James Smith, 1856
"Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" 2 Kings 2:14
Thus exclaimed Elisha, after the ascent of his master to Heaven, when he returned to the bank of the Jordan river. He desired to cross back over it, and folding the garment of Elijah together, he smote the waters, and put the veracity of his ascended master to the test. The waters parted, the promise was found good, and God was proved to be faithful.
Reflecting upon by-gone days, of which we have heard and read, and looking around upon the world, and especially upon the church--we feel prompted to exclaim, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?"
What Was the Character of Elijah's God?
He was a prayer-answering God. How wonderfully he answered the prayers of the prophet in the chamber of the widow of Zarephath! There on the bed lies the dead body of her son. Elijah cries earnestly to God for his restoration; he stretches himself upon the corpse; God listens to his cry--and the life of the child returns. The Most High God listened to the voice of a man!
Israel forsook God, Elijah was filled with holy jealousy, and he prayed that it might not rain, and it did not rain for the space of three years and six months. But when on the top of Carmel he pleaded with his God--the clouds gathered, and the Heavens gave rain, thus proving that the fervent effectual prayer of a righteous man avails much.
The God of Elijah was a wonder-working God. How wondrously did he feed his faithful servant by the wild ravens, sustain hin and the widow's household by a handful of meal and a drop of oil for many days, and as wondrously reserved to himself seven thousand faithful worshipers in the midst of the general apostasy.
The God of Elijah was a sin-hating, sin-avenging God. He visited the sins of his people with the rod, and the sins of his enemies with the sword. He spared neither the monarch nor the plebeian, the self-righteous nor the idolater. To Israel especially he said, "You only have I known of all the inhabitants of the earth--therefore I will punish you for your iniquities."
He was a holy, jealous God. As he was holy, he must necessarily hate and correct sin; as he loved his people, he was jealous of their love. When they withdrew their hearts from him and gave themselves up to idolatry--it provoked him, and he resented it at their hands.
Yet he was a tender, sympathizing God. He was soon touched with a sense of their miseries when he saw their sufferings or heard their cry. He pitied, he pardoned, and returned to them again. "His soul was grieved for the afflictions of Israel." They acted most basely, "nevertheless he regarded their afflictions when he heard their cry." Wonderful was the forbearance, pity, and compassion of their God!
The God of Elijah was a God who honored his devoted servants. True, he tried them, allowed them to manifest their weakness, and display their folly; so proving that it was not for their good works--but of his own abounding grace, that he distinguished them. He honored Elijah before Ahab, in the presence of Baal's priests, and before the proud and haughty Jezebel. He honored him in his life, and put a singular honor upon him when his work was done, by sending a fiery chariot to fetch him home to himself.
"This God is our God forever and ever." The God of Elijah is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God whose Word we believe, whose religion we profess, in whose cause we are embarked, and whose honor should be the great end of our lives.
"Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?"WHY do we make this inquiry?
Because so few prayers are answered. How many prayers are put up for the world, and for the church---for pastors and private members--for the masses and for individuals; but how few of these prayers are answered! Oh! how few visible answers to prayer we have! The church languishes. Our graces languish. We pray for a revival. We sigh for a change. We want to witness a great and glorious work. We want Pentecostal times; we pray for them--but they come not. "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?"--the God who answered prayer so speedily, so visibly, so wondrously, in his experience?
Alas! perhaps, we should ask, Where are the prayers of Elijah?--prayers full of faith, full of energy, crowned with fervor--prayers that would take no denial--but went right to the heart of God! Oh! to be enabled to offer up "the fervent, effectual prayer of the righteous man," which avails much!
Because so few wonders are wrought. We know that every conversion of a sinner to God is a wonder. It is the proof that God is with us, that his power is displayed among us, that he yet hovers in mercy over us. Every conversion is the evidence of a present God. But what wonders were wrought in early times! What wonders have been wrought in later periods! A few preached the Word--and great multitudes believed, and turned to the Lord. "Is the hand of the Lord shortened that he cannot save? Or is his ear heavy that he cannot hear?" How is it that we preach much--and there is so little effect; that we sow much--and reap but little?" "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?"
Because so little faith is exercised. We have the same promises our fathers had--the promise of the presence of Jesus, of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and that prayer shall be answered. But where is our confidence--our living, working, pleading, expecting confidence? Is not God faithful? Are not his promises true? Is not the gospel the same? How is it that we have so little faith? Ah! faith is the gift of God; do we realize this, and ask for it, and cry right heartily with the disciples, "Lord, increase our faith!" Faith, living faith in God, proves the presence of God, the putting forth of the power of God, and such faith prevails with God. It is the lack of such faith, in its fullness, energy, and results--which leads us to cry out, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" Oh! that the spirit of faith may be given us, and a strong, steady, all-conquering confidence in God be produced within us!
Because so little concern is felt. It is generally acknowledged that things are low with us; that little is done by us; that whether we look abroad over the mission field, or nearer at home into our own village vineyards, or at home on our lovely gardens--things are in anything but a satisfactory state. We are not making inroads on the territory of the prince of darkness; we are not cultivating the waste lands; we are not building "up the old wastes, the desolations of many generations;" we are not taking possession of the world for Christ. Many churches languish. Many pulpits need men full of faith, fervor, and the Holy Spirit. Our schools need teachers, and our village stations need right-hearted and right-headed preiichers. Who does not admit this? And yet who feels it so as to stir up himself "to take hold upon God?" Does it keep any of us awake at night? Do we rise up, as Jesus did, "a great while before day," specially to plead with God? Do we gather together, as Israel did, "to ask help of the Lord?"
Souls are going to Hell by millions! Thousands of professors are at ease in Zion. Many are pleased with themselves and their puny efforts. Few feel deeply; few are properly concerned for the present state of the world, the church, the ministry, and the fchool. "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" Oh! to feel the present state of things, so as to determine, in the Lord's strength, to carry out the Lord's own words, and "give him no rest, until his righteousness goes forth as brightness, and his salvation as a lamp that burns!"
Are we not very much like Israel, during the dreadful drought of "three years and six months"? We seem to be just kept alive by a little dew, or a trickling stream at the root. There is no coming down of the Holy Spirit in power, in demonstration, and with much assurance. "Where,"' oh where "is the Lord God of Elijah?"
We Will Glance at the Inquiry.Where is he? Has it not happened to us as he threatened Israel of old, "I will go and return to my place, until they acknowledge their iniquity; in their affliction they will seek me early." Is not the presence of the Lord, and the power of the Spirit, very much withdrawn from us? Surely no one will deny this. He has returned to his place. What brought him out of his place at the Pentecost? Was it not the intercession of our newly ascended High Priest before the throne, and the prayers that ascended for ten successive days from the one hundred and twenty disciples on earth? God could not rest in Heaven then. The kingdom of Heaven suffered violence then. Groans, sighs, cries, and tears were mingled then; and thus they were put into the censer of the High Priest before the golden altar.
Oh! for such prayers and such prayer-ineetiugs now! Oh! to see the Lord's people so stirred up, that there shall be no rest on earth nor rest in Heaven without a revival, a glorious revival, of pure and undefiled religion!
"Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" Hear his own testimony, "For this is what the high and lofty One says--he who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite."
Does not this testimony speak to us? Does it not say, "Ah, you are not humble enough! You do not lie low enough! There is not deep, daily contrition and sorrow for sin! You need stripping, emptying, humbling, and bringing low--before the Lord God of Elijah can work wonders among you! You would rob him of his glory. You would ascribe much of his work to yourselves. You would boast of the works, and neglect to give glory, all the glory--to his most holy and blessed name!"
Brethren, in all humility, with deep searching of heart, I ask: Have we not thought more highly of ourselves than we ought to think? Have we not been proud of our colleges, schools, talents, and varied means of usefulness--and trusted in these, rather than in the preserving power and operation of the Holy Spirit? May we not have provoked the Lord to jealousy? Are there not with us, even with us, sins against the Lord? Is it not possible that some image of jealousy is set up in our hearts, our homes, or our temples? May the Lord reveal it to us, and help us to say--
"The dearest idol I have known,
whatever that idol be,
Help me to tear it from your throne,
And worship only thee!"
Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah? In the devoted, active, zealous, unworldly, single-minded church! But where are such churches to be found today? Where? Alas! there is a great lack of devotion in our worship, and devotedness to God's cause and service in our members. The late attendance of many, the irregular attendance of others, and the lack of realizing God's presence in more, must be displeasing in the eyes of the Lord. We have a few active souls; but are the majority of our church a embers active? Blessed be God, we have some zeal; but is it zeal enlightened by knowledge?
Are we unworldly? Look at our dress, at our ornaments, at our attitudes, at our customs, and our habits. Have we obeyed the divine mandate, "Come out from among them, and be separate--and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you; and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." The spirit of the world influences the church; the pleasures of the world please our members; and the fashions of the world lead multitudes astray. Where is our practical testimony to the world--that its spirit, course, and end are evil?
Are we single-minded? Is it our one object, aim, and end--to pluck sinners from the fire, to build up ourselves on our most holy faith, and to bring back God into his own world? Is it? If we were thoroughly devoted to God, alive and active for God, zealous and earnest in the work of God, distinct and distinguishable from the world, and singly bent on one thing--even our high calling to "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things"--we would not long have to cry out, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?"
To What Should this Inquiry Lead Us?
It calls us to deep and serious self-examination. Every one of us should examine into the state of his heart, and into his own motives, which influence his religious actions.
It calls us to earnest, fervent prayer--personal prayer; private prayer; public, social, and united prayer. Nothing is so likely to bring back God to us--as heartfelt, confiding, and persevering prayer.
It calls us to doing our first works. The Lord is saying to us, as he did to the Ephesian church, "Remember, therefore, from whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works." How was it with us in the closet, in the family, in the world, and in the church at first? Let us reflect, remember, and seek grace to return to the days of our youth.
It calls us to deep humility and penitence before God. Surely we ought to lay low before God, and be sorry, very sorry, that we have "vexed and grieved his Holy Spirit," causing him to depart from us, or at least to withhold the special manifestations of his presence, power, and love.
It calls us to bury our idols, as Jacob did. When commanded to go up to Bethel, he collected all his household gods, and buried them under an oak. Oh! that we may receive grace to detect, to despise, to bring out, and to bury every idol, every image of jealousy, whether found in the heart, the house, or the church of God!
"You shall have no other gods before me," is an immutable law to which we profess to agree--but by which we are not always ruled. May we never be too evangelical to be moral, or pervert doctrine to the neglect of duty.
Finally, it calls upon us to attempt great things in God's name, as Elisha did. This was his first miracle. It was a great act he sought to perform. He had faith, and he prevailed. The Jordan obeyed him, when he acted in the name and appealed to the power of Elijah's God. May we look around us and see what needs to be done, and aiming simply at God's glory and the honor of Jesus, let us "attempt great things for God--and expect great things from God," exclaiming, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?"