Click here to join the effort!
1 Kings 18:1-18
Go, show thyself unto Ahab.
Ahab, Obadiah, and Elijah;-
What are the general lessons as affecting Ahab, Obadiah, and Elijah?
1. It is possible for a man to be very bad in one direction and very tolerant in another. It was so in the case of Ahab. He was the worst of the kings of Israel, yet he kept a governor over his house who feared the Lord greatly.
2. The Lord causes the most wicked men to pay His religion the homage which is due to its excellence. A bad king employs a good governor! The thief likes an honest man for steward. The blasphemer likes a godly teacher for his child.
3. He who is the slave of idolatry becomes an easy prey to the power of cruel tempters. We do not know that Ahab was a cruel man, but we do know that Jezebel was a cruel woman, and Ahab was greatly influenced by his passionate and sanguinary wife.
4. Ahab was a speculative idolater, Jezebel was a practical persecutor; Ahab showed that speculative error is consistent with social toleration. Redeeming points do not restore the whole character. “One swallow does not make a summer.”
5. In the same character may be met great faith and great doubt. Obadiah risked his life to save fifty of the prophets of the Lord, yet dare not risk it, without first receiving an oath, for the greatest prophet of all! This mixture we find in every human character. “How abject, how august is man!” In Ahab, Obadiah, Elijah, and Jezebel, we see a fourfold type of human society; there is the speculator, the godly servant, the far-seeing prophet, the cruel persecutor. Society has got no further than this to-day. O wondrous combination! So checked, so controlled, by invisible but benignant power. Speculative error has its counterpart in actual cruelty, and patient worship has its counterpart in daring service. Application.
(1) Be the servant of the Lord.
(2) To-day, Christ calls for faithful testimony;
(3) If we suffer with Christ we shall also reign with Him. (J. Parker, D. D.)
1 Kings 18:3
Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house.
There are men in sacred story, and in every history, who play a secondary place in the strange stirring drama of human progress--lieutenants to the great leaders--men with firm wills, stalwart hearts, gifts of energy, wisdom, and restraint. And behind these a great number who have no name in “storied page,” prophets who have no prophet renown, kings uncrowned, victors without honour, martyrs without a martyr’s fame, saints uncanonised, wise men who have no enrolment among the world’s sages! The glory of the firmament on a clear and radiant night is not fashioned of those few chief stars which flash with distinguished brightness, and catch the glance and win the admiration of the careless observer; but in the multitude of stars which are not chief--which wear not the most dazzling splendour--these bring their brightness, and those far off nebulous mists bring theirs. Were these to fail, how tame the heavens would grow! So in the Bible story--the glory is not concentrated in the chief men. All the interest of that history is not in those few who stand like giants among their fellows. There are men of less distinguished greatness who are worthy of observation, and will repay our study. The less known, and in some respects the less gifted men of Bible story have this interest for us: they are nearer to us--they are not set apart from us and hedged in by specialities of gifts or office, moving in a sphere in which we can have no place. Elijah stands like a mountain apart--lonely, grand, terrible--and though an apostle tells us “he is a man of like passions with ourselves,” yet the glamour of supernatural gifts separates him from us. But when we look at Obadiah, we see one who stands upon our level, who moves in our sphere. We do not stand in awe of him. Contact with him is contact of man with man, and no dazzle of the supernatural comes between us. We have only a feeble, broken outline of the man’s character. The sketch which the sacred narrative gives is very brief. He is Ahab’s servant, governor of his house. He is Jehovah’s servant, and in the palace where Jezebel is queen and Baal and Ashtaroth are the worshipped gods. The hints which this brief narrative affords us are suggestive of a noble type of man, fearing God, defending the weak, rendering all lawful service.
1. He was the honoured servant of an impious king, “governor of his house.” This was an office of great dignity and influence; that he reached it and held it is a witness alike to his integrity and efficiency. He was a careful, faithful, diligent servant to King Ahab. How came he to this high place? He did not purchase it by an unworthy deference; the fawning of the flatterer did not win it; the pliancy of an easy conscience did not secure it; “for he feared the Lord greatly: feared Him from his youth up.” Such a fear, if it does not secure steadfast principle in life and character, is a mere profession--an utter sham. Obadiah has reached this place in the straight lines of integrity, not by the crooked, wriggling line of policy. The lines of principle do sometimes land a man in the high places. He was an honoured servant, because he was efficient; he did not do his work with a slack hand because Ahab was an apostate king and Jezebel a heathen queen. His religion was the inspiration of his work--the condition of his efficiency. What he did, he did with his might. Religion is no excuse for inefficiency in any honest work to which men set their hands. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” That injunction concerns our work in the world as well as in the Church-U-concerns the keeping of accounts as much as keeping the Sabbath; the discharge of business obligations as truly as the fulfilment of religious duties. The irresolute, indifferent, and inefficient servant cannot be excused, because he has a gift in prayer. Idleness at the counter, at the desk, the bench, the anvil, is not to be excused because the transgressor is a zealous teacher in his class. Inability may be an excuse for inefficiency, but religion cannot be; it is the enrichment and endowment of a man’s nature; it should stir all gifts that are in him to a quicker energy, a finer power. What is the witness of this to you and me? That we who are servants of the Lord, in fulfilling our earthly duties and obligations, should be diligent and faithful. It is a commendation of Christ’s religion which has been overlooked.
2. Obadiah was faithfully God’s witness in a degenerate court. As far as it was possible, he served his king; but there are no indications that he trifled with conscience, no signs in the narrative that he was unfaithful to the claims of God. He feared the Lord greatly--this is the witness of no shallow religiousness. In that unhallowed court he was a leaven of purity. In that degenerate age he was a witness for God. In those high places, where pleasure and passion held wild carnival, he exercised self-control, and strove to live a life true to God. He feared the Lord greatly. He who fails in this allegiance, though he stands amid the splendour that beats upon a throne, is yet a child of darkness. Understand it well. Obadiah had no gifts of prophet power--no unique spiritual gift. He was for the most part a man just like ourselves. Yet in the court of Ahab, where influences of evil must have gathered the force and fierceness of a stormy sea, he was steadfast and immovable. Little faith would have been shattered and swept away; a faint heart, a feeble zeal, could not have borne the strain. It is only in the possession of a full, rich, spiritual power we shall bear in life and character clear witness for God and for His Christ. If we are to thwart in any way such powers of darkness as are figured to us in this imperious Queen Jezebel, we must fear the Lord greatly; our love of Him must glow like the morning; our faith in Him must be steadfast as the stars; our zeal for Him burn like a concentrated fire. It is this thoroughness in Christian life which is the condition of resolute faithfulness--the root of working power and widening usefulness. (W. S. Davis.)
A noble character
Obadiah “feared the Lord.” That is to say, he was loyal to the Lord; the law of God was the rule of his life. He feared to sin; kept watch over his heart, held guard on his lips, and followed the commandments of the Most High. Obadiah “feared the Lord” from his youth. That is to say, this tree of righteousness, called Obadiah, was strong, widespread, and beautiful, bending with the fruits of goodness, because he was planted in the garden of grace when he was a sapling, a tender plant, whose childhood was given to the love and service of his God.
1. Obadiah’s goodness makes us wonder. He lived in an age and in a country when and where” goodness was sadly scarce. The wonder is that King Ahab would have this man by him, much more that he should commit the highest office and the most important trust into his hands. Obadiah’s presence must have been a standing rebuke to the selfish and sensual king. If I wonder that Ahab would have him about him, I wonder more that Obadiah was willing to stay. The corrupt atmosphere of Ahab’s shameless court must have been a rank offence to him. Then why did he not go? The Prophet Elijah, wandering alone among the glens of Thisbe, or the rocks of Horeb, or by the waters of Cherith, or the coasts of Zidon, would be glad, poor outlaw, of a little congenial company. Why doesn’t Obadiah join him? Because “he feared the Lord greatly”; and both patriotism and religion, loyalty to the interests of his country and the honour of his God, bound him to his post.
2. I find still further cause for wonder, in that the goodness of Obadiah had been maintained during his residence in the court of King Ahab. I marvel at it. I know what comes to a statue of white marble exposed to the corrosive fogs of London. I know what happens to the rippling music and the silver beauty of the summer brook when it falls into the turbid river rolling its dull waters in sullen silence to the sea. I know the fate of May flowers when the blast of the cast winds blow a malison on their beauty. I know, too, by sad experience, what comes to human hearts and consciences when fierce and fiery, or subtle and winsome temptations ply their evil power. This man, this one man Obadiah, “feared the Lord.” He shone like a solitary star in a murky midnight sky. He bloomed like a lily in a bed of thorns.
3. The goodness of Obadiah gives me further cause for wonder in that it grew and ripened under unfavourable treatment. It is said of him, that he “feared the Lord from his youth.” The guiding principle of his whole career was the fear of God. There is no doubt that his religion met with some shrewd blows and sore bruises as his beard grew; and that as he advanced to mature manhood, the world, the flesh, and the devil, hit both hard and often at the man who would be good in spite of them. “Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly.” Instead of descending a valley, he has been climbing the hill. Instead of lapsing into silence with broken strings, his life-harp vibrates with richer melody and a holier psalm. The way of duty is not only the way of safety, but it is the way to more perfect goodness and increasing strength.
4. I find further cause for wonder in Obadiah’s simple faith in the supernatural, the miracle-working power of God. “Go, tell the king,” said the stalwart and hairy Tishbite, “Behold, Elijah is here.” “Nay,” said Obadiah, “Ahab has hunted for thee high and low to kill thee, that at the ebbing of thy blood the wells and rivers may flow again. If I send him here, the Spirit of the Lord will carry thee away, and the king will slay me.” Poor superstitious, old-fashioned, simplehearted Obadiah! And yet the simple soul, palace governor though he be, thinks that Elijah can be suddenly spirited away; that the laws of nature can be tampered with, gravitation suspended, and a miracle can be wrought by a fancied Deity whom every one regards as an exploded myth!
5. I find still another wonder, still another lesson in the piety of Obadiah: his noble deeds of kindness to others at great cost and danger to himself. (J. J. Wray.)
Mr. Jackson Wray finely compares Obadiah to a scene he once saw on the west coast of Africa. Crossing a barren tract of country, he beheld a fair and stately palm tree springing up from the desert sand. Its graceful shaft rose to a height of near a hundred feet, crested with a coronet of leafy splendour, rich with clusters of ripening fruit. All around it was stunted brushwood and dwarfish thorn. It stood alone in solitary magnificence. Even so was Obadiah in King Ahab’s palace.
Grace superior to the forces of environment
“A great city spoils everything within its circle, and you say it has the same effect upon character, and that a low type of character is excusable when you consider a city environment. No. That won’t do for us. I rejoice to think that the grace of God makes a man triumph over the worst circumstances. Scientists say it is impossible for anything to exist and come to perfection except it has proper conditions. If you are to have the rose you must have the sun, and if you are to have the fern you must have the shade, and for the willow the watercourse. Suitable conditions, or life and perfection are impossibilities! Well, I suppose it is so, but I rejoice to say that breaks down when you come to character. This very day I can show you lovely roses growing in cellars; I can show you the purest of lilies in the miriest of places; I can show you the palms of the East growing in Lapland; in other words, to drop the imagery, I can show you the purest and noblest of men and women under circumstances that seem altogether unsuitable to a pure and noble life. Don’t say that because your environment is this or that, therefore you must be a this or that mean creature. The Kingdom of God is within you, and can set circumstances at defiance. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The poor man must often have been in a great strait to reconcile his duty to Jehovah with his duty to his other master, Ahab. And Elijah shrewdly hinted at it when he said: “Go, tell thy lord, behold, Elijah is here!” Imagine a courtier of Oliver Cromwell trying to be true to the Commonwealth and to the cause of the exiled Stuarts! The life of policy and expediency is a species of rope-walking--it needs considerable practice in the art of balancing. There are scores of Obadiahs everywhere around us, and in the professing Church. They know the right, and are secretly trying to do it, but they say as little about religion as they can. They never rebuke sin. They never confess their true colours. They find pretexts and excuses to satisfy the remonstrances of an uneasy conscience. They are as nervous of being identified by declared Christians as Obadiah was when Elijah sent him to Ahab. They are sorry for those who suffer for righteousness’ sake, but it never occurs to them to stand in the pillory by their side. They content themselves with administering some little relief to them, as Obadiah did to the harried prophets, and whilst they conceal that relief from the world, they put it in as a claim to the people of God for recognition and protection, as Obadiah did (verse 13). They sometimes are on the point of throwing up all to take up an uncompromising attitude, but they find it hard to go forth to suffer affliction with the people of God so long as they are well provided for within the palace walls. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
1 Kings 18:6
Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.
Separated: and no tears at the parting
They separated; and I am sure there were no tears shed on either side at the parting. Never were two men more utterly unlike. Never were associates more ill-matched. How they managed for some time to pull together, I cannot imagine. The text has sufficient allegorical suggestiveness to awaken many a solemn thought within you.
1. There are, after all, but two ways; you must choose the one or the other. You must follow Ahab, or you must go with Obadiah. The snare into which large numbers of young men fall is the attempt at compromise. They shrink from the unblushing wickedness of the one, but do not care to commit themselves to the earnest piety of the other. The words which Fowell Buxton wrote near the close of his life are well worthy of being pondered by each of you:--“The longer I live, the more I am certain that the great difference between men is energy, invincible determination--a purpose once fixed, and then death or victory! This quality,” added he, will do anything that can be done in this world; and no talent, no circumstances, no opportunities, will make a two-legged creature a man without it.”
2. Choose for your associates those with whom you would wish to company all through life. Try to look below the surface and read the character; and do not give your friendship to any one whom, in your deepest soul, you do not respect. It was a good maxim of Lord Collingwood, Better be alone, than in mean company.”
3. Should your most intimate associate prove to be of evil principles, part company with him at once. Better offend your acquaintance than lose your soul. Pull up the instant you find you are off the road, and take the shortest way back you can find. When the shoe of conscience begins to pinch, it is about time we turn our stops into another path. Ahabs and Obadiahs cannot remain long in partnership, and the sooner that partnership be dissolved the better. (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
1 Kings 18:12
I thy servant real the Lord from my youth.
Fearing the Lord from one’s youth
There are two valuable lessons we are to carry away from these words of Obadiah.
I. The importance of early decision for God. It was a favourite idea, a hobby in short, of that singular and austere sage Thomas Carlyle, that a select few of our race are to be set up for the admiration and imitation of the rest: and though, no doubt, the Chelsea philosopher pushed it too far (as he was in the habit of doing with most ideas that possessed him), the notion is a sound and scriptural one. The Bible teaches as much by example as by precept, and it seems to me that the grand lesson of Obadiah’s life--and it is hub a very brief biography we have--is the unspeakable value to a man, all through his career, of starting with fixed religious principles, and sticking to them at all hazards. I quite believe, if you will allow me to say so, that some of you, who would hardly venture to call yourselves real Christians, are most favourably inclined towards religion, only you will not come up to the point of a full and absolute decision. But this is just where your danger lies: for these half-religious feelings are apt to satisfy you, whilst, until you have actually given your hand to Christ, you are as absolutely unsaved as if you were a railing infidel.
II. The importance of courage in openly avowing our religious decision. The first thing is to have sound principles; and the second thing is not to be ashamed of them. It was a remarkable saying of the Duke of Wellington, that “in war the moral is to the physical as ten to one.” That is to say, that, if the soldiers know and feel in their conscience that right is on their side, they are ten times as brave as when they are not very sure about it. Well, when you know you are standing on sure ground, you can afford to despise the shots that are fired at you by godless men. Nay, more, the fact is, it is a great help to you, if your faith is genuine, to meet with a little opposition at times. A man is none the worse a Christian for having occasionally to stand up for his principles. It makes your religion more real, and gives you greater confidence in its power. You want a new principle within you, and that is faith in Christ as your Saviour. (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
The “fear of the Lord,” as illustrated in the character of Obadiah
I. The great principle of action in the life of Obadiah, viz., “the fear of the Lord.”
II. The necessity for an early inculcation of this fear in the mind--“I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth.” (H. C. Cherry, M. A.)
1 Kings 18:17-18
Art thou he that troubleth Israel?
The source of a sinner’s trouble
Our theme lies in this controversy between Ahab and Elijah as to the cause of the trouble which had come upon Israel. Ahab accused the prophet of being the cause of the trouble, while of course Elijah had nothing to do with it. He was simply God’s messenger. It is a very common thing for a man who has been brought into trouble by his sin to find fault with Providence and with his neighbours and his relatives, or with anybody who points out his iniquity. He feels that some one else is to blame rather than himself. But Elijah lays his finger on the root of the difficulty. Sin is always a source of trouble to the sinner. Ahab’s greatest enemy was in his own heart and in his own house. Seragastio, a servant in one of Plautus’ comedies, asking another, “How doth the town seem to be fortified?” the answer given was this: “If the inhabitants be well governed and good, I think it will be well fortified;” and then, reckoning up many vices, he concludes, “Unless these be absent, a hundred walls are but little enough for the preservation of it.” And the history of the world shows us that that is a true representation of the destructive nature of sin in a nation. It will level the walls of the strongest governments. No nation is great enough to stand if it is honeycombed with sin in the hearts of its people. Sin is the great troubler in the individual soul. It was after Adam and Eve had broken the law of God that they were troubled, the first trouble they had ever known, and they tried to hide themselves among the trees of the garden so that God would not see them. Here is a young man who has fallen into the habit of strong drink and has lost his self-mastery, and he comes home drunk to his mother. Oh, the trouble that comes from such a sin. Oh, sin is the great troubler. But do not imagine that this sin or other outbreaking disgraceful sins that are easily detected are the only ones that give trouble to people. Disobedience to God is sin, and if we fail to keep God’s commandments, it does not matter which one, it will get us into trouble, and if unrepented of and unforgiven, into terrible and eternal trouble. Beware of being self-deceived. Sometimes the foulest sins are cherished underneath what appears a very respectable exterior. I have seen somewhere the story of Sir Francis Drake, that after he had made his long sailing journey around the world and had returned to London he was one day in a boat upon the River Thames in a very rough tide when it seemed almost certain that they would be capsized. The famous traveller exclaimed, “What! have I escaped the violence of the sea and must now be drowned in a ditch?” And a man may drown in a ditch quite as easily as in the ocean. And many a one who has escaped vulgar, disgraceful sins that bring men into shame has been led away from God and finally kept from God by secret lusts and hidden selfishness and evil desires that prevented him from obeying God and keeping His commandments. Let us not forget that what we may esteem a little sin has the power to open the door of the heart to sins of which at first we would not dream of being guilty. The historian tells us that when Pompey could not prevail with the city to admit his army he persuaded them to admit a few weak, wounded soldiers. But these soon recovered their strength and opened the gates to the whole army. Thus it is that the devil persuades us to admit some small sin and soon gains the whole heart. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
1 Kings 18:17-20
When Ahab saw Elijah.
Deliverance from the mouth of the lion
I. The wonderful protection of the prophet;
II. The unjust accusation brought against him;
III. The bold language he uses; and,
IV. The secret power he exercises. (F. W. Krummacher, D. D.)
Elijah meeting Ahab
I. That in darkest times God reserves some men and keeps them true to himself. Conspicuously does this appear in the great character Elijah. The word itself covers a wide field--Elijah. The history of an age is covered by such a character. As time goes by, after he vanishes from scenes on which he came suddenly, his proportions increase, as a mountain seems greater the farther you go from its base. By and by it comes to pass that the mighty hero of God’s making will be expected again on earth when the extremity of human need is reached. Elijah must come, men said, as the forerunner of the great Messiah, and as a restorer of all things. God keeps such spirits as these in His unseen Army of the Reserve; and, when darkness covers the earth, and men’s hearts fail them for fear, suddenly an Elijah steps upon the scene, pronounces doom on the guilty, gathers together the righteous, and re-enacts the eternal law by His word.
II. we learn that God determines to let men know that He governs this world.
III. We learn from the lesson before us, still further, that wicked men charge the righteous with being disturbers of the peace. “Whatever,” said George Shepard, “may be true in medicine, God’s system of moral cure is by contraries. He puts forth the truth to crowd out the error, and what if it does happen, in the fierce antagonism, that there are seasons of confusion and trouble? What though the tempest twirls everything into disorder, if it only blows away the miasma? There are people who are exceedingly alarmed at the presence or the prospect of agitation.”
IV. Finally, we must feel, as we read again this familiar meeting between Elijah and Ahab, that it would be well if there were more of elijah’s stamp to-day. (Monday Club Sermons.)
1 Kings 18:19-40
Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto Mount Carmel.
The priests of Baal
Mendelssohn has wrought the harmonies and discords of this scene into a grand oratorio, and the painter or poet can find in it abundant material for his art. The actors are a king and royal court, hundreds of priests in splendid vesture, masses of people, anxious and hungry-eyed; and over against them a single man, big, fearless, with hairy mantle and leathern girdle, and loose locks waving like a mane about his stern face. Our lesson to-day stops short with the failure of the priests. We may call it the helplessness of heathenism. Who was Baal? Whence did he come? Where did he get his power? How did he rule? There was no such being. He never lived, never blessed a servant, or crushed a foe. When the priests cried, there was no answer, because there was no one to hear. Yet the name had a fiendish personality in the history of Israel, as a most alluring and ruinous force. An actual Baal never lived, possibly the ideal Baal has never died.
I. The heathenism of to-day. We still find idolatrous nations, with the same licentiousness, cruelty, and error. One African tribe has six words for murder, not one for love. The missionary who goes among them is an Elijah pleading for Jehovah against Baal. May the prophet’s mantle fall upon such, and may the Lord be with them as he was with Elijah. One definition of a heathen is “an irreligious, unthinking person”; a pagan, “one who is neither a Christian, a Mohammedan, nor a Jew.” A cleaner and brighter heathenism appears in the high-bred infidelity, of which we hear more than its worth demands. This is not ignorant and boorish, but elegant and learned. It affects to look down on the simplicity of believers, as the gorgeously robed priests may have sneered at Elijah’s rough mantle. It uses the terms of science and philosophy. Its worship is mostly of the silent sort before an unknown God. Investigating the development of religious belief, it finds everywhere the longing, but nowhere the Creator who inspires it; everywhere the child’s heart, nowhere the infinite Father. Speaking for art, it forgets that faith has inspired its masterpieces, and would put its visions above Him who made the splendours of earth, sea, and sky, human face divine, teeming brain, and skilful hand. Be not deceived by them. The greater number of sound thinkers and investigators are to-day, as in the past, believers. It is easy to see the paganism in such cases; not so easy where it touches us more closely in the heathenism of worldliness. Baal-worship was popular because it was gay, festal, splendid, while the Mosaic ritual was calm, earnest, self-controlled, chaste. Under the first, men could do what they liked best, and yet pass for religious. It dignified self-indulgence, and deified strength and lust. Love of God is the source and crown of all delights; but, to a multitude of meaner impulses in us, the world appeals with more flattery and promise than heaven. Let us hold fast to the Bible, in which speaks the only living and true God. If we turn from Jehovah, the deity we make ourselves will prove a Baal. Earth-born religions are dishonourable to the conscience, false to the intellect, and cruel to the heart. And if we acknowledge Jehovah to be God, let us follow Him.
II. The testing of heathenism. Anything which claims our service and our love should be able to support us in emergencies. Infidelity and worldliness may do very well in good times, when bright suns and genial rains mingle to bless our lot; so did Baal. And so all blasphemy, and polite infidelity, and everything that is not of God, when it has had its fling, and tried its power, drops back, helpless to save its followers. The testing is not often so dramatic as upon Carmel, but is continually repeated. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Elijah and the prophets of Baal
But Mount Carmel, a celebrated mountain on the southern boundary of the tribe of Assher, which extends itself into the Mediterranean Sea. It runs north-west of the plain of Esdraelon.
I. We notice the proposal of Elijah to the multitude. He speaks to them, not to the royal court. Religion is not an affair concerning the great and titled of the earth only. It respects every man. It is for the multitude as well as for the rich and great.
II. Notice the proposal of Elijah accepted. All the people said, “The word is good.” It was an advantageous one to the prophets of Baal. They had the prepossessions of the people and of the royal court in their favour: It is easy to take up religion when it is in prosperity: but to take it up when it is m a drooping, dying state, is the work that demands principle, sterling principle. To be zealous, when the very stones of the altar are to be replaced--when the alternative is ruin or revival--extirpation or reform--then to be zealous--then to be a reformer--to seek to restore truth and religion to their pristine dignity, that is a work honourable indeed, and arduous as it is honourable.
III. The failure of the prophets and the irony of Elijah.
IV. The appeal of Elijah to heaven.
V. The prayer of Elijah answered.
VI. The conviction of the multitude.
VII. The destruction of the priests. These prophets had been the cause of the grievous famine, of the death of cattle and human beings not a few. They had also sacrificed thousands of dear children to Baal. The rites of Baal were frequently celebrated with human victims. They had also brought Jezebel to think it a meritorious act to slay the prophets of the Lord. Also, according to the laws of Moses, idolatry was considered treason against God, as the national king, and death was denounced as the punishment of that sin. These men suffered nothing but the due reward of their deeds. Those who live by imposing on the weaknesses and superstitious feelings of others shall sooner or later meet with a suitable retribution. They that dig pits for others frequently fall into them themselves. Their own lies frequently slay the authors of them. Men first utter lies, then believe them, then perish by them. And they perish without pity. They perish amidst the execrations of those whom they have deceived. (J. H. Cadoux.)
Elijah and the prophets of Baal
1. We are reminded of the great disparity between these opposing forces. Now, as then, Truth is in the minority. It was one man against four hundred and fifty. But so it is always. The world has never seen a popular majority for the truth. Only eight souls were saved in the ark; Abraham was alone in his faith; Israel was but a handful; and the “peculiar peoples” in every age have been “a remnant.” Even the Son of God did not restore the equilibrium. The Reformation effected but a partial equalisation. The present age of missions, with all its conquests, finds the Church outnumbered in every region by its foes. Not only so, but in respect to earthly rank, power, prestige, the advantage has always been on the side of error. If at intervals the tide seems to turn, as when David, Solomon, Constantine give to religious truth political pre-eminence, such episodes are transient, and soon the old disproportion returns.
Truth for ever on the scaffold,
Wrong for ever on the throne,
abides as the rule obtaining in every age for the fortunes of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
2. This disparity was intensified and emphasised by divine direction. Elijah was commanded to give to his opponents precedence at every point. The criterion which he must submit for the testing of the rival religions was “the god that answereth by fire.” That was a concession to the claims of Baal, who was called the “sun-god,” with whom fire was a native element. On the other hand, Elijah’s task was rendered as difficult as possible. He must stand by and see his rivals consume the entire day. This magnifying of evil and minimising of the resources of good has marked the Divine policy from the first. God has seemed to give to sin every advantage that it could ask for, and to keep his own cause at a corresponding inferiority. What a surprising difference, according to earthly standards, between Jesus and His enemies! Not only was He alone, unfavoured and unhelped, but they were supported by all the power of the Jewish Church, the Gentile government, and even the infernal world. Sin was allowed to parade and employ its uttermost resources, while holiness seemed to be proportionately depressed in the person of Him who was born in a manger and reared at Nazareth, who became the Friend of publicans and sinners, was betrayed by His own followers, and condemned to the accursed death. Similar fortunes have attended the people of God to this day. Not only have they been left to engage in a one-sided conflict where the numerical odds were always against them, but peculiar aggravations of this disparity have been common. The Church is still burdened with such unnecessary drawbacks. How often are we tempted to take literally the words which speak of the “foolishness of preaching,” and to wonder why God hath chosen such needlessly foolish, weak, and base things of this world to serve Him!
3. This disparity between the two contestants was emphasised by Jehovah for the purpose of suitably displaying His own superiority to both of them. He gave to Baal every advantage and reduced His own resources to a minimum, in order to show that Truth at its lowest is stronger than Error at its highest. The result justified this plan; for the people were all the more impressed by the final victory of Elijah, because of the tremendous inequality of the conflict at the beginning. This gives us a clue to that policy of the Divine government which has been referred to. God has allowed sin to prosper in this world, and has permitted His own religion to take an inferior place, for the purpose of thus furnishing an arena for the exhibition of the Divine self-assertion. We understand, then, why Christianity has never been allowed to compete on equal terms with the dominant faiths of the world. God does not intend that His religion shall obscure Himself. He knows how readily the eye of man is caught and held by visible forms, and that spiritual truth is always endangered by material associations. Accordingly the earthly medium through which His grace shines must be as thin and plain as safety will permit. This was the reason why Jesus the Christ asked and received so little from the world. He owed nothing to its favour or its help. But as we now see, all that humiliation was the most effective background that could have been provided for the display of the spiritual kingdom of God.
4. The triumphs of grace thus obtained are also magnified by the Divine concessions to the enemy. It was yielding much to Baal when the ordeal of fire was proposed, for that meant to meet the sun-god on his own field and with his own weapons. Other tests might have been chosen which would have been more favourable to Elijah. But no; he must go into the enemy’s territory and challenge him in his very citadel. Do the Egyptians worship the river Nile? Lo, the rod of Moses turns those sacred waters into blood. Are they the most cleanly of peoples, making a religion of physical purity? They are stricken with vermin by the word of the Lord. Do they idolise the goat, the ram, and the bull? The cattle of their fields must perish before the Divine scourge. Thus Pharaoh is taught that even within the range of his own religion the God of the Hebrews can find means to overthrow him. Similar transformations mark all the great conquests of Christianity. He meets scientific scepticism with the scientific faith of Miller, Hitchcock, and Drummond. He compels the art of sensuous Italy to minister to biblical truth in the Madonnas and Nativities. He transforms the pagan temple into the Christian church, and puts the Gothic spire to spiritual uses. This process of overruling and utilising grace is spreading through all the ranges of human enterprise.
5. These exhibitions of Divine self-assertion furnish a severe but useful test of human character. The priests of Baal were not the only ones whose faith and patience were taxed on Mount Carmel. It must have cost Elijah not a little to find himself placed for an entire day at so great a disadvantage. Nothing less than intense consecration and courage could have endured such a trial. This experience also was typical. It represents the lot of God’s people in all ages. The very greatness of the Divine interpositions in their behalf has imposed on them burdens of self-denial and self-effacement.
6. The trials of God’s people are sure to result in their triumph as well as His glory. (C. J. Baldwin.)
The prophet of the Lord
The debate on Mount Carmel was conducted by Elijah with remarkable ability. A vital question had forced its way into prominence.
I. When he met his opponents on Mount Carmel, Elijah had very clear convictions. In some way he had gained a strong hold upon God. He was personally conscious of God. Unlike many a speculative philosopher who has framed an elaborate argument to prove that God is, Elijah seems to have advanced with a single step to a firm belief in God. His name was an announcement of his belief: “My God is Jehovah!” A conviction like this is an argument in itself. Men are willing to listen to a man who believes what he says. This was an important element of the success of Moses, who was compelled to go into the presence of Pharaoh and there to demand the liberation of a large number of valuable slaves. Daniel had the same advantage when he was called upon to face the idolatry of Babylon: it was widely known that Daniel feared God. The ministry of Paul was always conditioned by this strong faith. He was more than a match for his antagonists because he knew whom he had believed. Athanasius, the youthful archdeacon of Alexandria, became the successful advocate of Christian truth at the Council of Nicaea in view of his recognition of the divinity of our blessed Lord. Luther at the Diet of Worms rallied the unorganised resistance of Germany to the papal authority when he exhibited his confidence in the evangelical doctrines. These men, and others like them, were “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” They felt the rock upon which they stood. They had clarified their thought, so that they could utter it forcibly. If we can gain this consciousness we shall be prepared for the great debate.
II. When he challenged the Baal-worshippers to the proof by fire, Elijah undertook to press their opinions to a practical expression. The challenge was perfectly fair. They had accepted Baal and Ashtaroth as the representative of the life-principle in nature. They were asked to exhibit the results of their faith in these divinities. Any opinion which lays claim to the faith of man must bear the strain of his ordinary burdens. What is your religion good for? what is the quality of its manhood? What sort of a God does it present? what is its immortality?--these are questions which must be met. There is no escape from them. Now, we may inquire, What will be the natural results of the general prevalence of the opinions which antagonise the Gospel?
III. When he had repaired the altar of the Lord and placed upon it a sacrifice, Elijah made an appeal which met the terms of the Divine command. There was an old altar on Mount Carmel--perhaps a relic of patriarchal times, but certainly a witness to the-reality of a pure worship. As the day was closing Elijah called the people to this altar and began to repair it. You may safely press Christian truth to its proper issues. We should have a very happy world, indeed, if all Christians would show their faith by their works. Christ-like lives, what would they be!--how sober! how industrious! how pure! how sweet! how attractive! Multiply these Christ-like lives, and how beautiful the social life of the world would appear. It is essential, therefore, that the Christian in the great debate should state clearly “the truth as it is in Jesus.”
IV. When he had received the fire of the Lord, which consumed his sacrifice, Elijah drew from the people the confession, “Jehovah is God, Jehovah is God.” The occasion was pentecostal. Conviction was instantaneous. Out from the clear, dry atmosphere flames of fire leaped as Elijah was praying; they seized upon the sacrifice and consumed it with the wood upon which it rested; they licked up the water in the trench and left the altar bare. A transformation occurred. An explanation must be given. What could be said except to confess the supremacy of Jehovah? Prof. Christlieb of Bonn has remarked that the regeneration of the human soul is the standing miracle of Christianity. This regeneration converts corrupt natures into natures which are holy. It is associated with Christian truth, and with belief in that truth. (H. M. Booth, D. D.)
1 Kings 18:21
How long halt ye between two opinions?
Elijah’s appeal to the undecided
I. First, you will note that the prophet insisted upon the distinction which existed between the worship of Baal and the worship of Jehovah.
II. In the second place, the prophet calls these waverers to an account nor the amount of time which they had consumed in making their choice.
III. But the prophet charges these people with the absurdity of their position.
IV. The multitude who had worshipped Jehovah and Baal, and who were now undecided, might reply, “but how do you know that Jehovah is God? How do you know we are not decided in opinion?”
V. And now the prophet cries, “If the Lord be God, follow Him; if Baal, then follow him”; and in so doing he states the ground of his practical claim.
VI. And now I make my appeal to the halters and waverers, with some questions, which I pray the Lord to apply. Now I will put this question to them: “How long halt ye” When Elijah says, that “The God that answereth by fire let him be God,” I fancy I hear some of them saying, “No; the God that answereth by water let him be God; we want rain badly enough.” “No,” said Elijah, “if rain should come, you would say that it was the common course of providence; and that would not decide you.” I tell you all the providences that befall you undecided ones will not decide you. God may surround you with providences; He may surround you with frequent warnings from the deathbed of your fellows; but providences will never decide you. It is not the God of rain, but the God of fire that will do it. There are two ways in which you undecided ones will be decided by and by. You that are decided for God will want no decision; you that are decided for Satan will want no decision; you are on Satan’s side, and must dwell for ever in eternal burning. But these undecided ones want something to decide them, and will have either one of the two things; they will either have the fire of God’s Spirit to decide them, or else the fire of eternal judgment, and that will decide them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The conflict on Carmel
1. Now, from this stirring incident, I learn that we must be prepared like Elijah to stand alone for God. Examine the biographies of great men, and you will not find a brighter example of sanctified courage than that which shone in the man of God on Carmel. Think of it! One man against a whole nation! Here was a Reformer, who had the patience of the ox, the courage of the lion, the eye of the eagle, and the intelligence of the man. Prince Bismarck once said in a characteristic epigram, “We Germans fear God, and nothing else in the world.” This was especially true of Elijah, the Whirlwind Prophet, who struck Ahab pale with fright. Fearing God so much, he feared man so little. He was as a mighty rock standing alone in the midst of a stormy sea, braving and outliving the tempest. Take your stand for God wherever you may be, either in the office, or the shop, the workroom, or the home. You, like Elijah, have a Carmel. See that you play the man, and quit yourself right bravely.
2. From the incident on Carmel I also learn that the most of men are desirous of worshipping God and Baal at the same time. This is what the Israelites wanted to do, for you must know that the worship of idols was not proposed as a substitute for, but an accompaniment to, the worship of Jehovah. They wanted to do an impossibility--to amalgamate opposites. This God would not have, and will not allow to-day. Men must be either one thing or the other. Religions diametrically opposed cannot both be right. Things which are contradictory cannot be reconciled. You cannot have an altar to Baal and an altar to Jehovah standing side by side. Mark Antony is said to have yoked two lions to his chariot, but there are two lions which can never be yoked--the Church and the world. Yet men everywhere are trying to win the smile of the world and the” well done” of Christ. They want to serve God and Baal at the same time.
3. From my text I gather the further lesson that all men are called upon to make a choice between God and Baal. “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.” This searching remonstrance uttered by the solitary witness on Carmel is perhaps still more impressive in the original, for one rendering gives, “How long limp ye on two knees?” He likens them to a cripple hobbling along, first on one knee and then on another. Another translation gives the quest!on thus, “How long hop ye on two sprays?” like a bird which keeps hopping from bough to bough and is never still, and consequently never builds a nest.
4. Our text also clearly shows that God has given to us the power of choice, which power involves tremendous responsibility. We are endowed with the power of will, and are not to be like those derelicts that go floating about in the Atlantic and never reach any port. God asks us to take the evidence for and against, and then deliberately decide whether or not He is to be our king.
5. And in this matter God has not left us without evidence of His superiority over Baal. Still the infallible test is “The God that answereth by fire let Him be God.” If you will sit down and compare the claims of God and the claims of Baal, you will soon see which God has the sole right to your worship. If we translate Elijah’s speech into nineteenth-century English, it simply means this, Will you have Christ or Barabbas; God or self?, God can do what Baal cannot! An eminent evangelist once declared in a newspaper controversy that he was prepared any day, at a few hours’ notice, to summon five hundred witnesses, ready to declare upon oath, if need be, the truth of that Gospel of Salvation from the power of sin which every week he preached. To-day the cry rings forth, “The God that answereth by saved men, let Him be God.” There can be no comparison between the claims of Christ and the claims of the world.
6. I beg you to observe that God calls for immediate decision. You are this day to decide between God and the devil. Some of you have been halting till your hair has grown grey. How much longer are you going to fly from bough to bough? (W. C. Minifie, B. D.)
A more striking appeal is scarcely to be found in the whole volume of inspiration. It was delivered under circumstances peculiarly impressive, and by one of the most eminent and most honoured among the prophets.
I. As to the nature of this indecision in religion.
II. Let us then consider the grounds and causes of this indecision. The source of all this evil is the deceitfulness of the human heart.
1. The love of the world.
The Apostle St. John has left it upon record, that this disposition is totally inconsistent with the love of God. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” etc.
2. The fear of the world.--Nothing is more certain, than that the disposition and habits of the great majority of mankind, even in a Christian country, are totally and radically opposed to the precepts of the Gospel; and the world loves its own: and if any are not of the world, it beholds them with aversion.
3. The fashion of the world.--Under this term, I include the example and authority of those with whom we are conversant; or to whom it is customary to appeal.
III. The unreasonableness of this principle.
1. It is unreasonable, on account of the great importance of the subject.
2. Something, perhaps, might be said in vindication of indifference and indecision, if these things were only obscurely revealed; but the fact is, that as we are more interested in the knowledge of salvation, than of all other things, so is the will of God most distinctly made known in respect to it. (Christian Observer.)
Elijah on Carmel
I. An alternative presented. The alternative lay between Jehovah and Baal, and the object of this national gathering was to decide which was to be Israel’s God. Notice the different elements composing this gathering.
II. An inconsistency exposed. The inconsistency lay in blending the claims of Jehovah and Baal. Many, apparently, had no objection to divide their allegiance, their only concern being to keep on good terms with the ruling powers. The service of God is an exclusive service, it admits of no compromise. This truth is put in language of unmistakable clearness by lips that cannot err--“No man can serve two masters. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.”
1. A religious compromise, it is sometimes said, is surely better than no religion at all. However plausible this may sound, we are bound to say that, from the nature of the case, it is an absurd position. A compromise in religion is, to say the least, unmanly and hypocritical; it is an attempt to pass off for what you are not.
2. Such conduct yields no satisfaction to the waverer. The troubles arising from indecision are endless. The man who will not take a decided stand exposes himself to the constant banter of his companions, and there is no end of annoyance to the man who cannot say, No.
3. Divided service is dishonouring to God. Why? Because it puts Him on a level with Baal, and robs Him of the glory which is His sole due. If you worship two or more gods at the same time, you put them on an equal footing; and the God of heaven has told us, in a way not to be mistaken, that He will not share His glory with another. A divided heart will not satisfy the Maker of it.
III. A decision demanded. The assemblage on Carmel was, for the most part, wavering between the claims of Jehovah and Baal, and Elijah urged them to take a side. The reasons for immediate decision are powerful and urgent. Time is short, the matter is of supreme moment, and there is no middle ground. You have to be either on the one side or on the other. Let no unmanly fears sway your choice. Be a Daniel, and if need be stand alone. Be an Elijah, a champion for God and the truth. (D. Merson, M. A., B. D.)
The Prophet’s Question
I. Hear the text, for it speaks simply of--
1. Two opinions. Like others they tried to do both. Few like this in worldly matters. Some render this: “How long hop ye from twig to twig?” They were--uneasy: unhappy: unstable.
2. Two Gods. Baal. An ancient god: a spreading religion: a gaudy and costly religion: all this very attractive. God. The only God: The only God we need the only true God we can have.
3. Two positions. Halting and following: show the difference.
II. Hear the prophet, for he speaks pointedly. Notice--
1. His manner. Firm: fearless: faithful.
2. His opportunity. Before all the people. How willingly he embraced it.
3. His question. “How long?” etc. They had already had time. They had time then. God did not want time. He could receive them at once.
III. Hear the preacher, for he speaks earnestly. Enlarge upon the theme, and address those who halt concerning--
1. God’s ordinances.
2. God’s service.
3. God’s people--i.e., joining them.
4. God Himself. (W J. Mayers.)
Halting between two Opinions
I. This indecision is justly condemned.
1. It is not honest. It exists rather in appearance than in reality. It is an attempt to accomplish an utter impossibility. No man can have two objects of supreme affection. So long as their hearts are not fixed supremely on God, they are the servants of mammon. In all that they seem to do for God, nothing is truly done for Him.
2. They derive no full enjoyment from religion or the world. They resort to two opposite sources of enjoyment. What they derive from one is embittered by what flows from the other.
3. They have no peace of conscience,
4. This state of mind is attended more or less with a sense of shame. Few things are more wounding to the pride of man, than conscious imbecility of purpose and character. And in no case, perhaps, is this consciousness more inevitable than in a state of indecision with respect to religion.
5. This state of mind is full of danger. If such are not sooner or later discouraged, and led to abandon all thoughts of becoming religious, nothing will be effected, as the result of such a course. Indecision never did anything to the purpose in worldly pursuits, much less in religion. Analyse this state of mind, and you will see that it must be so. An undecided purpose is the want of all purpose. At the same time it has an awfully deceptive influence. The openly profligate can hardly admit that he is either right or safe. He can at least be more easily shown his danger. But the man who imagines himself but at a little distance from the path of rectitude and safety, who supposes at most but a few steps need be taken to reach it, and who perhaps persuades himself that he is fast approaching it, has of all men most cause for alarm. While the real danger of his condition is as great as that of any other, he is blind to the fact.
6. This state of mind is highly criminal. Whether Jehovah or Baal be God, he is the supreme good, the being who has a right to command; he ought to be obeyed. These obligations exist somewhere. We cannot annul or lessen them. We are created, we are upheld, we are blessed in this world, we are capable of joy and blessedness through eternity. There is one to whom we owe all that we are and possess. This being is Jehovah or Baal; there cannot be more than one supreme God. There must be one. There car, be no conflicting claims, no compromise of services.
II. The text enforces the duty of deciding who is truly God, and of serving him, whether Jehovah or mammon, God or the world. This may be done by considering what they are in themselves, what they have done for you, and what they can and will do for you.
1. What they are in themselves.
2. Consider what they have done for you.
3. What can the world, what can God do for you? (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)
God’s call to undecided souls
I. This word of God does not come to the dull, the dead, the sleeping sinner. There are some of whom you cannot say that they are halting between two opinions. That awful stillness--I dare not call it a calm--that awful stillness which pervades their spiritual being has not been broken. They are led, blindfolded, by the devil; and there does not seem even to be a wish--not to say an effort--there does not seem even to be a wish to shake off that fold which is over their eyes. One opinion they are quite settled in; and that is, that sin is sweet, that the world is sweet, that self is sweet, and that sin, the world, and self are all satisfying objects. To them the word cannot be said to come--“How long halt ye between two opinions?” But it is not so with all. Besides those who have no care for their souls and those who have learned to prize Jesus Christ as a Saviour, there is a third class--the class of awakened, interested, inquiring, anxious souls; and unto them does this word come, “How long halt ye?” Their stillness has been broken; their eyes, as it were, have been opened a little; a few dashes of light have broken in upon them; a fresh opinion has forced itself upon them now and then. As yet, indecision is their great Characteristic.
II. Let us notice, in the next place, the objects between which they halt. What were those objects in Israel’s case? Baal and Jehovah the great God of Israel! What is there on the one side? On the one side there are objects, of which you have proved, and even confess, that they are unsatisfying. There are things which you know are empty things. There are courses which you know, which conscience tells you too plainly, must end in disappointment, and in sorrow and death. There are habits which only strengthen the cords of corruption, and draw you more and more into sin. There are pleasures which, alas! you know too often end in pain. There are sweets which, alas! you know crumble to very gall and bitterness when a man puts them in his mouth. There is that upon the one side; and what on the other? God. God, who is the source of all life; God, who is the fountain of all joy; God, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift; God, who is the perfection of every thing which the really enlightened soul can long for and enjoy; God is upon the other side, God the Father calls you.
III. Let us consider the reasons why they halt. One reason I would venture to speak of is ignorance. But I can say that there is ignorance of the danger of indecision. But besides this there is ignorance of the blessedness of following God. Then again, besides this ignorance there is unbelief, from which indeed ignorance springs. Then another reason is this--unbelief and ignorance spring from the carnal corruption of man’s fallen nature. (C. D. Marston.)
Decision for God
Our first inquiry will be:--
I. Who are they that halt between two opinions? They are not far to seek, nor difficult to describe. They may differ widely among themselves, but there are some points in which they all agree. We may say concerning all such that they are more or less enlightened in things divine. Moreover, the knowledge they possess makes them dissatisfied with their present condition. Their consciences tell them that if Christianity be true--and of this they have not the slightest doubt--their state is far from satisfactory. They know the destructive influence of sin here, and the terrible consequences of sin hereafter, and yet they remain in its power. They know that those who believe the Gospel enjoy liberty, are set free from condemnation, are made heirs of glory; and yet they are not believers, they have not obeyed the truth, and consequently they cannot claim these privileges--their position is that of men longing for something which they have not determined to seek. Our next inquiry will be:--
II. Why do men halt between two opinions? Some halt because they have never given the subject of religion that earnest, thoughtful, prayerful consideration which it deserves. Others halt because the interests of this life occupy too large a share of their attention. Others halt because they have not sufficient courage to abandon their present course of life. Others halt because they look forward to a time when it will be easier to decide. This leads me to call your attention to
III. The immense danger of halting between two opinions. The longer you halt, the harder it will be to decide. Thus your chief object in halting is effectually defeated. Whatever may be your difficulties now, depend upon it, time will only increase their strength and add to their number. We know how speedily habits are formed, and how difficult it is to cast them off. They throw around us cords and fetters which we endeavour in vain to break through. Again, our time is very uncertain. Though the future were quite as advantageous as the present, though it were quite as easy to seek God’s peace next year as this, it would be the height of imprudence to put the matter off until then; for the future is so very doubtful that you cannot reasonably build the slightest hope upon it. “Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” Finally, the loss you may incur by halting will be irreparable. (D. Rowlands, B. A.)
Indecision in religion
In regard to the state of things existing at that time in Israel, we may remark--
(1) That a large portion of the nation was decidedly inclined to the worship of Baal.
(2) There were some who were as decidedly the friends of Jehovah. They were indeed few in number.
(3) There was another, and evidently a large class, that was undecided. This was the class which Elijah particularly addressed in the text. The doctrine which is, therefore, taught in this passage, is the unreasonableness of indecision on the subject of religion. In discoursing on it, my object will be,
I. To classify those who are thus undecided.
1. Those who are thus undecided may be regarded as comprising the following classes.
(1) Those who are undecided about the truth or reality of religion at all, or of any system of religion. They embrace no system; they make no pretensions to any religion. They are lookers-on in the world, and observers of the various forms and systems of worship, professing liberality to all, and manifesting a preference for none.
(2) A second class is composed of those who hesitate between Christianity and infidelity.
(3) There are those, as a third class, who are awakened to see their guilt, and who are hesitating about giving up their hearts to God. They see that they are sinners.
(4) A fourth class is made up of those who are constantly forming resolutions to attend to the subject of religion, and to become decided Christians.
(5) A fifth class is made up of those who are undecided about making a profession of religion. That it is a duty they feel and admit; and it is a duty which they often purpose to perform.
II. Reasons why a decision should be made without delay.
(1) The first is, that our great interests, if we have any great interests, or any that are much worth regarding, are on the subject of religion. If this be so, then religion is the last thing that should remain unsettled anti undetermined.
(2) You would suffer no other matter to remain undecided as this does. If you are sick, you leave no means untried to secure returning health. If you were in as much danger of becoming a bankrupt as you are of losing the soul, you would give yourself no rest until, if possible, you should feel yourself safe.
(3) It is possible to come to a decision on this subject; and if possible, an affair of so much importance should not remain undecided.
(4) The things about which a man is to decide are few in number, and may easily be determined. In our text, it was a simple choice which was to be made. There were but two objects before the mind, and the call was to determine which of them was to be acknowledged as God. So it is still.
(5) This state of mind must be one that is infinitely displeasing to God.
(6) You will never be in circumstances more favourable for a decision than the present.
(7) I add but one other consideration. The present is the only time which you may have to decide this point. To-morrow may find you in another world. Tomorrow God may have decided the question for ever. (D. Barnes, D. D.)
A call to decision
I. What are we to understand by halting between two opinions? Literally, how long hop ye about on two boughs? This is a metaphor taken from birds hopping about from bough to bough, not knowing on which to settle--balanced between opposing claims. To halt is to stop, to hesitate between opposite interests. Paul was balanced between a life of usefulness on earth and a life of enjoyment in heaven. The people, in the days of Elijah, were balanced between the worship of an idol and the worship of the God of heaven. Multitudes in our day are balanced between heaven and hell; two contrary influences acting upon them, as though God and heaven and holy beings were pulling one way, and the fiends of darkness and hell pulling the other, and they halt between the two claims.
II. What are the causes of this halting?
1. The influence of the Spirit of God on the mind. This may seem strange, but we think it will be evident to you. The Spirit of God is not directly, but indirectly, the cause. He produces such effects on the head and heart, by the doctrines of the Bible, that the sinner is made to see his position, to see the awful future, to see the consequences of moving on in that direction, to see hell at the end of the path. He halts, stops to ponder whether to go backward or forward. Man is a free agent. “What is that?” says one. I answer, a power to choose or reject. There is a consciousness within you that you possess this power, and all the reasoning in the world cannot make a thing more clear to you than consciousness.
2. Secondly, heart weights. Many of you know something about these heart weights. You have had considerable experience in these matters. You have many a time been troubled by abstractions of mind, vacancy of thought, secret uneasiness. Sometimes that unbidden tear has stolen down your cheeks, and you could scarcely tell why--some unaccountable alarm about the future--some undefined dread of some all-pervading spirit fixing a searching gaze upon you.
3. You are unwilling to pay the price. (J. Caughey.)
1. For different reasons, unconverted persons postpone deciding this question. They await a more convenient season--until after they get married, settled down, make money, grow old. I would not limit the mercy of God.
2. Reasons why the unconverted should make an immediate decision:--
(1) You have the power to decide. Not independent of God. But aided by the power that God is ever ready to bestow, you can decide.
(2) Decide, because in no other way can you be happy.
(3) Decide, because your present example is injurious.
(4) Decide, because God has the first claim upon you.
(5) Decide, because the time is short.
I wish the unconverted to remember--
1. That, if they neglect--neglect, that’s all--this salvation, they have no Scriptural warrant whatever for believing that they will be saved.
2. That they have almost to force their way to perdition.
3. Remember, there is nothing that stands between the sinner and salvation but sin, and that comes from himself. (Silas Henn.)
The great alternative
I. The great alternative.
II. Distraction within the kingdom. Within this spiritual realm are opposing forces which contend with one another, and there is deep unsettlement, a harassing and restless indecision.
1. Conscience insists that we ought to live unto Him from whom we came.
2. The heavenly voices and the best human voices summon us to consecrate our powers to duty and holy service.
3. Prudence, wisdom, exhorts us to seek God while He may be found (Isaiah 55:6).
III. The one wise course. Why halt and hesitate?
1. Indecision is
(1) unmanly: we have our mental faculties that we may conclude and act. A man should know his mind and use his strength. It is
(2) guilty: God has a right to require immediate obedience. Jesus Christ has a right to require acceptance and the service of a whole life. We have no right to keep Him waiting.
(3) It is wasteful: for while we are halting and choosing life is passing; and with the passage of our life there are left behind us opportunities that are unemployed and that will not recur. Delay is death, in part if not indeed altogether; for
(4) it is perilous in a very high degree. Duty seems less imperative and service less inviting the longer it is neglected. And
(5) it is miserable. (William Clarkson, B. A.)
On the fence in religious matters
I. The condition of those who try to serve the world and Christ at the same time, by compromising the matter.
II. The condition of those who have grace in their heart, but have not decided to make profession of it.
III. The indecision of those who do not know what is the time to attend to religion. There are two clarion voices in that man’s soul. The one says, “Now.” The other says, “Tomorrow.” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Generally speaking, a strict consistency is maintained betwixt the character of a man and the object of his pursuit. His actions bear a conclusive testimony as to the nature of his individual purpose. There is a oneness of his whole being with the matter at issue. As his companion, you are left to no uncertain guess-work in determining the uppermost thing which engrosses his thoughts, concentrates his affections, quickens his desires, or invigorates his endeavours. The worldling is ever true to the worldling’s creed; his god will not allow of any dereliction of duty, of any niggardness of service, of any neglects or deficiencies in the homage required. Let thus ambition be the ruling idol--and the devotedness of his powers proves the sincerity of his affiance. Let wealth be the ruling idol--and his “rising up early, and sitting up late, and eating the bread of carefulness,” show how perfect is the agreement betwixt him and the influence which presides.
I. First, indecision in its nature and prevalence.
1. In its nature. The mass of society does not consist of only two descriptions of persons--those who are eminently pious and those who are flagrantly wicked--but there is also an intermediate class, the victims of indecision; bespeaking that state of the mind and the heart which, instead of cleaving wholly to God, or yielding altogether to the world, alternates with both; an indecision which, as if passive to the influence of opposite claims, bends now to the one and now to the other, as accident or circumstances shall determine--now governed by the human, now by the Divine claims; an indecision that in seeking to couple the allegiance of two masters is a traitor to both--admitting, more or less, the force of Gospel statements, the powerful appeals of “the truth as it is in Jesus,” while the occasion lasts, so that there is a sort of turning to Him, and being again open to the seductions of sensual objects, so that there is a turning to them; an equi-ponderant weight, having no settled place, but shifting to this side or that, as the case may be--the opponents pitching and pulling the man now hither and now thither, as if in contention for his whole captivity--the voice of the one saying “You are mine,” and that of the other saying “You are mine,” and the man is neither’s.
2. The prevalence of indecision. By far the larger mass of all our congregations is composed of the undecided. Thousands say their prayers, who do not pray; thousands verbally assent to the truths of Christ, where there is nothing but the dead letter, where there is no spirit, no demonstration, no power.
II. Indecision in its causes. And these are multiform.
1. One is pride. This is ever lingering within us, checking the fulness of our reliance upon God.
2. Indecision, again, arises from ignorance--ignorance of the relative value and comparative importance of things.
3. Indecision springs-from our sloth. It is the reverse of the effort to maintain “a good confession.” Decision in being “on the Lord’s side,” involves the necessity of great and painful self-denial.
4. Indecision proceeds from the love of the world. Whilst the heart is buried there, how can it be given to another? The affections cannot be placed upon two objects diametrically opposed to each other.
5. Indecision sometimes arises from the fear of man. It partakes of that moral cowardice which shrinks from the names that the malicious may invent to stigmatise, or the oppressions which the powerful may bear down upon an honest profession; though perhaps the fear of ridicule may tend morE to prevent religious decision than the edicts of the sternest persecution.
6. Indecision has another cause in presumption.
7. Indecision has a cause in the neglect of prayer--of prayer for the assistance of that Holy Spirit, who being the “Guide into all truth,” enables us to apprehend all the mysteries of godliness.
III. Indecision in its consequences. And these are full of evil.
1. Indecision, in the first place, is an insult to the authority and the character of God.
2. Indecision works evil upon others. Every man, whether he thinks it or not, is surrounded by witnesses; and the world is sharp sighted in observing those flaws of inconsistency which bring so many professions of religion into contempt; where such as attend its ordinances, only leave them to exhibit the selfishness, the covetousness, and the earthly-mindedness of the natural man.
3. The undecided am the self-deceived. A hope is begotten which will never be realised; their daydream of good, as a dream, cheats them with its images and all passes away in air.
4. The undecided, again, are criminal. “Whatsoever,” it is said, “is not of faith is sin.”
5. The undecided man is the unrecompensed man; self excluded from the privileges to be enjoyed within the Christian pale. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways; let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.”
6. The undecided man is the unsafe man. Hanging doubtfully, as betwixt two worlds, he has two worlds around him; he neither belongs to this world, nor to that kingdom which Christ said “is not of this world.”
7. The undecided man is a condemned man. He being “neither hot nor cold,” presents a state of Divine rejection. To die is to die under the ban of utter retribution. It is said that “the fearful and unbelieving shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” (T. J. Judkin, M. A.)
Elijah’s appeal to the undecided
I. First, you will note that the prophet insisted upon the distinction which existed between the worship of Baal and the worship of Jehovah.
II. In the second place, the prophet calls these waverers to an account for the amount of time which they had consumed in making their choice. Some of them might have replied, “We have not yet had an opportunity of judging between God and Baal, we have not yet had time enough to make up our minds”; but the prophet puts away that objection, and he says, “How long halt ye between two opinions? How long? For three years and a half not a drop of rain has fallen at the command of Jehovah; is not that proof enough? Ye have been all this time, three years and a half, expecting till I should come, Jehovah’s servant, and give you rain; and yet, though you yourselves are starving, your cattle dead, your fields parched, and your meadows covered with dust, like the very deserts, yet all this time of judgment, and trial, and affliction, has not been enough for you to make up your minds. How long, then,” said he, “halt ye between two opinions?”
III. But the prophet charges these people with the absurdity of their position. Some of them said, “What! prophet, may we not continue to halt between two opinions? We are not desperately irreligious, so we are better than the profane; certainly we are not thoroughly pious; but, at any rate, a little piety is better than none, and the mere profession of it keeps us decent, let us try both!” “Now,” says the prophet, “how long halt ye?” or, if you like to read it so, “how long limp ye between two opinions?” (how long wriggle ye between two opinions? would be a good word if I might employ it.) He represents them as like a man whose legs are entirely out of joint; he first goes on one side, and then on the other, and cannot go far either way.
IV. The absurdity of this halting. The multitude who had worshipped Jehovah and Baal, and who were now undecided, might reply, “But how do you know that we do not believe that Jehovah is God? How do you know we are not decided in opinion?” The prophet meets this objection by saying, “I know you are not decided in opinion, because you are not decided in practice. If God be God, follow Him; if Baal, follow him.”
V. And now the prophet cries, “If the Lord be God, follow Him; if Baal, then follow him,” and in so doing he states the ground of his practical claim. Let your conduct be consistent with your opinions.
VI. Now I will put this question: “how long halt ye?” I will tell them; ye will halt between two opinions, all of you who are undecided, until God shall answer by fire. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Decision of character
I. Gives a statement of opposite claims. There are many Baals in our land. What are they? Examine them. Hear their claims. We shall mention four:
1. Worldly gain.
2. Sensual pleasures. Nothing is more deceptive than the pleasures of the world; and the young have the greatest need to guard against indulging in them.
3. Vain speculation. In every age there have beer, those who have set up their own feeble reason in opposition to the word of God. We live in a day when knowledge is more extensively diffused, and there is in many, who once lived in ignorance, a thirst for information; and this tends to prepare the way for the increased progress and success of the Gospel.
4. Pharisaic pride.
II. Requires a spirit of fixed decision.
1. It is important in its nature.
2. It is uncompromising in its demands.
3. It is satisfactory in its evidence.
4. It is beneficial in its results.
5. It is urgent in its claims. It is to be done without delay. (Ebenezer Temple.)
An undecided character
Against this impulse [to act and end suspense] we have the dread of the irrevocable, which often engenders a type of character incapable of prompt and vigorous resolve, except perhaps when surprised into sudden activity. These two opposing motives twine round whatever other motives may be present at the moment when decision is imminent, and tend to precipitate or retard it. The conflict of these motives so far as they alone affect the matter of decision is a conflict as to when it shall occur. One says “now,” the other says “not yet.” (James, “Psychology.”)
The call for decision
I believe, for my part, that the most of the life of the bulk of men is lived without any adequate exercise of their own deliberate volition and determination. Sadly, too, many of us seem to think that Nansen’s way of getting to the North Pole is the best way of getting through the world--to put ourselves into a current and let it carry us. We drift. We do not decide, or, if we do, we let deliberate choice be coerced by inclination, and let wishes put their claws into the scale, and drag it down. Or we allow our environment to settle a large part of our beliefs and of our practices. It must settle a great deal of both for all of us, and none of us can get rid of the pressure of the surrounding atmosphere, but we are meant to be hammers and not anvils; to mould circumstances, not to be battered and moulded by them; to exercise a deliberate choice, and not to be like dead fish in the river, who are carried by the stream, or like derelicts in the Atlantic that go floating about for years, and never reach any port at all, but are caught by the currents, and are slaves of every wind that blows. (Alexander Maclaren, D. D.)
Half-purposes hindrances to conversion
Another hindrance of conversion is unresolvedness, and half-purposes; when men will hang wavering between God and the world, and though the light be never so clear to convince them, yet they will not be persuaded to resolve . . . If you would be converted and saved, do not stand wavering, but resolve, and presently turn to God. If it were a doubtful business, I would not persuade you to do it rashly, or if there were any danger to your souls in resolving, then I would say no more. But when it is a case that should be beyond all dispute with men of reason, why should you stand staggering as if it were a doubtful case? What a horrible shame is it to be unresolved whether God or the world should have your hearts? Were it not a disgrace to that man’s understanding that were unresolved whether gold or dung were better? Or whether a bed of thorns or a feather bed were the easier? Or whether the sun or a clod of earth were the more light and glorious? It is a far greater shame for a man to be unresolved whether it be God or the world that must make him happy, and that should have his heart, and whether a life of sin or holiness be the better. (R. Baxter.)
1 Kings 18:24
The God that answereth by fire, let him be God.
“The God that answereth by fire”
Here are some lessons suited to all times, certainly not least to our time. The God that answereth by fire.
I. The religion of God must bring the proofs of its Divine origin. Elijah stands as the very type and emblem of the religion of God; it is always in the world as a daring intruder; a stern reformer. Such a disturber of the peace must carry his credentials with him. Look at the very nature of this holy religion. It comes with a demand so lofty, so searching, and yet so humiliating. It tells the man in all the pride of his intellect that he has no power to see the kingdom of God, until he is born again.
1. Christianity by her very triumphs gives the challenge of the world a greater force and urgency. There are two blessings which Christianity has brought to many lands and is surely bringing to all--liberty and light. The more perfectly men are brought into freedom the more naturally will they ask the ground of claims like these. Because light sets men thinking for themselves, is light therefore an evil? Do not let us talk as if it were in any degree possible. Thank God for light; it is the wise men who, when they find the young Child, shall lay at His feet the costly gifts of gold and myrrh and frankincense. It is the freest men who can render the most worthy because the most willing service. Christianity is lost when it takes to coercion.
2. Every age must have its own proof. The Church cannot inherit the evidences, she must create them. The prophet does not stand and tell the people of the wonders that God has wrought for their fathers in Egypt and the Red Sea. If the Gospel cannot do to-day what it did aforetime, it is a failure. What is it to tell me of Bethesda’s ancient fame, if I come and expect no expectant crowd, and no sign of the angel, and no cripples healed, and none laughing in the gladness of new life? I conclude naturally enough that Bethesda is a failure. The only evidence of Christianity that can satisfy me is when it does as much for me as it has ever done for others. If the Church of God do live at all, :she lives by the breath of the Almighty. If that inspire her she can do as great wonders as ever.
II. The appointed proof. The religion of God has nothing but the fire to mark her off from the false religions of the world.
1. And of the two all the advantage is on the side of Baal. The royal patronage and the popular favour, the priests of Baal and the glittering attractions are with the false god. The priests of Baal had all the further conditions of success. Theirs is the passionate earnestness, the furious persistent prayer, the fierce self-denial, the agony of entreaty.
2. But now comes the time of the man of God. Then forth from the reddened sky there fell the fire of the Lord and consumed the burnt-sacrifice and the wood and the stones, 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.” This is ever the proof appointed by God, and this is always the proof accepted by men--the God that answereth by fire. (M. G. Pearse.)
Moses challenged the necromancers of Egypt, Elijah challenged the priests of Baal, Christ challenges the world. At first the challenge was more strictly physical, now it is intensely spiritual. What religion produces the highest and finest type of character? That is the challenging question! Where, in Christian or in pagan lands, have we the finest men, the purest character, the most sensitive honour? Where are schools, hospitals, asylums, and charities of every kind most abundant? That Christian countries are disgraced by some of the foulest crimes possible in human life, may but show that their very foulness and atrocity never could have been so vividly seen and so cruelly felt but for the enlightenment and culture furnished by Christianity. In any other countries they would have been matters of course; in Christian lands their abomination is seen by the help of Christian light. To-day Christianity appeals not to a few sectarian prophets, or a few bewildered speculators, nor to a few scientists who are wild with boy-like joy because they have found a bird’s nest, but have never seen the bird that built it; Christianity makes its appeal to the great, broad heart of human nature, to the common sufferings of the race, to the indestructible sentiments of mankind--to the people first and the prophets next, and calls upon the people in all their multitudinousness to force their mumbling prophets to bring the mumble that chokes their throat to distinct and calculable articulation, and to compare the noise of charlatanism with the music of Divine teaching. In Elijah’s day the people said, “It is well spoken,” and of Christ it is said, “The common people heard Him gladly.” Full opportunity has been given to men to show the worth of their idolatries and superstitions. In this controversy the prophets of Baal had the first chance. Elijah stood back that they might do their best. False religions cannot complain that they have not had field enough. “There was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded” (1 Kings 18:29). It is precisely so with every false creed, every false science, every false prophet to-day. There is nothing to show! All effort ends in silence. Prodigious exertions finish in prodigious emptiness. Of every teacher, other than Christian, we ask: Where are the sinners whom you have released from the torment of remorse? Where are the mourners whose tears you have dried? Millions of men praise Christ. Sinners will stand up thick as armies, filling the valleys, thronging the hills, declaring that in Christ they have found the joy of pardon. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Altars and altar fires
I suppose that the altars built by Elijah and the prophets of Baal would be very much alike. To all outward seeming they were equally promising, and we should have been unable to surmise to which of them the fire would be sent. Anybody can build an altar; we need a God for the creation of a fire!
1. Any one can build an altar; it requires a God to provide the flame. Anybody can build a house; we need the Lord for the creation of a home. A house is an agglomeration of bricks and stones, with an assorted collection of manufactured goods; a home is the abiding-place of ardent affection, of fervent hope, of genial trust. There is many a homeless man who lives in a richly furnished house. There is many a fifteen-pound house in the crowded street which is an illuminated and beautiful home. The sumptuously furnished house may only be an exquisitely sculptured tomb; the scantily furnished house may be the very hearthstone of the eternal God. Now the Christian religion claims to be able to convert houses into homes, to supply the missing fire, and to bring an aspiring flame to the cold and chilling heap. Here, then, are two houses. In both of them there is no love, no joy, no peace, no rest. There is no flame of geniality and radiant hope. Let us bring the Christian religion into one of the houses, and do as you please with the other. In one house the tenants shall all kneel before King Jesus. They shall be one in common purpose, and they shall strive together with common mind and will. What will assuredly happen? With absolute certainty the house will become a home! That is a glorious commonplace in the history of the Christian faith. Where Christ has been enthroned, and every member of the family becomes a worshipper, there steals into the common life a warmth of affection which converts even trivial relationships into radiant kinships. God changes houses into homes; let Him be God!
2. Any one can proclaim a moral ideal; we need the Lord for the creation of moral enthusiasm. But the possession of a moral ideal does not necessarily transfigure the life. A man might draw up, for the guidance of his fellow-men, an exalted code, and yet he may be the most notorious scamp in the city. The erection of moral ideals is the building of an altar. Now we want the flame, the fire of a passionate, moral enthusiasm. Where shall we get the fire? We exalt our moral ideals in the minds of our children, but bow shall we get them to love the right, and to fervently aspire after it? The Christian religion claims to answer the question. Here are two lives. In both of them there is knowledge of the moral ideal. In both of them the character is immoral. Let us bring the Christian religion to the one, and you shall do as you please with the other. “He will baptize with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” The issue of fellowship with the Christ is to be the inspiration, whose influence shall be felt like fire. Love becomes a factor in the life, and cold duty becomes a fervent delight. How will you deal with the other man? How will you bring to him the fire? I confess I know no answer. Apart from the Christ, there seems to be no way of bringing fire on to cold altars.
3. Any nation can make legal enactments against crime. We need the law to make men hate it. The only defence against crime is not a punitive law, but a passionate, spiritual recoil. If we would deliver men from sin, we must make them loathe it. Some way or other we must kindle a holy hatred in man, the fire of blazing indignation. There are many men who are kept from crime, who nevertheless do not dislike it. We must make men hate it. How shall we light the fire? Let us turn to the Christ. Let a man love the virtuous, and he will loathe the vicious.
4. Any municipality can coerce men into charity. We need the Lord for the creation of philanthropy. The Poor Law system may compel us into giving, but in the gift there may be nothing of the fervour of a passionate goodwill. How can we get cold charity converted into radiant philanthropy? Who will bring the fire to the frozen altar? There is an old man in the Christian Scriptures who speaks in this wise: “He loved me and gave Himself for me”; “we love, because He first loved us”; “the love of Christ constraineth me.” Out of that love for the Master there spring all the beautiful ministries which seek the welfare of our fellow-men. Love for the Lord just blossoms into philanthropy. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The fire of the Lord
The challenge of Carmel was a challenge of God’s. The elect symbol of the God of Israel was fire, and Baal was the heathen God of fire. The prophets of Baal contended that Baal was God, and Elijah, the solitary prophet of the God of Israel, declared that Jehovah was the one and only true God. Such a question cannot be settled by words. The claim to Deity must be established in deeds that only God can do. It is not a matter of argument but demonstration. The fire was God’s sign of acceptance. Perhaps it was by this sign the two first brothers knew that Abel’s offering was accepted and Cain’s rejected. When Abraham prepared a sacrifice by which the covenant was to be sealed, he watched until the evening, and then the fire of God passed through the divided portions. At the dedication of the Tabernacle “there came fire from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat.” When the Temple was consecrated we read, “When Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices.” The altar fire was the sign of the Divine Presence. No human hand kindled it. No material fuel replenished it, and yet it burned continually, a visible assurance of Jehovah’s presence with His people. In Elijah’s day the fire had gone out. The glory of Israel had departed. No man could rekindle it. Neither could any other fire take its place. The carriers of strange fire in the holy place were consumed on the spot. None but God could relight the altar fire. Elijah inaugurated a new order, and this is the reason of his appearance with Moses in the Mount of Transfiguration. By him God relit the sacred fire. Then! When was that? what had made possible that momentous moment? Is it possible to discover the conditions which bring the fire of the Lord? Nothing is lawless. The “ then” is indicative of more than time. It marks the moment when the conditions of Divine demonstration were fulfilled.
1. The fire of the Lord came when the cause of Jehovah had reached its lowest point. “Ahab had provoked the Lord God of Israel more than all that were before him.” He was the kind of man still much applauded. He established great cities, gathered great wealth, and built a great palace.
2. The fire of the Lord came after the altar had been restored. The fire follows the altar. In itself the altar is nothing. It was built of unhewn stones, unchiselled and unshaped, but it was the place of sacrifice, the centre of fellowship, and the sign of the covenant. When the altar is neglected the fire goes out. Man’s work is to repair the altar and provide the offering; God lights the fire.
3. The fire of the Lord came in response to faith and prayer. The faith of Elijah was sublimely heroic. What confidence he had! He could mock their frenzy because he was sure of his triumph. Faith never screams. In quietness and assurance it knows how to wait. How he laughed at difficulties! They might flood the altar and the sacrifice with their cold water till it seemed as if nothing could burn; he knew in whom he had believed. He had faith in God. (S. Chadwick.)
The fire of the Lord
The great need of the Church in the present day is “the fire of the Lord,” the power of the Holy Ghost. We shall do more good in an hour of Pentecostal baptism than in ten years of Church reform, theological strife, doctrinal” discussion.” God has promised the fire: “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh.” “Ye shall receive power.” Promises never cancelled; Spirit given and never recalled. We need the fire, for the same reason as Elijah, combating error and sin. If we have physical or mental work to do we require physical or mental strength and vigour; spiritual work requires spiritual power.
I. We must “erect our altar” and make the sacrifice before we can have the fire. The sacrifice must be
(2) perpetual. All on the altar; all kept there.
II. The sacrifice will be accepted; God will “answer by fire.” Consecration is giving ourselves to God to be sanctified, cleansed, and filled with the Spirit. “The altar sanctifies the gift.”
III. The effects of fire are these.
1. It refines. The Holy Spirit will remove unholiness (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
2. It illuminates. Light is the source of
(1) joy and safety. The Holy Ghost, shining in the heart, scatters darkness and gives security. The light of reason is insufficient; it is like the light of the moon, fair, beautiful, but deceptive, unreliable.
(2) Activity. When the sun shines upon us we wake to energy and usefulness; baptized with the Holy Ghost we are “zealous of good works.”
3. It warms. Light and heat do not necessarily go together, but fire and heat do. If the sun gave light but no heat, the world would be a vast, icy, lifeless mass, nothing but brilliantly-illuminated death. Warmth is necessary to vitality: spiritual life depends upon spiritual heat, which dispels spiritual coldness.
4. It assimilates, transforms, spreads, Fire means power. Fire spreads: when filled with the Spirit our influence will spread, for fire cannot be confined in a narrow little circle when surrounded with inflammable material. Shall we erect our altar to receive the fire? (Charles Cross.)
Fire from heaven
The ordeal proposed was peculiarly appropriate. Jehovah had often in old times answered by fire. Fire from heaven fell upon the cities of the plain. To Moses too God appeared as a fire that burned, but did not consume. And if Baal was what his prophets declared him to be, what more reasonable than that he, too, should answer by fire? For he was supposed to be the god of Nature; the fruitfulness of the land was accredited to his bounty, and the thunder and lightning were frequently pointed to as evidences of his power. It was a sad but most suggestive sight. Their numbers were large--four hundred and fifty as against the solitary prophet of Jehovah. Truth does not always rest with majorities. Yea, the real majority is where God is. Then their social influence was great. They held high positions in the Court and throughout the kingdom. Then those men were in earnest. It is the inevitable result in the case of all who come by some other way pleading some other name. Men say, “Earnestness is everything; it matters not what views you hold, so long as you are in earnest.” Of what avail, however, is the earnestness of the drowning man who clutches at what he believes to be a solid spar, but is only drifting seaweed? Natural religion, evolved out of the spirit and temper of the age, will always command a large following of thoughtful people, apparently sincere and earnest, and, thanks to the Christian environment of these days, far superior to the worshippers of Baal in morality and uprightness; but in time of need, when death is near, or the heart is breaking beneath some crushing sorrow, the result will be the same, “No voice, nor any to answer.” It is not so, however, with those who seek the living God. The testimony of every true believer is this: “It is good for me to draw near to God.” But we must draw near in the appointed way. See how careful Elijah was in preparing his sacrifice. He began by repairing the altar that was broken down, building it up with “twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.” The Established Churchman and the “Free” Churchman must alike build the altar of twelve stones if they really desire fire from heaven. There must be no despising any of whatever church or society who have the Spirit of Christ. The sacrifice was so saturated with water that only fire from heaven could ignite it. Amanda Smith said, some years ago, “When God Almighty does a miracle, He likes to do it handsome.” Elijah evidently felt the same. What a lesson, too, for the Church of the constant need of cleansing through the word, and of that separation from an ungodly generation which obedience to God’s Word invariably causes. If the water and the trench are lacking in our sacrifice, what wonder if there is no fire from heaven? And when Elijah’s faith thus challenged the ear of heaven, there came at once the answer of the Living God. “ The fire of the Lord fell.” It was a supernatural flame. It came direct from heaven. And so comes the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, into our hearts with a supernatural illumination and Divine enkindling. It came to consume the sacrifice; and to-day the fire of God will consume all that is carnal and evil within us, and cleanse and inspire all that is good and true. It wrought conviction of a kind in the minds of the people. (F. S. Webster, M. A.)
The God that answers by fire
The utterance of these words marked a great occasion. No criticism of details can annul the essential greatness of the hour when men seek, in the measure of their light, to know and acknowledge God. It is a fateful hour for the seekers themselves, and has, besides, important bearings upon the spiritual progress of the race. The form of the quest in one generation may appear crude to the critics of a later period, but they are poor readers of history who lay very much stress on form. The true student of life will always hasten to discover the soul that lives beneath the form, and to learn the permanent and essential significance of the event. A crude and rudimentary form may enshrine a sublime spirit, while a developed form may possibly enclose no spirit to speak of. It is easy to look down from the embellished eminence of modern knowledge upon the setting up of a fire test on Mount Carmel, for the discernment of the true God. We have advanced beyond the form of this appeal, and have been taught a more excellent way. But a careful study of the inward spirit and meaning of this ancient test may possibly take some of the conceit out of us, and lead us to pray for a double portion of the spirit of the old prophet, in order that we may more worthily animate our superior forms with prophetic power. Beneath the contests with the priests of Baal lay the perennial problem of the human heart. How can God be known? By what means can His presence be recognised in the world? In this great scroll of creation, in which a steady procession of laws and forces are registering their achievements, how shall we recognise the special and personal entry of the Divine Hand? the direct and holy signature of God? The test on Mount Carmel was not arbitrary. The appeal to fire went to the very centre and mystery of material forces. It was the subtlest point to which the material test could be carried This element of fire was a profound mystery which seemed to pass inwards and impinge upon the very soul of existence. The test recognised that God held His court in the inner recesses of being and in the temple of uncomprehended mystery. The form was material, though very subtly so, but the underlying conception was spiritual. In the New Testament the form itself is spiritualised, and the true meaning of the ideal of Carmel is conveyed in the words, “He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and in fire.”
I. The challenge of the text reminds us of the subtleness of God’s self-manifestation. The manifestation of the true God must be sought, not in gross, but in the subtlest forms. He is the God that answers by fire. Sift the world of perception and knowledge down to its most ethereal elements, pass through the crude outer crust of things into the inward heart of life, penetrate beneath the surface of existence until you reach its centre of fire, and you will stand where God reveals Himself to the spirits that worship Him. The material perceptions which bulk and obtrude upon our life are but the “outskirts of His ways.” The pure manifestation of His presence is in the ethereal and inward energy of fire. The spirit that informed this grand ordeal on Carmel is as evident as it was just. It is an infirmity of the flesh to desire the manifestation of God in crude and obtrusive forms. The spirit and disposition of unbelieving scepticism is specially prone to this egregious infirmity. With the confidence born of fatuous miscomprehension, the sceptic issues the challenge--“If there is a God, why does He not show Himself?” This infirmity finds its unwisest expression in the seats of scepticism, but Christian people also need to be on their guard against it. The pure idea of the self-revealing God is attained only by the inward purification of the soul from the bias of sense. I do not seek to interdict the prayer of faith for material things, or for a moment question the personal intervention of the redeeming God in the material domain. I hold, on the contrary, that such unmistakable intervention is not only recorded in the pages of the sacred Word, but also in the experience of God’s saints in all generations. But such intervention is not primary, but secondary; the corollary of the kingdom of love. Let us approach God worthily. He is too great to be for ever crudely advertising His presence on the common hoardings of sense.
II. We are led by an obvious step to recognise the naturalness of God’s self-manifestation. His kingdom is not the contradiction of nature, but the glorification of it. His secret glories pour themselves through the channels of being, and diffuse themselves through all the avenues of natural law. In the main He fulfils His glory through the common orbits and courses of created things, charging every shining point of creation with gleams of His spiritual glory. The stars fight for Him without leaving, or halting in, their courses. The heavens declare His glory, and the firmament showeth His handiwork. His lightnings fly very swiftly. His way is in the sea, and His path in the deep waters. He crams the earth with His invisible fires, and kindles in every bush the flame of His presence. In creation and in the history of man He works out His holy purpose by ordered and consistent laws, by gloriously natural processes. Through the ages one increasing purpose runs. The natural and the spiritual coalesced on Mount Carmel into wedded unity, so that you cannot say where the one ends and the other begins. Miracles are simply natural law written in capital letters. They serve to introduce new epochs, just as capitals are used to announce a new chapter. Let us look reverently for God in the beaten paths of universal law and life, for it is there He will reveal Himself. He will not go back upon the glorious order which He Himself has created and ordained. Learn the essence of the flame that leaps along the lightning’s track and the essence of the victorious power which is impelling the human race onward and upward; for they am both one. They are the potency of the God that answers by fire.
III. Our thought naturally expands further into the unlimited freedom of God’s self-manifestation. Who will clip the wings of flame, or make curbs for the secret energies of fire? Who will pluck the ambushed lightnings out of their secret lairs, imprison them one and all behind impassable barriers, and say to the incarcerated legions, “Thus far shall ye go, and no farther”? A planet is fixed in its appointed orbit, and the wandering star is drawn back from its wanderings by invisible chains; but fire has the freedom of the universe, and pours its mysterious force from the centre to the circumference of all created existence. The God that answers by fire is a God whose self-manifesting energy is unlimited and free. Human history illustrates and demonstrates the absolute freedom of God’s revelation of Himself to men. In history, as Emerson has well shown, every man is introduced into a universal atmosphere. Hero we touch and perceive, and appropriate that which is common to all humankind. Every man is elected a freeman in the imperial city of history. It knows no class distinctions, no party privileges. What, then, do we find when we come to search in history for the revelation of God to men? What limitations do we discover in the descent of the Divine fire into the lives of men? Has God limited His goings to artificial grooves, and to barriered avenues? Nay, His fires have been kindled on every headland. Has Spirit has whispered its naming secret of truth and love and hope to every nation under the sun. We can see His goings in the history of all nations, and trace the progress of His redeeming work in all generations. He has kindled His holy fires in the hearts of men as far as He has sent His sunlight to bless the face of the earth. Once, indeed, an attempt was made, through lack of knowledge, to make a single nation the one channel of Divine grace, but the barriers were thrown down with a crash which still vibrates in the words, “Is God the God of the Jews only? Nay, but of the Gentiles also.” We refer with sorrow, not untinged with indignation, to those who in the present day would audaciously circumscribe the communication of the grace of God, and limit the freedom of the heavenly fire. (J. Thomas, M. A.)
1 Kings 18:30
He repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down.
I. The significance of broken altars. That is a simple line from an old chronicle, but it is the present root of many a pathetic human tragedy. It sets out in terms of quite harmless simplicity an apparently incidental fact; really it unveils the spring of the nation s calamity, and reveals the source of her uttermost disaster. Famine is everywhere. What is the root of this menacing peril, what the cause of this desolating misfortune? The whole answer lies in the broken altar. That little heap of indistinguishable rubbish, those few overturned stones, that desolated shrine--these are the central fact, the key to the situation, the pivot upon which the whole thing turns. The nation has been recreant to the sovereign sanctities, it has outraged life’s august supremacies, and at last the inexorable retribution has come, slow but sure-footed Nemesis has overtaken the people; and their pride has been overthrown, their security stripped away, and calamity overwhelmed them. Life is crammed with rich and fruitful symbols. And those few stones, lying in unregarded confusion, are the symbol of a forgotten God. They seem so unimportant, but they are the pathetic mementoes of dead worships, forgotten loyalties, quenched visions, faded raptures, and lifeless loves. That is life’s most arrestive pathos, to have known God and to have been intimate with the Eternal, and to have seen the vision splendid fade into the light of common day, and the divinity of heaven degraded into a powerless commonplace. And that soon runs out into every part of our complex lives and touches each least thing with its paralysing and degrading hand. These two things are inexorably fastened together--the famine in the land is the certain consequence of spiritual disloyalty and recreancy. When the soul becomes materialised, its visions arc quenched, its raptures die, disintegration inevitably sets in, the descent is begun, which, unless it is arrested, can have but one, and that no uncertain end. Life loses its high incentives, the breath of its most spacious inspirations perishes, the spell of its holiest attractions is broken, bit by bit the glory vanishes from the sky, and quenched stars presage the uttermost dark. And this is no capricious law, which once--but once only--worked itself out to its awful issue, and smote them that disregarded the sanctities with the desolation of devastating famine. This is one of those eternal laws of God’s wise government of the world, whereby every outraged piety vindicates its awful holiness and supremacy, and a certain Nemesis is securely fastened to every act of wrong-doing. Spiritual disloyalties degrade physical conditions, and sins o the heart work out their awful issue in plain facts which none can dispute. The punishment may vary, famine or some other scourge of God, but it is never uncertain. And we to-day may be sure that every broken altar in our individual life is mysteriously, but certainly, working to its inevitable close.
II. Repairing the altar of the Lord. He is the real helper and healer of the people, who can put his finger upon the root of their sorrow, who discovers the cause of their calamity and defeat. It is little good to peddle about the circumference, to remedy this evil, to heal this wound, to satisfy this hunger--all these are but varied forms of a sovereign defect, to find and to heal which is the supreme necessity. Things must be seen in their proper perspective, and dealt with in their imperative sequence, before good can be established and welfare made secure. Some might have said to the prophet, “Why trouble about the altar now? Submit the final issue, decide the great question, then build the altar to the certain God!” But with a sure instinct he touched the secret of the nation’s sorrows--that tiny heap of broken stones is the root of all its disasters. The reconstruction of life must begin at the point of its incipient overthrow. However tired the feet may be, and however painful the journey, men must retrace their steps along the sad way of their disobedience, until they stand at the point of their departure from the precepts of the Lord. They must confront the past with wide-open eyes, see every bit of its disloyalty and tragic failure; the erring of heart as well as of feet; its revolt against high heaven and dissonance with the spirit of goodness. Every bit of stable reconstruction either in personal or national life must go back and begin at the point of departure, it must build on the old foundation when every uncertain stone has been removed; so, and so only, can it hope to be secure. And this old story has a pathetic relevancy to the life of many of us today. There was a time when our days were “bound each to each by natural piety.” But bit by bit it has all been changed. The circumstances of life have taken on an added pomp, but a glory has faded out of our days, and we sit listening to strains of distant and ever fainter music, and watch the passing of receding angels. Bit by bit the vision faded, the revelation was withdrawn, the glory vanished, the simplicity departed, the pledge was broken, the purity was despoiled, the integrity disintegrated, and with them the radiant angels of joy and peace have withdrawn. That is the degradation that comes of neglect. No rough hands of ours tore stone from stone and piled the shrine with ruins, day by day we swept away its crumbled fragments, until at last it was gone we knew not how. But oh, “the difference to me”! To-day the ruin is not absolute, the Presence has not wholly gone. But there is only one way. The soul’s intimacy with Heaven must be re-established. (G. Beesley Austin.)
The destruction and restoration of the altar
The altar, the sacred possession of all the twelve stones which Elijah rebuilt to represent the whole of Israel. Broken down and deserted. Apply to practical desertion of worship.
I. When worldliness or any other sin absorbs the soul and prayer is abandoned. Scepticism as to reality and answer to prayer allows the fires to go out and the altar to go to decay. When even preaching usurps the place of worship, so monopolising time and attention that worship is reduced to a minimum.
II. Restoration--effected by calling to repentance, and vindication of the honour of God, Fire must come from heaven to rekindle, and special descent of the Holy Spirit of prayer and supplication will be the answer to diligent seeking.
III. Restoration of the family altar a special demand of our time. General decay thereof. Sad results. Blessed effects of restoring. (Homiletic Review.)
The altar a necessity
An eminent worldling wrote to a learned professor a letter in which he said: “It has been proved in the Colonies that rapid social deterioration follows upon local inability to go to church. If the settlers’ ‘grant’ be so remote that churchgoing becomes an impossibility he gradually ceases to miss it, abandons the weekly burnishing and outside decorum, and the rest rapidly follows.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, far from an Evangelical--but a man of keen insight into the human heart says, “I have in the corner of my heart a plant called reverence, which I find needs watering at least once a week.” (H. O. Mackey.)
1 Kings 18:36
Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel.
Let us consider the creed of this “loftiest, sternest spirit of the true faith,” as Dean Stanley called him. We may glean its articles from that prayer made under circumstances which would have tried the soul even of a sterner man than he. Three things may be read in this prayer:
1. A formula--“Jehovah, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel.”
2. A personal relation between God and the prophet--“Let it” be known this day that I am Thy servant.
3. The fulfilment of a Divine purpose through the deeds of the man--“And that I have done all these things at Thy word.” Taking the prayer itself as a creed, we see embodied in it the formal, the personal, and the practical elements. Notice, first, that the prophet used a formula to express the foundation of his belief. He may have done it unconsciously, full of the idea for which it had stood now six hundred years. Had he not read it in the Law, heard it from the lips of priest and rabbi, and himself used it times without number? No one supposes that the prophet used the formula lightly or ignorantly. In this we might set him in contrast with ourselves. But no creed is complete which does not involve a personal relation between him who utters it and God. So, in this prayer, the relation between God as Lord and Elijah as prophet is clearly drawn. God was invoked to prove this very thing. As a servant, Elijah had taken his life in his hand long before. A man tells you he believes in God. Ask him what essential change of character would be produced by his parting with his belief. His servantship had already been proved by his implicit obedience to every command of God. Now he hid by the brook Cherith, and now tarried at Zarephath. A further element of faith involved in this formal supplication is that of co-operative work. In and through His servant God is fulfilling His purposes; “Let it be known that I have done all these things at Thy word.” We are not, of course, to make the Lord responsible for everything a good man does. “A perfect trust” does not shield the human agent from the just charge of misdemeanours. Every servant of God does the will of God. He starts or sustains a tendency, works destruction here, rescues life there, goes to the wilderness, returns to the town, is silent now, again thunders forth, as the Spirit wills, to bring to pass the true conception of God working in the world, without ceasing, to establish and maintain righteousness. So the war goes on, and will go on until the whole earth bows down before Him. Now, all this is made extremely simple in the prayer of the prophet: “God is. God has a servant in me. God through me works His will.” Let all men believe this, let their belief take hold of their life as it took hold of Elijah’s, so that not to believe is death, and a new earth is in process, and the universal reign of Jehovah is visibly begun.
What have we more than had Elijah?
1. We have a new insight of the personality of God. Did not Elijah believe in God as a Person? We must insist that he did. But our vision is clearer. He felt the power of the Person in the “still, small voice.” That was his gospel. We know it in the conquering soul of the Christ. We behold the glory of the Divine Personality, and through Him know ourselves as individual members of the Divine household.
2. Again, we realise a new order of mercy. Once there was the relentless call for sacrifice. Elijah was an avenger. He could slay hundreds in one act. It would have been impossible for him to conceive of avenging justice turned into mercy. We, on the other hand, hear a voice pleading for infinitely worse offenders, “Father, forgive them.” The Divine expiation is sufficient to cover every sinner. It is ours to make the word of deliverance ring around the world, “Come unto Me,” and be free from condemnation.
3. Once more, the duty of every man is now more clear than it could have been in Elijah’s day. Can any one, it may be asked, understand his duty more perfectly than did the prophet? Still, duty with us takes on the nature of universality and of privilege. (C. R. Seymour.)
Let it be known that I have done all these things at Thy word.
I. A firm ground for prayer.
1. You are a minister of God, or a worker in the cause of Christ, and you go forth and preach the Gospel with many tears and prayers, and you continue to use all means, such as Christ has ordained: do you say to yourself, “May I expect to have fruit of all this?” Of course you may. You are not sent on a frivolous errand “you are not bidden to sow dead seed that will never spring up. But when that anxiety weighs heavily upon your heart, go you to the mercy-seat with this as one of your arguments, “Lord, I have done according to Thy word.”
2. Next, I would apply this teaching to a whole church. I am afraid many churches of Christ are not prospering. The congregations are thin, the church is diminishing, the prayer-meeting scantily attended, spiritual life low. If I can conceive of church in such a condition which, nevertheless, can say to God, “We have done all these things at Thy word,” I should expect to see that church soon revived in answer to prayer. The reason why some churches do not prosper is, because they have not done according to God’s word.
3. The same principle may be applied also to any individual believers who are in trouble through having done right.
4. I would like to apply this principle to the seeking sinner.
II. Self-examination as to whether or not you have done all these things at God’s word.
1. Let every worker here who has not been successful answer this question--Have you done all these things at God’s word?
2. Did you preach it rightly? That is to say, did you state it affectionately, earnestly, clearly, plainly?
3. And another question--Has there been an example to back your teaching? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Whom to please
On a very cold night a gate-keeper at a railway depot demanded that each passenger show his ticket. Several bitterly complained of the delay and inconvenience. “You are a very unpopular man to-night,” said a spectator. “I only care to be popular with one man,” he replied, “and that is the superintendent.” In the same way Christians should take care that their actions are pleasing to God, and if they have to displease man, they must remember that “we ought to obey God rather than men.”
“I have stood,” said Mr. Scott, “on the deck of a ship while she was toiling up-stream, with wind and water against her, and I have gone up to the man at the wheel, and said, ‘Jack, why don’t you ease her off a point or two? You see how it would relieve her.’ But the answer was, ‘No, I can’t luff; that is the point of the compass the captain gave me, and I must keep her to it.’ ‘But, man,’ I remonstrated, ‘if you keep her as she is, soon the bulwarks will be stove in, and there is every chance that under this fearful strain she may spring a leak.’ ‘That is none of my business; it is the captain’s look out. All I have to do is to obey his orders,’ was the man’s answer. The captain, however, understood his business, and we arrived safe in harbour. Sometimes, if we do exactly as Christ commands, it appears as if our business would be ruined, our reputation lost--as if, indeed, we should be totally wrecked. That, however, is the captain’s look out. All we have to do is to implicitly obey.”
1 Kings 18:39
All the people . . . said, The Lord, He is the God.
Christianity acknowledged supreme
In the Introduction to his Analogy of Religion, Bishop Butler says: “It has come to pass--I know not how--that Christianity is discovered to be victorious.” Why, that was nearly two hundred years ago! I wonder how many books have been written against the Bible since then, and handed up, one after the other, to the cobwebs of the upper shelves in the library, while the old Book still lies before us, saying with a conscious sense of superiority to all the other books--
“Books may come and books may go,
But I go on for ever.”
A reformer’s temporary successes
“There was a time, towards the close of the fifteenth century, when the devoted monk and martyr, Savonarola, seemed to have set up the kingdom of Christ in his beloved city of Florence. How he remodelled the Republican government; how he tamed the mischievous boys of the city; how at his bidding the people kindled in the great Piazza, during the Carnival of 1496, the strange Bonfire of Vanities; how the watchword of Florence became, ‘Viva Gesu Cristo, nostro Re’--Long live Jesus Christ, our King: there are few histories like it. It was an Italian theocracy. It was a day of heaven on the earth. ‘So much joy was there in all hearts,’ one of the chroniclers tells us, ‘that the glory of Paradise seemed to have descended to this lower world.’ The pity is that the Golden Age of Florence was so transient and brief-lived.” (Sunday School Teacher.)
1 Kings 18:40
Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.
The true narrowness
Elijah was intolerant--narrow, as some would call it. Dr. Cadman says that some things must be narrow in order to do their work. “You want a narrow edge on your razor. About the broadest thing in the world is the Desert of Sahara.” No Christian should attempt a compromise between wrong and right.
1 Kings 18:41-46
And Elijah said unto Ahab.
The conquest of faith
I. Indicates the bent of a good man’s mind. Both Ahab and Elijah “went up,” but how different their purposes. One “went up” to eat and drink, the other “went up” to pray. One event may produce various impressions on different minds. These different impressions indicate the true character of men. The mind of the ungodly man is bent upon pleasure, the mind of the godly man on prayer. We may learn three things respecting a good man from this event.
1. The good man possesses an earnest spirit. Elijah needed rest.
2. The good man possesses a humble spirit. The victory Elijah had achieved produced an amazing influence on the minds of the spectators.
3. The good man possesses a devout spirit. He retired to pray. “He cast himself upon the earth, and put his face between his knees.”
II. Exemplifies the power of a good man’s faith. There are three things about Elijah’s conduct that claim our attention.
1. His confidence. There were no indications of the approaching storm. The air was calm, and clear, and cloudless. Elijah had faith in God. He remembered Cherith, Zarephath, and Carmel.
2. His patience. Disappointed once, twice, even six times, he sends again. Elijah knew what God had promised He had power to perform. He waited.
3. His perseverance. Elijah had noted the rustling among the trees, but this did not set aside the necessity of prayer. Elijah prayed, continued in prayer. Don’t let us be discouraged in our approaches to God.
III. Records the success of a good man’s prayer. God had given one answer to prayer--fire had fallen from heaven and consumed the prepared sacrifice. Elijah prayed again. Continued mercies necessitate repeated supplication. To-day’s prayer will not do for So-morrow’s blessing. We know not the nature of Elijah’s petition, but we see three advantages accruing therefrom.
1. There is a Visible indication of God’s purposes. “Behold there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand.” God’s children have the earliest intimation of God’s purposes. “Like a man’s hand.” Small beginnings--in literature, science, and religion--often have important and far-reaching results.
2. There is a special warning for the king’s preparation. “Go, say unto Ahab.” Elijah had predicted that rain should come “according to his word.”
3. There is a direct answer to a particular request. Elijah prayed for rain. The blessing was sent “while” he sought it. It was a great rain.
IV. Reveals the source of a good man’s strength. “And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah.” Remember what Elijah had done! Think of his weariness and hunger, then picture him, outrunning for twenty miles the fleet steed of Ahab. From this superhuman event let us learn two things.
1. That God imparts strength to the good man for the performance of the most arduous duties. “The hand of the Lord was on Elijah.” Man is a poor fragile thing, but God can gird him with infinite strength. God’s influences touch the body, the mind, the heart.
2. The resources of infinite strength are within the reach of a good man. What God did for Elijah He can do for the Church--individuals. (Preacher’s Analyst.)
The prayer of faith
On the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and opposite the far-famed town of Acre, on the south side of a beautiful bay, there is a range of mountain-land rising to an elevation of from 1200 to 1500 feet. This range of hills stand out with marked distinctness and forms a very prominent object from the sea and from all the country round about. It is known by the name of Mount Carmel. The view from the summit is very imposing. The tableland on the summit extends inland for some eight or nine miles. It is a locality interesting not simply on its own account, but also from its varied scriptural associations.
I. The prophet’s prayer. He is bold enough before men, but humble indeed in the presence of God.
1. Look at his posture. He is on his knees with his head bowed downward, so that his forehead touches the ground. This was the attitude assumed in supplication on occasions of special urgency. Standing in prayer was not unusual in ordinary worship (Mark 11:25; Luke 18:13). Attitude in prayer is of small moment in comparison with the spirit of devotion; yet as an outward indication of inward feeling is net altogether unimportant:--
(1) Elijah’s attitude was the sign of reverence and humility: reverence is conspicuous in the prayers of the most devout.
(2) Listen to his petition. We hear not indeed the words, but we know the matter of his prayer. The land was desolate and the people ready to perish for lack of rain. Showers of blessing are wanting for the Church! Oh for the spirit of Elijah.
II. The prophet’s faith.
1. He expected the rain, although as yet there was no sign of its coming, and it had been withheld for more than three years. He says (1 Kings 18:41), “There is a sound of abundance of rain”; but this was as yet only in the word of God’s promise.
2. He continued So expect although the fulfilment of the promise was long delayed. He said to his servant seven times:--“Go again.” “Go again.” It will come! God often tries faith and patience by delay.
III. The prophet’s success. (Homiletic Magazine.)
I. The object of his faith. To procure rain for the parched land. This was the one object upon which his mind was fixed, and which he was stimulated to seek by the promise of God.
II. The means by which he sought this object. “He cast himself down,” etc. The attitude of prayer. He might have been tempted to have left God to fulfil His own promise, but He did not. His faith was operative, and led him to pray earnestly for the object upon which it was fixed. True faith will always influence us to labour and to pray for its object.
III. The encouragement he received. “A sound of abundance of rain”
IV. The discouragement he met with. “The servant returned from looking toward the sea and said there is nothing.”
V. The perseverance he manifested. “Go again seven times.”
VI. The success he realised. “And it came to pass, in the meanwhile, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain.” Perseverance is still rewarded by success, and by it God’s servants still honour Him whom they serve. (Thomas Carr.)
Rain at last
There are certain characteristics in Elijah’s prayer which we must notice as we pass, because they should form part of all true prayer.
I. It was based on the promise of God. God’s promises are given, not to restrain, but to incite to prayer. They show the direction in which we may ask, and the extent to which we may expect an answer. They are the mould into which we may pour our fervid spirits without fear. They are the signed cheque, made payable to order, which we must endorse and present for payment. Though the Bible be crowded with golden promises from board to board, yet will they be inoperative until we turn them into prayer. We are content to pray, though we are as ignorant of the philosophy of the modus operandi of prayer, as we are of any natural law. We find it no dreamy reverie or sweet sentimentality, but a practical living force.
II. It was definite. This is where so many prayers fail. They are shot like arrows into the air. They are like letters which require no answer, because they ask for nothing. They are like the firing by artillery in a mimic fight, when only gunpowder is employed. This is why they are so wanting in power and interest.
III. It was earnest. “Elijah prayed earnestly.” This is the testimony of the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle James. It was the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man, which availeth much.
IV. Elijah’s prayer was humble. “He cast himself down on the ground, and put his face between his knees.” We scarcely recognize him, he seems to have lost his identity. Our only plea with God is the merit and blood of our great High Priest. It becomes us to be humble.
V. It was full of expecxtant faith. “Whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them: and ye shall have them.” Faith is the indispensable condition of all true prayer. It is the gift of the Holy Ghost. It thrives by exercise. It grows strong by feeding on the promises: the Word of God is its natural food. It beat strongly in Elijah’s heart.
VI. It was very persevering. He said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up, and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” How often have we sent the lad of eager desire to scan the horizon!--and how often has he returned with the answer, There is nothing! There is no tear of penitence in those hard eyes. There is no symptom of amendment in that wild life. There is no sign of deliverance in these sore perplexities. There is nothing. And because there is nothing when we have just begun to pray, we leave off praying. We leave the mountain brow. We do not know that God’s answer is even then upon the way. Not so with Elijah. “And he said, Go again seven times.” Not unfrequently our Father grants our prayer, and labels the answer for us; but He keeps it back, that we may be led on to a point of intensity, which shall bless our spirits for ever, and from which we shall never recede.
VII. And the prayer was abundantly answered. For weeks and months before, the sun had been gathering up from lake and river, from sea and ocean, the drops of mist, drawing them as clouds in coronets of glory around himself; and now the gale was bearing them rapidly towards the thirsty land of Israel. Presently the lad, from his tower of observation, beheld on the horizon a tiny cloud, no bigger than a man’s hand, scudding across the sky. No more was needed to convince an Oriental that rain was near. It was, and is, the certain precursor of a sudden hurricane of wind and rain. “More things are wrought by prayer than this world wots of.” Why should not we learn and practise his secret? It is certainly within the reach of us all. Then we too might bring from heaven spiritual blessings, which should make the parched places of the church and the world rejoice and blossom as the rose. (F. B. Meyer, M. A.)
Elijah an example of the true spirit of prayer
I. The place whither Elijah went to seek him. He ascended to the top of Carmel! Here was a privacy remote from every eye, and well calculated to bring his mind into near and dear communion with God, after the public and awful duties in which he had been engaged--duties equally affecting the honour of Jehovah and the welfare of His people.
II. The prayer of Elijah seems to have been offered up in deep humility. He cast himself upon the earth, and put his face between his knees. Lowliness is the very essence of prayer--for what is prayer, except the soul’s confession of its unworthiness, its rebellion, its vileness, its helplessness, its merit of God’s wrath, arising out of a broken law and a neglect of all the blessings that are centred in Jesus, and that have been offered to and pressed upon its acceptance?
III. The prayer of Elijah is beautifully distinguished by a spirit of deep and settled earnestness. We do not hear a word spoken, nothing that interrupts the soul’s silent communion with God. We know not that a tear was shed, we know not that a sigh was uttered; yet have we obviously the supplication of one who wrestled with God, under an almost overwhelming sense of the momentous nature of the petition which he asked at God’s hand.
IV. He wrestled with God, as “one who would take no denial.”
V. Elijah, then, exhibited a full assurance of faith that his petition would be granted.
VI. Elijah exhibited a waiting spirit of supplication.
VII. The supplication of Elijah was distinguished by a watchful state of mind.
VIII. The prayer of Elijah was the pleading of a spirit capable of discovering an answer which common observation could not detect.
IX. The prayer of Elijah was one which served to strengthen him for duty. It did not suffice to send his servant, that Ahab might be warned, and proceed on his way. No, the prophet arose from his station and posture of lowliness on Mount Carmel, in joy and comfort, to do Jehovah’s bidding, as Jehovah’s prophet. “The hand of the Lord was upon Elijah, and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab, to the entrance of Jezreel.” (R. P. Buddicom, B. A.)
“God’s seasons are not at your beck. If the first stroke of the flint doth not bring forth the fire, you must strike again.” That is to say, God will hear prayer, but He may not answer it at the time which we in our own minds have appointed; He will reveal Himself to our seeking hearts, but not just when and where we have settled in our own expectations. Hence the need of perseverance and importunity in supplication. In the days of flint and steel and brimstone matches we had to strike and strike again, dozens of times, before we could get a spark to live in the tinder; and we were thankful enough if we succeeded at last. Shall we not be as persevering and hopeful as to heavenly things? We have more certainty of success in this business than we had with our flint and steel, for we have God’s promise at our back. Never let us despair. God’s time for mercy will come; yea, it has come, if our time for believing has arrived. Ask in faith, nothing wavering; but never cease from petitioning because the king delays to reply. Strike the steel again. Make the sparks fly and have your tinder ready: you will get a light before long. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Prayers for fire and for water
The prayer for fire was answered at once; the prayer for water was not. By putting the two instances together we shall see how they explain one another, and what a striking argument for their common probability is established. Notice as the fundamental fact that the prayer for fire was answered instantaneously, and that the prayer for water was not answered until it had been offered seven times.
1. There was an urgency in the one case which there was not in the other. The king was waiting; so were the prophets; so were the people; it is an unprecedented crisis in the history of the nation. In the case of the rain, the prophet was alone; no immediate expectancy on the part of the public was to be answered.
2. We are not to live in the unusual and the exciting, but in the ordinary and regular. It was good for Elijah himself to be taught that he was only a suppliant, not the Lord. God has always been sparing of His exceptional manifestations. Christ was sparing in His miracles: He never did them merely for the sake of doing them.
3. No human imagination would have risked such a conjunction of immediateness and delay as is given in this chapter. Such a contrary act on the part of God is a simple impossibility to the imagination. It amounts to what is called, sometimes foolishly, a discrepancy or contradiction. Yet it is the very law of the mystery of our life! We live it, but dare not imagine it! Great honours are followed by great reverses to keep us sober. Out of this reasoning comes the high probability of the historical and literal truthfulness of the whole narrative. Literary completeness there is none. No attempt is made to satisfy the suggestions of fancy. All tricks of management, all skill in artistic disposal of incident is ignored, and truth is left to attest and vindicate its reality. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The rustling and the rain
The solemn scenes Ahab had just witnessed would, we should think, have made the most flippant thoughtful, and earnest; but Ahab is unmoved. “Get thee up, eat and drink,” Elijah says to him. That is all he is fit for. He is quite ready for a good banquet; he would be out of his element at a prayer-meeting. In like manner there are some to-day who seem unmoved by any manifestations of Divine power. They pass out of church after listening to a most moving sermon, and merely complain of the length, or criticise the preacher’s style. Human nature, even when totally unregenerate, often manifests some traits that are noble and genuine. It is seldom so outrageously carnal and callous as Ahab seemed on this occasion. We turn with relief to Elijah. “There is a sound of abundance of rain,” he had said to Ahab. Perhaps he heard it only with the ear of the spirit by faith. But why should not Elijah also eat and drink? He was exhausted with the labour and strain of the day. Why not be content, now that he has heard the soughing in the trees, and just eat and drink until the rain fall? Because the rustling was not the rain, it was only the precursor of the rain, and a call to prayer. How often we hinder blessing through lack of prayer. We hear the rustling and we take our ease. If we waited without prayer for the fulfilment of the promise, it would seem as if we thought we had a right to the blessing. Once we begin to take our mercies as a matter of course, there is no blessing with them to our souls. So we find two features specially prominent in this prayer of Elijah’s--his utter self-abasement before God and his believing perseverance. But why does not the first prayer prevail? It is good that our faith should be tested and our desires proved. It is well, too, that we should be taught our dependence upon God. Perhaps if our prayers were always answered at once we should seem rulers and commanders in the things of God, and forget our subordinate and dependent position. We might even make an idol of prayer, as the Israelites did of the brazen serpent, and look upon our prayers as a charm or divining red, giving us a legal claim upon the bounty of heaven. (F. S. Webster, M. A.)
The coming rain
I. The cause of the famine.
II. The cause of the rain.
1. Primary cause, God’s mercy. He seems to catch beforehand the sound of its footsteps (LXX.). But as the punishment was not brought about without the prophet’s intervention, so now the rain is to be hastened by his prayers.
2. What we may describe as the instrumental cause was Elijah’s fervent supplications. It is the instance of the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availing much.” “He prayed again, and the heaven gave rain” (James 5:16-18).
1. We learn from this lesson that prayer is of avail with regard to outward things.
2. We see clearly that it must be the prayer of faith, and not of human caprice, which is offered.
3. The lesson also warns us that national sins bring down national chastisements. (W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
1 Kings 18:43-44
And said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea.
The Servant of Elijah
I. That to aim upwards in our thoughts and actions is the best way to obtain relief in times of danger or difficulty. Elijah went up to the topmost position of Mount Carmel, and he bade his servant go up still higher, to the very peak of the mountain, so as the better to observe the appearances of the sky far and wide. Are we in search of some good? Then let us raise our affections above the unsatisfying, the perishing, the earthly, to the beatific, the eternal, the heavenly; let us scale the heights of our celestial Carmel, and seek for the rain-cloud of promise, by the waters of which a well of water shall be made to spring up in our hearts unto eternal life.
II. That we should not procrastinate in spiritual matters. “Go up now,” Elijah says to his servant, “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” “What thou doest, do quickly.” Indolence cannot win heavenly riches any more than worldly. “Procrastination is the thief of time.” The sluggard loses all his to-days in thinking of his to-morrows. To-morrow, in fact, is the watchword of the lazy and the idle.
III. That the true spiritual life consists of two parts, the active and the contemplative. Elijah went up, after his strenuous exertion in his contests with the priests of Baal, to the top of the mountain, and there rested upon the ground with his face between his knees, that is, in prayer or Divine meditation. The servant, too, was to “go up.” That necessitated active exertion, and then to “look” over the face of the heaven. That showed the desirability of contemplation.
IV. That we must never despair. The servant of Elijah had to go up seven times ere he saw any sign of the coming of the wished-for rain. Let us not then be “weary in well-doing,” let us not give way to disappointment if we succeed not at once in our efforts after higher things. To few persons in this life does success come immediately or at one trial. The spider--that, by its frequent efforts to cast its web between two distant points, taught perseverance to the royal Bruce--might also speak to us the lesson to persevere unto the end, to continue in well-doing, to show forth in heavenly things patience and perseverance.
V. That in small things, as well as in great we should learn to trace God’s hand. This little cloud, even at last, was no bigger than a man’s hand; yet it was a messenger sent to fulfil God’s decree. Many persons are willing enough to recognise God’s agency in great events, in national revolutions, popular outbreaks, natural disturbances; but are not inclined to see the power of God in lesser matters, in individual trials, in the every-day phenomena of life.
VI. That we should regard temporal matters in the light of eternity. This servant of Elijah was to look towards the sea. The sea has ever been taken as an emblem of eternity. It was a fitter emblem of eternity in the ancient world than it is in the modern, because the ancients knew little of its depth or its extent, whereas we have mapped out in a great degree both the one and the other. (R. Young, M. A.)
A beautiful little book, Expectation Corners, tells of a king who prepared a city for some of his poor subjects. Not far from them were large storehouses, where everything they could need was supplied if they but sent in their requests. But on one condition--they should be on the outlook for the answer, so that when the king’s messengers came with the answer to their petitions, they should always be found waiting and ready to receive them. The sad story is told of one desponding one who never expected to get what he asked, because he was too unworthy. One day he was taken to the king’s storehouses, and there, to his amazement, he saw, with his address on them, all the packages that had been made up for him, and sent. There was the garment of praise, and the oil of joy, and the eye-salve, and so much more; they had been to his door, but found it closed; he was not on the outlook. From that time on he learnt the lesson Micah would teach us: “I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” (Andrew Murray.)
Answers to prayer expected
There is no sense in always telegraphing to heaven for God to send a cargo of blessing, unless we are at the wharf to unload the vessel when it comes. (J. Ellis.)
The weather watcher
The Electric Light Company of one of London’s districts has a weather watcher who sits all day on the roof in a small glass house. It is his business to keep his eyes open to every sign of change, especially the gathering of clouds causing darkness, as in that case a sudden demand is made for electric lighting all over the district, and this requires a greatly intensified power in the huge generators below. As soon as he sees a great dark cloud travelling Londonwards, he telephones to the engine-room below that additional power will soon be needed, and by the time required it has been generated. Would that God’s people everywhere were watchmen who, when they saw the clouds gathering over the church and the world, would turn that into a plea for power--power from God. (H. O. Mackey.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Kings 18". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany