Click here to join the effort!
OBADIAH’S EARLY PIETY
1 Kings 18:12. I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth.
IT is comfortable to reflect, that in the worst of times there are some who fear God, and that the state of religion is rarely so bad as it appears. The days of Ahab were peculiarly unfavourable to the existence of real piety in Israel: for, in addition to that king’s personal aversion to every thing that was good, he was stirred up by Jezebel his wife to destroy every prophet in the land: and so bitter was he against Elijah in particular, that he sought him in all the adjacent countries, and even exacted an oath of their governors that they could not find him. But in the midst of all this wickedness, there was one even of Ahab’s household, and he “the governor of his house,” who retained his integrity, and used all his influence to protect the servants of the Lord. This man, constrained in vindication of his own character to bear testimony to himself, was enabled to declare to the Prophet Elijah, “I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth.”
In considering the subject of early piety, we shall notice,
Wherein it should consist—
[We would not on any account disparage devotional feelings: but we must entertain some jealousy respecting them as a criterion of early piety. We know their immense value; — — — but we know also how susceptible of strong impressions the youthful mind is, on whatever subject it is occupied — — — and that the characteristic mark of a very numerous set of unprofitable hearers is, that “anon they receive the word with joy.” We must therefore look for some better and safer test of piety than this.
Nor would we by any means undervalue a clear knowledge of the Gospel. A view of ourselves as sinful creatures, altogether helpless and hopeless in ourselves, and a view of Christ as the only and all-sufficient Saviour of the world, and an habitual consciousness that we must receive every thing out of his fulness, all this, I say, is absolutely essential to the Christian character — — — but then it may all exist in the mind as a theory, without entering into the heart as a principle of life. Not only do the thorny-ground hearers evince this melancholy truth, but daily observation and experience compel us to acknowledge it — — —
There is however a test which is subject to no such uncertainties, namely, “the fear of God.” By this we mean a reverential awe of the Divine Majesty, a dread of offending him, and a determination through grace to obey every one of his commandments — — — This must be an abiding principle in the soul, operating as forcibly upon us in our most secret actions, as the presence of a fellow-creature would in reference to any thing which would expose us to universal execration.
Let it not however be supposed that we are now speaking of a slavish fear, arising from an apprehension of God’s judgments: we speak of a filial fear, which is excited as much by a sense of “his goodness,” as by a dread of his displeasure. And it is remarkable, that, when the Prophet Hosea foretold the piety that should reign under the gospel dispensation, and in the millennial period, he characterized it in the very way that we have now done: “They shall seek the Lord, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days [Note: Hosea 3:5.].”]
That we may be led to cultivate piety in early life, let us consider,
The great advantages of it—
“Godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come:” and the earlier it is acquired, the more will its inestimable value appear. Consider its use,
To the person who possesses it—
[When religion has acquired a just ascendant over a young person, it will determine his connexions; (he will not be unequally yoked with unbelievers as friends, and much less in that relation of life which death only can dissolve:) it will also form his habits, leading him to the study of the Holy Scriptures, to constant prayer, to holy watchfulness and self-denial, and to a conscientious regard for God in every thing that he does — — — It will also facilitate his attainments: it is scarcely to be conceived what difficulties they have to struggle with through life, who have spent their early days in sensual indulgences: but those who have been early trained in the exercise of self-denial are enabled with comparative ease to restrain forbidden appetites, and to mortify unhallowed affections. Not that a life of holiness is easy to any one: it is a constant warfare, as long as we continue in the body: but the more we exercise ourselves in it, the more effectual will our efforts be, and the more certain our victory.]
To the world around us—
[Early piety attracts particular attention, and produces great effects, in encouraging the young, and in putting to shame the old. Only compare the benefits which the world receives from one who has the fear of God in his heart, with the evils it derives from one who lives, as it were, “without God:” how many are instructed, and comforted, and edified by the one, whilst multitudes have reason to curse the day that ever they beheld the other! It is truly said by Solomon, that “one sinner destroyeth much good.” Yes, one sinner encourages and hardens many others in their iniquities, and places a stumbling-block in the way of all who desire to return to God: and, if he afterward have repentance given him from the Lord, he would in vain attempt to undo a thousandth part of the evil that he has done: many of his former associates in iniquity cannot be found; many are gone into the eternal world beyond a possibility of redemption; and if he were to warn all those to whom he could get access, the greater part of them would only laugh at him, and think him mad. All these distressing consequences of iniquity are avoided by him who devotes his early years to the service of his God: and perhaps, instead of having to reflect on the ruin that he has brought on others, he will find many in the day of judgment to whom his words and his example have been a source of good.
What may be done by a single person even under the most unfavourable circumstances, we see in Obadiah: no less than an hundred of the Lord’s prophets did he conceal and nourish at his own expense, and at the risk of his own life; when, without his interposition, they would all have been put to death. And though we may never be in a capacity to render such a public service to the Church of God, we may be the means of keeping many from destruction, and of saving their souls alive.]
Those who are fearing God in their youth—
[We rejoice that there are many Obadiahs amongst us, and perhaps some Timothys also, who even “from their childhood have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make them wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.” Happy people, and greatly to be envied, in thus consecrating to the Lord “the first-fruits” of your days! Regard not then the scoffs and ridicule of those who have no fear of God before their eyes. The day is coming when they will reproach themselves more than ever they reproached you, and applaud your choice far more than ever they condemned it [Note: Wisd. 5:3–6.].]
Those who have lost their youth without having yet obtained the fear of God—
[Ah! what have you lost! But blessed be God that you have not yet been given up to final condemnation. O listen to the voice of God, who says to you, “To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Learn to improve the present hour, for you know not how soon your day of grace may terminate, and all possibility of salvation be cut off for ever.]
DECISION OF CHARACTER
1 Kings 18:21. 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.
IF a heathen should visit this country in order to ascertain what our religion was, and whether it was such as it became him to embrace, he would be altogether at a loss what judgment to form respecting it. From what he saw and heard in our churches, he would form a most favourable conclusion: he would say, Those people worship one God: they approach him through one Mediator, who died for them on a cross, and now lives to make intercession for them in heaven: they receive from God a divine almighty Agent, whom they call the Holy Spirit; through whose gracious operations they are enabled to turn from sin, and to walk in the ways of righteousness and true holiness. They are certainly a holy people; for from time to time they entreat of God that they may be enabled to live a righteous, sober, and godly life, to the glory of his holy name. But if he followed us home to our houses, he would begin to doubt whether we had any religion at all amongst us. He would find no worship of God in our families; perhaps none, or at best a mere formal worship, in our closets: he would hear nothing about religion in our daily conversation: he would see nothing in our conduct that would distinguish us from the better sort of heathens, and much that the more decent heathens would be ashamed of. He would therefore conclude, that we had no fixed opinion about religion at all; that we did not believe our own creed; and that we thought people would be as happy without any religion, as even Christianity itself could make them.
Such was the state of Israel of old, except that there was an outward idolatry established amongst them, whereas the idols which we worship have their temples only in the heart. To bring the Jewish nation to a more consistent state, the Prophet Elijah expostulated with them in the passage before us; and, for their conviction, proposed to put it to the trial, whether Baal or Jehovah were the true God.
We do not intend to consider the text as connected with the history, because we reserve the history for a distinct discourse: we propose at present to illustrate and recommend decision of character.
Now decision of character ought to shew itself,
In our sentiments—
To form our opinions strongly upon doubtful points, or without sufficient evidence, is no part of that character which we wish to recommend: on the contrary, we would advise all to examine carefully every sentiment before they embrace it, and, when they have “proved all things, then to hold fast that only which is good.” But
The sentiments which we profess to hold, are not doubtful—
[As members of the Established Church, we hold that “there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.” We hold also, that “all who worship this God, must worship him in spirit and in truth;” and that it is not a mere bodily service that he requires, but the service of the heart, and the entire devotion of the soul. Respecting these two points, the proper object of our service, and the service which we are required to render him, we apprehend there can be no doubt at all. Whether we consult the precepts of the Gospel, or look at the examples of the holy Apostles, the matter is equally clear; we can have no doubt but that it is both our duty and our privilege to serve God, yea to serve him with our whole hearts — — —]
On these things therefore our minds should be fixed and decided—
[If we consult the opinions of those around us, we shall be continually wavering in our judgment. But it is not from the vain conjectures of men that we are to form our sentiments: let men speak as they will respecting the propriety of serving Mammon, and of being satisfied with mere forms of godliness; let them agree to call every thing else by the odious terms of fanaticism or hypocrisy; our judgment must not be in the least altered, unless they will undertake to convince us from the Holy Scriptures. The word of God is the only standard of true doctrine; and to it we must adhere, though the whole universe should oppose us. The number of Baal’s prophets gave them no advantage with respect to truth; nor were Elijah’s sentiments the more questionable, because he alone was found openly to maintain them: truth is the same, whether maintained by many or by few: and when we know what is truth, we should suffer no considerations whatever to invalidate its force, or to obstruct its influence.]
But decision of character must shew itself also,
In our conduct—
The only use of right sentiments is to regulate our conduct. When therefore we are convinced that there is a God who has a right to all the love of our hearts, and the service of our lives, we should then set ourselves to serve him,
[Lukewarmness is but ill suited to the service of our God. “We might as well be altogether cold, as neither cold nor hot.” We should be “fervent in spirit, while we serve the Lord.” Do we pray to God? we should “pour out our souls before him.” Do we render thanks? we should call forth “all that is within us to bless his holy name.” “Whatever our hand findeth to do, we should do it with our might.” The people who contended in the games, whether they ran, or wrestled, or fought, should be just representations of us: yea, inasmuch as our contests are more important than theirs, our exertions should be proportionably greater.]
[No man can engage heartily in the Lord’s service without finding much to try his courage. To be a thorough Christian, especially in some circumstances, requires as much intrepidity as to face an armed host. Many thousands there are, who could brave death on a field of battle, who yet could not endure scorn and contempt from an ungodly world. But in whatever way we may suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake, we should be ready to meet it: instead of being intimidated by the cross, we should rejoice and glory in it; and account death itself, in such a cause, to be rather an object of ambition than of dread. If only we be convinced that the Lord is God, we should serve him without the smallest concern about the consequences which such conduct may bring upon us.]
[We are as much in danger of drawing back through weakness, as of being turned aside by fear. There are many who have suffered much for the cause of Christ, who yet become “weary in well-doing.” But we must never think that we have attained any thing, as long as any thing remains to be attained. We must “forget what is behind, and reach forward to that which is before.” We must engage in the service of our God, not for a season only, but for life: and as long as life lasts, our motto must be, “This one thing I do.” “If we put our hands to the plough, and look back, we are not fit for the kingdom of heaven.”]
To recommend this decision of character to all who are journeying towards heaven, we observe, it is,
The easiest way—
[We know it is not easy to attain such a fixedness of mind and purpose: but, when we have attained it, our way is rendered far easier than when we are halting between two opinions or two courses [Note: Matthew 6:22-24.]. The man who has not a fixed principle is doubting and hesitating, every step he takes: but he who inquires simply, What is duty? and, What does my God require of me? has a plain path before him, and has nothing to do but to “walk in it.”]
The safest way—
[When a man is desirous of going to the utmost verge of what is lawful, and of conforming to the world as far as will consist with a hope of final salvation, he must often stand on very slippery ground; and it must be a miracle indeed if he do not one day fall. But he who, with a noble contempt of earthly things, is enabled to seek only what shall be most conducive to his spiritual welfare, stands at a distance from temptation, and, by “walking uprightly, walketh surely [Note: James 1:8; 2 Peter 1:10.].”]
The happiest way—
[Any deviation from the path of duty must of necessity weaken the testimony which conscience might give respecting the rectitude of our minds: and it is certain that God will not vouchsafe the witness of his Spirit to those whose hearts are not right with him. These sources of happiness therefore must be closed to those who are not of a fixed decided character. Indeed such persons have very little comfort in any thing: their regard for God prevents their full enjoyment of the world; and their love of the world renders it impossible for them to find any real delight in God. Their prospects of future happiness too are by no means cheering to their souls: for they have reason to fear, that God will not accept the service of a divided heart. On the contrary, the man “who follows the Lord fully,” enjoys now that peace of God which passeth all understanding, and looks forward with confidence to that day, when he shall receive the plaudits of his Divine Master [Note: 1 John 3:20-21.].
In every view, therefore, decision of character is most desirable: and it is better to maintain a holy firmness with Elijah, though we be opposed by the whole world, than to halt between two opinions, or to be attempting to reconcile the inconsistent services of God and Mammon.]
ELIJAH’S CHALLENGE TO THE PROPHETS OF BAAL
1 Kings 18:24. 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.
UNBOUNDED is the dominion which God exercises over the minds of men: “the hearts of kings are in his hands, and he turneth them whithersoever he will.” The heart of Ahab was exasperated against Elijah in the highest degree; insomuch that he sought him not only throughout his own kingdom, but through all the neighbouring kingdoms, in order that he might wreak his vengeance upon him. Yet, behold, now Elijah presents himself before him; and the hands of the infuriated monarch are tied; yea, the prophet sends him word that he is coming to meet him; and yet the king, who might have had a band of soldiers at his command, uses no means whatever to apprehend him. Moreover Elijah retorts upon him his injurious accusation, and tells him plainly, that he was “the troubler of Israel, by forsaking the Lord and following Baalim:” nay more, he enjoins the king to summon all the prophets of Baal to meet him at Mount Carmel; and the king obeys the mandate, as if he had been the subject, and Elijah the sovereign. When they were convened, the prophet appears in the midst of them all, unprotected and alone; yet can neither the king, nor the people, put forth a hand to touch him; so awed were they and restrained by the invisible agency of Jehovah.
The challenge which Elijah gave the worshippers of Baal on this occasion, is the first point to which we shall call your attention—
Neither Ahab nor his prophets would submit to the declarations of God’s word: of course, any appeal to the Mosaic writings would have been in vain. But the claims of Baal and of Jehovah might be tried by an appeal to miracles: to them therefore, doubtless by divine direction, he makes his appeal; and proposes, that “the God who should answer by fire,” should be acknowledged as the true and only God. Mark,
The test proposed—
[No proposal could have been more wise than this. By such a test as this, the matter might be decided without giving any undue advantage to the worshippers of Baal. On their side were the king, the court, the prophets; so that, if any thing could have been effected by means of a confederacy, no doubt they would have strained every nerve to gain their point: and he, being alone, would have been borne down, as it were, by the popular current: but here was no scope for fraud; no contrivances of theirs could counterfeit the sign proposed; nor could any doubt remain on the minds of the spectators when the sign itself should really appear.
Nor could any proposal be more equitable. The very idea of a God supposes, that he is one who can vindicate his own honour, and maintain his own authority; and that he will do so when a just occasion calls for it. When therefore the point at issue between Jehovah and Baal was to be settled for the satisfaction of the whole world, it was reasonable that there should be some display of omnipotence resorted to as the means of establishing their respective claims.
Of all tests that could have been devised, none could be more decisive than that proposed. Omnipotence alone could so control the elements, as to send down fire at the request of man. Satan indeed is called “the prince of the power of the air;” and on some occasions he has agitated the elements in a tremendous way. But his power is limited; and he can exert it only when, and as far as, God sees fit to suffer him. Could he have produced the sign in favour of Baal, doubtless he would have been glad to do so: but God’s own character was at stake; and no such permission could be given him.]
The issue of the trial—
[The worshippers of Baal prepared their sacrifice, and continued from morning to mid-day imploring from Baal the proposed evidence of his divinity. No answer coming to them, Elijah taunted them, and ridiculed their vain hopes — — — But they did not yet despair; yea rather, they renewed their application to Baal with redoubled earnestness, leaping upon, or around, his altar, and cutting themselves with knives and lancets, to mix their own blood with that of their sacrifice. But all their efforts were in vain: no voice, no answer came; and Baal was proved an impotent and senseless idol.
At the time of the evening sacrifice, the very hour when the sacrifice was offered at Jerusalem, Elijah repaired an altar of the Lord, which had been broken down, and laid the bullock upon it in order, and, to shew that there was no collusion on his part, poured water in great abundance on the sacrifice, and on the wood, and filled with water also the trench that was round about the altar, and then made his supplication to his God, imploring from him the appointed sign, for the establishment of his own honour, and for the conversion of the people’s souls. Instantly God answered in the appointed way; “a fire came down from heaven, and consumed not only the sacrifice and the wood, but the very stones of the altar; and licked up the water that was in the trench.”
No doubt now remained. The people in the first instance had approved the proposed method of determining the point; and now “they fell upon their faces, and exclaimed, The Lord, He is the God! the Lord, He is the God!”
Thus we see the triumphant issue of the contest, and the indisputable right of Jehovah to the worship and service of the whole world.]
We now propose to give a similar challenge to all who worship the idols of their own hearts—
That all men are by nature idolaters is certain; for they all without exception “worship and serve the creature more than the Creator [Note: Romans 1:25.].” The prophet speaks of men “setting up idols in their own hearts;” and what those idols are, we are at no loss to declare; they are “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life” — — —
Now we have before established the principle, that the right of any Being to our worship ought to be judged of by his power to benefit those who devote themselves to him. Even the worshippers of Baal acknowledged the equity of this saying in reference to it, “It is well spoken.” Let us then examine the claims of the world, and of Jehovah, by this test. Which of them ever has “answered by fire,” or ever imparted spiritual blessings to his worshippers? Which can communicate the blessing
[Behold the votaries of the world; What insight have they ever gained into any one spiritual truth? What do even the most learned amongst them know of the evil of sin, the beauty of holiness, the glory of Christ, or of a thousand other subjects connected with the spiritual life? Is it not found a truth, that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]?” — — —
On the other hand, is it not found, that the followers of Christ have the “eyes of their understanding enlightened;” and that “the things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, are revealed unto them by the Spirit [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.]?” Yes, it is as true at this day, as it was in the hour when our Lord himself declared it, that “God hath hid these things from the wise and prudent, and has revealed them unto babes; even so, because it seemeth good in his sight [Note: Matthew 11:25-26.].” He can have very little knowledge of the Christian world who is not acquainted with innumerable instances, wherein this assertion of our Lord is verified.]
[What lust have the votaries of the world been ever able to subdue? All, it is true, are not equally enslaved; but all are slaves to sin and Satan, though they do not all serve him in precisely the same way: as children of disobedience, they are under him as their god [Note: Ephesians 2:2.]; nor do any “recover themselves out of his toils, till Jehovah gives them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth [Note: 2 Timothy 2:26.]” — — — Indeed the people of the world themselves confess this; for, when urged to walk according to the commandments of God, they do not hesitate to vindicate their disobedience by saying, that the obedience required of them is impracticable.
But does not our blessed Lord and Saviour communicate strength to his followers, so that they are enabled to “over-come the world,” to “mortify the flesh,” and to “bruise even Satan himself under their feet?” Yes, there is armour provided for them, through the proper use of which they are made victorious over all their enemies; “nor does any sin retain its dominion over them” — — — They do indeed often cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of sin and death?” but they may always add, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”]
[The voice of inspiration has plainly told us, that “there is no peace to the wicked.” Their consciences indeed are often stupified, and even “seared as with a hot iron,” so that they are altogether insensible of their state: and this insensibility is often mistaken for peace: but the votaries of this world are strangers to that delightful feeling which results from a sense of acceptance with God, and an assured hope of dwelling with him for ever — — —
But the follower of Christ has “a peace that passeth all understanding.” “Being justified by faith, he has peace with God,” together with a “joy unspeakable and glorified.” This peace he has even when all his guilt is most present to his mind, and when death and judgment appear close at hand; because “he knows in whom he has believed,” and is assured, that “there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Hence he determinately obeys that injunction, “Thou shalt know no God but me: for there is no Saviour besides me [Note: Hosea 13:4.].”]
Such are, in some little measure, the grounds on which we may decide between God and the world. We beg leave then to put to this whole assembly the following Questions;—
What is your judgment?
[Which has the better title to your love and service,—the world, or God? If “God be a wilderness to Israel,” or, if the world can do more for you than He, then we are content that the world shall be your god, and that Jehovah shall hold an inferior place in your esteem: but if God is a fountain of living waters, and the whole creation be only as broken cisterns, then we call upon you to acknowledge “God as your God for ever and ever” — — —]
What should be your determination?
[“Every man, as the prophet tells us, will walk in the name of his God,” whatever his idol may be, whether pleasure, or riches, or honour: “and we also should walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever [Note: Micah 4:5.].” In this resolution we should be fixed [Note: Hosea 14:8.]. What though all Israel be against us, and we stand alone? shall we withhold our testimony on that account? No: truth is truth, whether embraced by many or by few. The prophets of Baal were not at all the more right in their views, because they were so numerous; nor was Elijah the less right, because he had none to concur with him: nor did he account his singularity in what was good any reason for relinquishing it: on the contrary, though alone, he determined to adhere with all steadfastness to the Lord; and we in like manner should say with Joshua, “Though all Israel should depart from God, we and our houses will serve the Lord [Note: Joshua 24:15.]” — — —]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany