He arose and went for his life.
The flight into the wilderness
This is a sad sequel to the triumph on Mount Carmel. Elijah had forgotten Jezebel. Not present herself on Mount Carmel, she had received with sceptical scorn the reports which had reached her. The fire from heaven she looked upon as a mere conjurer’s trick. The rain following the prophet’s prayer was a mere coincidence, and, like all others who speak so glibly of coincidences, she never asked what power had made the two events coincide. So she felt utter contempt for the cowards who had stood by while her prophets were butchered by a madman. In a passionate fury she declared that she was no turncoat to forsake the gods of her fathers at the bidding of a wild Bedouin. If no one else had the courage to withstand Elijah, she would do it herself. So the letter was sent which made the prophet flee. Are we not all in danger of repeating Elijah’s mistake, and forgetting our chief adversary? We reckon with the opposing forces that we can see, but we forget the unseen array of principalities and powers whose hostility is implacable, who with deadly craft and subtlety wait for our unguarded hours. Elijah, too, had taken his eyes off God. “When he saw that, he arose, and went for his life.” It is impossible for us to justify his flight. He acted in a panic. There was no waiting for Divine guidance. Oh, the sad pity of it! A moment’s reflection would have changed the whole aspect of affairs. “Fear not, only believe.” Jezebel may rage, but Jehovah lives. One such word--a child might have spoken it--and the prophet’s faith would have leaped up, his old courage would have returned; and instead of fleeing from Jezreel, he might have driven Jezebel out of the kingdom. But why were his eyes off God? I think because, though to a certain extent unconsciously, his eyes were upon himself. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” Had he thought that he was? Had tie been uplifted at the success God had given him? Had he thought that the shouts of the people would end the conflict? We must not judge him unkindly. God’s first care was to give him rest and sleep. Overwrought nerves, a tired brain, and physical exhaustion, had much to do with the prophet’s fall. The meeting with Ahab; the preparation for the contest; the strain of the conflict itself, with its tremendous output of faith and prayer; the excitement of the grim work of judgment; the fatigue of the long, quick run to Jezreel--had left the prophet in a state of physical tension, which nothing but calm, trustful confidence in God could have endured. Much of the low spirits and unbelief among Christians to-day is the result of rush and overstrain. And after this Elijah was not left without a congenial friend and companion. Elisha was called from the plough to follow him and to minister unto him; for it is not good for man to be alone. Solitude, while a real means of grace, may easily become a means of sore temptation. Just as Queen Eleanor was said to suck the poison from her husband’s wounds (thus saving his life), so the sympathy and love of wife or sister or brothers in arms are most effective in removing the sting and virus from life’s sorrows and temptations. If Elijah had had Elisha at his right hand, he would not surely have forgotten God. Let us value our Christian fellowship. (F. S. Webster, M. A.)
The flight to the wilderness
1. We may well learn, from this sad crisis in Elijah’s history, the lesson of our own weakness, and our dependence on God’s grace. In the Divine life, often the most dangerous and perilous time for the believer, is after a season of great enlargement; when he is saying to himself, “My mountain standeth strong.” The spiritual armour is loosely worn;--he gets supine after the flush of victory: the bold, bounding river, that we have just witnessed taking leap after leap in successive cataracts, loses itself in the low, marshy swamps of self-confidence.
2. Beware of taking any step without the Divine sanction. Let us be careful not to follow our own paths; not to take any solemn and important step unless it be divinely owned and recognised. “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” “Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee, in whose heart are Thy ways.”
3. Beware of murmuring under trial. Each of us has, or may yet have, his day of trial--sickness, bereavement, crushed hopes, bitter disappointments, crossed wishes--stings and arrows from quarters least expected. How are we to meet them? Are we to give way to peevish, fretful repining? Are we to say, “I am wearied of life. I would I were done with all this wretchedness. What pleasure is existence to this wounded, harassed, smitten spirit?” Nay, take courage. It is not “enough.” The Lord has work for you still to do. It is not for you, but for Him, to say, at His own appointed time, as He said to Hezekiah, “Thou shalt die, and not live.” If we have ever been guilty of uttering such a rash prayer as that of Elijah--“Take away my life” let us be thankful God has not given us the fulfilment of our own wish--the ratification of our own desire--and allowed us to die, unmeet and unprepared! (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Loneliness in religious depression
I. Religious depression following great public excitement.
1. It is a natural reaction. As a matter of mental and moral law, such depression must follow such excitement.
2. It is a needful discipline. Continual conquests on Carmel would not be good for the prophet’s own soul. He must have sometimes more of introspection and self-communing and less of challenge of foes, or of the applause of friends.
II. Religious depression producing the feeling of utter loneliness. Under the juniper-tree he longs to sob out his life and afterwards thrice over utters the pathetic “alone, alone, alone.”
III. Religious depression causing mistaken views of life. He, in his present passing loneliness, had two wrong notions clouding his vision. He thought, first of all, that his life-work had been a failure, whereas he had stirred the religious life of the people to its very centre, and his name ever lives as a symbol of heroic single-handed conflict with evil.
2. And he supposed the generation of godly seers was extinct. This mood of mind often leads men to see failure written on their labours, and to feel the number of the Christly a narrow instead of an ever-widening circle of men and women and children.
IV. Religious depression divinely removed by fitting means. Here Elijah was lifted from his depression through the instrumentality--
1. Of nature.
2. Of new occupation. There was fresh work to be done.
3. Fresh companionship. An Elisha was waiting for him.
4. Unveiling of forgotten facts. In the existence of the 7000 faithful men there was a fact of hope and encouragement he had forgotten. So every exiled spirit needs, and, if true to God, has, an Apocalypse. (U. R. Thomas.)
How the mighty fell
I. His physical strength and nervous energy were completely overtaxed. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”; and our inner life is very sensitive to our outward conditions. It has been truly said, that the most trivial causes--a heated room, a sunless day, want of exercise; or a northern aspect--will make all the difference between happiness and unhappiness; between faith and doubt; between courage and indecision. Many who send for the religious teacher would be wiser if they sent for their physician.
II. He was keenly sensitive to his lonely position. “I only am left.” Some men are born to loneliness. It is the penalty of true greatness. At such a time the human spirit is apt to falter, unless it is sustained by an heroic purpose, and by an unfaltering faith. The shadow of that loneliness fell dark on the spirit of our Divine Master Himself when He said: “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” If our Lord shrank in the penumbra of that great eclipse, it is not wonderful that Elijah cowered in its darksome gloom.
III. He looked away from God to circumstances. Up to that moment Elijah had been animated by a most splendid faith, because he had never lost sight of God. “He endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” Faith always thrives when God occupies the whole field of vision. Let us refuse to look at circumstances, though they roll before us as a Red Sea, and howl around us like a storm. Circumstances, natural impossibilities, difficulties, are nothing in the estimation of the soul that is occupied with God. They are as the small dust that settles on a scale, and is not considered in the measurement of weight. O men of God, get you up into the high mountain, from which you may obtain a good view of the glorious Land of Promise; and refuse to have your gaze diverted by men or things below! (F. B. Meyer, M. A.)
Elijah in the wilderness
I. Elijah’s weakness.
1. He was a man of like passions with us. He failed in the point wherein he was strongest, as Abraham, Moses, Job, Peter, and others have done.
2. He suffered from a terrible reaction. Those who go up go down.
3. He suffered grievous disappointment, for Ahab was still under Jezebel’s sway, and she was seeking his life.
4. His wish was folly: “O Lord, take away my life.” He fled from death, and yet prayed for death! He was never to die. How unwise are our prayers when our spirits sink.
5. His reason for the wish was untrue.
II. God’s tenderness to him.
1. He allowed him to sleep. This was better than medicine, or inward rebuke, or spiritual instruction.
2. He fed him with food convenient and miraculously nourishing.
3. He made him “perceive” angelic care: “An angel touched him.”
4. He allowed him to tell his grief (verse 10). This is often the readiest relief. He stated his case, and in doing so eased his mind.
5. He revealed Himself and His ways. The wind, earthquake, fire, and still small voice were voices from God.
6. He told him good news: “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel.” His sense of loneliness was thus removed.
7. He gave him more to do--to anoint others, by whom the Lord’s purposes of chastisement and instruction should be carried on.
Let us learn some useful lessons.
1. It is seldom right to pray to die. We may not destroy our own lives, nor ask the Lord to do so.
2. For the sinner t is never right to seek to die; for death to him is hell!
3. For the saint it is allowable only within bounds.
4. When we do wish to die, the reason must not be impatient, petulant, proud, insolent.
5. We have no idea of what is in store for us in this life. We may yet see the cause prosper and ourselves successful.
6. In any case, let us trust in the Lord and do good, and we need not be afraid. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The despondent prophet
I. The prophet’s despondency.
1. Its intensity. For the time his depression seems almost overwhelming. Why this: that we must not expect that the sincerest piety, or the highest service for God, will preclude the possibility of our being bowed down beneath the burden of depression and discouragement. It may consist with genuine religiousness to be so circumstanced. Those children of God, in old time, whose faith rose to the loftiest altitudes, and whose courage paled not before the extremest perils, knew well the painfulness of such experience. It is well for us to bear in mind that the ground of spiritual security is distinct and separate from any state of mere feeling. Frames are uncertain, fluctuating, affected by innumerable causes over which our control is but limited, and must not, therefore, be made to determine character, standing, safety before God. The heart may sink when the soul’s grasp is the strongest.
2. The causes of the prophet’s despondency. People forget the closeness of the connection that subsists between their material and their spiritual part, and often connect with an imagined wrong condition of the latter, what more properly belongs to a morbid or deranged state of the former. They send for the minister, when they ought to send for the physician. They charge upon the mind a fault that really attaches to the body. Not even religion can cure some persons of melancholy; they are gloomy or pensive by natural temperament, and must await the resurrection-morn to be made otherwise,
3. Its effects upon his conduct. It had led him from the scene of actual service, bold and faithful testimony, earnest confronting of Jehovah’s foes, to hide himself in wilderness solitudes.
II. God’s method of relief.
1. God recruits his exhausted strength by a timely supply of sustenance.
2. But observe, again, in God’s method of relief, that He rouses His servant to exertion. Having afforded Him needful refreshment and repose, He gives him work to do; He bids him journey to the distant Mount of Horeb.
3. God’s method of relief includes a manifestation of Himself in glory and grace. The journey to Horeb was not its own end. Elijah was brought thither that he might commune with Deity.
4. In God’s method of relief there was a correction of the prophet’s misjudgment, as to the effects of his own labours, and the cause of truth. He had thought that he had “laboured in vain, and spent his strength for nought, and in vain.” (C. M. Merry)
The best of men have their defects, but do not despise them on that account; just as we don’t despise a mountain because there are rifts in its side, or the sun because there are spots on its face.
I. Some of the causes of Elijah’s depression.
1. Physical weakness.
2. Rampant wickedness.
3. Want of occupation.
4. The apparent failure of his mission.
II. What lessons should this subject teach us?
1. That great men are subject to sudden changes in their mental moods.
2. That these seasons of depression do not unchristianise a man. John Bunyan tells us that the pilgrims were as surely progressing towards the Celestial City, when climbing the hill Difficulty, passing through the valley of Humiliation, and engaged in a hand-to-hand encounter with Apollyon, as when transported with the visions of the Delectable Mountains, fanned with the balmy breezes, and regaled with the fragrant odours of the land of Beulah, where the sun always shines. “If needs be,” says Peter, “ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.
3. That God comes to the succour of His servants in seasons of depression.
4. Severe trials are fruitful of good to God’s people.
5. That labour is an essential condition of enjoyment. (H. Woodcock.)
Avoiding the shadows
I looked from my window this morning across the fields. I noticed a dwelling-house whose roof was exposed to the early and cheerful sun. There had been a storm in the night, and snow covered the roof. In an hour the warmth of the sun had melted it, save where the shadow of the chimney fell. That long, dark shade kept firm grasp of the iciness. It gave me a morning lesson, like a text from Scripture. The ice of our lives lingers only where the shadow is. If we have no Christly warmth, it is because we live in the dark. If our love is chilled and our nature sluggish, there is something between us and the light. What then? We must go forth from shadows. The sun shines and its beams are full of life. If we walk in this life the ice will melt, and instead of deathly conditions, we shall become rivers of living water. Christ is the Sun. Shadows do not belong to us. They savour of death. The one aim of God is to make us children of life and light; then follows holy fellowship and hallowed communion. (A. Caldwell.)
I remember a good many years ago I got very much depressed because the Lord, I thought, hadn’t blessed my ministry. I was cast down, and used to talk discouragingly of what was being done. There was not any life in my ministry, and this went on for three months. One Monday, when I was in the valley, and very much cast down, I met a friend who was on the hilltop and exceedingly elated. He said he had had a grand Sunday; what had I? “Oh!” I said, “I had not a good one.” “Much power?” “No. What did you preach about?” “Oh, I preached about Noah.” I said, “How did you get on?” “Oh, grandly. Did you ever study up Noah?” I said I thought I knew all about Noah, for there are only a few verses about him. “Oh, if you haven’t studied up Noah you ought to do it. He’s a wonderful character.” After he left I got out my Bible, and read all I could find about Noah, and while I was reading this thought came to me: Here is this man who was a preacher of righteousness for one hundred and twenty years, and yet never had a convert outside his own family. I went to the prayer-meeting after that; and there was a man, who had just come from a town in Illinois, who spoke of one hundred young converts. “Why,” I said, “what would Noah have said if he had one hundred converts, and yet Noah didn’t get discouraged!” Then a man right close to me got up, and he was trembling. “My friend,” he said, “I wish you would pray for me.” I said to myself: “What would Noah have given if he had heard that during those one hundred and twenty years, and yet he never heard the voice of an inquirer--not one. Still, he didn’t get discouraged.” (D. L. Moody.)
It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.
Elijah’s singular request
These words every way are remarkable. They proceed from a certain state of the mind, which is not common. The words are remarkable, considering the person who uttered them. They were uttered by the bold and brilliant Elijah. If we consider further the time the words were uttered, they are equally remarkable. It was just after the extraordinary manifestation of Carmel. One would have thought, after such a manifestation of the Divine presence and decided triumph, that he never would have been so shorn of courage, and cast down into such deep depression. These words, though spoken in ancient days, and come down to us through many ages; yet they contain certain pictures in human thought and feeling, which are found more or less everywhere. They are true expressions of the human soul in certain conditions, and our business here will be to mention some of the things which are common to all ages, and more or less to all people.
I. The soul’s sigh in the search after solitude. Sometime or other all sigh for solitude; you cannot destroy the feeling, it is planted deeply in the human soul. There are certain circumstances in life which develop this feeling, until it becomes strong and all-powerful, governing the whole soul. It is possible to allow this sentiment to grow wild and overleap its natural limit; but in itself, and within its proper limit, it is right and necessary. Before men can be strong they must be much with God and themselves; before they can be rich and mature, they will have to live much in the garden of their mind to weed and manure it. The conditions under which solitude is sought are various.
1. The soul seeks solitude in the pangs of disappointment. We are born to disappointments--all meet them, only some are more sensitive to their point and bitterness than others. We are often either too confiding, or lofty in our wish, or sanguine in our expectation, that disappointments cannot but come. They come from foes and friends--from prosperity and adversity.
2. The soul often sighs for the solitary in life, when deeply convinced of the vanity and falsehood of society; when the soul sees and feels the faults and follies of the world, it often feels a wish to live in some place where they are not seen or heard.
3. The absence of congenial society not unfrequently turns the face of the soul towards solitude. There may be times when our companions are too numerous, as well as too few. The soul wishes to shake itself from them and be free, and often goes beyond civilisation for this freedom it longs for so anxiously. This is often the case from superior refinement, advanced piety, nobler aspirations than those of neighbours and friends.
4. The soul often sighs for the solitude in life under the influence of religious feeling. The danger is for the thing that is right in itself to become a blind sentimentality.
5. The soul is apt, in a condition of great sorrow, to sigh after solitude.
6. This feeling may and sometimes does proceed from a morbid state of mind.
II. The soul’s time of despondent depression. There is a shade sometime or other to cross every flowery bed, and a gloom to cover every sunny path. There are occasions in the history of most men when life, the most precious and the first to be desired, is a burden. In this state of the soul all power of enjoyment is gone, and all power and courage have taken their departure. The horizon of the soul is obscured with darkness, so that there is neither beauty nor prospect in view anywhere.
1. Sometimes this state of despondent depression comes upon the soul from a sense of its own sinfulness.
2. The thought of our own individual insignificancy has a tendency to the same result.
3. The conscious vanity of the surroundings of our present existence is another depressing element in life.
4. The darkness and uncertainty surrounding human life has a tendency to make us despondent. The simplest things are lost in mystery; the clearest things are covered with uncertainty.
5. Failure in realising our noblest plans and most cherished wishes is another depressing element which often presses us below the level of right standing.
6. The ills that men are subject to is another frequent means of human depression.
III. The soul’s depreciation of itself. Some people constantly depreciate themselves, and they are thought sincere and humble persons, whereas it may be nothing more than a habit, or worse, an affected self-depreciation, that others may have occasion and scope to raise them on high.
1. A sense of self-depreciation takes hold of the mind when it is filled with the conception of the Divine Majesty and His presence.
2. The feeling of self-depreciation pervades the soul in the presence or recollection of some higher examples in matters of life and ambition. An artist of sensitive appreciation of superiority in the presence of a genuine piece of art depreciates to the dust his own performances. A poet with a true poetic sense, when he reads or hears some grand poetry like Paradise Lost, feels very low in his own view. So is it in other things in life.
3. The same feeling takes hold of the mind of man often when comparing himself with the material universe and its different creations in his outward form and physical capacities.
4. This sentiment also proceeds frequently from a review of the past conduct of one’s own life.
5. Self-depreciation is often the depressed language of the soul, when persecuted and cast out of society.
6. Once more, when the ills and miseries of life are calmly and seriously viewed, we ourselves being subjects of the same, the little we have done, or can do to diminish them, tends to self-depreciation.
IV. The soul’s weariness of life, and its special desire to be released from its burden. In many cases life is a burden, but it is a rare thing, nevertheless, to wish to get rid of the burden by being relieved of life. There are cases where it appears almost natural and religious for men to wish to die, which appear almost beyond the suspicion of wrong.
1. When a person thinks that his work is done in this life, and he cannot be of much use any longer.
2. When an individual becomes helpless, and requires the time and attention of others to attend to him, he feels he is in the way, and cannot compensate for the least done to him.
3. When, by his close communion with the Divine and the heavenly, the soul is more at home from the world than in it.
4. When it is submitted, as in the case of Elijah, to the hand and will of God. (T. Hughes.)
The Order of the Juniper tree
Some while ago in passing through Edinburgh we noticed the procession of a friendly society whose banner declared it to belong to the Order of the Juniper tree. Many of us belong to that order, and it may prove useful to consider the suggestive contrast established by these two texts. In the one, the prophet sinks in despair; in the other, he is carried triumphantly into heaven. What has this to do with us? It presents in a dramatic form the experience of God’s people in an ages.
I. The sharp contrast in these texts is worthy of being remembered in days of worldly adversity. Times of misfortune and disaster not uncommonly induce the mood expressed in the first text. Having suffered the wreck of our circumstances, schemes, happiness, and hopes, we court the shade of the juniper tree and pour out bitter lamentations. What is there to live for? We are failures, and the sooner we are out of the way the better.
1. It is only through discipline that we are fit for glorification. Cars of fire, horses of fire, a path beyond the stars, luminous diadems! we are presumptuous enough to think that at any time we are ready for these. But we are not ready. The perfection that qualifies for high places comes only through some form of suffering.
2. Only God knows when we are fit for glorification. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” Are we sure about this enough? When you chastise a child, you find that his opinion and yours wary considerably as to what is enough.
II. We may remember the strong contrast of these texts in days of spiritual despondency. Times of deep depression come in our spiritual history. Wesley’s new life began in glorious experiences in Aldersgate Street, yet within a year of these glowing feelings we find that he suffered sad relapses into darkness and doubt; he even wrote, “I am not a Christian now.” We feel worsted in the spiritual conflict, losing confidence and hope. These sad days of humiliation and despondency need not be lost upon us. They bring home the lesson of our personal unworthiness and helplessness. “I am not better than my fathers.”
III. We may remember the strong contrast of our texts in days when we are disappointed by the results of our evangelical work. Elijah was smitten with despair about God’s cause. The scornful, scorching words of the wicked and wrathful queen unmanned him. All his grand hopes for his nation and race were to expire at the juniper tree. And very often do the strongest and best of men entertain similar misgivings. Yet Elijah was wrong. God works strangely, He works silently, He works slowly, but He works surely. The funeral was not to be that of Elijah. The one thing we must resolve upon is not to reason and question, but confidently to follow out all the lines and leadings of God in spiritual life and evangelical toil It is the fashion with some modem novelists to finish their stories in the most atheistic and despairing manner--the mystery and struggle of life ending in unconsoled sorrows, unrequited sacrifices, uncompensated wrongs, unanswered prayers and strivings; the palpable moral of such treatment being that there is no law, government, or purpose in human life. We know otherwise. We believe in the programme of God, so wise, so true, so good; and in our best moments we are confident that His programme cannot fail. (W. L. Watkinson.)
As he lay and slept under a juniper tree, then an angel touched him.
Loving-kindness better than life
We have, in this incident, four thoughts of the love of God.
I. God’s love in its constancy. It is a fact which we all admit; hut which we seldom realise in the moments of depression and darkness to which we are all exposed. It is not difficult to believe that God loves us, when we go with the multitude to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, and stand in the inner sunlit circle; but it is hard to believe that He feels as much love for us when, exiled by our sin to the land of Jordan and of the Hermonites, our soul is cast down within us, and deep calls to deep, as His waves and billows surge around. It is not difficult to believe that God loves us when, like Elijah at Cherith and on Carmel, we do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word; but it is not so easy when, like Elijah in the desert, we lie stranded, or, as dis-masted and rudderless vessels, roll in the trough of the waves. It is not difficult to believe in God’s love when with Peter we stand on the mount of glory, and, in the rapture of joy, propose to share a tabernacle with Christ evermore; but it is well-nigh impossible when, with the same Apostle, we deny our Master with oaths, and are abashed by a look in which grief masters reproach. Yet we must learn to know and believe the constancy of the love of God.
II. God’s love manifested in special tenderness because of special sin. Where ordinary methods will not avail, God will employ extraordinary ones. There is one memorable instance of this, which has afforded comfort and hope to multitudes who have sinned as Peter did, and who will bless God for ever for the record of the Master’s dealings with His truant servant. The Lord sent a general message to all His disciples to meet Him in Galilee. But He felt that Peter would hardly dare to class himself with the rest; and so He sent to him a special message, saying: “Go tell My disciples, and Peter.” It is thus that Jesus is working still throughout the circles of His disciples.
III. God’s love in its unwearied care. None of us can measure the powers of endurance in the love of God. It never tires. It fainteth not, neither is weary. It does not fail, nor is it discouraged. It bears all things; believes all things; hopes all things; endures all things. It clings about its object with a Divine tenacity, until the darkness and wandering are succeeded by the blessedness of former days. It watches over us during the hours of our insensibility to its presence; touching us ever and anon; speaking to us; and summoning us to arise to a nobler, better life, more worthy of ourselves, more glorifying to Him.
IV. God’s love anticipating coming need. This always stands out as one of the most wonderful passages in the prophet’s history. We can understand God giving him, instead of a long discourse, a good meal and sleep, as the best means of recruiting his spent powers. This is what we should have expected of One who knows our frame and remembers that we arc dust, and who pities us as a father pitieth his children. But it is very wonderful that God should provision His servant for the long journey that lay before him: “Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.” (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for thee.
The weary child
1. Now, what is all this but the Lord nursing His own child? Elijah has come to one of those crises which occur in every one’s life, when he stands in need of special tending and treatment; and the Father which is in Heaven is giving them. He is giving them none the less truly, that at the stage of our text it is the bodily condition of Elijah with which the Lord is dealing, and nothing higher or further. It was mostly this which was wrong just then, and it is this therefore that the Lord proceeds first of all to put right. But while the text thus speaks to us of the pity of God, and tells us how wide-winged and close-brooding it is, the text also points us to wise methods of dealing with ourselves in like circumstances. The Great Physician may well leave something of our restorations to be wrought by self-treatment when He has indicated the course which that treatment ought to take. Now, the body has its own share, and not a small one, even in our spiritual history. Our dejection and melancholy, our very unbelief, have frequently no higher or more mysterious source than the disturbance of this material machine of nerves and muscles through which the spirit deals with the outer world. For the sake of our souls themselves, therefore, those conditions of body which tell back unhappily upon the spirit ought, where they are preventable or removable, to be prevented or removed. Dejection is no virtue, but a weakness and humiliation.
2. When the Lord was comforting Elijah in that lonely place one day’s journey south of Beersheba, there was being transacted there a living parable of things that lie within the higher sphere of purely spiritual experience. Every Christian of us has his journey before him. Every Christian of us has his weariness not far off within him. Every Christian of us has his Lord’s provision brought to his bolster, with the kindly call, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for thee.” The Lord knoweth right well how great it is, and He knoweth well how great our weariness at any time is.
3. You are thinking of seasons of spiritual recruiting more special still than any I have named. One more interval passes, and you are purposing again to sit down together to commemorate the accomplishment, in sacrificial blood, of the most wondrous journey that was ever travelled by human foot in this sorely travelled world. For, to be like us, to understand us and to save us, He would have His mortal journey too; and it was “great,” and often He was weary, and often He was refreshed. With thoughts of that journey filling His own heart, and wishing that they may fill your own, He is summoning you again to sit down with Himself, and to nourish your flagging graces by more touching fellowship with Himself, over the emblems of the love which has made you to be His. (J. A. Kerr Bain, M. A.)
Heart-weariness in the journey of life
1. The first remark which I would make concerning this heart-weariness in the journey of life is that it does not necessarily betoken any estrangement from God. It is, indeed, true that life naturally becomes “flat, stale, and unprofitable” to the sated worldling. But it is also true that moods of depression and despondency come even to the most pious souls, and are sometimes even associated with a sorrow born of sympathy with the mind of God.
2. The second remark which I would make regarding this spiritual fatigue is that it is often due, in large measure, to physical causes. And this fact ought to teach us two lessons. The first is a lesson of sympathetic forbearance. The young ought to make large allowance for the aged, and the strong for the weak. And the second lesson is one of physical prudence. Seeing that the connection between the body and the spirit is so close and subtle, it is our duty to keep our bodies as healthy as we possibly can. The laws of health are the laws of God.
3. We ought to welcome and avail ourselves of those messengers whom God sends to revive and help us in the journey of life. But there are other messengers and ministries--more homely and familiar--which may be even as angels of God to help us when our hearts are worn and weary. Sometimes the words of a well-known hymn, sung in the house of prayer, will cheer our drooping spirits and put new life into our steps. There are also pleasures of literature in general which are not to be despised; many an old man and many an invalid could tell us that their books do much to lighten for them the burden of their infirmities. Music, too, gives its own peculiar refreshment. Science, and poetry, and art, and humour, and the relaxation afforded by simple, innocent pleasures--why should we despise such things as these in their true and proper place? Love is a great freshener of human life. So long as we are really useful and helpful to those whom we love, life cannot altogether lose its zest.
4. I remark that God has miraculously provided for us all a special food for the sustenance and refreshment of our souls. Christ is “the Bread of Life which came down from heaven.” (T. Campbell Finlayson, D. D.)
In experiences of weariness and discouragement and times of despair, when it seems to us that we are of no use in the world, and are doing nothing in the world, or only blundering and doing harm in the world, there come the juniper tree and the angel; God puts rest-places in our lives; God gives us angels’ food and tells us that in the strength of that food we are to rise up and go on our journey. I want you to look with me for a few moments this morning at some of these restplaces, some of these juniper trees of life.
1. And first I put sleep, because God put it first. When Elijah was tired and despairing and discouraged, God put him to sleep. Sometimes the most religious service a man can render himself or the world is to go to sleep. But how many busy people think really the time spent in sleep is wasted! They begrudge all the time that is spent asleep. But the Lord God so made us that we need to put one-third of our time in sleep. And He knew what He was about. Thanks to God for sleep, that is itself a symbol of death; sleep, that is the promise of a new awakening, and so gives us the suggestion of that great awakening when we shall rise refreshed and invigorated for the eternal day! The father takes the tired child in his arms and rocks him into unconsciousness of all the sin and sorrow and weariness and burden of life. Do not think of it as wasted time! Do not think of it as something lost out of life! Take it as God means we shall--as God’s great gift.
2. Next to sleep I put amusement as one of God’s juniper trees and as a part of God’s angelic food. You remember the three things which the Book of Proverbs says about merriment, which is the lightest form of amusement: first, that a merry heart is a continual feast; second, that a merry heart maketh a glad countenance; and, thirdly, that a merry heart doeth good like a medicine. The merry heart cheers the heart and so makes the face radiant, and, because the face is radiant, therefore the merry soul imparts radiance to others. Merriment, amusement, laughter, just having a good time, is one of God’s juniper trees that He plants for us, and when we are discouraged and distressed He means that we shall take advantage of it.
3. The home is one of God’s juniper trees. We are all conscious, I am sure, that woman’s sphere, whatever that flexible globe may be, is getting bigger and bigger; women are going into all sorts of industrial activities, and giving men pretty hard work by competition; into all sorts of charitable activities, which men are quite ready to leave to the women altogether. Now, on the whole, this is a distinct advance--The larger life of woman is something to be welcomed and to be rejoiced in; and yet, like every increasing growth, it has its perils also. It does sometimes threaten to impair the usefulness of the home. In the Divine order men are the soldiers; the battle of life ought to be done by the men.
4. The Church ought to be a juniper tree and a resting-place. Dr. Parkhurst has said, “The Church is not the minister’s field, but the minister’s force.” The Church ought to be not merely a working Church, but a rest-giving Church also; and when men and women come to the Church, they ought to be able to find there some angels’ food, some real rest, some inspiration that will send them back into life with new vigour for their new toils. The Sabbath chimes ring no sweeter song than this, “Come unto Me, and rest!”
5. And then there is the quiet hour. At Wellesley College, in Massachusetts--a young ladies’ college--there are twenty minutes reserved in every day for a quiet hour. During that twenty minutes every young lady is expected to be in her room; there is to be no passing through the halls; there is to be no life of conversation, no laughter. What the young lady does in her room is between herself, her own conscience, and her God. She may read, she may study, she may pray, she may think, she may do what she likes; only she must not disturb other pupils in other rooms. For twenty minutes a quiet time. We ought to have our quiet hour; at least, we will say, our quiet quarter of an hour. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
The journey is too great for thee.--
The journey of life
In regard to the journey of life God says, “It is too great for thee.” It is beyond thy natural powers. Thou needest supernatural strength to enable thee to accomplish it. Men are slow to admit their weakness, especially when they are young and inexperienced. They are full of courage, and they are terrified neither by desert nor by mountain. It is well to begin life in this high spirit. Every young man needs a little of the dare-devil disposition in order to distinguish himself. Courage is a magnificent quality. But men are always chastened by experience. Many an Alpine climber has started up a high mountain with sublime confidence in his skill of foot and in his powers of endurance. But when he reached a certain height his nerve failed. The journey was too great for him. The text has been illustrated by ten thousand men. Livingstone consecrated himself to African exploration. He performed two journeys, but the third was too great for him. His health failed. Two of his servants deserted him, and they took with them his medicine chest. “I never dreamed,” he wrote, “that I should lose my precious quinine.” One of the last entries in his journal was: “I am pale, bloodless, and weak from bleeding profusely ever since the 31st of March last. An artery gives off a copious stream, and takes away my strength; oh how I long to be permitted by the Over Power to finish my work!” When he could work no longer, he was carried on a frame of wood with some grass and a blanket upon it. And when he could endure to be carried no further, his faithful servants built him a little hut, and in that rude structure he died. He was a great traveller. He contributed much to our knowledge of Central Africa. The coloured races owe him a mighty debt of gratitude. He was one of the bravest of Christian men. But the journey of African exploration was too great for him. Arctic exploration, again, has had an intense fascination for navigators, sea rovers, and scientific men. Time would fail us to tell of all the brave men, from Frobisher to Franklin, and from Franklin to Lieutenant Greeley, who have penetrated into the regions of ice. Some have returned to tell the tale of their experience, and others have been frozen to death. But they have not succeeded in reaching the North Pole. The secret still remains to tempt the heroism of the men of the future. For the navigators of all nations the journey of Arctic exploration has been too great. In 1870 the late Napoleon of France declared war against William of Germany. Germany was united, and under the leadership of Protestant Prussia she was destined to change the balance of power in Europe. Napoleon was afraid, and resolved to fight in the hope that he would conquer and retain the leadership of Europe himself. The issue proved, however, that he had sadly miscalculated his strength. In a few weeks he had to lay down his sword at the feet of the German Emperor. The journey of aggressive warfare was too great for him.
1. Take the Christian life. During the last ten years there has been a revival of evangelism. By a variety of methods the ungodly have been reached, and thousands have been brought into the Church. I rejoice in this fact with all my heart. But the Churches have not been strengthened by these accessions as some of us hoped they would be. Popular missions attract the weaker members of the community. These people are feeble in original temperament, and some of them have made themselves utterly weak by the evil habits which they have pursued. The journey of the Christian life is too great for people who pursue such habits as these.
2. Take ministerial life. Here is a minister. He entered the sacred profession while he was yet young. He had a keen sense of responsibility, and he was very susceptible in regard to external discipline; and these two things kept him right for ten or fifteen years. After that he allowed his spiritual life to go down, and then his constitutional weakness began to show itself. An intellectual tendency led him astray. In the end he resigned the ministry. He looked back from the Gospel plough, and since then he has not been fit for the kingdom of God. The journey of ministerial life was too great for him.
3. Take the enthusiast. He is sanguine in regard to everything fresh. If any new form of religious activity is started he is fascinated by it at once. But after a time he loses his interest in it. The journey of an unbroken Christian devotion is too great for the spasmodic enthusiastic.
4. Take the practical Christian life. Individual effort is at a discount. Organised effort is the order of the day. Men have the notion that they can do but little unless they act in a crowd and make a display. Some day there will be a reaction in favour of quiet, instructive, and individual modes of service, and the sooner it comes the better. But we must not wait for ideal conditions in which to do our duty. Men will associate, and we must learn to act in association. We have a multiplicity of organisations, and we must help to work them. The temper of the age is practical, and we must sympathise with it. We must serve Christ In the social ways and habits of the generation. We shall do it at some sacrifice of our views and feelings, but we must bear that for Christ’s sake. (T. Allen.)
God’s considerateness of our frailty
Careless and cruel drivers often load their horses beyond their strength, and the poor creature tugs and pulls until he drops. Daring and foolish engineers will put too much pressure on their boilers, or try to force more power from an engine than it can provide. But our Master guarantees that tasks shall be balanCed with the precise strength we possess. He knoweth our frame: He remembereth that we are but dust. He knows the exact pressure we can stand. He knows the utmost load we can lift. He is a faithful Creator, because an abiding Sustainer. (Helps for Speakers.)
And went in the strength of that meal forty days.
I. The prophet’s repast.
1. The sacramental feast is alike simple and plain.
2. Yet is this a mysterious repast.
II. The peculiar unworthiness of the prophet on this occasion.
1. The Lord’s Supper is a repast prepared for sinners!
2. True, they must be penitent, broken-hearted sinners.
3. It is for the weary, burthened, troubled servants of Jesus.
III. The great benefit which the prophet derived from this repast, although he was so unworthy.
1. Spiritual benefits are not necessarily so attached to the Christian feast. (F. Close, M. A.)
Thought, on life
This incident suggests three things.
I. An undesirable possibility in human life. The fact that a man lived forty days and forty nights without food, certainly impresses us with the possibility of his being kept in existence without food for ever. The possibility is obvious. But such a state would clearly be very undesirable. Were men to continue here without food, a disastrous inactivity would ensue. Want of food keeps the world in action, keeps the limbs and faculties of men going. What would life be without action? a weak and worthless thing.
II. The supporting element of all life. What is it that kept Elijah alive without food? The will of God, nothing else; and this is that which supports all created existences every moment. “Man cannot live by bread alone.” God’s will can starve men with bread, and sustain them without it. It is He, not material substances, not food, that sustains life. He may do it with means, or without means, according to His pleasure. Let us not trust in means or secondary causes, but in Him who is the “Fountain of Life.”
III. The Divine care of a godly life. That God takes care of His people individually is
(1) Accordant with reason;
(2) taught by Scripture;
(3) attested by the experience of the good. (Homilist.)
And he came thither into a cave.
God manifesting Himself to man
We may learn three things from the passage before us.
I. God investigates the motives that govern human conduct. “The word of the Lord came to him, and said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?”
1. When God investigates the motives that governs human conduct He comes near to man. “The word of the Lord came to Elijah.”
2. When God investigates the motives that govern human conduct He interrogates man. “What doest thou here, Elijah?”
(1) Life is state of servitude. “What doest thou?” Man must serve.
(2) Life necessitates personal service. “What doest thou?”
(3) Life contains special spheres of service. “What doest thou here?”
II. Human conduct is affected by the religious life of the community. Three things affected the conduct of Elijah.
1. God’s covenant had been forsaken.
2. God’s altars had been destroyed.
3. God’s servants had been slain.
III. God controls human conduct by the most gentle agencies.
1. Great achievements are accomplished in nature by gentle agencies.
2. Great achievements are accomplished in grace by gentle agencies.
(1) God works upon the understanding by gentle agencies. The Gospel is “a still small voice; but the power of God unto salvation to every one,” etc.
(2) God subdues the restive will by gentle agencies. The life of Christ was “a still small voice.” And Christ said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will,” etc.
(3) God renews the polluted heart by gentle agencies. The Holy Spirit is “a still small voice.” (Preacher’s Analyst.)
What doest thou here, Elijah?--
The responsibility of man as an agent
The master-thought contained in this question seems to be man’s responsibility. “What doest thou here?” I am thy Lord and Master--thou hast no right here without consulting Me. I demand reason for thy conduct.
I. The fact that man has all the primary conditions of responsibility. Were the question put--What must any creature possess in order to render him accountable to God for his actions? Our answer would be, a threefold capability: a capability to understand, obey, and transgress the Divine will. If a creature has not the first--the power to understand what his Maker requires of him, he could not in equity be held responsible for not rendering it.
II. That man has a deep consciousness of his responsibility.
III. To the fact that society deals everywhere with men as responsible. A locomotive rolls its crushing weight over a man and kills him; a billow dashes against a frail barque and buries all on board in the mighty abyss; or a wild beast tears to pieces a human being; has society the same feelings towards that engine, that raging billow, or beast, as it has towards that man that has just murdered his brother? No, there are in the last case, as in none of the rest, popular denunciation and vengeance. It is felt that justice has been outraged, and that the destroyer is to be dealt with as a criminal. All the arrangements of society are based upon the principle that its members are responsible.
IV. To the fact that the Bible everywhere teaches it. It is implied in all its appeals to the undecided. “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” It is implied in its allegations against the sinner. “Ye will not come unto Me, that ye might have life.” It is implied in its representation of the judgment-day. “God shall bring every idle word into judgment.” “Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” Indeed, the very existence of the Bible implies it. (Homilist.)
A question from God
We may consider this question as addressed to the following cases:
I. To the deceiver in the cave of hypocrisy. God asks the deceiver in the cave of hypocrisy, “What doest thou here?” Deceiving, you say, deceiving and being deceived--deceiving whom? Not a devil; for every devil who knows the man who is a hypocrite, knows that he is a hypocrite. Whom? Not an angel; for every angel who knows the deceiver at all, knows that he is a deceiver. Not the Holy Spirit; for He strives with the man even in this his hypocrisy. Not the Saviour; for He searches the heart. Not the Father of spirits; for He has even foreknown the career of the hypocrite. Deceiving, you say, for how long? At longest only through a few brief years, and then the revelation! Deceiving, and for what? What profit is there of deception and hypocrisy? The man who openly saith, “I am an atheist--I am a deist--I am a sceptic--I have no religion,” is a far better man than he who, with unbelief at heart, makes a profession of Christianity. “What doest thou here?” saith God to the deceiver in the cave of hypocrisy.
II. God addresses this question to the notable sinner in the cave of supposed secrecy. Few notable transgressors sin openly. There is something mean about sin. You see men sneak into the haunts of vice. They go when they think that the darkness covers them. Here! God saith, here! And you a husband! Here! God saith, at the threshold of these places, and you a father! Here! God saith, and you betrothed to unpolluted virtue, and to unsuspecting love! Here! risking money that a diligent and careful father has provided for you! Here! spending the patrimony which has been left you by a devoted and loving mother! Here! Men and brethren, you talk of secrecy, there is no such thing as secrecy. It never has been; and it never can be. The notable sinner in the cave of his supposed secrecy is recognised by God, who calls to him, and speaks of him by name. “What doest thou here, Elijah?”
III. “What doest thou here?” God saith to the penitent sinner in the cave of despair. What art thou doing? Despair cannot secure pardon. Despair cannot bring peace. Despair cannot purify the heart. Despair will not pray. Despair can find no promise. And, what is more, despair, in the heart of a penitent sinner, hath neither warrant nor justification.
IV. “What doest thou here?” God saith to the converted man in the cave of non-confession. Here is a man walking in the counsel of the ungodly; a man standing in the way of sinners; a man sitting in the seat of the scornful. He becomes converted: but he is yoked with unbelievers; he is connected with unrighteousness--with unrighteousness in his business--unrighteousness in his recreations--unrighteousness in his connections and friendships. And God saith to him, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing.”
V. To the godly, in the cave of luxurious retirement and easy seclusion, God addresses the same question.
VI. He speaks also to the godly in the cave of misanthropy and disgust. There is a cave Adullam--an old resort for religious people, and it has been well kept up. There is such a cave near every Church of God; and thither the contented with themselves, and the discontented with everybody else, have constantly resorted. (S. Martin.)
A call to self-knowledge
Every wise master mariner wants to know at sea just where his ship is, just what his longitude and latitude are. Years ago, when I was crossing the Atlantic Ocean, we had a long spell of bad foggy weather. For several days and nights neither sun nor stars had been visible. We had been sailing by dead reckoning, and did not know where we were exactly. One night while I was on deck, there was a sudden rift in the clouds, and the North Star shone out. Word was sent ai; once to the captain, and I remember how the captain fairly laid himself across the compass, and took an observation of that star, because he wanted to know just where he was. Every wise man wants to know where he stands physically, whether he has a sound heart and sound lungs. He may find out his physical condition is not as good as he hoped, but if his physical condition is bad, he wants to know it, so that he can guard against the dangers he might plunge into. Many a man lies in the grave to-night because he had a weak heart and didn’t know it. It is very important in all the affairs of this world, that we know just where we are, but it is infinitely more important that we know where we are in the affairs of eternity. (Thomas Spurgeon.)
Elijah in the cave
This strange narrative serves to illustrate the following things:--
I. The fallibility of an eminent saint. Elijah was undoubtedly an eminent saint. His teachings, miracles, prayers, and the testimony of God’s word show this. But he was not perfect, and the fact of his fleeing to the cave shows this. Why did he retire to solitude?
1. The want of success. We are not judges of success. Nor is success the right rule of life.
2. The corruptness of his times. The very reason why he of all men should be out in public life.
3. The fear of persecution.
II. The minuteness of god’s providence. God knew where he was.
1. God knows everything about the individual man. Jacob at Bethel, Jonah on the sea, Moses at Midian, John in Patmos, and now Elijah in the cave.
2. God demands from individual man an account of himself. “What doest thou here?”
(1) Thou art a reasonable being, and must have reasons for thy conduct. What are they?
(2) Thou art a moral being, and art responsible to Me for thy conduct. Providence has to do with the most minute as well as the most vast.
III. The order of Divine procedure. This terrible manifestation came first. Then came the “still small voice.”
1. This is a type of God’s dispensations with the race at large. First came the terrible, and then the more pacific. Judaism is the terrible--Christianity the mild. “Ye are not come to the mount that might be touched,” etc.
2. This is a type of God’s dealing with His people individually. There must first come the storm, earthquake, and fire of moral conviction; and then the “still small voice,” etc.
IV. The force of pacific agency.
1. The pacific is most manifestly Divine. “The Lord was not in the wind,” etc. But He was in the “still small voice.” God is a “God of peace.” Nature shows this. Storms are exceptions. The history of Christ shows this. “He did not cause His voice to be heard,” etc. The influence of His Gospel shows this.
2. The pacific is most morally effective. Neither the thunders of civil law, nor the fulminations of a heartless declaimer, can touch the soul. Nothing can travel to her seat but the gentle message of the truth in love. “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” (Homilist.)
I have been very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts.
Impatience of results
In moments of depression the wisest may fall into it, but it is nevertheless a mistake, as the following observations by Dr. Storrs suggest: “I do not see the cathedral as yet, when I go into the confused quarry-yard and see there the half-wrought stones, the clumsy blocks that are by and by to be decorated capitals. But when at last they are finished in form and brought together, the mighty building rises in the air, an ever-enduring psalm in rock. I do not see the picture yet, when I look upon the palette, with its blotches and stains and lumps of colour. By and by, when the skilful brush of the painter has distributed those colours, I see the radiant beauty of the Madonna, the pathos of the Magdalene. I do not see yet the perfect kingdom of God upon the earth, but I see the colours which are to blend in it. I see the already half-chiselled rock out of which it shall be wrought, and I am not going to despond now, when so much already has been accomplished.”
I, even I only, am left.--
God’s cure for depression
That is how God encouraged a brave worker in his moment of depression. The signs of the time were ominous. Ahab sat upon the throne, with an unscrupulous and powerful queen by his side. A corrupt court had produced a corrupt nation. Israel had denied her high and singular election, and had vaunted her infidelity in the face of Heaven. No wonder the prophet seeks the end of his pathetic and apparently ineffective ministry. “I, even I only, am left.” But he was mistaken. There was more goodness in the nation than he perceived. God’s reply was, “I have left Me seven thousand in Israel.” A needed word this for worked in every age, perhaps never more needed than to-day. This is a great age for publicity. Our work is done on the platform as never before. In politics, in social reform, in philanthropy, we estimate our strength by the number who join our processions and attend our demonstrations. It can scarcely be said of organised religion, “It does not cry, nor lift up, nor cause its voice to be heard in the street.” But let us not imagine that spiritual religion is confined to that which parades itself before, the public eye, nor try to estimate Christian progress by a Church census. God s work goes on when the prophet has ceased to preach, and retires in deep despondency from the world. “I have left Me seven thousand.” In face of all the scandal which disgraced Italy and the Church in the fifteenth century, Savonarola could still point to a living witness to the Divine power which might be constantly seen in the lives of humble disciples. Contemporary with our English Restoration, with all its abominations, we find Herbert, Vaughan, Crashaw, Milton, and some of the sweetest spiritual singers God has given to our nation. It is easy to see the power of the Baalim in England to-day--the practical denial of God found in high places; the corruption and fraud which now and again manifest their deep-seated power in the commercial world; the selfishness, the heartlessness, of many of our pleasures and pursuits; the timidity, the wrongful compromise, the inconsistencies of the churches and churchgoers. These things, alas, are very obvious. What then! God preserves His remnant, and never forgets the seven thousand. Virtue is not so sensational as vice, nor does it attract the same attention, but it is stronger and more substantial. London should not be judged by Piccadilly at night. Out of sight of the casual visitor you have the purity and peace of thousands of homes where parents live and pray, and where brothers and sisters learn the joy of mutual help. Goodness appears in unexpected places. Heartened by this, each soul is to return to the duty of the moment. “Go thou thy way.” The seven thousand belong to God--duty belongs to us. In the presence of the powerful Baalim I can do the duty that lies next to me. We may not be able to shatter the idol to pieces in the Senate, or the market-place, but we can now shatter its power within our own lives. None the less, remember that our own loyalty to God will help others, though we may be unconscious of this. Seven thousand hearts were encouraged by that brave stand upon Carmel, but Elijah knew nothing of it. Our cities to-day frequently draw their water from distant lakes. In deep underground channels the precious stream is conveyed to rise in our homes. Elijah conceived himself as a solitary lake “embosomed among the hills.” But out from him proceeded streams of living waters which cleansed and refreshed human hearts in distant places. Loyalty to God does not cease with itself; it finds an indestructible ally within every soul. A brave stand for the right frequently brings those to decision who were halting between two opinions, while it rebukes the evil and heartens the good. (Trevor H. Davies.)
The strength and weakness of human sympathy
This was the darkest hour in the prophet’s history, and this a sad revelation of the weakness to be found in a character possessing so many elements of strength. There are two truths we propose to illustrate here.
I. The blessedness of human sympathy. God has not designed that we should live alone. He gathers men into families. He collects His people into churches that they may afford mutual help, take their respective parts in a common work, and together share a common reward. He requires that we all be as links in this grand chain of love, adding some strength to it, and yet receiving strength from it in our turn.
II. The limits of human sympathy. Though its power to aid and comfort be great, there are bounds to its influence. It is only within a certain range, and that range comparatively narrow, that it can carry on its ministry of love. There is a vast region of spiritual experiences, some bright and joyous, but more of the sad and sombre character, closely fenced against it by barriers which it can never pass. Emphatically is it true that there is a bitterness which each heart must taste for Itself, and that it has joys with which no stranger can intermeddle.
1. More particularly, we observe life’s most serious perplexities must generally be solved by ourselves.
2. Again, life’s severest conflicts must be fought by ourselves. Another man’s temptations are not mine--another man’s doubts are not mine--another man’s perplexities are not mine--and therefore independently I must stand and struggle.
3. So with the heaviest sorrows we have to endure. They are those which no friend, however beloved, can fully understand or share.
4. So in some of life’s greatest works, we have to stand alone. The world has always been slow to recognise her best benefactors, and even the men who by their discoveries in science have contributed most to the advance of civilisation and the increase of wealth, have generally had a solitary and toilsome, often a dangerous path to tread, their teachings distrusted, their aims described as utopian, themselves despised as foolish visionaries. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
Alone, yet not atone
Behold a real and a right bravery. In the British Museum I saw the MS. of a letter from General Gordon to his sister, dated Khartoum, February 27th, 1884--“I have sent Stewart off to scour the river White Nile, and another expedition to push back rebels on the Blue Nile. With Stewart has gone Power, the British consul and Times correspondent; so I am left alone in the vast palace, but not alone, for I feel great confidence in my Saviour’s presence. I trust and stay myself in the fact that not one sparrow falls to the ground without our Lord’s permission; also that enough for the day is the evil. All things are ruled by Him for His glory, and it is rebellion to murmur against His will” A real bravery springs out of oneness with God. Do we not all need that sort of courage for this new year?
And He said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.
I. The man himself. A great craggy soul that towers above the men of his age--his head wreathed in the glories of heaven. But though standing out from the age in which he lives as one of God’s Elect--yet a man with a human heart capable of rejoicing and despondency even as others.
II. His dread mission. To be the agent of Divine judgments. He was filled with righteous indignation at seeing the old worship of his country--the trust in the one living God--superseded by a religion which was but a form of paganism. And the God of Israel, who was a jealous God--jealous of the affections of His people being turned aside to another--empowered the prophet to do the terrible work of destruction.
III. The vision of God. When Elijah had done the terrible deed of blood, the reaction of spirit was so great, the dejection so overwhelming, that he was glad to get away from all society into a desert place to pray that he might die. Elijah’s anger had been the flaming forth of deep passionate love. The love of God sometimes flames forth in flashes of anger which make the very earth to reel and stagger. What is God’s justice but His love flashing out in angry retribution? Never argue, as so many do, that because God is love, therefore He will not punish sin. Learn--
1. That in terrible crises of life the faithful man may look for some special vision of God.
2. To distinguish between blind zeal which destroys, and intelligent zeal which edifies.
3. That while the might of Jehovah is used to crush wrong, the voice of love is needful to build up men in righteousness. (R. Thomas, M. A.)
Upon the mount
1. The Lord came to him there with a searching question. Every word went home to him with rebuke. “What doest thou here, Elijah?” This is a time for action, the work of reformation is only begun; the elders of Israel must be encouraged and led in their protest against the State idolatry. Thou art a man of action; what doest thou, the champion of Mount Carmel, the protagonist in this holy war, thou Elijah, whose name declares that the Lord is thy Strength? What doest thou here, hiding in this gloomy cave far away from the scattered flock who sorely need thy watchful care? Elijah shrinks from a direct reply. Self is still uppermost in his thoughts, lie almost boasts of his loyalty to God. He deeply laments the infidelity and apostasy of the nation, and he complains that his own life is in danger. His eyes are still on himself. But Elijah is concerned for himself, and thinks his valiant championship of God’s cause should have received different recognition. Child of God, never pity yourself; pity others. All heaven cares for thee; it is wrong to have any care for yourself.
2. After the searching question came a solemn command. God said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.”
3. After the solemn command came a Divine manifestation, a marvellous display of the majesty and power of God. And in the pains God took with His moody servant, moving all creation, as it were, to teach him lessons, we learn how very dear to God Elijah was. The barrier of resentment and self-justification was swept away. Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle, and stood before the Lord. It was a parable, surely, of the variety of Divine operations. And just as hurricane and earthquake prepared the way, making the still small voice the more impressive and subduing, so Elijah’s ministry had done its work. He had been sent with famine and fire and sword; and now all Israel was awakened, and the more ready to hearken to the “still small voice.”
4. But after the Divine manifestation came the Divine commission. God had more work for Elijah to do. He was not to be cast aside or superseded. He was to be strengthened and cheered by the companionship of Elisha; but Elijah was still to be God’s honoured servant, God’s chosen messenger. It would, indeed, have been a grievous thing if a sudden failure of faith should have disqualified him for future service. God still had confidence in Elijah. (F. S. Webster, M. A.)
Some mistakes regarding the earthquake
The earthquake has shaken the Queen City of the South, and given Charleston ashes for her beauty.
1. As a scientific fact, there is no more of God, His wisdom, power, or purpose, displayed in an earthquake than there is in the quiet growth of the grass in our door-yard; no more of God in the cyclone than in the perfumed breath of the flowers; no more of God in the conflagration kindled by the lightning or the volcano than in the glow of animal heat in our bodies. The steady, hardly audible, ticking of a watch reveals as much of the intelligence and purpose of its artificer as does the striking of the clock upon the steeple bell; and these alarming things in nature are but the louder striking of the mechanism of the universe. Great minds show their greatness by recognising the great in little things, recognising God in the commonplace things of daily observation. Sir David Brewster raised his hands and cried: “Great God! how marvellous are Thy works!” when he studied a tiny bit of animated matter. A distinguished naturalist wrote over his study door: “Be reverent, for God is here.” Jesus illustrated the Divine Providence, not by world-shaking events, but by the clothing of the lily and the floating wing of the sparrow.
2. It is a mistake to imagine that there are any deeper lessons of man’s impotence and dependence to be learned from these astounding things than ought to be learned from everyday occurrences. Fifty men were killed by the earthquake; but as many die every night in this city without the slightest tremor being observed in the earth’s surface until their survivors dig their graves. Some millions of dollars worth of property was shaken down by the mysterious visitant; but the common law of decay is all the time shaking our habitations back again to original dust.
3. It is a mistake to imagine that men will lay these lessons more to heart, and seek more persistently the favour of God, because His more astounding judgments are abroad in the land. The inhabitants of Naples are not the less worldly and thoughtless because Vesuvius keeps its flag of smoke all the time flying over the city, and so frequently awakens them by the lava-burst flashing its glare through their windows. Though she sits on the quivering edge of destruction, and her children play on the mounds of buried Pompeii and Herculaneum, Naples is one of the most godless haunts on the face of the earth. The Eastern Mediterranean is on the great earthquake belt. Its islands and shores are torn by convulsions, many of them having occurred within historic times, and not a few of them within the memory of the present generation. Yet this has always been the belt of human corruption. Antioch and Cyprus, earthquake centres, were the seats of the most abominable paganism and immorality. There is an Eastern proverb: “God comes to us without bell.” The deepest Divine impressions are those which are made silently upon the heart, not by wind, nor earthquake, nor fire, but by the “still small voice” of His spirit. These startling events can do no more than arrest our attention momentarily. They are like a hand touching us to awaken, but whether we are bettered or not depends upon our laying the lesson to heart, hearing within the soul the spiritual voice. Do you remember how beautifully St. Augustine speaks of God’s talking with the human soul--an exquisite description of the still small voice? He and Monica were communing together about spiritual things--“We were saying to ourselves then: If the tumult of the flesh were hushed, hushed the images of earth, and waters and air, hushed also the poles of heaven, yea, the very soul hushed to herself. .. hushed all dreams and imaginary revelations, every tongue and every sign. .. and He alone should speak. .. if we might hear His word, not through any tongue of flesh, nor angel’s voice, nor sound of thunder, nor in dark riddle of similitude. .. but might hear His very self. .. were not this to enter into the joy of the Lord?” (Homiletic Review.)
The disclosure on the mount
We may learn from this incident:
I. That men are not brought to acknowledge God merely by outward manifestations of power or greatness. Elijah needed this lesson. He looked to the appearance on Carmel to bring the Israelites to renounce their idolatry, and to bow to the authority of Jehovah; and because they did not he was disappointed, and his heart failed him. By what he saw at Horeb he would be convinced that outward demonstrations of power or glory were not sufficient to lead men to repentance. Our Lord, in the days of His flesh, constantly met with those who sought signs and wonders as the only means of producing faith. And the same feeling is still shown by men in the importance they attach to some outward circumstances for producing repentance--calamity, bereavement, affliction.
II. That outward circumstances may be helpful in bringing men to acknowledge God. While some depend too much upon the outward and circumstantial, others go to the opposite extreme, and ignore them altogether in the work of God, whereas they have a place in that work. Calamity or affliction may not produce repentance, but they tend to subdue the spirit, and make it more susceptible to the work of God. They break up the fallow ground, and prepare it for the seed of truth.
III. That true repentance is produced by the voice of God. It was when Elijah heard the “still small voice” that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood at the entrance of the cave.
IV. That Christian work is needful to spiritual health. Elijah was commanded to return to the wilderness of Damascus, and to do the work assigned him. He obeyed, and we never read of him wandering away again. Many Christians get low-spirited, and wander into forbidden paths, because of inactivity. Earnest work for God would restore and preserve them. (The Study and the Pulpit.)
Elijah at Horeb
I. The truest revelation of God to man is a simple one. Whirlwind, earthquake, and fire did not seem to greatly move the prophet. The solitary voice, still and small, with nothing bewildering about it, invited attention to the speaker and the message. It is a mistake which men often make that they look more confidently for revelations of God in large things than in small. For illustrations of the workings of the Divine Providence, they take whole epochs of history. They use a system of numeration in which dynasties and nations are the digits. They trace the slow processes by which some monstrous wrong is at last brought to extinction, or some great truth is finally established in sovereignty, and they say, see how evidently God directs the affairs of the world. To our Lord, a dead sparrow by the roadside meant quite as milch, for He said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them falleth to the ground without your Father.” It is not possible for all men to be profound students; but all men profoundly need that God should stand revealed to them, not after protracted investigation, and once or twice in a lifetime, but every day, and in each new emergency of experience; and just that is possible to them, because, to rightseeing men, God is discernible in items as well as aggregates.
II. The truest revelation of God to man is an intelligible one. The prophet on Horeb might have been in doubt as to the full significance of the wonders with which God prefaced His presence: the “still small voice,” speaking in intelligible phrase, could not be misunderstood. It was entirely reasonable that, when the revelation assumed that form, the prophet should bow in reverence and recognise the true presence of God. That there is a manifestation of God in the physical universe is true, but the revelation of Him is largely incidental. There is no evidence that God built this fine frame of nature simply or mostly to instruct men as to His character and will. It has other uses. A house incidentally expresses the tastes and wishes of its builder; but it was not built for that purpose, but to provide a family with a home. And therefore, and further, the teachings of nature in regard to God are vague and general. The truest revelation of God in regard to His character and will, is His purposed revelation--the intelligible Scriptures, given for the sole end of making men wise spiritually.
III. The truest revelation of God to man is often, if not always, a personal one. The whirlwind and earthquake and fire did not seem charged with any special message to the prophet; but the voice said, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” It was personality addressing personality, and the prophet recognised the words as proceeding out of the mouth of God.
IV. The truest revelation of God to man is a practical one. “What doest thou here, Elijah?” was the burden of the “still small voice.” It was a charge that the prophet was away from duty, and an urgency for him to resume his deserted place. There is something of instruction in the Gospel, but more of incitement. It comes to sinful men, and says, Repent; to doubting men, and says, Believe; to serving men, and says, Run, strive, fight. There are no bowers of ease for idle men in this book; no cradles of inaction where they may rock and dream; no empty chambers where they may spin their gossamer webs of speculation. To every man, this Scripture comes with its call to immediate and earnest action. (Monday Club.)
God’s manifestation to Elijah at Horeb
We learn here--
I. That the divine working in nature is intended by God to prepare men for a higher revelation. This was the intention of the miracles of Christ.
II. When men reverentially listen to the lower forms of teaching, God gives them the higher revelation. Nicodemus allowed the teaching of Christ in His miracles to bring conviction of His Divine mission to his heart (John 3:2); how willingly the Saviour led him into the deeper mysteries of His kingdom (1 Kings 19:16).
III. That although the physical power of God is strong enough to terrify men into submission, He will have them brought to obedience by moral suasion. The prophet longed for the eternal overthrow of the forces of evil, by what we may call God’s physical omnipotence. (Outlines from Sermons by a London Minister.)
A still small voice.
The still small voice
I. This vision ought to teach us that God is often more really present in little things and in quiet and unostentatious agencies than in things that seem to us great, and agencies that we think the most impressive. We are apt to look for God in the storm, the earthquake, and the fire, and to overlook God in the still small voices of nature. But God is not more in the forked lightning that rends the rock than in the sunbeam that plays with the rippling wave; He is not more in the roaring cataract than in the silent dewdrop; He is not more in the spangled heavens, whose clustered stars attract our gaze, than in the tiny flower whose unprotected beauty we trample beneath our feet. God is not more in the great events of nations than in the smallest incidents in the lives of individuals. He who counts the stars also numbers the hairs of our heads. Indeed, the most powerful agencies in nature are generally the most silent in their operation, and often work in the deepest obscurity. But this is especially true in relation to God Himself. He is the greatest agent, and yet He works in the deepest obscurity. There is a sense in which He does everything, and yet He does it so silently and secretly that there are those who say He does nothing, that in fact there is no God. As in the natural, so in the spiritual world, the strongest forces are the least seen. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” There is not always the most good being done where there is the most noise. “Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God, the God of Israel.” He does not come out and sound a trumpet before Him when He is about to do a great and good work. The agencies that are even now doing the most good in society are not the most ostentatious and self-asserting. It is not by parliaments and armies and police that the commonwealth is maintained and peace preserved. A stronger force than all these is the leaven of religious life which quietly operates in families.
II. This vision is an example of the way in which God very generally reveals Himself to men. He sends messengers to prepare His way. These messengers are fitted to arrest and arouse our attention, and then He Himself comes and speaks to us in “a still small voice.” He said, “Go forth,” etc. (1 Kings 19:11-12). These things are an allegory and example of God’s dealings. He sent the law and the prophets with all their thunderings and earthquakes to prepare the way for the Gospel.
1. He often sends to us the whirlwind of adversity.
2. God sent an earthquake. This may represent events in providence still more severe, such as bereavement, which swallowed up out of sight objects dearer to you than property, the desire of the eyes and the living treasures of the loving heart.
3. God sent a fire. That fire may aptly represent persona] affliction. This is often likened to a furnace: it consumes the health, and often brings eternity nearer to us than does even the death of a friend.
4. Then comes the “still small voice.” This is pre-eminently the Voice of God. The other dispensations are only intended to prepare the way for this Voice. God does not inflict or grieve us because He takes pleasure in doing it, but because He wishes to speak to us, and we will not listen till we are thus arrested. The silvery tones of God’s voice are constantly heard by those whose ears are inclined to hear.
III. This vision contains an example of the message which God is constantly addressing to men.
1. It is a word of rebuke for forsaking Him. “What doest thou here, Elijah?” This is the question which you address to a man who is out of his proper place--What are you doing here?
2. This word of rebuke is also addressed to the backslider. God says to him, What are you doing here?--in sin, among husks and swine, after having eaten of the hidden manna, and been in fellowship with God and Christ and the excellent of the earth, and the powers of the world to come.
3. This word of rebuke is also addressed to the Christian who has forsaken the post of duty.
4. The message also contains a word of exhortation: “Go, return.” This is what God says to the sinner: “Return--return unto Me, and I will return unto you.” (A. Clark.)
The still small voice
There are some important truths taught us by the account of the Lord’s dealings with Elijah--truths worthy of a prayerful perusal.
I. The attractions of the Gospel are far more powerful to save than the intimidations of the law. This is a lesson which the display of God’s majesty and the subsequent effect of His mildness were intended to teach. I do not read of any impressions being produced upon the mind of the prophet by the convulsions of nature, though I can quite suppose that his very blood chilled at the awe-inspiring scene he witnessed. But I find that when the “still small voice” fell upon his ear, he was smitten to the heart and humbled at Jehovah’s feet. The terrible phenomena illustrated the giving of the Law; the gentle voice the giving of the Gospel. The Law was given amid thunder and fire and earthquake; the Gospel fell from the hallowed lips of the loving Son of God. The Law threatens; the Gospel invites. The Law wounds; the Gospel heals. The one speaks of death; the other points to life. The one lays on us burdens grievous to be borne; the other calls us to duties delightful to fulfil. The one holds out penalty and the lash; the other recompense and love.
II. The “still small voice” and its effects on Elijah may be regarded as showing that God works most successfully by quiet and invisible agencies. This is a truth daily proved to us in the natural world. There the Almighty mutely elevates His mountains, excavates His valleys, levels His plains, dimples the bosom of expansive seas, gives beauty to the heavens, guides worlds in their orbits, tints His flowers with beauteous hues, and makes His fruit nectarious. No man hears a sound or sees a motion where the Great Architect is carrying out some of His gigantic plans. How gently falls the dew, how silently travels the sunbeam, how noiseless is electricity in its movements. But what effective agencies are these! How the face of nature is gladdened and rendered fruitful by them!
1. The “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit has effected wonders. Coming to us as the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Ghost holds up before us in the written and preached word our full-length portraiture, and then unfolds to our gaze the wondrous beauties of the God-Man.
2. The “still small voice” of conscience often speaks to us. Its utterance is not audible to the outward ear, yet the stoutest hearts have quailed before it. Men who have stood unmoved before the thunderings of adversity and the whirlwind of persecution, have succumbed to the whisperings of this inward monitor.
3. God makes great use of the “still small voice” of individual influence. We have lived with some who have let their light shine before men, and that light has shone upon our hearts, revealing to us the deformity and death within. (J. H. Hitchens.)
The still small voice
Feeble minds attain their petty ends with much noise and exertion; the Infinite Mind delights in accomplishing the greatest results silently, and through the operation of small causes; and the most satisfactory proofs of the presence of God are found in the “still small voice” with which he speaks to us.
1. It is so in the natural world. We see God as Elijah did, rending the mountains with His mighty wind; we hear His voice in the thunder, the earthquake, and the storm; but what is the effect of all these terrible manifestations of His attributes compared with that of the “still small voice,” which reaches us from every part of His works? Very frequently will it be discovered, that such terrifying manifestations of the God of nature result in no lasting moral good; while that “still small voice,” which speaks to us in every smiling exhibition of His benevolence on earth, and from every bright world above us, almost compels us to adore, and causes our affections to come forth as Elijah came forth from the cave, and bend in humble reverence before a present God.
2. And again we may see our text illustrated in the providences of God. When we witness any sudden stroke of bereavement; when we see a family or an individual visited by some signal calamity, some awful and overwhelming blow, we are apt to say to ourselves, “Surely such a warning will not be in vain.” But is it not often in vain? After waiting some time, do we not find that the momentary terror and agitation of the blow have all subsided; and that the greater the calamity, the deeper apparently is the stupidity of those on whom it is sent, after it has gone by?
3. And thus it is, again, in the spiritual world. John the Baptist wrought no miracles, but all men came to him; our Saviour performed so many mighty works that nearly every inhabitant of Judaea might have seen some of them, and yet to human apprehension the result was less successful. It is not unlikely that a single sermon of St. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, because attended with the Spirit’s influence, may have made more converts than all the mighty works which our Saviour performed. Miracles are addressed to the understanding. They do not affect the heart; and it is the heart that needs to be moved; it is the conscience which must be awakened, before there can be any moral reformation. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
The power of quiet forces
1. Materialism and spirituality are ever at war, ever have been. The claims of the first, that the outward and visible only--that which we can see, feel, and touch--or which the chemist, the microscopist, or the physicist can examine and analyse, alone is worthy to be considered or to be classed as knowledge, has many sincere advocates. Those who believe that at the back of all natural phenomena there is a realm of spiritual life, just as real, just as tangible to the higher sense, and who maintain that this, too, is knowledge, albeit personal--are a large, shall we say a growing army? Spiritual things are spiritually discerned; hence the impossibility of convincing a materialist of these things. But there is a materialism not dogmatic, but real, with which we are surrounded all the time. We are in touch with it everywhere. If affects us unconsciously. We cannot rid ourselves of it. This can be recognised in our religious lives oftener than we are ready to admit. Our activities take upon themselves many materialistic forms, many useful, some questionable, and we can scarcely find time to sit down to listen for the “still small voice.” We are labouring at a disadvantage. Our inheritance, our environments do not aid us, and the life we ordinarily live places us not upon vantage-ground, but where constant effort and watchfulness are necessary to avoid wrong conclusions.
2. All the great questions of reform vary but little in aim. The divergence is not the result of the want of a purpose in any one direction, so much as an intelligent insight into the causes which produce our moral disturbances. Public sentiment is ready to denounce the want of virtue or principle. Rumour is ready to carry on its steady current the moral carrion, until the putrefying mass contaminates and destroys the social order of society, and yet the cause of much of our evil is not understood nor disturbed. Christian and moralist alike forget their reason and good common sense in the excitement, and become like the lake when disturbed by a storm. Its quiet waters are ruffled and active. Its waves are high and powerful, and bear upon their crown the dignified crest of matured agitation. The elements frighten us, and we tremble with fear. But what of the storm? Need the farmers and other people upon the lake’s shore deceive themselves that the waters of the lake are rising? Need they seek other habitations lest the water become so high that their farms and houses be overflowed by the great increase of water? No, no. Very soon the storm subsides. The bosom of the lake wears its usual peaceful calm. The clouds are parted, and God smiles through the warm, bright light, saying, “Peace, be still.” The leaven of the Gospel which raises “three measures of meal” is quiet, insinuating power. True reforms never come in any other way. It takes time and the warm, healthy glow of united Christian hearts in society to aid it in raising the life to a place of spiritual existence.
3. The silent voice which speaks to our hearts, speaks in a language which commands our respect. We may not be able to give the thought in words. We are all sensible of deeper mysteries than our understanding can solve. The strongest convictions of life have sprung from these deeper sentiments of the soul. They furnish us food for reflection, and give us the fuel which warms the heart to an energy that will not be quieted. The noisy demonstrations of life pass by us unnoticed, and we fear them not; but silent voice awakens us. We are all attention, our hearts tremble with fear or joy. The steady onward strides of all the great forces of life are never heralded before their coming, saying, Behold, I come! They are not seen but known by that which they do, and others praise them. Strong life is quiet and modest, dignified and powerful. Light and heat, electricity, and many other agencies for good or for evil, as the circumstances may make them, work silently in the secret chambers of nature. God has made man not only in His moral image, but nature and man strongest when seemingly silent and composed. There is a dignity in the thought of such a life. There is an inexpressible awe in the presence of such a God who in the secret chambers of an eternity silently makes known to the life within us His will.
4. We leave very much of our religious faith behind us when we resort to physical rather than moral force in our work. It is then the command for solicitude is, “You must,” “You shall,” when the silent and all-potent influences of moral power should win. When the Church of Christ had assumed strong organisation and exercised great temporal power, as in the Dark Ages, it was because she had lost the moral force which an all-pervading spirituality furnishes. “It is not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the Lord.”
5. How ready are we, as we see the weakness of the Church--her lack of success in winning many from sin--to flee to the cave of despair, as did the prophet Elijah, and thus in the confines of natural resources try to protect ourselves. This is one of the grievous mistakes of the people of God. Men are hidden in their professions, in their business, in their selfish pursuits, and seem not to have the moral courage or inclination to stand erect as men of God, saying, “Judge ye, my God is Jehovah.” They are not unlike the prophet Elijah in the cave, and when the Lord says unto the soul thus neglecting God’s altars, when the Lord speaks unto the man or woman who thus neglects the ordinances of God’s house, the Church, the prayer meeting, the family altar, the answer comes as of old, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets, and I, even I only, am left.”
6. The influences which are potent in lifting from the pit to a life of godliness are not noisy or demonstrative, but silent and insinuating. All true reforms commence in the heart of mankind, and are significant in that they are spiritual, rather than materialistic. Like the air by which we are warmed when chilled, we are bathed in it, and infused with a new life ere we are aware of it. Even so God comes to you and me in the silent influences of life. (J. M. La Bach.)
I. Christianity is a voice--not only a book, but also a voice. Other religions have books: Mahometanism has a book, and a grand old book it is too, called the Koran. Some of its stories are equal in beauty to the stories of the Book of Genesis, but Mahometanism has no voice. Mahomet is dead, and his voice is silent in the tomb. Hinduism has books, and interesting books they are too, called the Veda and Shaster. They are full of hymns and precepts, some of them equal in purity and spirituality to some of the Old Testament Psalms and Proverbs, but Hinduism has no voice. The great prophets of Hinduism, who thought out the books, are dead, and their voices are heard no more. Christianity also has a book. It is more beautiful than the Koran, and more poetic and spiritual than the Veda or Shaster. But the book of Christianity is also a voice. The Prophet of Christianity is not dead. Christ is alive, and fills all the words of the Bible with a living voice. He speaks again, through His spirit, the very words which He spoke when on earth. Herein is the great difference between the Bible and every other book. The voice of Christianity is a revealing voice. God is not to be seen, only heard. “No man hath seen God at any time; the Only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” And He declares Him still. As one said: “When we look, with the eye of faith, on Christ in history we behold only the man, but we hear the God.” The man only is visible, but the invisible God speaks. God is not seen in the world of matter, but He is heard.
II. Christianity is a small voice. Would it not be better were it a large voice filling the world with its melody, and captivating every ear with its charming music? It appears so; but when we study the subject closer we find that what appears to be a disadvantage is a very great blessing.
1. A voice for the weakest. It is a small voice, that the human ear may be able to take it in as a whole. One of the loudest noises that art can produce is the report of cannon as it discharges its perilous contents into the air, but the human ear is too small to take it in as a whole; only a small portion of the sound enters our ears as it passes by through the air. One of the loudest sounds Nature can produce is that of a thunder-clap, rending the air with its sound and echo, but only a small part of it reaches our ears, carried by the air wavelets. There are sounds too great and awful for the human ear to take them in as a whole. The voice that man can take in must be small. The voice of Christianity has been ordained small by God that the weak, small human ear may take it all in.
2. The voice of Christianity is ordained small in order that other voices may be employed to re-echo it, in preaching and living it. And as they reproduce it they are transformed into the same melodious quality.
III. Christianity is a still voice, or, according to the Welsh translation, which undoubtedly is better here, Christianity is a silent voice. It is a voice; it is silence--contradiction in terms, but not in the truths themselves. It is a voice to some; it is silence to others. It is a voice to the ear of faith, but it is silence to the ear of unbelief. It is a voice to the children of God, but it is silence to the children of the devil. There is a music in this world that no one can hear except those who have had their spiritual ears opened by Divine grace. The people of the world boast of the music of the opera and theatre, but they have not yet heard the conductor of heaven’s choir giving the keynote to the saints upon earth. The world has not yet heard the sweetest music--the voice of Him who made the storm to sleep by His “Peace, be still.” We must have our spiritual ears opened by Christ; then we shall hear His Voice. The voice of the Opener of our spiritual ears will be the first we hear, and ever will be the sweetest. The sweetest voice on earth is the voice of Christ to the saints.
1. It is a silent voice, that God may be able to tell the secret of His kingdom to His children, so that the devil, who is at the elbow, cannot hear it. God has secrets to impart to His people which no one is to hear.
2. Christianity is a silent voice, that the weak and the painful and the dying may listen to it without being hurt. There are events in human life when the voice of the world and society are too loud and harsh for us to listen to it without being pained. As I was walking, a few years ago, over the streets of Cardiff I noticed that a part of the street was covered over with chaff four or five inches deep. I stood wondering what it was good for. Failing to solve the mystery I ventured to ask a policeman, who was standing by, what was the meaning of the chaff-covered street. “In that house,” said he, pointing to the other side, “there is a young woman twenty-one years of age, in the last stage of consumption, and she cannot bear the noise of the traps and footsteps going over the street, so they have covered the street with chaff that the vehicles and people may pass by in silence.” I saw through the mystery of the chaff-covered street at once. The noise of trade was too loud and harsh for the consumptive young woman to listen to it without being pained; her dying ear could not bear it. But there is a voice so still and sweet that the dying young woman could listen to with pleasure--the “still small voice” of Divine love. (R. Williams.)
I. What meaning this parable had for Elijah.
1. It seems to me, first of all, that the Lord would teach him that, though disappointed, he might still live to purpose, and do good work for God.
2. God would have His servant understand that He is not straitened for means, and methods, and instruments. Not by a continuation of Carmel’s triumphs, but by other and simpler means God would carry out His programme.
3. Jehovah would have Elijah remember that his example had accomplished more than he had supposed.
II. But this parable, surely, has a bearing towards ourselves.
1. There is this truth, amongst others, that God employs unexpected means.
2. The folly of relying on outward appearances. Displays of power are not to be encouraged or rejoiced in. Eloquence, and style, and culture have all their place. The great forces of nature are silent.
3. God sometimes delays, but makes Himself manifest eventually.
4. Mercy is more potent than judgment. (T. Spurgeon.)
The still small voice
1. This “still small voice,” for us, is both conscience and Jesus. It is Jesus, acting by His wisdom, and His truth, and His courtesy, and His gentleness, and righteousness, and holiness, on our conscience. And the “still small voice” of affection says, “Great is intellect; glorious is the pursuit of truth, knowledge, discovery; glorious the application of these things in what we call art! Glorious all that. More beautiful still, more truly human is the love of a sister for her brother, the love of a mother for her child. Love is more beautiful than even thought, glorious as thought is.” Does conscience tell us that this God watches over us, that He acts according to laws? But those laws are much more manifold than we suspect, much more complicated than we suspect. It is a west wind blowing, with, I believe, a little south in it. Do you think that is an accident? It is all the result of law, laws and influences--antecedents, we may call them-that have been at work for four thousand and more years before to-day. It is very difficult to ascertain all those laws; nay, it is humanly possible and impracticable. But God has all those antecedents in His hand. To speak it reverently, think it reverently, that Great Mechanic has but to touch some of those remote and complicated links in the chain of antecedents, or cause and effect, if you like so to call them; has but to touch some of the higher, more remote, less visible, less conspicuous, less ascertainable links in the chain of antecedents, and it is changed; and you shall have, not the west or the south-west, but a northerly or an easterly wind. Does conscience speak to us of this Great Being, and of Him as shown to us in Jesus Christ, infinitely and humanely caring for us, and watching over us.
2. This voice was to Elijah articulate. “What doest thou here, Elijah? Go, return,” says this voice; “go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus.” Strange prophet, this Elijah. Strange history, very often overlooked and not noticed at all. Go back! where to? To Jerusalem? No. Go back! where to? To the sacred cities of Israel’s kingdom? No. Where to? To the wilderness. Another wilderness; not this southern one, but far off beyond thine own Gilead, north of that, east of that, go away to that wilderness, that belongs to Damascus, the chief city of the Syrian, the Gentile uncircumcised. Ah, think you God cares not for the uncircumcised, the Syrian, as well as for the Jew? (J. Macnaught.)
The still small voice
We have to consider how God dealt with His dispirited and truant child.
I. God spake to him. In some darksome cave, among those rent precipices, Elijah lodged; and, as he waited, in lonely musings, the fire burned in his soul. But he had not long to wait. “Behold, the word of the Lord came unto him.” That word had often come to him before. It had come to him at Thisbe. It had come to him in Samaria, after he had given his first message to Ahab. It had come to him when Cherith was dry. It had come to summon him from the solitudes of Zarephath to the stir of active life. And now it found him out, and came to him again. There is no spot on earth so lonely, no cave so deep and dark, that the word of the Lord cannot discover and come to us. “What doest thou here, Elijah?” How often is that question put still! when a Christian worker, sorely needed, deserts his post, because of some unforeseen difficulty, or to secure selfish gratification and ease; to that couch of indolence, or to that forest glade where soft breezes blow, the question comes, “what doest thou here?” When one endowed with great faculties digs a hole in the earth, and buries the God-entrusted talent, standing idle all the day long among the loungers in the market-place, again must the inquiry ring out, “What doest thou here?” Life is the time for doing. The world is a great workshop, in which there is no room for drones. God Himself worketh as the great Masterbuilder. There is plenty to do. Evil to put down; good to build up; doubters to be directed; prodigals to be won back; sinners to be sought, what doest thou here? Up, Christians, leave your caves, and do! Do not do in order to be saved; but being saved, do!
II. God taught him by a beautiful natural parable. But in this natural parable God seemed to say: “My child, thou hast been looking for Me to answer thy prayers with striking signs and wonders; and because these have not been given in a marked and permanent form, thou hast thought Me heedless and inactive. But I am not always to be found in these great visible movements; I love to work gently, softly, and unperceived; I have been working so; I am working so still; and there are in Israel, as the results of My quiet gentle ministry, ‘seven thousand, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.’” Yes, and was not the gentle ministry of Elisha, succeeding the stormy career of his great predecessor, like the “still small voice” after the wind, the earthquake, and the fire? And is it not probable that more real good was effected by his unobtrusive life and miracles, than was even wrought by the splendid deeds of Elijah? We often fall into similar mistakes. When we wish to promote a revival, we seek to secure large crowds, much evident impression, powerful preachers; influences comparable to the wind, the earthquake, and the fire. When these are present, we account that we are secure of having the presence and power of God. His Spirit descends as the dove, whose wings make no tremor in the still air. Let us take heart! God may not be working as we expect; but He is working. If not in the wind, yet in the zephyr. If not in the earthquake, yet in the heartbreak. If not in the fire, yet in the warmth of summer. If not in thunder, yet in the “still small voice.” If not in crowds, yet in lonely hearts; in silent tears; in the broken sobs of penitents; and in multitudes, who, like the seven thousand of Israel, are unknown as disciples. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
A more excellent way
We find instructive parallels in the lives of Moses and John the Baptist; or, if we prefer a modem instance, think of Frederick Robertson, one day preaching to a crowded church in Brighton, the next day grovelling on his study floor. It is only to the noblest natures that such dejection is possible. And yet, such despondency was wrong. It was unjust to God. Elijah’s despondency was unjust to the past. “I am not better than my fathers!” I have failed, so did they! Why labour any longer? Why tax the overwearied brain? Why continue the unavailing struggle? Is it worth while to toil like this? Are those for whom I labour worth it all? So we repine, so we despond. And yet the kingdom of God is coming amongst us, and the day of the Lord draws nigh. But it concerns us most of all to know, not the grandeur of this scene, but its real meaning. What is the truth at the back of this story, and how shall we translate it into plain words? What is the real meaning of these experiences? It seems to me that Elijah gained, through them, three things.
1. First, he gained new views of God. The prophet had made a mistake. He supposed that the fire of Carmel was the only symbol by which God could make Himself known, that earthquake and thunder and storms were the expression of His essential nature. Elijah had tried to bend the stubborn wills of men by methods of force. He never thought of any other way. He magnified God’s strictness with a zeal he would not own. But in the solitude and silence of Horeb, he learned the gentleness of God.
2. He gained, in the second place, new views of his work. “What doest thou here?” The cruelty of Jezebel, the apostasy of Israel, the failure of past efforts, the uncertainty of the future--none of these, nor all of them together, were sufficient to justify Elijah in abandoning his duty. God gave His servant a glimpse of the work yet to be done.
3. Above all, Elijah learned at Horeb a new method of appeal. The method of coercion had failed, the method of wonder had failed. There was a better way. Force threats, denunciations will never avail. Men cannot be frightened into goodness. But where thunder-and-lightning methods have failed, the gradual, silent, pervasive influence of the faithful seven thousand may succeed. (A. Moorhouse, M. A.)
The power of silent influence
I. It is a power which God usually employs to accomplish His work.
1. In the government of the material world. How noiselessly does He work the great machinery of nature! There is not a sound to be heard. Poets talk of the “music of the spheres”; but it is a music that has never fallen on their ears.
2. In the dispensation of Providence. We sometimes imagine we hear nothing but the stormy wind, or the terrible earthquake, levelling to the ground all our hopes. The fire of Divine disapprobation seems to rage most fiercely, and we feel ready to perish. But these are not the chief agents employed by our Father in the dispensation of His Providence. “After the fire a still small voice.”
3. In the renovation of the soul. “The wind, the earthquake, and the fire,” may be used as preparatory means to the great work of conversion. The influence of the Spirit on the heart is secret, silent, and effective.
II. It is a power that is productive of the greatest good. It is folly to think that because an influence is silent it cannot be effective.
1. It awakens thought. The wind, the earthquake, the fire, sometimes disturb the slumbers of a soul in sin.
2. It operates on the heart. The noisy tempest may affect the passions, stir up the animal feelings; but it cannot reach the sinner’s heart.
3. It regulates the actions. The very power that impresses the heart, will also mould and shape the actions of life. It is often remarked that “example is more powerful than precept.” The reason of this is evident.
III. It is a power that is lasting in its effects. Why is the power of silent influence so durable?
1. It is emblematic of the Divine presence. God was not in the awful tempest which preceded the “still small voice.”
2. It becomes a living element in the new character. The believer in Christ is a new creature. (J. H. Hughes.)
God heard in the still small voice
I. When god comes to reprove men for their sins, He usually manifests Himself to them, or addresses them, not by His works, either of creation or providence, but by a “still small voice.” Thus it was in the instance before us. You have all known something of the force of the winds; you have felt your habitations tremble before the fury of the blast. And not a few of you have witnessed more terrible proofs of its power on the ocean. You have seen the billows raised into mountains, and lashed into foam. You have felt the labouring vessel reel under you, while tossed by a tempest which seemed sufficient to rend the mountains, and break in pieces the rocks; and you have seen the tempest become a calm. But, as it respected you, God was not in the wind, nor in the calm which succeeded. You saw His hand, you heard His voice in neither. If you then heard Him in anything, it was in a “still small voice” within you. Further, the globe which we inhabit, though not this particular part of it, has often been convulsed by the most terrible and desolating earthquakes. Even some parts of New England have been agitated in a degree sufficient to excite distressing apprehensions. But have the nations thus visited found God in the earthquake? Did our fathers find Him there as an instructor and reprover? Far from it. Never have the survivors been reformed by such events. The earthquakes in New England did, indeed, occasion a kind of religious panic. A writer, who was then one of the ministers of Boston, informs us, that immediately after the great earthquake, as it was called, a great number of his flock came and expressed a wish to unite themselves with the church. But on conversing with them he could find no evidence of improvement in their religious views or feelings, no convictions of their own sinfulness; nothing, in short, but a kind of superstitious fear, occasioned by a belief that the end of the world was at hand. All their replies proved that they had not found God in the earthquake. The same may be said of other means. Ministers may give voice and utterance to the Bible, which is the Word of God. Like James and John, they may be “sons of thunder” to impenitent sinners. They may pour forth a tempest of impassioned, eloquent declamation. Nothing effectual can be done unless God be there, unless He speaks with His “still small voice.”
II. That when God speaks to men with this voice, He speaks to them personally, or does, as it were, call them by name. This He did in the case before us. He addressed the prophet by his name, Elijah.
III. That, when God speaks to men in this “still small voice,” He usually begins by turning their attention upon themselves, their conduct, and situation. He said to the prophet, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” a question which was most admirably adapted to convince, reprove, and humble him. (E. Payson, D. D.)
The still small voice
The once triumphant spokesman of the Lord has temporarily lost his exuberant faith, and is sunk in dark despair. I am free to confess that I obtain a little comfort even from the prophet’s grief. There is something in human nature which makes us feel more akin to men who occasionally suffer defeat. When the Apostle Peter is very bold, daring even death in the presence of the great ones of the earth, be appears very remote to the child of hesitancy and doubt; but in the hour of Peter’s weakness, when he shrinks from the foes that beset him, he becomes one of the common crowd. His impulsiveness makes even his martyrdom human. Paul’s feelings of wretchedness lend humanness even to his ecstasies, and his unspeakable visions do not lie in lands too remote. Now think of this mighty symbolism being portrayed before the despondent prophet. What would be its significance? Its significance was this, and he learned the lesson: comparative impotence may roar in the guise of tempest and fire; Almightiness may move in whispers. Feebleness hides in the apparently overwhelming; Almightiness hides in apparent impotence. God was in the weak thing! Elijah left the mount with his conceptions entirely changed. I think I can see him descending from the place of apocalypse with this thought filling his life: “The wind is against me, and the earthquake, and the fire, but what of that? The breathing is with me, and the immeasurable voice of God is in the wind.” It is well for us to remember that the seemingly feeble, if the ghostly voice be in it, is transcendently more powerful than the massed battalions of the ungodly. When I had written these words I looked upon my study walls, and saw Munkacsy’s great picture, “Christ before Pilate.” There is a vast, howling, brutal mob, the very incarnation of brutal and irresistible force. It seems as though the violent crowd can carry all before it. Standing before the surging, shouting throng is the meek figure of the Master! It seems as though one hand out of the violent mob could crush Him like a moth! And yet we now know that in that silent Figure there dwelt the secret of Almightiness, and the Lord was not in the mob. Some time ago I was in Stirling Castle, and the guide pointed out to me the field of Bannockburn, and revelled in his description of the bloody fray. I turned from the contemplation of material strife, and I saw John Knox’s pulpit! I allowed the two symbols to confront each other, and they enshrined for me the teaching given to Elijah in the days of old. The ghostly power suggested by the pulpit was of infinitely greater import than the carnal power suggested by the battlefield. I remember one day passing along the road, by the far-stretching works of Messrs. Armstrong, that vast manufactory of destructive armaments. I was almost awed by the massiveness of the equipment, and by the terrific issues of their work. Near by I saw a little Methodist chapel; it could have been put in a small comer of Armstrong’s works, but it became to me the symbol of the enduring and the eternal! The ghostly breathing was in the plain little edifice, and the creations of its ministries will be found when the bristling armaments have crumbled into dust. Never let us count heads, but let us make sure of God. One man with God is in the majority. The man on the side of the “still small voice” must become at last overwhelming. One man in a workshop surrounded by jeering and sneering mates, moving in an environment altogether invincible to grace, will most assuredly conquer if he has the companionship of the Holy Ghost. A working man said to me a little while ago, speaking of the uncongenial character of his workshop, “I must get out of it!” I told him I was not so sure about that. I told him that he had chosen Elijah’s way out of the difficulty. I urged him to believe in the sovereignty of the Almighty, and to remain faithful unto the end. We can wear down the stoutest antagonist. Our contention may be as silent as time, but it will be as invincible. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The still small voice
By communion with God must be understood a sense of His presence, which fills consciousness with a living moral force equal to the work of regeneration. When it is said that God was not in the storm, the earthquake, or the fire, we understand that such manifestations of God did not commend themselves to the judgment of Elijah, as likely to effect the changes he prayed for. Then God came nearer, and spoke to him as “friend to friend,” which brought the assurance that the human heart can be reached effectually without the terrors of Sinai, or the destruction of the prophets of Baal. The regeneration of man is essentially moral, which can only be accomplished by moral means--means that will bring God’s “still small voice” into the soul.
I. An answer to the ever-recurring demand of the church for the marvellous. “What sign showest thou?” is the oft-repeated question.
II. An answer to the materialistic tendency of the age. A large class of educated people contend that the works of nature afford a sufficient scope for the human mind. Religious exercises, say they, as observed in saying prayers, singing hymns, listening to sermons, and building churches, abstract the mind from the wonders of the universe. There never was a greater mistake. How can the voice of God in the soul hinder the contemplation of His works?
III. An answer to the distracted saint. Elijah was in need of a special communication from his God. The earthquake, the storm, and the fire failed to calm his fear. The voice came to strengthen his faith. (T. Davis, M. A.)
It is a common error to suppose that a church is dead because it is not making a noise. Some people would keep up a continued round of tea-meetings, bazaars, Dorcases, holiday-makings, and trumpet-blowings, and advertise the same as signs of spiritual life. Some in-judicious man once drew a distinction between perspiration and inspiration. He must have had his eye upon the people in question. Spiritual life is generally quiet. There may be periods of intense excitement, but they cannot last. We should remember that the river is not deepest where it is noisiest. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Through storm to calm
There are some spirits which must go through a discipline analogous to that sustained by Elijah. The storm struggle must precede the “still small voice.” There are minds which must be convulsed with doubt before they can repose in faith. There are hearts which must be broken with disappointment before they can rise into hope. Blessed is the man who, when the tempest has spent its fury, recognises his Father’s voice in its undertone, and bares his head and bows his knee as Elijah did. To much spirits it seems as if God had said: “In the still sunshine and ordinary ways of life you cannot meet Me; but, like Job, in the desolation of the tempest you will see My form and hear My voice, and know that your Redeemer liveth.” (F. W. Robertson.)
And the Lord said unto him, Go, return.
It is a very solemn thought, that one sin may for ever, so far as this world is concerned, wreck our usefulness. It is not always so. Sometimes--as in the case of the Apostle Peter--the Lord graciously restores, and re-commissions for His work, the one who might have been counted unfit ever again to engage in it. “Feed My sheep. Feed My lambs.” But against this one case we may put three others, in each of which it would seem as if the sentry angel, who forbade the return of our parents to Paradise, were stationed with strict injunctions to forbid any return to the former position of noble service. The first case is that of Moses; the meekest of men; the servant of the Lord; the foster-nurse of the Jewish nation, whose intercessions saved them again and again from destruction. Yet because he spake unadvisedly with his lips, and smote the rock twice, in unbelief and passion, he was compelled to bear the awful sentence: “Because ye believed Me not, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” The second case is that of Saul, the first ill-fated King of Israel, whose reign opened so auspiciously, as a morning without clouds, but who soon brought upon himself the sentence of deposition. Yet it was only for one single act. Alarmed at Samuel’s long delay, and at the scattering of the people, he intruded rashly into a province from which he was expressly excluded, and offered the sacrifice with which the Israelites were wont to prepare for battle. The third case is that of Elijah. He was never reinstated in quite the position which he had occupied before his fatal flight. True he was bidden to return on his way, and work was indicated for him to do. But that work was the anointing of three men, who were to share amongst them the ministry which he might have fulfilled if only he had been true to his opportunities and faithful to his God. God’s work must go on; if not by us, then, through our failures, by others brought in to supply our place. “Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus,” etc.
I. The variety of God’s instruments. Hazael, King of Syria; Jehu, the rude captain; and Elisha, the young farmer. It is remarkable how God accomplishes His purposes through men who only think of working their own wild way. Their sin is not diminished or condoned because they are executing the designs of Heaven; it still stands out in all its malignant deformity. And yet, though they are held accountable for the evil, it is none the less evident that they do whatsoever God’s hand and God’s counsel determined before to be done. Joseph comforted his brethren, after his father’s death, by telling them that though they thought evil against him, God meant it unto good, to save much people alive.
II. No one can entirely escape from God’s personal dealings. God’s nets are not all constructed with the same meshes. Men may escape through some of them; but they cannot escape through all. If they elude the Gospel ministry, they will be caught by some earnest worker, apt at personal dealing. If they manage to evade all contact with the living voice, they may yet be reached by the printed page. If they evade all religious literature, they may still be the sudden subjects of the strivings of the Spirit. “Him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay; and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay.”
III. God never overlooks one of His own. Elijah thought that he alone was left as a lover and worshipper of God. It was a great mistake. God had many hidden ones. “Yet I have left Me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” We know nothing of their names or history. They were probably unknown in camp or court--obscure, simple-hearted, and humble. Their only testimony was one long refusal to the solicitations of the foul rites of idolatry. They groaned and wept in secret; and spake often one to another, while the Lord hearkened and heard. But they were all known to God, and enrolled amongst His jewels, and counted as a shepherd tells his sheep. He cared for them with an infinite solicitude; and it was for their sake that He raised up the good and gentle Elisha to carry on the nurture and discipline of their souls. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Return to duty
I. As Elijah journeyed back through the desert, one of his feelings doubtless would be this--deep sorrow on account of his past faithlessness, and a salutary sense of his weakness for the time to come. Every step of that backward journey must have recalled, with sorrow and shame, the remembrance of his unworthy flight and unworthy unbelief.
II. Another feeling Elijah had, in leaving his cave, must have been a lively sense and apprehension of God’s great mercy. What, in the retrospect of the recent wondrous manifestation, would more especially linger in the prophet’s recollection? Not the wind, not the earthquake, not the fire; but the “still small voice.”
III. We may suppose another feeling entertained by Elijah in departing from his cave and returning through the wilderness, would be, a fixed purpose and resolution of new and more devoted obedience. Mourning an unworthy past--penetrated by a lively sense of Jehovah’s love,--he would go onward and forward, resolved more than ever on a life of grateful love and of active and unwavering service, until God saw meet to take him up in His chariot of fire. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Yet I have left Me seven thousand in Israel.
The unknown quantity
We cannot know what a man is merely by what he does. He may be a painter showing to us his pictures; that sight gives no idea as to whether he is inwardly beautiful. He may be a tradesman with whom we deal; that does not tell us whether he is occupying himself with his Lord’s talents until He come. He may he a mechanic who executes some manual labour for us; that does not signify if he is labouring for the meat which perisheth, and also for that which endureth unto everlasting life. We need to get more than a man’s doings to enable us to perceive what he is. We must learn what his real thoughts are. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” We must be able to form clear ideas of what he likes and dislikes; what he finds fault with in others, and would fain accomplish by them. In just such a condition we are as regards our knowledge of God. His works in nature do not inform us of what He is.
I. This unknown quantity is a provision made by God’s secret operations. “I have left,” or as we read in the Epistle to the Romans, “I have reserved to Myself seven thousand.” The Lord thus affirms that their existence in Israel was due to His own arrangements, that He was carrying out His purposes by other methods than that which He had consigned to Elijah, and independently of him. The secret of the Lord s operations may well put shame upon the course taken by so many who profess to be His appointed servants, setting themselves up as judges, and condemning to un-covenanted mercies--which mean too often unpitying wishes produced by the spite of bigoted hearts--those who do not agree with them.
II. This unknown quantity is an object of constant inspection by God. He knows when and where their knees are bent; when and where their lips are shaped for a kiss. He sees what resolutions they have made, and that those resolutions have not been broken. All and every one in particular are designated by His testimony as His elected people, even though never ranked with the professed upholders of His kingdom.
III. This unknown quantity encourages undefined hopes as to the wide range over which loyalty to God extends. God wants faithful servants far more than prophets, apostles, preachers can. The desire for the extension of His kingdom, which moulds their prayers and efforts, their complaints and despondency, is a desire which is only a minute output from His measureless yearning. They see Him making the Gospel His power to the salvation of men, of whom they had lost hope. Slaves, criminals, cannibals, philosophers lifted up with pride, and ignorant men dogmatic in their ignorance; men and women, over whom the fetid vapours of fleshly lusts hung darkly, and little children, scarcely able to tell that evil soils them, have each and all become known as unyielding props in the earthly house of the Lord. What ground is available for doubting that He has raised many more with His wonder-working grace than have come into our notice?
1. An impulse to continuous service of the Lord.
2. The guidance for each soul. It is found in the words of Jesus when answering the question, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” He made no attempt at a reply; He sent the questioners into their own consciences, with the injunction, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” (D. G. Watt, M. A.)
The seven thousand
I. We may learn from this declaration of God to Elijah, in reply to his complaint, never to take too gloomy or desponding a view of the position and prospects of the Church. However reduced in number and influence and piety the Church of God apparently may become;--however feeble the spark, it cannot be quenched;--it cannot die. The true Israel often and again have been reduced to the lowest ebb;--the bush burning with fire ready to be consumed; but the living God was in the bush, and defied the destroying flames.
II. Arising from the lesson just drawn, and suggested by it, we may further learn to beware of harsh judgments on our fellow-men and fellow-Christians. There was unwarrantable self-sufficiency in Elijah--so boldly averring, “I, even I only, am left!” It was not for him (“the man of like passions”) to make so sweeping and unqualified an assertion--repudiating the faith of others, and feeling so confident of his own. The worst phase which self-righteousness can assume, is when we constitute ourselves religious censors; and on the ground of some supposed superior sanctity say, with supercilious air, “Stand back, for I am holier than thou.” Elijah’s feeling has developed itself in modern times in denominational exclusiveness;--sect unchurching sect. One saying, “I alone am left.” I alone am “the Church,” because of apostolic descent and sacramental efficacy. Another, “I only am left,” for congregations around me are asleep, and mine only has undergone revival and awakening. Nay, nay; hush these censorious’ thoughts and hasty party judgments. Who art thou that judgest another? “Who art thou so ready to spy out the mote in thy brother’s eye, and seest not the beam in thine own?” There has ever been, and ever shall be, “a hidden Church.” “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” There is often pure gold in the coarsest-looking ore;--there is often the rarest pebble in the most rugged rock;--there are often the loveliest flowers in the most tangled brake or remotest dell.
III. Let us gather yet another lesson from this comforting assurance of God to Elijah--the influential power of a great example. Elijah’s feeling was, that he was alone; that he had toiled, and witnessed, and suffered in vain; that in vain he had uttered his high behests; borne publicly his testimony to the living Jehovah; lived his life of faith, and self-denial, and prayer. His saddening thought was, that he was now going to end a useless, fruitless, purposeless existence; that, for all he had done in the cause of Divine truth, he might still have been roaming a freebooter, or pasturing his flocks as a shepherd in his native Gilead. “Nay,” says God, to this mighty harvest-man, “seven thousand souls have been reaped mainly by thy sickle.” Wherever there are brave, bold, honest, upright, God-loving hearts in this world, there is sure to emanate a silent, it may be, but yet a vast influence for good. “No man liveth to himself.” What may not a word do!--a solemn advice!--a needed caution! (J. R. Macduff,D. D.)
A consistent saint of God--What do we mean by the word “saint”? All who are set aside for the Master’s use, who are sanctified and strengthened by His grace to serve Him, are His saints. What is that life?
I. It is a life of which the root is hidden, though its fruits, at least in part, may be seen.
II. Saintship is nourished most in times of depression and of affliction. It is Of such a time that God is here speaking: “I have seven thousand which have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (W. Denton, M. A.)
The faithful seven thousand
We learn from these words--
I. That men may be often deceived with regard to the strength of God’s Church. Many have possessed a similar feeling to that expressed by Elijah. They have looked upon the prevalence of sin, in all ranks and conditions of life; they have looked upon the widespread indifference to religion, and that too in the midst of religious privilege and effort; and at such a sight their hearts have failed them; they have thought that the people of God were very few, and they have been tempted to think that their efforts to increase the number were yam and useless, and under such temptation many have relinquished their work.
II. That God has a perfect knowledge of His own people. The children of God may be unable to recognise each other, especially in times of persecution, which may restrain men from making an open avowal of their faith. And even in ordinary times there are many who may not feel called upon to make this avowal, so that their relation to God remains unknown to those around them. But God sees and knows them.
III. That God can keep His people amid the most widespread sin and evil. It is not without reason that Christian people fear for themselves and for others when sin and evil abound, and when temptations are numerous and powerful. They know their own weakness, and they know, too, how many have fallen in the conflict with sin.
IV. That men should be faithful to their duty, and leave results with God. (T. Cain.)
God’s hidden ones
“A gardener knoweth what roots are in the ground long before they appear, and what flowers they will produce.” Look over the garden in winter, and you will not know that there is any preparation for spring; but the gardener sees in his mind’s eye--here a circle of golden cups, as if set out for a royal banquet, and there a cluster of snow-white beauties, drooping with excess of modest purity. His eye knows where the daffodils and anemones lie asleep, waiting to rise in all their loveliness; and he has learned the secret of the primroses and the violets, who wait in ambush till the first warm breath of spring shall bid them reveal themselves. Even thus doth the Lord know His hidden ones long before the day of their manifestation with Him. He sees His Church before His ministers see it, and declares concerning heathen Corinth. “I have much people in this city.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christians unknown to the world
There are stars set in the heavens by the hand of God, whose light has never reached the eye of man; gems lie deposited in the earth, that have never yet been discovered by the research of man; flowers which have grown in blushing beauty before the sun, that have never been seen by the florist; so there may be Christians made such by God, who are hidden from the knowledge and eye of the world. (R. Venting.)
And found Elisha.
The husbandman of Abel-meholah
I. A marked characteristic of Elisha was, contentment with his position and willingness to fulfil its duties, however humble. How few, possessed of gifts, are willing to wait the call of God; how few, even without gifts, or else who imagine they have gifts, are willing to wait! It seems to be forgotten that incapacity to serve God in “a few things,” is evidence of inability to serve Him in many, and he who cannot make it possible to be faithful in little, may never be entrusted with that which is great. There is a vast difference between Worship and service. We serve God in our own houses, having worshipped Him in His house. Service is work, and work for Him where He places us, not where we place ourselves. If we cannot or do not serve God in the humble place and in the daily duties which He has assigned to us, assuredly we never can nor will serve Him in any other place or circumstances.
II. Equally marked was Elisha’s readiness to hear the call of God. It is dangerous either to go before or to lag behind the providence or the call of God. If the Lord has work for us, He will call us to it. But we must cultivate a spirit of attentive, prayerful readiness. Not that we expect an audible call from heaven, nor trust to an inward voice, but that God will so dispose of all things as to make our duty very plain. For this we must be content to wait; when it comes, we must be willing to obey and to follow.
III. Another feature in this narrative is Elisha’s personal willingness to follow the call of God to its utmost consequences. (A. Edersheim, M,A., D. D.)
There is much in this history to give us encouragement and direction. Let us linger a while to gather up its lessons.
1. Observe, then, in the first place, the care exercised by God in securing a constant succession of teachers for His people. He is always independent of any individual man. Jesus has declared that the gates of the grave shall not prevail against His Church; and just as, here, Elisha was ready to take Elijah’s place, it will commonly be found that when one servant of the Master is removed from earth, or is sent to another field of labour, there has been, all unconsciously to himself perhaps, and to those around him, another led, through a course of training, to take the post which has been vacated.
2. Observe, in the second place, here, the honour which God puts upon industry in one’s common daily work. Elisha was not called while he was engaged at his private devotions, though, judging of his character from the ready response which he made at this time, we are warranted in saying that his closet would not be neglected; but it was while he was following the plough that Elijah came upon him, and threw his mantle over him. God would thus teach us that we must not neglect our daily business, and that His rich blessing will descend upon us while we are serving Him, whether that service be of a specially devotional sort or of a more common and ordinary description.
3. Observe, in the third place, that special training is needed for special work. We saw that, for the stem duties which Elijah had to discharge, he was particularly fitted by the solitude of his early life, and the ragged grandeur of the scenes in the midst of which he dwelt. Elisha, on the other hand, was trained for the more peaceful and gentle ministry on which he was sent, by the home-life of his father’s house, and the quiet influences of agricultural pursuits. Like many another minister, his first college was his home; and there, as we are warranted in believing, from the readiness with which they gave him up to his new work, his parents trained him in the nurture of the Lord. But this was not the whole of Elisha’s training. For seven years after the incidents which we have been considering, he was the companion and friend of Elijah; and so he was under the best of preparatory influences for his work.
4. Observe, in the fourth place, that God finds use for the distinct individualities of His servants. There are “diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” All God’s ministers are not made after the same pattern. There are individual features of character and disposition, as distinctive of each as are the outlines of the face of each. John is quite different from Peter, and Paul is distinct from both. What a contrast do we find between Elijah and Elisha!
5. Once more: the conduct of Elisha here furnishes us with a beautiful example of the spirit and manner in which we should respond to the call of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we have rightly represented his views as to the meaning of the act performed by Elijah on him, Elisha must have fully counted the cost of the step which he was about to take in responding to Jehovah’s call. He knew that he must leave his home. He knew, also, that with an Ahab on the throne, a Jezebel in the palace, and an idolatrous population scattered over the country, the duties of the prophetical office would be not only onerous, but dangerous. Yet he conferred not with flesh and blood, but promptly and decidedly arose and went after Elijah. Now, so it ought to be with us and Christ. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The call of Elisha
We think of the call of Elisha. He was a farmer of Abel-meholah, in the plain of Jordan. His father’s name (it is all we know of him) was Shaphat--“the judge.”
I. The Divine call found him busy at his employment. Our Saviour called into the apostolate industrious, and not idle, men. Matthew from the customhouse; Peter, Andrew, John, and James from their work as fishermen; and Nathanael from the great spiritual labour of earnest prayer beneath the fig-tree; and Paul from his intended murderous industry as he toiled towards Damascus. It is so in the Old Testament. Moses was keeping Jethro’s flock when from the bush burning, unburnt, there sounded the irresistible voice that sent him into one of the most illustrious pages of all history. The call came to Gideon when he was threshing wheat; to David, watching his father’s sheep; to Amos, tending cattle; to Elisha, following the plough. There was a rode sagacity in that famous king who chased in his homely wanderings the idle loungers from the street with “Away, sirrah, and take to some work!” who encouraged the stall-women to have busy hands while waiting for custom, in a compulsory fashion, indeed; and if they would not be encouraged by his desire packed them and their stalls away. He would avoid everywhere the various and widespreading evils of indolence.
II. The Divine call was unexpected by him. He was sought; he did not seek. God saw him in the rural obscurity, and challenged him forth into the national recognition and service. What had been his ambition--what the animating hope of his life? lie feared God above many, and doubtless desired to be a considerate master, dutiful son, true friend, the comforter of those cast down, a light at home and in the neighbouring village. And to think of English instances. How unlikely that a Huntingdonshire farmer would become England’s noblest monarch, though without the crown, which he, indeed, could well dispense with. Or in a more recent day, how unlikely that a young English carpenter would become the apostle of the Southern Seas, or that a young Scottish gardener would become the apostle of Southern Africa. Thus God pours contempt upon human judgment, “that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
III. The call was one to self-sacrifice and peril. It is clear from the narrative that Elisha was in easy circumstances. He had servants and much cattle; he was heir to these at any rate. A quiet, pleasant country life was his--with the great miracle of nature ever before his eyes--labour in the open field under the blue of heaven, yet “a life that led melodious days.” A serene man this--moving amid serene surroundings, looking with contemplative mind upon the lapse of seasons, the faces of familiar men, and the sacred scrolls of Hebrew Scripture. Brethren, our call to Christ and Christian service involves some sacrifice. With reiterated emphasis Christ says that. He has not painted His kingdom in the colours of fancy. He tells of cross as well as crown; of “much tribulation” as well as eternal throne.
IV. The call was acceptable to Elisha. Having cast his mantle upon Elisha, Elijah hastened on his way. He paused not to expound the call; expositions were to follow. He would compel no man into perilous companionship with himself. On he went, and the wondering herdsmen watched. And startled Elisha--for the thing had been done suddenly--recovers himself.
V. Elisha’s acceptance of the call was celebrated by a feast. The event was worthy of celebration. Honour, with whatever peril, had come to him, and brighter than any crown. The man kindled. He was aglow to be gone. He was henceforth to hold another plough. He left all--native village, friends, patrimony, parents. With their kiss and blessing, the feast ended. And comes no call to us?--to Christ, and then to Christian service? Let us accept it, and then angels will “begin to be merry,” with a joy never to end! O heavenly celebration! (G. T. Coster.)
From the moment the mantle fell upon him everything was changed.
1. The new life was one of devotion to Elijah. Elisha might have said, “To me to live is Elijah.” Years afterwards he was known by this title, “Elisha, that poured water on the hands of Elijah.” And you are called to a life of devotion to the Lord Jesus. Christ is to be the centre of your life. The call comes all the more urgently because of the dismay and despair in which the present century opened. “Arise and live for Jesus; be whole-hearted to make Jesus King.”
2. The new life was one of separation. He could not cleave to Elijah without leaving the old home. New interests arose; new duties occupied his time; new desires and ambitions filled his heart. The old life had to be left behind; he was completely drawn away from it. And so it is with every true follower of Christ. Nearness to Christ brings about separation from the world. The new interests and occupations crowd out the old, just as the young green leaves of spring push from the branches the dead leaves that had held on through all the winter storms.
3. The new life was, at the beginning, full of hardship and peril. Elisha shared in Elijah’s exile. His master was a marked man and a fugitive. The prophet’s mantle was no robe of state. None but Baal’s priests were received at court in those days. Elijah had none of the privileges and protection which a Christian government affords to God’s servants in England. And for us, too, though we live in better days, there is the cross. It is still true; “Whoso doth not bear his cross and come after Me, he cannot be My disciple.” Even to-day, you can evade your cross only by denying your Lord. We cannot live for ease and riches and pleasure if we follow Christ.
4. And the new life was one of special privilege and power. That mantle was a sign of both. So is it with all who accept Christ’s mantle. You shall see God face to face, and share His secrets, standing always in His presence-chamber, so that you do not fear the wrath of men. (F. S. Webster, M. A.)
A young man’s call
All the circumstances connected with the call of Elisha, and Elisha’s answer to the call, would indicate that the young fellow was very familiar with Elijah and with his ways. The circumstances connected with Elisha’s call are exceedingly picturesque and interesting. Elijah does not stop to talk. Instead, passing near the youth, he takes his prophet’s mantle from his shoulders and throws it about the shoulders of the astonished Elisha, and strides onward without a word. Now Elisha had evidently had long talks with Elijah about this matter, and he knew what that mantle meant. He knew just as well as if Elijah had talked with him for an hour that it meant God’s call to him, to give up his present order of life and go forth with Elijah, to share his work and also to share his danger. Elijah appreciates the situation, and he says, “Go back again: for what have I done to thee?” Canon Liddon says this ought to be rendered, “Go, return: for how great a thing have I done unto thee!” That is, Elijah assents to his going to bid his people farewell, but impresses on his mind that he should speedily return, since a great privilege and a high honour have been conferred on him by the call of God. The leave-taking is very beautiful and very significant. Several lessons of great significance may be drawn from this beautiful story.
1. First, the precious privilege of Elijah in being permitted to be the instrument in God’s hand of calling so splendid a man as Elisha into the Lord’s work. Elijah would never have been able to do this if he had not been a good man. Elisha felt this influence. It was not so much what Elijah said, nor yet what he did, but constant prayer and communion with God, fellowship with the Unseen, maintained about Elijah a spiritual atmosphere that had something of heaven in it. Elisha could not have described it, but he felt it, and when he was with Elijah, God and goodness and heaven were things the most real in the world, to please God seemed to be the only good, and to grieve the heart of God by disobedience seemed to be life s only real danger.
2. We nave here illustrated the right way to receive and answer the call of God. Elisha responds promptly. He runs after Elijah. He feels there is no time to lose. Elijah goes with a swift, long stride, and will soon be out of the field. If he lets him pass away unheeded he may lose the opportunity for ever, and so he runs after the prophet and assures him of his acceptance. Not only that, but he proceeds to burn all his bridges behind him. No, he makes it just as public as he can. He kills his yoke of oxen, and burns up his plough, and makes a feast of farewell, and boldly proclaims to all his neighbours that he has been called of God, and that he is going away with Elijah in answer to that call. And I say to every unconverted man or woman here, That is the only safe or wise course. God calls you to accept salvation through Jesus Christ and to serve Christ in your daily life. (L A. Banks, D. D.)
The call of Elisha
I. Among other practical lessons suggested by the calling of Elisha, let us note the variety of character among God’s servants. Never were there two individuals more opposite than these two lights of this age in Israel,--alike in training and in mental temperament. The one was the rough child of the desert, without recorded parentage or lineage. His congenial and appropriate home the wilds of Cherith--the thunder-gloom of Carmel--the shade of the wilderness juniper--the awful cliffs of Sinai;--a direct messenger of wrath from Heaven--the prophet of fire! The other is trained and nurtured under the roof of a genial home--mingling daily in the interchange of domestic affection--loving and beloved. And there are the same remarkable, the same beautiful diversities, to this hour, in the Church of Christ. Luther and Knox--the Elijahs of their times,--had their vocation in preparing the way for the Zwinglis and Melanchthons--the gentler messengers of peace;--blasting the rocks,--digging out the rough, unshapely, unhewn block,--to put it into the hands of these more refined sculptors to polish into shape and beauty.
II. We may gather, as a second lesson, the honour God puts on the ordinary secular occupations of life. Elisha is found,--not engaged in temple worship in Jerusalem or Samaria, not even in meditation and prayer in the retirement of his father’s dwelling, but at his plough--driving before him his team of oxen. This is another of the reiterated lessons in Scripture as to the dignity and sacredness of labour, and the Divine recognition of it.
III. Once more--observe, in the case of Elisha and his parents, the spirit of joyful self-sacrifice manifested at the call of duty. Great, undoubtedly, as was the honour of becoming the consecrated prophet of God;--we cannot think of his acceptance of the high office, without, at the same time, having suggested the idea of self-renunciation. What a lesson for us, this abnegation of self for God and duty. What have we surrendered of our worldly ease, our pleasures, our money, our children, our advantages, for Him and His cause? What have we done to disarm the power of besetting sins,by cutting off, like Elisha, the occasion of them,--saying, “Let oxen, implements, tackling, all go, and perish in the flames, if they rob our hearts of Christ, or Christ of our hearts”? Matthew locked the door of his tollhouse behind him: he would never enter it again. The magicians of Ephesus burnt their magical books that they might never more incur the risk of being involved in their sorceries. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him.--
I. How God calls His workers. When in the seventeenth century one of the famous Cambridge Platonists, as they were called, passed to his rest, his sorrowful disciples exclaimed in the very words of Elisha to Elijah, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!” thus expressing their sense of loss to that communion of the strength which marked their master’s character. Again and again has God raised up men who, like these Cambridge Platonists, have reverenced the Divine gift of reason as well as of revelation, who, whilst they have stood aloof from Church parties and politics, have striven to teach and to show the character of God the Father, the example of God the Son, the love and fellowship of God the Holy Spirit, men who have felt sure that no long roll of years, no fresh discoveries of science could teach for the moment such a truth as this: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
II. The influence of good lives. But, further, the call of Elisha came to him, as it came to Matthew, in his ordinary work, in his farm and in his merchandise, and he was, let us remember, no longer the same man after it as he was before it.
III. Silent missionaries. But again, when Elijah passed by Elisha it was certainly a personal influence, but it was also, so far as we know, and as it has been more than once noted, it was also a silent influence. And thus the action of the prophet at least suggests to us the consideration of that silent, impressive, testing influence by which we are all so closely surrounded. What a remarkable influence, for instance, attaches to that book so famous in the last century, and so popular then in England and America, Law’s Serious Call. What a proof of the unfailing influence which attaches to the outpouring of a saintly and devout soul is furnished by the mere fact that William Wilberforce, John Wesley, Samuel Johnson all referred to that one book as the origin of their first serious impressions upon religion.
IV. The influence of good books. We come to the impressions which I doubt not have come to us all in some way or other from the perusal of a popular biography, from a brief memoir in the newspaper, from our favourite books of devotion. We may indeed be thankful for these many silent influences. They may be doing, surely are doing, God’s work in the world. Our eyes have long been fixed, and in the face of recent events with fresh interest and fresh wonder, upon that marvellous people of the East, the Japanese. A short time ago an enterprising firm of publishers in Japan determined to issue a series of historical biographies. The first was the life of Confucius, the second that of Budda, the third that of Jesus of Nazareth. The biography of our Lord was edited by a young Japanese student, not himself a Christian, who wrote it simply as it stood in the Gospels without offering any opinion of his own as to its truth or falsehood. In a few weeks the whole of the first edition of that book was exhausted. Here, again, was a silent influence penetrating where the living voice of the missionary has never been heard to the quickening intellect and touching the heart. Can we doubt it that God the Holy Ghost, through the book, leads many to inquire whence hath this Man wisdom, whence the wondrous works? (R. J. Knowling, D. D.)
The voice in the cave of Horeb said many things; but it said one thing which, to my mind, was specially helpful to the future development of Elijah--it directed him where to find a human friend. If there was one thing Elijah needed to mellow him it was that. He seems never to have felt the influence of home ties. His life throughout had been one of war, of public commotion, of political and religious strife. Superiors he had, inferiors he had, but he had hitherto possessed no equal. There had been none to take his hand and say, “We are brothers.” A man in such a position is in want of one half of life’s music. When the voice sent him to Elisha, it sent him to a new school. (George Matheson.).