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« on: June 17, 2008, 06:44:51 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
1. BIRTHPLACE - APPEARANCE - CHARACTER
By John MacDuff, 1877


Thus says the Lord of Hosts, "Behold, I will
make my words in your mouth FIRE." Jeremiah 5:14

       

        Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, "As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives -- the God whom I worship and serve -- there will be no dew or rain during the next few years unless I give the word!" 1 Kings 17:1

        "Who makes his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire." -- Psalms 104:4

        The life of Elijah is, in the truest sense of the word, a poem -- an inspired epic. It is surrounded throughout with a blended halo of heroism and saintliness. Though neither angel nor demi-god, but "a man of like passions," intensely human in all the varied incidents and episodes of his picturesque history -- he yet seems as if he held converse more with heaven than earth. His name, which literally means "My God the Lord," or "Jehovah is my God," introduces us to one who had delegated to him superhuman powers; not only an ambassador from above, but the very viceroy and representative of Omnipotence. He announces himself as standing before the Lord of hosts, as if he were an servant in the heavenly palace, rather than a citizen of the lower world; coming forth from time to time from his mysterious seclusion to deliver his message, and then retiring again into solitude to wait fresh communications from on high.

        No one in Scripture story possesses a more thorough individuality; and this is all the more remarkable, as we have only a few broad touches descriptive of his personal appearance, and of his mental and moral character. But these are so bold and impressive, that there is no mistaking him. He stands out in immense clarity from the sacred canvas. Others of illustrious name, who occupy a far larger share of the inspired page, appear shadowy and undefined in comparison with this illustrious product of nature and grace.

        He is presented to our view without a note of premonition -- ushered at once on the stage of stirring action fully armored -- in the colossal manhood and maturity of his being. This is all our introduction to him, as he confronts the guilty monarch of northern Palestine: "Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, 'As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives - the God whom I worship and serve - there will be no dew or rain during the next few years unless I give the word!" We have no predecessors in his history. No reference to ancestry, home, education, father, mother, companion, or friend; and this, also, throughout all the rest of his career, until near its close. He appears before us -- the Melchizedek of his age -- nursed in the wilds of nature for his great and momentous calling.

        There is a marked contrast in this respect between him and other well-known names in the roll of Hebrew writers. Pilgrim and wayfarer as he was, with his moveable dwellings and altar, we are familiar with Abraham as "the Father" -- the patriarchal chief or sheik, surrounded with the hum of living voices and desert tents -- with wife and sister's son and children, slaves and herdsmen -- ever ready, when occasion requires, to dispense the rites of Eastern hospitality. In the life of Moses, we come in contact at every turn with the same human relationships and sympathies. We can think of his own mother singing Hebrew lullabies by his cradle. We are allowed to picture him in his boyhood, disciplined under the strange influence of the court of Pharaoh, instructed in the sacred schools of Heliopolis "in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." Even in his wilderness exile, the loneliest period of his life, we find him associated, as a family man, with the household and flocks of Jethro.

        Samuel, kindred in many respects as he was with the Tishbite in his prophetic calling, was surrounded with the sanctities of a double home and parentage. We see, on the one hand, the mother who, from his lisping infancy, "lent him to the Lord," year by year bringing him his "little coat" to the sanctuary at Shiloh. On the other, the venerated foster-father on whom he duteously waited in that curtained tabernacle where "the lamp of God was burning," instilling into his susceptible soul his earliest lessons of heavenly wisdom. David's whole life is domestic, full of tender delineations of strong human sympathies and clinging friendships, manifested alike in the family homestead, the military camp, and the palace of Zion. Even Elisha, as a writer has remarked, "had his yoke of oxen, parents to bid adieu to, a servant, Gehazi, in attendance on him, the sons of prophets in converse with him. But the mention of Elijah is at intervals, as one appearing in peopled neighborhoods -- no one knew from whence -- in the desert, on the hill-tops -- seen and recognized as by surprise, in the hairy garment of the prophet -- the solitary of God -- as one without bag or purse -- even, it may be, as He who had not 'where to lay His head' -- having food to eat which man know not of."

        Among the many influences which are known to mold and develop individual character, external nature must not be overlooked. The grand and sublime has always proved a "fit nurse" for heroic spirits; and, were this the place, we might illustrate the statement by examples. Gilead -- Elijah's birthplace, the cradle of his youth, and where he remained until the time of his showing unto Israel -- as that wild, rugged, in many parts picturesque country, lying east of the Jordan -- the "rocky" region, as the word implies, with its deep ravines and water-courses, its sheepfolds and herds of wild cattle, in contradistinction to Bashan, "the level or fertile land." It was a region uncultured in more than its physical aspect. "Galilee of the Gentiles," on the western side of the border river, was proverbially a crude province compared with the civilized tribes of the south of Palestine. But this was, in a still greater measure, the character of those secluded uplands of Gilead. Contiguous as they were to the roving tribes of Arabia, subject to continual invasions or forays of Bedouin freebooters, the walled towns and villages, common on the western side of Jordan, were here unknown. With the exception of a few mountain strongholds, the inhabitants were obliged, in their nomad existence, to be satisfied with the tent of canvas or goats' hair. And this primitive patriarchal life survived the advancing civilization of other parts of the country. "To an Israelite of the tribes west of Jordan," says a recent writer, "the title 'Gileadite' must have conveyed a similar impression, though in a far stronger degree, to that which the title 'Celt' does to us. What the Highlands were, a century ago, to the towns in the lowlands of Scotland, that, and more than that, must Gilead have been to Samaria or Jerusalem."
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« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2008, 06:47:02 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
1. BIRTHPLACE - APPEARANCE - CHARACTER
By John MacDuff, 1877

        In this very country had been reared some of the warriors of a former age. "Because Machir was a man of war, therefore he had Gilead and Bashan" (Joshua 17:1). Jephthah the Gileadite, the wild, lawless hero of his time, issued from these "mountains of prey," and his hapless daughter, with her group of maidens, awoke the echoes of their savage gorges with pathetic wailings. And now, He who had, in a still remoter age, nursed Moses His servant for his great exploits amid the solitudes of the Sinai desert, trains up a worthy successor in the same great Temple. The soul of Elijah was tutored for his prophetic mission amid the rushing streams, "the pipings of flocks," the dreadful solitudes, and the rough freebooter-life of the most distant territory of the sacred tribes.

        Jehovah, in the selection of the human instrument for a great revival in Israel, would magnify the sovereignty of His own grace -- He brings balm from half-heathen Gilead to heal the hurt of the daughter of His people -- He chooses no Rabbi nor learned doctor of the schools -- no Hierarch with the prestige of hereditary office or outward form of consecration -- but a lay preacher from the Highlands of Palestine -- a man who had graduated in no school but nature -- who had been taught, but taught only of Heaven. Forth he comes, A PROPHET OF FIRE, a burning and a shining light, in one of the darkest periods of Hebrew history -- and "many were to rejoice in his light."

        Some, indeed have supposed that Elijah was not Hebrew in his origin at all -- that the blood of roving Ishmael was in his veins -- that he sprang from a tribe of Gentiles who inherited from the patriarch Abraham the knowledge of the one true God, and retained it longer than the heathen around, owing to their proximity to the land of Canaan; that such a selection, moreover, was purposely made by God to rebuke the wayward apostasy of His chosen Israel, and show those who even from strangers and foreigners He could raise up honored men for the vindication of His truth and the accomplishment of His purposes. Be this as it may, if we draw a portraiture of Elijah even from the materials afforded us in Scripture, we recognize in his outward bearing more of the Bedouin than the son of the chosen race. There stands before us a muscular figure, well-tanned with the burning suns of Palestine, with long, shaggy raven hair hanging loose over his shoulders.

        A modern writer, in speaking of Samson's unshorn locks, compares him to the Merovingian kings, "whose long tresses were the sign of their royal race, which to lose was to lose royalty itself." We cannot pronounce in the case of the prophet of Gilead of what these flowing tresses were the symbol -- whether they were the badge of his Divine mission, or as, with the son of Manoah, the token of his strength -- or that, like him, he had taken the vow of the Nazarite. In any case, they form a marked feature in his outward appearance. He is specially spoken of, in a subsequent period, by Ahaziah's messengers as "a hairy man," (lit., "a lord of hair.") The children of Bethel, when they came forth and mocked Elisha as "the bald head," did so because struck with the contrast between him and the familiar appearance of his shaggy predecessor.

        Around his shoulders he had flung a loose cape or striped blanket, made either of rough sheep or camel hide, fastened at his waist with a leathern belt. Whatever may have been the case with his unshaven head, this MANTLE appears to have had some singular significance attached to it. It was to him what the rod was to Moses. It seemed at once the outward badge of his prophetic office, and the instrument by which his miracles were performed. It screened him at one time when he held communion with God in the entrance of the desert cave -- he wrapped it round his face: at another, he would roll it up like a staff, as we shall find him doing at the close of his history, when at its magic touch Jordan was driven back. It was the legacy which dropped on the shoulders of his successor from the fiery chariot when the whirlwind bore him to heaven.

        Nor must his physical strength and powers of physical endurance be forgotten in this rapid portraiture. That must have been no ordinary man, surely, who, before the coming night-storm, and after the toils of an exhausting day, could accomplish such a feat of pedestrianism as to run sixteen miles, and withal outstrip the fleet coursers in Ahab's chariot in reaching the gate of Jezreel. That must have been no average strength that could sustain the hardships and privations of Cherith, and the long forty days' fast of Horeb.

        Such, then; in personal aspect seems to have been THE GREAT ELIJAH -- with no priestly vestment but that hairy tunic of the desert–lacking in courtly attire and perhaps courtly manners and etiquette, but with regal demeanor and bearing too -- a glorious champion of truth and righteousness. His name must have been a household word in every home of Israel and beyond it. Something dreadful must have been the terror inspired by the man who had the elements of nature delegated to his control; who could seal up the heavens at one time -- lock up from a whole nation for years the treasures of the clouds -- at another, draw fire from these clouds like a sword from its scabbard, and strew the earth with a hundred dead!

        Even the suddenness of his appearances and disappearances are startling and dramatic. He towers -- like one of the sons of Anak -- morally as well as physically high above those around him. He reminds us of the brave heroes -- though with nobler elements of grandeur in his case -- who came across Jordan in high flood to join a former exiled king of Israel -- "whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swift as the gazelles upon the mountains." In one word, he was an incarnation of Power. If early Greece or Rome (not Palestine) had been the theater of his deeds, he would have had his place amid the gods of Olympus. As it was, there was no name (that of Abraham and perhaps Moses excepted) more venerated in subsequent ages among his countrymen.

        But yet, with all his moral and physical superiority, with all his mortifications, his strange ascetic life, Elijah is spoken of, for our encouragement, as "a man of like passions" (James 5:17). And it is this which makes his biography so interesting and instructive. With all his greatness, he had his weaknesses and failings -- and failings, also, just in the points of character we would least have expected. The reprover of Ahab -- the bold, bearded son of the desert who feared God, and knew apparently no other fear -- so elevated above the foibles, weaknesses, caprices of his fellows -- so indifferent to human opinion, whether in the shape of commendation or censure -- can become a craven and coward on hearing the threats of an intriguing woman. Champion as he was -- a shaggy lion from the coverts of Gilead, who can challenge single-handed a multitude of idolatrous priests -- he cowers away in moping despondency from work and duty.
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« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2008, 06:48:48 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
1. BIRTHPLACE - APPEARANCE - CHARACTER
By John MacDuff, 1877

        We shall see in all this -- when we come to dwell minutely on these varied incidents -- a reflex of our fluctuating selves, which we may take, not to foster or encourage similar collapses, but to prevent us being needlessly disconcerted by the experience of kindred changeful moods in the spiritual life. "There was but a step," it has been remarked, in the case of Paul, "between the third heavens and the thorn in the flesh;" there was but a step in the case of Elijah between the heights of Carmel and the cave of Horeb.

        This Peter of the Old Testament was, like all characters of strong, fervid, vehement temperament, easily elated, easily depressed. He reminds us of the engine careering along our own railways -- a very Hercules in strength -- the type and impersonation of grandeur and power -- but laid on its side, amid the mangled wrecks it has dragged along with it, nothing is more helpless.

        Elijah's life, however, as that of "a man of like passions," is instructive in more than this. Not only was there in his character a union of weakness with greatness, but, despite of all his apparent solitariness, unworldliness, asceticism, isolation from his fellows, there were not lacking elements of tenderness. The earthquake, the whirlwind, the fire, which he saw in the Sinai desert, and after all these "the still small voice," formed the reflection of his own inner nature -- a union of the terrible with the gentle. The denouncer of Ahab, the rebuker of kingly iniquity, the slayer at the Kishon, the slaughterer who, in one day, with his own hands, purpled its waters with the blood of four hundred and fifty priests -- we shall yet see with what considerate tenderness he ministers to the distress of the lonely widow of Zarephath, and with what loving affection he clings at the last to the friendship of the faithful Elisha.

        Stern characters are often misunderstood. There is frequently a union of opposites in the same nature -- the stern may appear to predominate, when gentleness and goodness are there, if the world would but believe it. The official severity of the homeless Prophet was tempered and softened with these latter qualities; while his every action, with the one solitary exception, was governed and pervaded by sterling principle, uncompromising rectitude, unflinching adherence to the will of God. Much as Ahab hated his truthful denunciations, he could not disguise his respect for his candor, boldness, and devotion to Him he so faithfully served. These lofty attributes doubtless Elijah owed not to himself. It was God's training and grace, the power of His Spirit working within him, that made him the man and the hero that he was. The classic fable regarding Hesiod, the unlettered herdsman, but who became the Father of poetry, was a reality in the case of THE PROPHET OF FIRE -- a heavenly flame coming suddenly down and resting on his head, he became the greatest of his age. The Lord had said to him, as to the prophet of Chebar, "Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant, harder than flint, have I made your forehead -- fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house."

        Indeed we often think of the Tishbite as an example of a character surcharged with elements of great power, which, if misdirected, must have been terrible for evil. Left to his own wayward, impetuous, fiery nature, his strong impulses and iron will, the bold Bedouin of Gilead might have grown up to be the scourge and destroyer, the tempter and corrupter of Israel -- not its Restorer, Reformer, and Savior -- a vessel of wrath instead of a vessel of mercy. An angel in might, he might have turned a demon in depravity -- a "Prophet of Fire," not to illumine, but to scathe. His was a temperament in which evil impulses, had they once obtained sway, would have swept him down rapidly to ruin, and hurried thousands along with him, spreading his evil and baneful influence through a whole generation. But he had been enabled to consecrate all this latent power to the cause of righteousness. Perhaps, after many a silent soul-struggle, of which the world knows nothing, in the solitudes of his Fatherland, the devil in his nature had been expelled and exorcized; and he had adopted as his life-motto -- "the God of Israel whom I serve, and before whom I stand."

        As a closing practical thought, let us remember how little it often takes to divert elements of character towards good or towards evil. How many, with downward, depraved propensities, have, by godly training, or by dint of moral courage and determination, combined with the grace of God, struggled manfully against the stream, and are now firm on the side of religious principle. How many, on the other hand, with, it may be, nobler natural elements of character -- full of hope and promise, have, in an evil hour, by one false step, initiated the backward and the downward course to ruin! By one false turn of the helm, they have made shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience.
       
        And, though we must not anticipate, we shall find that God did not leave His servant -- this "light of Israel," whom He had kindled "for a FIRE" -- without high recompense. He made a stormy life close with a glorious setting -- when the cloudy, fitful, changeful moods of his own spirit had, by varied discipline, subsided into calm faith, and obedience, and trust -- he was borne upwards to that rest for the storm-tossed, where "earthquake, and whirlwind, and fire" are known no more, to listen through eternal ages to the "still small voice." Enoch-like, he "was taken up to heaven without dying - suddenly he disappeared because God took him. But before he was taken up, he was approved as pleasing to God."
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« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2008, 06:51:00 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
2. NATIONAL APOSTASY
By John MacDuff, 1877
       

        Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, "As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives - the God whom I worship and serve - there will be no dew or rain during the next few years unless I give the word!" 1 Kings 17:1

        "The land is blackened by the fury of the Lord Almighty. The people are fuel for the fire, and no one spares anyone else." Isaiah 9:19

        "Then the third angel blew his trumpet, and a great flaming star fell out of the sky, burning like a torch. It fell upon one-third of the rivers and on the springs of water." Revelation 8:10

        Ahab was at this time on the throne of Israel -- his residence was at Jezreel, and the windows of his ivory palace looked along the vast plain of Esdraelon, one of the most fertile and exuberant portions of Palestine. His was a gloomy reign. His predecessor, Jeroboam, by setting up golden calves at Dan and Bethel, had paved the way for the shameless idolatry which now disgraced the land and provoked the Divine judgments. Compared with Ahab's apostasy, however, that of Jeroboam was a trivial and modified departure from the true worship. The latter may be regarded rather as a desperate, and, in the circumstances, a world-wise stroke of state policy. On the revolt of the ten tribes and their formation into a northern kingdom, the first sovereign was naturally jealous of the effect which attendance at the old festal gatherings in Jerusalem might have on new subjects. These might revive, in the separated tribes, the ancient love of unity, and attachment to the time-honored capital. "Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together -- where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord." If he is to perpetuate his dynasty and save the dismemberment of his infant kingdom, he too must meet the religious needs and aspirations of his people, by having a "city" or "cities of solemnities" -- he must have sacred shrines and sacred rites to vie in splendor with the ceremonies of Mount Zion. For this purpose he made selection of the two extreme border towns -- Dan in the north, and Bethel in the south. Both were already invested with sacred recollections in connection with the earlier history of the chosen race, and in them he erected two temples, with rites of corresponding magnificence. "His long stay in Egypt had familiarized him with the outward forms under which the Divinity was there represented; and now, for the first time since the Exodus, was an Egyptian element introduced into the national worship of Palestine. A golden figure of Mnevis, the sacred calf of Heliopolis, was set up at each sanctuary, with the address, 'Behold your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.'"

        Guilty as Jeroboam was in introducing so flagrant a violation of the Divine command -- erecting "a similitude like to a calf which eats hay," he seems to have had no intention of superseding the national religion by pagan worship. It was different, however, with his weak and servile successor. Ahab's "abominable idolatries" owed, if not their origin, at all events their chief instigation, to a guilty matrimonial alliance he had formed with Jezebel, daughter of Athbaal, King of Tyre. Little could be expected from the antecedents of this Tyrian princess; her own father having himself originally been a heathen priest, and having afterwards mounted the throne of his brother as a usurper. Greatly Ahab's intellectual superior -- crafty, bold, designing, unscrupulous, cruel -- she wielded from the first a fatal influence over her weak and pliant partner. He soon forgot the solemn inheritance that had been transmitted to him in that sacred land. Shrines and temples sacred to Baal and Astarte, the tutelary deities of Phoenicia, covered the hilltops and valleys, "marked by the grove of olive round the sacred rock or stone on which the altar was erected."

        This false worship, indeed, was no novelty in Hebrew history. We find it had struck its roots deep -- even so early as the time of the Judges. Gideon's thrashing-floor at Ophrah, was close by a rock, surmounted by a spreading Terebinth, and under its branches the altar and image of Baal. One part of his mission, as his new name of Jerubbaal imported, was to overthrow the worship of the Phoenician idol, and reassert the supremacy of the God of Israel. The Angel of the Lord appeared to him, at his wine-press, with a message of "peace." That same night of the Divine appearance, he cut down the consecrated grove on the rock, and converted the long-defiled altar into a place of sacrifice for Jehovah, using the felled trees as fuel for his burnt-offering. The citizens of the little town, enraged at the sacrilege, demanded of Joash to give up his son to instant death. Joash, however, the Gamaliel of his age, stood on his defense by appealing to the reason of his hearers, and boldly asserting, that if Baal were indeed a god, he needed no puny human arm to vindicate his sovereignty, or inflict his vengeance. "Will you plead for Baal? Will you save him? If he be a God, let him plead for himself" (Judges 6:31). Who knows but the remembrance of this advice of the old Abiezrite may have suggested and shaped Elijah's subsequent appeal on the heights of Carmel.

        Be this as it may, the land, during the reign of Ahab, with which we are now concerned, swarmed with priests of the heathen deity imported from pagan Tyre. Four hundred of them sat at the royal table, and stimulated their royal patrons to deeds of vengeance. The worship of Jehovah of Israel came to be denounced as disaffection to the government -- a slight on the court religion. The torch of persecution was lighted. The prophets of the Lord were hunted down -- driven into caves, and saved from utter extermination only by the merciful interposition of Obadiah, a saint in the 'household of the Nero' of his day.
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« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2008, 06:52:25 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
2. NATIONAL APOSTASY
By John MacDuff, 1877


        What a guilty and presumptuous attempt to thwart the Divine purpose in portioning off the chosen people from the rest of the world! The Hebrew nation had been appointed as a perpetual protest against the polytheism of the surrounding kingdoms. By one dastardly act of the new monarch of Israel, the wall of separation was thrown down. The modified calf-worship of Jeroboam now lapsed into unblushing idolatry. God was dethroned; and Baal, (a plurality of Lords), was set up in His place. The one living, self-existent, all-pervading JEHOVAH was superseded by a divinity of good or evil, (as might be,) presiding over the several elements of nature. One mountain summit would have its altar to the sun -- another to the moon -- another to the stars. One grove would have its temple, or shrine, or image dedicated to the brooks and rivulets -- another to the rain of heaven -- another to the falling dew -- another to the seasons. The summer would have its shrine to a propitious Baal; the winter with its storms would have its altar and libations of blood to the malevolent Being whose wrath needed to be appeased. The worshiper's main conception of this hundred-headed god was connected with the attribute of power. The Phoenician Baal was called by the Greeks the Hercules of Tyre -- the embodiment of might, if not of cruelty. They lost sight of the God of holiness, and rectitude, and love. They were awed by the wrath and judgment which was the habitation of Baal's throne -- they knew nothing of the mercy and righteousness and truth which went before the face of the true God of their fathers.

        The time had arrived for judgment. The cup of the iniquity of Ahab and Israel was full. The cloud was charged. It is about to burst on the devoted land. Is there no gleam of light to relieve this thick darkness? Is there no trumpet-tongued messenger, no "minister of FLAMING FIRE," to vindicate the rights and prerogatives of Israel and Israel's Jehovah -- to witness for the great essential truth -- the unity of God -- taking up the old watchword -- "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is ONE Lord?" Yes! God has "come to send fire on the earth;" and, in the person of Elijah, "it is already kindled." He has in him a champion ready harnessed for the battle, who will be bold to speak His word before kings, and not be moved. The fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor -- hurl "Beelzebub, the prince of devils," from his seat, and quench the fire on his defiled and defiling altars. "It is time you work, Lord, for they have made void your law." "Let not the heathen say, Where is now their God?"

        It was, then, in the midst of this scene of darkness, apostasy, and blood, that forth came the great Tishbite. The Jewish prophets were compared to vigilant watch-dogs. But Elijah was no "dumb dog that cannot bark;" "sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber." His was not the trumpet to give forth a wavering or uncertain sound. Standing face to face with guilty Ahab, he startles him with the avowal -- "My God -- the God of Israel -- the God of your Fathers -- and he who ought to be your God -- JEHOVAH lives!" "As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." To understand aright the force of this assertion, we must view it in the same light as the subsequent scene on Mount Carmel, that is, as a challenge made by the Prophet to settle the question by a solemn appeal to the great power or powers (be who they may) who rule the universe, and who have the elements of nature under their control. It was as if he had said to his royal master -- 'I shall prove that your base idolatries cannot aid you in the hour of need. I shall undertake to demonstrate that a plurality of gods is but a plurality of nonentities. Here is the test. In the name of my God I utter it. You have invested the Baal you worship with lordship over the processes of outer nature -- you have your pretended Baal or lord who has the clouds of heaven in his hand -- who can unseal or close their watery treasures at his will. You have your pretended deity -- who spangles morning by morning the pastures on the hills of Israel with dew-drops, or leaves them dry like the fleece of Gideon. I shall disprove your polytheism -- I shall unmask the lie of these Phoenician priests whom you feed at the royal table -- I shall solve the momentous problem, not by word, but by dreadful deed. I shall prove that this dew and these rain-clouds are not Baal's giving; that his priests might rend the sky from morn to even with importunate supplication, and there would be no response. But I shall demonstrate that they are in the hands of that "living God," whose servant I am, and "before whom," though unseen, "I stand." And here will be the proof. I assert, in the name and by the authority of Him whom I worship, and whose unworthy servant I am, that neither Dew nor Rain shall fall on the parched plains and valleys of Israel except at my bidding. From this day henceforth these skies shall be as brass, and this earth as iron. Let your Baal throng disprove it if they can. Let them, if they can, thwart this act of delegated omnipotence. Let them, if they can, force open the bolted doors of heaven, and exude dew-drops from the gasping earth. Let them, if they can, bribe the miser fountains to unlock their hoarded treasures. Then, but not until then, will I listen to the tale of your dumb idols, and renounce my belief in that Great Being who makes the clouds His chariot -- who gives rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and with gladness. I know my God lives. From this day forth, trees and grass scorched and blighted -- the arrested growth of the vegetable world -- waterless channels and cattle lowing on hungry pastures, during "these years," shall prove the truth of my solemn declaration.'
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« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2008, 06:54:25 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
2. NATIONAL APOSTASY
By John MacDuff, 1877

        We are told of no reply on the part of Ahab. He may have been struck dumb -- quailing under the withering words -- or perhaps the sequel may rather intimate that his brow darkened with vengeance, and that he turned to his palace to take summary means of avenging and rebuking "the madness of the prophet." Be this as it may, it is enough for us to know that as months rolled on, it became terribly evident that nature all around -- the heavens above and the earth beneath -- confirmed the utterances of the man of God. The blossoms of the fig-tree drooped -- the shoutings of the vintage in the fruitful valleys of Ephraim and Zebulon ceased -- no oil was distilled from the olive-tree -- the flocks pined and languished in field and stall -- a fearful famine overspread the land -- while the feeble remnant of the faithful, in their cave-retreats, sang together that song of Zion -- "By terrible things in righteousness will you answer us, O God of our salvation."

        We shall close the chapter with a few practical lessons from this opening portion of the Prophet's history.

        Let us learn THE INSIDIOUS POWER OF ERROR, AND GUARD AGAINST IT. With regard to nothing had God fenced around His law more solemnly than the introduction of idolatry. The protest, sounded amid the blazing accompaniments of terror on Sinai, was repeated and reiterated in the written Oracles. The most rigid injunctions were given for the extirpation of the Canaanites, lest an intermixture with a pagan race might corrupt the primitive worship; and not only were the idolatrous nations themselves to be expelled and exterminated, but all vestiges of the idols and idol-altars and groves were to be swept away. "You shall utterly destroy all the places wherein the nations which you shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree. And you shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and you shall hew down the engraved images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place." After such a stringent admonition as this, who can estimate the daring presumption and impiety of a whole covenanted nation, from king to peasant and vine-dresser, trampling in the dust the most sacred article in the charter of their religious liberties -- forgetting the strong hand and stretched-out arm of Him who led them through the depths of the sea -- selling themselves as votaries to bloodthirsty idols -- worshiping Remphan and the host of heaven!

        There is not much danger, in this our land and day, of a relapse into idolatry -- of a cultured intellectual age making all at once a rebound of a thousand years into the darkness of heathen and pagan delusion; although the histories of Greece and Rome tell us too plainly, how the most exquisite intellectual refinement may be in lamentable conjunction with degrading superstition. Neither do we share in the dread entertained by some, in this era of broad common sense, of a relapse into the ridiculous, hypocritical, and pretentious ceremonies of Popish superstition. Protestantism -- love of intellectual, moral, and spiritual freedom -- is too deeply-rooted for that.

        But we are not proof against other more insidious and specious forms of religious error. The next phase which infidelity will assume, and indeed has assumed, is that of false philosophy, whose principle and lurking element of danger is the exalting proud reason in the place of childlike faith; sitting in arbitrary and high-handed judgment on the declarations of God's Word; undermining the foundation-truth of the atonement; stripping the cross of Christ of its chief glory; and regarding the Bible -- the precious casket in which these truths are contained -- not as of fine gold, more precious than Ophir, but rather like the image of Nebuchadnezzar, partly of gold and partly of iron and clay.

        Unbelief, varying in its phases and developments, is the same in every age. The monitory word can never be out of place or season, even when we think a rampart of impregnable strength and defense is girdling Church and nation and religious privileges -- "Beware, lest you also, being led away by the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness." "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God."

        Let us learn, as a second lesson, that DIVINE JUDGMENT FOLLOWS NATIONAL APOSTASY. It has been often remarked that individuals may, in this world, escape punishment for personal crime -- but nations never. Retribution, in the case of individuals, may be reserved for a future condition of reward and punishment, where the present unequal distribution of good and evil will be corrected and adjusted. But the case of nations is different. With them, in their aggregate capacity, there is no such after state of dealing; and therefore their reward or their doom is meted out and accomplished here. What is history? what is prophecy? but a commentary on this. Look at these "oracles," pronounced one after another by the ancient seers -- the oracle concerning Egypt, the oracle concerning Tyre, the oracle concerning Nineveh, the oracle concerning Babylon, and, most affecting and significant of all, the oracle concerning Jerusalem -- what are these, but God's own solemn indictments, as apostate nation after apostate nation is cited at His bar? In the case of each nation or city, the bestowed vengeance is in proportion to their crimes. As they have sowed the wind, so do they reap the whirlwind. When the body politic becomes morally diseased, like the putrid corpse or carcase cast out on the street, the winged messengers of retribution are at hand to prey upon it, in accordance with the Jewish proverbial saying, which was so literally fulfilled in their own signal doom -- "Wheresoever the carcase is, there shall the eagles be gathered together."
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« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2008, 06:56:20 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
2. NATIONAL APOSTASY
By John MacDuff, 1877

        Ahab and his whole people, with the exception of a feeble remnant, had been guilty of glaring national delinquency. They had dishonored the God of their fathers -- they had adopted and nationalized the mythological creed of the heathen nations -- they had deified nature, and given to the separate Baals, lordship over the elements -- they had made fire and hail, snow and vapor, stormy wind, each to fulfill the word of a presiding divinity -- disowning the one God who sat enthroned behind the elements He had formed; and who had declared that "while the earth remains, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and day and night, and summer and winter, should not cease." Jehovah resolves to mete out judgment in accordance with their guilt. He makes those very gifts of nature the instruments of their punishment which had been the means of their sin. They had undeified Him in nature; He will make nature wield the lash of retribution. They had given to others a sovereignty over the "rain" and the "dew;" He makes these arrows in His own quiver to be the weapons of vengeance -- with what measure they have meted out, it was to be measured to them again. "I opened my arms to my own people all day long, but they have rebelled. They follow their own evil paths and thoughts. All day long they insult me to my face by worshiping idols in their sacred gardens. They burn incense on the rooftops of their homes. Look, my decree is written out in front of me: I will not stand silent; I will repay them in full! Yes, I will repay them - both for their own sins and for those of their ancestors," says the Lord. "For they also burned incense on the mountains and insulted me on the hills. I will pay them back in full!" (Isaiah 65:2, 3, 6, 7).

        Let us remember that the Great Lord and Governor of nations acts upon fixed and unchanging principles still. We may not undeify Him by the worship of engraved images -- by bowing the knee to stocks and stones. But there are other national idols which may provoke righteous retribution. The eager thirst for gold -- the hastening to be rich -- and, worse than this, when riches, given as a great trust, are either selfishly hoarded or guiltily squandered. Ah! as the jealous eye of that God who will not give His glory to another, sees this modern Baal -- hundred-headed Mammon -- claiming the homage of his million votaries, let us not wonder if ever He should speak in accents of rebuke and judgment through the great national sin -- put a sudden arrest on our perishable, material, unsanctified prosperity; and, in the midst of shut markets and excluded supplies abroad -- closed factory doors, quenched furnaces, and silent shuttles at home -- utter the great truth which, whether individually or nationally, we are so slow to hear -- that Life, true greatness and true glory, consists not in the abundance of the things which we possess.

        If the silver and the gold of modern times be taken as symbols of the dew and rain of Israel -- that which is most valued, clung to, depended on -- can we wonder should some Prophet of Fire -- some burning messenger of wrath and retribution -- stand in the midst of our mighty marts, and, with a voice of thunder, proclaim -- "As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word!"

        A third lesson we may here learn is, that GOD INVARIABLY RAISES UP SUITABLE INSTRUMENTS IN EVERY GREAT CRISIS OF HIS CHURCH'S HISTORY.

        The Church life -- the spiritual life of Israel -- could not have been at a lower ebb than at this period under the reign of Ahab. His own faithful people were counted by single units. Thousands were bowing the knee to Baal, and kissing his impious shrine. But Jehovah has His hero prepared for the times. It was one, moreover, as we have already noted, very specially gifted that was needed. It was no Jeremiah -- sorrowful, tender-hearted, crushed himself with the national woes, the tear standing on his cheek. It was no John of Apostolic times, or Melancthon of Reformation times -- gentle, devout, contemplative, sensitive -- a heart overflowing with benignity and love. It was no Thomas of Apostolic times, or Erasmus of Reformation times -- calm, speculative, philosophical; and, in the case of the latter, the man of learning, yet the timid, cautious time-server. It was not even a man of the stamp of Paul of Tarsus -- bold, brave, unflinching; with the culture and refinement needed to grapple with the sages of Athens, the courtiers of imperial Rome, and the sharp-witted merchants of Corinth; but deficient in powers of physical endurance -- weak, and uncommanding in bodily presence.

        It was one in type and mold like John the Baptist, or like Luther -- a Goliath in mind and body -- one who could fearlessly confront Pharisee and Sadducee -- Herod and Herodias -- king, priest, and soldier -- who could stand unmoved, as the great German Reformer did, amid the crowned heads and priestly potentates in the Diet at Worms, and fearlessly declare that though it were crowded with devils, he would face them all.

        Such was emphatically the Tishbite -- bold, brave, trained to habits of endurance. The gigantic evils of the times needed a giant to grapple with them -- one who could confront wickedness in high places -- be the scourger of court vices, and dare anything and everything for the sake of truth. God has ever His star ready to come forth in the midnight of gloom and despair; when the sword drops from the hand of Moses, He has His Joshua ready to take it up; when the Philistine champion defies the armies of Israel, He has ready the stripling youth with the sling and the pebble-stones to smite him to the dust; when His people are led captive, He has Daniel and Cyrus, Joshua and Zerubbabel, ready at His word to turn again the captivity of Zion "as streams in the south." He has only to "give the word," and "great is the company of those who publish it." Should seasons of gloom, and darkness, and apostasy, again overtake the Church; should rampant infidelity threaten to rise to a perilous ascendancy, and to trample out the fires on God's holy altar; trust Him! -- a thunder-voice will be ready. A man of might will be sent to break the impious spell. The Church historian of the future, as he closes one chapter of terror and dismay, will open the next with the words -- "And ELIJAH said . . ."
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« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2008, 06:57:56 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
2. NATIONAL APOSTASY
By John MacDuff, 1877

        Learn, once more, THE POWER OF INDIVIDUAL INFLUENCE. We shall not at present speak of Elijah's influence. To this we shall have occasion, in a future chapter, more particularly to advert; how, under God, this one man rallied an apostate nation -- saved his country by saving its religion, and made thousands and tens of thousands in after ages, when he himself was gone, rise up and call him blessed -- "He stood in the breach, and the plague was stayed!" Let us rather, at this point, mark what a corrupt, debased, sensual, and selfish life can do. Let us see what may be the dreadful consequences of one guilty act -- of what a progeny of vice and ruin it may be the prolific parent. Ahab, in himself, appeared to have some naturally good and amiable qualities. But he is one of those of whom it is said he "sold himself to work iniquity." The stream which might have been flowing through his land dispensing endless blessings in its course, became a stagnant pool, breeding and diffusing corruption. The defect of his natural character seems to have been indolence, sloth, selfishness, love of ease. Wavering and fickle, he was an easy tool for the intrigues and artifices of others. And then came the fatal crisis -- the act of which we have, a little ago spoken, which consummated his own ruin and his people's apostasy -- his marriage with an unprincipled and bigoted idolatress. He paid the penalty which multitudes have done who have in an evil hour scorned the Divine monition -- "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers -- for what communion has light with darkness? and what concord has Christ with Belial? or what part has he that believes with an infidel?"

        Doubtless, Ahab's marriage was spoken of and chronicled in its day as a splendid union. Tyre was at this time in its glory -- the sovereign of that queenly city could enrich the palace and park of Jezreel with a golden endowment. The ornate ceilings of the ivory palace may have been his royal gift -- the cunning work of renowned Phoenician craftsmen. Israel's king may have been lauded and congratulated by the neighboring princes as a favored man. Alas! dearly bought was that gilded pageantry -- the pomp and pride of having his servants dressed in purple wrought on Tyrian looms! "Ichabod, the glory has departed" -- the ark is gone -- the god of Ekron is hailed as the god of Israel -- and all through the instrumentality of this unhappy -- this ungodly alliance of Jehovah's covenanted king with an uncovenanted heathen.

        Ahab's whole life is a mournful illustration of resisted and scorned warnings -- slighted messages of remonstrance and mercy. The God he rejected strove with him to the last. But the guilty partner of his throne and of his crimes, made him spurn at once the messenger and the message; and over that bloody grave into which their mangled bones were at last consigned, is inscribed the epitaph -- "Ahab, who made Israel to sin."

        Would that in this age of "trust in uncertain riches" it were borne more sacredly in mind, that it is not gold, but moral worth that is the amplest marriage-dowry. Rank, position, wealth, accomplishments, may be but the gaudy veneering underneath which lurk moral debasement and ruin. Do not think of Ahab alone, for his was a miserable, characterless, soulless life. But look at LOT. See that man of God -- that "righteous man." He made the guilty venture of contracting an irreligious marriage. Mark the result! See it in his "vexed soul," his weeping eyes, his laughed-at pleadings; his wife a monument of vengeance, his blackened home, his blackened name, his unknown and unhonored grave. "A brand plucked from the burning." "Saved; yet so as by fire!"
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« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2008, 07:14:56 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
3. THE RETREAT
By John MacDuff, 1877
       

        Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: "Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook at a place east of where it enters the Jordan River. Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food." So Elijah did as the Lord had told him and camped beside Kerith Brook. The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook. 1 Kings 17:2-6

        "So the Spirit lifted me up, and took me away; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me." Ezekiel 3:14

        One of the striking dramatic incidents here occurs, which we shall often have occasion to note in the course of the Prophet's life.

        WHERE he met the king of Israel, and delivered the abrupt communication considered in last chapter, we know not. It may have been at some unexpected moment; as when Isaiah met King Ahaz "in the highway of the fuller's field;" or when the monarch was seated on some state-day in regal magnificence, with Jezebel at his side, amid a blaze of courtiers, in the palace of Jezreel; or on some religious festal occasion, when the six hundred priests of Baal, clad in their official vestments, were doing homage to the Phoenician idol, and rending the air with the cry -- "O Baal, hear us!" All this, however, is left to conjecture.

        But the message having been delivered, the God, whose behest it was, proceeds to secure the safety of His faithful servant -- alike from court vengeance and from being involved in the national calamity. He directs him to flee to a lonely spot -- probably amid the wilds of his own native Gilead -- and there to wait further intimation of the Divine will. In prompt obedience to the monition, "So Elijah did as the Lord had told him and camped beside Kerith Brook."

        We can picture to ourselves his strange solitude. Some narrow gorge, uninvaded by human footstep, fenced in by nature to form a prophet's chamber -- the awning of this "pilgrim-tent" constructed of the interlacing boughs of fig, oak, and oleander; the blue vault of heaven overhead, leading him by day to consoling thoughts on the Great Universal Presence; the sun shining with tempered luster, answering to the deeper sunshine of a quiet conscience within; the stars by night, like the wakeful eyes of ministering angels, keeping watch over his lonely couch as he pillowed his head on the dewless leaves -- with that better pillow still for the weary -- the sublime consciousness of having done his duty, and subordinated his own will to that of the Highest.

        What a contrast -- his evening meal and chamber of repose, with those of the monarch in whose guilty ear he had recently proclaimed the judgment of God! -- the ivory palace, filled with imported luxury -- the servants, gorgeous with Tyrian purple and dust of gold -- the royal couch, curtained with Phoenician draperies and redolent of Phoenician perfumes. A stranger was the rough Bedouin Prophet to all such dainties. His table, the green grass -- his servants, the winged fowls of heaven -- his bed, the hollow of the rock–his coverlet, his rough hairy mantle -- his lullaby, the music of the rippling stream, which, as it babbled by -- the one tuneful brook of a silent land -- sang morning and evening a hymn of God's faithfulness.

        But, as we picture him, with thankful, contented heart, strengthening in summer's drought the stakes of his hut; or in winter's cold, gathering, like the apostle of Melita, the scattered leaves and dry wood to kindle and feed his lonely fire -- as we imagine him thus, night by night composing himself to rest, have we not a living commentary on words with which he may have filled his waking and sleeping thoughts -- "A little that a just man has is better than the riches of many wicked." "When you lie down you shall not be afraid; yes, you shall lie down, and your sleep shall be sweet." "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked; but be blesses the habitation of the just."

        Let us pause here, and ponder, as a first lesson, THE POWER OF PRAYER. The whole land was pining under the most fearful of judgments. Every brook, except that lonely rill of Cherith, had failed. No dewdrops spangled the forests with their crystal jewels -- no rain-torrents answered the silent inarticulate cry of the gasping earth. The ground upturned by the ploughshare had become rigid furrows of iron -- the dust lay thick on the highways -- the heavens above were a blazing furnace. All day long, from the chariot of the sun, there seemed to be discharged bolts of scorching fire. Nature lay prostrate and helpless under the withering curse. And how was this? James tells us, "Elijah prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months." Oh, wondrous power! -- a mortal pleading with God! -- Omnipotence being moved by weakness! The seasons arrested in their course -- nature's processes curbed -- the windows of heaven closed, and the fields and granaries of earth emptied and spoiled -- all -- all owing to the voice of one man!

        And does not the example of the Tishbite refute the often-repeated objection to prayer -- 'What need is there to try to move God? He has all things "foreordained, whatever comes to pass." It can only be a bold, presumptuous dreamer who can think of altering or modifying the Divine decrees. If He has resolved to send judgment, He needs not the pleadings of a mortal to remind him of His purposes.' Not so did our Prophet reason -- his was a truer and nobler philosophy. Well did he know that Ahab's wickedness had provoked the Divine displeasure; and if God himself had not announced to His faithful servant the specific form of retribution, He had, at all events, doubtless, given him to understand that judgment was prepared and ready to descend. But this does not release or exonerate Elijah from what he felt to be alike his duty and his privilege. We find him on his knees -- praying -- and "praying earnestly;" just as if the dreadful lesson about to be read to Israel depended on these feeble petitions.
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« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2008, 07:16:50 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
3. THE RETREAT
By John MacDuff, 1877

        God, had He seen fit, without any human intervention, might have "thundered in the heavens," and the Highest given His voice, "hailstones and coals of fire;" He might have "sent out His arrows and scattered them -- shot out lightnings and confounded them." But "the Prophet of Fire," knowing the appointed medium through which the Being he served fulfills His behests, employs the conducting-rod of prayer to fetch down the lightning from His treasuries. It reminds us of the Apostles -- the "Prophets of Fire" of a later age. The promise of a fiery baptism of a different kind had been given them. But, nevertheless, they continued, we read, "with one accord, in prayer and supplication;" and it was while thus engaged -- assembled "with one accord in one place" -- that there came the descent "as of a rushing mighty wind," and "cloven tongues like as of fire sat upon each of them."

        How constantly are similar illustrations of this prevailing "power," brought before us in the case of believers of old. It was by prayer Jacob wrestled and prevailed. It was by prayer Joshua arrested the fiery wheels of the sun's chariot. It was by prayer Daniel shut the lions' mouths, and cheated death of its prey. It was prayer -- the prayer of good King Hezekiah and the pious remnant among those who owned his scepter -- that saved Jerusalem from utter destruction, and the people from captivity. He carried his desperate case and cause -- he spread the railing letter of the Assyrian invader before God in an agony of prayer. Next morning, the hushed tents of Sennacherib -- the ground strewn with his dead -- was the divinely-renewed testimony that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."

        And we have the same blessed refuge -- the same strong consolation -- in our hours, whether of impending national or individual sorrow. Whatever be the cloud that may be gathering, this is our sheet-anchor -- our polar-star in the day of trouble -- "The Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear!"
       
        Let us learn, further, from this incident in Elijah's life, THE TRIUMPH AND SURE RECOMPENSE OF FAITH. It was a bold and brave thing, surely, to utter such a prayer, and confront Ahab with such an announcement. Indeed, independently of the wrath of the Israelitish monarch, the anathema Elijah had pronounced could not fail to rouse the indignation of the whole kingdom. That savage-looking prophet of Gilead would be hated and denounced by the starving thousands on whom his imprecation had fallen, as a "troubler in Israel." But, bold as a lion, he fulfils his mission as the ambassador and spokesman of Heaven. He knows that he has been divinely called to vindicate the cause of truth and righteousness. Ahab may load him with chains -- he may seize and torture him in hopes of coercing a revocation of the hateful utterance. Famishing with hunger, the people may also be hounded on to vengeful cruel acts against this prophet of evil tidings. But in tranquil composure he waits the result. He is like the daring soldier who has fired the cannonade, and who, with the consciousness of having bravely done his duty, is prepared for the worst, even should he be involved in the dreadful havoc -- buried under the blood-stained ruins.

        We cannot, indeed, claim for Elijah, as "a man of like passions," exemption from all doubt or misgiving in the present emergency. Unquestionably he had, as all have, a weaker side, even in what we suppose the least assailable part of his nature. It was no common heroism which was needed to outbrave the vengeance of an infamous court, a debased and infuriated priesthood, a people stung to madness by drought. The very blight and prostration of the external world, also, must have been a touching spectacle to a feeling heart. The trees draped in ashen leaves -- the cattle lowing on arid pastures -- innocent children making a vain appeal for food to parents miserable and helpless as themselves!

        But a higher impulse than his own had prompted the prophetic woe. He knows that it was no selfish, wayward caprice on his part, but the will -- the righteous decree -- of the God and King whose servant he was. He will not retract the retributive utterance; he will allow no debate or parlance between duty and expediency. Others may have sought to deter him; his own heart at times may have prompted more timorous counsels. Under the same feeling of oppressive solitariness which impelled him subsequently with cowardly spirit to take flight to Horeb, he might now have purchased immunity from danger by refusing to deliver his message, and fleeing, like another Jonah, for shelter amid the mountains of his native Gilead. But he will obey God rather than be deterred by the frowns, and fears, and even sufferings of men. With the calm confidence and resolve of a kindred spirit, he can say -- "In the Lord put I my trust; how say you to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?"

        Nor is he left without the sure reward and recompense which follow simple trust and bold action. As the angel was sent to Peter in his dungeon, or to Paul in the storm, just at the crisis-hour when help was most needed so does the same God provide now a refuge for His Prophet. When he had no earthly home or friend -- when king and people were confederate against him -- One who was better than home, and friend, and king -- the "El-Shaddai," the "All-Sufficient," comes with the cheering word -- "Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan."

        Moreover, not only does He furnish him with a refuge, but He makes provision for the supply of his daily needs; and in order to manifest His power and boundless resources, employs for this purpose the unlikeliest means and agencies. He makes the ravenous birds of the forest have their instincts in suspension, in order that they may minister to His servant. "And it shall be that you shall drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there!"
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« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2008, 07:18:55 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
3. THE RETREAT
By John MacDuff, 1877

        The Lord God of Elijah is still to this hour faithful to His promise -- "Those who honor me, I will honor." "The young lions may lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing." Manly work done in His service -- sacrifices made in His cause -- will sooner or later be repaid with interest. It is because the presence and power of a personal God are so little felt and realized that our faith is so weak, and our ventures in His cause and service are so small. When the soldiers of Gustavus Adolphus, the greatest king of Sweden, wished to dissuade him from risking his life by exposure in battle, it is said his grand reply was -- "God Almighty lives." The motto of the Gilead Prophet was the same -- "The Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand!" With his faith anchored on that simple but sublime assurance, he hastened to his rocky, sterile abode, knowing that his "bread would be given him, and his water would be sure." And all that his "God had spoken came to pass." On reaching his secluded retreat, lo! the joyous, remarkable sound of the brook broke upon his ear. The ravens, also, were there waiting their strange mission. When the gates of the morning opened, they flocked with the miraculous bread; when the gates of evening closed, down they flew, bearing the promised sustenance. Night by night, as the curtain of darkness fell around, wrapping himself in his mantle, and composing his head on his leafy pillow, he could exultingly say -- "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?"

        It may have seemed at first sight indeed strange, this long period of suspension from busy life, this seclusion from the scene of action where his voice and presence were so needed. It was enough for him, however, that his God willed it to be so, and patiently to wait the disclosure and development of the Divine purposes. Moreover, can we doubt that this season and place of deep solitude proved to Elijah a fit and needed training-school to prepare and qualify him for the grander achievements that were before him? It was so in the history of the most illustrious saints, both in Old and New Testament times. Moses had forty years' separation from the world in the Sinai desert, before entering on his unparalleled mission as the liberator and leader of the many thousands of Israel. John had his loving spirit fed and refreshed and disciplined in the solitudes of Patmos. John's loving Master had His days and nights of sacred seclusion on the mountains of Judea and Galilee, where His holy human soul was strengthened for arduous conflict. Paul, in training for the great work of the apostolate, had three years of retirement amid the deserts of Arabia. Luther -- the Elijah of his age -- had his spirit braced for hero-deeds during an uninterrupted season of prayer and the study of the sacred oracles, in the lone castle of Wartburg in the forest of Thuringia. In the same way would the "Prophet of Fire" carry with him his torch to this vestibule of nature's temple -- not to quench it, but rather, by holding more intimate fellowship with the great Source of Light, to get it kindled with a purer flame from the inner sanctuary.

        We are told nothing regarding his occupations during these months of loneliness. But may we not think of him truthfully as "alone, yet not alone;'' seated under the rock-clefts, with the music of the brook in his ear -- his heroic soul, filled with mighty thoughts, musing devoutly on his great work, and earnestly seeking to be braced for his momentous life-struggle? May not nobler winged attendants than the birds of heaven have brought down messages of comfort to refresh and invigorate his spirit? Yes, by mystic and hallowed communings with the Lord of angels, may he not have been enabled to perfect the self-surrender and self-consecration of his whole nature, getting his will more and more merged and absorbed in the will of the great Being he delighted to serve? He would ever after, in all probability, cherish the remembrance of Cherith as a place and occasion of calm and elevated joy; and can we doubt that, when he emerges from his obscurity, he will come forth more fully harnessed for the battle -- the fire of his earnest soul burning with a purer, intenser, and more tempered luster?

        And is it not so with God's people still? When He has for a time secluded them from a busy world, sent them away from life's thoroughfares to hold pensive communings with their own hearts in the lonely wilderness of trial, have they not been led to feel and to recognize, not only a gracious needs-be in the Divine dealings, but, following in Elijah's spirit the teachings and directions of the great Disposer, have they not found that they come forth from their season of affliction better fitted for their work and disciplined for their warfare -- moreover, that in their very hours of sadness, He opens up for them unimagined sources of solace and consolation? In taking them to Cherith, He does not permit them to go unbefriended or alone. What Patmos was to John, or Cherith to his great prototype, so can He make the gloomiest of seasons bright with the manifestations of His own grace and love. He will not allow the Cherith of sorrow to be without its brook of comfort and its winged messengers of peace. He provides streams of consolation specially suited for His people in all their seasons of trial.

        Sickness is such a Cherith; when secluded from life's active duties -- health withdrawn -- strength prostrated -- body and mind enfeebled -- pain extracting the cry, "In the morning you will say, 'If only it were night!' And in the evening you will say, 'If only it were morning!'" Yet how many can look back on such seasons and tell of their brooks of solace? Bible promises welling up with new beauty like streams in the desert -- a nobler and truer estimate of life imparted -- nearer and more realizing views of God and heaven.

        Bereavement is such a Cherith. When the scorching sun of sorrow has withered up life's choicest flowers, and dried its sweetest sources of pleasure, "the wilderness and the solitary place are made glad." He who has taken away, comes in the place of "the loved and lost." Our very sorrows, like the sable-plumaged ravens, are transformed into messengers of comfort. God fulfils His own promise by the bestowment of "the hidden manna." We may come forth from the severe soul-conflict, like Jacob, wrestling, but it is like him also, with "a new name."

        And even in the prospect of Death itself -- though called like Elijah to "Cherith which is before Jordan" -- the All-Sufficient -- the living God -- is there, amid the turgid waters of "the border river," to cheer and support us, saying, "Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God." Whatever be our circumstances; our discouragements, disappointments, sorrows -- "fightings without, and fears within" -- worldly calamities, temporal losses; let us not utter the misgiving word, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" Let us rather take as our motto, under all the varying conditions of life, "Jehovah-jireh" -- The Lord will provide. Let us do our duty, and God will fulfill His word. Let us go to our Cheriths, and God will have ready His promised brook and ravens and manna. Let us prepare the fire and the wood, and God will provide His own lamb for the burnt-offering.
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« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2008, 07:20:45 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
4. CHERITH AND ZAREPHATH
By John MacDuff, 1877
       

        1 Kings 17:7-16

        But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land.
        Then the Lord said to Elijah, "Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. There is a widow there who will feed you. I have given her my instructions."
        So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, "Would you please bring me a cup of water?" As she was going to get it, he called to her, "Bring me a bite of bread, too."
        But she said, "I swear by the Lord your God that I don't have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die."
        But Elijah said to her, "Don't be afraid! Go ahead and cook that 'last meal,' but bake me a little loaf of bread first. Afterward there will still be enough food for you and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be plenty of flour and oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!"
        So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her son continued to eat from her supply of flour and oil for many days. For no matter how much they used, there was always enough left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.
         

        "And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known -- I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them" -- Isaiah 42:16

        The Prophet of Israel had now been nearly a year in his desert retreat. There he remained passive regarding his future plans, leaving the evolution of events in the hands of Him who had given His angels charge over him to keep him in all his ways. He knew that he was under good and gracious guidance. So long as the brook murmured by his side, and the winged servants supplied his table, he took no unnecessary thought for the morrow, assured that the needed strength would be apportioned for each day.

        But as this period was expiring, the brook began to sing less cheerily; once a full cascade, which, night by night, was used to lull him asleep, it became gradually attenuated into a silver thread. In a few days it is seen only to trickle drop by drop from the barren rock -- until, where pools of refreshing water were before, there is nothing now left but sand and stones. So long as the rivulet flowed, it was a pledge and guarantee of God's watchful providence and continued care. True to His word, the Lord had hitherto, in this "Valley of Baca," made for His servant "a well." But now, as each new morning recalls a diminished supply, until at last song of bird and song of stream are alike silenced, it seems as if the Divine promise had failed, and He who "sends the springs into the valleys which run among the hills," had "altered the word which had gone forth out of His mouth!"

        To one, indeed, like Elijah, with his naturally impetuous, and, it may be, impatient temperament, no trial could have more thoroughly tested the strength and reality of his faith than this. Though he could brace himself for great difficulties and dilemmas -- though he could face Ahab undaunted, and hurl his malediction in the face of angry courtiers and idolatrous priests -- he was not so well fitted to bear with serenity this slow wearing-out ordeal -- watching the brook -- the sign and token of Jehovah's faithfulness -- gradually decreasing and filtering away -- marking day by day the subsidence of the water in the little pools around, until his cherished shelter turned out no better than all other earthly refuges -- a refuge of lies.

        May we not imagine injured pride and unbelief doing their best to whisper in his ear, "Prophet of Fire! the pledge of the Divine presence has failed you; the altar-flame has forsaken your rocky shrine; you have lost your Protector now. Go, God-deserted one! -- take your staff and mantle -- find out for yourself some safe retreat from this burning drought -- the Lord has forgotten to be gracious, and in anger He has shut up His tender mercies!" But "he staggered not through unbelief." "The man of like passions" successfully combated his own weakest point -- his natural hastiness and irritability. During these last solitary musings at Cherith, he clings only the more ardently to his life-motto and watchword -- "Jehovah lives;" and waits in calmness and submission an answer to the silent prayer -- "What will You have me to do?" Nor does he wait in vain. The old well-known voice, in due season -- breaks upon his solitude with a new communication of grace and mercy.

        And has not this been often God's way and method of dealing? It was when the disciples were in their hour of extremity, during the storm on lake Gennesaret, giving themselves up to the hopelessness of despair, that, "in the fourth watch of the night," when darkness was deepest and danger greatest, the great Deliverer appeared on the crested wave -- "Jesus went unto them walking on the sea." It was when the bereft of Bethany had, as they imagined, consigned the fond treasure of their affections to everlasting silence; and as they were sitting in their pillaged home, wondering at the mysterious delay on the part of the one Being who could alone have arrested that winged arrow which had laid low the love of their hearts -- at that crisis-hour, the great Conqueror of death appears, to revive the smouldering ashes of their faith, and reanimate the joy and prop of their existence!
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« Reply #12 on: June 17, 2008, 07:23:19 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
4. CHERITH AND ZAREPHATH
By John MacDuff, 1877

        Yes, how often, in the experience of His people still, does God thus delay His succouring mercy to the very last, that they may see His hand, and His hand alone, in the gracious intervention or deliverance, and be brought to say, with grateful, adoring thankfulness -- "Unless the Lord had been my help; my soul had almost dwelt in silence." And even when He does not appear visibly to support -- when some fond brook of earthly comfort is left to dry in its channel -- or when deliverance from some threatened earthly trial or threatened evil is not given, it is in order that we may, the more significantly and submissively, listen to His own voice saying to us, as He did to Elijah -- "Arise."

        For, observe the difference between the failing of the world's consolations and refuges; and joys and those of the true Christian -- when the worldly man mourns his dried-up brooks, he has lost his all -- he has nowhere else to turn -- there is nothing left him but the tear of despair -- the broken heart -- the grave. But in the case of the Believer, when one comfort is withdrawn, his God has other spiritual comforts for him in store. Miserable indeed are those who have nothing but the poor earthly rill to look lo! For, sooner or later, this must be its history, (as multitudes, in their Cheriths of sorrow, can bear testimony,) "And it came to pass, after a while, that the brook dried up!"

        But even with the new provision God has made for His Prophet, there comes a fresh trial of faith. The new arrangement made for his safety and sustenance is the last which, in his meditative moments, Elijah would have imagined. He is commanded to go to Zarephath, a distant city in the territory of Phoenicia. Had he been told to take temporary refuge in some of the Trans-Jordanic kingdoms, amid the tribes of the Amorite mountains, or amid the plunderers of Arabia -- the roving hordes of the desert -- it would not have been so startling nor so strange to him. But in order to reach this distant Sarepta, he must, in the first instance, traverse nearly a hundred miles of the blighted famine-stricken land of Israel; subjecting himself to need and peril among a people to whom his name was hateful and terrible, as identified with their sufferings. And, it might seem more unaccountable still -- that the selected place of his refuge should be in the very kingdom which was responsible for the evils which had overtaken his unhappy country -- Phoenicia, the land of Baal -- the old home of Jezebel -- itself at that moment suffering under the judgment of God; for over it also the dark wings of the Angel of Famine were brooding, as well as over the adjoining territory of the Hebrews.

        The very directions regarding his sustenance might have been humiliating to a proud heart. There was something romantic and prophet-like about the appointments of Cherith -- the rocky chamber with its crystal brook and sable-plumaged attendants. Elijah was there a privileged individual of the nation, getting, as his forefathers in the Sinai wilderness of old, day by day the divinely-appointed manna and the running stream. He would perhaps have learned to love his brook as much as Jonah did his gourd and his refuge, and be "exceeding glad" for it. But now he has to go as a beggar, an exiled pilgrim, to seek his food and home at the hands of a Gentile stranger -- a heathen of a strange country, an impoverished widow.

        But there is no hesitancy on his part -- "The word of the Lord," (the living Jehovah,) had come unto him, saying -- "Arise! Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food." The voice is no sooner heard than obeyed. Casting his mantle around him, forth he goes on the long and perilous journey -- traveling probably by night to elude observation and avoid danger. Depressed, indeed, he could not fail at times to be, during that long and trying route, were it from nothing else than seeing the visible traces of God's judgment on every side, among the people to whom he was linked by imperishable ties. For himself, he knew that the Lord was his keeper. His long and faithful guardianship of him at Cherith, with all the encouraging memories of that secluded home, would brace his faith and inspire confidence for the future. He had there learned that all things are possible to him that believes. We may imagine the girded traveler -- lonely, yet confident -- "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" -- "cast down, but not destroyed" -- cheering his spirit as he pursues his way with the words of the great minstrel of his nation -- "O my God, my soul is cast down within me -- therefore will I remember you from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar."

        Let us, like Elijah, be prepared for the Divine will, whatever it be. It may be mysterious. The summons in our case, as in his, may be to get us from some cool shady retreat -- some brook of refreshing -- to a Zarephath (lit., "a place of crucibles" or "furnaces" for melting metal). But there is some wise and gracious necessity in all God's dealings. We shall come to understand and adore their yet undiscovered, undeveloped meaning. Let us, meanwhile, hear the voice addressed to us, which was addressed to a loving disciple of a future age -- "Did I not say unto you, if you would believe, you would see the glory of God?"

        There is surely no small comfort in the thought, suggested alike by Cherith and Zarephath, that the bounds of our habitation are divinely appointed. Our lots in life -- our occupations, our positions, our dwellings -- what the fatalist calls our destinies -- what heathen mythology attributed to the Fates -- all this is marked out by Him who "sees the end from the beginning." "The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." It is He who takes us to Cherith -- a place of solitude -- a distant dwelling -- it may be a distant land. It is He who takes us from solitude -- from grove and woodland and murmuring brook -- from the green fields of childhood and youth, and brings us to some busy Zarephath -- some thronged city with its "stunning tide of human care and crime." It is He who takes us to our sweet shelters of prosperity with their sparkling brooks of joy. It is He who, when He sees fit, hurries us into the "house of crucibles" -- "the melting furnaces." He gives the gourd -- He sends the worm. Oh, it is our comfort to know, in this mysterious, raveled, manifold life of ours, that the Great Craftsman has the threads of existence in His own hands -- weaving the complex pattern, evolving good out of evil and order out of confusion. He who sent Elijah alike to Cherith and Sarepta for his own good, as well as the good of others -- sent Onesimus, the runaway slave, to Rome -- and Lydia, the seller of purple, to Philippi -- and Zacchaeus, the tax-gatherer, to Jericho. But one and all of these, and other notable examples, were brought there for their souls' everlasting welfare; and the new song was put into their lips -- " Blessed be the Lord, for he has showed us his marvelous kindness in a strong city!" How many still can tell the same. Their choice of abode seemed to them something purely arbitrary and capricious. A mere trifle seemed, as they thought, to have determined or altered their whole future. But the finger of God had, unknown, been pointing. The inarticulate voice of God had been saying, as to Elijah, "Arise." "He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works unto the children of men."
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« Reply #13 on: June 17, 2008, 07:25:19 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
4. CHERITH AND ZAREPHATH
By John MacDuff, 1877

        At last the Prophet has crossed the border territory, descending the mountain slope towards the southern entrance of the town. Sarepta or Zarephath, the modern Surafend, occupied a long ridge, overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean on one side, while its view northwards was bounded by the snow-capped summit of Hermon. Its streets were hallowed by the footsteps of the prophet of Israel; and, in after times, by the Presence of a Greater than he. For the probability is that in this same city, the Syrophenician who pleaded so earnestly for her daughter, had her faith commended, and her child restored.

        Close by the city gate, Elijah beheld a woman, with sunken cheek and pallid eye, busied in gathering a few broken branches dried and withered by the long-continued drought. The wearied traveler approached her. He solicits what in the circumstances was no ordinary favor, "Fetch me," said he, "a little water in a vessel that I may drink." Probably no drop of the refreshing element has crossed his lips since he drained the last mouthful from the cleft at Cherith. From the peculiarity of his clothing, this Gentile stranger seems at once to recognize him as a prophet -- not of Baal, but of the God of Israel, and the adjoining kingdom. She speaks of Jehovah as his God -- probably cognizant, also, of the fact that it was the God of the Hebrews who had sent the famine.

        She at once assents to the request he had made. When on her way, however, for the draught of water, he recalls her by requesting a more startling kindness, that she bring along with it "a morsel of bread." The demand unlocks and unseals the hidden story of her woe. With the tear in her eye, she avows her inability. She is preparing for a sad and solemn future. That sunset in the western wave, is among the last her eye is to see! And had it been her own fate alone that was then engrossing her thoughts, these hot tears would not flow so fast. But there was another fond life in her home. One child had been left to cheer her widowhood. Why is he not here with her now, to help that last gathering for the evening meal? We can dimly surmise the reason. The parent had been able to buffet hitherto these long months of wasting famine; but the youthful sufferer, we may imagine, had sunk prostrate on the couch, from which, the heart that fondly doted upon him, feared he was never to rise. The few remaining crumbs in the empty barrel are barely sufficient to make one last meal. In the cruse of olive oil, there are but a few drops left to spread on the cakes. She is preparing to dole out the last pitiful morsel. Her emaciated hands are now engaged in gathering a little fuel to bake the scanty remains of her exhausted cupboard; then, casting herself by the side of her boy, she will calmly wait the slow lingering death.

        The Prophet turns to her, and says -- "Fear not; go and do as you have said." He tells her, however, to bake first a cake for him with the remains of the flour -- "Make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for you and your son -- for thus says the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth." With alacrity she obeys the voice of the Hebrew stranger. She hurries to her lowly abode, little dreaming of the blessing in store for her from that dust-covered prophet of Israel; and that she was yet to experience the truth of the gospel saying, "Whoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward."

        Let us now proceed to gather a few special lessons from this new chapter in the Prophet's history, both in connection with the conduct of the widow; and also in connection with the dealings of the widow's God.

        Mark, in the case of the widow, HER UNSELFISH KINDNESS. Place ourselves for a moment in her position. A starving, dying woman, reduced to earth's last morsel, with her own and only child sinking fast in her desolate cottage under the grip of biting famine. What rare unselfishness! when this stranger prophet (an alien in both nationality and in religion) comes and reveals himself a fellow-sufferer -- the tear of sympathy steals to her wan cheek and sunken eye. No miserable exclusive feelings of difference in creed and country are allowed to interfere with the outflowings of tender compassion. Great was the sacrifice, in that season of burning drought, to part with a cup of water; and far more to surrender some of the crumbs of that rapidly-exhausting barrel. But with a combination of faith and unselfishness which have few parallels in Scripture, she hastens, in obedience to Elijah's request, to relieve his distress, and permit him to share the last pittance of her cupboard.

        How lovely, in this selfish world, are such pictures of unselfish consideration for the needs, and sufferings and woes of others! How many there are who, if it be well with themselves, have no care for the necessities of their neighbors -- who, if their own families are prospering, and their own cup filling, and their own circle uninvaded by poverty and sickness, listen with apathetic ear to the appeal of the helpless -- turn with averted look from the pleading claim of 'tattered rags and bleak homes'! This woman's generosity was a freewill-offering, in the midst of her own intense sufferings; when pinching poverty was blanching her lips and ploughing deep furrows in her cheek. Alas! is it not to be feared -- is it not to be confessed with shame (I speak regarding cases of 'virtuous poverty', of well authenticated need and suffering) -- that a similar generosity and kindness is often withheld, even where the giving involves no sacrifice -- no diminishing of daily comforts? How frequent is the miserable spectacle, of men becoming more hardened and enclosed in selfishness with the very increase of their worldly substance -- God storing their granaries with plenty, speeding their wheels of industry, wafting their ships with propitious gales, while they only pile up more greedily the gilded heap. And even if, in some such cases, there be entertained an undefined purpose of 'posthumous liberality'; they miss the present blessedness of being almoners of the Divine bounty, and of lighting up the bosoms of the wretched and outcast with a sunshine of joy. Selfishness is the irreconcilable antagonist of Christianity. He cannot be a Christian who lives for self. "Whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his affections of compassion from him; how dwells the love of God in him?"
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« Reply #14 on: June 17, 2008, 07:27:00 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
4. CHERITH AND ZAREPHATH
By John MacDuff, 1877

        Let us learn, from the case of the widow of Zarephath, THE POWER OF FEEBLE INFLUENCES. She was a poor, lowly, depressed, hunger-stricken woman -- unknown, perhaps, beyond the doors of her neighbors in the Phoenician town. Yet see exemplified that great power in moral dynamics -- "the power of littles." It was but a little incident this, in a little-known life -- the giving a little morsel of bread -- and a small cup of water -- a single word, and no more, of strengthening and comfort. But how manifold and important the results of that one little act! To herself -- the prolongation of her own natural life, and that of her son -- the commencement, as we believe, in both, of a nobler spiritual existence -- God blessing her household, like that of Obed-edom of old. To the Prophet -- introducing him in that time of drought and famine to a congenial home -- perhaps his wavering faith revived and confirmed, not only by witnessing the unselfish love and kindness of this heathen woman -- but by hearing, in that heathen land, and from heathen lips, what he had not listened to for a whole year until now -- his own life-motto falling like heavenly music on his ear -- "The Lord your God, Jehovah, lives!" To the Church of God -- in having on record this beautiful example of simple faith and unselfish deed. How many, in the extremity of need, have learned a lesson of trust and hope from reading of the widow of Sarepta! How many a bereft child of poverty, in the depth of her agony, with a blank future before her and her little ones, has risen from this page blotted with her tears, thanking God, and taking courage! Wherever this Bible is read, or this gospel is preached, there what this woman has done, shall be told as a memorial of her.

        Never despise the power of feeble influences. Often when the giant's spear, the armor of brass, and the panoply of iron could do nothing, God has made use of the sling and brook-pebbles; the "broken pitchers," and "trumpets of rams' horns." It is worthy of note that this 'power of littles' is specially illustrated in Holy Writ, in connection with two widows -- the one in the Old Testament and the other in the New. The widow of Sarepta, giving the last handful of her drained barrel -- the widow at the temple-treasury, casting in her two mites. Never let any one say, 'I am of no use in the world -- I can do no good -- I can exercise no influence -- God has clipped my wings -- I am like a chained bird -- I would soar, but I cannot! -- this cage of poverty or of sickness keeps me shut up from the elements of activity and usefulness.'

        Imprisoned one, "if you cannot soar, you can sing." If yours is the cage and not the wide blue sky, you can warble your song of cheerfulness and submission to the will of God. Remember, the song of the caged and captive bird has put music and high resolves into the patriot's heart. No, no, the widow who, it may be in the midst of poverty and wretchedness, exercises faith in God -- the stricken sick one, laid for years on years on a couch of languishing, yet making that couch a radiating center of holy influences, can preach a silent sermon which will arrest and convince, when all the eloquence of press and pulpit may be but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.

        The domestic servant preserving intact her own honesty in the midst of purloining associates -- the schoolboy defending purity and virtue, and frowning on vice in the midst of his playmates -- the shopkeeper foregoing the tempting bribe or gain, in which sterling honor might be tainted or compromised -- the Sabbath-School teacher gathering the waifs of poverty, and vice, and neglect, week after week, under his kindly eye -- the district-visitor leaving the kindly word and kindly advice in the homes of the poor, or giving the kindly smile or kindly grasp when the timid word cannot come -- the lowly working man gathering his children on his knee, and imbuing their young hearts with the never-to-be-forgotten lessons of early piety -- these are but illustrations and exemplifications of those countless little efforts -- feeble influences -- which have made the world greater and wiser and happier.

        Mechanical science has to make the confession that she has lost the secret of those great powers which of old poised in mid-air the blocks of huge stone we still gaze upon with wonder in the pyramids of Cairo, and in the gigantic temples of Memphis and Thebes. But in moral dynamics the power of littles still remains. That lever is in every one's possession. If relics are disowned and repudiated in our Protestant Church, there are relics, better than material ones, to which we love to cling. That Barrel of meal and that Cruse of oil have been handed down for 3000 years as moral relics -- heirlooms to the Church -- lowly but significant trophies of faith, and love, and humble trust, which she delights to suspend on the walls of her temple! Go back in thought to that widow of Sarepta, and take courage from her example in doing little things for God and for His people. Hear her song of praise and thankfulness -- "Trust in the Lord and do good; so shall you dwell in the land, and verily you shall be fed. Commit your way unto the Lord. Trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass -- And he shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday."

        But to pass from the widow to the widow's God. The first and most prominent reflection suggested is, THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GRACE. This was the great lesson the Savior himself drew from the incident, on the occasion of His preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth. "In the days of Elijah," He says, "when the heavens were shut up, and when great famine was throughout all the land, there were many widows in Israel." God could have hidden His prophet in the home of one of these. It might have been the cupboard of a Hebrew widow He replenished -- her home He rescued from famine -- her heart He made to sing for joy -- the story of her faith and kindness He selected to go down in enduring memorial to the Church of the future. But He who acts how and when and as He pleases, directs His servant across the boundaries of the chosen kingdom, to the unlikeliest spot and home on the shores of the Great sea. He sends him amid one of the heathen races -- to Baal's land, and to an idolatrous worshiper of Baal's shrines. He takes the children's bread and casts it to Gentile dogs!
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