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of the event, he durst not have put religion upon
such hazard; that God commanded him this trial, who meant confusion to the authors of idolatry, victory to the truth. His terror shall be approved both by fire and by water; first by fire, then by water; there was no less terror in the fire, than mercy in the rain : it was fit they should first be humbled by his terrors, that they might be made capable of his mercy ; and, by both, might be won to repentance. Thus still the fears of the law make way for the influences of grace; neither do those sweet and heavenly dews descend upon the soul, till way be made for them by the terrible flashes of the law.
Justly doth Elijah urge this trial. God's sacrifices were used to none but heavenly fires; whereas the base and earthly religion of the heathen contented itself with gross and natural flames.
The prophets of Baal durst not, though with faint and guilty hearts, but embrace the condition; they dress their bullock, and lay it ready upon the wood, and send out their cries to Baal from morning until mid-day; “ O Baal, hear us.' What a yelling was here of four hundred and fifty throats tearing the skies for an answer! what leaping was here upon the altar, as if they would have climbed up to fetch that fire which would not come down alone! Mount Carmel might give an echo to their voice, heaven gave none; in vain do they roar out, and weary themseves in imploring a dumb and deaf deity. Grave and austere Elijah holds it not too light to flout their zealous devotion: he laughs at their tears, and plays upon their earnest: “ Čry aloud, for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is travelling, or he is sleeping, and must be awaked.”
Scorns and taunts are the best answers for serious idolatry; holiness will bear us out in disdainful scoffs, and bitterness against wilful superstition. No less in the indignation at these insulting frumps, than
zeal of their own safety and reputation, do these idolatrous prophets now rend their throats with inclamations, and, that they may assure the beholders they were not in jest, they cut and slash themselves with knives and lancets, and solicit the fire with their blood. How much painfulness is there in mis-religion! I do not find that the true God ever required or accepted the self-tortures of his servants; he loves true inward mortification of our corruptions, he loves the subduing of our spiritual insurrections by due exercises of severe restraint; he takes no pleasure in our blood, in our carcases : they mistake God that think to please him by destroying that nature which he hath made, and measure truth by rigour of outward extremities; Elijah drew no blood of himself, the priests of Baal did. How fain would the devil, whom these idolaters adored, have answered the suit of his suppliants! What would that ambitious spirit have given, that as he was cast down from heaven like lightning, so now he might have fallen down in that form upon his altar!
God forbids it: all the powers of darkness can no more show one flash of fire in the air, than avoid the unquenchable fire in hell. How easy were it for the power of the Almighty to cut short all the tyrannical usurpations of that wicked one, if his wisdom and justice did not find the permission thereof useful to his holy purposes.
These idolaters, now towards evening, grew so much more vehement, as they were more hopeless; and at last, when neither their shrieks, nor their wounds, nor their mad motions could prevail, they sit down hoarse and weary, tormenting themselves afresh with their despairs, and with the
fears of bitter success of their adversary; when Elijah calls the people to him, the witnesses of his sincere proceedings, and taking the opportunity, both of the time, the just hour of the evening sacrifice, and of the place, (a ruined altar of God, now by him repaired)
convinces Israel with his miracle, and more cuts these Baalites with envy, than they had cut themselves with their lancets.
O holy prophet, why didst thou not save this labour? what needed these unseasonable reparations? was there not an altar, was there not a sacrifice ready prepared to thine hand ? that, which the prophets of Baal had addressed, stood still waiting for that fire from thee, which the founders threatened in vain : the stones were not more impure, either for their touch or their intentions. Yet such was thy detestation of idolatry, that thou abhorrest to meddle with aught which their wickedness had defiled : even that altar, whose ruins thou didst thus repair, was miserected, though to the name of the true God; yet didst thou find it better to make up the breaches of that altar which was mis-consecrated to the service of thy God, than to make use of that pile which was idolatrously devoted to a false god. It cannot be but safe to keep aloof from participation with idolaters, even in those things, which not only in nature, but in use are unclean.
Elijah lays twelve stones in his repaired altar, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob. Alas! ten of these were perverted to Baal. The prophet regards not their present apostasy; he regards the ancient covenant that was made with their father Israel; he regards their first station, to which he would reduce them: he knew, that the unworthiness of Israel could not make God forgetful; he would, by this monument, put Israel in mind of their own degeneration and forgetfulness. He employs those many hands for the making a large trench round about the altar, and causes it to be filled with those precious remainders of water which the people would have grudged to their own mouths; neither would easily have parted with, but as those that pour down a pail-full into a dry pump, in the hope of fetching more. The altar, the trench is
full. A barrel-full is poured out for each of the tribes, that every tribe might be afterwards replenished. Ahab and Israel are no less full of expectation; and now, when God's appointed hour of the evening sacrifice was come, Elijah comes confidently to his altar, and, looking up into heaven, says, “ Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known this day, that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word: hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back again.”
The Baalites' prayers were not more tedious than Elijah's was short; and yet more pithy than short, charging God with the care of his covenant, of his truth, of his glory. It was Elijah that spake loud. O strong cries of faith, that pierce the heavens, and irresistibly make their way to the throne of grace! Israel shall well see, that Elijah's God, whom they have forsaken, is neither talking, nor pursuing, nor travelling, nor sleeping. Instantly the fire of the Lord falls from heaven and consumes the burntsacrifice, the wood, the stones, the dust, and licks up the water that was in the trench. With what terror must Ahab and Israel needs see this fire rolling down out of the sky, and alighting with such fury so near their heads; heads no less fit for this flame, than the sacrifice of Elijah! Well might they have thought, how easily might this fire have dilated itself, and have consumed our bodies, as well as the wood and stone, and have licked up our blood as well as that water! I know not whether they had the grace to acknowledge the mercy of God; they could do no less than confess his power, “ The Lord is God, the Lord is God."
The iron was now hot with this heavenly fire; Elijah stays not till it cool again, but strikes immediately: “ Take the prophets of Baal, let not one of them escape.” This wager was for life : had they
prevailed in procuring this fire, and Elijah failed of effect, his head had been forfeited to them: now, in the contrary success, theirs are lost to him. Let no man complain that those holy hands were bloody : this sacrifice was no less pleasing to God than that other. Both the man and the act were extraordinary, and led by a peculiar instinct: neither doth the prophet this without the assent of the supreme magistrate, who was now so affected with this miraculous work, that he could not, in the heat of that conviction, but allow the justice of such a sentence. Far it be from us to accuse God's commands or executions of cruelty. It was the ancient and peremptory charge of God, that the authors of idolatry and seduction should die the death ; no eye, no hand might spare them. The prophet doth but move the performance of that law which Israel could not without sin have omitted. It is a merciful and thankworthy severity, to rid the world of the ringleaders of wickedness.
ELIJAH RUNNING BEFORE AHAB, FLEEING FROM
I HEAR no news of the four hundred prophets of the groves: they lie close under the wing of Jezebel, under their pleasing shades, neither will be suffered to undergo the danger of this trial: the carcases of their fellows help to fill up the half-dry channel of Kishon. Justice is no sooner done, than Ahab hears news of mercy from Elijah: "Get thee up, eat and drink ; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.” Their meeting was not more harsh, than their parting was friendly. It seems Ahab had spent all that day. fasting, in an eager attendance of those conflicting prophets. It must needs be late ere the execution could