(Tenth Sunday after Trinity.)
1 Kings xxi. 19, 20. And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? and thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine. And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the Lord.
Of all the grand personages in the Old Testament, there are few or none, I think, grander than the prophet Elijah. Consider his strange and wild life, wandering about in forests and mountains, suddenly appearing, and suddenly disappearing again, so that no man knew where to find him; and, as Obadiah said when he met him, 'If I tell my Lord, Behold, Elijah is here; then, as soon as I am gone from thee, the Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee whither I know not.' Consider, again, his strange activity and strength, as when he goes, forty days and forty nights, far away out of Judea, over the waste wilderness, to Horeb the mount of God; or, as again, when he girds up his loins, and runs before Ahab's chariot for many miles to the entrance of Jezreel. One can fancy him from what the Bible tells us of him, clearly enough; as a man mysterious and terrible, not merely in the eyes of women and children, but of soldiers and of kings.
He seems to have been especially a countryman; a mountaineer; born and bred in Gilead, among the lofty mountains and vast forests, full of wild beasts, lions and bears, wild bulls and deer, which stretch for many miles along the further side of the river Jordan, with the waste desert of rocks and sand beyond them. A wild man, bred up in a wild country, he had learnt to fear no man, and no thing, but God alone. We do not know what his youth was like; we do not know whether he had wife, or children, or any human being who loved him. Most likely not. He seems to have lived a lonely life, in sad and bad times. He seems to have had but one thought, that his country was going to ruin, from idolatry, tyranny, false and covetous ways; and one determination; to say so; to speak the truth, whatever it cost him. He had found out that the Lord was God, and not Baal, or any of the idols; and he would follow the Lord; and tell all Israel what his own heart had told him, 'The Lord, he is God,' was the one thing which he had to say; and he said it, till it became his name; whether given him by his parents, or by the people, his name was Elijah, 'The Lord is God.' 'How long halt ye between two opinions?' he cries, upon the greatest day of his life. 'If the Lord be God, then follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.' How grand he is, on Carmel, throughout that noble chapter which we read last Sunday. There is no fear in him, no doubt in him. The poor wild peasant out of the savage mountains stands up before all Israel, before king, priests, nobles, and people, and speaks and acts as if he, too, were a king; because the Spirit of God is in him: and he is right, and he knows that he is right. And they obey him as if he were a king. Even before the fire comes down from heaven, and shows that God is on his side, from the first they obey him. King Ahab himself obeys him, trembles before him--'And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim. Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table. So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.' The tyrant's guilty conscience makes a coward of him: and he quails before the wild man out of the mountains, who has not where to lay his head, who stands alone against all the people, though Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, and they eat at the queen's table; and he only is left and they seek his life:--yet no man dare touch him, not even the king himself. Such power is there, such strength is there, in being an honest and a God-fearing man.
Yes, my friends, this was the secret of Elijah's power. This is the lesson which Elijah has to teach us. Not to halt between two opinions. If a thing be true, to stand up for it; if a thing be right, to do it, whatsoever it may cost us. Make up your minds then, my friends, to be honest men like Elijah the prophet of old.
For your own sake, for your neighbour's sake, and for God's sake, be honest men.
For your own sake. If you want to be respected; if you want to be powerful--and it is good to be powerful sometimes--if God has set you to govern people, whether it be your children and household, your own farm, your own shop, your own estate, your own country or neighbourhood--Do you want to know the great secret of success?--Be honest and brave. Let your word be as good as your thought, and your deed as good as your word. Who is the man who is respected? Who is the man who has influence? The complaisant man--the cringing man--the man who cannot say No, or dare not say No? Not he. The passionate man who loses his temper when anything goes wrong, who swears and scolds, and instead of making others do right, himself does wrong, and lowers himself just when he ought to command respect? My experience is--not he: but the man who says honestly and quietly what he thinks, and does fearlessly and quietly what he knows. People who differ from him will respect him, because he acts up to his principles. When they are in difficulty or trouble, they will go and ask his advice, just because they know they will get an honest answer. They will overlook a little roughness in him; they will excuse his speaking unpleasant truths: because they can trust him, even though he is plain-spoken.
For your neighbour's sake, I say; and again, for your children's sake; for the sake of all with whom you have to do, be honest and brave. For our children--O my friends, we cannot do a crueller thing by them than to let them see that we are inconsistent. If they hear us say one thing and do another--if, while we preach to them we do not practice ourselves, they will never respect us, and never obey us from love and principle. If they do obey us, it will be only before our faces, and from fear. If they see us doing only what we like, when our backs are turned they will do what they like.
And worse will come than their not respecting us--they will learn not to respect God. If they see that we do not respect truth and honesty, they will not respect truth and honesty; and he who does not respect them, does not respect God. They will learn to look on religion as a sham. If we are inconsistent, they will be profane.
But some may say--'I have no power; and I want none. I have no people under me for whom I am responsible.'
Then, if you think that you need not be honest and brave for your own sake, or for other peoples' sake, be honest and brave for God's sake.
Do you ask what I mean? I mean this. Recollect that truth belongs to God. That if a thing is true, it is true because God made it so, and not otherwise; and therefore, if you deny truth, you fight against God. If you are honest, and stand up for truth, you stand up for God, and what God has done.
And recollect this, too. If a thing be right for you to do, God has made it right, and God wills you to do it; and, therefore, if you do not do your duty, you are fighting against God; and if you do your duty, you are a fellow-worker with God, fulfilling God's will. Therefore, I say, Be honest and brave for God's sake. And in this way, my friends, all may be brave, all may be noble. Speak the truth, and do your duty, because it is the will of God. Poor, weak women, people without scholarship, cleverness, power, may live glorious lives, and die glorious deaths, and God's strength may be made perfect in their weakness. They may live, did I say? I may say they have lived, and have died, already, by thousands. When we read the stories of the old martyrs who, in the heathen persecution, died like heroes rather than deny Christ, and scorned to save themselves by telling what they knew to be a lie, but preferred truth to all that makes life worth having:--how many of them--I may say the greater part of them--were poor creatures enough in the eyes of man, though they were rich enough, noble enough, in the eyes of God who inspired them. 'Few rich and few noble,' as the apostle says, 'were called.' It was to poor people, old people, weak women, ill-used and untaught slaves, that God gave grace to defy all the torments which the heathen could heap on them, and to defy the scourge and the rack, the wild beasts and the fire, sooner than foul their lips and their souls by denying Christ, and worshipping the idols which they knew were nothing, and worth nothing.
And so it may be with any of you here; whosoever you may be, however poor, however humble. Though your opportunities may be small, your station lowly, your knowledge little; though you may be stupid in mind, slow of speech, weakly of body, yet if you but make up your mind to say the thing which is true, and to do the thing which is right, you may be strong with the strength of God, and glorious with the glory of Christ.
It is a grand thing, no doubt, to be like Elijah, a stern and bold prophet, standing up alone against a tyrant king and a sinful people; but it is even a greater thing to be like that famous martyr in old time, St. Blandina, who, though she was but a slave, and so weakly, and mean, and fearful in body, that her mistress and all her friends feared that she would deny Christ at the very sight of the torments prepared for her, and save herself by sacrificing to the idols, yet endured, day after day, tortures too horrible to speak of, without cry or groan, or any word, save 'I am a Christian;' and, having outlived all her fellow-martyrs, died at last victorious over pain and temptation, so that the very heathen who tortured her broke out in admiration of her courage, and confessed that no woman had ever endured so many and so grievous torments. So may God's strength be made perfect in woman's weakness.
You are not called to endure such things. No: but you, and I, and every Christian soul are called on to do what we know to be right. Not to halt between two opinions: but if God be God, to follow Him. If we make up our minds to do that, we shall be sure to have our trials: but we shall be safe, because we are on God's side, and God on ours. And if God be with us, what matter if the whole world be against us? For which is the stronger of the two, the whole world, or God who made it, and rules it, and will rule it for ever?
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