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children of God are obliged to become mute and monosyllabie on our entering their company, and immediately turn the discourse upon the weather, politics, or the news of the day? Is it not a Divine admonition to us, when we cannot help feeling that we are burdensome to them, that we interrupt them, and when it is gently hinted to us that we do not perhaps feel ourselves quite at home, that we are rather out of our element? Yes, to be thus sent away from christian society, and banished as it were from the sanctuary of God, is surely a foretaste of future judgments. And how many amongst you must daily swallow the bitter pill of being told, in one way or another, "Get thee up, eat and drink;" "we should be glad to be without you; we cannot go on comfortably while you are present."
"Get thee up," said Elijah; and added, "for there is sound of abundance of rain;" a sound of a rustling, as is usual before an approaching storm, in the tops of the trees, and upon the waters. Whether he heard it only in faith, with the ear of the spirit, or whether God rendered his bodily hearing so acute that he really heard it from afar in the elements, or in the higher regions of the air, we need not inquire. It is enough that he heard it, and it sounded to him like the tolling of the bell for prayer, even as a forerunning Amen, to the aspirations for which he was preparing himself; and it strengthened him in the hope, that his will, in desiring rain, was one with the will of God, who would now send rain.
My brethren, we sometimes hear such a sound also; and whenever we hear it, let it be to us what it was to Elijah-a summons to prayer. It ought to be so to us according to God's intention. When, at any time, the preaching of the truth is blessed to a church, and the word reaches the soul-when a movement appears in a congregation, and a general excitement prevailswhen tears of emotion flow, and people meet together and say, "What a powerful, impressive sermon!" there is then a rustling, and it is then time, ye children of God, to lift up your hands and pray, that after the sound, the rain may come. Again, when some judgment has occurred in the neighbourhood; when a barren fig-tree has been unexpectedly cut down before our eyes; when a scorner has been evidently smitten by Providence that the simple may beware; or whatever it be, when the whole neighbourhood is alarmed, and unbelievers themselves are obliged to confess that the hand of God is visible-then pray that it may not stop there. When you are informed that one individual is desiring the sincere milk of the gospel, and that another has risen up from the seat of the scornful, and shows an inclination
to come amongst the people of God; or, when you perceive that amongst the members of your household there is an inquiry after eternal things, and that your children begin to hear gladly of the Lord Jesus; then, then the sound reaches your ears; then it is time to lift up your heart in prayer. Yes; be watchful, ye children of God! never fall asleep on the walls of Zion, keep your ears attentive, and listen in every direction-in the church and in your houses, among your friends and relatives; and when you hear the rustling, even if but faintly and as at a distance, go immediately to your closet, fall down at God's footstool, stretch out your hands and cry, "O Lord, we will not let thee go, unless thou pour upon us the gracious rain of thine inheritance." And the same course should be pursued when there begins to be a rustling, not merely amongst others, but in your ownselves; when it thunders and lightens in your own darkness; when a word strikes you, and a ray of light comes into your souls; when the glory of Christ is more clearly manifested to your mind, and your soul enjoys a foretaste of his grace-then, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure. The rustling is not the rain itself; but it is the forerunner of the rain, and a Divine summons to prayer. O, regard it as such!
While Elijah was thus employed, Ahab, we are told, went up "to eat and to drink." Miserable man! after all the great and heart-affecting scenes of the day, he felt just as if he had witnessed an interesting, though somewhat tedious comedy, after which refreshment is welcome, and food is relished. Would that such characters were not too common even at present ! Many amongst us are not a whit better than Ahab.
But a fearful woe awaits those who suffer the most convincing testimonies, the loudest calls to repentance, and the most affecting works of God to pass before them, like a shadow or a dream. They please themselves with such things for a while, as with a "pleasant song," or a beautiful painting; but carry nothing away with them from our churches and meetings, except perhaps a feeling of the length of the service, or some topic for conversational display, together with a good appetite for the next carnal meal. Yes, this is all; though perhaps in the morning the Lord by his Spirit has answered as with fire before their eyes and ears. However, we will not detain them; let them " go, eat, and drink!"
II. When Ahab was gone, Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; in spirit, however, we find him descending into the valley of humiliation. On Carmel's summit, where all was calm and still, as in a solitary closet, no unbidden guests followed him;
there he could converse uninterruptedly with the Lord. On the top of Carmel, too, he could the sooner perceive if his prayer was heard, and he stood there, as on a lofty watch-tower, from whence he could widely survey both sea and land. However, he does not seem to have made much use of this commanding view; for, on reaching the summit, he kneels down, closes his eyes, bends his head forwards towards his knees, and in this posture he begins to address the Lord, and to pray for rain. Behold him! Would it be supposed that this is the man, who a short time before stood upon Carmel as a vicegerent of God, seemingly empowered with a command over the elements? Yet he now humbles himself in the dust, under the feeling of his own poverty and weakness. What does his whole demeanour express but abasement, and consciousness of his littleness and unworthiness! But it was the will of God that we should for once behold his great prophet in such a situation, and overhear him in his closet, in order to teach us where his strength really lay; to show us that it has been God's rule, from ancient times, to work with weak instruments, and to do wonders by bruised reeds, in order that we might see whence even an Elijah derived his greatness; and not be tempted to place the honour and glory upon the head of man, instead of laying it at the feet of him to whom it belongs; and that we might feel the force of that encouraging sentence of the apostle James, " Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are." When Elijah stood before the people, he was God's ambassador, and as such, had to speak and to act in virtue of his high commission; but when he stood before God, he was a poor sinner and a worm, who was only able to live by mercy, and had nothing to demand, but every thing to beg at a throne of grace. On the summit of Carmel the feeling of his unworthiness seems to have quite overwhelmed him. How could it be otherwise, when he looked back upon the events of that day, and upon the whole course of his life to that moment! What success had been granted him, in the fulfilment of his desires and prayers! What succour, what preservation, what answers had he experienced! And who was he? We hardly dare to say it; but he will have it confessed before God and men, how unworthy he is of the least of all these mercies; how much he regards himself as the chief of sinners. And, in this consciousness, he appears before the Lord, entreating again a new wonder, although the altar is still smoking from the fiery testimony, which the Lord, at his request, had so recently given.
When Elijah had wrestled awhile with God in the depth of self-abasement and poverty, of spirit, in a manner which perhaps
few of us know from experience-for all believers do not tread in a path of such a deep and thorough humiliation—he said unto his servant, "Go up now," that is, to the declivity of the mountain," and look towards the sea!" He placed him as it were on the watch-tower, to look out and inform him when his prayer was beginning to be answered by a sign of rain becoming visible in the distant horizon. For he was certain of a favourable answer, in faith on the word and truth of Him, who had said to him at Zarephath, "Go, show thyself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth!" The servant went, looked out in the distance, and cast his eyes about on all sides; but the sky was as clear as crystal-not a cloud to be seen. He came back, and said, "I see nothing." But it is a matter of daily experience, that help does not appear at the first cry, nor is the harvest reaped the moment after the sowing time of prayer. This is certainly not agreeable to flesh and blood; but, spiritually considered, it is very salutary. What would be the consequence, ir God's treasures were always opened to us at our first knocking? Should we not then seem to be rulers and commanders in the city of God, and forget our dependent condition? should we not be in danger of making an idol of our prayer, as the israelites made of the brazen serpent, and think it is our prayer that effects all; that in it we possess a secret charm, a divining rod, or a legal claim upon the bounty of God? We should soon become self-sufficient. Therefore our gracious God does not always appear to hearken to the first cry; but lets us generally stand awhile at the door, so that once and again we are obliged to say, "I see nothing." We ought then to reflect a little, and become deeply conscious that we have, in reality, nothing to claim, but that all is mere unmerited favour. If we make our first approach to his footstool in the character of just persons, he keeps us back until we feel that we are poor sinners, unworthy petitioners; and are ready to say, "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table." Such is his method.
"There is nothing," said the servant. But our praying Elijah does not despair. The reason why we generally so easily grow weary, and so soon cease from praying, is, because we are not sufficiently in earnest for the blessing we implore. This, however, was not the case with Elijah. He therefore bids the servant to "Go again seven times." But why precisely seven times? Does it only mean several times, or is there here any particular emphasis in the number of seven? And why was the servant to go thus again and again? What would it avail him to hear every time, "There is nothing?" Doubtless it stimulated
the prophet's ardour; it animated him to wrestle the more earnestly with God; it made him still less and less in his own eyes, and drew forth deeper and deeper sighs from his contrite soul. How would his fervour in prayer thus augment from one minute to another. To obtain a speedy hearing is much more agreeable to our natural feelings, but waiting long is far more beneficial for us. Those are the most blessed spots on the face of the earth where prayer is wont to be made with the greatest fervency and perseverance. During this process of persevering prayer, our corrupt nature receives the most deadly blows; then is the heart thoroughly broken up, and prepared for the good seed of the word; the remains of self-love are demolished; the chambers of imagery are cleansed; the foundation of truth in the soul is laid deep, and when at length the answer comes, how great is the joy!
III. The servant returns the seventh time, and says, hold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand." Elijah's prayer is answered! It is true, it is only a little cloud at first-hardly visible. But, when God gives the first-fruits, he always gives the harvest in due time. If thou hast received a little grace, rejoice! thou hast hereby a pledge that thou shalt receive more. If there be something of his Spirit in thee, know that abundance of grace is in reserve for thee. Forgiveness is a pledge of adoption, and renewal of spirit commenced will be carried on unto the day of Christ. Therefore let every sincere christian rejoice, who sees in himself or others a little cloud of Divine grace. Let him but continue instant in prayer, and the blessing shall increase abundantly.
And the prophet said unto his servant, "Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not." Thus was literally fulfilled what Elijah had said; "There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." Therefore the Lord did not let the full shower come all at once; but, first of all, a little cloud that was scarcely visible, that Elijah might have time to announce the approaching rain to the king, that the rain might come at the word of the prophet; and that it might be fully apparent that Jehovah, the God of Elijah, was the Governor of the world. The servant comes to the king, who perhaps was stationed in a pavilion upon the mountain, whilst the sky is still clear, and seems to promise
any thing but rain. Prepare thy chariot," was the message; get thee down, that the rain stop thee not!" "Rain!" would the astonished guests exclaim; "Rain!" would the people cry,