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to learn this, it is good for us sometimes to undergo privations.
Not that we mean to affirm this respecting Elijah at the brook Cherith. Far be it from us to think so ill of him. But the apostle James says, "Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are;" and to any one like ourselves, it is very possible for length of time to weaken the impression of what is really wonderful, strengthening to faith, and elevating to the affections; so that Elijah himself might possibly have begun to think, "Ah! this brook flows on only like other rivulets; that is, as long as its spring is supplied!" Thus it is that we children of men are too much disposed to consider things; thus are we apt to put the Divine long-suffering to the trial, and as we account it a small thing to weary men, we are fain to weary our God also. But among the many kind offices which our gracious God has taken upon himself, for his children's sake, there is that which he mentions in Isa. xlvi. 4, "Even to hoar hairs will I carry you." Indeed, how continually has he something to bear with in our conduct! And as he knows how easily a blessing perpetuated ceases to be a blessing, how wisely does he provide, in his faithful love, that there shall be no lack of changes in our earthly course! Hence he leads us through incessant alternations, as it were, of summer and winter, day and night, rain and sunshine, trouble and help, anguish and deliverance. It is thus that he preserves us in spiritual health, and prevents our wandering from himself. For thus we have always something to transact with him; there is constantly something to be asked of him, or something to thank him for; some deliverance from trouble, or some increased humiliation of spirit, some renewed watchfulness, or some more faithful waiting upon him, is always needed. Doubtless this was one reason why our gracious God led the prophet Elijah in such a circuitous way, and gave him to experience so many vicissitudes. How precariously changeful does his life appear! How interwoven with various necessities! yet, on this very account, it abounded in real and lasting blessings.
Our present text commences with the words, "And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up." From this it might be supposed that Elijah was only a short time in the wilderness; but this was not the case. In Genesis iv. 3, immediately after the mention of the birth of Cain and Abel, we read, "It came to pass, after a while, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord." Here the expression "after a while" cannot mean a short time, but must indicate a period of several years. And, in the history before us, the ex
pression "after a while," denotes at least a whole year; for so long does Elijah appear to have continued in the wilderness. For we learn from the mouth of the Lord Jesus, Luke iv. 25, as well as from the apostle James, ch. v. 17, that the drought prevailed during three years and six months. Now we find, from 1 Kings xviii. 1, that the time when the drought ceased was in the third year of the prophet's residence at Zarephath. Supposing him, therefore, to have been two years and six months at Zarephath, where could he have spent the remaining year, except at the brook Cherith?
That year had now passed over by the help of God, at one time in faith, at another in sight, certainly under many difficulties, but on the whole a thousand times better and more pleasantly than Elijah had probably expected at the commencement. How long he should still remain there he knew not; that he left to God. Perhaps it might be the whole time of the famine. "Well, be it so, if it be the Lord's will!" He had hitherto wanted for nothing. The ravens did their office; the brook continued to flow, and if it had flowed this year, why should it dry up the next? Such were probably the prophet's pious thoughts at the opening of a new year upon him in the wilderness. But ere long the flow of the brook begins to diminish, and Elijah perhaps can scarcely believe what his eyes behold. Did not God say, "Thou shalt drink of the brook;' and thus virtually promise that water should not fail him? We may well imagine him now observing the brook more accurately. Yesit is so the brook is diminishing daily, the bed of the rivulet begins to appear, and soon, where water flowed, all is become dry. "What meaneth this?" Even an Elijah might well cast in his mind what manner of providential dealing this should be. At last water was no longer to be found. Oh the depths of God! Oh what peculiar guidance! What a severe trial ! "What meaneth it ?-to be preserved so long, and now apparently forsaken? Such sure promises, yet such a result! Where is the Lord God of Israel? Am I no longer his prophet? Have I sinned against him, that I am now deserted? Does it repent him that he has employed me?" Thus might he have thought; and who can say what other imaginations corrupt nature might have suggested, and how the prophet himself might have begun inwardly to complain? Elijah was evidently in a great strait; for death by thirst seemed imminent; and what is more, the temptation to false notions and hard thoughts of God was near, to which had he yielded, his faith had then dried up, and his confidence had disappeared like the brook.
Yes, my dear brethren, it is one of the sorest trials that can possibly befall us, when, having been placed by the kind providence of God in the midst of peculiar comforts, and just beginning to enjoy them with lively gratitude and hope, we are suddenly torn from them, or bereft of all. Our harp is then turned into mourning, and our joy to heaviness. Let us suppose any one of you to be under severe domestic affliction or embarrassment, in debt, for instance, and threatened with an arrest in default of immediate payment. You wrestle with God in prayer that he would help you, and his providence sends you the very help you want.
Your heart is then melted with thankfulness, and you are disposed to say, "Truly the Lord liveth and seeth me; he heareth and answereth prayer!" But suppose that very night your house is broken into, your money stolen, and all your embarrassment returns. Again, suppose that, with much laborious industry, you have acquired the means of renting a small farm; you employ your whole little capital upon it; and you pray God that it would please him to bless your labour with increase, for the support of yourself and your family. And then you behold the seed sprung up, and your fields beautifully verdant. "Thanks be to God," you will say, "I now see his goodness to his creatures." But in a few more weeks, perhaps a dry summer, or a season of excessive rain, disappoints you of all. What is your language now, in cases of this sort? Do you not call these hard trials, and account them the more severe because they have come upon you in the ordinary way of Providence? Had they been more like Job's afflictions, something out of the common way, you are apt to imagine you could have borne them better; you would then have seen that they came from God, and you are perhaps vain enough to suppose you would have displayed extraordinary patience under them. For instance, had the money which you had so wonderfully received been melted in your coffer by a thunderbolt, then you would have said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away," Job i. 21. But now, as it has been carried off by thieves, you are apt to think these words of Job inapplicable to your own case; and, as you cannot think it is the Lord who has taken it away, you are presently open to another suggestion; "Perhaps it was not the Lord who gave it me, else why should he not have preserved it to me?" In instances like these, it is too easy to imagine that God has well nigh forgotten us, and that we have only been self-deceived in ascribing this and that benefit to his special kindness and love; that they must have been purely accidental, though at the time they appeared marvellous tokens of Divine favour.
In some such manner might Elijah's trial of faith have been aggravated, by the slow and natural exhaustion of the brook Cherith. Had its stream been discontinued supernaturally and at once, there had been no difficulty in seeing the Lord's hand in this event; but in the present case he might have been tempted by the imagination, that nature was very much left to herself. Indeed, the secondary cause why the brook dried up, is mentioned in the text; for we read, it "dried up because there had been no rain in the land:" and perhaps this is added by the inspired penman, to give us a clear idea of the trouble which befell Elijah. We can well suppose that it occasioned him no small trial and conflict, and put him upon a severe examination of himself. Corrupt nature might also be stirred within him, and suggest many gloomy and hard thoughts of God. But Elijah surmounted them all, kept his faith in exercise, and thus obtained the victory. The word of God was his trust; he had not forgotten who it was that said, " Hide thyself by the brook Cherith that is before Jordan, and thou shalt drink of the brook.” He was silent before God in humble faith; in faith he waited; and by faith he crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts. And ye, my christian friends, whom I may address as brethren of Elijah by the brook Cherith, and in the wilderness of this world, ye children of God, who are apt enough to sigh when your streams dry up, and when your resources seem exhausted
Oh, if ye did but patiently wait upon the Lord, how strong would ye become! If ye rested more entirely upon his word, ye would see the glory of God! Oh that, instead of indulging the feelings of distrust and discontent, we did but reflect upon God's exceeding great and precious promises in Christ Jesus! Ought the children of faithful Abraham to despond? Ought they who have surnamed themselves by the name of Israel to be fainthearted?
But the answer to such expostulations too frequently is, that "the heart knoweth its own bitterness," and every one is ready to say, "I am the man who hath seen affliction." Alas, we too impatiently want" that which is crooked" to be made "straight," and that which is rough to be made smooth. Yea, we are apt to think our sufferings are directly contrary to the promises of God. But no, dear brethren, this never is, and never can be, the fact. What happens to us may be contrary enough to our wishes, but can never be contrary to God's word. The truth is, that we have been indulging ideas of our own, concerning the manner in which the Lord is to fulfil his promises; and hence arises our mistake. His promises must ever surely come to pass;
they are all Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus, 2 Cor. i. 20: but as to the manner in which they are to come to pass, this we ought entirely to leave to his own wisdom and love; and in the mean time, to abide patiently in him who will do all things well. "He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things ?" Rom. viii. 32. "Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord and thy Redeemer," Isa. xli. 14.
The help you are thus taught to expect is such as will always be best for you. It shall be in things temporal, when that is good for you; and it certainly shall always be in things spiritual, which are far better. When, in a spiritual sense, our brook seems to dry, and we are ready to cry, "Where is the blessedness I knew?" when zeal in the cause of Christ abates, and our devotion dies; when we feel no sensible delight in prayer, and the spirit of praise and thanksgiving is gone; when we see nothing around to awaken and encourage us, and the love of many is waxed cold; these exigences are trying, severely trying. But remember Him who has said of his vineyard, "I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment; I will even keep it night and day," Isa. xxvii. 3. "No really good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly," Psa. lxxxiv. II. He will certainly keep his word. Therefore be of good courage. Spiritual drought and barrenness, if you feel it, shall be turned into a blessing. Believe, then, that he will keep his word,and as to how he shall keep it, let not the clay be at strife with the potter. Let him do with you as seemeth him good; the end of your song will always be, " O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of face," Dan. ix. 7.
II. Elijah's remaining where he was, for the Lord's sake, who had directed him thither, is a noble example to us. "He that believeth shall not make haste," Isa. xxviii. 16. Elijah waited, and help arrived. But in what manner? with water? with refreshment and consolation? No! but with a command, which though it might be acquiesced in by faith, could not possibly be agreeable to flesh and blood. "Árise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thec." Reason was now again constrained to quit the field. Elijah is ordered upon a long and toilsome journey, through a wild and barren country, in a time of general famine and extreme drought. And this into the land of Židon, beyond the borders of Israel, among a heathen people, enslaved to a vile idolatry, the native country of Jezebel,