Selfishness and Prayer. A Contrast.
"So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel, and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees." -- 1 KINGS xviii.42.


And yet, both men were perfectly consistent. It is in each case what you would expect, and yet how differently it might have been. What a different story it would have been if only Ahab had listened to the teaching of God! How often we see men having chances of turning round and beginning a new life; failing to do this, they seem to become the worse for the lesson of Providence and the advice of those who warn them! Has it ever been so with you? Can you remember a time when God stopped you, and made you think, thus giving you a chance of reformation? Wretched Ahab! he had just seen which is Master. How contemptible Baal seemed now! The heavenly fire, which leaped in answer to Elijah's prayer, disdained to notice the victims on the altar of the idol, while the blood of the false priests dyed the waters of the brook Kishon, a sacrifice to their own wickedness and deception. One would have thought Ahab's good sense would have prevailed, and that he would have said, "Elijah, I will go with thee, and on Carmel's top will unite with thee in prayer." Alas for the history that might have been!

But some of you will say, "Did not Elijah say to Ahab, 'Get thee up, eat and drink?'" Yes, he did. A few hours before, he had said, "If Baal, follow him." Does not God allow us to be tempted continually? Did He not, in His wisdom and goodness, place the tree which bare forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden? Does He not say, by natural appetites and propensities, enjoy yourself? There was nothing wrong in eating, but if Ahab had but


the rest of his life would have been different, he might have been converted then. How often it happens that we hear a powerful sermon, perhaps on the first Sunday night of a Mission, but we have something to attend to on Monday, something that might be left without injury, or it may be a party or a concert, and so we do not go to the meeting next night. If we had done so, our whole life might have been changed!

Eat and drink! One wonders it did not choke him, for were not his subjects starving? The famine was sore in the land; men and women pined, children died of hunger, cattle and sheep perished in the fields, but all this, what had it to do with the king? He was hungry, and would eat and would be jolly, never mind about the poor people! Remember, my hearers, you cannot turn your back on God and be the same man you have been. Each time you say "No," to God's grace, you become less fit for His kingdom. If men could but see their souls --


You would look as though you had seen a ghost! We have portraits of ourselves years ago, and we look at them and wonder at the change. Could you have a portrait of what you were, spiritually, ten years since, it would spoil your enjoyment. Beware, then, of eating and drinking when others are at prayer. It is better to be good than to be happy. Do right, though it may mean tears, for the smiles of selfishness are sores in the future.

Look at the other man now. He climbs the hill. There is nothing to be won from heaven by laziness. Climb to thy crown! Never mind the steepness and ruggedness of the way. God's kings toil and sweat before their coronation. How Elijah would laugh in his heart as he thought of the boon he was about to bring down on his country!


He had prayed that it might not rain, and for many months the heavens had been cloudless. Day by day the sun had scorched and burned on, as though there was to be no more verdure, the trees are but the skeletons of their former selves, and the ground is cracked, and gapes for drink. Ah! it is soon to alter! The God who has answered by fire is about to speak in the shower, and all nature is to put on a new suit of green at the bidding of prayer.

Why should not the church of God climb the hill to bring down on the earth a shower of blessing? God had said to Elijah, "I send rain upon the earth," and therefore the man of God said, "I will call upon the name of the Lord." Have we no promise? What do these words mean --


Find the reference to these words, and then look on them as a legacy. We may receive whenever we apply. Why, then, do we hang down our heads? Let us climb Carmel, shouting as we go, "Hallelujah! The Lord reigneth!" Baal has not succeeded to the throne! Christ is there! But see, the man of God casts himself down on the ground.


It is well when it is so. We always tremble when we see a church elated over its success. A year or two ago, we Methodists saw a great ingathering of souls, and because we had harvest we have let our plough rust. Is there any wonder that we fear a decrease? It is sure to follow elation, and then we shall be told, "There is always a reaction after so much excitement." That is a text from the devil's bible. On the same hill top where Elijah won the fight, he falls down, to pray, with his face between his knees, and so is most humbled when most triumphant.

And now his servant is sent to look for the sign of success. Mark you, he sends him to


"Toward the sea." Do not go towards the dry land if you want rain, or in other words, if you want success in soul-saving, look not for it from those who get up entertainments and seek to make money by gambling in bazaars. Do not expect conversions from mere eloquence or rhetoric. Large congregations do not always mean abiding success. Beautiful chapels are not always remarkable for attracting those who need a Saviour. Look at the place from whence Wesley, Whitfield, and the others who were to win souls derived their power.


If you wait upon the Lord you have a right to be of good courage. "They shall not be ashamed that wait for Me, saith the Lord." If our trust is in the Lord, we can afford to wait. The longer He keeps us waiting, the more He will give us. Never mind if the servant says, "There is nothing." It is not the Master's voice. Go again. Don't talk to me of nothing! Go again! Leave me to pray in peace till there is something to praise God for.


Only "a man's hand," sayest thou? but what Man? It is the same Hand that wrote on the wall the sentence of Belshazzar. It is the Hand of which David sang "Thou openest Thine Hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing." We who look for Jesus remember that when He left us He did not clench His fist at the world that had treated Him so ill. "He lifted up his hands and blessed them." He has not closed them yet, but sends blessings on even the rebellious. Faith sees in the open hand of Jesus the promise of great gifts for those who wait upon Him. We read, directly, "the heaven was black, and there was a great rain."

If we pass over a few years we see the end of these men, the end so far as this world is concerned. They both ride in chariots. He who rose up to eat and drink, rides disguised, but is not able to deceive the winged messengers of death. The murderer is found out, and dies in his chariot.


So perish those who prefer to eat when others starve, though they might unite with those who bring blessings on the perishing!

A year afterwards, the man who prayed walks along the road; there is one by his side who watches him with eager glance, and now comes the chariot of heaven.


the man who climbed the hill to pray, and soon he is parted from his young friend; but see! his mantle falls. Which of us will pick it up and wear it? Elijah's garment will fit any of us, and will always be new if we pray. It grows threadbare and shabby when worn by those who prefer the table to the altar, and love the pleasures of the world better than the companionship of angels.

My brothers, shall we not become mighty in prayer? This is a talent all have received, put it out to interest at once. Lose no time in its use. Satan will gladly lend you a napkin, but then he will have your soul as the pledge. To cease to pray is to drift towards hell. Is there not a needs be for crying mightily to God? Can we look around our congregations and not feel that it is high time we went up the hill to cry to God for the rain that means revival? Let us each ask the question, Am I most like the man who lived to gratify his desires, or the man who lived to pray for others?


If the angels see us on our face, crying for rain, they will know that some day they will have to meet us and take us home in the chariot of fire. If they see that we are those who eat and drink when they should pray, they will know that our possessions, like Ahab's chariot, will become a hearse, and that we are riding to hell in that which we have chosen for comfort.

xxxv the way to preach
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