Now summon all Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel, along with the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel's table."
I. WHY HESITATE IN SEEKING HAPPINESS?
1. No joys can compare with the heavenly.
(1) There are, indeed, sad professors of the true religion.
(a) Some are constitutionally melancholy. This is a disease which certainly is not aggravated by the sense of the favour of God.
(b) Some have false views of religion. They caricature it into a sepulchral thing. They do it injustice.
(c) But the case most common is that sad professors do not experience what they profess. They halt between Jehovah and Baal - between Christ and Belial. In fashion. In friendships. In pursuits. So conscience stings them sore.
(2) When religion is true there is the best reason for joy.
(a) It brings emancipation from the slavery of sin.
(b) Deliverance from the tyranny of Satan.
(c) Adoption into the family of God.
(d) Heirship to everlasting life.
2. If sinners be not sad, the more shame.
(1) For sin degrades the man below the brute. As far below as the powers of a man are superior. The degradation of a devil would be impossible to a brute. If a man can be transformed into a compound of swine and devil and not be sad, this is the climax of depravity.
(2) Sin is perfidy to infinite love. Such ingratitude can only be reconciled with the absence of sadness upon the ground of the most shameful perversity.
(3) The sinner is befooled by Satan. In his reflective moods he must loathe himself; but Satan whirls him away from his reflections into some mad dance, and drowns the voice of his conscience in some boisterous laugh. So the fool still befooled exults in his folly. O shame!
II. WHY HESITATE IN SEEKING SALVATION?
1. Life is the determining period.
(1) It is the seed-time for the reaping in eternity. The yield then will be according to the sowing now. In quality: "After its kind." Also in quantity.
(2) Therefore the young have a splendid opportunity. They have time in their favour. "How long shall ye?"
2. Procrastination is precarious work.
(1) "How long (פסח) hop ye?" - this word denotes the passing over from one place to another - "between two opinions." It is used scornfully of the awkward leaping of the priests of Baal, in ver. 26. As the squirrel hopping from branch to branch may miss its footing and fall, so may the halting sinner hop into ruin.
(2) Consider the uncertainty of life. Read the gravestones. How enormous is the mortality amongst the young! Unroof heil!
(3) Consider the solemnities of eternity. The freshness and vividness of memory in the disembodied state. What a preparation for the day of judgment!
III. FOR INDECISION THERE IS NO DEFENCE. "The people answered him not a word." But there are motives to evil when there are no good reasons. Such are -
1. Conjugal influence.
(1) Ahab's heart was estranged from God by the influence of Jezebel His predecessors suffered from the same cause. Notably so Solomon.
(2) Beware of contracting ungodly matrimonial alliances. Remember the famine in Samaria. The same God still "ruleth in the kingdom of men."
2. The smile of favouor.
(1) Idolatry was favoured at court. The priests of Ashere feasted "at Jezebel's table." Mean-spirited Israelites sought court favour at the expense of the favour of God.
(3) True worshippers were persecuted. Elijah had to hide himself at Cherith and Zarephath. The sons of the prophets had to hide in the eaves of Obadiah. To keep a whole skin many hesitated. Will you encounter the frown of God to escape the sneer of an old companion?
3. The force of example.
(1) Elijah stood alone as the prophet of the Lord. He had with him a handful of laymen. Obadiah was conspicuous amongst them. If the prophets fed by Obadiah had issued from their caves, they did not stand forth on Carmel in their official character.
(2) The pronounced idolaters were a larger company. There were the prophets of Baal four hundred, and the prophets of Ashere four hundred and fifty, with a proportionate following.
(3) Still "the people" were vacillators. These were the majority. The power and influence of numbers were with the moderate people who would fain keep good terms with God and the devil. The halters are still the majority. How few amongst the multitude of the wicked have resolved in heart and soul that they will go to the devil! It is time you made up your mind one way or the other. How long halt ye? - J.A.M.
1. We are reminded of the great disparity between these opposing forces. Now, as then, Truth is in the minority. It was one man against four hundred and fifty. But so it is always. The world has never seen a popular majority for the truth. Only eight souls were saved in the ark; Abraham was alone in his faith; Israel was but a handful; and the "peculiar peoples" in every age have been "a remnant." Even the Son of God did not restore the equilibrium. The Reformation effected but a partial equalisation. The present age of missions, with all its conquests, finds the Church outnumbered in every region by its foes. Not only so, but in respect to earthly rank, power, prestige, the advantage has always been on the side of error. If at intervals the tide seems to turn, as when David, Solomon, Constantine give to religious truth political pre-eminence, such episodes are transient, and soon the old disproportion returns.
Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto Mount Carmel.
Monday Club Sermons.Mendelssohn has wrought the harmonies and discords of this scene into a grand oratorio, and the painter or poet can find in it abundant material for his art. The actors are a king and royal court, hundreds of priests in splendid vesture, masses of people, anxious and hungry-eyed; and over against them a single man, big, fearless, with hairy mantle and leathern girdle, and loose locks waving like a mane about his stern face. Our lesson to-day stops short with the failure of the priests. We may call it the helplessness of heathenism. Who was Baal? Whence did he come? Where did he get his power? How did he rule? There was no such being. He never lived, never blessed a servant, or crushed a foe. When the priests cried, there was no answer, because there was no one to hear. Yet the name had a fiendish personality in the history of Israel, as a most alluring and ruinous force. An actual Baal never lived, possibly the ideal Baal has never died.
I. THE HEATHENISM OF TO-DAY. We still find idolatrous nations, with the same licentiousness, cruelty, and error. One African tribe has six words for murder, not one for love. The missionary who goes among them is an Elijah pleading for Jehovah against Baal. May the prophet's mantle fall upon such, and may the Lord be with them as he was with Elijah. One definition of a heathen is "an irreligious, unthinking person"; a pagan, "one who is neither a Christian, a Mohammedan, nor a Jew." A cleaner and brighter heathenism appears in the high-bred infidelity, of which we hear more than its worth demands. This is not ignorant and boorish, but elegant and learned. It affects to look down on the simplicity of believers, as the gorgeously robed priests may have sneered at Elijah's rough mantle. It uses the terms of science and philosophy. Its worship is mostly of the silent sort before an unknown God. Investigating the development of religious belief, it finds everywhere the longing, but nowhere the Creator who inspires it; everywhere the child's heart, nowhere the infinite Father. Speaking for art, it forgets that faith has inspired its masterpieces, and would put its visions above Him who made the splendours of earth, sea, and sky, human face divine, teeming brain, and skilful hand. Be not deceived by them. The greater number of sound thinkers and investigators are to-day, as in the past, believers. It is easy to see the paganism in such cases; not so easy where it touches us more closely in the heathenism of worldliness. Baal-worship was popular because it was gay, festal, splendid, while the Mosaic ritual was calm, earnest, self-controlled, chaste. Under the first, men could do what they liked best, and yet pass for religious. It dignified self-indulgence, and deified strength and lust. Love of God is the source and crown of all delights; but, to a multitude of meaner impulses in us, the world appeals with more flattery and promise than heaven. Let us hold fast to the Bible, in which speaks the only living and true God. If we turn from Jehovah, the deity we make ourselves will prove a Baal. Earth-born religions are dishonourable to the conscience, false to the intellect, and cruel to the heart. And if we acknowledge Jehovah to be God, let us follow Him.
II. THE TESTING OF HEATHENISM. Anything which claims our service and our love should be able to support us in emergencies. Infidelity and worldliness may do very well in good times, when bright suns and genial rains mingle to bless our lot; so did Baal. And so all blasphemy, and polite infidelity, and every. thing that is not of God, when it has had its fling, and tried its power, drops back, helpless to save its followers. The testing is not often so dramatic as upon Carmel, but is continually repeated.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
I. WE NOTICE THE PROPOSAL OF ELIJAH TO THE MULTITUDE. He speaks to them, not to the royal court. Religion is not an affair concerning the great and titled of the earth only. It respects every man. It is for the multitude as well as for the rich and great.
II. NOTICE THE PROPOSAL OF ELIJAH ACCEPTED. All the people said, "The word is good." It was an advantageous one to the prophets of Baal. They had the prepossessions of the people and of the royal court in their favour: .It. is easy to take up religion when it is in prosperity: but to take it up when it is m a drooping, dying state, is the work that demands principle, sterling principle. To be zealous, when the very stones of the altar are to be replaced — when the alternative is ruin or revival — extirpation or reform — then to be zealous — then to be a reformer — to seek to restore truth and religion to their pristine dignity, that is a work honourable indeed, and arduous as it is honourable.
III. THE FAILURE OF THE PROPHETS AND THE IRONY OF ELIJAH.
IV. THE APPEAL OF ELIJAH TO HEAVEN.
V. THE PRAYER OF ELIJAH ANSWERED.
VI. THE CONVICTION OF THE MULTITUDE.
VII. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE PRIESTS. These prophets had been the cause of the grievous famine, of the death of cattle and human beings not a few. They had also sacrificed thousands of dear children to Baal. The rites of Baal were frequently celebrated with human victims. They had also brought Jezebel to think it a meritorious act to slay the prophets of the Lord. Also, according to the laws of Moses, idolatry was considered treason against God, as the national king, and death was denounced as the punishment of that sin. These men suffered nothing but the due reward of their deeds. Those who live by imposing on the weaknesses and superstitious feelings of others shall sooner or later meet with a suitable retribution. They that dig pits for others frequently fall into them themselves. Their own lies frequently slay the authors of them. Men first utter lies, then believe them, then perish by them. And they perish without pity. They perish amidst the execrations of those whom they have deceived.
(J. H. Cadoux.)
Truth for ever on the scaffold,
Wrong for ever on the throne,
abides as the rule obtaining in every age for the fortunes of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
2. This disparity was intensified and emphasised by divine direction. Elijah was commanded to give to his opponents precedence at every point. The criterion which he must submit for the testing of the rival religions was "the god that answereth by fire." That was a concession to the claims of Baal, who was called the "sun-god," with whom fire was a native element. On the other hand, Elijah's task was rendered as difficult as possible. He must stand by and see his rivals consume the entire day. This magnifying of evil and minimising of the resources of good has marked the Divine policy from the first. God has seemed to give to sin every advantage that it could ask for, and to keep his own cause at a corresponding inferiority. What a surprising difference, according to earthly standards, between Jesus and His enemies! Not only was He alone, unfavoured and unhelped, but they were supported by all the power of the Jewish Church, the Gentile government, and even the infernal world. Sin was allowed to parade and employ its uttermost resources, while holiness seemed to be proportionately depressed in the person of Him who was born in a manger and reared at Nazareth, who became the Friend of publicans and sinners, was betrayed by His own followers, and condemned to the accursed death. Similar fortunes have attended the people of God to this day. Not only have they been left to engage in a one-sided conflict where the numerical odds were always against them, but peculiar aggravations of this disparity have been common. The Church is still burdened with such unnecessary drawbacks. How often are we tempted to take literally the words which speak of the "foolishness of preaching," and to wonder why God hath chosen such needlessly foolish, weak, and base things of this world to serve Him!
3. This disparity between the two contestants was emphasised by Jehovah for the purpose of suitably displaying His own superiority to both of them. He gave to Baal every advantage and reduced His own resources to a minimum, in order to show that Truth at its lowest is stronger than Error at its highest. The result justified this plan; for the people were all the more impressed by the final victory of Elijah, because of the tremendous inequality of the conflict at the beginning. This gives us a clue to that policy of the Divine government which has been referred to. God has allowed sin to prosper in this world, and has permitted His own religion to take an inferior place, for the purpose of thus furnishing an arena for the exhibition of the Divine self-assertion. We understand, then, why Christianity has never been allowed to compete on equal terms with the dominant faiths of the world. God does not intend that His religion shall obscure Himself. He knows how readily the eye of man is caught and held by visible forms, and that spiritual truth is always endangered by material associations. Accordingly the earthly medium through which His grace shines must be as thin and plain as safety will permit. This was the reason why Jesus the Christ asked and received so little from the world. He owed nothing to its favour or its help. But as we now see, all that humiliation was the most effective background that could have been provided for the display of the spiritual kingdom of God.
4. The triumphs of grace thus obtained are also magnified by the Divine concessions to the enemy. It was yielding much to Baal when the ordeal of fire was proposed, for that meant to meet the sun-god on his own field and with his own weapons. Other tests might have been chosen which would have been more favourable to Elijah. But no; he must go into the enemy's territory and challenge him in his very citadel. Do the Egyptians worship the river Nile? Lo, the rod of Moses turns those sacred waters into blood. Are they the most cleanly of peoples, making a religion of physical purity? They are stricken with vermin by the word of the Lord. Do they idolise the goat, the ram, and the bull? The cattle of their fields must perish before the Divine scourge. Thus Pharaoh is taught that even within the range of his own religion the God of the Hebrews can find means to overthrow him. Similar transformations mark all the great conquests of Christianity. He meets scientific scepticism with the scientific faith of Miller, Hitchcock, and Drummond. He compels the art of sensuous Italy to minister to biblical truth in the Madonnas and Nativities. He transforms the pagan temple into the Christian church, and puts the Gothic spire to spiritual uses. This process of overruling and utilising grace is spreading through all the ranges of human enterprise.
5. These exhibitions of Divine self-assertion furnish a severe but useful test of human character. The priests of Baal were not the only ones whose faith and patience were taxed on Mount Carmel. It must have cost Elijah not a little to find himself placed for an entire day at so great a disadvantage. Nothing less than intense consecration and courage could have endured such a trial. This experience also was typical. It represents the lot of God's people in all ages. The very greatness of the Divine interpositions in their behalf has imposed on them burdens of self-denial and self-effacement.
6. The trials of God's people are sure to result in their triumph as well as His glory.
(C. J. Baldwin.)
I. When he met his opponents on Mount Carmel, ELIJAH HAD VERY CLEAR CONVICTIONS. In some way he had gained a strong hold upon God. He was personally conscious of God. Unlike many a speculative philosopher who has framed an elaborate argument to prove that God is, Elijah seems to have advanced with a single step to a firm belief in God. His name was an announcement of his belief: "My God is Jehovah!" A conviction like this is an argument in itself. Men are willing to listen to a man who believes what he says. This was an important element of the success of Moses, who was compelled to go into the presence of Pharaoh and there to demand the liberation of a large number of valuable slaves. Daniel had the same advantage when he was called upon to face the idolatry of Babylon: it was widely known that Daniel feared God. The ministry of Paul was always conditioned by this strong faith. He was more than a match for his antagonists because he knew whom he had believed. , the youthful archdeacon of Alexandria, became the successful advocate of Christian truth at the Council of Nicaea in view of his recognition of the divinity of our blessed Lord. Luther at the Diet of Worms rallied the unorganised resistance of Germany to the papal authority when he exhibited his confidence in the evangelical doctrines. These men, and others like them, were "strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." They felt the rock upon which they stood. They had clarified their thought, so that they could utter it forcibly. If we can gain this consciousness we shall be prepared for the great debate.
II. When he challenged the Baal-worshippers to the proof by fire, ELIJAH UNDERTOOK TO PRESS THEIR OPINIONS TO A PRACTICAL EXPRESSION. The challenge was perfectly fair. They had accepted Baal and Ashtaroth as the representative of the life-principle in nature. They were asked to exhibit the results of their faith in these divinities. Any opinion which lays claim to the faith of man must bear the strain of his ordinary burdens. What is your religion good for? what is the quality of its manhood? What sort of a God does it present? what is its immortality? — these are questions which must be met. There is no escape from them. Now, we may inquire, What will be the natural results of the general prevalence of the opinions which antagonise the Gospel?
III. When he had repaired the altar of the Lord and placed upon it a sacrifice, ELIJAH MADE AN APPEAL WHICH MET THE TERMS OF THE DIVINE COMMAND. There was an old altar on Mount Carmel — perhaps a relic of patriarchal times, but certainly a witness to the-reality of a pure worship. As the day was closing Elijah called the people to this altar and began to repair it. You may safely press Christian truth to its proper issues. We should have a very happy world, indeed, if all Christians would show their faith by their works. Christ-like lives, what would they be! — how sober! how industrious! how pure! how sweet! how attractive! Multiply these Christ-like lives, and how beautiful the social life of the world would appear. It is essential, therefore, that the Christian in the great debate should state clearly "the truth as it is in Jesus."
IV. When he had received the fire of the Lord, which consumed his sacrifice, ELIJAH DREW FROM THE PEOPLE THE CONFESSION, "Jehovah is God, Jehovah is God." The occasion was pentecostal. Conviction was instantaneous. Out from the clear, dry atmosphere flames of fire leaped as Elijah was praying; they seized upon the sacrifice and consumed it with the wood upon which it rested; they licked up the water in the trench and left the altar bare. A transformation occurred. An explanation must be given. What could be said except to confess the supremacy of Jehovah? Prof. Christlieb of Bonn has remarked that the regeneration of the human soul is the standing miracle of Christianity. This regeneration converts corrupt natures into natures which are holy. It is associated with Christian truth, and with belief in that truth.
(H. M. Booth, D. D.)
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