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As the life, so the death-bed of Asa wanted not infirmities. Long and prosperous had his reign been: now, after forty years' health and happiness, he, that imprisoned the prophet, is imprisoned in his bed. There is more pain in those fetters which God put upon Asa, than those which Asa puts upon Hanani. And now, behold, he, that in his war seeks to Benhadad, not to God, in his sickness seeks not to God, but to physicians. We cannot easily put upon God a greater wrong, than the alienation of our trust. Earthly means are for use, not for confidence. We may, we must employ them; we may not rely upon them. Well may God challenge our trust, as his peculiar; which, if we cast upon any creature, we deify it. Whence have herbs, and drugs, and physicians their being and efficacy, but from that divine hand? No marvel, then, if Asa's gout struck to his heart, and his feet carried him to his grave; since his heart was miscarried for the cure of his feet, to an injurious misconfidence in the means, with neglect of his Maker.
CONTEMPLATION VI.-ELIJAH WITH THE
1 KINGS XVII.
WHо should be matched with Moses in the hill of Tabor, but Elijah? Surely next after Moses, there was never any prophet of the Old Testament more glorious than he.
None more glorious; none more obscure. The other prophets are not mentioned without the name of their parent, for the mutual honour both of the father and the son; Elijah, as if he had been a son of the earth, comes forth with the bare mention of the place of his birth. Meanness of descent is no block in God's way, to the most honourable vocations. It matters not whose son he be, whom God will grace with his service. In the greatest honours that human nature is capable of, God forgets our parents: as, when we shall be raised up to a glorious life, there shall be no respect had to the loins whence we came, so it is proportionally in these spiritual advancements.
These times were fit for an Elijah: an Elijah was fit for them. The eminentest prophet is reserved for the corruptest age. Israel had never such a king as Ahab, for impiety; never so miraculous a prophet as Elijah: this Elijah is addressed to this Ahab. The God of Spirits knows how to proportion men to the occasions; and to raise up to himself such witnesses, as may be most able to convince the world: a mild Moses was for the low estate of afflicted Israel; mild of spirit, but mighty in wonders; mild of spirit, because he had to do with a perse
cuted, and yet a techy and perverse people; mighty in wonders, because he had to do with a Pharaoh: a grave and holy Samuel was for the quiet consistence of Israel: a fiery spirited Elijah was for the desperatest declination of Israel: and if, in the late times of the depraved condition of his Church, God have raised up some spirits, that have been more warm and stirring than those of common mould, we cannot censure the choice, when we see the service.
The first word, that we hear from Elijah, is an oath, and a threat to Ahab, to Israel; 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. He comes in like a tempest, who went out in a whirlwind. Doubtless, he had spoken fair and peaceable invitations to Israel, though we hear them not this was but the storm, which followed his repulse, their obstinacy. After many solicitations and warnings, Israel is stricken by the same tongue that had prayed for it.
Elijah dares avouch these judgments to their head, to Ahab. I do not so much wonder at the boldness of Elijah, as at his power; yea, who sees his power, can no whit wonder at his boldness. How could he be but bold to the face of a man, who was thus powerful with God!
As if God had lent him the keys of heaven, to shut it up and open it at pleasure, he can say, There shall be neither dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. O God, how far it hath pleased thee to communicate thyself to a weak man! What angel could ever say thus? Thy hand, O Lord, is not shortened. Why art thou not thus marvellous, in the ministers of thy Gospel? Is it, for that their miracles were ours? Is it, for that thou wouldest have us live by faith, not by sense? Is it, for that our task is spiritual, and therefore more abstracted from bodily helps? We cannot command the sun with Joshua, nor the thunder with Samuel, nor the rain with Elijah: it shall content us, if we can fix the Sun of Righteousness in the soul; if we can thunder out the judgments of God against sin; if we can water the earthen hearts of men, with the former and latter rain of heavenly doctrine.
Elijah's mantle cannot make him forget his flesh. While he knows himself a prophet, he remembers to be a man; he doth not therefore arrogate his power as his own, but publisheth it as his Master's. This restraint must be according to his word; and that word was from a higher mouth than his. He spake from him, by whom he sware, whose word was sure as his life; and therefore he durst say, As the Lord liveth, there shall be no rain. Man only can denounce, what God will execute; which, when it is once revealed, can no more fail, than the Almighty himself.
He, that had this interest and power in heaven, what needed
he flee from an earthly pursuit? Could his prayers restrain the clouds, and not hold the hands of flesh and blood? Yet behold, Elijah must flee from Ahab, and hide him by the brook Cherith. The wisdom of God doth not think fit, so to make a beaten path of miracles, as that he will not walk beside it. He will have our own endeavours concur to our preservation. Elijah wanted neither courage of heart nor strength of hand, and yet he must trust to his feet for safety. How much more lawful is it for our impotence, to flee from persecution! Even that God sends him to hide his head, who could as easily have protected as nourished him. He, that wilfully stands still to catch dangers, tempteth God, instead of trusting him.
The prophet must be gone; not without order taken for his purveyance. Oh the strange caterers for Elijah; I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. I know not whether had been more miraculous, to preserve him without meat, or to provide meat by such mouths. The raven, a devouring and ravenous fowl, that uses to snatch away meat from others, brings it to him. He, that could have fed Elijah by angels, will feed him by ravens. There was then in Israel a hospitable Obadiah, that kept a secret table in two several caves, for a hundred prophets of God. There were seven thousand faithful Israelites, in spite of the devil, who had never bowed knee to Baal. Doubtless, any of these would have had a trencher ready for Elijah; and have thought himself happy, to have defrauded his own maw, for so noble a prophet. God rather chooses, to make use of the most unlikely fowls of the air, than their bounty; that he might give, both to his prophet and us, a pregnant proof of his absolute command over all his creatures, and win our trust in all extremities. Who can make question of the provisions of God, when he sees the very ravens shall forget their own hunger, and purvey for Elijah? O God, thou, that providest meat for the fowls of the air, wilt make the fowls of the air provide meat for man, rather than this dependence on thee shall be disappointed. Oh let not our faith be wanting to thee; thy care can never be wanting to us.
Elijah might have lived for the time, with bread and water; neither had his fare been worse, than his fellows in the caves of Obadiah: but the munificence of God will have his meals better furnished the ravens shall bring him both bread and flesh, twice in the day.
It is not for a persecuted prophet, to long after delicacies. God gives order for competency; not for wantonness. Not out of the dainty compositions in Jezebel's kitchen, not out of the pleasant wines in her cellar, would God provide for Elijah; but the ravens shall bring him plain and homely victuals, and the river shall afford him drink. If we have wherewith to sustain nature, though not to pamper it, we owe thanks to the giver.
Those of God's family may not be curious; not disdainful. Ill doth it become a servant of the Highest, to be a slave to his palate. Doubtless, one bit from the mouth of the raven was more pleasing to Elijah, than a whole table-full of Ahab. Nothing is more comfortable to God's children, than to see the sensible demonstrations of the divine care and providence.
The brook Cherith cannot last always. That stream shall not, for Elijah's sake, be exempted from the universal exsiccation; yea, the prophet himself feels the smart of this drought, which he had denounced. It is no unusual thing with God, to suffer his own dear children to be inwrapped in the common calamities of offenders. He makes difference in the use and issue of their stripes; not in the infliction. The corn is cut down with the weeds, but to a better purpose.
When the brook fails, God hath a Zarephath for Elijah: instead of the ravens, a widow shall there feed him; yea, herself by him. Who can enough wonder, at the pitch of this selective providence of the Almighty! Zarephath was a town of Sidon, and therefore without the pale of the Church. Poverty was the best of this widow she was a pagan, by birth; heathenishly superstitious, by institution. Many widows were in Israel, in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land, but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto this Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. He, that first fed the prophet by the mouth of unclean fowls, will now feed him by the hand of a heathenish hostess. His only command sanctifies those creatures, which, by a general charge, were legally impure.
There were other birds, besides ravens; other widows, besides this Sareptan: none but the ravens, none but the Sareptan, shall nourish Elijah. God's choice is not led in the string of human reasons. His holy will is the guide, and the ground, of all his elections. It is not in him that wills, nor in him that runs, but in God that shews mercy.
The prophet follows the call of his God. The same hand, that brought him to the gate of Sarepta, led also this poor widow out of her doors. She shall then go to seek her sticks, when she shall be found of Elijah. She thought of her hearth; she thought not of a prophet: when the man of God calls to her, Fetch me a little water, I pray thee, in a vessel, that I may drink. It was no easy suit, in so droughty a season; and yet, at the first sight, the prophet dares second it with a greater; Bring me a morsel of bread in thine hand. That long drought had made every drop, every crumb precious; yet the prophet is emboldened, by the charge of God, to call for both water and bread. He had found the ravens so officious, that he cannot make doubt of the Sareptan. She sticks not at the water; she would not stick at the bread, if necessity had not pressed her; As the Lord thy God
liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse; and behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it, for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.
If she knew not the man, how did she know his God? And if she knew not the God of Elijah, how did she swear by him? Certainly, though she were without the bounds of Israel, yet she was within the borders. So much she had gained by her neighbourhood, to know an Israelite, a prophet by his habit; to know the only living God was the God of the prophet, the God of Israel: and if this had not been, yet it is no marvel, if the widow knew Elijah, since the ravens knew him.
It was high time, for the prophet to visit the Sareptan. Poor soul! she was now making her last meal: after one mean morsel, she was yielding herself over to death. How opportunely hath God provided succours to our distresses! It is his glory, to help at a pinch; to begin, where we have given over: that our relief might be so much the more welcome, by how much it is less looked for.
But oh, what a trial is this of the faith of a weak proselyte, if she were so much! Fear not; go, do as thou hast said, but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it to me, and after make for thee, and thy son: for, thus saith the God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, nor the cruse of oil fail, till the day that God send rain upon the earth. She must go spend upon a stranger part of that little she hath, in hope of more, which she hath not, which she may have. She must part with her present food, which she saw, in trust of future, which she could not see. She must rob her sense, in the exercise of her belief; and shorten her life in being, upon the hope of a protraction of it in promise. She must believe God will miraculously increase, what she hath yielded to consume. She must first feed the stranger, with her last victuals; and then after, herself and her son.
Some sharp dame would have taken up the prophet; and have sent him away, with an angry repulse: "Bold Israelite; there is no reason in this request. Wert thou a friend or a brother, with what face couldest thou require, to pull my last bit out of my mouth? Had I superfluity of provision, thou mightest hope for this effect of my charity: now, that I have but one morsel for myself and my son, this is an injurious importunity. What can induce thee to think thy life, an unknown traveller, should be more dear to me than my son's, than my own? How uncivil is this motion, that I should first make provision for thee, in this dying extremity! It had been too much, to have begged my last scraps. Thou tellest me the meal shall not waste, nor the oil fail; how shall I believe thee? Let me see that done, before thou eatest. In vain should I challenge thee, when the remainder of my poor store is consumed. If thou canst so easily