(I Kings XVI. 29)
I have just read these closing verses in the sixteenth chapter, beloved friends, in order that we may have before us in some measure the times in which Elijah stood forth. My desire is, if the Lord will, in this, or a lecture or so, to look at what, in the most striking features, the man of God is. We find, in the times of Israel, that word "man of God" coming up repeatedly in connection with Elijah and Elisha. The title, while actually found, as the character itself is prominently brought out, in times of failure, is still really applicable to all the Lord's people, as what they are all, I may say, positionally, and as purchased by the blood of Christ. They are surely God's men ; but the "man of God" is the title here of one who is practically that,- one whose practical character answers to his position.
We have, in a very striking way, in the second epistle to Timothy, the man of God spoken of as the one for whom, in a sense, all Scripture was written, and whom alone it would profit as it ought; and so it becomes a very serious thing with us whether we haye that character. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Tim. ii. i6, 17.)
There you find that Scripture only has its proper effect on the man of God; and though, of course, no child of God is shut out, and it is written for all in this sense, that all may be and should be such, yet of necessity the profit of it is limited to those who have, in a measure at least, the character of the man of God,-God's man; of those who stand out for Him - those who are manifestly and practically His.
The character naturally becomes only the more distinct as the times are trying. Even in the apostle's time it could be said, "All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." (Phil. ii. 21) Just in proportion as that is so, of course it makes more striking the reality of one who is a man of God; it makes him shine out in the darkness; as it is said of John the Baptist, who in his day took up Elijah's mission: "He was a burning and a shining light,"- not merely a shining light, mark, as the dead and decaying wood may shine, but a burning light as well. And it is a great point to understand, that while, of course, the darkness is not of God,- surely it is not - yet, at the same time, it is used of God to make His light more apparent. We should accustom ourselves to think of it in that way; not excusing the evil, or thinking lightly of it, but as certainly not sinking down under it, or being controlled by it. For God's lights, as such, are made for the darkness, which does not hide or put them out, but manifests them. Such a light, in the very darkest days in Israel, was Elijah the Tishbite.
In the chapters before this, how little one seems to find one's way amid the discordant shapes of evil that fill the page, where the son is but spiritually the "brother of his father," as Ahab's name imports, and that which is born of the flesh is only flesh again. It is so beautiful that you get God at once brought into the scene when Elijah steps into it. Then, while there is still darkness all around, it is not unrelieved darkness any more. If you consider, you will see how largely God's people have lived in such times as these; how from the very beginning of all dispensations that which was intrusted to man's care he failed in, and the ruin of what was set up became a settled thing. If you take Israel, God says of their course in the wilderness, "Ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them; and I will carry you away beyond Babylon." (Acts vii. 43.) The failure in the wilderness is there connected with the Babylonish captivity, though a great number of years intervened. The whole thing failed there, and Babylon was the necessary result of the failure in the wilderness.
Take, again, the Church, before the apostles had passed off the scene. It was the mercy of God that they had not passed away before we get His judgment through them of the condition of things. One of them can tell us, "It is the last time; and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." (i Jno. ii. i8.) Another, "The mystery of iniquity doth already work" (2 Thess. ii. 7); and a certain hindrance has only to be removed for the man of sin to be fully manifested. Look into the writings of those called "fathers," but a generation or so after the apostles. There was a sudden dropping down into the very depths of darkness, we may say, at once. From that time to this, nearly eighteen hundred years, has been a time in which God's people have had to walk with God alone. It is what we ought always to do, of course, but still more does a time of general departure call on those who would be overcomers to walk alone with Him. If the stream be adverse, we need more spiritual energy, that is all.
If you compare the second epistle of Peter, the first chapter, with the first chapter of the first epistle, you will find such a difference. There is a call in the second for greater energy; because God does not leave us to the influences of every kind about us. He does not fail, if man does. Yet it is so astonishing that we should be ready almost to credit Him with failure, because we fail. And at a time of general failure, as if delivered up to it, we claim it as even a sort of humility, not only not to pretend to be Pauls, but even to take his path at all.
Yet such as he were men of like passions with ourselves; and we, as they, are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. The Spirit of God was no more in them than in us; because if the Spirit of God is in us, it has no measure from God. You find everybody almost imagining that there is a "measure of the Spirit," whereas there is not, in that sense, a measure of it at all. That word which the apostle gives in the epistle to the Ephesians, "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" (v. i8.), is to all Christians. If we were filled with the Spirit, should we be any thing less than men of God? Elijah had a special mission, of course, and so had Paul ; but still, as to spiritual character, should we be any other than even these? If the night is dark, will not even the faintest light be brighter?
The times in Israel were not times in which we should look for such a light as Elijah the Tishbite; it was, exactly, God's time. God delights in showing, in the very midst of it all, that He is quite as sufficient for the darkest times as for the brightest. Elijah's name shows where his strength was. "My mighty One is Jehovah" is its full significance. "Eli" means "my God," but yet also "my strength," or "my mighty One." It is the word used by the Lord upon the cross,-" Eli, Eli,"-" My God, My God;" but the very force of it there is, that He is appealing to One who has got abundant power (if it were only a question of power,) to bring Him out of all the difficulty in a moment; instead of which, the mighty One, His strength, forsakes Him. So here, it is "Jehovah is My mighty One," and it is the power pf God we see in Elijah,- a power as available for you and me as for him.
"Tishbite "is said by some to mean "the converter,"- the one in whom there was power to turn men from the way in which they were unto Himself, and who sought to bring a nation back to God. In his own lifetime there might seem to be little apparent success in that ; even so there is the lesson for us. For while God never allows His Word to fall fruitless to the ground, and we may surely trust Him for that, on this very account we may leave success to Him,- not indifferent, but still not daunted, if it do not much appear; and anxious, first of all, that the seed and sowing should be to His mind, rather than to see results which perhaps the day of manifestation will alone disclose.
That is what God would have before us: success is in His own hands, and God is content sometimes to work in a way to us inscrutable. Look at the Lord's life: how many apparently were converted - a few disciples gather in an upper room after His resurrection. There was quite a number at Pentecost, and a mightier work; but as you go on, you find no such large success, even in apostolic hands, as you would expect perhaps from the gospel. Very various indeed it is: in many places to which the apostle Paul went, instead of having, what people expect now from a few weeks' revival-meetings, converts by the score, very often but a few, so far as we can see. And only in a few places at first was there large response. In an exceptional one, you find the Lord saying, "I have much people in this city;" but in no wise was that the rule. And the Lord, in His own parable of the mustard-seed, indicates that the growth of the little gospel-seed into the "tree" was as little likely a result as it argued little for Christianity. Alas! the great spread of this took place in proportion to its adulteration; and as it became popular, so it became corrupt.
Why do I speak of this? Because if we make success our object, it will become a snare to us. We shall get our eyes upon the results, and by this, test our work untruly. For if that Were the test, what about His who said, "I have laboured in vain: I have spent My strength for naught!" "Yet surely," was His confidence, "My judgment is with the Lord, and My work with My God." God, on the other hand, would have us look, in the most careful way possible, at walk and work and life, and as to what comes of it,- the issue of it all,- leave that to be made manifest in the day fast approaching, which shall make every thing manifest. Are you content to leave it to that? Care for souls and love to them is of course another thing. God forbid that I should say one word which should make that a matter of little moment! but beware of what on every side people are doing; and beware of thinking that quantity, with God, will atone for quality.
Now with Elijah, while God honoured the man in the most remarkable way, as you know,- put Himself along with him, authenticated his word, and gave the fire from heaven which consumed the sacrifice,- yet there seemed no adequate result. Did the nation turn to God? "Hear me," Elijah prays,-"Hear me, 0 Lord! hear me! that this people may know that Thou art the Lord God, and that Thou hast turned their hearts back again." (i Kings xviii. 17.) In the very next chapter, he is fleeing from the face of Jezebel, because she had said, "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to-morrow about this time." (Chap. xix. 2.) There you find, perhaps, how the ill-success of his mission affected one like Elijah. When he looked at that, he was asking, "Would God I might die!" and sank down in discouragement. There he was, just the man that..was not going to die,- just the man who, as you know, was taken straight into heaven without seeing death at all, vanquished by the apparent want of success, after all this wonderful display of power. Is this not to us a most wholesome warning not to look at the success so much as at the being with God which will insure success? If we are to wait for the success - for the end - in order to see what the thing is we do, is it not manifest that we must do it in the dark in the meantime, as to whether it be of God or not? Yet only as knowing this can we do it in communion with Him. What comes of it is God's account, not ours. We need not be afraid that His purpose will not be fulfilled, or that which is of Him not prosper.
Now let us look at Elijah in the attitude expressed here in a few words. "Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word." (Chap. xvii.) He stood before the living God: God was for him that - the living God. That is the first thing. "As the Lord God of Israel liveth," he says. He can find no way of expressing assurance equal to that. It was the surest thing he knew, the most vividly realized, that the God of Israel lived. And that is just the thing that we want to realize on the way down here. The living God is what we want in the midst of scenes like this; in the midst of all so full of life and activity, the life around and about, brushing us on every side, how we do want to realize the living God I know, when you look at Elijah's life, you may say, "Certainly God did manifest Himself to Elijah in a marvelous, miraculous way, which we do not see at all.
To only some is it given to work in that way with God. We cannot see these things now." Yet God is the same living God; and we may be sure of this, that while it is true we do not realize what Elijah did, the failure is clearly our failure, and not God's. I do not mean to say there are what people call miracles in the self-same way now; that is not exactly what I am speaking of. We do not expect fire to fall from heaven, or any thing of that sort, very likely; but while all this is true, as we see how the draught of fishes could bring the living God home to a soul ready for the announcement, so we may see, and should be prepared to see, Him acting in every little event of our lives. We only need to look: just as with those people who are not prepared to find great things in the Word, so are never able to find great things in it. The open eye is faith. It is the new sense of the child of God, and more certain than any other. In proportion as this is in exercise will the Word be permeated by a living Presence. "Quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword," it will bring us under the eyes of "Him with whom we have to do." So with God's presence about us. The earth is still full of Him. What has drawn a vail over His presence? Really, it is unbelief,- that is all. Unbelief! I grant you that vail is perfectly impenetrable unless the Word has approved itself to us as His revelation in the way we have spoken of. But then creation becomes, from mere materialism, spiritualized and transfigured. Our own history becomes the story of an omnipotent love, under which "all things work together for good to them that love God." He counts the very hairs of our head, goes beyond all our thought and care for ourselves, and fills our loneliest moments with His presence.
It is only that which will make our lives at all what they ought to be; it is only that which will redeem them, so to speak, from the littleness and meanness and unimportance otherwise attaching to them. The meanest life in His presence ceases to be drudgery, and becomes ennobled; the noblest without it, what is it but utter vanity?
You must not imagine that Elijah's life was made up of miracles. How small a part of it these miracles were! And when he stands forth here to answer for the living God, we do not find that the faith he manifested had been nurtured upon miracles. It is not God's way. Those who believed in Christ's name when they saw the miracles He did were not those in whom He confided. It is when we have faith in His presence and nearness that He will respond to the faith we have. It would be merely tempting God to want Him to show Himself in this wonderful way just to prove He was with us. To question is to tempt Him. He is near us, and we ought to know it; and when we realize that, then we may see, perhaps, what to unaccustomed eyes may look not unlike miracle even in the present matter-of-fact day. But again, to Elijah, the living God was not merely his God: He was the God of Israel. That is a beautiful thing, quite characteristic of the man of God. Israel were God's people. He was not standing before Israel, re-member; he stood before the Lord God of Israel, not before Israel. But Israel was something to him, because his God was Israel's Gcd; and because the Lord God was the Lord God of Israel, therefore Israel was in his thought connected with the Lord God for whom he spoke.
Now, that is of immense moment to us, to whom God has revealed the mystery of His Church. We may easily have the Church before us, and be monopolized with the thought of the Church in such a way as really to take us out of the presence of God. What is the Church without the God of the Church? We may easily be making much of the Christian and leaving out the God of the Christian, and leaving out all that gives Christianity or Christians the least importance.
On the other hand, let us understand that to stand before the God of Israel implies this, that we are linked in heart with what is God's cause in the world. "Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it,"- not for a fraction of it, even the most intelligent,- aye, or the most devoted. Every one of the tribes had its name upon the high-priest's breast-plate; and even so all His saints are upon Christ's heart now. Can we be God's men and yet not in active earnest sympathy with that with which His heart so intimately concerns itself? Surely it is impossible. "I fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ," says the apostle," for His body's sake, which is the Church."
Thus, while God, who forgets not the smallest in His care for the greatest, nor one of His people in His concern for the rest, is to be for us personally and intimately ours, at the same time, He is to be the Lord God of Israel to us, and we are to stand before Him as such. Now, this standing before Him, what does it mean? It is not an expression of confidence - there is abundant confidence you see at once - or of rest, or of peace. Too often we make that the whole thing. He stands before the Lord God of Israel. This is the attitude of service. He is waiting, ready at His bidding. Not merely walking before Him; not running about, surely, with the restless hurry of many, too busy with His service to listen to His word. "Standing" is waiting to have His will expressed. We stand before the Lord God when we are waiting for Him to direct us, and do not move without His guidance. There may be much more standing than moving even, no doubt. If you take Elijah's life, how much more of standing, or waiting, or being alone with God, than there was of acting for Him; but the acting for Him, in consequence, came just at the right time. So should we be ready to serve, not merely occupied with the service, much less hurrying about, as if to be doing was the whole matter, but to be in His path, to be doing His will, conscious that all else is worse than idleness.
Now notice how God identifies Himself with the men who stand before Him in this way. "As the Lord God of Israel liveth before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word.' What a bold thing to say! Of course, Elijah did not mean to assert that because of his word the Lord would do these things. It was not that the Lord was going to accomplish Elijah's will, but that Elijah was accomplishing the Lord's. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets. . . . The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?" (Amos iii. 7, 8.) The prophet and the man of God are nearly identical. Would He keep back any thing from those who stood before Him, seeking to be servants of His will and toward the people of His choice? What a wonderful place that is to be in! For God to identify Himself so with one, not to be ashamed of him, as it is said in the eleventh of Hebrews of those old worthies; not ashamed to identify Himself with, and uphold before the face of the world, the word of a poor, untitled man, but to whom His word and will were all. Thus was it with Elijah, and so he became linked with the fulfillment of the purposes of One to whom the universe is but the scene of the display of a glory which transcends it still.
Now, that is the character of the man of God. Do we know what it is to have the living God before our eyes in this kind of way? Do we know what it is to be able to see, not only His actings in our lives, but what He is doing in the world, and toward His people, because we are with Him and therefore have His mind? Do we know what it is, as sons of God, to be His servants, working with the zeal and intelligence of those who both know the Father's will and know the Father?
Of course, we must be sons before we are servants; but, being sons, do not let us imagine that this is every thing! People put service in the wrong place often. They are serving before they are sons, or before they are conscious of being sons ; and slipping, therefore, into that hired service for which God has no place. On the other hand, it is surely the right thing when sonship ripens into service, and the full reality of sonship can hardly be enjoyed when this is not so.
Even so, rest from labour develops into rest in labour, or it is not the full rest Christ gives. Rest for the conscience is attained when we have known that the work of Christ is what God alone accepts, and has accepted, as justifying us before Him. Therefore He gives rest. "Come unto Me all ye that labour, and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. Xl. 28.) Does He stop there? Is that all? No; "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls." (v. 29.) That is the only way in which rest in the full sense is attainable. It is rest, not apprehended by the conscience merely, but laid hold of by the heart; rest from all restlessness, - perfect and complete repose.
But notice, it is His yoke and His burden. It is not a yoke of our own making or imposing. It is not setting ourselves to so much work for Him. It is another thing to take Christ's yoke and His burden, and learn of Him, the Doer of the Father's will, and whose meat and drink it was to do it. In Him, the true Son was the perfect servant. Have we apprehended that because we are sons, from the very nature of the child's relation to the father, we are necessarily and always servants? The child is never released from it, as a mere ordinary servant may be. His very relationship makes him a servant to his father. A servant of love, no doubt, and thus completely one.
Our service, from first to last, is .to have His Word to justify it. Our own wills religiously are no more really right than irreligiously. God has one path for us to walk in, one work at any moment for us to be about. While the Word guides, it must be a living guidance - guided by His eye.
The Lord grant it to us, for His name's sake.