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II.-ELIJAH AT THE BROOK CHERITH.
AT that awful moment, when Israel stood at the brink of the Red sea, perplexed which way to turn; while before them the deep waters roared, behind them the enraged egyptians were rushing upon them with chariots and horsemen, and on either side of them perpendicular rocks rising up like walls on high, making retreat impossible-the Lord came to Moses and said, "Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward," Exod. xiv. 15.
There seems something very surprising in this command. No vocal cry had proceeded from the prophet's lips; on the contrary, he seemed firm and resolute, endeavouring to comfort and animate Israel with all his might, and to set before them the promises with which God, who is "Yea and Amen," had so solemnly bound himself to them, to be their defence and their help. "Fear ye not," he cried through all their ranks; "stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you today; for the egyptians whom ye have seen to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace," Exod. xiv. 13, 14. And whilst he was thus crying through all their companies, apparently so firm, so courageous, and so joyful in his God, the word of the Lord came, saying, " Moses, wherefore criest thou unto me?"
Moses alone was capable of understanding this Divine address, and Moses understood it well. From his voice, indeed, there had been no cry to God; but so much the louder was the cry of his heart; and, though in appearance he was courageous, valiant, and intrepid, like a young hero, for the people's sake, that they might not despair-in the spirit of this man of God there was the very opposite; there was distress and disturbance, perplexity and fear. His faith struggled in arduous conflict with the billows which impetuously broke in upon him, threatening to overwhelm him; while the promises of his God-though it seemed as if he had them like a rock under his feet, and as a staff in his right hand-alas, they were to his spirit only as the
broken moonbeams on the surface of a stormy ocean. The Lord saw clearly what was passing in the soul of his prophet, and bofore Moses had time or opportunity to lament over it before him, or to hasten to him with the cry, "Lord, I believe! help thou my unbelief!" the Lord was already preparing to rebuke the storm in his heart; and he did rebuke it, by saying to him, "Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward!"
We have a God, my friends, who is perfectly acquainted with the most secret thoughts of our hearts, and whose eyes, like a flaming fire, dart through the chambers of our soul, and descend into the most secret recesses of our nature. Even before we have opened to him our distress, he is already making arrangements for our help, regarding our very uneasiness as a cry to him, and giving ear to our inward groanings. He always knows exactly, and much better than we do, what is good and necessary for his children; and, in truth, he never leads them otherwise than they would wish him to lead them, if they were able to see as clearly into their hearts and their necessities, as he does. But we very seldom know what is good for us; and therefore the ways by which God leads us are generally mysterious and obscure, just because the why and the wherefore are concealed But however severe, painful, and dark the Lord's guidance of us may occasionally appear, it is in reality nothing less than an answer, if not to our express petitions, yet to our wants, and to those necessities of ours with which we may be unacquainted. They are all ways of mercy, and their simple end is salvation and blessing.
"Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward!" Thus spake Jehovah unto Moses and what a commission was this! Lord, behold the sea with its billows at our feet! "Let them go forward!"
Lord, are we able to walk upon the waves, and to find a highway upon the mighty waters? "Let them go forward!" Lord, Lord! but where is the passage over the flood, or where are the vessels for our conveyance? Is it thy will that thy people perish in the sea, and that the egyptians triumph? “ Speak unto them, that they go forward!" saith the Almighty; but still he does not touch a single wave to quell it, nor does he dry up the sea, but lets its waves roar at their pleasure, and pointing to its troubled surface he commands, that "all the hosts of Israel go forward!" They must venture upon his word, they must believe before they see, and go forward in faith. They venture, and lo! the very moment they prepare to advance in the name
of their God, and to step upon the boisterous element-the waves, struck by the rod of Moses, part asunder, and become a wall on their right hand and on their left, a highway in the sea is opened before them, and the people pass over joyfully.
This is the way of our gracious God. We must venture upon his word; and verily, however much we seem to hazard in his name, nothing is really hazarded. And when he commands us to go forward, be it into fire, tempest, or the sea, let us advance boldly and be of good cheer: the result will be glorious. Truths like these, of the most consolatory kind, we shall see confirmed, as we now proceed with the history of our prophet.
1 KINGS XVII. 2-6
"And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook."
How refreshing a stream of instruction may this narrative prove to those, who have to tread in any similar path, or to bear any similar trials to those of Elijah! Draw near then, ye that dwell in a desert, and are solitary in the midst of this wilderness world. Bring vessels with you, and draw abundantly, and drink, and let your sorrows cease.
The subjects to which we would now direct your attention, are, I. Elijah's perplexity; II. God's command; III. The prophet's faith; IV. The triumph of his faith.
I. Elijah had prayed; in zeal for the honour of God he had prayed that it might not rain; and, being assured of an answer to his prayer, had gone to Samaria, to meet Ahab. There, in his presence, he declared with holy boldness—and no doubt the whole country was soon filled with the report of it" There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word," ver. 1.
The word was spoken in God's name, and the judgment denounced immediately followed: first, in appalling harbingers; then, in complete desolation. The sun glared upon the earth with its scorching beams, a memento of the eyes of the Lord, the righteous Judge, which are described as a flame of fire;' those rays which heretofore had diffused a smile over the whole face of nature were now changed into arrows of destruction and
death; while the sultry winds dried up with their burning gusts every rivulet from its bed, and every fountain from its source; the plants and trees dropped their leaves, and withered away; the lowing herds and bleating flocks explored every spot upon the parched fields; the wild beasts moaned in the forests; the dearth rose to its height, and it was not long before the famine became universal, and turned every habitation into a place of mourning and woe.
And where is Elijah? Where should he be? He is sharing in the common calamity. No angel has come to convey him away-no chariot of fire has taken him up. There he stands with the criminals on the place of execution, apparently himself a sacrifice to the wrath he had drawn down, and exposed, with the ungodly, to famine and death. There he stands, panting and groaning like the rest, exposed to the same dangers, and, over and above, execrated by a whole nation, and devoted to ruin by the infuriated populace. He seemed likely to suffer the fate of Samson, who pulled down upon himself the pillars of Dagon's temple-roof, and was buried in the common ruin of his enemies. Surely it was no small matter, in such circumstances, to keep faith alive. What a commotion must have arisen in his soul, at beholding the universal misery around him, and his own personal danger! How easily may we suppose natural pity at one time, and natural fear and despondency at another, suggesting to him, "Why didst thou pray for this?" It is not difficult to realize the perplexity in which the prophet must have felt himself. His joyful elevation of spirit must well nigh have subsided, and no support was left him but simple faith in the "Amen" of his God; the consciousness, that all had been done in God's name, and that now, the Lord would provide.
Similar experiences to that of which Elijah was probably the subject are not uncommon to the children of God. Something like this every christian occasionally undergoes, in one way or another. An individual is inwardly constrained to say or do some particular thing. The impulse is strong-the inward call seems not to be resisted. Stimulated by holy zeal, he cheerfully enters, in the name of God, upon a duty or a course of action, without any cold calculation of consequences-the measure is adopted, the word is uttered. Then all at once he is made aware of what he has risked; he finds himself cast into difficulties and dangers, which seem far to exceed the measure of his faith and ability; he has stepped with Peter upon the open sea; the wind becomes boisterous, and he is threatened with destruction. He would fain retrace his steps, but retreat is out of
Then that cheerful zeal which actuated us seems to have burnt down into the socket, and the soul desponds and cries, "Lord! save us, we perish !"
This was the case with some excellent men, who very lately, on account of their faith, were obliged to leave their native land. In opposition to the spirit of the great and mighty of this world, and of the ignorant multitude, they preached to their congregations the pure gospel-repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. In so doing they had exposed themselves to danger, which however was somewhat held back, by their prudently refraining from publicly attacking the national church, and the unchristian inroads which their superiors were making upon its ancient doctrine and discipline. But, all unexpectedly, their lips were opened by Another, so that they could not refrain from preaching what they had been reluctant to bring out, and would otherwise have shrunk from doing; and, carried away by a holy zeal, they declared the danger by which the national church was menaced. All mischiefs and abuses were then exposed without fear of consequences, so that the people's ears tingled. Uzziah was denounced, for his unpardonable presumption in seeking to associate the censer with the sword. They could no longer keep silence respecting the insidious design of reducing the religion of Christ ultimately to mere heathenism; they roundly declared nothing else was intended, than craftily to bear away the ark of the covenant, and to smuggle images of jealousy false doctrines and precepts into the sanctuary. They complained openly, that the churches had been robbed of that valuable treasure, the Heidelberg catechism; that books were imposed upon teachers and scholars, which were infected with the spirit of antichrist; that the last pillars of their ancient ecclesiastical constitution were being shaken, in order that the church of Christ might become a mere political institution; and many of the worthy preachers so lost sight of themselves, and gave themselves up so entirely to the impulse of the Spirit of God, that they openly avowed they could not conscientiously belong to such a church any longer.
The words were uttered, the match thrown into the mine; and who would fetch it back? The people were amazed and confounded; many hastened to their teachers as soon as the sermon was ended, and expressed their determination to separate from such a church; others wavered, and were much perplexed. The mass of the people vented abuse and curses, threatening to stone those intrepid witnesses; and the strong arm of civil power came upon them with ejectments, imprisonments, and exile.