his faith in exercise, and thus obtained the victory. The Word of God was his trust; he had not forgotten who it was that said, “Hide thyself by the brook Cherith that is before Jordan, and thou shalt drink of the brook.” He was silent before God in humble faith; in faith he waited, and by faith he crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.


And ye, my Christian friends, whom I may address as brethren of Elijah by the brook Cherith, and in the wilderness of this world, ye children of God, who are apt enough to sigh when your streams dry up, and when your resources seem exhausted; O, if ye did but patiently wait upon the Lord, how strong would ye become! If ye rested more entirely upon his word, ye would see the glory of God! O that, instead of indulging the feelings of distrust and discontent, we did but reflect upon God’s exceeding great and precious promises in Christ Jesus! Ought the children of faithful Abraham to despond? Ought they who have surnamed themselves by the name of Israel to be faint-hearted?


[[@Page:29]] But the answer to such expostulations too frequently is, that “the heart knoweth its own bitterness” (Proverbs 14:10); and everyone is ready to say “I am the man who hath seen affliction” (Luke 3:1). Alas, my brethren, we too impatiently want “that which is crooked” to be “made straight,” and that which is rough to be made smooth. Yea, we are apt to think our sufferings are directly contrary to the promises of God. But no, fear brethren, this never is, and never can be the fact. What happens to us may be contrary enough our wishes, but can never be contrary to God’s Word.


The truth is, that we have been indulging ideas of our own concerning the manner in which the Lord is to fulfill his promises, and hence arises our mistake. His promises must ever surely come to pass; they are all Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus (II Corinthians 1:20), but as to how they are to come to pass, this we ought entirely to leave to his own wisdom and love, and in the meantime to abide patiently in him who will do all things well, “He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord and thy Redeemer” (Isaiah 41:14).


The help you are thus taught to expect is such as will always be best for you. It shall be in things temporal, when that is good for you; and it certainly shall always be in things spiritual, which are far better. When, in a spiritual sense, our brook seems to dry, and we are ready to cry, “Where is The blessedness I knew?” when zeal in the cause of Christ abates, and our devotion dies; when we feel no sensible delight in prayer, and the spirit of praise and thanksgiving is gone; when we see nothing around to awaken and encourage us, and the love of many is waxed cold; these exigencies are trying, severely trying. But remember Him who has said of his vineyard,


“I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment; I will even keep it night and day” (Isaiah 27:3). “No really good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).


He will certainly keep his word. Therefore be of good cheer. Spiritual drought and barrenness, if you feel it, shall be turned into a blessing. Believe, then, that he will keep his word—and as to how he shall keep it, let not the clay be at strife with the potter. Let him do with you as seemeth him good; the end of your song will always be, “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces” (Daniel 9: 7).


II. Elijah’s remaining where he was, for the Lord’s sake, who had directed him thither, is a noble example to ourselves


“He that believeth shall not make haste” (Isaiah 28:16). Elijah waited, and help arrived, but in what manner? With water? With refreshment and consolation? No! but with a command, which, though it might be acquiesced in by faith, could not possibly be agreeable to flesh and blood.


“Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.”


[[@Page:30]]Reason was now again constrained to quit the field. Elijah is ordered upon along and toilsome journey, through a wild and barren country, in a time of general famine and extreme drought: and this into the land of Zidon, beyond the borders of Israel, among a heathen people enslaved to a vile idolatry, the native country of Jezebel, his bitterest enemy, and the territory of her father, a furious tyrant, also in alliance with Ahab. “And behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.”


Strange comfort this to mere natural reason! A woman who has herself lost her chief earthly sustainer; a Phoenician, who might be a heathen, against whose idols Elijah was so zealous. Besides, amongst so many widows in the land, how is this widow to be found? This, indeed, was “bringing the blind by a way that they knew not” (Isaiah 42:16). But, “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.


His footsteps are not known: yet most of the paths by which he conducts his servants, though they commence in darkness, or at best in twilight, be brighter as they proceed; by-and-by the dayspring begins to dawn and their course shines more and more unto the perfect day.


Zarephath, which was midway between Zidon and Tyre, may signify “a place of smelting furnaces,” serving to remind us of the furnace of affliction whereby the Lord tries and purifies his people. The prophet’s whole route seemed to lie directly toward this furnace. But it was a Divine direction; it was the Lord’s will; and therefore it was right to go forward in his name. The prophet, perhaps with sorrow, bids a last farewell to his quiet hiding-place, where he had experienced such signal tokens of the help of God’s countenance; he girds up the loins of his mind, takes his pilgrim staff of the Divine word in the hand of his faith, and sets out for the heathen land. Rough as was his path, it was a way of holiness; no lion was there, nor any ravenous beast could come up thereon. The Lord was with him all the way that he had to go, even the Lord God, who threshes the mountains, rebukes the winds and waves, and revives the spirit of the humble.


III. We soon find him in the neighborhood of Zarephath, and the Lord, who was there before him, had prepared and arranged all for his reception


He had come near the gate of the city, and lo, the widow woman was there gathering sticks for fuel. The Spirit, perhaps, intimated to him that this was the woman to whom he was directed.


Poor as she appeared, by the occupation which now engaged her, his faith could tell him, that if the Lord had appointed her to sustain him, she would have wherewith to do it. With God, who had fed him a whole year by the ministry of ravens at the brook Cherith, he knew that nothing was impossible. And does not God often take a method of helping us which surpasses all reason and expectation, doing for us exceeding abundantly above whatever we can ask or think, and sending us deliverance by means which appear altogether inadequate; that we may learn to give the praise to him, and that his own name may be glorified.


Thoughts like these no doubt passed through Elijah’s mind; and while he fully confided in the Lord as the God of the widow and the fatherless, he found no difficulty in regarding their humble roof as an appropriate dwelling for himself.


[[@Page:31]] “He,” therefore, “called to her and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.”


Her readiness to go seems to have encouraged him; for “as she was going to fetch it,” he added, “Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.”


His additional request, however, opened afresh the wounds of this poor widow’s heart; she could no longer conceal her feelings. She answered, “As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not even the smallest loaf of bread: all I have is but an handful of flour in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse; and lo, I have been gathering a stick or two for a fire on my hearth, that I might dress it for myself and for my Child, as our last meal in this world, that we might eat it and die.”


Oh, how affecting and heartrending was this simple tale! We feel it so, even at this moment. But what says Elijah to it? Can he still believe that this is the widow woman whom the Lord has appointed to sustain him? Yes, he is now certain of it. Be it that she is a widow in peculiar distress, having no other companion but her helpless child; all this creates no difficulty in his mind; “Jehovah-jireh, the Lord will provide.” (Genesis 22:14). And, besides, she seems to know his name, for how has she addressed me? “As the Lord God liveth.”


What an unusual and sweet sound is this in a strange land, in an idolatrous country! Perhaps she is a secret worshiper of the living God—a rose in the midst of thorns—a hidden dove in the clefts of the rock—a converted soul—one of the few among the heathen whom the Word of the Lord has reached. Oh, happy thought, to find a brother or a sister in the land of Meshech! Whence does she know that the Lord is my God, and that I am his servant? Oh, the marvelous disposal of Divine Providence!”


None but those who have felt it, can know how delightful it is, in a strange country, where there are no ways that direct to Zion, or where they lie waste and deserted, to discover unexpectedly among the children of this world, and as were by the waters of Babylon, some citizen of the Holy Land, some brother or sister in the Lord. Yes, it is an unspeakable delight; and to meet with only one such a person, makes the desert seem to rejoice and blossom as the rose. At such seasons we learn by experience that the children of God are not so deficient in love as they are often supposed to be; we taste the blessedness of that communion in the love of Christ, by which he has enjoined that all men should know we are his true disciples; and occasions of this sort serve to make it manifest.


Yes, what we may here suppose to have been Elijah’s joy, is still tasted in our world. God be thanked, that in every known region of the earth, and even where wolves abound and hirelings profess to feed the flock of Christ, the Good Shepherd has his sheep, the Lord has hidden ones who know him, and who follow him. And as sheep that pasture on barren plains often bear the finest fleeces, so is it often with the sheep of Christ; and as they know their Shepherd, or rather are known of him, so it is as wonderful as it is delightful to find how readily they know and acknowledge one another.


[[@Page:32]] Elijah perceiving that this was the widow of whom God had spoken to him, hesitated not to address her in the most encouraging manner. He “said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, the barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.”


And now she evinced that she was indeed the widow whom the Lord God of Elijah had appointed to sustain him; for “she went” in faith, “and did according to the Saying of Elijah; and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.”


How blessed is the way of faith!


Behold, then, this man of God cheerfully sitting down in her solitary cottage. Surely “the voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous,” for “the right hand of the Lord” on their behalf “doeth valiantly” (Psalm 118:15).They rejoice together, not only on account of temporal blessings, but much more on account of those which are spiritual. Israel had lost Elijah, and a poor widow in a heathen land had found him. Thus often does it fare with a people who, though they have been privileged with the most faithful preaching of the Gospel, will not turn unto the Lord with all their heart, and walk uprightly before him. They are cursed with a famine of the Word of God; the children’s bread is taken from them, and imparted to others whom they account no better than dogs, who however “will receive it,” and are languishing for it.


Indeed our Lord himself thus applies this part of sacred history to the case of the people of Nazareth who refused to receive his ministry: “I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow” (Luke 4:25, 26).


Here then the prophet dwells quite happy under the widow’s roof. All distress has disappeared. The meal is not diminished in the barrel, nor fails the oil in the cruse, according to the word of the Lord which he spake by Elijah. Neither does their spiritual sustenance fail. Well might this poor widow rejoice in the privilege of sitting daily at the feet of this man of God, for instruction in divine things!


Can we doubt for a moment that the prophet most gladly opened his mouth in divine wisdom, to impart it to the soul of this simple believing sister? Can I doubt that they prayed together, that they read together out of Moses and the prophets, and that they conversed together of the day of Christ, which Abraham saw with gladness?


And would they not, think you, occasionally raise a spiritual song to the honor of their Lord and Saviour? How swiftly and how pleasantly must the hours have passed with them! And well might the angels of God have rejoiced, as no doubt they did, over this little church in the wilderness!


[[@Page:33]] Behold here, then, my brethren, the bright egress and happy termination of a path which commenced in such thick darkness! Only let all the children of God implicitly follow his guidance, and he will assuredly conduct them to a glorious end.


It is a noble testimony which is here borne respecting Elijah when he was commanded away from his retreat at Cherith—it is said of him, “So he arose and went to Zarephath.”


Let it then be equally said of you, to whatever duty the Lord may call you away, “He arose and went!” Be the way ever so laborious or dangerous, still arise, like Elijah, and go. Go cheerfully, in faith, keeping your heart quietly dependent on the Lord, and in the end you will assuredly behold and sing of his goodness.


Though tossed on a sea of troubles, you may lay anchor on the firm foundation of God, which standeth sure.


You have for your security his exceeding great and precious promises, and must say with the psalmist, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God!” (Psalm 42:11).

CHAPTER FOUR RAISING THE WIDOW’S SON AT ZAREPHATH

[[@Page:34]] The portion of the narrative which we have now to contemplate, is a striking exemplification of the saying of our blessed Lord, “Every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit.”


“And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him.


“And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?


“And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed. And he cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?


“And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again. And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth. And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth” (I Kings 17:17-24).


Here we have another specimen of God’s manner of guidance, and one of those ways which, though wonderfully dark and mysterious, lead us ultimately to a clearer experience of the Divine goodness and faithfulness.


Come, and let us behold a remarkable work of the Lord, with its glorious results. Here is, I. The pruning of a branch that bore fruit; II. Its bearing more fruit; III. The satisfaction and joy that ensued.


[[@Page:35]]I. We still find the prophet Elijah in the peaceful and humble dwelling of the widow of Zarephath


He has now passed several months in this quiet retirement. Praise and prayer, holy discourse and offices of kindness, contemplation of God’s Word and Works, occupied his swiftly-gliding days; and these were blessed with renewed manifestations of divine lovingkindness and tender mercies.


Now, we are certain that many among ourselves would be ashamed of what they would consider such an inactive, quiet sort of life, made up of nothing but receiving and enjoying, so that they would reproach themselves for it, and seek again, as soon as possible, the scene of labor and activity.


Elijah was not so intent upon laboring for the meat that perisheth. He had long ago renounced, as vain and absurd, the notion that any value can attach to cares merely human, whether for laying up treasure upon earth, or for acquiring a treasure in heaven by our own supposed meritorious services! He knew that all which men can receive out of God’s treasure is a simple and free gift of the most unconditional favor; and therefore he left it entirely with his Lord, whether he would appoint him a goodly heritage in the land of Goshen, under the vine and fig tree, or station him in the desert, or in the midst of militant hosts; all that he desired was to spend and be spent in his service.


“The will of the Lord be done,” appears ever to have been his watchword. Whether called to public activity and conflict in his cause, or shut up in privacy, as at Zarephath; and comparatively laid aside, as to all outward respects, he knew with the psalmist, It is vain to rise early and sit up late without God, eating the bread of worldly carefulness, for that he gives to his beloved when they are sleeping?


Thus did Elijah feel cheerfully resigned to spend his appointed term of quietude at Zarephath, to whatever length it should please God to protract it. O that we all had learnt this childlike disposition. Whoever is circumstanced, as it were, like Elijah at Zarephath; whoever is precluded from outward activity and usefulness in the world by want of means and opportunities, or of gifts and influence by weakness or age, let him think with Elijah, that it is the Lord’s hand which has laid him aside; and, instead of inwardly repining, let him keep the noiseless tenor of his way with thankfulness to God. And if indeed he lean on the bosom of the Lord Jesus, and can rejoice in the blessings of God’s house, let him sit under his shadow with great delight, and be only the more thankful for it.


Let us not think it necessary to the evidence of our sincerity, that we should be sad and sorrowful, much less gloomy or desponding. Continue at Zarephath, fellow Christian, as long as God pleases. Rejoice whilst the bridegroom is with thee: when once he shall be taken from thee, then the time of fasting will come.


Let us pause a moment upon the perpetual miracle experienced in the widow’s dwelling: “The barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail.”


[[@Page:36]]By whose care was this? By the care of Him who ruleth in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth. He it was who replenished the cask and the cruse every morning; and thus blessed his children while they were asleep, and before they could have time to say, “Give us this day our daily bread!” And are not his mercies equally renewed every morning to ourselves?


How graciously does he, in every respect, provide for us; and how minutely does his providence condescend to our meanest wants! Yes, he is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe. What he did at Zarephath, thousands daily experience still, though not just in the same form and manner. And how truly do the children of God experience, in a spiritual way, supplies analogous to those temporal ones which were granted to this Widow! However pressingly their necessities may be felt, still the bread of life is not spent, neither does their spiritual refreshment fail. He takes care “that thy faith fail not. Mark the words—that it fail not. We do not read that whole sacks of meal were brought into the widow’s house, nor that her oil cruse ran over: all we are told is, that “the meal wasted not;” she daily received as much as she needed; “Neither did the oil fail”


So, perhaps, thou, Christian, wilt not receive any superabundance of believing joyfulness, so as to be enabled to shout for joy in the furnace of affliction: too much would not be good for thee. But rest assured of the faithfulness of thy God, that he will uphold thy faith; this thy compassionate High Priest has implored for thee, as well as for his apostle Peter; and he will daily supply thee with so much patience by daily renewing it, that although thou may occasionally doubt and droop, thou never shalt despair or perish.


A pious writer says, truly and beautifully, “We require just as much patience to wait, as oil is required for our lamps, until the day shall dawn, and the daystar arise in our hearts.”


Delightful, undoubtedly, was the situation of Elijah and the devout widow at Zarephath. But is not usually good that a man’s life should continue flowing on in one and the same easy manner. A long state of prosperity might leave his corrupt nature to become presumptuous and forgetful of its meanness and poverty. Perpetual quietude serves to nourish a false spirit of independence. Long seasons of rest, for sacred musings, are too much open to the intrusion of self- complacency; and therefore, generally, a condition subject to no interruptions or changes is not good for us. Our gracious God knowing this, appoints vicissitude of some kind or other for his children, and pours them, as it has been said, out of one vessel into another, that they may not settle on their 1ees which would only sour and corrupt them. A change of this sort now awaited the favored family at Zarephath. The immediate reason of it is known to God only.


Unexpectedly, in the midst of cheering blessings, a heavy cloud darkened the peaceful cottage. Alas! The widow’s son, her only child, doubly dear to her in consequence of his wonderful preservation from imminent death by famine, “fell sick.”


The sickness increased every hour, and the distress of the poor mother was extreme; but her tears prevailed not. Her delight and hope, the dearest object she had on earth, lay extended in the arms of death. How hard! How severe, according to outward appearance! And yet there was nothing but mercy in this event.


[[@Page:37]] Our gracious God intended that this bitter medicine should produce the most salutary effects. It is true that “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby” (Hebrews 12:11).


II. For what general purpose, then, was this painful visitation sent?


We may ask such a question, though we must never pry too minutely into the reason of every thing that befalls us; for now we can know but in part. We cannot interpret all God’s dealings at Present. His way is in the sea, and his path in the great waters. Clouds and darkness to us are round about him, but of this we may be assured, that “all his works are truth, and his ways judgment,” Or righteousness; and we shall see this more clearly in a better world. At present, we must simply believe and trust in our faithful God, in the midst of our obscurity and darkness.


Yet, in this visitation at Zarephath, his gracious intentions may be guessed at. The widow, we may well believe, was a person of real piety; but then, as it would seem, as in the manner of Lydia, before the Lord opened her heart; or like Cornelius the centurion, and some others. They were acquainted with God in a partial and too superficial manner: they held communion with him, but not enough upon the true foundation. They served the Lord, but more in the way of Martha than in that of Mary. They knew something of God’s lovingkindness, but not enough of his grace; not being sufficiently convinced of their own sinfulness, the corruption of their own hearts, and of the immensity of that grace which the Lord had bestowed upon them.


Their religious feelings were probably more natural than spiritual: yet they possibly regarded such feelings with too much confidence, as a proof of their piety; and when we do this, we are hindered in self-knowledge, we deceive ourselves, and remain injuriously ignorant of the relation in which we stand to the God of all grace. In short, they were well affected to godliness in general, but still too far off from God, ignorant of a Mediator and Intercessor, and not enough broken and contrite in heart.


Now, it is a mercy not to be suffered to remain in this condition, for it partakes more of self- deception than of truth. In order, therefore, that this good widow might enter fully into the kingdom of God, it was necessary that the Holy Spirit, who had prepared her heart already, should enable her further to see that God’s love is grace—unmerited grace, for the sake of another’s work—another’s merits. But how could this salutary and humble self-knowledge be conveyed to her heart; and how could it be formed into a vital principle? Two invisible guests break in upon her: the Lord and the Spirit.


- The one visits the widow’s house, the other her soul.

- The one inflicts the blow, the other expounds it.

- The one slays her son, and the other makes her sensible of the reason why, namely, that she may know more of herself.


Hence her language to Elijah, [[@Page:38]]“O thou man of God! art thou come to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?”


See what an overthrow takes place in her spirit. “Thou art come unto me, that my sin might be remembered.” It seemed to her as if God had now for the first time looked into her heart:(and indeed it is good to be sensible of his discernment of our inmost souls—to be sensible how entirely all things belonging to us are naked, opened, and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. But many a one, alas, when convinced of this, will still endeavor to make the best of himself in his own eyes. And if he succeed not in so doing, yet he will seek to escape from self-reflection amidst the diversions of surrounding vanities: still, however, he finds no true repose of mind. Thus affliction upon affliction is often necessary for bringing sin to remembrance, that sinners may be effectually awakened, and made alive unto God.


That something of this kind was seen necessary by the God of all grace for the poor widow at Zarephath, seems pretty evident from her exclamation under his chastening hand; “What have I to do With thee, O thou man of God? Art thou come to me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?”


This is certainly strange language; but, as the language of her heart and feelings, it is very significant. Is it not as if she had said, “Why didst thou come to me? I have reaped this from thy visit that my sins are brought to remembrance and a sense of them overwhelms me. Thou art such a holy man, that neither I nor my house were worthy to entertain thee. Hence God has seen it necessary to punish me for being so bold, and for acting so familiarly with thee, as if we had been thy equals. Surely it is thy coming that has brought all this upon me. A merciful God would not have scrutinized so strictly a poor woman and an insignificant worm like myself, if he had not found me in thy society—if thy abiding with me had not drawn his attention upon me. Ah, why shouldst thou have come unto me! Surely the Lord would not have approached so near to such a poor sinner as I am, if thou hadst not brought his awful presence into my house; for he is always with thee.”


She intended to express something of this kind. Alas, what absurd ideas! And yet, with all this foolishness, what genuine feeling—what self-annihilation—what humility! God’s object is gained—The triumph of truth is won!


III. And now behold the bereaved parent, bowed down with grief and misery


She is sitting with the dead child at her bosom, as if she would again warm his stiffened limbs at her throbbing heart. She weeps at one time for her bereavement, and at another for the multitude of her sins, and knows not which of these distresses her most. Pitiable indeed is her condition! And the prophet we may be sure is touched with heartfelt compassion and sympathy. He probably perceived the design of this visitation, and perceiving also the good effect of it, he delayed not to make preparations for allaying her anguish. He said unto her, “Give me thy son.”


This composure on the part of the prophet must have been impressive to the distressed widow. Surely a ray of hope must have gleamed within her. But will Elijah be able to gratify the hopes he is exciting?


[[@Page:39]]The prophet is sure of the thing in his own mind. He takes the little corpse from the mother’s bosom, hastens boldly with it up into his bedchamber, which no doubt was also his closet for retirement and prayer, lays it upon his own bed, shuts the door, falls on his knees, and applies himself to prayer and to communion with the Lord!


And now, listen! What a prayer it is which he pours forth! It is a prayer that certainly would not pass uncensured by us—that certainly would not escape the criticism and the condemnation of our wisdom, had we heard it from the mouth of any other than such a one as Elijah.


“O Lord my God!” cries he, “hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?” What! Does Elijah speak before the living God, of bringing evil; and does he venture to approach God’s throne with such a question, and with such a complaint? Yes: he speaks as his heart dictates; and if he speaks foolishly—he does it in simplicity, and in faith; and if he pleads too familiarly with God—He does so, encouraged by the blood of the Lamb and the promises of God. It is not for us to censure him, for his prayer was accepted of the Lord. Yet what was its purport? “Lord! Didst thou care to slay this child? Impossible! Thy purpose was to lead the mother through affliction to repentance. This, O Lord, having been accomplish, must the child continue dead? Look, O blessed God, upon this widow graciously, and remember thou that I am her guest. She has shown much kindness unto thy servant: I would gladly recompense her. Do thou recompense her, for I am poor and have nothing. And O! Remember also am thy prophet. If I am reproached, thou art approached also. Therefore, that thy name may be hallowed, and thy praise magnified upon earth, now, O Lord, hear my prayer.”


And having thus expostulated, as it were, with the Lord God, he arose, threw himself upon the dead child, and stretched himself upon it three times, as though he would say, “ I will not leave the child, but will await God’s answer to my prayer;” and he cried unto the Lord and said, “O Lord my God! I pray thee let this child’s soul come into him again;” a prayer you perceive quite positive and unconditional. And what followed upon this holy boldness in prayer? “The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.”


But how does this agree with our notions and maxims concerning acceptable prayer? Here we have, as I have said, an unconditional prayer—a prayer too for something temporal—a prayer for a miracle—a prayer without limitations; yet the Lord heard and answered it. Yes, our gracious God does not bind himself to our maxims, suffer himself to be limited by our rules.


“O Lord my God!” cried Elijah in his upper chamber, “let this child’s soul come into him again!”


“I will,” was virtually the answer he received. And the soul of the child came back; the child began to breathe, and lifted itself up and left the couch of death. And Elijah—with what feelings you may readily imagine—took the child down from his chamber and delivered him to his mother, and in one sentence, short and sweet, as his manner was, said, “See, thy son liveth!” He left it to the Holy Spirit to say to her the rest. But how shall I attempt to describe the feelings of the poor widow?


[[@Page:40]]She sees heaven as it were opened to her, and this not merely in the restoration of the child, who was now alive again in her arms, but also quite in another way. Indeed she cannot yet speak of her child.


“Now by this I know,” she exclaimed, “that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.” The Word of the Lord! What Word of the Lord was it that Elijah had spoken to her?


This may be easily conjectured. We find here, at the close of the narrative, a new key to the whole. It would seem that Elijah had said something to her, during their acquaintance, which she had hitherto been unable to comprehend or believe, it is not difficult to suppose what it may have been. Elijah had probably soon perceived that the woman, with all her piety, was still not resting upon the true foundation; and he had doubtless availed himself of the peaceful days at Zarephath to make her acquainted with the counsel of God for the salvation of sinners—with the doctrine of the promised Messiah—with the merit of his redemption which he should one day accomplish— with the necessity of faith in him, and with other matters of holy living and conversation connected with it.


These were, it would seem, strange things to her ears, which she knew not how to appreciate, but put them aside, because she as yet felt no need of them. A sense of this need of a Mediator, and of an atonement, was now powerfully awakened in her heart after she had become, through sanctified afflictions, convinced of her sinful and guilty condition; and Elijah’s word concerning the atonement and pardon extended to sinners through the merits of the promised Surety, had now, by this renewed testimony to Elijah’s prophetic commission, become unquestionably assured as Divine truth to her soul, so that she could heartily yield herself up to it, and rejoice and be glad in it. And this new faith, confidence, joy, and blissful hope she expressed in the words, “Now I know that thou art a man of God and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.”


“I know, I feel, I see, I taste, the true and faithful saying.” Henceforth she stood upon other ground; from being a devout person, she was now evinced to be a daughter of Abraham’s faith. And at the moment when Elijah said to her, “See, thy son liveth,” her heart was fitted to say something greater still— “I know that my Redeemer liveth!” Here was repose after a storm.


Natural self—that which is born of the flesh—is heir only to wrath and condemnation. All our labor expended upon ennobling the “old man with his deeds,” is labor thrown away. However corrupt nature may set itself off, however devoutly it may conduct itself, it remains corrupt nature still; and it is outlawed by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. It is the accursed thing which must be put away. It must be slain at the foot of the cross. No amendment of it will save us from condemnation. God’s eye regards not its form, but its nature. Nothing can be approved in his sight but the new creature in Christ Jesus.


The wise builder commended to our imitation by our Great Teacher, digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock. That rock is Christ. They who are taught by him, and led by his Spirit, are taught and led to rely only on his meritorious obedience unto death, as the all-sufficient atonement for their sins, and to open their ear and their heart to all his instruction and discipline.


[[@Page:41]] And upon this sure foundation is raised the superstructure of all their earnest expectations and blessed hopes of everlasting life.


Ye, therefore, my brethren, who have set yourselves to build, take heed that ye thus build upon Christ the sure foundation. He that with the heart believeth on him, shall never be confounded; but, remember, he purifieth our hearts by faith, and our own lives must give proof of this, to the praise of the glory of his grace, to whom be all glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

CHAPTER FIVE ELIJAH AND OBADIAH

[[@Page:42]] “He must increase, but I must decrease,” said John Baptist to his disciples, when he perceived with regret that their mistaken partiality would have placed him above Jesus, whom John had preceded only as a harbinger and herald proclaiming repentance. He assured them that he himself was only the friend of the bridegroom; that his office was only to awaken the attention of the spiritual bride to the coming of her Beloved, and that having done this, his work was ended.


He added, “The friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John, 3:29, 30).


The Baptist, in using these tWoe last expressions, compares his Lord to the great luminary of day, but himself to its harbinger or morning star, whose light gradually decreases as the sun arises, till at length it vanishes altogether. Nor has he a wish to be anything more. He would gladly see himself forsaken by his own disciples, if they will only betake themselves to the chief Shepherd, to participate in that salvation which is to be found only with him. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The Baptist meant that he must decrease, not only in person reputation, but also in office. His own office was only to bring men to Christ, by ushering in the sweet sound of the Gospel.


That the Messiah would come with help and salvation to sinners, John’s disciples knew; some but of them seemed erroneously to imagine that the repentance in which they were exercised, and the life of poverty and austerity which they led, that their fastings, self-denials, and prayers, if they did not possess some atoning power, had in them, at least, something which was to outweigh sin, and the curse belonging to it. Rigid followers as they were of John the Baptist, they had not yet been baptized unto Jesus Christ—baptized unto his death. But John, their master, would teach then that they must die more completely—that they must plunge themselves deeper into free grace. “I,” said he, “must decrease.”


“All that I have enjoined upon you— repentance, self-denial, fasting, and prayer—must lose all credit with you as any ground of God’s reconciliation to you. Ye must seek this in Jesus alone.”


“He must increase.”


[[@Page:43]] Now in this declaration of the Baptist is comprised the whole mystery of practical religion. Does anyone ask what he must do to be saved? The answer is, “Thou must decrease, and Christ must increase;” comply with this, and thou shalt he saved.


- Does anyone inquire wherein consists the Christian’s sanctification? It consists in this, that Christ increases in us and we decrease.

- Does anyone desire to know whether he is advancing in the way of salvation? Observe whether Christ increases, while you decrease, in your own estimation.


By nature we are great—Jesus little; we are strong—Jesus weak. We cannot allow Jesus to be the only Saviour, the Alpha and Omega. The excellency of the power is ours—not his; we take carnal reasoning for our guide, instead of the simple Word and Spirit of God; salvation is looked for in self-love, not in the Saviour alone. But when the Word of the truth of the Gospel effectually penetrates the darkness of our understandings and the blindness of our hearts, the case is reversed.


The “strong man armed” is now become weak; and what appeared so weak before, is felt to be strong, yea, irresistible. The Sun of righteousness now arises upon us with healing in his wings, and we learn more and more to rejoice in his light alone, own strength, virtue, and excellency are things we can no longer bear to hear of. We love to lie humbled before the throne of grace, and to wait for a renewed sense of Divine love, even as “they that watch for the morning.” We now decrease and Jesus has increased with us.


It is natural to suppose that those who have been so thoroughly humbled in repentance and faith, are not likely any more to be puffed up with self-righteousness and vanity. But experience shows that this is a mistaken notion. For the “old Adam” is never entirely dead; though dying as a crucified malefactor, it can still revive and do unutterable mischief.


Yea, many a one, even after his conversion, has built anew the things which had been destroyed: he has been permitting himself to increase, and Christ to decrease. To mention only a few examples of this falling away—one increases by his ascetic exercises; another, by the enlargement of his knowledge; another in self-complacency, borrowed from his own influential popularity or the extent of his beneficent exertions; another thinks much of his own devotional feeling and of I know not what besides. In such things a man insensibly grows so pious and holy, that these things become gain to him, and are no longer accounted loss for Christ.


Are we not, then, to increase in sanctification? Yes! Grow as the palm-tree; but in self-estimation we must ever be only as the hyssop on the wall; we must daily become less and less, weaker and weaker in our own eyes, feeling more and more in want of the Lord’s staff for our support; otherwise we have set out in a wrong direction. Children of God must “grow up into him in all things who is the Head, even Christ.”


The beloved of the Lord, those who are really led by the Spirit of God, are ever gradually descending in self-humiliation. An exemplification of these introductory remarks will be found in the portion of Elijah’s history which we now proceed to consider.


[[@Page:44]] “And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.


“And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab. And there was a sore famine in Samaria. And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly: For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.)


“And Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go into the land, unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts. So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it: Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself. And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him: and he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that my lord Elijah? And he answered him, I am: go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here.


“And he said, What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me? As the LORD thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee: and when they said, He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not. And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the LORD shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me: but I thy servant fear the LORD from my youth. Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the LORD, how I hid an hundred men of the LORD'S prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here: and he shall slay me.


“And Elijah said, As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely shew myself unto him to day. So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him: and Ahab went to meet Elijah” (I Kings 18:1-16)


We have now to accompany the prophet once more into the stormy theatre of public life. I. We find him, at the commandment of the Lord, departing from Zarephath. II. We learn what was passing at this time in the court of Samaria; III. We have the meeting of Elijah and Obadiah.


I. The prophet had been tWoe years and some months at Zarephath


The text expresses the time as “many days,” though they seemed perhaps to Elijah but a few. But, when we consider how rapidly storms and troubles have generally succeeded each other, in the experience of God’s most eminent servants, it was a long time for Elijah to have a serene sky, with the exception of some fleeting clouds, for more than tWoe years together. For this was a length of tranquility with which not many of the active servants of God have been privileged.


[[@Page:45]] In such a season of spiritual as well as natural dearth, Elijah must surely have felt as we should do in having to quit, perhaps forever, this peaceful abode of a pious friend. For the cloud of adversity had burst in blessings on that humble dwelling.


The widow, as we have seen, had become to him a real sister in the Lord, of one mind with him, in the truest and holiest acceptation; they enjoyed mutual fellowship in God, and in his word of atonement; and who shall say that Divine grace had not already begun to appear in the widow’s child, restored as he had now been from death itself? From that moment, perhaps, he had begun to live indeed.


“The word of the Lord,” however, “came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, Go, show thyself to Ahab.”


Thus things may be frequently contrary to our natural inclinations; but these inclinations are as often but of little worth. Our gracious God has better intentions concerning us, than we can have for ourselves. We should therefore follow the leadings of his providence at every step, and confide in God as all-wise and good, that he will not and cannot deceive us. “He is a rock, his work is perfect; all his ways are judgment” (Deuteronomy 32:4).


“Go, show thyself unto Ahab.”


Had Elijah now conferred with flesh and blood, this would have seemed to him like a command to plunge into the raging waves of the sea, or to walk into a lion’s den. He had to present himself to a wicked and idolatrous king, a tyrant armed with despotic power, whose personal enmity against him had been increasing for at least three years and a half, and had been doubly aggravated by the distress of the country, of which Elijah was reputed to be the author.


During all this time had Ahab been intent upon apprehending him; had used every effort to trace out his residence; had searched through his own as well as all the neighboring states, and had taken an oath from the different tribes and governments that they had not found him; and yet all his efforts had been unavailing. How vexatious to himself, and what a reflection upon absolute power! If the wrath of a king be as messengers of death, what had Elijah to expect from such a king as Ahab? And yet he receives the brief and positive direction, “Go, show thyself unto him!”


But let no one suppose that the Lord ever expects what is above human nature from any of his children, without imparting, at the same time, sufficient grace and strength for the purpose. Let no one; therefore, imagine that he requires us to fight a fight of faith without giving us faith to do so; or that he will lead us into any difficulty and trial without making provision for our support and encouragement.


Yea, even should there be forced from us the agonizing cry “Why hast thou forsaken me?” he will enable us to prefix to it by appropriating faith “My God! My God!” which will be enough to keep us from sinking.


[[@Page:46]]He leads none of his children into the valley of the shadow of death without becoming to them their rod and staff. Besides, however thick the darkness may be, it is always relieved by some little ray of light.


The support he gave to Abraham in his gloomy way to Mount Moriah, was not only by the general belief that whatever God does, he does well; but by the particular turn given to Abraham’s faith, that God would restore his Isaac again to life. This sweetened his three days’ journey not a little.


To Job was given a peculiarly clear and joyful expectation of the final result of his sufferings and of the day of resurrection. “I know,” said he, “that my redeemer liveth, and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” Such a visitation preserved his spirit.


And thus Elijah, on this arduous path of faith, which directed him to Ahab, was supported by the promise, “I will send rain upon the earth.” He could therefore thank God and take courage. He could depart from Zarephath as a messenger of joy, and carry a blessing with him. Yes, though the horrors of drought and famine, though faces emaciated with hunger and thirst might well have made him shudder on the way; though the thought of Ahab’s deadly resentment, and perhaps of an infuriated populace, might well have forced its way upon his mind, he could be cheered by the assurance of his commission to announce the return of rain, and by the hope that many would at length give up their hateful idolatry, and humble themselves before the God of their fathers. Such hopes and prospects we can easily imagine would at least have rendered his painful duty more tolerable.


“Show thyself unto Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.”


The Lord had condescendingly commissioned his prophet to announce the chastisement of drought upon the land, and even to say, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, there shall not he dew nor rain these years but according to my word” and now, therefore, it was to be at Elijah’s word that the dew and rain should return. Had these blessings returned without Elijah’s mediation, it would of course have been concluded that Elijah was a false prophet and a boaster; the priests of Baal would have attributed the deliverance to their idol, and would have praised Baal as triumphant over God.


In order, therefore, not to miss the sole object of this grievous visitation, and that Baal might be confounded and the Lord glorified, it was indispensably necessary that Elijah, by a public word, should remove the drought as a complete proof that his Lord was the true and the living God. Consequently, it was now “Go, show thyself unto Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.”


“And Elijah went to show himself unto Ahab.” We see, then, the man of God again entering with firm step on his public career of faith, surrounded by a thousand temporal dangers and difficulties, as he had been proscribed as an outlaw throughout the nation, yea, as a troubler of Israel; nevertheless, he went at the commandment of the Lord and the power of the Lord was with him.


[[@Page:47]]II. While Elijah was on his way from Zarephath, king Ahab, at Samaria, was also setting out on a journey through the land.


Elijah’s errand was for the honor of the Lord his God; that of Ahab was for his cattle, particularly for his horses and mules. This occasion makes us acquainted with another very pleasing and interesting character, namely, with Obadiah, a man of high rank, holding the office of chamberlain or steward of the king’s household. Hence what is here written of Him is the more remarkable, that “he feared the Lord greatly.”


If our discovery of a devout widow in a heathen land, between Tyre and Zidon, occasions our grateful admiration, how much more pleasing is our surprise to find a real servant of the Lord retained in one of the most scandalously corrupt courts ever noticed in history!


Here we see that godliness is not a plant which, as many suppose, must necessarily be reared in the conservatories of human education, admonition, and good example; how, then, could a godly man have existed in Samaria? The children of God are not the mere creatures of circumstances; the state of things in Samaria was just adapted to form Obadiah and everyone else into a child of the devil. The Lord “forms a people for himself, to show forth his praise,” when and where it pleaseth him, as Isaiah 43:18-21. As “He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy,” and is gracious to whom he will be gracious; so, whoever desires to be as Obadiah, the Lord’s servant, cannot be prevented by unfavorable circumstances from becoming so. Thus the fear of God, faith and adoption, are the good part that cannot be taken away by thieves that break through and steal, neither devoured by moth and rust, nor merged and lost in the iniquities of the country we live in. Obadiah was enabled to keep that good thing which was committed to him, though in an earthen vessel, safely amidst all these dangers.


It was greatly that he feared the Lord. This is indeed a noble testimonial concerning him, for truly it was something great to fear the Lord with all his heart, at a time and in a country wherein the true worshipers of the Lord were exposed to public scorn and derision. It was also something great to adhere faithfully to the Lord, when surrounded by persons bitterly prejudiced against real godliness, and by religious and political institutions set up in direct opposition to the true worship and service of God. To abide in the faith, at a court where the god of this world had blinded the eyes of those in power and influence, and had thus spread every snare and net, every possible temptation to fall away, every possible incentive to vice and iniquity—this was surely something great in Obadiah; especially as he occupied a post of honor and responsibility which drew so many eyes upon him, and in which his good or bad fortune, as it is called, depended solely on the favor of his monarch; a situation which must have obliged him to have frequent intercourse with the most profligate among the great; yet he held on his course, notwithstanding all these difficulties; he feared God not by halves, but he “followed the Lord fully” as he was no time-server, but a decided Israelite; for all this may be inferred from the word “greatly.”


Let this picture of Obadiah be held up to the consideration of those who are so ready to object that their situation and circumstances prevent them from faithfully serving God. This wretched excuse has no other origin than the blindness and deceitfulness of the human heart. Under any circumstances, however favorable, true piety is not indebted to these, but to the grace of God alone; and those who seek and partake of this, serve God in all situations.


[[@Page:48]] For what should hinder them? Did our objectors complain that they cannot serve God because of the corruption of their own hearts, this were a complaint that we might listen to, but thus to complain of outward circumstances is a fearful sign of spiritual death. True Divine life in the soul has a fire in it that burns up this stubble of circumstances. There is a necessity in the case; a necessity which is not to be restrained or checked, much less overpowered, by worldly circumstances.


One signal instance of Obadiah’s substantial piety is here recorded.


Jezebel had endeavored to extirpate from the land every prophet of the Lord, and had already caused many of them to be slain. On this perilous occasion Obadiah was not inactive, but his activity was employed in the rescue of as many men of the Lord’s prophets as possible, and he saved a hundred of them from the iron grip of Jezebel. He “hid them by fifties in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.” The hazard or expense of his undertaking proved no obstacle with him; his love of the brethren constrained him. And does not our blessed Saviour say, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples.” Go, then, brethren, and do likewise, whenever it is necessary. The prince of this world, who was a murderer from the beginning, is still awake, and is exciting, in various places, rancorous opposition to the truth of the Gospel.


Spiritual wickedness is in many high places, as well as in many humble dwellings. Many a preacher may, ere long, be forced to resign his pulpit; many a professor his chair; many a mechanic his employment, and many a servant his situation, because he is a true believer in Christ, and a sincere follower of his example. Therefore forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, ye children of God, for mutual edification and succor. Remember Obadiah. If God continues to spare us, whatever blessings of his goodness we enjoy, let them be shared by any of our distressed brethren, for they are fellow-heirs with us of our Redeemer’s kingdom.


We return to the narrative. “And Ahab called Obadiah” and commissioned him upon a business to be executed in concert with himself. How extraordinary, that a man like Obadiah should be in such favor with a wicked man, and with an Ahab, for it could not have been unknown to himself, or to his court, that Obadiah “feared the Lord greatly.” And this scripture testimony to him is utterly irreconcilable with the supposition that he could dissemble either with the tyrant himself, or with anyone else. We can therefore only account for this by supposing that his integrity, activity, and firmness were things divinely overruled to restrain the most arrogant and rancorous foes and scoffers within the bounds of a certain respect and reverence. Ahab probably had discernment enough to perceive that, among all his courtiers, he had not another such a man as Obadiah; and those courtiers, too, might have been conscious that there was no one of themselves in whom such confidence could be placed as in this Israelite of the ancient school; and though the king might laugh at his religion, he felt that he could not do without him. And is there not something in every true Christian that extorts at least a tacit acknowledgment, from the bitterest enemies; a “light” to which, though it “doth make manifest” their darkness, they are unable to refuse a portion of their esteem and admiration? Yea, it has often happened that eminently pious men have been singularly honored for their conduct by these who could not understand its principles, and whose own lives were often directly contrary to them.


[[@Page:49]] “Go into the country,” said Ahab to Obadiah, “unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks; peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts.”


Lo, the only effect of this long continued chastisement of the Almighty was an anxiety for the preservation of his stud! To such obduracy can the hearts of the children of men be brought. Neither afflictions, nor miracles, nor admonitions, nor temporal mercies, are sufficient of themselves to restore the spiritually dead to life. How often are we apt to think concerning persons under some peculiar visitation, that surely now they will be changed and softened, and brought to reflection! We make inquiries, we take pains to ascertain the result; and lo! where we hoped at length to find some serious thought about God and eternity, only cares similar to those of Ahab engage their minds; and instead of the holy emotions, for which we sought— instead of sighs, prayers, and serious thoughts of eternity, we see only a multitude of low desires and cares, bearing them down the stream of life into the boundless invisible ocean. “Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him” (Proverbs 27:22). May Almighty grace have compassion upon us!


Obadiah readily enters upon the business to which his sovereign had commissioned him, and which he could do most conscientiously. Yet—again the question recurs to our minds—how could Obadiah bear to continue in the service of such a ruler, and among the vile and wicked men of which the court was composed? He must have mourned many an hour in secret over the wicked, and must often sighed in solitude, “Woe is me, that I constrained to sojourn in Mesech, and to dwell in the tents of Kedar.”


“In the world ye shall have tribulation” and Obadiah doubtless experienced this tribulation of God’s children, resident as he was among those who were strangers to true the God of Israel. But Obadiah could not adopt the convenient maxim, which enjoins flight from our calling, when abiding in it is disagreeable.


“My God,” he would consider, “has placed me here for reasons best known to himself; and ii is an easy thing for him to preserve me, though my soul be among lions.” Here, therefore, he remained for the Lord’s sake. And what can be done better by you, who may find yourselves in a similar situation? However much evil you are obliged to be eyewitnesses of, whatever disagreeableness you may experience, and however you may be ridiculed or oppressed, let such be no reasons for removing of your own accord from the post which God’s providence has assigned you.


Endure for the Lord’s sake, until he himself, by his providence deliver you. If you are thrust out, or if circumstances and connections necessarily produce change in your situation, then remove with an easy conscience, for the Lord has called you.


But, until then, endure, and flourish as a lily among the thorns; be as the salt of the earth to a corrupt mass, and be as a lighthouse to benighted mariners; for, through Divine grace, you may thus serve to direct many passengers, through the hidden rocks and quicksands of this troublesome world, to the haven of rest.


[[@Page:50]] And how much soever, the raging waves of the sea may foam around you, “He that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep, and the angel of the Lord is about them that fear him. His faithfulness and truth is their shield and buckler. Blessed are those who put their trust under the shadow of his wings!”


III. Ahab and Obadiah had now “divided the land between them to pass throughout it”


And “Ahab went one way by himself,” while “Obadiah went another way by himself.” It was of the Lord’s peculiar providence that the king thus went in person, as he was thus made to witness something of the extent of misery and horror which the country at that time presented, if peradventure it might lead his unfeeling heart to feel some salutary emotions. But we know that it quite failed of producing this effect, and instead of returning as a subdued and humbled sinner, we find him only as a wild bull in a net, an infuriated being, whose rage is turned against him that smiteth him, a man lighting against God.


But let us turn our attention to his servant Obadiah. Behold him on the solitary and deserted road, bearing the woes of Israel on his compassionate heart; meeting everywhere with desolations and miseries, which he cannot remedy! The country around him, wherever he advanced, once a fruitful field, now changed to a parched desert; and its whole appearance seemed to say, “Who can stand before thee when thou art angry?” But that which must have affected him most, and pierced his heart the most deeply, must have been the thought of apostate Israel, who could yet, as with a forehead of brass, stand insensible to the lightning of the Lord’s power, and the thunder of his judgments; for he sees them continuing to live as before, in the most unpardonable obduracy, and in the most absurd security. How must it have a afflicted him! How could he possibly refrain from holy indignation! God’s children are in this respect, as well as others, conformed to the image of their Saviour. They bear in a sense the sins of the world upon their hearts, and like him they have to become repairers of the breach which the ungodly have made; restorers of paths to dwell in, which others have destroyed. But happy are such persons; they are numbered among those to whom the man clothed in linen, with an inkhorn at his side, was directed, in the prophecy of Ezekiel, to “go through the city of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sighed and cried for all the abominations that were done in the midst thereof.”


While Obadiah is thus on his way, absorbed in melancholy reflections, he is met by a solitary and venerable personage, girded as a traveler and covered with a mantle, whom he immediately recognizes as Elijah, and prostrates himself in profound respect before him. “Art thou that my lord Elijah?” he asks. Is it possible? Nothing having for a long time been seen or heard of him, he, with many others, might have supposed that the Lord had secretly taken him to his rest. The prophet replies briefly in his own manner, “I am: go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here.” This reply, however, was too brief for the worthy Obadiah; and, indeed, was like an arrow to his heart. He felt that he was now but a poor, weak, desponding child of man. And all the children of God must have their trying seasons of personal danger for the trial and increase of their faith. What “treasure” we have, “is in earthen vessels,” (easily broken,) “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”


[[@Page:51]] This lesson Obadiah had now more perfectly to learn by the instrumentality of Elijah. And it evidently cost him considerable conflict with himself. “What have I sinned,” says he, “that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me? As the Lord thy God liveth, there is no nation nor kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee: and when they said, He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not. And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here! And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me.”


These many words are not the language of tranquil faith, but of human fear and despondency. His imagination pictures to him dreadful forebodings; that, while he is gone to carry to Ahab Elijah’s message, the latter might he caught away by the Spirit of the Lord to some unknown region, as had happened, perhaps, heretofore to other saints of God. In the Acts of the Apostles we have such an event related concerning Philip the evangelist. Hence Obadiah apprehended Ahab’s sorest displeasure at his disappointment in losing the prophet Elijah. Ahab would consider himself mocked by Obadiah; or, at least, would be amazed that Obadiah had not secured the detention of the prophet; thus Obadiah would lose both his office and his life. Such were his fearful apprehensions. Natural however as they were, still they were only thoughts of flesh and blood. He looked, as Peter afterwards did, at the wind and the waves, but had lost sight of his Lord.


But, further. He begins to speak of his piety. “I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth. Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord, how I hid an hundred men of the Lord’s prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here; and he shall slay me.”


“I am a pious man,” means to say, “thou must not be misled by my court dress and the office I fill; I am none of the rebellious children;’ I have continued faithful to the Lord. Canst thou find in thy heart to expose a believing brother to the most dreadful danger?”


And truly Obadiah was a pious man, notwithstanding all his weakness. Who could be offended with him for speaking of his piety, and recounting his good deeds on such an occasion? For it was neither presumption nor vainglory that led him to do so, but simply fear and dread. Here, however, let us be reminded that our salvation is built not upon works of righteousness that we have done, but upon God’s mercy; not upon what we are to him but upon what he is to us. All our works of righteousness together, are but a poor foundation to rest upon.


It was salutary, then, for Obadiah, and it is salutary also for us to be thus taught by providential experience our own weakness, that we may habitually learn to build more exclusively on that only sure foundation, Jesus Christ, the foundation which alone can stand for ever. Our only refuge and consolation, in life and in death, are the blood and righteousness of the Lamb of God; and, that we may depend upon him and abide in him alone, our gracious God suffers us continually to feel, in one way or another, our sin and weakness, that our own utter inability may never be lost sight of.


[[@Page:52]]Are we ready to value ourselves upon our courage? His providence unexpectedly suspends over us some danger or threatening storm, and we experience that we are but as a reed shaken with the wind. Do we feel complacency in the strength of our faith? A test of it is presently given us, and we are made conscious that we only dreamt of possessing its genuine power.


Are we rich, as we think, in pious feelings? Soon, very soon, alas! by some apparently trifling accident, do we find our whole stock of goodness exhausted; and we are obliged to confess that out of Christ’s fullness alone do we receive. If we imagine that death is no terror to us, and that we shall be able to show the world how men ought to die, a slight glimpse of the king of terrors will easily dissolve our heroic courage.


Are we become spiritually proud, thinking of the high advances we have made in holiness, we are soon made to learn the truth of the case. All our boasting now is at an end, and nothing remains for us but to cry, like every other child of God, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”


“If I wash myself with snow water,” saith Job, “and make my hands never so clean, yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.” And why, that we may decrease and Christ increase?


The discipline, indeed, is painful to our fallen nature, but the consequences are most salutary. “The end of the Lord” was now attained in this instance of Obadiah. Self-humiliation had been effected in him, and the light was again suffered to shine upon him. Elijah said, “As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself unto Ahab to-day.”


This composed the fears of his troubled heart; so Obadiah went to Ahab, and he had now sufficient boldness to tell the tyrant, “Behold, Elijah is here.”

CHAPTER SIX DELIVERANCE FROM THE MOUTH THE LION

[[@Page:53]] “Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad,” was the injunction of the Lord to Laban, the Syrian, when he “ so hotly pursued after” Jacob, as if he meditated revenge. Genesis 31:24. His tongue was immediately tied, his hand bound, and his heart turned back again.


Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their protector, who “hath cut Rahab and wounded the dragon, who shutteth up the sea with doors and bars, saying, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; who stilleth the raging of the sea and the noise of his waves, and the madness of the people.” A proof of this will be seen in that part of the history of our prophet which we are now about to consider.


“And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim. Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table. So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel” (I Kings 18:17-20.


Here is:


I. The wonderful protection of the prophet.

II. The unjust accusation brought against him.

III. The bold language he uses;

IV. The secret power he exercises.


I. Obadiah had gone at Elijah’s bidding


He had sought out the king, informed him that he had met with Elijah, and that he was still continuing at the place where Obadiah had found him. Ahab accordingly, with what feelings we may better imagine than express, went to meet Elijah. Instead, however, of any of that manifestation of royal anger which is as the roaring of a lion, not a stroke falls. Not an arrow flies; nothing ensues but the feeble question, “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?”


[[@Page:54]] Here is not even an outrageous curse or menace, as if the volcano had been suddenly exhausted and only emitted a little smoke.


Thus, the Lord our God can stop the mouths of lions and enable his people to tread on serpents and scorpions, so that nothing shall by any means hurt them when they are upon his errands.


Yes, the same God who was thus a wall of fire round about Elijah, defeating the resentment of Ahab and Jezebel; who delivered Daniel and his three companions; who released Peter from prison also, in the case of Luther, the poor Augustinian monk of Wittenberg, put to shame the power of the pope and of other numerous and mighty persecutors; the same God still liveth in the great Head of the church, Christ Jesus; and he is with his people alway, even to the end of the world; he is their succor and defence. Depend on it, Christians, you would not pass your days and nights so quietly as you do, were it not for his continual interposition against those who would molest you. The enmity of the prince of this world, and of his servants, the children of disobedience, is still unabated.


Many an arm of strength, both in the higher and lower walks of life, would be stretched out against you, but that he stays it. For as many as have their heavenly Father’s name written in their foreheads, as many as profess Christ sincerely and faithfully before men, as many as will live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer molestation on that very account in this present world. And that we live so peacefully and quietly “In” our dwellings, and that our lives are so safe, though in the midst of dangers, is altogether owing to the protection of our almighty Saviour, who neither slumbereth nor sleepeth; who never remits his vigilance over us day or night; who with his mighty angels encamps about his people, and is himself their bulwark. In eternity we shall discover, to our great astonishment, how enemies the Lord God prevented from injuring us, and from how many of the hands of men he has delivered us. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” O how safe in such a tower of refuge! Thus Elijah experienced, and thus may we.


II. As the protection which Elijah experienced was of the same kind as that which all the servants of God are wont to experience


So, in like manner, the accusation charged upon him, as if it were he who troubled Israel, was only another characteristic of the people of God. “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” said the wrathful monarch, and thus cast upon the prophet the whole blame of God’s heavy judgments upon the land. But, from the beginning of the world, this crying injustice on the part of men is one of those afflictions of the cross which they are called to bear after their Lord and Redeemer. Painful as this must ever be found to flesh and blood, it is one salutary means for purifying us from the remains of indwelling sin.


It indeed often appears as if ministers were the storm-birds and messengers of misfortune; the disturbers of peace, and such as “turn the world upside down,” just as Elijah seemed to be, when, at his word, the season of famine overspread Samaria. Religion enters a family, and instead of peace comes division; unanimity is banished from the circle.


[[@Page:55]]A believing son or daughter may, to their great grief, excite against themselves their unbelieving parents; and a minister, in like manner, by his faithfulness, may offend the most influential of his congregation, and these may stir up a majority against him in order to get rid of him. Faithful preaching of the Gospel may sometimes be like the sinking of a burning mountain in the sea. Sleepers awake, and the dry bones are stirred.


On such occasions the thoughts of many hearts become revealed. Drunkards become sober, and the sober drunken.


O what divisions of heart may we then witness! Congregations splitting, and parties forming! Then, also, as in the apostles’ time, it is always the case that the faithful and awakening preachers of the Gospel are regarded as the offending parties, “the men who have turned the world upside down;” whereas the whole blame rests with those whose hearts are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, and who “love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” Nevertheless we must be content to bear the blame of being the troublers of Israel.


“The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough that the disciple be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household? Therefore fear them not; for there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed, nor secret that not be known.”


Elijah was accused of troubling Israel, and certainly he was God’s instrument for chastising the idolatrous and wicked kingdom. The children of God, though they are not of the world, even as Christ is not of the world, and though the world overlooks or despises them, have very much to do with the turn of its affairs; they are of no small account in the sublunary disposals of Providence. How many a single potent adversary has been felled to the ground; how many a community has dwindled and decayed because of their opposition to the people of God, who are continually praying, “Thy kingdom come!” How many a blaspheming tongue has been prematurely laid silent in the grave because of that universal prayer of the church, “Hallowed be thy name!”


Yes, if our adversaries knew how many things take place in the world on our account, whether for the strengthening of our faith, for our succor, or for the crowning of our prayers—if they knew what influence “the quiet in the land” exercise, even here below, upon the fate both of individuals and whole nations; and how often it is given into their hands to open heaven or to close it—to bring blessings upon a place, or to take them away—to bind the arm of the mighty, and to bring to nought the counsels of the prudent—if they rightly understood in what sense the Prince of the Host, whose banner we follow, has made us not only priests, but also “kings unto our God” —their rage would exceed all bounds: and how would they then cry out, “Ye are they that trouble Israel!”


III. Let us now consider Elijah’s answer to Ahab


The prophet stands before a mortal enemy, who is the despotic ruler of the land; and how does he meet his false accusation?


[[@Page:56]] - Does he excuse himself, and cry for mercy?

- Does he have recourse to flattery or artifice?

- Does he, in order to save himself, begin to “prophesy smooth things?”

- Does he conceal from him the true cause of God’s judgments upon the land?

- Does he even endeavor to moderate the king’s displeasure, by announcing to him the good news of approaching rain?


No; Elijah is a man only for the truth, and for such truth as the occasion calls for. His great and only concern was that the tyrant, together with his people, should judge themselves, humble themselves before the living God, and give him the glory. This was of more importance to him than his life. He knew whither he was going, and death had no terrors for him. His answer there- fore is, “I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim.”


Such language as this is seldom heard upon earth. The world is full of flatterers and dissemblers, and such characters abound not only in palaces, but also in ordinary society; but faithful servants of God, who are dead to self-interest, who so love their brethren as to be unwilling to suffer sin upon them—such men are rare indeed. O, Ye ministers of Christ, among high and low, let us not complain of the little fruit of our labors till we have first complained of our own too great love of pleasing men.


We should see greater things, were not the salutary and awful, “Thou art the man!” so entirely unknown amongst us. It is not enough that we deal in general truths concerning human corruption, openly acknowledged in our church confessions. How far is all this below the faith- fulness of prophets and apostles. If Elijah, or Paul, or John the Baptist were here, you would hear the trumpet give a very different sound. To how many an Ahab of the present day would it then be said, “I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord.”


- How many a Jezebel would then be told to her face, “The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

- How many a publican, “Demand no more than is thy due.”

- How many a Herod, “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.”

- How many a Felix, how many a Drusilla, who at present hear only smooth words, would then be forced to submit to one closet sermon after another from plain and unsparing lips, upon righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come!


You may well pray, my friends, that it may be given to your ministers to make a better use of the liberty which is thus divinely committed to them as an awful and most responsible trust, “to reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine.” And what is the nature of our commission? We have a heaven to promise, and a hell to threaten. We stand forth as messengers in Christ’s stead, as the stewards of the mysteries of God. We speak not from ourselves, but that which One who is greater than all commands us to speak. We go forward, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, as the ambassadors of the King of all kings, and have the right to announce our message to sinners m the name of God, with “Thus saith the Lord!”


[[@Page:57]] O the dignity of our calling—the holiness of our office! O that it more thoroughly pervaded us, and that we were more like Elijah, or Nathan, or the Baptist, or the apostle Paul. And were it so, that by the unpleasant sound of truth we lost a whole squadron of worldly friends, we should soon, perhaps, find the loss made good by others collected by the Gospel trumpet from among publicans and sinners. Nay, were the measure of our trouble and reproach doubled, the fruit of our labor in God’s field might be doubled likewise.


We may well humble ourselves, one and all, for our insincerity and men pleasing, in allowing ourselves to cry, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” This is not tenderness, though it assumes that name; it is the want of true love to our neighbor, a indulgence of our own indolence and ease. May the Lord kindle a purer flame in our souls, and give us a better love, a love which, where truth, the honor of God, and the salvation of our brethren require it, can speak and act disinterestedly and self-denyingly; yet so, that no strange fire mingle with that which is holy, nor we ourselves, as is often the case, break to pieces, in our zeal, both tables of the law.


“I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim.”


What then was the special sin which Elijah here holds up to view as the chief cause of the whole calamity? Is it the intemperance, or the covetousness, or the frivolity, or the unchaste life of Ahab, and of his father’s house? No; it is departure from God’s Word and Statutes.


O brethren! if sins of this sort be the greatest of all sins; if God has visited nations, countries, and cities with fire and sword on account of them, what must be his displeasure in these times, when infidelity is becoming the very fashion in so many circles everywhere; when the the forsaking of the statutes of the Lord, and the following of a heathenish rationalism has found its way even into the cottage and the work-shop; when the declaration, “we will not have this man to reign over us!” virtually becomes more and more general, and the very voice of Baalim is, in this sense, to be heard from many a pulpit, many a professor’s chair, and many a schoolmaster’s desk!


When true religion, the belief of the forgiveness of sins through the blood of the Lamb, is not only slighted, but even branded as fanaticism; and the true life in the Holy Spirit, the life of love to Christ, and the following of his steps, is so often declaimed against as pietism and enthusiasm!


How will it at length fare with such a generation, if we do not betimes fall down weeping before the lifted rod of the great Preserver of men! And what kind of days have we to expect, sooner or later, in a country where more than one Noah preaches the righteousness of God; where more than one Jonah calls to repentance; where more than one of Zion’s watchmen sounds the trumpet louder and louder, because he sees the sword approaching, and still but a small band is gathered of those who faithfully adhere to and take up the cross; while thousands upon thousands treat the blood of the covenant as an unholy thing, scoff at the word of the Lord, presumptuously turn with disgust from the precepts of Christ, bow the knee to any or every shameful lust, and thus virtually bring their offerings to the abominations of the Moabites and the Amorites!


[[@Page:58]]What vials of wrath must at length be poured out upon this favored region! Will it have sufficed that the Lord has affected us with lack of employment and want, with stoppage of trade and business, and visited us with plague and pestilence? Will he not see it necessary to come with still severer judgments?


“Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee!! Bethsaida! for if the mighty works which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell.”


O that my people would turn from evil ways, that the Lord God might repent of this evil concerning us, and turn from the fierceness of his anger, that we perish not!


IV. Elijah, having thus faithfully deliverer his message, now begins to make preparations for a scene which has not it’s like in sacred history


The Lord God is about to show, by signs, and wonders and mighty deeds, that he is God and none else; and Baal is to be overthrown in one day. “Now therefore,” said Elijah authoritatively, like a representative of God, “Now therefore,” O king! “Send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table.”


He speaks the word and Ahab obeys, and collects the prophets unto mount Carmel. See how matters are reversed! The subject prescribes, and the king, yes, such a king, complies! “The thing is of the Lord.” The hearts of all are in his hands! The servant of God have, through faith, “out of weakness been made strong, subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained the promises.” If we, as lambs are sent in the midst of wolves, yet we are clothed with a divine panoply, and often with a divine influence upon others, if we are Christ’s faithful servants.


We have not, and we need not, any carnal weapons, offensive or defensive. When despised or reviled, we must neither despise nor revile again, much less must we have recourse to the swords with which the world is wont to fight. Instead of all this, there is something else given to the servants of God. “This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.”


True faith is always accompanied by the illuminating light of the Holy Spirit, whose temples we are, and who always manifests himself as the Spirit of the mighty God. Here is a divine some- thing that can do wonders. With this something can babes and sucklings still the enemy and the avenger; and defenseless sheep have often with it disarmed their most violent persecutors.


This is the true star of honor which gleams through the clothing of humility; as it is better than all the wisdom of the wise and the cunning of the prudent, so is it of more value than all the honor of the noble, than all the power of the mighty. With it the most simple may remain steadfast against the most seductive subtleties of false philosophy, and put to shame the whole array of abused talents and learning.


[[@Page:59]]This secret something, which Christians carry about with them; this unction from the Holy One, which pervades their whole being; this sign of the Son of man, and seal of the Lamb upon their foreheads, is the supernatural armor in which the servants God do exploits, carry on their conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil; and, like their Saviour: “bring forth judgment unto victory.”


Yea let them beware of being exalted above measure. Our safety lies in being ever lowly at feet of Jesus; and the spirit of his precept disciples may well apply to us, “Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather: rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”


All other joy, yes, even the joy at the victories we gain, tends to darken the inward eye, and remove poverty and dependence from our view. But if the prize of our high calling be continually kept before the eye of faith, its brightness will make us see our own unworthiness.


Joy in our present gifts and endowments is mutable and evanescent, for they may be wholly or in part withdrawn from us; but the joy of our fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, is permanent; for we know that the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, “The Lord knoweth them that are his, and he abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself.”


O happy they whose names are written in the book of life, and doubly happy they who rejoice in this, above their chief joy! Amen.

CHAPTER SEVEN ELIJAH AND THE PEOPLE AT MOUNT CARMEL

[[@Page:60]] It was a remarkable but wise decision that Solomon made in an extremely difficult case which was once brought before him. Two women came to him with an infant, to which they each asserted a mother’s claim; the one stating that the child of the other woman having died, she had taken hers from her before she was awake, and laid her own dead child in its place; whilst the other asserted that the contrary was the truth, saying, “The dead child is hers, and the living is mine;” they therefore besought the king to determine the matter.


But how was it to be done? The king calls for a sword, and on its being brought, he said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.”


You are aware how the king, from these expressions of the two women, settled the dispute and decided the cause (I Kings 3:24-27).


A better compassion than that of a woman for her sucking child has God for his dear children, He, too, will have them entirely as a whole living sacrifice, or not at all. He will not consent to our being divided between himself and the world. The love he requires is that of all the heart, all the soul, all the mind, all the strength.


Such, likewise, is the Requirement of our Lord Jesus Christ. “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.”


We must be wholly the Lord’s. Such was Elijah himself, and such he taught others to be, as we shall see by attending the portion of his history which is now to be considered.


“And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.


[[@Page:61]]“Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken” (I Kings 18:21-24).


A great and ever-memorable scene is here unfolded. The ancient controversy, whether the Lord be the one only and true God, is now to be decided by himself. The passage before us, however, shows only the preparation for this astonishing decision.


Here we have:


I. Elijah’s expostulation; II. His challenge; III. His confidence of faith.


I. We are to transport our thoughts to the summit of mount Carmel


Below roars the sea on one side and bounds the view; on the other, the eye stretches over the brook Kishon into the spacious plain of Esdraelon, where mount Tabor is see in the distance, and still nearer, the little town of Nazareth, while the lake of Genesaret glimmers there beyond in the blue horizon; to the north we behold the mountains of Lebanon with their cloud-caped summits. On the magnificent height of Carmel, so renowned of old for its fertility, there is at present a monastery and a Turkish mosque, beside many subterranean chapels, caverns, and grottos, appropriated to religion.


Hither, every year, on the supposed anniversary of the memorable day recorded in the text, multitudes of Mohammedans and nominal Christians assemble to pay, in common, religious homage to Elijah. How would Elijah himself deal again with these priests of Baal, if he could once more return to the ancient scene of his zeal and conflict? You are to behold him then at present on the heights of Carmel, surrounded by the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal, the four hundred prophets of the groves, who ate at Jezebel’s table, a lewd and profligate race, by the idolatrous king and his pompous court, and by multitudes of the poor, perishing, seduced people, awaiting, with anxious curiosity, the transactions about to transpire.


These being assembled, Elijah appears before them upon the rising ground, conspicuous to all; a plain man covered with a mantle.


He looks around him with a cheerful and undaunted countenance, while all are silent to listen to his address. He then exclaims audibly to the whole assembly, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, follow him.”


The effect of this bold and serious address was a dead silence on the part of the assembled multitude. They seem to have felt the power of his expostulation concerning their doubt and indecision.


[[@Page:62]]With the court and the priesthood the case was different; they were decided idolaters, who had sold themselves to work wickedness in the service of Baal. But the people, perhaps, had not been able entirely to forget what great things the Lord had done for their forefathers: they could not bring themselves to renounce entirely all allegiance to him; therefore they sought to persuade themselves that they were not idolaters in reality, but worshipers of the true God under the name of Baal, confounded the Lord God and Baal together, and invented a religion in which they gave themselves to all the lusts and abominations of heathenism, but retained the self-complacent notion that still walked in the way of their fathers; that though the form of their worship might be a little different from that of their ancestors, the substance was the same. What awful self- delusion! What pitiful double-mindedness! Such were the people to whom Elijah addressed his remonstrance.


But if Elijah were now preaching amongst ourselves, would he not still have to deliver many a severe animadversion upon halting, wavering, instability? Surely he would not long endure to witness the double-mindedness and indecision which prevails among professed Christians. Certainly we see some decided characters on the one side, and on the other—on the path of death, as well as on that of light and life—and as to the former sort, there is a decided sentence against them already pronounced in the Word of God. But will it eventually fare better with those who may be called borderers, who halt between two opinions, who practically, at least, doubt which master they shall serve? And O that the generation of these halting ones did not constitute the majority among us! But, alas! Is it not so? Decided living unto God is surely no common thing.


But what, dear brethren, is our supreme happiness? Is it not to enjoy fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ? Is not this the one thing needful? Let the Lord be your treasure; let him be your supreme love. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world;” until it can be demonstrated that these are your supreme good; that these can save and make you happy; that these can redeem and comfort you. Could they indeed do so, then the time you spend on religion would be entirely lost time. Make sure, therefore, of your choice, and be decided as to how you mean to live and die.


If human existence be confined to this present life merely, and if we have nothing beyond it to look for, then “let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die!” then “walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes;” for why should we then lose time upon an imaginary thing, a nullity! But if this is not our rest; if there be a world to come, an eternity hereafter, what means our loitering upon the way, our settling down in the land of our pilgrimage? Be therefore pilgrims and strangers decidedly; lay aside every sin—everything which would impede your progress; esteem all such things as dross and dung, that ye may enter in at the strait gate, and that the word Eternity may not at last be a word of thunder to you. Surely it is well worthwhile to sacrifice all other cares to this one—of escaping eternal punishment, and becoming partakers of everlasting happiness. To act half as children of time, and half as children of eternity brings with it entire death. If the word of God be true, submit yourselves to it in all things, even in those which are ever so opposed to our corrupt nature and wayward desires. Believe it heartily, both in its promises and its threatening. But if ye are wiser than God, then show it decidedly; only do not halt, for that is irrational and absurd, and do not mix light and darkness together.


[[@Page:63]]Neither attempt to compromise between God and the world. If Christianity be of God, decide for it with body and soul; embrace the cross; be willing to suffer affliction with the despised people of God; forsake the pomps, pleasures and vanities of the world, and employ all your endeavors to promote the kingdom and glory of Christ. Do not waver between the righteousness of Christ, and your own. Which of the two will avail you in the judgment?


If it be only the righteousness of Christ, then value yourselves no longer on your own supposed virtues, as many do, with whom we cannot belong in company without hearing of the good works they have done and are doing, both of humanity and religion. Neither be undecided as to the choice of your friends and associates; for “he that is not with me,” saith Christ, “is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattered.”


And the Holy Ghost, by his apostle, saith, “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall he my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (II Corinthians 6:14-18).


“And the people,” it is said, “answered Elijah not a word;” they perceived, no doubt, that his remonstrance was well founded, and his expostulation just. And does not our remonstrance, made to you upon it, commend itself to your consciences?


II. Whether the Lord be God, or Baal be God, rests not now with Elijah to determine


The Lord God himself will answer that question. Elijah proceeds, “I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men!”


God be thanked that he was not the only man of God then living in Israel; he, however, was the only one at that time who stood up among them publicly to maintain the Lord’s cause against his adversaries; the rest were either slain, or banished, or concealed in dens and caves of the earth.


Imagine, then, Elijah’s situation at this time. Among the whole concourse at Carmel he knew not a single brother in the land except Obadiah; not one besides who was likeminded with himself, not one who made common cause with him, or kept him in countenance. Think what it must be for a man thus to stand alone in the midst of a host of strangers. What an overwhelming power is there in the sight of such a multitude of opponents to abash and discourage! But our prophet blooms in this moral desert like the rose; yea, he flames like a meteor in the troubled sky. The peace of God is within him; his heart is at ease; he breathes freely; his tongue does not falter. He is cheerfully bold to testify the name of the Lord his God before this untractable and deluded multitude because he is truly zealous only for the honor of God and simply devoted to that one thing.


[[@Page:64]] We, my brethren, should not be so easily daunted and confounded in our confession of Christ before men, were we simply and unreservedly devoted to him, and not secretly concerned also for our own credit and reputation. But, alas, we have too little love to the God of our life, to the God of all grace, who hath “called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus.” Were we but wholly given up to the simplicity of love, we should prove invincible; for “many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.”


“Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.” You are aware, brethren, how much there is in the feeling of being overpowered by numbers, to inject the doubt, “Am I, then, the only person in the right, and all these in the wrong?” How easily are we thus induced to make the gate of the kingdom of heaven somewhat wider, and the narrow way somewhat broader; to give up this or that particular portion of the truth, and not to be so very precise and exact in the cause of the Gospel.


But Elijah was clearly above the influence and operation of circumstances like these. He was sure of the justice of his cause, and though the whole world had thought differently from himself, he had no mind to compromise, or to give place—no, not for an hour; and why? Because he able to say, “I know in whom I have believed.” He was an experimental believer, whose faith was interwoven with his existence arid happiness.


“Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.” As if he would say, “This maketh no matter to me; no, nor even though they were as many thousands; for we shall soon decide the point with them.” He had faith to behold more engaged for him than all that could be against him.


III. The people at mount Carmel are all on the full stretch of expectation, while Elijah addresses them upon the preparations to be made, and the purpose to be answered by them


“Let them therefore give us,” he added, “two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.”


They agreed to the proposal; some from curiosity, to see what would happen; others, in the hope that Baal would gain the victory; but some few, perhaps, from a real desire to be certain whether the Lord was the true God. What a hazardous proposal this appears on the part of Elijah! He ventured the whole credit of the Lord’s worship upon the issue of it. But he acted really at no hazard; he was assured that his gracious God would not leave nor forsake him.


The world had already received more than one answer by fire; so that it ought not to have required another: but one more such answer still awaits this evil world; “the earth and the works that are therein shall be burnt up” (II Peter 3:10).


[[@Page:65]]- God answered by fire when the first transgressions when cherubim and a flaming sword were planted at gate of Paradise.

- God answered Sodom and Gomorrah by fire, and the shores of the Dead Sea retain the traces of it at this day.

- By a fiery vision God confirmed his promises to Abraham, when a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passed between the pieces of the sacrifice.

- From the of fire in the bush God spake unto Moses; and of the fire, clouds, and thick darkness, he spake to Israel on mount Sinai.

- By fire he answered transgression of Nadab and Abihu, the two elder sons of Aaron, who in their priestly capacity offered strange fire unto the Lord; for “there went out fire from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”

- By fire as well as earthquake God answered Israel in the matter of Korah; for “there came out a fire from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.”

- By fire God answered Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple; for the fire came down and the glory of the Lord filled the house (II Chronicles 7:2, 3).

- God likewise answered the waiting apostles at Pentecost, by cloven tongues as of fire. “And the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.”


Let us spiritually apply this to ourselves. The fire of the Holy Spirit is the witness of God in every true believer. This fire consumes the dross of his corruptions, and warms, cheers, and enlightens his soul. He that is insensible to the testimony of this witness, is still dead in trespasses and sins.


Let us show then that our hearts burn within us, by the spirit of our life and conversation before God and man.


May the Lord Jesus inscribe his name on our hearts in the flaming letters of his love, that he may not see it necessary to write it in our ashes in the eternally glowing characters of his just displeasure. For he will answer and declare his name to the adversaries, by the fire that is prepared for the devil and his angels; in order that every creature, either with the voice of rejoicing or in the language of self-condemnation, may give him the glory. The Lord, he is God, and his name endureth forever. Amen!

CHAPTER EIGHT THE DECISION AT MOUNT CARMEL

[[@Page:66]] “To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” So spake the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of David, to the thousands of Israel; Psalm 95:7, 8; and again, by the apostle, to the Christian church; Hebrews 3:15; and let us, dear brethren, seriously lay these words to heart.


What is this hardening of the heart? It is having minds unconcerned about God’s testimonies; it is allowing ourselves to live in practical unbelief. Judicial hardness arises from resisting one divine and gracious call after another, and overcoming one holy influence after another, through unbelief. The more favored we are with means and ordinances, the more danger there is of becoming hardened. The greatest numbers of hardened, as well as of converted persons, are generally found under the most faithful preaching of the Gospel.


There are those among us who do not cleave with full purpose of heart unto the Lord. They have already succeeded in resisting many a gracious call which was made to them, and in again shaking off many a conviction which had fastened on them. O that the demonstration of the Spirit and of power may be now vouchsafed unto us that we may become as surely convinced that the Lord is our God, as the Israelites at Carmel, whose further circumstances we are now about to consider, were convinced, by the answer of fire from heaven, that “The Lord, he is the God!”


“And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.


“And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.


“And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.


[[@Page:67]] “And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.


“And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.


“Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God. And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there” (I Kings 18:25-40).


What are our reflections after reading this wonderful narrative of sacred history? Is not the answer of the Lord powerful and full of majesty? Yes, the voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness. May we really feel its power and majesty! Here we see,


I. How poor a god is that of the ignorant and infatuated world!


Elijah had made his proposal; both parties were to sacrifice a bullock, and each was to call on the name of his God. “God,” said Elijah, “that answereth by fire, let him be God.” And all the people agreed to it. “It is well spoken,” cried they, as with one voices; and thus the important moment was now come, which should once for all decide whether there be a God in heaven, and who he was. Elijah lost no time. He said unto the prophets of Baal, “Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first, for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods.”


He gives them the precedency on account of numbers; “ye are many,” you have the majority on “your side. Yes, my brethren, this has always been the case in the present evil world, that the majority have taken the wrong side; and they so outnumber the little flock of Christ on earth, that they could, as it were, swallow them up, if the safety of the latter depended on their numbers. “Ye are many!” Yes, indeed, numerous as weeds of an uncultivated field; vessels of wrath every where; all Israel, except seven thousand, a remnant only preserved; all the rest in Samaria, and her towns and villages alienated from the life of God.


[[@Page:68]] And is it not just the same in many Christian countries at present? True it is, in this world they have the upper hand, and not without reason, for the prince of this world is their monarch. Hence they are honored and looked up to, and we are the offscouring of the people; they are the great and the wise, and we the fools. They are the party that have the judgment of the public in their favor, and the voice of the greatest geniuses, and of the most brilliant talents, and the applause of the public journals—and we! ah, if any one takes our part, he thinks he is doing a most condescending work of benevolence.


We stand as a sort of criminals before the great public, and have no advocate but Him who was in the form of a servant, and who, instead of defending our cause before the world, tells us that “his kingdom is not of this world,” and bids us look to the future for our consolation. What wonder is it that we appear utterly wretched and ridiculous to the world, when the very Judge, to whom we appeal, is one whom they have, long ago crucified. Well, be it so, ye sons and daughters of the father of lies! Be the first, and have the superiority—for ye are many. The Lord is at hand!


But to return to the narrative, the priests of Baal make preparation for the sacrifice. This they were obliged to do on account of the people. Probably they would rather have let it alone. If they taught the people to worship Baal against their own better knowledge, how wretched must they now have felt while they cut up and dressed their bullock! So that they would have been glad to be themselves placed in the victim’s stead to escape the inexpressible shame and disgrace which they were now bringing upon themselves. But such a season of the most horrible confusion in the face of their own congregations, shall eventually seize upon all hypocritical and lying priests, however they may now deceive and mislead the people at their altars or from their pulpits. The sacrifice, being prepared, they begin to cry aloud, “O Baal! hear us!” and when one of them is hoarse and exhausted, another begins and cries, “O Baal! hear us!” and if his faith fail him, a third rallies his drooping spirits and shrieks out, “O Baal! hear us!”


One fixes his eyes on the clouds; a second looks down into the depths to see whether the longed- for flame will not burst forth; and another hearkens intently to hear it rumble in the ground beneath him. But though they wait with desponding countenances, from morning until noon, and from noon until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, it is all in vain, the cry of their frenzy dies in the echoes of the mountains. “There was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.”


There lies the sacrifice on Baal’s altar, still unconsumed! At last they begin to be desperate, and to act like mad men. They leap upon the sacrifice, as if to provoke Baal to anger, and to call forth fire from him in consequence of it. Or else the meaning is, that they perform a frantic religious dance about the altar, after the manner of Baal’s orgies. Be this as it may, there is no notice preternaturally signified of it either in heaven or on earth.


A miserable deity indeed—a mere nonentity was their idol itself; for “an idol is nothing in world.”


And does the favorite deity of this enlightened age deserve any better name?


[[@Page:69]] Is the god of the Bible-hating and froward generation of the present day—is the god of most of our philosophers and poets, of our politicians and journalists—is the god of very many of our seminaries and universities, professors and students—is the god of our modern scientific institutions—is the god of our polished circles and of our fashionable assemblies in which it is regarded as disreputable to have even the appearance of adhering to the God of the Bible—is such a god any better, anything more real than the deity of Baal of old? What mean those fashionable expressions which we hear every where substituted for the name of God, the revealed Lord? I mean the expressions “heaven,” “fortune,” and such like. How came these expressions to be so in use, except as a flimsy veil to hide the aversion men have to the name and the Word of God? How do they hate to hear of anything like divine communication and manifestation of answers to prayer, of Divine influence on the heart, or communion with God, of experience of his presence—these are mere fabulous and absurd notions to them—these they esteem as mere delusion—proof enough that, with their god, there is neither voice, nor answer, nor attention—proof enough that what they call heaven, and fortune, and fate, denotes a mere nonentity.


And is this indeed the God of our rationalists, and so many of our literary men and illuminated dreamers! It is; and the belief of no better a god than this spreads from them; through all ranks; and no marvel; for a god such us this, that cannot concern himself about the affairs of men, of course will suffer a thousand sins and excesses to take place without being offended; and this is the very thing they want: that the service of the flesh may be a thing allowed; that falsehood, deceit, and flattery may stand as commendable prudence, and the most voluptuous dance be regarded as an innocent amusement; they wish for a god to whom it is indifferent what a man thinks and believes—a god by whose name any one may, with impunity, swear falsely; a god in whose presence a man need not be ashamed of any loose discourse, nor blush at any impure lust.


Behold, such is the god of this perverse generation! I speak not of all but of the majority. Such is their universal father, as they would gladly conceive him to be: yes this conceited, Bible-hating, and falsely rational generation! Woe unto them; for what will they the end thereof, in that day when their fear cometh, when distress and anguish cometh upon them? Then their cry will be no better than that of “Beal, hear us!” and such will their pretended prayers to God be found to have been all their life long. For the god whom they now profess to serve is no God but only an imagination of their own. For true is that which the Holy Ghost saith by the apostle John, “He that abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God” (II John 9). Tremble then at this word of the Lord, all ye who have not the God of the Bible, who have not God in Christ, for ye are “without hope, and without God in the world;” ye are practical atheists.


But to return to Carmel. There is no end, at present, to the outcry and idolatrous poise. Elijah stands by and surveys the tumult. How must his heart have been ready to break with compassion; yet what a holy indignation must he have felt within him! Then, again, how foolish and ludicrous must the scene have appeared! “And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said,


“Cry aloud; forasmuch as he is a god: either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.”


[[@Page:70]] Perhaps he has his head and his hands so full, that he neither hears nor sees you. Perhaps he is engaged in meditating some undertaking, or arranging the thunder and lightning; or else he is not at home, but engaged in the chase; or perhaps he has laid himself down a little, and is asleep; cry aloud, and awake him!


Yes, just as there are doubts which must be expelled, not by reasons and arguments, but as one of the primitive fathers says, peremptorily with such an expression as “fie, fie,” which we should use to children; and just as there are cares which are best removed by a smile, so there are absurdities and errors to which a little well-timed irony is the best reply.


Where reasons no longer avail, and where proofs are no longer acknowledged, such irony may occasionally serve a useful purpose. Something like it is met with in the 44th chapter of Isaiah; and there, also, it is leveled at the sottishness of idolatry.


What can be done with obstinate, self-conceited people, who, perhaps, do not once give themselves the trouble to read the Gospel and examine it? Why should we contend long with such about the truth, seeing that all men have not faith; nor is it communicable, like an article of merchandise. Perhaps it is better to advise such persons to “stay at Jericho till their beards are grown;” and to say no more. Human nature in the obstinate, ignorant and self-conceited, is sometimes more caught hold of by brevity like this, than by ever so long and serious an address.


Are you disposed to blame Elijah for being able to mock and use irony during such a momentous scene? If so, you are wrong. He discovers here a free and unruffled state of mind; an inward confidence and cheerfulness about the truth and justice of his cause; a certainty of success, and that the true and living God will not forsake him. If there had been the smallest doubt, the least uncertainty in his soul, he would certainly have indulged no disposition to irony.


But what is the effect of it upon Baal’s prophets and votaries? It excites their vexation and impatience to the highest degree. Baal must hear now—he must come forth, whether he will or no. Their cry to Baal is now intense; they draw out their knives and lancets and lacerate their bodies, according to heathen custom, until they stream with blood; as if they had still retained some remnant of the ancient maxim, that “without shedding of blood there is no remission.”


With their sinful blood they think to induce Baal to hear and answer them; and then they begin to prophesy—that is, to make all kinds of enthusiastic motions, and to rave and mutter forth horrible incantations. But there was no voice, nor any that answered, nor any that regarded—all was in vain.


And even with the living God himself, my brethren, such excitements of spirit, and forced ecstasies and devotions are not the way to gain an answer to our prayers. However much you may excite yourselves, the Lord has no pleasure in such sacrifices. Mere solemnity of countenance, bowing down our bodies, praying ourselves hoarse, spending whole hours in mere will-worship, are not the things to propitiate God: and as long as you think so, you receive no answer from him.


[[@Page:71]]III. This unavailing cry of the idolaters was continued from the morning until the time of the evening sacrifice


Then Elijah stood forth in simplicity and uprightness, without pomp and show, with a tranquil countenance and a firm deportment; so that everyone might well presume that he was a prophet of the true God. “And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him,” both priests and people: the former in utter dismay, the latter in eager expectation.


On the top of Carmel lay the ruins of an altar, here called the altar of the Lord. It had probably been built there in better times, and had been thrown down by the idolaters. This altar Elijah now repaired; as if he meant to say, “May God restore thee, O Israel! May God restore thee, thou mournfully dilapidated sanctuary of the Lord!” For what Elijah now did had a significant meaning. He took twelve stones, according to the number of the twelve tribes of Israel, in order to rebuild with them the altar in the name of the Lord. This was figuratively to say, God will perform his promise to Jacob, and will keep his covenant with him whom he surnamed by the name of Israel.”


About the altar Elijah cast a trench—and then prepared the wood, dressed the bullock, and laid it upon it. And might not he who afterwards spoke of Christ’s decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem, now have sighed ‘“O that thou wouldest soon prepare thy sacrifice, thou Priest of God, that offering which perfects for ever them that are sanctified!” He commanded that water should be poured on the wood, and on the sacrifice, in order that the miracle might be the more unquestionable, and no one be able to object, as if fire had been secretly applied, “Fill four barrels with water,” said he, “and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.”


The preparations are now completed. A secret awe thrills through the assembled multitude: deep silence prevails. “And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice (which with us about three o’clock in the afternoon, a solemn and important hour, the ninth hour, as it is called in the evangelists) that Elijah the prophet came (near to the altar) and said, Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that, people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again!”


Elijah calls God by his name, Lord God, which he had given himself in the beginning, to denote his condescending and compassionate love to fallen man; he calls him “the God of Abraham, Isaac and of Israel,” that he might excite in the hearts of this backslidden people a bumbling remembrance of all the good which the Lord had shown to them and to their fathers from ancient times, by his own grace.


Elijah prays, “Let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at by word.”


[[@Page:72]] The honor of God is his supreme desire. He would also have his own mission confirmed in the eyes of the people, and he added, “Hear me, O Lord, hear me;” expressive of the fervency and earnestness of his spirit, “that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.”


The glory of God and the salvation of the people— these two things formed the entire object of all that the prophet did and said. And what shall we admire the most in this prayer—the prophet’s zeal for God’s glory, or the ardor of his love for the degraded house of Israel—his astonishing boldness in asking such great things, or his firm confidence in not doubting that God would testify to his own cause? No: we wonder most at the unspeakable grace of God, which teaches a handful of dust and ashes, as man is, thus to believe, love, and pray, to him be the glory.


And now, what ensues? Mysterious moment! The whole revelation of God is at stake. If no answer follows, the whole fabric falls in, and the ground of our hope is gone. Then all that Elijah has testified—all that the prophets have spoken before him, and which Elijah has confirmed— will be accounted a delusion; and the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Israel will be no longer regarded! The prayer is uttered. The silence of death reigns in the assembly—every heart beats high— in every face is the extreme of expectation; when lo! The answer comes; the Amen is given; the fire of heaven descends, in the sight of every one, directly upon the altar, consumes the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the earth, and licks up the water in the trench. “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, the Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God.” Elijah’s faith is crowned, the foolish priests are put to shame, and all the gods, which are not the God of the Bible, are confounded and annihilated.


Ah, what has not the merciful God, the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Israel performed, to bring us to the knowledge of himself, and to faith in him! Has he not spoken to us without end, in nature and in the Scriptures; by creation, providence, and revelation; by arguments and figures; by prophets, apostles, and ministers; by signs and wonders of every kind, in the most intelligible manner, condescending to our weak capacities, as a most merciful Father; and yet, how few are there that really know him! how few give him glory!


O ye untoward and perverse generation of this world, come near—come near! Behold not only the testimony by which the Lord answered Elijah upon Carmel, but likewise all the testimonies in which the Lord has made himself known.


We will place some of them before you, so that you may once more see and remember them. He has given living testimonies of himself, by thousands; and that which he gave in these last days, when he spake unto us by his Son, was not the last. Look at the altar of his church built upon himself as pillar and basis, and on the twelve living stones of the apostles. Look at the sanctuary of God, its ability, its age, its extent, where the life and light of the Holy Spirit, that fire of the Lord, never goes out day or night; is not this spiritual temple an abiding proof that the Lord liveth?


Look at every stone of this building— every converted sinner.


[[@Page:73]] - Here was also a ruined altar; but see, it is restored:

- Here was also a surrounding trench of thousandfold sins, ensnarements, connections, and obstacles, which closed the entrance against the Lord; but lo! His fire has penetrated.

- Here were also stones—a hard heart and an unteachable mind;

- Here was also wood and earth— deadness, carnality, and darkness;


But the flame of the Lord has consumed the earth, the wood, and the stone, and dried up the floods of ungodliness; and the desolated ruin is become a memorial of the glory of God.


Yet how few believe our report; and to how few is the arm of the Lord thus revealed in the present day! Nevertheless, whether men believe it or not, they shall be surrounded with the testimonies of Israel as with a wall, so that only two things will remain to them—either to cry, “The Lord, he is the God!” or, as real children of Belial, to declare that they will have nothing to do with the Lord. It will thus at least come to a decision. Whosoever this day returns home from mount Carmel, without caring to have it said in his heart, “The Lord, he is the God!” let him hesitate no longer to take his place in the ranks of those who are of their father the devil, the god of this world, who blindeth the eyes of them that believe not.


The people on mount Carmel gave glory to the God of Israel; but the priests having hardened their hearts from his fear, and remaining still prophets of Baal, were therefore ripe for destruction. And Elijah said unto the people, “Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” The people are ready enough to do it; for they perceive the abominable deception which these destroyers of souls had practiced upon them. They fall upon them, drag them down, at Elijah’s command, to the brook Kishon, and assist the man of God in destroying them. However painful this execution must have been to the tender and compassionate heart of the prophet, and how many thousand times soever he would have preferred being God’s instrument of these men’s conversion rather than of their destruction, yet, because the honor of God demanded it, he could deny his human feelings, and be obedient, notwithstanding natural tenderness and gracious compassion. I say, obedient; for in the law of God, given by Moses, Deuteronomy 13: 6, 9, it is expressly said, “If any one will entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people.”


This express command of the Lord, the prophet was obliged unhesitatingly to obey, however much his feelings might rise against it; for he was appointed of God to contend zealously for the law, to reestablish the statutes of the Lord in Israel, and to restore the tables of mount Sinai to their ancient honor. And it is not fit that a servant of the Lord should in such a case confer with flesh and blood. “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth,” is the language the obedient spirit.


Christ has introduced another dispensation under the New Testament; and the summary punishments of the Old Testament have been exchanged for longsuffering. Hence the righteous and the wicked grow on together until the harvest; but were the same mode of procedure adopted now as in the days of Moses and Elijah, there would be no end of the slaughter; so numerous are the votaries of Baal, even in the midst of a church which is called protestant and evangelical.


[[@Page:74]]But the Woe pronounced against them “will surely come, it will not tarry” beyond “the appointed time.” He from Bozrah, traveling in the greatness of his strength, who is red in his apparel, will come, in his holy providence, and put in motion the winepress of his wrath. His glittering sword is bathed in heaven, he hath bent his bow and made it ready for the overthrow and destruction of all seducers.


Go on, ye hirelings and grievous wolves, in your thousand places of concourse, and persuade your poor flocks to sacrifice unto other gods than Him whom Abraham called his Lord, and whose goings wore heard on the mountains of Israel. Go on, ye corrupters of youth, ye blind leaders of the blind, and, amidst the plaudits of the ignorant and ungodly, despise the sovereignty of the Ancient of days, that may imagine on his throne a being of your own defining, that ye may dream the Almighty to be such a one as yourselves. Go on, ye people of rank and fashion, and proudly sneer at the true incarnate Jehovah of the Bible, and pay your worship to the wisdom of the day!


Alas! The angel is already flying through the midst of heaven, and crying, “Woe! Woe! Woe! To the inhabitants of the earth!” The sword is already drawn to slay you, the pile of Tophet ordained of old is already erected, on which forsaken by your imaginary gods, you will become flaming monuments forever of the divine justice, and of all holy vengeance.


Oh, it is fearful indeed to fall into the hands of the living God; for he is a consuming fire. I beseech you, lay it to heart; he is a jealous God and a consuming fire!


But thou, Israel, take the harp, rejoice and be glad; thy God liveth! Carmel and Golgotha, heaven and earth, vie with each other in showing forth, “Thy God liveth!” Join in the song, O Israel! and cry aloud as with the voice of a trumpet, laying one hand on thy heart and lifting up the other on high, “My Lord, he is the God!” the everlasting King! This shall be known in all the earth! Amen.

CHAPTER NINE THE PRAYER ON MOUNT CARMEL

We have already had three remarkable instances, in Elijah’s history, of the efficacy of the fervent prayer of the righteous man.


- First, “he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and months.”

- Secondly, he prayed for the restoration of the widow’s son, and the child was restored to life.

- Thirdly, he prayed for the answer by fire to consume the sacrifice, and to decide the controversy with Baal and his priests.


And now we have him praying again, and the heaven gives rain, and the land once more brings forth her fruit. Let us here learn the blessing of walking with God, and conversing with the Keeper of Israel by continual prayer.


“And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain. So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees, And said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not. And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. (I Kings 18:41-46).


The fire has borne its testimony; the waters now speak. In how many and various ways does our gracious God testify of himself, that he is the living God of providence. This, also, is done in answer to the Prayer of Elijah. Here is,


I. The preparation for prayer; II. The prayer itself; III. The answer to it.


[[@Page:76]] We are to imagine ourselves at the foot of Mount Carmel, in the plain below, where the prophets of Baal were slain. Those idolatrous priests have fallen by the hand of Elijah and his new followers, and their blood is mingled with the brook Kishon; and praise redounds to God, who is holy in all his ways, and who is glorified by the overthrow of his enemies, as well as by the hallelujahs of his friends.


Three years and a half had the heavens been shut up from yielding a drop of water to the thirsty land of Israel. What an appearance must the face of the country now have presented! All vegetation parched and burnt up; man and beast reduced to skeletons, and all flesh faded like the grass. They who had now become believers in God must have been filled with unusual terror. They had attained to the knowledge of him amidst the thunders of his judgments; he had appeared as in flames of fire.


Even for the sake of these poor trembling sheep, our prophet was heartily desirous that his Lord and God should again show his goodness and lovingkindness. He longed earnestly, that for the glory of God and the people’s good the brazen skies should now dissolve in abundance of rain, and the season of famine and distress terminate. For this purpose it was necessary that Elijah should speak to God. The prayer of faith was to him what the staff was to Moses, with which he divided the Red Sea and struck water from the flinty rock.


Ahab appears to have remained with the people by the brook Kishon, and to have witnessed everything, even the slaying of his priests—not without a partial assent, for Ahab was evidently a weak capricious tyrant, destitute of character, and governed and molded by present circumstances. The miracle on Carmel, and the enthusiastic cry of the people, “The Lord, he is the God!” had not left his heart unmoved, but made a momentary impression; so that he might have even thought at the time, “Be it so, that the Lord is God!” But his heart was not changed; no true faith had taken possession of it. Many a one may have impressions from what is taking place around him, so as to be moved by them for a time; but he soon recovers his former state of mind, and goes on afterwards just as if nothing had happened. Such was the case with Ahab and others, at the fiery testimony on Carmel.


Elijah, about to retire for prayer, wished to be relieved from the company of Ahab and his attendants, and he said unto him, “Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.”


In these words we cannot help discerning a bitter reproof given to the wretched monarch. It looks as if he had said, “Thy carnal ease is thy principal care; now take it; it will not much longer be disturbed by drought and famine.” It was also a cutting reproof, as implying that the king’s presence was not wanted; especially while Elijah was about to converse with his God. And does it not convey a touching reproof to any of us, if the children of God are obliged to become mute and monosyllabic on our entering their company, and immediately turn the discourse upon the weather, politics, or the news of the day? Is it not a Divine admonition to us, when we cannot help feeling that we are burdensome to them, that we interrupt them, and when it is gently hinted to us that we do not perhaps feel ourselves quite at home, that we are rather out of our element?


[[@Page:77]]Yes, to be thus sent away from Christian society, and banished as it were from the sanctuary of God, is surely a foretaste of future judgments. And how many amongst you must daily swallow the bitter pill of being told, in one way or another, “Get thee up, eat and drink;” “we should be glad to be without you; we cannot go on comfortably while you are present.”


“Get thee up,” said Elijah; and added “for there is a sound of abundance of rain;” a sound of a rustling, as is usual before an approaching storm, in the tops of the trees and upon the waters. Whether he heard it only in faith, with the ear of the spirit, or whether God rendered his bodily hearing so acute that he really heard it from afar in the elements, or in the higher regions of the air, we need not inquire. It is enough that he heard it, and it sounded to him like the tolling of the bell of prayer, even as a forerunning Amen to the aspirations for which he was preparing himself; and it strengthened him in the hope that his will, in desiring rain, was one with the will of God, who would now send rain.


My brethren, we sometimes hear such a sound also; and whenever we hear it, let it be to us what it was to Elijah—a summon to prayer. It ought to be so to us, according to God’s intention. When, at any time, the preaching of the truth is blessed to a church, and the word reaches the soul— when a movement appears in a congregation, and a general excitement prevails—when tears of emotion flow, and people meet together and say. “What a powerful, impressive sermon!” there is then a rustling, and it is then time, ye children of God, to lift up your hands and pray, that after the sound, the rain may come.


Again, when some judgment has occurred in the neighborhood; when a barren fig-tree has been unexpectedly cut down before our eyes; when a scorner has been evidently smitten by Providence, that the simple may beware; or whatever it be, when the whole neighborhood is alarmed, and unbelievers themselves are obliged to confess that the hand of God is visible— then pray that it may not stop there.


When you are informed that one individual is desiring the sincere milk of the Gospel, and that another has risen up from the seat of the scornful, and shows an inclination to come amongst the people of God; when you perceive that among the members of your household there is an inquiry after eternal things, and that your children begin to hear gladly of the Lord Jesus; then, then the sound reaches your ears; then it is time to lift up your heart in prayer.


Yes: be watchful, ye children of God! never fall asleep on the walls of Zion, keep your ears attentive, and listen in every direction—in the church and in your houses, among your friends and relatives; and when you hear the rustling, even if but faintly and as at a distance, go immediately to your closet, fall down at God’s footstool, stretch out your hands and cry, “O Lord, We will not let thee go, unless thou pour upon us the gracious rain of thine inheritance.”


And the same course should be pursued when there begins to be a rustling, not merely amongst others, but in your ownselves; when it thunders and lightens in your own darkness; when a word strikes you, and a ray of light comes into your soul; when the glory of Christ is more clearly manifested to your mind, and your soul enjoys a foretaste of his grace, then give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure. The rustling is not the rain itself; but it is the forerunner of the rain, an vine summons to prayer. O, regard it as such!


[[@Page:78]] While Elijah was thus employed, Ahab, we are told, went up “to eat and to drink.” Miserable man! after all the great and heart-affecting scenes of the day, he felt just as if he had witnessed an interesting, though somewhat tedious comedy, after which refreshment is welcome, and food is relished. Would that such characters were not too common even at present! Many among us are not a whit better than Ahab. But a fearful woe awaits those who suffer the most powerful testimonies, the loudest calls to repentance, and the most affecting works of God to pass before them like a shadow or a dream. They please themselves with such things for a while, as with a “pleasant song” or beautiful painting; but carry nothing away with them from our churches and meetings, except perhaps a feeling of the length of the service, or some topic for conversational display, together with a good appetite for the next carnal meal. Yes, this is all; though perhaps in the morning the Lord by his Spirit has answered as with fire before their eyes and ears. However, we will not detain them; let them “go, eat, and drink!”


II. When Ahab was gone, Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; in spirit, however, we find him descending into the valley of humiliation


On Carmel’s summit, where all was calm and still, as in a solitary closet, no unbidden guests followed him; there he could converse uninterruptedly with the Lord. On the top of Carmel, too, he could the sooner perceive if his prayer was heard; and he stood there, on a lofty watch-tower, from whence he could widely survey both sea and land. However, he does not seem to have made much use of this commanding view; for, on reaching the summit, he kneels down, closes his eyes, bends his head forwards towards his knees, and in this posture he begins to address the Lord, and to pray for rain.


Behold him! Would it be supposed that this is the man who, a short time before, stood upon Carmel as a vicegerent of God, seemingly empowered with a command over the elements? Yet be now humbles himself in the dust, under the feeling of his own poverty and weakness. What does his whole demeanor express but abasement and consciousness of his littleness and unworthiness! But it was the will of God that we should for once behold his great prophet in such a situation, and overhear him in his closet, in order to teach us where his strength really lay; to show us that it has been God’s rule, from ancient times, to work with weak instruments, and to do wonders by bruised reeds, in order that we might see whence even an Elijah derived his greatness; and not be tempted to place the honor and glory upon the head of man, instead of laying it at the feet of him to whom it belongs; and that we might feel the force of that encouraging sentence of the apostle James, “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are.”


When Elijah stood before the people, he was God’s ambassador, and as such, had to speak and to act in virtue of his high commission; but when he stood before God, he was a poor sinner and a worm, who was only able to live by mercy, and had nothing to demand, but was obliged to beg everything at the throne of grace.


On the summit of Carmel the feeling of his unworthiness seems to have quite overwhelmed him. How could it be otherwise, when he looked back upon the events of that day, and upon the whole course of his life to that moment!


[[@Page:79]] What success had been granted him, in the fulfillment of his desires and prayers. What succor, what preservation, what answers had he experienced! And who was he? He will have it confessed before God and men, how unworthy he is of the least of all these mercies; how willing he is regard himself as the chief of sinners. And in this consciousness he appears before the Lord, entreating again a new wonder, although the altar is still smoking from the fiery testimony which the Lord at his request had so recently given.


When Elijah had wrestled awhile with God in the depth of self-abasement and poverty of spirit, in a manner which perhaps few of us know from experience—for all believers do not tread in a path of such a deep and thorough humiliation—he said unto his servant, “Go up now,” that is, to the declivity of the mountain, “and look towards the sea!”


He placed him, as it were, on the watchtower, to look out and inform him when his prayer was beginning to be answered by a sign of rain becoming visible in the distant horizon. For, he was certain of a favorable answer, in faith on the word and truth of Him who had said to him at Zarephath, “Go, show thyself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth!”


The servant went, looked out in the distance, and cast his eyes about on all sides; but the sky was as clear as crystal—not a cloud to be seen. He came back, and said, “I see nothing.” But it is a matter of daily experience, that help does not appear at the first cry, nor is the harvest reaped the moment after the sowing time of prayer. This is certainly not agreeable to flesh and blood; but, spiritually considered, it is very salutary.


What would be the consequence, if God’s treasures were always open to us at our first knocking?


- Should we not then seem to be rulers and commanders in the city of God, and forget our dependent condition?

- Should we not be in danger of making an idol of our prayer, as the Israelites made of the brazen serpent, and think it is our prayer that effects all:

- Should we not think that in prayer we possess a secret charm, a divine rod, or a legal claim upon the bounty of God?


We should soon become self-sufficient.


Therefore our gracious God does not always appear to hearken to the first cry, but lets us generally stand awhile at the door, so that once and again we are obliged to say, “I see nothing.”


We ought then to reflect a little, and become deeply conscious that we have, in reality, nothing to claim, but that all is mere unmerited favor. If we make our first approach to his footstool in the character of just persons, he keeps us back until we feel that we are poor sinners, unworthy petitioners; and are ready to say, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Such is his method.


“There is nothing,” said the servant. But our praying Elijah does not despair.


[[@Page:80]]The reason why we generally so easily grow weary, and so soon cease from praying, is because we are not sufficiently in earnest for the blessing we implore. This, however, was not the case with Elijah. He therefore bids the servant to “Go again seven times.”


But why precisely seven times? Does it me several times, or is there here any particular emphasis in the number of seven? And why was the servant thus to go again and again? What would it avail him to hear every time, “There is nothing” O, it stimulated the prophet’s ardor—it animated him to wrestle the more earnestly with God—it made him still less and less in his own eyes, and drew forth deeper and deeper sighs from his contrite soul.


How would his fervor in prayer thus augment from one minute to another! To obtain a speedy hearing is much more agreeable to our natural feelings, but waiting long is far more beneficial for us. Those are the most blessed spots on the face of the earth where prayer is wont to be made with the greatest fervency and perseverance.


During this process of persevering prayer:


- Our corrupt nature receives the most painful and deadly blows;

- The heart is then most thoroughly broken up, and prepared for the good seed of the Word;

- The remains of self-love are then demolished the most effectually;

- The chambers of imagery are then the most properly cleansed;

- The foundation truth in the soul is laid deep.


And when the answer comes at length, how great is the joy!


III. The servant returns the seventh time, and says, “Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand”


Elijah’s prayer is answered!


It is true, it is only a little cloud at first—hardly visible. But, when God gives the first fruits, he gives the harvest in due time. If thou hast received a little grace, rejoice! Thou hast hereby a pledge that thou shalt receive more! If there be something of his Spirit in thee, know that abundance of grace is in reserve for thee. Forgiveness is a pledge of adoption, and renewal of spirit commenced will be carried on, through faith, unto the day of Christ. Therefore let every sincere Christian rejoice, who sees in himself or in others a little cloud of divine grace. Let him but continue instant in prayer, and the blessing shall increase abundantly.


And the prophet said unto his servant, “Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.”


Thus was literally fulfilled what Elijah had said: “There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” Therefore the Lord did not let the full shower come all at once— but, first of all, a little cloud that was scarcely visible, that Elijah might have time to announce the approaching rain to the king, that the rain might come at the word of the prophet; and that it might be fully apparent that the Lord God of Elijah, was the Governor of the world.


[[@Page:81]] The servant comes to the king, who perhaps was stationed in a pavilion upon the mountain, whilst the sky is still clear and seems to promise anything but rain. “Prepare thy chariot,” was the message; “get thee down, that the rain stop thee not!” “Rain!” would the astonished guests exclaim; “Rain!” would the people cry, full of joyful hope; and scarcely had they lifted up their eyes, when every region of the sky seemed to reply, “Yea, and amen; an abundance of rain!”


Dark thunderclouds ascend out of the sea, one after the other; the heavens become black, the wind sets all the sea in motion, roars through the forests, and a violent storm pours down upon the land, O welcome streams! refreshing floods! The face of the earth is renewed, and all nature rejoices. A breath of life breathes over the fields, wood and meadow are clothed with new verdure, the birds resume their music in the branches, and man, and beast and everything seems as if resuscitated, The voice of rejoicing is heard in the dwellings of the righteous, and joy fills the hearts of the godly.


Ahab is already seated in his chariot, and on his way to his royal seat in Jezreel. But “the hand of the Lord was upon Elijah.”


The Lord God invigorated him with supernatural bodily powers, so that the prophet, girding up his loins, ran before Ahab’s chariot, which doubtless was at full speed, on account of the deluging rain. The prophet was now a living memorial to the king, to remind him the great things which the God of Israel had brought to pass by his prophet; that Ahab might not easily forget them, but carry the fresh impression of them to Jezebel.


Elijah therefore outran the chariot before his eyes, through all the torrents of rain and tempest, till he came to the entrance of Jezreel.


* * * * *


The apostle James, as we have before noticed, adduces this instance of Elijah’s success in prayer as an encouragement to us to persevere in prayer, and to believe that we also shall not fail of being answered, if we only pray in faith; because, “The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). And indeed, who can recount all the wondrous instances in which the truth of this declaration has been realized!


- Through prayer, Moses turned away the fierce wrath of the Almighty from Israel;

- with outstretched arms he smote the host of Amalek; and Manoah,

- by the voice of his cry, Manoah drew down a visible manifestation of the Divine presence in human form (Judges 13:8).

- Through prayer at Mizpeh, the prophet Samuel smote the army of the Philistines, and caused the thunder of terror to roll over Israel’s foes (I Samuel 7:9-12).

- Through prayer, Josiah the prince died in peace (II Kings 22:19, 20).

- Through prayer, fifteen years were added to Hezekiah’s life;

- The three men were preserved in the burning fiery furnace;

- To Daniel it was said by Gabriel, “I am come because of thy words.”

- At the prayer of the brethren on the day of Pentecost, the heavens were opened;

[[@Page:82]]- After they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and all were filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 4:31).

- Prayer burst the fetters of Peter, and broke open the doors of his prison.

- Prayer rebuked storms, healed the sick, and brought back the dead to life.


And what shall I say more of the power, the wonders, and the performances of prayer—the whole Scripture is full of them. And our church also would be full of them—all Christendom would be full of them, were there more prayer in our Israel, and more of this incense on our public, family, and private altar.


But prayer sleeps amongst us; for what we call praying, morning and evening, according to custom—the sleepy, dull, and heartless repetition of devotional language—does not deserve the name of Prayer. Keep those ceremonious compliments to yourselves; the Lord does not want such service. The confessions of the broken and contrite, the cry of the humble, the expression of real godly sorrow, the opening of our cares to our heavenly Father, the breathings of grateful love, the acknowledgment of dependence on the name of Jesus—these are the things which go to constitute true prayer.


Brethren, pray that the Spirit of grace and supplication may be poured out upon you; and then ask what you will, it shall be done for you. He that “cannot lie” has promised it. Only ask in his name, as the children of God, by faith in Christ Jesus, trusting in God’s faithfulness to his promises, and you will certainly succeed at last.


If six times, the answer should be, “There is nothing;” yet wait on. The seventh time, which is the proper and the Lord’s time, will give the answer you need. Too often we omit to notice God’s answer to own prayers, otherwise how often should we find, to our glad astonishment, that, at the time of our supplication, the commandment had gone forth to help us.


Therefore let the call to prayer be ever regarded by us as the invitation to an unspeakable privilege. “Continue instant in prayer” Pray in the Spirit, in the Holy Ghost, and not in your own self-sufficiency, and you will pray with power.


Pray for yourselves, pray for all, and pray with faith and expectation for in the immutable word, that word which must survive both heaven and earth, it stands recorded, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” (John, 16:23). Amen.

CHAPTER TEN FLIGHT INTO THE WILDERNESS

[[@Page:83]] “He that cometh from heaven is above all,” was the testimony of John the Baptist to the Messiah: and the course of our Lord’s ministry confirmed this testimony. Wherever we see the Saviour appearing and acting, in the narrative of the Gospels, the impression irresistibly forces itself upon us: “Here is one greater than Moses and all the prophets and apostles—here is one, who is separate from sinners, and above every creature— one, who came down for a short time to our world, as into a strange country; but whose peculiar residence is on the throne of glory and majesty.”


We are convinced that no mere man could have acted as he did, however divinely commissioned. Miracles as great as his were wrought by the apostles and prophets; but the manner in which they were wrought by him, and by them, exhibits an immense distinction between the one and the other. They, with all their derived powers, showed themselves to be but men . Christ evidently acted by his own independent power and authority: he raised the dead, cast out devils, healed the sick, controlled the elements, fed the assembled multitudes with a few loaves; all by his own inherent will, without any appearance of that dependence which constituted the very strength of his servants who wrought miracles in his name.


His very prayers were expressions of his will; and we see him on every occasion as the Holy One of God, entirely distinct from all created beings. Yes, he is above all: and, great as was the prophet Elijah, his infirmities serve to remind us how infinitely inferior everyone is to the all- perfect Prophet, Priest, and King, our Lord Jesus Christ.


“And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword.


“Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (I Kings 19:1-4).


[[@Page:84]]The man of God is again called away from public activity and reformation, and his path loses itself once more in the solitudes of a wilderness. What now befell him served for spiritual exercise to himself. The torch is shaken, that it may afterwards glow the brighter, and the refiner of Israel must himself undergo additional trial and purification.


We have here to notice, I. Elijah’s persecution; II. His flight; III. His dejection.


I. Our imagination can picture Ahab now arrived at his palace at Jezreel, which appears to have been his summer residence, on account of its agreeable situation.


We are certain that Jezebel, his queen, could not have been indifferent as to the issue of the great contest at Carmel; and we may well suppose that she was expecting, with impatience, the return of the king.


We have seen that he returned at full speed, in a violent rain; and it is easy to imagine him hastily alighting from his chariot before the palace, and hurrying into the apartments of his imperious consort, to announce to her the wonderful occurrences he had just witnessed.


Elijah meanwhile remains in the neighborhood, awaiting the issue of the great events which had been brought to pass. His hopes were probably at this time raised high; perhaps he even promised himself an immediate return, both of prince and of people, to the God of their fathers.


Ahab, full of the tidings of these strange events, “told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword.”


We can imagine with what emotions he would enter her apartment, and say,


“The Tishbite has triumphed! Fire from heaven has confirmed his word. Upon his prayer, with my own eyes I have seen flames fall from the skies, consume the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and lick up the water in the trench. All the people can bear witness to it. They fell on their faces, and cried out, as with one voice, that the Lord is God. The priests of Baal were slain; Elijah and the people have destroyed them, and their blood is flowing in the brook Kishon. They were laughed at as liars and impotent deceivers. Their authority and their worship is gone forever. There is universal enthusiasm for Elijah. He is a prophet of the living God. The miracle on Carmel has placed it beyond a doubt, and these heavy rains completely confirm it. At his command they fall; he closed heaven, and he has now opened it again.”


In some such manner as this we may suppose the king communicating the tidings to Jezebel and then breaking off in the midst of his narrative, as if he had been thunderstruck. On what account? Alas, he sees the features of his queen gather blackness like a storm.


[[@Page:85]]The weak king, as one “whom Jezebel his wife stirred up,” for thus the sacred historian speaks of him, is evidently completely under her influence; and when he perceives the effect his narrative has upon her, his opinion is quite changed; he begins to take another view of the wonders at Carmel, as also of Elijah himself. Jezebel resolves to gratify her blood-thirsty revenge, and she is the adored mistress of Ahab’s affections.


The deluded monarch appears not to have dared to think differently from Jezebel his wife. He appears as a lamentable instance of one who, though not totally insensible to the voice of truth, continues a wretched slave to the father of lies. His heart was given to Jezebel, and her affection is the price to which everything else was to be sacrificed. On her behavior to him was all the happiness of his life suspended. He was the sport of her tempers, and she exercised over him the most unlimited control. Pliant, like clay on the potter’s wheel, and capable of taking any form, he was always ready to be what she was pleased to make of him. Sold by affection, under her influence he soon lost the last remains of manly steadfastness; and, before he was aware, his own individuality was so much sunk in that of his own proud and imperious mistress, that he heard only her ears, saw with her eyes, and felt and thought only with her.


A great many persons, in every age, are thus led blindfold by human influence. The claims with which the prince of darkness binds mankind to his yoke and banner, are not always the grosser vices and lusts: he secures thousands of souls to himself and to hell, by attaching them with the silken cords of a tender affection to persons who have taken a decided part with the enemies of the cross of Christ.


Now, whatever the bond may be, whether paternal, filial, conjugal, or social, the effect is the same. The influential person or persons rule with irresistible power, and the poor captive soul thinks not for itself, has no firmness or independence; friends and party govern it altogether, and this in spite of the most distressing convictions. Nor is it by perverted human affection alone that men are kept back from the truth. There are others, and not a few, who are equally far from the kingdom of God, by reason of the homage they pay to human intellect, either in themselves or others.


The corrective of all these different sorts of error would be a heartfelt belief of those plainest declarations of the Gospel:


- “Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:19, 20).

- “He that cometh from heaven is above all” (John 3:31).

- “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12.

- “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14: 6).


And you who exercise influence over others, take heed that you prove not, in this respect, the agents of the great enemy of souls; for if through you any “weak brother perish,” “his blood will be required at your hands.” Remember, that whoso destroyeth a soul, “Him will God destroy.”


[[@Page:86]] Woe, then, unto those men of talent and acquirements, who, with revolting ingratitude, transmute the gifts and abilities which God has vouchsafed to them, into weapons of darkness; who, under the influence of the great deceiver, assault the most sacred things of God.


Woe unto those much admired rulers of literature, who, in wicked self-deification, use the power they possess over the minds of men, to rivet more firmly the bonds of infidelity and hostility to Christ upon the neck of the present generation; and who exert their genius in preparing those intoxicating notions and antichristian systems which delude themselves and others to their destruction.


Woe unto those brilliant heads in laurel crowns, that cover the kingdom of sin with fantastic enchantments, and overturning every sacred restraint, implant the horrible delusion in the mind, that he sinneth not who only contrives to sin poetically and elegantly.


Woe to those whose voices give the tone to the world, who have sufficient means for becoming the Ezras and Nehemiahs of their time, but who are a pestilence to the age they live in, by darting forth their wit in seductive and blasphemous falsehoods; and abuse the weak understandings of those who hang in admiration upon their lips, in order imperceptibly, under the pretence of superior light, to scatter sparks of rebellion against the Lord and his Anointed.


Woe, woe unto these betrayers of mankind! Their part will soon be acted. A time is coming, when, from their very lips that now satiate them with their plaudits, only the dreadful thunder of furious execrations will meet their ears; and when the very hands which now crown them with laurel, will be extended towards heaven against them, to draw down upon them the lightning of an eternal curse. Be not deceived! mistake not the present course of things for the final decision.


That decision will be pronounced by Him whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and who weighs with other scales than those of the deluded world, which only pays homage to external glitter. Your glory has its season and its period, like the flower of the grass. “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away” (I Peter 1:24).


But to return to Jezebel. The fire of hell is kindled within her; James, 3:6; she thirsts to avenge the blood of the priests of Baal. In her judgment, better would it have been that the whole nation had perished with hunger and drought, than that such a triumph should have been prepared for the prophet and his God. The showers of blessing that now returned to soften the clods of the field, cannot soften her obdurate spirit.


Well would it for the world if no such characters still remained in it: but consider, my brethren, in how many Peaces the triumph of the Gospel increases the opposition of unbelievers. What scoffing and ridicule at the outpouring of the Spirit; and what contempt of piety and conversion to God are vented by many their writings and discourse! The voice of Jezebel is virtually regarded by many as the voice of truth; and this in our accredited journals in our refined circles and assemblies, in our poetry and philosophy, nay, in the chairs even of divinity professors, and in many, very man pulpits. But Woe unto the spirit of Jezebel age!


[[@Page:87]] That Woe has been pronounced Christ himself, and is recorded in the last book of the sacred volume. “Behold, I will cast that woman Jezebel into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, and I will kill her children with death” (Revelation 2:22, 23). This is their end.


Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, has now sworn by her gods that Elijah shall die. But the Lord, who can bind the unicorn with his band, and can put a hook in the jaws of the leviathan, will now interpose to preserve Elijah. “He who taketh the wise in their own craftiness,” and “infatuates the counsel of princes,” has only to leave Jezebel to the madness of her own evil passions, and, lo! she so imprudently forgets herself, as to send and apprise the prophet of her murderous intention against him. This was, of course, the very defeat it. “Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time!”


Elijah hears the message. What means it? Does it mean indeed that all his labors and conflicts are to issue in his own disappointment and death? Is this the conversion of Jezebel, and Ahab, and of Israel, which he had hoped for? Alas, what a bitter draught for the soul of this man of God! Who shall comfort him at this lamentable turn of affairs? Certainly he had never received a more painful stroke upon his spirit than this and if his faith steers clear amid such rocks without shipwreck, it must be owing to the support and guidance of an Almighty hand.


But does the Lord take any pleasure in frustrating our hopes, and leading us to despondency and doubt? O no; far be it from him! “He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him.” The hopes he raises in us he will fulfill; only we must not think to prescribe to him the time or the manner in which he shall do it. He will never suffer his servants really to “spend their strength for nought and in vain.”


When therefore they seem to be frustrated for a time, it is only that they may learn that their success is not “of him that willeth nor of him that runneth.” He finishes all his works and crowns them all, but he does it in his own “mysterious way.” He suffers discouragements and impediments to arise, that his wisdom and power may be hereby the more manifest, and that the creature may learn that “this is the Lord’s doing.” Nothing, therefore, which we engage in for his glory, shall be eventually unsuccessful; but then “the Lord alone must be exalted.”


Behold, my friends, such are the ways of God! Set then your minds at rest respecting all present difficulties; only keep in the way of duty, and commit yourselves to God. He will be able, at the proper time, to solve every difficulty. Reserve your judgment for the final issue, and remember that “the beauty of a thing,” as a primitive father observes, “appears at the moment its maturity, which God waits for.


He that tastes the blossom instead of the fruit, will pass a wrong judgment upon it. He that would limit his idea of the beauties of vegetation to their appearance in the winter season, would judge very blindly.” Yet how often do we conclude thus hastily as to the ends of God’s providential government and disposal of human affairs!


[[@Page:88]]II. Let us now follow Elijah in his proceedings upon receiving this alarming message


“When he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah!”


In this instance, Elijah’s faith appears in some measure to have failed him. The very words of the sacred narrative seem to give us a significant hint respecting his state of mind just then. For the words are, “When he saw that.” What did Elijah see? Not God’s promises, aid, power, and faithfulness; these at least only dawned upon him in the background, with broken and feeble rays. But in the foreground very different things did he see: namely, the infuriated Jezebel threatening his life, and all the horrors of a cruel death. Instead of soaring above these as on eagle’s wings, and looking down upon them with sublime composure as on former occasions, the pressure of human terror seems to have been too strong for his mind, especially as backed by the disappointment of his public spirit on Israel’s account.


So “he arose and went for his life:” or, as others have paraphrased it, “he arose and went whither he would;” which serves further to intimate the obscurity of his course and the uncertainty of his steps. He had at this time no express divine direction as to whither he should go. Hitherto his way had always been marked out for him most distinctly by his Lord; but not so now. There was no particular divine word to serve him for a staff on this journey; no distinct commission, Remove hither or thither; do this or that! shining before him like a lamp, giving wings to his feet and firmness to his steps.


He went forth into the wide world in uncertainty, distracted by doubts, and unaccompanied by the consoling consciousness that he was taking this road for God; since he went it only for himself, and for the sake of his own life; and verily this thought was not much calculated to relieve his oppressed mind.


How pleasant and comfortable is it to pursue those paths, however rough and thorny, in which we feel assured the Lord has commanded us to walk! How joyfully is everything undertaken, begun, and accomplished, that comes to our heart by a Divine commission! We then run, and are not weary; we walk, and are not faint. But to have put to sea without knowing if we had not better have remained at home—how painful is the thought!


The mind of the prophet appears to have been in this painful state, when, perplexed about the ways of God, and grievously disappointed at present appearances, he left Jezreel without any consciousness of the Lord’s direction. The strange circumstance that the queen had thus imprudently disclosed to him her murderous intentions, might indeed have led him to conclude that the Lord thus warned him to flee for his life; but this was only a human inference, and no clear divine declaration.


But though the Lord may thus permit us, like Elijah, to go whither we will, without giving us any plain intimation by his providence, yet this is only a procedure of his wise and tender love. For hereby we come the better to learn what a blessed thing it is to know we are in the service of our God, and to walk at all times in the light of his guidance; like Israel, resting at his word, and at his Word striking their tents and advancing.


[[@Page:89]] And the more we learn to appreciate this happy state by experience of its contrary, the easier to us is the petition, “Thy will be done!” and the more earnestly shall we hearken to what the Lord God will say concerning us, and ask beforehand his counsel and direction in everything. Again, though God’s children seem to go “whither they will,” in uncertainty and doubt whether the Lord is pleased with them or not, still their faithful God accompanies them as before, even while he often keeps himself long concealed. He never leaves them, but he leads them, though by secret guidance, always to a happy end. This Elijah experienced. The Lord was with him on the way, however little the prophet was conscious of it. Let us only have patience, and before we are aware, the clouds will pass away, and it will be seen, as in the case of Elijah, that we have not gone in every respect whither we would, but that God has all along been leading us.


After Elijah had traveled for many days, and gone through a great part of Samaria and the whole of the land of Judea, he came at length to Beersheba as it were by chance; for he had as little to do at Beersheba as at any other place. Here, however, he could not remain; his spirit was too afflicted for common society. Even the company of his faithful servant was burdensome to him.


What could the servant do for him? He could not enlighten the darkness of his afflicted spirit, nor explain the mysterious providence which had disquieted it. Therefore, leaving him at Beersheba, he went alone into the solitary wilderness, into the very heart of it, a whole day’s journey, until the sun went down. He then threw himself upon the heath under a juniper tree, and sank down under the load of his melancholy thoughts.


III. Thick darkness hung over the prophet’s soul.


This is shown by his whole conduct. His close reserve, his desire for solitude, his planless wandering into the gloomy wilderness, all indicate a discouraged and dejected state of mind. Perplexed with regard to his vocation—nay, even with respect to God and his government—his soul lies in the midst of a thousand doubts and distressing thoughts. It seems tossed on a sea of troubles, without bottom or shore; and there appears but one step between him and utter despair.


There he sits, like an exile in the midst of the fearful solitude, as if cast out by God and the world; with his eyes fixed; full of gloomy and painful thoughts, in spirit, he is in the land of Israel, and in the midst of idolaters, the children of better forefathers. Oh the melancholy images which pass before him! the heart-rending scenes which are portrayed upon the tablet of his memory! He sees the people reeling on mount Carmel in their idolatrous orgies; in Samaria one idol temple rises up before him after another; the streets of Jezreel resound with blasphemies against the living God and his servants; and Jezebel is drunk with the blood of the few believers who fell as victims to her revenge. Such are the images which vividly and dreadfully present themselves to his mind. And wherever he turns his eyes amidst the horrible scene is no herald of God—no voice of a single prophet is lifted up against it. Perhaps now he thinks, “Why did I not remain? Why did I flee and forsake my poor people?” And if the distress of his spirit had not been already excited to the utmost, surely such thoughts as these must have tended to that effect.


The pious servant of God has had enough of this vale of tears. He is heartily weary of painful conflicts and fruitless labors; his soul longs for its rest. “It is enough!” sighs he to heaven, his eyes glistening with tears.


[[@Page:90]] “It is now enough, O Lord! Take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.”


Ah! who could have thought that Elijah could ever have become so weak and fainthearted—the man who seemed invincible in the armor of his faith, and superior to every storm! But to us it is consoling that even such an one as Elijah sat under the juniper tree, and thought in his despondency that he was unable any longer to bear the burden of life. “It is enough, O Lord! Why should I remain longer in this land of travail; My existence is useless. If my labors in Israel, in the midst of so many signs and wonders, have missed their aim, where shall they be of any service! It is enough! Why should I remain here any longer to witness the decline of thy kingdom? Therefore take me now, O Lord, my poor and troubled soul from me; for I am not better than my fathers. Certainly I hoped to see what many kings and prophets have desired to see; but I too have been disappointed. But who am I, that I should venture to desire such great things at thy hand; who am I that with presumptuous hope could promise myself a preference, for which saints, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear, have longed in vain? It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life!”


Thus spoke Elijah, distressingly excited in mind. It was from a strange mixture of feelings that his prayer arose. His soul was not in a state of harmony; and yet, in the midst of the discord, the sweetest tones arose which could be breathed from a human soul. His prayer was not like the peaceful and cheerful language of Simeon, “Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace!” nor like that clear, considerate, and calm expression of Paul, “I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ!” But yet it was not the same as that of Jeremiah, “Cursed be the day in which I was born!” nor as that of Job, “Let that day perish; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it!”


Elijah’s state of mind was more subdued, gentle, and therefore not so wretched as theirs. The discordant groans of vexation at fruitless labor and disappointed hopes, certainly sound too audible through his sighs; but at the same time his words breathe an affectionate sorrow for the poor people, and a holy grief at the apparent decline of the kingdom of God. It must be confessed that there is something in his prayer that looks like a complaint against the Lord himself; but we perceive, at the same time, that tears of regret are already pouring out to quench it in his heart, and that the very moment when the complaint escapes him he feels the sinfulness of it, and on this very account is filled with grief.


It cannot be denied, that in the expression, “It is enough!” we behold the anguish of a soul which, disappointed in its fairest expectations, seems to despair of God and weary of the world, and is impatient and weary of the cross; a soul which, like Jonah, is dissatisfied with the dealings of the Almighty; and by desiring death, seeks, as it were, to give him to understand that it is come to such an extremity that nothing is left but the melancholy wish to escape by death, from its suffering. Nevertheless a divine and believing longing accompanied even this carnal excitement in the soul of Elijah, which, thirsting after God, struck its pinions upwards to the eternal light; yes, the keynote of this mournful lamentation was the filial thought that the heart of his Father in heaven would be moved towards him, that his merciful God would again shine forth upon his darkness, and comfort the soul of his servant.


[[@Page:91]]Thus we see, in the prayer of our prophet, the elements of the natural life and of the spiritual life fermenting together in strange intermixture. The sparks of nature and of grace, mutually opposing each other, blaze up together in one flame. The metal is in a furnace, the heat of which brings to light much impurity; but who does not forget the scum and the dross at the sight of the fine gold?


“Lord, it is enough!” Ah, this little prayer is known also amongst us! How many a workshop, how many a chamber and bed of sorrow do I know, from whence this aspiration is almost incessantly ascending to heaven, in the midst of many tears and pangs!


- Many of these supplicants are mistaken, just as Elijah was. It is not enough yet.

- Many a faithful laborer has yet to learn that his labor is by no means in vain in the Lord, although he thinks it is.

- Many a righteous one shall yet see light arise here below, which, contrary to the express promises of God, he thinks is forever extinguished.

- Many a broken instrument will the Lord use again for his work, before he takes it away into the land of rest.

- Many a troubled sufferer, before he departs, shall again take his harp from the willows, and sing thanksgivings to Him whose counsel is wonderful and his ways mysterious, but who doeth all things well.


And then it will indeed be “enough.” Ah, who is warranted yet in saying, “It is enough!” It is only enough when the Lord saith it. And if you have still to remain for years in the furnace of affliction, be assured that you will eventually acknowledge, with joyful acclamations in heaven, that then only was it enough, and not a moment earlier, when the Lord stripped you of the garments of your pilgrimage and took you unto himself.


One word more. If at any time you feel disposed again to say, “It is enough,” and that you can bear the burden of life no longer, do as Elijah did, flee into the silence of solitude, and sit under—not the juniper tree—but under that tree whereon the incarnate Son of God was made a curse for you. Here your soul will assuredly find sweet refreshment; yes, from Christ’s acceptable offering to God. He is a hiding-place from the storm, a covert from the tempest, a shadow from the heat, as rivers water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.


Whether it be true or not which is related of the juniper tree, that no serpent ventures near it, we can say this in a better sense of that “tree of life” under which we encourage you to take refuge. Here the viper of discontent will not fasten upon you, nor the “old serpent” inject the poison of murmuring against your soul.


At the sight of the cross, you will no longer think of complaining of the greatness of your sufferings; for here you behold sufferings, in comparison with which yours must be accounted a light affliction, which is but for a moment: here the righteous One suffers for you—the just for the unjust. In the view of the cross, you will soon forget your distresses; for the love of God in Christ Jesus to you, a poor sinner, will absorb all you thoughts.


[[@Page:92]]Under the cross, you are prevented from supposing that some strange thing is happening unto you; “the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his Lord;” and as the kingdom has been bestowed upon the Head, so will it also be upon the members.


At the foot of the cross you are preserved from impatience; for you cannot but rejoice exceedingly that what you are enduring is only a temporal suffering, and not the curse which fell so dreadfully upon your Surety.


At the foot of the cross, your grief will soon be lost in that joy and peace of God which drops from this tree of life into the ground of your heart, and the foretaste you will here obtain of heaven will sweeten the troubles of this life as with the breath of the morning, and before you are aware, will bring over you, as over Elijah, the feeling of a heavenly repose; yea, the cross itself will be transformed into such a medium between heaven and earth, that the most comforting: thoughts shall descend into your soul, and the most grateful thoughts shall ascend from your soul to heaven, like those angels of God seen in a vision on the plains of Bethel by the solitary and benighted patriarch Jacob.

CHAPTER ELEVEN VISIT UNDER THE JUNIPER TREE

[[@Page:93]] “Jerusalem is the city of the great king,” saith the Lord, Matthew 5:35. Where is Jerusalem? Where tears of mourning after God start into the eye; where the knee and the heart are bowed at the throne of grace; where the hands of faith are lifted to the cross, and lips of sincerity utter their prayers and praise—there is Jerusalem.


This is the lovely city of God, on whose towering heights the banner of the cross waves; this is the joy of the whole earth, and this alone of cities. There is nothing beautiful, nothing noble, and nothing worthy of regard but Jerusalem. Who would like to dwell in the wilderness of this world, if Jerusalem with its peaceful tabernacles did not stand in the midst of it? What is it makes this life of banishment tolerable, yea delightful? It is Jerusalem.


Jerusalem! O it is good to be within thy walls, to sit together as fellow-citizens according to the Privilege of the new birth; to sing together in the days of the Lord, that great is the glory of the Lord in the midst of us; to speak often one with another upon faith’s bright prospects that lie before us, to number up our joys with which the stranger intermeddleth not, or to place ourselves at the windows toward the east, and breathe the morning air of the everlasting day, and refreshing ourselves with thoughts of the blissful futurity that awaits us. “O Jerusalem, if I forget thee, let my right hand forget her cunning!”


- Where are the treasures of God displayed, and the jewels of heaven exhibited?

- Where burn the torches of eternal light, and where springs up the fountain of peace and joy which is inexhaustible?

- Where does the soul look into the opened books of life?

- Where does the true Israelite obtain the oil of joy from the flinty rocks?

- Where drops the balm which heals every wound?


Where, but in Jerusalem? They shall prosper that love, O Jerusalem! They shall go on from strength to strength who set their heart upon the ways Zion!


But if all this is true of the spiritual Jerusalem on earth, what shall I say of the Jerusalem which is above, which lies on the other side of the river of death, where the everlasting palm trees grow, and the still waters flow from the eternal hills, and angels sing to their golden harps among the trees of paradise.


[[@Page:94]] Thither we are journeying, we happy pilgrims, from Jerusalem to Jerusalem: whilst ye who love the world, and the things that are in world, are on your way to Tophet, to the vails destruction, to everlasting night, we are going to full and cheerful day, and on our staff is inscribed “The citizenship of heaven.” And if we sometimes appear to you as those that dream, and you see our eyes glistening with tears whilst looking at the far blue distance, it is because of our longing for home. And all you can say is, “They are weeping after Jerusalem!”


And who has built us the city, and who has made it so beautiful for us? Jerusalem is the city of the great King. “This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell!” saith he. He dwells there, and the city rests peacefully under the wings of his love. We are traveling to Jerusalem.


“And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God” (I Kings 19:5-8).


This narrative belongs to the children of God, especially to the afflicted among them. The Lord’s faithful care over his servants, especially in the season of clouds and darkness, is here displayed the most heart-refreshing manner. This Divine and gracious protection is made apparent,


I. In the answer to prayer, which the prophet receives; II. In the appearance of an angel, whom the Lord sends him; III. In the miraculous refreshments, of which he partakes; IV. In the delightful prospect which God opens before him; V. In the supernatural strength given him for his journey through the desert.


Let us devoutly meditate on these delightful manifestations of the paternal love of our God.


I. Elijah had wished for death, after being obliged to give up the hope of the regeneration of his beloved Israel


Life had now no longer any attractions for him. The love of life can bear up under the privation of many earthly endearments but it cannot survive hope. When Elijah sees this flower fading, he sinks, aria is weary of his existence. And if he had not been a man of God—who knows into what still more dreadful abyss than that of impatience and despondency he might have fallen!


It appeared as if the Lord had suddenly given up his work, and his prophet with it. The divine superintendence was concealed too deeply in the disguise of second causes for a mortal eye to penetrate through it. Nay, it seemed to have been withdrawn and to have left room for human vicissitudes—at least it seemed so to the prophet. He was unable, in such an unexpected turn of affairs, to discover the intentions of God. He found himself, as it were, in a dark labyrinth, without any candle of the Lord to shine upon his faith, or any clue to conduct him through it.


[[@Page:95]] And if we consider how such situations of the godly are always taken advantage of by the powers of darkness, and how the tempter doubtless assaulted the fugitive under the juniper tree with the fiery darts of distressing doubts and horrible suggestions, we can easily comprehend how even such a champion as Elijah could thus despond; and, in the deepest dejection and anguish of soul, cry to heaven, and say, “Lord, it is enough! Take now my life from me, for I am not better than my fathers!”


Such prayers, however, which ascend towards heaven more in the wild bursts of carnal passion than in the sacred fire of divine love, and which are not borne upwards to God upon the wings of faith and hope, but upon the gusts of natural excitement—such prayers the Lord is not wont to answer; yet he does hear, so merciful is he, the breathings of the pious soul, ascending through all this clamor of carnal feeling, and in spite of it.


Experience shows, that he is not willing to let his children finish their course in vexation and sadness. However violently the storms may rage around that spiritual life which is in them, he suffers it not to be swallowed up and drowned in the commotion. Their sky generally becomes serene again before they reach the harbor—if not temporally, yet spiritually.


Listen, ye wounded and sorrowful souls! Your hour of removal will not arrive till the Lord has first reconciled you to his providential government and gracious discipline, and compelled you cheerfully to acknowledge that “He doeth all things well!” A calm will succeed the storms and tempests of your life, although it may not be till the evening of your pilgrimage; and you shall be enabled to say, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace!”


Yea, you shall become willing to bear, even still longer, the cross after him, if it be the Lord’s pleasure. Your course will terminate—not tumultuously—no, but in the cheerful serenity of a sabbatical dawn, and in the midst of a radiance, beaming from the heavenly Zion, will your Divine Friend translate you to the joy of the eternal hills, that his guidance may be extolled not only above, but even here below, and his grace and faithfulness be glorified in the sight of your surviving brethren, and of an ungodly world.


This sabbatical morning had not yet dawned upon Elijah. It was now one of the darkest moments of his life, in which he seemed like a man who had fallen out both with God and with the world. The request which, in time of weakness and gloomy despondency, he had ventured to prefer before God, was denied him. His life was not taken from him. He must yet live to see glorious things and learn again to praise the faithfulness of Him whose promises are Yea and Amen; he must yet be brought to feel humbled and astonished at his former doubts and anxieties; to find the most pleasing solution of every apparent difficulty and contradiction in God’s dealings with him, and to be placed in such a sunshine of Divine favor as he had never before enjoyed. And then would be the time to say, “It is enough;” and the hour would come, when—not under a solitary tree in the dreary wilderness—no, but in splendid triumph, on a highway, he should be carried directly over the dark valley into the land of everlasting rest.


O that we were not so impatient when gracious God occasionally denies our requests!


[[@Page:96]]How kind it is, with respect to our real and best interests that the Lord gives us according to his will, and not according to our own; and that he condescends graciously to guard us against the attainment of our poor and often foolish wishes! We may rest assured, that whenever we pray without success that which we desire is not only not best for us but is either injurious, or at least inferior to what he really intends for us.


- How many a minister would never have experienced the Lord’s faithfulness crowning the labors of his servants, had he been called away from this life at the time when, gloomy despondency, he desired it!

- How many a Christian pilgrim would never have seen anything of the spiritual manna, and of the spiritual streams from the rocks, had God listened to him when, with fear and trembling, he besought him not to lead him into a desert!

- How many a brother would this day be unable to rejoice that the power of Christ has so rested upon him, if the thorn in his flesh, the messenger of Satan, had been removed at the time he entreated such relief with many cries and tears!


Take courage, therefore, my brethren! Believe that the denial which the Lord occasionally puts upon our requests will eventually yield us as abundant cause for praise, as the assent with which he at other times graciously crowns them.


Do not think the time too long which you have to wait. You may be ready to exclaim, “O Lord, make an end; it is enough!” But no, beloved brethren! You must first travel, like Elijah, through a desert unto Horeb, that you may there hear the “still small voice” of peace. There must first come things which shall compel us to exclaim, “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of face!” And after that, the end; then the Pilgrim’s staff is dropped—and the longed for “now” of good old Simeon is arrived, and we are “‘tabled to sing,


Thou needest, Lord, no more, To turn me o’er and o’er:

The clay at length has rest, Thine image is impress’d.


Elijah did not die—his hour was not yet come. Thus his petition remained unanswered, yet not entirely so. The prophet longed for rest. Rest he was to have, not however by the stroke of death, but by the boon of natural sleep. He lay down and slept under the juniper tree. It was indifferent to him where he lay—whether on a silken couch or upon the heath—under a thorn-bush or in a royal pavilion.


The burden of life was alleviated, the juniper tree lent him its refreshing shade, the inward tempest of his soul subsided, grief and uneasiness departed, tormenting thoughts gave place to sweet and spiritual rest, body and mind became completely renovated. Such intervals of rest from labor fall to the lot of all that bear the cross. Even in the midst of the desert our gracious God is able to provide for us a place of repose; the storm does not rage incessantly; the peaceful hours intervene unawares, and the burden upon our shoulders becomes for a while a resting pillow to our heads, upon which we insensibly gather recruited strength.


[[@Page:97]]At one time the Keeper of Israel sends us bodily slumber in the midst of our sorrows; and what a welcome guest may it not prove to us, particularly when spiritual conflicts threaten to confuse the senses and absorb the spirits! At another, pleasant dreams perform to us the ministry of angels; poor Lazarus is in thought translated into Abraham’s bosom, and lonely Jacob is borne aloft from his stone pillow into the opened heavens. At another season, a sympathizing Jonathan visits me in my outcast condition; and, by his affectionate conversation, imperceptibly removes my depression. At other times, some consoling truth of revelation is by a text or hymn suggested to my mind, and hope diffuses its mild and cheering light in the midst of my darkness.


In short, the very days of storm and tempest have their hours of repose and mercy, heretofore let no one be anxious, however steep and thorny his path, however dreary and rough his road. When his weary knees are ready to sink, God will know how to provide him a resting place, and he shall be able to say, “I laid me down and slept; I awaked, for the Lord sustained me.”


And although these may be only short pauses, still they remind us how easily he could, if he pleased, at any moment deliver us out of every trouble. And a believing assurance of this is sufficient to overcome every anxiety and fear.


II. The man of God lay and slept under the jumper tree


To all outward appearance he was as one forsaken, and, like the disciples in Gethsemane, “sleeping for sorrow.” Yet a Divine watch is kept over him. Grace, mercy, and peace are with him. Here we have a sensible demonstration given of the ministry of the elect angels about them that fear God, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation. An angel “touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.”


Here is one instance, among several which are given in the Holy Scriptures, of the pleasure enjoyed by angels in ministering to God’s saints on earth. Behold then, in this gloomy wilderness, the ministry of an angel of God, who finds an addition to his happiness in preparing help and refreshment for a servant of God in his distress and sorrow. O Israel, a people saved by the Lord, what people is like unto you in this world, wherever ye are scattered and dispersed, or in whatever age ye live! What glorious attendants minister unto you, even to the least heir of salvation among you!


Solitary as any one of you may seem in many a path of duty, that is the very situation where he is attended by company of the best and noblest kind; thus was Jacob attended at Mahanaim. And indeed it may be adopted as a general remark, that where the world closes against any servant of God, there heaven opens to him. What a wonderful mixture is there of poverty and dignity in the condition of the children of God, even as there was in that of Christ himself upon earth, to whose image and likeness all his people conformed.


The action of the angel, in waking the prophet and bidding him “Arise and eat,” may be spiritually applied to many a one among ourselves. Though the weary pilgrim stood in great need of bodily refreshment, he does not appear to have felt the want of it, and required first to be incited externally to make use of it.


[[@Page:98]]So an afflicted soul may often need nothing so much as the food of the Word of God; and yet, by brooding over his troubles, may go on for some time insensible of this want. Though he open the Bible, he may feel no attraction for the truths it contains, nor any desire for the benefit of Divine ordinances, and may be ready to ask, “What good will these things do me?” This a pitiable and melancholy condition; but the help of God arrives to relieve it, either by a suggestion immediately from his Spirit, or by the medium of a Christian friend, or of some apparently accidental, but in reality providential occurrence, that he should arise and eat; should take up and read, or go and hear the word of life. He now finds a spiritual appetite returned, and his soul is strengthened by the Word of God.


III. “And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again.”


Thus he appears to have been so well lodged and provided for here in the wilderness, as to leave him nothing more to wish for. Oh the tender compassion of God; for “so he giveth his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2). Yet how few learn to cast all their care and anxiety about temporal provision on Him who careth for them!


What a serious and difficult thing does it seem to many of us to practice that instruction of the inspired apostle, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” To “cast all our care on Him who careth for us,” appears, to blind natural reason, a perilous method of proceeding. But is not our reluctance to follow this direction a reason why we experience, in our own lives, so little of His aid, who ordereth all things both in heaven and earth, and who hath the hearts of all in his hand!


His remarkable interpositions in behalf of Elijah we are too apt to regard as prodigies of a golden age long since gone by; hence almost the only sounds heard in the tabernacles of the righteous, at present, are sighs and lamentations for embarrassments, disappointed prospects, and unsuccessful undertakings.


The bread and the water with which God nourishes souls in the wilderness, are the truths of his word and promises. But as the cake was baked on the coals for Elijah, and the water placed at his head in a cruse, so we need to have the truths of God’s word prepared for us by his Spirit, and set before us by his providence, that we may take the benefit of them for our spiritual refreshment and nourishment.


And how refreshing and strengthening do we find those truths, when God has again spread his table for us, and we again feed on the bread of life, by faith in our hearts, with thanksgiving, and refresh ourselves with the divine promises, and rejoice with renewed confidence in the divine favor! Then do we thank God for the season of hunger and sorrow through which we passed; it then seems to us as if we had never before feasted at such a passover; and we become more sensible than ever of the value of that bread of life which our gracious God has prepared for us. Hence we learn the goodness of God’s ways in suffering us for a while to feel hunger, or deadness of spirit.


[[@Page:99]] Elijah, apparently more asleep than awake, stretched out his hand, tasted the bread, drank of the water, and sank down again, weak and weary, and fell asleep. For that he fell asleep may be supposed from the angel’s touching him a second time. We, however, should have thought that his surprise would have been so excited, and his thoughts so set in motion, as to have rendered it impossible for him to fall asleep again immediately. But here is no appearance of surprise expressed. He partakes of the refreshment, not as if he were lying in a desolate uninhabited wilderness, but as if he were at home in his own dwelling.


If he was not in a half awakened state, he must have been absorbed, like Mary Magdalene at her visit to the sepulchre, in higher thoughts. This is no unsupposable case; and, spiritually applied, it is a very common one. Persons of weak faith, and under strong spiritual temptation, may hear the word of consolation, and receive it; but taking only a hasty draught of the living waters of promise, the enjoyment is soon gone again. It is however not without its use. If it effects nothing more, it serves to revive and confirm the persuasion, that He who can cast a ray of comfort into the benighted soul, is able at any moment to send into it the full day of peace.


The sleep of Elijah serves also to remind us of those who are for the most part spiritually asleep, and have never yet been thoroughly awakened. they eat and drink, or, in other words, they hear much that is good, they read the Bible, and are regular in attending the worship of God, yet everything seems lost upon them, and not the smallest decided proof of spiritual life is discoverable in them. Yet let no one venture to say, before their course is ended, that such persons have eaten and drunken in vain. They may suddenly one day prove the contrary to your face. The food they have received may at unawares be found effectually to have nourished them. Let all diligently use the means of grace.


IV. “The angel of the Lord” then “came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.”


Though God allows his servants to be tried beyond their own inherent strength, he never suffers them to be tried beyond what he himself enables them to undergo. He prepares and strengthens before he leads them to any conflict, before lays his cross upon them. When we enjoy days of special refreshment in spirit, it is generally a sign that new trials of faith await us, for which, through this refreshment, we must make vigilant preparation.


Elijah now “arose, and did eat and drink,” and his slumber and weariness disappeared. The word of the angel seems to have quickened his soul as much as the food had refreshed his body. The angel had spoken to him of a further “journey” the prophet had now to undertake: which was the same as telling him that God had a new commission for him, and that he was still on a career of which he had not yet seen the end even at a distance. It had seemed as if his own “heart” had “devised his way” into this wilderness; he finds that “the Lord directed his steps,” and was still directing them. He is again persuaded that God is present with him, and he springs up as a young roe, and no longer goes “whither he would,” but, in the name of his gracious God, he again sets out on his way.


[[@Page:100]] O how blessed is it, after going on for a season in uncertainty and darkness, sighing with David, “I am sorrowful and forsaken,” unexpectedly to discover some indubitable proof of the divine presence with us, some scriptural evidence that things are really different from what we supposed, that we are really walking in a path which God has marked out for us!


V. Elijah is now himself again; he has found God to be the lifter up of his head


“And he went the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb, the mount of God.”


He travels through the sandy desert alone; yet not alone, for God is with him. He is not anxious as to whither the Lord is directing him, or about the purpose intended by this strange journey. Forty days and nights he travels on, without rest or intermission, through the silent wilderness—a miraculous journey, which was performed in the strength of the food with which God, by his angel, had refreshed him. To help by many means or by few, or with no means at all, is one and the same thing to Him, who upholdeth all by the word of his power.


He, who multiplied the loaves and the fishes at his pleasure, could give to a little all the virtue of much. In Short, Elijah had no need, during the whole journey, of either refreshment or rest. The hot wind during the day did not exhaust him, nor the difficulties of the night fatigue him. Thus he bore about with him, in the renewed courage of his spirit, and in the unexhausted strength of his limbs, an abiding seal and pledge that the Lord was with him, and that the hand of the Almighty sustained him.


The desert, over which Elijah traveled forty days and nights, was the same through which the tribes of Israel traveled during forty years, under the convoy of the cloudy and fiery pillar. Surely this, if any, was holy ground. It had been traversed by the feet of the mighty, it was rich with the most stupendous associations of thought, and with the most interesting recollections. Here the whole miraculous history of the ancient fathers would revive before him in the liveliest colors. Fresh images and scenes from that age of wonders would recur to his mind at every step, and the very profound silence around him would assist in the consideration of the sublime things of which these spots had been once the theatre.


As often as he descended into a green and palmy vale, he alighted in spirit upon some resting- place of his fathers. As often as the shade of an overhanging rock received him, it was as if the incense of the sanctuary breathed around him; for the prayers of the pilgrims of God had hallowed these shades. Here or there, he would think, perhaps Moses had rested and taken counsel in the sacred circle of his elders; and the leader of Israel would still seem kneeling before the Lord, and speaking to him, “as a man talketh with his friend.” Thus one heart-elating thought would follow another. The history of the forty years’ journey would attain a form and a vitality beyond what he had hitherto realized. At one time he would seem to be gathering the manna with the ancient fathers; at another, to be standing with with the wounded before the brazen image of the serpent, and feeling with them the return of health. Presently he would be in spirit at the altar which Moses built, and called it “Jehovah-Nissi,” the Lord my banner; and then again he would hear the desert resound with loud thanksgivings and solemn hymns of praise to the faithfulness’ and truth of Jehovah.


[[@Page:101]] Every new scene on which he entered, would bring before him some new event and feature of those journeyings which were irradiated with the glory of God; and whatever consolation and encouragement is comprised in these histories, would rush upon him with sublime and overwhelming wonder, or exhilarate him with a ring of hope and joy, that seemed to give wings to his feet, and banish the last remains of fear and care from his spirit.


Assured that he was pursuing his way under the shadow of the same Almighty hand which once covered the whole host of Israel, he would cheerfully pursue his journey, not doubting that he was led by the right hand of Him who under the juniper tree had given the sign for him to depart, and had endued his feeble frame with a strength which no toil or fatigue of the long journey was able to diminish; and that as soon as the end was attained, he should be bidden to rest and lay down his traveling staff in peace and safety.


What a blessed gift is faith to the children of God! Its wondrous power deprives privations of their horrors. That which is distant it brings near; it develops hidden things, and awakens past events to new life. It merges the gloom of the present into the bliss of the future, and paints the sky of many a departing sun with the dawning radiance of a better world.


In the midst of sublunary changes, it anticipates a peaceful paradise. It peoples our bereaved family circles with holy and heavenly company; associates both worlds in close connection, and unites things past, present and to come. In its light, the sacred narratives seem acted over again, and our own personal history becomes a sacred record of Providence. It has the power of realizing the dead as if they were alive; the ancients are our contemporaries, although their ashes repose in the sepulchre for six thousand years. By its voice they still converse with us, although to human ears they speak no more; by its realizing aid they visit us in our darkness with kindness and consolation; by its light we see a cloud of them as witnesses encamped around us; and whatever grace they experienced is, through faith, appropriated to ourselves.


It nourishes us with the promises made to Abraham; it sustains us with the strong consolation of the oath divinely sworn unto Isaac; it gives us the staff of Jacob to support our steps; it enables us with Moses’ rod to divide the sea, and with David we leap over the wall and rampart! O faith, thou door-keeper of every sanctuary, thou master over all the treasures of God! May he that is thine Author draw near unto us; and he that is thy Finisher incline himself towards us!

CHAPTER TWELVE ARRIVAL AT MOUNT HOREB

[[@Page:102]] Many a true Christian has enjoyed luminous intervals in his life, which may be called his moments on Tabor. Such an interval was that experienced by Moses, when, overpowered by holy zeal for the Honor of God, and carried away by the ardor of a superhuman love, forgetting himself, he broke out, in the astonishing words:—“Yet now if thou wilt forgive them their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book!” And such, if we follow the common translation of the passage, Romans 9:3, appears to have been the case with the apostle Paul, when he said, he could wish that himself were accursed from Christ for his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh. If our cool, sober, calculating people of the present day are unable to comprehend ecstatic expressions like these, it is no wonder, neither is it any proof that holier men were not sincere in their wonderful desires.


An infant is incompetent to enter into the ideas of a courageous and valiant warrior; still there were such men as Gideon and David. Even Moses or Paul, after the Divine ecstasy of the moment was over, might feel astonished at the elevation to which their souls had been raised. For in such moments they were transported very far above their ordinary feelings.


You know, besides Paul and Moses, a third who was all along actuated thus; who said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” He actually carried his desire into effect: He was willingly “made a curse for us.” Many who call themselves Christians shake their heads at this truth; they do not believe that the love of the Lord Jesus went so far as to undergo the penalty belonging to the sins of the world. Were these adversaries of the atonement in the right, it would follow that the disciples, Moses and Paul, were above their Master in charity to Mankind. Therefore, from this very love on the part of his disciples, we can show that they are in the wrong. For, from whom did those disciples derive their fervor of love? Was it from themselves? Certainly not! It was from their Saviour’s fountain of love. Out of his fullness did they receive. As then the stream is, such must the fountain be; and what we perceive in the copy, must be found in the original. There is therefore a love in the heart of Jesus, which could desire to become an anathema for sinners; else how could such a love have been found in his disciples?


The recollection, however, of such love as this, in Moses or in Paul, is not altogether advantageous to the prophet Elijah, in comparing the scene of his life which we are now about, to contemplate for it contains a striking contrast to the conduct of those two saints.


[[@Page:103]] “And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake” (I Kings 19:9-11).


Here we have the man of God again before us, in circumstances which are overruled to increase his humility and experience the life of God in his soul. The particulars which this portion of Elijah’s history brings before us are well worth our attentive consideration.


Here is,


I. The night’s lodging in the cave; II. The Divine reproof; III. The prophet’s complaint; IV. The direction to appear before the,


I. The prophet’s efforts to restore Israel to the faith of their fathers had apparently failed


The mighty miracle on Carmel seemed to have produced no other fruit than redoubled hatred on the part of the inveterate idolaters: Jezebel’s murderous intentions had been brought to ripeness by this event. The prophet having been informed of this, fled without Divine direction. “He went whither he would, to save his life.” His distress increased with every step, and reached its height upon his arrival in the wilderness. He thought himself forsaken of God; in having become weary of life, he prayed for death; whereupon God, by an angel, sent him refreshment in body and spirit. He learnt that he was still conducted of God, and that the divine thoughts towards him were thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give him an expected end. Jeremiah 29:11. In the strength of the food of which he had partaken, and of the joyfully surprising angelic message, he entered upon the “hard journey,” and traversed the desert for forty days and nights, with high expectations of the result, and of the end that should terminate these solitary wanderings.


Now, when the forty days are drawing to a close, he sees in the azure distance a rocky mountain glistening before him, which soon becomes better known to him by its peculiar appearance and remarkable summits. It was Mount Sinai, towering like a magnificent temple. Another height near it appeared like its antechamber; it was lower than the former, but as boldly formed, and as wild and rocky. This was Horeb. What must have been the sensations of an Elijah at first beholding theses sacred and ever-memorable heights! What elevating thoughts and delightful hopes might then have engaged his mind! Here, he might suppose, God could again meet him in all the glory of his benignity, and unfold to him truths respecting the restoration of Israel which would change his mourning into rejoicing, and gird him with gladness.


[[@Page:104]] - As it was on Horeb that the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Elijah would in a lively manner be reminded of the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush, and would be refreshed in expecting it for himself.

- As it was the rock of Horeb was smitten and yielded a miraculous supply of water to the hosts of Israel, Elijah would here think of a water which would refresh and invigorate his soul.

- As it was on Horeb that the uplifted hand of the man of God prostrated the hostile strength of Amalek, and gave Joshua his glorious victory over the armies of the aliens, Elijah perhaps might reckon upon hearing from Horeb the sentence upon Ahab and Jezebel which would put down blasphemy and the destruction of souls in Israel!

- On Horeb God renewed his gracious covenant with his people, after he had delivered them from the iron furnace of Egypt; and Elijah might expect a renewal of his covenant with the Lord, fresh assurances and promises respecting his work of reformation.


Elijah being arrived at the mount of God, we may further imagine him climbing the rocky ridges to its summit with feelings of profoundest veneration. His feet stand upon Horeb, and doubtless his spirit prays in fervent expectation of further communications from the Lord. He would naturally experience alternations of hope and fear. He cannot but think that the Lord has conducted him to Horeb, yet he knows not wherefore, at least on what particular errand.


He is in an almost indescribable solitude. Nothing but rugged layers of stone, one above another, around him, and tangled thickets, with here and there a melancholy cypress or a gloomy tamarisk. Also, the devout wanderer might be at a loss what to think of his situation, and feel as if he were banished from the whole world! No trace of any human being is to be perceived.


The horror of this lonely, forsaken situation would be augmented by the approach of night. Ought he to travel on? He cannot do it. He feels the limit of his journey to be assigned him here. The strength which bore him through the desert, perhaps, has forsaken him; and, no less so, the cheerful spirit and the courage to proceed, and therefore nothing is left him but to seek out some retreat which may shelter him from wild beasts and poisonous serpents. He wraps his mantle around him, creeps into a gloomy cave, of which there are many on this rocky mountain, and lies down in order to pass the night in this melancholy lodging. This was, probably, one of the most anxious nights of his life; for, instead of enjoying the cheering manifestations of the Divine presence, or realizing any of the high expectations he might have indulged on his miraculous journey to Horeb, he was obliged, in most comfortless outward circumstances, to bury himself in the horrors of a desolate cavern. It may be easily supposed that no sleep could close the good man’s eyes that melancholy night.


Satan, too, would not be inactive in his attempts against so decided an enemy, but would summon all his strength to overthrow the faith of the hard-tried prophet and to wound him with his fiery darts. For the circumstances in which Elijah was now placed would give to the father of lies great advantage in tempting him to doubt and distrust the love, and word, and promises of God, as if the Keeper of Israel himself could sleep, or, if not, could delight in chastising and trying his servants. “Where is now thy God?” might, be suggested to Elijah. “Where is now thy boasted happiness in his service?” And who knows whether the prophet was still ready for the conflict, or took the field fully armed, with cheerful courage, to resist such wiliness of Satan.


[[@Page:105]] This at least we know, that if the invisible arms had not held him, which were wont to uphold him, especially when he was least aware of it, the temptation of despair would have swallowed him up.


II. Elijah takes up his abode in the cave


He thus further experiences that God’s ways with his servants lead to mortification and total self- denial. While he is there, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him,


“What doest thou here, Elijah?”


Elijah at once recognizes the voice of the Almighty. But what an unexpected question was this! What a contrast to the expectations he had probably carried with him to Horeb! Perhaps he had thought that the whole journey from Samaria hither had been a Divine path, and that the Lord himself had called him to Horeb in order to enrich him there with spiritual enjoyments. And now such a salutation, or rather such an alarming inquiry! It must, however, have served to undeceive him, and lead him to consider the state of his heart. It placed before him the arbitrariness of his flight from Jezreel. It reminded him especially of the weakness of his faith; it must have made him ashamed, and have incited him to the profoundest humiliation.


When troubles come upon us, and we are disposed to lament over disappointed hopes and undertakings, God is gracious in making known to us our infirmities and sins, which are in one way or another the occasion of every disquietude. Unless this is done, we are in danger of misunderstanding his dealings with us, and of distrusting his love and faithfulness. A sense of our own guilt and unworthiness is the best preservative against those pangs of the heart which Asaph speaks of, Psalm 73:21. As it serves to explain many apparently hard passages of the divine conduct towards us, so it prevents the peevish and complaining thoughts which I would often arise within us respecting the hardships of our condition. How satisfied do we then become! nay, how heartily glad and thankful when only a glimpse of forgiveness, a single ray of undeserved favor shines once more into our hearts! We seem as if needing nothing more to make us happy; we submit humbly and serenely under the divine will, and all murmurings are exchanged for contrite and thankful confessions. “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of face, because we have sinned against thee” (Daniel 9: 7, 8).


“What doest thou here?” By an inquiry of this sort, divinely applied to the conscience, many a one has been shaken out of carnal security for the rest of his life. Painful indeed has been the experience many a sinner when thus overtaken on the paths which lead to death. But this has sometimes ended in the most happy result; for men have thus, like the prodigal son, “come to themselves,” turned to their Father’s house and found a happy welcome there. But we may be even associated with the children of God, and yet the same question may surprise and alarm the conscience, “What doest thou here?” suggesting that we do not really belong to such society as we have mingled with, and may thus produce great distress and perplexity in the soul; leading it however to deep self-examination. It is also made the means of awakening sleepers in Zion, who are hereby aroused to spiritual conflict; and the unwatchful and careless are prevented from going further astray.


[[@Page:106]]Thus it acts as a means of separating them more entirely from the spirit and the ways of this vain world, and of attaching them more securely to the service of the Lord Jesus.


But, alas, how many among us are there, of whom, although they bear the Christian name, it is to be feared that they are wandering in the wilderness out of the way of God? O that the Almighty may this day meet them with the inquiry, “What doest thou here?” may bring them to their right minds, and guide them into that way of peace which hitherto they have not known!


III. The prophet, at this question, recollects himself


He answers, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts.” This, indeed, was true, and he could say with the Psalmist, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”


Alas, in the Laodicean character of the present day, how little is there of this spirit! Men can see and hear much that, is contrary to God, with an indifference that speaks but too plainly how lukewarm they are in his service, how unconcerned they are for his glory.


Where, alas, do we see that fervor with which the ancient saints, the prophets, apostles, martyrs, and confessors testified to the truth in their days? How earnestly did they cry day and night to God, that he would exalt himself in his own strength among the nations! Where is that self- devotedness which Moses showed when he prayed, “Yet if now thou wilt, forgive their sin— and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book;” where do we now find such fervent intercession for others? O pray, pray, my brethren, that the spirit of ancient wisdom, love, and zeal may again be poured out with awakening and reviving energy upon us!


“The children of Israel,” continues Elijah, “have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword.”


Now, if this be a sufficient cause for being zealous for the honor of God, how is it that we continue so unmoved? Why do we not glow with zeal for the Lord of Hosts? Are not the banners of rebellion against God waving openly enough around us? and are there not enough blasphemers and despisers, who have forsaken the covenant, in the midst of us? Must the name of God be still more openly profaned than it is already, in word and in deed, amongst us? And must the measure of iniquity become still more full, before we will wrestle with God, that he may exalt himself in the earth, and fill it with his glory? Is not this the reason of our lukewarmness, that we do not keep our own hearts with all diligence, out of which are the issues of life?


Personal and practical piety, real spiritual-mindedness, is a thing too little sustained by the diligent use of means in our closets. Is not this the true state of the case? Do we indeed give ourselves time to allow the fire of devotional love to kindle in our hearts? Or do we not suffer ourselves, after some few superficial performances in private, to be led away to other pursuits? How then is it ever likely that, in such a state of mind, we should be truly zealous for the Lord of Hosts, and for the spiritual interests of our brethren, or be able to say, with Jeremiah, “I am pained at my very heart;” or, “It was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and was unable to restrain myself” (Jeremiah 4:19; 20:9).


[[@Page:107]] Elijah says further, “I, even I only, am left.”


The only one, he means, on the field of battle; for he was not the only child of God in Israel; for the others had fled, or were hidden in the rocks.


“And they seek my life, to take it away.”


He does not disguise it, that to save his own life he had left Samaria and fled to the wilderness, but relates the matter with all sincerity and candor.


God is gracious to those who open their hearts to him, however it may reflect upon themselves. But however candid this confession of Elijah may be, it does not sound quite right. However much holy indignation it expresses at the general contempt put upon the name of the Lord, there is human chagrin and vexation mixed with it, and it betrays an undue excitement of natural feeling.


Moses, when he placed himself in the breach for his idolatrous people, and entreated the Lord to blot him out of his book if he would not forgive them, appears greater to us, and in a more glorious light, than Elijah does in this instance. For he seems to accuse his people with some natural vexation and vehemence and even to plead against hem before the Lord. Nay, more; his saying to God, how very jealous he had been for him, and then laying before him the fruitlessness of this jealousy and the unexpected and grievous result of his activity, seems to imply some complaint against God himself, as if he had said, “Lord, why hast thou done this to me? How couldst thou leave thy servant to be treated thus? How so forsake the work of thine own hands?”


The Lord, however, purposes answering their accusations himself; and vouchsafes him such a reply as will preserve him, all his life after, from similar mistakes.


IV. “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord”


This divine injunction, I could wish, in a certain sense, that you would also lay to heart. It has reference to all who are situated in some respects as Elijah. The cave from which he was bidden to go forth, may remind us of the darkness and perplexity in which our own hearts have involved us. Happy he who perceives it, and whose eyes are opened to see the spiritual darkness and corruption generated from his own bosom! But he must not think to bury himself in this. It would be perverse and injurious so to do. Many amongst us however have often done so; they have imprisoned themselves in the mere thoughts of their own hearts, and we hear nothing from some, but complainings of the deadness, depravity, poverty and helplessness of their souls: truths, all good and salutary in themselves, but wretchedly misapplied to paralyze every spiritual and benevolent exertion. O, go ye forth from such a cavern of darkness, and stand upon the mount before the Lord! You will find neither life, light nor peace in your own hearts. Go forth, in spirit, from your gloomy cell to the mount: behold the Lamb of God: look up to him who was suspended on the cross for the ungodly; contemplate his spirit, his love, his merits! It is this which makes the believer courageous, joyful, and strong; and imparts new life to his spirit.


[[@Page:108]] The same may be said to those who are troubled with evil thoughts, and incited to evil actions. He that busies himself in the painful consideration of such things, who lingers amidst the dark horrors of these temptations, looking only at the fiery darts which crowd upon him; he who stays in such a cavern as this, is liable to be swallowed up in despair. But let us go forth out of the cave; let us stand upon the mount before the Lord, where Jesus presents himself, having been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin, and we shall find him in all points able also to succor them that are tempted. In the mount, the Lord shall be seen as having “spoiled principalities and powers, as having made a show of them openly, and as ascended on high, having led captivity captive, and received gifts for men.”


Contemplate this mighty Conqueror, in whom you have also overcome; bring all your wretchedness before his throne, roll your burden upon him, and he shall sustain you; courage and strength shall be given to you; you shall have victory and triumph over the world, the devil and the flesh.


The same may be said to all who suffer under the pressure of temporal trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, disgrace or any other adversity. Do the waves of this world thus toss you? Look not with Peter at the storm, instead of looking to Him who can rebuke it; look not with Martha to the pit of corruption, instead of to Him who is the resurrection and the life; this is only to imprison ourselves spiritually in our own gloomy cave. There can be neither joy nor peace in doing this.


Go forth! Go forth! Stretch forth the hand of faith toward the mighty and outstretched arm of Divine love; spread the wings of hope; stand forth upon the mount whereon is laid the sure foundation of Zion. Hereby you will learn something of the paternal heart of Him, who, though his ways are mysterious, nevertheless doeth all things well, and you will gain a prospect of that better country where “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes”


Whatever our circumstances may be, to place ourselves on every occasion before the Lord, with an open heart, without reserve or guile, is the grand secret of happiness and peace this world. Yes, and when the outward man itself perisheth, and the eye grows dim in the shadow of death, the soul shall hear a voice behind it, saying, “Go forth, and stand on the heavenly mount before the Lord!”

CHAPTER THIRTEEN THE MANIFESTATION ON MOUNT HOREB

[[@Page:109]] The children of God in this world are in close and wonderful connection with Christ, their head, and with each other. This connection consists not merely in the unity of their sentiments, faith and conduct; the communion of saints is a deep and blessed mystery, and is very properly distinguished as one of the articles of the Christian faith.


Our blessed Lord speaks of believers as one, in a unity like that which subsists between the Father and himself as man. In various places of Scripture they are represented as composing one body, united to their glorious head, Christ Jesus. Thus Paul says, First Corinthians 12:26, 27, “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” “If one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.” He also extends this representation further still, and calls the union amongst them a mystery.


Now those to whom this mystery is in any measure unfolded, find it an invaluable treasure, O it is one of the most consoling, one of the most refreshing truths of the Gospel, that all who believe are one. Let the consciousness of this mysterious unity and fellowship accompany us to the scene which we are now about to contemplate, and lead us to rejoice in the glorious and gracious manifestation of God granted to the prophet Elijah upon mount Horeb, as an exhibition of kindness vouchsafed not to him alone, but to us also, as members of one body in Christ.


“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:11-13).


Need I say, my friends, that it is a majestic scene to which we are now approaching? It is an event as richly significant, and as abundantly consolatory as any we meet with in the annals of God’s servants.


Let us then,


[[@Page:110]] I. Consider it in its historical course; II. Inquire into its immediate object.


I. “Go forth,” it had been said to Elijah, “and stand upon the mount before the Lord”


The prophet hears it, and leaves his cave; and no sooner is he gone forth, than signs occur which announce to him the approach of the Almighty. The sacred historian here, indeed, depicts in simple language a most sublime scene.


The first sign was a tremendous wind. Just before, probably, the deepest silence had prevailed throughout this dreary wilderness; all is now in the most dreadful uproar about him. The mountain tempest breaks forth, and the bursting rocks thunder as if the four winds, having been confined there, had, in an instant, broken from their prisons to fight together. The clouds are driven about in the sky like squadrons of combatants rushing to conflict. The sandy desert is like a raging sea tossing its curling billows to the sky. Sinai is agitated, as if the terrors of the law- giving were renewed around it. The prophet feels majesty of the Lord; it is awful and appalling. It is not a feeling of peace, and of the Lord’s blissful nearness, which possesses Elijah’s soul in this tremendous scene—it is rather a feeling of distressing distance; “a strong wind went before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.”