« PreviousContinue »
longed-for flame will not burst forth; and another hearkens intently to hear it rumble in the ground beneath him. But though they wait with desponding countenances, from morning until noon, and from noon until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, it is all in vain, the cry of their frenzy dies in the echoes of the mountains. "There was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded." There lies the sacrifice on Baal's altar, still unconsumed! At last they begin to be desperate, and to act like madmen. They leap upon the sacrifice, as if to provoke Baal to anger, and to call forth fire from him in consequence of it. Or else the meaning is, that they perform a frantic religious dance about the altar, after the manner of Baal's orgies. Be this as it may, there is no notice preternaturally signified of it, either in heaven or on earth.
A miserable deity indeed a mere nonentity was their idol; for "an idol is nothing in the world." And does the favourite deity of this enlightened age deserve any better name? Is the god of the Bible-hating and froward generation of the present day—is the god of most of our philosophers and poets, of our politicians and journalists-is the god of very many of our seminaries and universities, professors and students—is the god of our modern scientific institutions-is the god of our polished circles and of our fashionable assemblies, in which it is regarded as disreputable to have even the appearance of adhering to the God of the Bible-is such a god any better, any thing more real than the deity of Baal of old? What mean those fashionable expressions which we hear every where substituted for the name of God, the revealed Jehovah? I mean the expressions "heaven," "fortune," and such like. How came these expressions to be so in use, except as a flimsy veil to hide the aversion men have to the name and the word of God? How do they hate to hear of any thing like Divine communication and manifestation, of answers to prayer, of Divine influence on the heart, of communion with God, of experience of his presence! These are mere fabulous and absurd notions to them; these they esteem as mere delusion-proof enough that, with their god, there is neither voice, nor answer, nor attention-proof enough that what they call heaven, and fortune, and fate, denotes a mere nonentity. And is this indeed the god of our rationalists, and so many of our literary men and illuminated dreamers? It is; and the belief of no better a god than this spreads from them through all ranks; and no marvel; for a god such as this, that cannot concern himself about the affairs of men, of course will suffer a thousand sins and excesses to take place without being
offended. And this is the very thing they want: that the service of the flesh may be a thing allowed; that falsehood, deceit, and flattery may stand as commendable prudence, and the most voluptuous dance be regarded as an innocent amusement; they wish for a god, to whom it is indifferent what a man thinks and believes a god, by whose name any one may with impunity swear falsely; a god, in whose presence a man need not be ashamed of any loose discourse, nor blush at any impure lust. Behold, such is the god of this perverse generation! I speak not of all, but of the majority. Such is their Universal Father, as they would gladly conceive him to be; yes, thine, conceited, Bible-hating, and falsely rational generation! Woe unto you! for what will you do in the end thereof, in that day when your fear cometh, when distress and anguish cometh upon you? Then your cry will be no better than that of "Baal, hear us!" and such will your pretended prayers to God be found to have been all your life long. For the god whom you now profess to serve is no God, but only an imagination of your own. For true is that which the Holy Ghost saith by the apostle John, "He that abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God," 2 John 9. Tremble then at this word of the Lord, all ye who have not the God of the Bible, who have not God in Christ; for ye are "without hope, and without God in the world;" ye are practical atheists.
But to return to Carmel. There is no end, at present, to the outcry and idolatrous noise. Elijah stands by, and surveys the tumult. How must his heart have been ready to break with compassion; yet what a holy indignation must he have felt within him; then, again, how foolish and ludicrous must the scene have appeared! "And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: forasmuch as he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked." Perhaps he has his head and his hands so full, that he neither hears nor sees you. Perhaps he is engaged in meditating some undertaking; or arranging the thunder and lightning; or else he is not at home, but engaged in the chase; or perhaps he has laid himself down a little, and is asleep; cry aloud, and awake him!
Yes, just as there are doubts, which must be expelled, not by reasons and arguments, but, as one of the primitive fathers says, peremptorily with such an expression as "fie, fie," which we should use to children; and just as there are cares which are best removed by a smile; so there are absurdities and errors, to
which a little well-timed irony is the best reply. Where reasons no longer avail, and where proofs are no longer acknowledged, such irony may occasionally serve a useful purpose. Something like it is met with in the 44th chapter of Isaiah; and there, also, it is levelled at the sottishness of idolatry. What can be done with obstinate, self-conceited people, who, perhaps, do not once give themselves the trouble to read the gospel, and examine it? Why should we contend long with such about the truth, seeing that all men have not faith; nor is it communicable, like an article of merchandise? Perhaps it is better to advise such persons to stay at Jericho till their beards are grown;" and to say no more. Human nature, in the obstinate, ignorant, and self-conceited, is sometimes more caught hold of by brevity like this, than by ever so long and serious an address. Are you disposed to blame Elijah for being able to mock and use irony during such a momentous scene? If so, you are wrong. He discovers here a free and unruffled state of mind; an inward confidence and cheerfulness about the truth and justice of his cause; a certainty of success, and that the true and living God will not forsake him. If there had been the smallest doubt, the least uncertainty in his soul, he would certainly have indulged no disposition to irony.
But what is the effect of it upon Baal's prophets and votaries? It excites their vexation and impatience to the highest degree. Baal must hear now-he must come forth, whether he will or Their cry to Baal is now intense; they draw out their knives and lancets, and lacerate their bodies, according to heathen custom, until they stream with blood; as if they had still retained some remnant of the ancient maxim, that "without shedding of blood there is no remission." With their sinful blood they think to induce Baal to hear and answer them; and then they begin to prophesy-that is, to make all kinds of enthusiastic motions, and to rave and mutter forth horrible incantations. But there was no voice, nor any that answered, nor any that regarded—all was in vain. And even with the living God himself, my brethren, such excitements of spirit, and forced ecstasies and devotions, are not the way to gain an answer to our prayers. However much you may excite yourselves, Jehovah has no pleasure in such sacrifices. Mere solemnity of countenance, bowing down our bodies, praying ourselves hoarse, spending whole hours in mere will-worship, are not the things to propitiate God; and as long as you think them to be so, you receive no answer from him.
II. This unavailing cry of the idolaters was continued from the morning until the time of the evening sacrifice. Then Elijah stood forth in simplicity and uprightness, without pomp and show, with a tranquil countenance and a firm deportment; so that every one might well presume that he was a prophet of the true God. "And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him." On the top of Carmel lay the ruins of an altar, here called the altar of Jehovah. It had probably been built there in better times, and had been thrown down by the idolaters. This altar Elijah now repaired; as if he meant to say, "May God restore thee, O Israel! may God restore thee, thou mournfully dilapidated sanctuary of the Lord!" For what Elijah now did had a significant meaning. He took twelve stones, according to the number of the twelve tribes of Israel, in order to rebuild with them the altar in the name of the Lord. This was figuratively to say, "God will perform his promise to Jacob, and will keep his covenant with him whom he surnamed by the name of Israel." About the altar Elijah cast a trench—and then prepared the wood, dressed the bullock, and laid it upon it. And might not he who afterwards spoke of Christ's decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem, now have sighed, "Oh that thou wouldest soon prepare thy sacrifice, thou Priest of God, that offering which perfects for ever them that are sanctified!" He commanded that water should be poured on the wood, and on the sacrifice, in order that the miracle might be the more unquestionable, and no one be able to object, as if fire had been secretly applied. "Fill four barrels with water," said he, "and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water."
The preparations are now completed. A secret awe thrills through the assembled multitude: deep silence prevails. "And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice," (which is with us about three o'clock in the afternoon, a solemn and important hour, the ninth hour, as it is called in the evangelists,) "That Elijah the prophet came near, (to the altar,) and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast
turned their heart back again!" Elijah calls God by his name, Jehovah God, which he had given himself in the beginning, to denote his condescending and compassionate love to fallen man; he calls him, "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel," that he might excite in the hearts of this backslidden people a humbling remembrance of all the good which Jehovah had shown to them and to their fathers from ancient
times, by his own free grace. Elijah prays, "Let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word." The honour of God is his supreme desire. He would also have his own mission confirmed in the eyes of the people, and he added, "Hear me, O Lord, hear me ;" expressive of the fervency and earnestness of his spirit, "that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again." The glory of God, and the salvation of the people these two things formed the entire object of all that the prophet did and said. And what shall we admire the most in this prayer-the prophet's zeal for God's glory, or the ardour of his love for the degraded house of Israel-his boldness in asking such great things, or his firm confidence in not doubting that God would testify to his own cause? No : wonder most at the unspeakable grace of God, which teaches a handful of dust and ashes, as man is, thus to believe, love, and pray. To him be the glory!
And now, what ensues? Mysterious moment! The whole revelation of God is at stake. If no answer follows, the whole fabric falls in, and the ground of our hope is gone. Then all that Elijah has testified all that the prophets have spoken before him, and which Elijah has confirmed, will be accounted a delusion; and the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, will be no longer regarded! The prayer is uttered. The silence of death reigns in the assembly-every heart beats high-in every face is the extreme of expectation; when, lo! the answer comes; the Amen is given; the fire of heaven descends in the sight of every one, directly upon the altar, consumes the burntoffering, the wood, the stones, and the earth, and licks up the water in the trench. "And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and they said, Jehovah, he is the God; Jehovah, he is the God." Elijah's faith is crowned, the foolish priests are put to shame; and all the gods, which are not the God of the Bible, are confounded and annihilated,
Ah, what has not the merciful God, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel performed, to bring us to the knowledge