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Behold, a voice unto him that said. What doest thou here, Elijah.

1 Kings xix. 13.

Behold, a voice unto him that said. What doest thou here, Elijah.

1 Kings xix. 13.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Nov 11, 2013
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Behold, a voice unto him that said. What doest thou here, Elijah. 1 Kings xix. 13. To Jeroboam the son of ebat belongs the evil preeminence of having made Israel to sin; yet it is not certain that he would have acknowledged himself to have changed the religion of his people, in such a sense as to have introduced any other God besides Jehovah. If at least we agree with those, who think the cherubim of gold about the mercy- seat were, from Egyptian associations, in the form of oxen, it will remain very probable that the two golden calves at Bethel and at Dan were intended to imitate, as certainly they were substitutes for, the sanctuary of the Lord in Zion. This is the more likely, since, although priests were made of the lowest of the people, yet the schools of the prophets were not rooted out of the land ; the king himself, when anxious for his sick boy, sent his wife to consult Ahijah; probably at Gilgal, at Bethel, and at Shiloh, the altar of a pure worship still remained; and I think it no extravagant supposition, that round those isolated shrines the wondrous works of each succeeding prophet

62 What doest thou heref [serm. may have been cherished in filial recollection, and the stories have gradually taken shape, which are now compiled in our sacred books of Chronicles and of Kings. It would be very interesting, if we could learn how far these worshippers of the living God, on the height of

Carmel or amid the stones of Bethel, maintained any communication with their priestly brethren at Jerusalem. Did they feel their hands strengthened so often as any man of God out of Judah prophesied destruction against an unbidden altar ? Did they exchange vain hopes, as the downfall of one usurper after another might seem to open a momentary prospect of national reform ; or did they mourn in common over the more decided apostasy from the God of their fathers which commences with the reign of Ahab ? Questions of this kind we cannot very distinctly answer. But certainly under Ahab, with his idolatrous wife, we first find the Sidonian deity Baal honoured with rites perhaps licentious, and sometimes it would appear, like those of Moloch, stained with human blood. It is then that the great prophet Elijah comes upon the scene. Of all the sacred seers of the Old Testament, whose renown is due to their actions rather than to the embodiment of their inspiration in writing, none, unless it be Samuel, are more eminent than this fervid forerunner of the Baptist. Devout, fearless, eloquent, knowing in whom he has believed, and very jealous for that AU-holy Being, whose likeness in man he deems debased by bowing down to any meaner thing, he is the worthy champion of a Church in ruins, the monitor of an

v.] What doest thou here? 63 apostate nation, and alone a match for the four hundred priests of Baal. You see the genius of the man in the directness of the issue which he raises: "If Jehovah be God, follow him ; but if Baal, then follow him." So he puts twelve stones in his altar, according to the number of the tribes of Israel : though ten out of the twelve have become apostate, the prophet cannot admit that the Lord has lost his dominion over the people whom He redeemed ; nor will he be content until the hearts of

all the children are turned to the God of their fathers. Probably there must have been many among the spectators to whom such sentiments appeared to savour of the rashness of fanaticism. With both the king, who to oriental minds was as an angel of God, and the people, whose voice in modern times is considered the voice of God, arrayed against him, this rugged Tishbite from the wilderness must have seemed a strange ambassador ; and his summons not to halt any longer between two opinions, can have sounded only as a challenge to condemn his own. " Would not it be better to have let well alone ? What was the practical use of this crotchety zeal? Israel would last for their time. Besides, popular opinion had already pronounced its verdict, &c. &c." In truth, there never will be wanting pleaders, either in the commonwealth of Israel, or in the debatings of our own hearts, against any disagreeable necessity of a moral change. Some touch of conscience, some feeling of inconsistency between the language Ave use and the habits we have fallen into, some awakener in the form of a livelier expectation of the judgment of God

64 What doest thou heref [serm, impending, will every now and then pass through the chambers of our mind ; we bar it out as long as we conveniently can, or we raise a din to prevent its being heard, with the pleasant voices of our friends, or with the whispers of self-flattery ; but it has an ugly way of thrusting itself forward into our most secret consciousness, as unbidden as Elijah on the path of Ahab ; and in our solitude or in our sickness, over our Bible or in our church, by our friend's grave or by the example of some one with far less advantages, yet of far higher holiness than our own, it compels our hearts to

thrill (perhaps reluctantly) at the question, " How long, oh man, haltest thou between two opinions ? If the Holy and the Merciful be Go([,folloiv Him ; but, if that sin of thine can save thee, then go on, obeying it, and blushing for it." Such thoughts, I say, crossing the mind, breaking up occasionally its weed-grown soil, or startling us from the lethargy of habit, may be likened to Elijah, as playing a sort of analogous part. Such visitors may come unbidden. But if any one here has never known them, let him send an earnest prayer in search of them, and not grudge a little leisure in seeking them. It is far better they should come to us early in life, while we yet acknowledge Jehovah to be our strength, than that they should TARRY until strange gods, in the shape of selfishness, idleness, vice, have obtained dominion over us ; better, in short, they should hasten to warn, than be DEFERRED uutil they can sound only to condemn. Whenever then such sternly wholesome questions present themselves, let us not refuse the trial which they ask.

v.] What chest thou here? 66 There will indeed be opposite pleaders, in our natural love of pleasure, in our shrinking from self-denial, in our readiness to doubt whether all that this Elijah at-ks is really necessary, and in our willingness to halt a little longer between the will of God and the fear of man's opinion, or the wayward impulse of our own capricious heart. " What is this tone of assumed command, sounding out of another world, and asking obedience to an unwritten law, speaking in the name of an unseen master, and promising a hope of what it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive ? To ask, how long we halt between things which the mass of mankind greedily covets, and certain truths so subtle that all language applied to them is acknowledged to

fall short of them, is to give a challenge, on which the great majority have already pronounced against the challenger. Something, we grant, is due to decorum ; nor did we object to receive those assurances of the Divine mercy which have so often lulled our consciences into a placid slumber ; but to require of us an absolute surrender of our thoughts and affections, or to present us this inexorable kind of choice, and bid us no longer halt, between Jehovah and Baal, God and Mammon, Christ and Belial, Life and Death, is an unnecessarily harsh dilemma. Human nature shrinks from it ; flesh and blood revolt at it. Give us, however, a little delay, or a little compromise, and we will listen to you ; let youth keep its recklessness untamed, let manhood be headstrong, vindictive, and ambitious, and let old age keep one hand in its money-bags, as it stammers a few lame prayers over its death-bed ; and on such conditions

66 What doest thou here? [serm. we may reconcile the two contending opinions. But don't tell us that God requires that favourite desire to be mortified, that growing habit to be mastered, or those old streams of affection, reverence, humility, and faith in unseen things, whose very fountains have been so long sealed in us, to flow again with all the freshness of a spiritual childhood. You ask a hard thing of us ; or rather, you propose to us a happiness which we can never have, unless it come to us as a gift. To others perhaps God has given to be great in the kingdom of heaven ; but we are little ; leave us, then, humble in our littleness."" Some such answer, I suppose, of evasion, whether sneering, or doubtful, or despondent, the greater part of our Israel of to-day would return to any one coming in the spirit and the power of Elijah. Some excuse for halting a little longer is the response, which the more

sluggish side of our mind puts in opposition to the more daring hope, which comes over us in some hour of happier aspiration. So St Augustine prayed when young that he might come to love God thereafter, but that he might be allowed to love things earthly first. So Solomon thought in his heart to give himself unto pleasure, yet acquainting himself with wisdom. So the Pharisees mocked, when Christ told them they could not love God and unjust gain. For the greediness of man would fain combine things incompatible ; acknowledge the good so as to benefit by it, yet defile himself with the evil, until it removes him farther from what is good or holy day by day. Who shall persuade us to halt no longer on the

v.] What doest thou heref 67 confines between life and death ? Were it not far better to escape the certainty of confession, Vanity, &c., the possibility of remorse too late, when "they shall call, saith the Lord, and I will not hear"? Were it not better to lay the sacrifice of all our heart, our soul, and our strength, upon some altar of well-doing, sacred to Almighty God, and entreat him to answer, whether He be the Lord, by sending down the fire of his heavenly grace, and so kindling our unworthy offering, until whatever is earthly in it be consumed, and whatever remains of our human nature be transmuted into something saintly and blessed ; therefore worthier of Him, to whom we can render only of his own. Let no one doubt, that for all purposes of saving men's souls, helping our need, purifying our thoughts, and quickenour aspirations to the throne of grace, the arm of the Almighty is not shortened ; his Spirit is not farther from us ; the life-giving light of his countenance is as ready to descend upon our offering now as it was in the days of old. Only let us bring our best offering ; that is,

bring all our hearts, bring all ourselves, dedicate all our lives. Even as Hannah gave her child to the Lord, so let us entreat him to accept of us, and to change our vile natures to the likeness of his glorious nature, according to the working of that Divine power which can consume the sacrifice, change water into wine, heal the leper, and raise the spiritually dead. Will it now be an encouragement, or the reverse, to observe the prophet himself falling somewhat from the lofty tone which he held in debate with king and people ? Rather, perhaps, an encouragement. For the very

68 What doest thou heref [serm. sympathy which we feel with the great nature when shaken. and daunted, may teach us how truly he was of like passions with ourselves ; how in the cause of his Divine Master he could glow with a strength, of which we by the same spirit may become alike partakers ; and how, glancing aside at the danger which subsequently ll^reatened him, his spirit sank, and he fled, like a common man fleeth, for his life. Bishop Hall indeed, and perhaps others, would willingly presuppose a command to flee ; but it is not so written, and perhaps rather the contrary is implied. Elijah indeed is sustained on his way by the same providence which had before led him through the agency of the Orehim — (whether ravens or Arabians, it matters little) — and he endeavours to gather strength by drawing nearer, if possible, to the same dread Power which of old revealed itself on the rock of Sinai. Yet in this passionate pilgrimage, in which the chafed spirit required little sustenance, in the weary request to die under the juniper-tree, and in the choice of a route subsequently, we discern little trace of obedience to express command. It is not so much the prophet we now observe, as something betAveen the fugitive and the pilgrim. Terrified at the threats of Jeze-

bel, and despairing perhaps of the restoration of that holier law for which he strove, he at once seeks refuge in a desert, and expostulates with the Almighty, upon the very soil on which his faithfulness had been pledged. It is as if he said, "Oh, Holy Father" — or, if he knew not the Almighty yet by that name, " Oh, Thou who art the living dread of Israel, the God of our father Abraham, and the Deliverer by Moses out of Egypt, whereunto

v.] What doest thou heref 69 serve all thy solemn covenants of old ? Thou who didst promise to Levi the light and perfection of thy perpetual presence, that he should teach the v^^orld thy judgments, and the Church thy law ; behold thine altars broken down, thy prophets slain with the sword : that promise to thy saints that thou wouldst awake as one out of sleep, is so far from being fulfilled, that I, even I only, am left ; and I have in vain been jealous for the Lord of hosts, the living God." "But what doest thou here, Elijah?" Was it altogether a pure zeal, or was there something of self-exculpation, in the declining (as it were) twice to answer this question directly ? He can give no account of any Avork to be done in Horeb, but he can complain of the apostasy of Israel. Thus many men are apt to throw a covering of zeal over some project in which motives are rather mingled, like iron and clay. AVe must acknowledge in Elijah here something of human infirmity. Yet it is the infirmity of a fervent spirit, a servant of God, and a lover of his country. He had far rather have been the champion and intercessor for his countrymen than act as their unsparing accuser. Perhaps, indeed, all men conscious (as the prophet was) of a great and hallowed work assigned to them, are at times bowed to earth by a burden of loneliness.

Surrounded by a mincing conventionalism, and having made playmates for their thoughts out of the dark problems of eternal destiny, they feel the fire within them burn, and know not in how many breasts there are sparks of a correspondent flame. All sorts of jealousies and necessities, some natural, but more conventional,

70 What doesf thou here? [serm. keep mind from touching mind, except with its outside surface. Thus St Paul linds no man likeminded. Elijah thinks that he only is left ; and one of the psalmists exclaims, with something of the fervour of verse, "There is none righteous left; no, not one!" But, blessed be God, even " those clear eyes of the seer discern not" always the secret story of the Allmerciful. They see not the seven thousand who in patience and in poverty thank God daily for some such alleviation of pain or want as we should account a hardship. They know not what quiet and resolute performance of duty lurks under some dull and unpretending exterior. They have not allowed for the simplicity of that faith, which in many a village-church cherishes to old age the form of sound words which it heard from its infancy; which gathers its children where its fathers prayed: unskilled, perhaps, in many a controversial distinction, and liable to be puzzled by any Royal Commissioner who might set his legal Avit against its unsuspecting sense; yet knowing that God has revealed himself in Christ as a just God and a Saviour, and striving by many a homely virtue to adorn the doctrine of Him who loved us, and gave himself for us, and washed us from our sins, making us thereby inheritors of eternal life. Again, they have not considered, how often in the worst part of those overgrown cities, whose mingled ignorance and profligacy are often described in such frightful terms, the grace of God vindicates itself by

preserving honesty and innocence in close contact with temptation and the grossest immorality; so that, of all things the most difficult, the touching pitch and not

v.] What doest thou heref 71 being defiled, is achieved, where, hard by the dwelling of prosperous vice, the struggling artisan still brings up his children in the fear of the Lord. Be it our hope, and our prayer; — and in praying, let us be reminded of our duty to strive, that there may ever be among us many a seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to whatever makes men aliens from the holiness of God the Father, or the good will which his only-begotten Son came preaching upon earth. Only, whether they are many or few, we are intended to labour in their ranks, and if possible to increase their number. So that the question is, by way of emphasis, repeated twice, " What doest thou here, Elijah?" Perhaps we may change the mood of the adverb, from one of place to one of temper. It may be not only, What doest thou here; but what doest thou in this frame of mind? If God has thrown upon any man only a fragment of Elijah's mantle, what should he do in that mood of despondency? Has our heavenly Father given a blessing in order only to add a curse to it? or is not whatever talent he has entrusted to us, if only we use it faithfully, a pledge that He will give us abundantly more? We need not sit mourning in the cave, but go forth into the fresh air, with which the compassions of God fail not to surround us day by day. If He sends us, that is, if He really sends us on a journey of his own work, and if we are not pretending the Lord hath sent (when our love of lucre or ease hath sent us). He will enable us to go in the strength of whatever meat He provides us. If He gives a command. He will give also

power. If He takes away the lawfulness of a thing, either

72 What doest thou heref [serm. by express command, or decency, He can also take away the desire. He can enable us, by a keen sense of the magnitude of the eternal interests which surround us, to take comparatively little thought whether we abound or whether we want. In proportion, then, as any one hopes he has the spirit of Elijah, that is, of a servant of the living God, he should be ashamed of all doubting, fearing, desponding. We have one on our side, stronger than the strong, and whose strength is made perfect in our weakness. But again, if any man's wandering steps have led him, not to any mountain of passionate contemplation, but to some far country of forgetfulness or presumption, still greater need has he to apply to himself the question of our text. What doest thou here, he may ask his own soul, of whatever work had been assigned thee, either in the vineyard, or in the market-place? What doest thou in church with so little prayerfulness of mind? or what doest thou out of it when all means of salvation called thee there? or what doest thou in that brutish rage; in those uncharitable surmises; in that servile will and that commanding lust; or in that elaborate stinginess, or in that contemptible sauntering away of life; in that egotistic uselessness before God and man, which only is not more boldly criminal, because it wants more opportunity or temptation to be so? It is no answer to say, that all around us live halting, like ourselves, between the service of our Divine Master and the worship of some popular Baal — whether ignorance or indifferentism. For if it be so, have not we greater cause to be very jealous for the Lord God, who has separated us from so many

^•] What doest thou heref 73 of his creatures, by giving us higlier conceptions of his wisdom and his mercy; but by those very conceptions has laid upon us the burden of being judged accordinoto them. If by the coming down of his Only- begotten Son, it has pleased God to reveal how near to himself in spirit and truth and love He has deigned to bring those whom henceforward He terms children, this multiplying of our talents must greatly increase our responsibility. If we conceived aright of the near alliance thus entered into between earth and Heaven, not only would the love of God constrain us to be very jealous lest the divine and the human be again divorced, but it would teach us to be skilful and ingenious in doing his will, and in bringing others, as our fellow-heirs, to salvation. There is indeed a spirit more heavenly than that of Elijah ; it is the spirit of the Apostle, who, after once coveting the power of calling fire from heaven, learnt to say, " God is Love," and, " Little children, love one another." Yet perhaps it may be doubted, especially when we consider the earlier fervour of St John, whether men in general are likely to reach his riper tem23er, unless they have also shared with him somewhat of the spirit of Elijah. For Christian charity is so far from being another name for indifference, that it ever requires as its condition and accompaniment a certain warmth of zeal. He is not likely to love man, where his own interests come into conflict with his neighbour's, who has not learnt to love God ; nor can any one love God truly, without also feeling a reverential jealousy for his name, his house, his church, and all things that belongto his service. Yet most of all, brethren, undoubtedly, w. s. 4

74 What cloest tliou heref [serm,

the sight of his natural likeness, the image of God in man, degraded by ignorance and defiled by sin, until in the lower forms of humanity it is little better than the beasts that perish, should touch any man, who would be numbered either with Elijah or St John, with a godly jealousy on part of the Creator and Saviour of mankind, and a great desire to do something in our generation, that the beneficent designs of Heaven may not be marred and counteracted on earth. But lastly, what I say unto one, I say unto all. There may be some in every congregation who are neither priests nor prophets, nor sons of prophets ; and who perhaps pride themselves that it is so. Without here inquiring how far they lose thereby a chance of being great in the kingdom of Heaven (since it is they who forsake something for the sake of Christ to whom He promises the higher places in his kingdom), it may at least be suggested to them, that every human being has some part on earth, assigned by God, the great Master of the scenes. That part may have either been arranged by his providence, or it may be pointed out by his spiritual grace. It behoves them every one to consider, " What is the place allotted me by that good Spirit which worketh all in all ? With that place, whatever it is, let me be thankfully contented, and may God increase in me his grace, that I may render true account of whatever is committed to my trust. In whatever place, or hour, or mood, this great idea of my personal duty, and my responsibility to the Judge of the whole earth, is in danger of fading from my mind, may some faithful voice, or some higher than any human teacher, revive it with

v.] IVIiat chest tJiou heref 75 the words, What doest thou here?" There may be a certain emphasis in the " Elijah;" but to every immortal soul the question belongs, "What doest thou? woe, if

idle." ow perhaps every one can best make minute application for themselves, — only pray remember to apply the words in some way ; and that way, if possible, not to your neighbour. Let the finger of imagination write some such a scroll as What doest thou here ? on the walls of your secret chamber, and wave it before you as a flaming sword whenever your footstep is trembling on the threshold of any unhallowed ground. May it brace the nerves of your mind in some listless hour; sober you in some dubious, and perhaps desecrating company ; possibly rouse you from querulous criticism of your country, your race, or your church, to the doing of whatever God has given you to do ; which therefore He, not being like Pharaoh, moment by moment gives you strength to perform. Such power, my brethren, these words of Holy Scripture will have, if you let them represent to you, as they well may, the eye that never slumbers, the faithfulness that never leaves unhelped any true servant of God, and the account which every man must render of what he has done in the flesh, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

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