ELIJAH AND AHAB BY R.

HEBER
1 KINGS, xviii. 17, 18. And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he, that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel ; but thou, and thy fathers house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the L ORD, and thou hast followed Baalim. FEW names are more remarkable, in the volume of Scripture, nor has any mere man been more conspicuously honoured by the power and pro tection of the Most High, than Elijah, or Elias, the prophet. Yet it may be observed, in his case, as well as in that of many others of the most eminent servants of God, that the Holy Ghost, as if to reprove the vanity of human curiosity, and to expose the nothingness of human renown, has given us very few particulars of the history, or character of those, in whom God has been most pleased ; and those particulars are such, in a great degree, as, in a worldly point of view, would seem most adverse to the passions and prejudices of mankind.

SERMON XLI. Of the parentage, the birth, or the education of Elias, as of Melchisedec, nothing is told us. We only hear of him as a native of Tishbi, a small village in Gilead ; as a person of coarse dress ; of humble appearance ; and of habits retired, and melancholy ; like John the Baptist, who was, in after times, compared to him, a dweller in the wilderness, a hairy man, and girded with a leathern girdle. Yet, of this man, so mean in his outward show, and, in his worldly enjoyments, so little to be envied, we also read such actions, as would almost tempt us to sup pose him more than human. His curse could call down fire from Heaven, on his enemies ; and "make a fruitful land barren, for the wickedness of them that dwelt therein." l His prayers could bring down rain and fertility on the same parched soil, on which, for three years, no dew had rested ; the ravenous birds of the wilderness were employed by God to bring him bread and flesh ; and the oil and flour of his Sidonian hostess knew no decay, while she shared them with Elijah. His voice and touch restored the dead to life ; his mantle, waved over the waters of the river Jordan, divided the deep and rapid

stream, and made a dry tract for the prophet's journey. Like Moses, and like Christ, he fasted forty days ; an angel ministered unto him, as unto Christ, in the wilderness ; like Moses, he 1 Psalm cvii. 34.

NINTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 143 heard the voice of God ; and spake with Him in Horeb, face to face ; though he cast his mantle over his eyes, and adventured not to gaze on His glory ; and, like Enoch, distin guished in this from all others who have borne our nature, he did not sleep the sleep of death ; but was changed, as at the last day, in the twinkling of an eye, and caught up to Heaven, by a whirlwind, ill a fiery chariot. Such was the man, of whom King Ahab said, that he " troubled Israel ; " the cause of which accusation it will now be useful to explain to you. Of the general wickedness and weak ness of Ahab's character, I shall take another occasion to speak ; it is now sufficient to observe that, by the persuasion of his wicked queen, he had set up the altars of the idol Baal ; and had raised a bitter persecution against the worship pers of the true God ; destroying all the pro phets, or preachers of the word, whom he could apprehend ; and driving the rest for shelter to wildernesses and caves, where a few good men, like Obadiah, the king's steward, supported them, in silence, and in secrecy. It was in consequence, as it should seem, of this apostacy and cruelty, that Elijah pronounced, on the part of God, and by His authority, that dreadful threat, which occasioned Ahab's charge against him : namely, that no rain should fall, during three years, on all the land of Israel.

144 SERMON XLI, Where he spake this, does not appear : in public, and very solemnly, it must have been spoken ; and that GOD, who sent him with such a mes sage, could easily, and doubtless did, protect him, for the time, by some Divine terror and dignity of appearance, from the violence of Ahab and Jezebel. But, his message once delivered, he was com manded by God, as you may read in the 17th

chapter, to fly into the desert, first ; and into the border country of Zidon, afterwards, where he was miraculously nourished, till the three years had passed away, and the period of God's curse was completed. He then returned to the neighbourhood of Samaria : where he made him self known, first to Obadiah ; afterwards, to the king ; and lastly, to all the people of Israel ; in that memorable trial of the different claims of Baal and of Jehovah, to the worship and faith of mankind, which has been read to you in the proper lesson for this morning. Of that trial, in which the True God so remarkably showed forth His power, by consuming the sacrifice with fire from Heaven, and, afterwards, by sending rain on the land, which had so long continued waterless, and desolate, it is unnecessary to renew your recollection. What I now mean chiefly to enlarge on, is the accusation brought by Ahab, in the words of my text, against Eli jah ; and the answer, which Elijah returned to

NINTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 145 it. " When Ahab saw Elijah, he said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel ? And he said, / have not troubled Israel ; but thou and thy father's house ; in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast fol lowed Baalim ! " How was it, that Ahab sup posed Elijah to have troubled Israel ? Could Ahab be weak enough to believe, that the drought, which had, for three years, afflicted the land, was Elijah's doing? Could he dream, that a mortal man had the windows of heaven in his keeping? that the clouds were his to give, or to withhold ; that he could bring the rain out of his treasures ? No, but Elijah, as the minister of God, had reproved the prince and people of Israel, for their manifold pro vocations ; he had spoken, with honest plain ness, of their sins, and of their dangers ; he had, lastly, as God's herald and messenger, given warning of the calamity, which, except on their speedy repentance, the Almighty was about to bring on them ; and, for these actions, which, so far from being injurious, were deserving of their best honour and thankfulness, for these public services of the most inestimable kind, was Elijah regarded as a public enemy, as one that " troubleth Israel." Nor was Elijah, in this respect, more unfortunate than the greater number of the other prophets, whom the Al mighty sent to preach righteousness to Hii VOL. II. L

146 SERMON XLI. chosen tribes ; since all, or nearly all, were received with anger and murmuring, by those, whose lives they came to reform, and whose ignorance they sought to enlighten. The lives of almost all were a series of afflic tions and persecutions ; the deaths of almost all were martyrdoms. They, " of whom the world was not worthy '," " wandered in sheep skins, and goat-skins, desolate, tormented, afflicted:" "they were stoned; they were killed with the sword ; they were sawn asun der;" and, from the first messenger, whom the Lord of the vineyard sent to His hus bandmen, down to the only beloved Son, whom they slew, that they might seize his inheritance, hatred or contempt, neglect or per secution, was the almost uniform portion of the preachers of righteousness, the ambassadors of the King of kings. On all this, two important observations may be grounded. First, of how small estimation is worldly prosperity, in the eyes of Infinite Wis dom ; when God has thought fit to allot so small a share to those, in whom He has been most pleased. Secondly, that we must seek the cause of this uniform ill-treatment of God's most faithful servants, in some pervading and general principle of that human nature, which it was their endeavour to reclaim, and to make 1 Heb. xi. 37, 38.

NINTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 147 better. And such a principle we shall find in the dislike, which every man is inclined to feel towards whatever causes him pain ; even though the person, or thing, from which his pain pro ceeds, is altogether free from any desire to injure him. In the brute creation this principle of undistinguishing resentment is often and conspicuously perceivable. And with savages, whose brutal passions are little more under restraint than those of the beasts which perish ; and with the barbarous kings of the East, whose fury of tem per is stimulated by flattery, and by absolute power ; such instances of rage are common, and

prove, that it is instruction only, which, in cases like these, makes the man and the brute to differ. Fling a stone at a dog ; and he will turn to bite the stone. Of savages, it is said, that, when wounded by an arrow, they will rage against the senseless wood, as if that were their enemy : and we are told of an ancient Moorish king, that, when news was brought him of the loss of one of his cities, he smote off the head of the guiltless messenger, who had only done his duty by delivering to him the melancholy tidings. These are in stances, indeed, of this passion carried to an excess, from which the education and restraints, under which most men lie, in a great measure, happily forbid them ; but the passion, which I have described, is the same with that which

148 SERMON XLI. leads men, every day, to curse the tool, which breaks in their hands ; or the weather, which is unfavourable to their business ; which leads them to take offence at all those who, however unknowingly or unwillingly, have been hinderances to their advancement ; and to quarrel with those, who, even as a matter of duty and of kindness, have given them advice, which they were unwilling to receive, or to profit by. We need not, therefore, wonder, that, whoever dis charges the duty of warning mankind, of the error of their ways, and of the wrath of God, which burns against them, whoever attempts to convince them of their wickedness, their folly, and their probable misery hereafter, is almost sure to be regarded, not as their best friend ; but as the disturber of their peace, and the enemy of their happiness ; that the picture, which is held out to the sinner, of his future dangers, is supposed to proceed, not from a concern for his safety, but from a wish that he may perish ; and that plainness of speech, which is, in a desperate case, the truest charity, is esteemed sufficient to stamp the person, who employs it, as uncharitable and unfeeling. To cure men, so far as the weakness of our nature will allow, of a fault so common, and so natural, it may be useful, first, to expose the folly of those pretensions, by which a man usually seeks to justify to himself and others, a conduct such

NINTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. as I have been describing. Secondly, to sug gest some considerations, by which the advan

tage and value of reproof may be made plain to all of us ; and we may be led to overcome our unwillingness to receive it, by a sense of the important use, which it becomes us, as reasonable creatures, to make of it. The usual reasons, which we give, for being angry with those persons, who tell us of our faults, our folly, or our danger, are, either that it is no concern of theirs ; or, that they have spoken of us, unjustly and uncandidly ; or, that they have not given the advice, for our sake, but for their own, out of pride to show forth their own wisdom, by exposing our weakness ; out of malice to give us pain, or to lessen our reputation in the world ; or out of hypocrisy, to obtain from mankind the praise of being zealous in the cause of God, and in the convic tion, or conversion, of sinners. Now, to the first of these objections, that it is no concern of theirs, the situation of the friendly adviser will generally furnish an answer : since, if he be our relation, our friend, our master, or other superior, or, above all, if he be a minister of God's word, he is not only justified in interfering ; but it is his bounden duty to interfere, with his advice, and with his reproof, in every instance, where that advice, or that reproof, can be serviceable to us. He is, L3

150 SERMON XLI. by the place which he holds, the guardian of our souls : and he must answer it, at the peril of his own soul, to God, if we perish, without his taking due pains to point out to us our danger. " Son of man, " said God to Ezekiel, [and the same commandment is addressed to all those, who, whether by friendship, or by au thority, or by office, have the opportunity of calling sinners to repentance] " Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel : therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, thou shalt surely die ; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity ; but his blood will I require at thy hand!" 1 So far, then, is the advice, of which we complain, an unjustifiable interference, that, in nine out of ten of the cases, in which advice is

generally offered, there is a necessity, an obliga tion, of the strictest and most aweful kind, imposed on men to advise us. And, in truth, whether the relations, of which I have spoken, exist betwen us and our friendly reprover, or no, yet, if our sins be great, or our errors, great and notorious, even a stranger may be called on to advise, and to reprove, us 1 fczek. iii. 17, 18.

NINTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 151 for our good ; no less than a stranger would be called on to give us food, or medicine, when we were starving, or sick ; or to pluck us from the river, when we were in danger of drowning ; or to call us back from the precipice, towards which we were blindly wandering. But, " they have spoken of us, unjustly, or unfairly ! " To whom have they thus spoken ? to others, or to ourselves? If to others, they have committed a grievous fault ; but this is not reproof, but slander. If to ourselves, and privately, let us seriously consider, first, whether the harshness of their rebukes can, possibly, have done us any harm. Secondly, whether it may not have been anxiety for our welfare, which prompted their over earnestness ; and whether we ought not to love, rather than hate, an error which flowed from such a feeling. Thirdly, whether we can, indeed, be sure, that their reproofs have been unjust, or unfair ; whether it is not more likely, that our self-opinion blinds us to our own faults, than that others should think worse of us than we deserve ; or, whether, at least, we are not as much too favourable to ourselves, as they are too severe. But, " the advice has been given from selfish motives, from pride, from a desire to give pain, from hypocrisy." Supposing this to be the fact, is the advice, on that account, the less valuable ? If what has been said be true, it is, surely, wiser L4

SERMON XLI. to profit by the truth, than to quarrel with the person who tells it. But, when the advice is good, what right have

we to suppose that it is given with a bad inten tion ? Can we read the hearts of men ? or is it not from their actions only, that we can judge of their inclinations towards us ? If we were hungry, or sick, or naked ; and if our present adviser had given us raiment, food, or medicine ; would it have been just, or wise, or grateful, to cry out, that he had only helped us out of hy pocrisy, or out of pride ? He has now given us, what may, perhaps, be far more valuable than either medicine, clothing, or food ; and can we, dare we, speak of him with harshness or unthankfulness ? Throw pearls before swine ; and they tread them under feet, and turn again, and rend you ; but let it not be said, that men, that Christians, receive the pearl of good counsel, with the heedlessness and savage brutality of the beasts which perish ! O ye, who are in error, and who are warned of the evil and danger of your ways, whether that warning has pro ceeded from a minister of the Gospel, from a parent, a friend, a kind neighbour, or a com passionate and pious stranger, if ye will not hear the advice, yet at least be thankful to the adviser : lest ye be found in the number of those, who despise and persecute the messengers

NINTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. 153 of God ; and who, like Ahab, account his ser vants among those who " trouble Israel ! " The true and only cure, for this hatred of reproof and godly counsel, is a serious recol lection of the great importance of the interests concerned ; and the dreadful danger, to which a neglect of such warnings may expose us. To be wakened suddenly from sleep is always dis agreeable : and, like all other disagreeable sen sations, produces too frequently, in the first place, anger against the person, who has thus disturbed us. But if we found our house on fire, if we found that the flames were climbing our staircase, and that the wreaths of suffocating smoke already filled our chamber, how soon would our anger be turned into blessings on the preserver who called us to a sense of the ap proaching calamity, and to those exertions by which only our bodies were to be snatched from the burning ! We are fallen asleep in our sins ; the mouth of hell is gaping wide to devour us ; on our awaking now, and on the endeavours of the present moment, the happiness or misery of eternal ages may depend. And are we angry with that blessed roughness, which disturbs our fatal security? and do we prefer to sleep on,

though we should thus awake at length in everJasting torments ? O Father of mercies, suffer not thy children

154 SERMON XLI. to perish ! but call us, LORD, by the voice of Thy ministers ; send to our warning the counsel and reproof of friends ; and send, at the same time, Thy powerful and penetrating Spirit of Grace, that we may so hear the reproof, and love the charitable reprover, that, with him, we may enter into that land, where the voice of chiding shall be heard no more : and where virtue, and wisdom, and love, and joy, shall encircle our steps eternally.

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