Page images

mother, when she saw again the eyes of her son fixed upon hers; when she felt his flesh warm, his motions vital !

Now she can say to Elijah, By this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth. Did she not till now know this ? Had she not said before, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? Were not her cruse and her barrel sufficient proofs of his divine commission ? Doubtless, what her meal and oil had assured her of, the death of her son made her to doubt; and now, reviving, did reascertain. Even the strongest faith sometimes staggereth, and needeth new acts of heavenly sup: portation. : The end of miracles is confirmation of truth. It seems had this widow's son continued dead, her belief had been buried in his grave: notwithstanding her meal and her oil, her soul had languished. The mercy of God is fain to provide new helps for our infirmities; and graciously condescends to our own terms, that we may work out our faith and salvation.

1 Kings xvii.

ELIJAH WITH THE BAALITES. Three years and a half, did Israel lie gasping under a parching drought and miserable famine..

No creature was so odious to them, as Elijah; to whom they as, cribed all their misery. Methinks, I hear how they rail on and curse the prophet. How much envy must the servants of God undergo for their master! Nothing but the tongue was Elijah's; the hand was God's.' The prophet did but say, what God would do: I do not see them fall out with their sins, that had deserved the judge. ment; but with the messenger, that denounced it. Baal had no fewer servants, than if there had been both rain and plenty. :

Elijah safely spends this storm, under the lee of Sarepta. Some three years hath he lain close in that obscure corner; and lived upon the barrel and cruse, which he had multiplied : at last, God calls him forth ; Go sher thyself to Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.

No rain must fall, till Elijah were seen of Ahab. He carried away the clouds with him ; he must bring them again. The king, the people of Israel, shall be witnesses, that God will make good the word, the oath of his prophet. Should the rain have fallen in Elijah's absence, who could have known it was by his procurement? God holds the credit of his messengers precious; and neglects no. thing that may grace them, in the eyes of the world. Not the ne. cessity of seven thousand religious Israelites could crack the word of one Elijah. There is nothing, wherein God is more tender, than in approving the veracity of himself, in his ministers.. . · Lewd Ahab hath a holy steward. As his name was, so was he, a servant of God, while his master was a slave to Baal. He, that reserved seven thousand in the kingdom of Israel, bath reserved ane

VOL. l. s .. D:11. in. . It Obadiah in the court of Israel ; and by him, hath reserved them: Neither is it likely, there had been so many free hearts in the coun. try, if religion had not been secretly backed in the court. It is a great happiness, when God gives favour and honour to the virtuous. · Elijah did not lie more close in Sarepta, than Obadiah did in the court. He could not have done so much service to the Church, if he had not been as secret as good, Policy and religion do as well together, as they do ill asunder. The dove without the serpent, is easily caught; the serpent without the dove, stings deadly. Religion without policy, is too simple to be safe; policy without religion, is too subtile to be good : their match makes themselves secure, and many happy. :

Oh degenerated estate of Israel! Any thing was now lawful there, saving piety. It is well, if God's prophets can find a hole to hide their heads in. They must needs be hard driven, when fifty of them are fain to crowd together into one cave. There they had both shade and repast. Good Obadiah hazards his own life, to preserve theirs; and spends himself, in that extreme dearth, upon their necessary diet. Bread and water was more now, than other while wine and delicacies. Whether shall we wonder more, at the mercy, of God in reserving a hundred prophets, or in thus sustaining them being reserved? When did God ever leave his Israel, unfurnished of some prophets? When did he leave his prophets, unprovided of some Obadiah? How worthy art thou, O Lord, to be trusted with thine own charge. While there are men upon earth, or birds in the air, or angels in heaven, thy messengers cannot want provision. :

Goodness carries away trust, where it cannot have imitation. Ahab divides with Obadiah the survey of the whole land. They two set their own eyes on work, for the search of water, of pasture, to preserve the horses and mules alive...

Oh the poor and vain cares of Ahab.! He casts to kill the prophet, to save the cattle ; he never seeks to save his own soul, to destroy idolatry: he takes thought for grass, none for mercy. Carnal hearts are ever, either grovelling on the earth, or delving into it; no more regarding God or their souls, than if they either were not, or were worthless. · Elijah hears of the progress; and offers himself to the view of them both. Here was wisdom in this courage : first, he presents himself to Obadiah, ere he will be seen of Ahab; that Ahab might, upon the report of so discreet an informer, digest the expectation of his meeting: then he takes the opportunity of Ahab's presence, when he might be sure Jezebel was away. i Obadiah meets the prophet; knows him; and, as if he had seen God in him, falls on his face to him, whom he knew his master persecuted. Though a great peer, he had learned to honour a prophét: No respect was too much, for the president of that sacred college. To the poor boarder of the Sareptan, here was no less, than a prostration ; and, My lord Elijah, from the great high

steward of Israel. Those, that are truly gracious, cannot be niggardly of their observances, to the messengers of God.

Elijah receives the reverence; returns a charge; Go tell my lord, behold Elijah is here. Obadiah finds this load too heavy; neither is he more stricken with the boldness, than with the unkindness of this command: boldness, in respect of Elijah; unkindness, in respect of himself. For, thus he thinks, “If Elijah do come to Ahab, he dies : if he do not come, I die. If it be known that I met him, and brought him not, it is death: if I say that he will come voluntarily, and God shall alter his intentions, it is death. How unhappy a man am I, that must be either Elijah's executioner, or my own! Were Ahab's displeasure but smoking, I might hope to quench it; but now, that the flame of it hath broken forth to the notice, to the search, of all the kingdoms and nations round about, it may consume me; I cannot extinguish it. This message were for an enemy of Elijah; for a client of Baal : as for me, I have well approved my true devotion to God; my love to his prophets. What have I done, that I should be singled out, either to kill Elijah or to be killed for him ?” Many a hard plunge must that man needs be driven to, who would hold his conscience, together with the service and favour of a tyrant. It is a happy thing, to serve a just master : there is no danger, no stain, in such obedience.

But, when the prophet binds his resolution with an oath, and clears the heart of Obadiah from all fears, from all suspicions, the good man dares be the messenger of that, which he saw was deereed in heaven.

Doubtless, Ahab startled to hear of Elijah coming to meet him ; as one, that did not more hate, than fear the prophet. Well might he think, “ Thus long, thus far, have I sought Elijah. Elijah would not come to seek me, but under a sure guard, and with some strange commission. His coarse mantle hath the advantage of my robe and sceptre. If I can command a piece of the earth, I see he can command heaven.” The edge of his revenge is taken off, with a doubtful expectation of the issue ; and now, when Elijah offers himself to the eyes of Ahab, he, who durst not strike, yet durst challenge the prophet; Art thou he, that troubleth Israel ? Jeroboam's hand was still in Ahab's thoughts. He holds it not so safe to smite, as to expostulate. He, that was the head of Israel, speaks out that, which was in the heart of all his people, that Elijah was the cause of all their sorrow. Alas! what hath the righteous prophet done? He taxed their sin, he foretold the judgments; he deserved it not, he inflicted it not : yet he smarts, and they are guilty. As if some fond people should accuse the herald or the trumpet, as the cause of their war; or, as if some ignorant peasant, when he sees his fowls bathing in his pond, should cry out of them as the causes of foul weather:

Oh the heroical spirit of Elijah! He stands alone, amidst all the train of Ahab; and dares not only repel this charge, but retort it ;

I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim. No earthly.glory can daunt him, who hath the clear and heartening visions of God.

This holy seer discerns the true cause of our sufferings to be our sins. Foolish men are plagued for their offences; and it is no small part of their plague, that they see it not. The only common disturber of men, families, cities, kingdoms, worlds, is sin. There is no such traitor to any state, as the wilfully wicked. The quietest and most plausible offender is secretly seditious, and stirreth quarrels in heaven.

The true messengers of God carry authority, even where they are maligned. Elijah doth at once reprove the king, and require of him the improvement of his power; in gathering all Israel to Carmel ; in fetching thither all the prophets of Baal.

Baal was rich in Israel, while God was poor. While God hath but one hundred prophets hid closely in Obadiah's caves, Baal hath eight hundred and fifty : four hundred and fifty dispersed over the villages and towns of Israel ; four hundred at the court, God's prophets are glad of bread and water, while the four hundred trencher prophets of Jezebel feed on her dainties : they lurk in caves; while these lord it in the pleasantest groves. Outward prosperity is a false note of truth.

All these, with all Israel, doth Elijah require Ahab to summon untó Carmel. It is in the power of kings, to command the assem, bly of the prophets. The prophet sues to the prince, for the indiction of this synod. They are injurious to sovereignty, who ars rogate this power to none but spiritual hands.

How is it, that Ahab is as ready to perform this charge, as Elijah to move it? I dare answer for his heart, that it was not drawn with love. Was it out of the sense of one judgment, and fear of another? He smarted with the dearth and drought; and well thinks Elijah would not be so round with him for nothing. Was it out of an expectation of some miraculous exploit, which the prophet would do in the sight of all Israel? Or, was it out of the over-ruling power of the Almighty? The heart of Kings is in the hands of God, and he turns it which way soever he pleaseth.

Israel is met together : Elijah rates them ; not so much for their superstition, as for their unsettledness and irresolution. One is raelite serves God, another Baal; yea, the same Israelite, perhaps, serves both God' and Baal. How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. Nothing is more odious to God, than a profane neutrality, in main oppositions of religion. To go upright in a wrong way is a less eye-sore to God, than to halt betwixt right and wrong. The Spirit wisheth, that the Laodicean were either hot or cold: either temper would better be borne, than neither; than both. In recona cileable differences, nothing is more safe, than indifferency both of practice and opinion ; but in cases of so necessary hostility as bes

to mo Was it orted with thed with

twixt God and Baal, he, that is on neither side, is the deadliest enemy to both. Less hateful are they to God that serve him not at all, than they that serde him with a rival.

Whether out of guiltiness, or fear, or uncertainty, Israel is silent; yet, while their mouth was shut, their eyes were open.

It was a fair motion of Elijah, “ I am only remaining a prophet of the Lord : Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty. Let them choose one bullock ; let me choose another. Their devotion shall be combined; mine single. The God that consumes the sacrifice by fire from heaven, let him be God.Israel cannot but approve it : the prophets of Baal cannot refuse it; they had the appearance of the advantage, in their number, in the favour of king and people.

Oh strange disputation : wherein the argument which must be used is fire; the place whence it must be fetched, heaven; the mood and figure, devotion ; the conclusion, death to be overcome!

Had not Elijah, by divine instinct, been assured of the event, he durst not have put religion upon such hazard. That God commanded him this trial, who meant confusion to the authors of idolatry, victory to the truth. His terror shall be approved, both by fire and by water: first, by fire; then, by water. There was no less terror in the fire, than mercy in the rain. It was fit they should first be humbled by his terrors, that they might be made capable of his mercy; and by both might be won to repentance. Thus still, the fears of the law make way for the influences of grace ; neither do those sweet and heavenly dews descend upon the soul, till way be made for them, by the terrible flashes of the law.

Justly doth Elijah urge this trial. God's sacrifices were used to none, but heavenly fires; whereas, the base and earthly religion of the heathen contented itself, with gross and natural flames. · The prophets of Baal durst not, though with faint and guilty hearts, but embrace the condition. They dress their bullock, and lay it ready upon the wood; and send out their cries to Baal, from morning until midday ; O Baal, hear us. What a yelling was here, of four hundred and fifty throats tearing the skies for an answer! What leaping was here upon the altar; as if they would have climbed up to fetch that fire, which would not come down alone! Mount Carmel might give an echo to their voice; heaven gave none. In vain do they roar out, and weary themselves in imploring a dumb and deaf deity.

Grave and austere Elijah holds it not too light, to flout their zeajous devotion. He laughs at their tears, and plays upon their ear. nest; Cry aloud ; for he is a God: either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is travelling, or he is sleeping, and must be awaked. Scorns and taunts are the best answers, for serious idolatry. Holi. ness will bear us out, in disdainful scoffs and bitterness, against wilful superstition.

No less in the indignation at these insulting frumps, than zeal of their own safety and reputation, do these idolatrous prophets now tend their throats with inclamations; and, that they may assure

Grave and deaf tey roar o un echo would not cthey wouldswer

« PreviousContinue »