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multiply victuals, how is it that thou wantest? Do that beforehand, which thou promisest shall be afterwards performed, there will be no need of my little."
But this good Sareptan was wrought by God, not to mistrust a prophet. She will do what he bids, and hope for what he promises. She will live by faith, rather than by sense; and give away the present, in the confidence of a future remuneration. First, she bakes Elijah's cake: then, her own: not grudging, to see her last morsels go down another's throat, while herself was famishing. How hard precepts doth God lay, where he intends bounty! Had not God meant her preservation, he had suffered her to eat her last cake alone, without any interpellation now, the mercy of the Almighty purposing, as well this miraculous favour to her as to his prophet, requires of her this task, which flesh and blood would have thought unreasonable. So we are wont, to put hard questions to those scholars, whom we would promote to higher forms. So in all achievements, the difficulty of the enterprise makes way for the glory of the actor.
Happy was it for this widow, that she did not shut her hand to the man of God; that she was no niggard of her last handful. Never corn or olive did so increase in growing, as here in consuming. This barrel, this cruse of hers, had no bottoin: The barrel of meal wasted not; the cruse of oil failed not. Behold, not getting, not saving, is the way to abundance, but giving. The mercy of God crowns our beneficence, with the blessing of store. Who can fear want, by a merciful liberality; when he sees the Sareptan had famished, if she had not given, and by giving abounded? With what thankful devotion must this woman every day needs look upon her barrel and cruse, wherein she saw the mercy of God renewed to her continually! Doubtless, her soul was no less fed by faith, than her body with this supernatural provision. How welcome a guest must Elijah needs be to this widow, that gave her life and her son's to her, for his board! yea, that, in woeful famine, gave her and her son their board, for his house-room!
The dearth thus overcome, the mother looks hopefully upon her only son; promising herself much joy, in his life and prosperity; when an unexpected sickness surpriseth him, and doth that which the famine but threatened. When can we hold ourselves secure from evils? No sooner is one of these sergeants compounded withal, than we are arrested by another.
How ready we are to mistake the grounds of our afflictions, and to cast them upon false causes! The passionate mother cannot find whither to impute the death of her son, but to the presence of Elijah; to whom she comes, distracted with perplexity; not without an unkind challenge of him, from whom she had received, both that life she had lost and that she had;
What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? Art thou come to me, to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son? As if her son could not have died, if Elijah had not been her guest; whereas her son had died, but for him. Why should she think, that the prophet had saved him from the famine, to kill him with sickness? As if God had not been free in his actions; and must needs strike by the same hands, by which he preserved. She had the grace to know, that her affliction was for her sin; yet was so unwise, to imagine the arrearages of her iniquities had not been called for, if Elijah had not been the remembrancer. He, who had appeased God towards her, is suspected to have incensed him.
This wrongful misconstruction was enough to move any patience. Elijah was of a hot spirit; yet his holiness kept him from fury. This challenge rather increased the zeal of his prayer, than stirred his choler to the offender. He takes the dead child out of his mother's bosom, and lays him upon his own. bed, and cries unto the Lord; O Lord my God, hast thou brought evil also upon the widow, with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? Instead of chiding the Sareptan, out of the fervency of his soul, he humbly expostulates with his God. His only remedy is in his prayer: that, which shut heaven for rain, must open it for life.
Every word enforceth; first, he pleads his interest in God, O Lord my God: then, the quality of the patient; a widow, and therefore, both most distressed with the loss, and most peculiar to the charge of the Almighty: then, his interest, as in God, so in this patient; With whom I sojourn; as if the stroke were given to himself, through her sides and lastly, the quality of the punishment, By slaying her son, the only comfort of her life: and in all these implying the scandal, that must needs arise from this event, wherever it should be noised, to the name of his God, to his own; when it should be said: "Lo how Elijah's entertainment is rewarded: surely the prophet is either impotent or unthankful!"
Neither doth his tongue move thus only. Thrice doth he stretch himself upon the dead body; as if he could wish, to infuse of his own life into the child; and so often calls to his God, for the restitution of that soul.
What can Elijah ask, to be denied? The Lord heard the voice of the prophet; the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. What miracle is impossible to faithful prayers? There cannot be more difference betwixt Elijah's devotion and ours, than betwixt supernatural and ordinary acts; if he therefore obtained miraculous favours by his prayers, do we doubt of those which are within the sphere of nature and use? What could we want, if we did not slack to ply heaven with our prayers? Certainly, Elijah had not been premonished of this sudden
sickness and death of the child. He, who knew the remote affairs of the world, might not know what God would do within his own roof. The greatest prophet must content himself, with so much of God's council, as he will please to reveal; and he will sometimes reveal the great secrets and conceal the less, to make good, both his own liberty and man's humiliation.
So much more unexpected as the stroke was, so much more welcome is the cure. How joyfully doth the man of God take the revived child into his arms and present him to his mother! How doth his heart leap within him, at this proof of God's favour to him; mercy, to the widow; power, to the child!
What life and joy did now shew itself, in the face of that amazed mother, when she saw again the eyes of her son fixed upon hers; when she felt his flesh warm, his motions vital!
Now she can say to Elijah, By this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth. Did she not till now know this? Had she not said before, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? Were not her cruse and her barrel sufficient proofs of his divine commission? Doubtless, what her meal and oil had assured her of, the death of her son made her to doubt; and now, reviving, did reascertain. Even the strongest faith sometimes staggereth, and needeth new acts of heavenly supportation.
The end of miracles is confirmation of truth. It seems had this widow's son continued dead, her belief had been buried in his grave: notwithstanding her meal and her oil, her soul had languished. The mercy of God is fain to provide new helps for our infirmities; and graciously condescends to our own terms, that we may work out our faith and salvation.
CONTEMPLATION VII.-ELIJAH WITH THE
1 KINGS XVIII.
THREE years and a half, did Israel lie gasping under a parching drought and miserable famine.
No creature was so odious to them, as Elijah; to whom they ascribed all their misery. Methinks, I hear how they rail on and curse the prophet. How much envy must the servants of God undergo for their master! Nothing but the tongue was Elijah's; the hand was God's. The prophet did but say, what God would do: I do not see them fall out with their sins, that had deserved the judgment; but with the messenger, that denounced it. Baal had no fewer servants, than if there had been both rain and plenty.
Elijah safely spends this storm, under the lee of Sarepta. Some three years hath he lain close in that obscure corner; and lived upon the barrel and cruse, which he had multiplied: at last, God calls him forth; Go shew thyself to Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.
No rain must fall, till Elijah were seen of Ahab. He carried away the clouds with him; he must bring them again. The king, the people of Israel, shall be witnesses, that God will make good the word, the oath of his prophet. Should the rain have fallen in Elijah's absence, who could have known it was by his procurement? God holds the credit of his messengers precious; and neglects nothing that may grace them, in the eyes of the world. Not the necessity of seven thousand religious Israelites_could crack the word of one Elijah. There is nothing, wherein God is more tender, than in approving the veracity of himself, in his ministers.
Lewd Ahab hath a holy steward. As his name was, so was he, a servant of God, while his master was a slave to Baal. He, that reserved seven thousand in the kingdom of Israel, hath reserved an Obadiah in the court of Israel; and by him, hath reserved them. Neither is it likely, there had been so many free hearts in the country, if religion had not been secretly backed in the court. It is a great happiness, when God gives favour and honour to the virtuous.
Elijah did not lie more close in Sarepta, than Obadiah did in the court. He could not have done so much service to the Church, if he had not been as secret as good. Policy and religion do as well together, as they do ill asunder. The dove without the serpent, is easily caught; the serpent without the dove, stings deadly. Religion without policy, is too simple to be safe; policy without religion, is too subtle to be good: their match makes themselves secure, and many happy.
Oh degenerated estate of Israel! Any thing was now lawful there, saving piety. It is well if God's prophets can find a hole to hide their heads in. They must needs be hard driven, when fifty of them are fain to crowd together into one cave. There they had both shade and repast. Good Obadiah hazards his own life, to preserve theirs; and spends himself, in that extreme dearth, upon their necessary diet. Bread and water was more now, than other while wine and delicacies. Whether shall we wonder more, at the mercy of God in reserving a hundred prophets, or in thus sustaining them being reserved? When did God ever leave his Israel, unfurnished of some prophets? When did he leave his prophets, unprovided of some Obadiah? How worthy art thou, O Lord, to be trusted with thine own charge. While there are men upon earth, or birds in the air, or angels in heaven, thy messengers cannot want provision.
Goodness carries away trust, where it cannot have imitation.
Ahab divides with Obadiah the survey of the whole land. They two set their own eyes on work, for the search of water, of pasture, to preserve the horses and mules alive.
Oh the poor and vain cares of Ahab! He casts to kill the prophet, to save the cattle; he never seeks to save his own soul, to destroy idolatry: he takes thought for grass, none for mercy. Carnal hearts are ever, either grovelling on the earth, or delving into it no more regarding God or their souls, than if they either were not, or were worthless.
Elijah hears of the progress; and offers himself to the view of them both. Here was wisdom in this courage: first, he presents himself to Obadiah, ere he will be seen of Ahab; that Ahab might, upon the report of so discreet an informer, digest the expectation of his meeting; then he takes the opportunity of Ahab's presence, when he might be sure Jezebel was away.
Obadiah meets the prophet; knows him; and, as if he had seen God in him, falls on his face to him, whom he knew his master persecuted. Though a great peer, he had learned to honour a prophet. No respect was too much, for the president of that sacred college. To the poor boarder of the Sareptan, here was no less, than a prostration; and, My lord Elijah, from the great high steward of Israel. Those, that are truly gracious, cannot be niggardly of their observances, to the messengers of God.
Elijah receives the reverence; returns a charge; Go tell my lord, behold Elijah is here. Obadiah finds this load too heavy; neither is he more stricken with the boldness, than with the unkindness of this command: boldness, in respect of Elijah, unkindness, in respect of himself. For, thus he thinks," If Elijah do come to Ahab, he dies: if he do not come, I die. If it be known that I met him, and brought him not, it is death: if I say that he will come voluntarily, and God shall alter his intentions, it is death. How unhappy a man am I, that must be either Elijah's executioner, or my own! Were Ahab's displeasure but smoking, I might hope to quench it; but now, that the flame of it hath broken forth to the notice, to the search, of all the kingdoms and nations round about, it may consume me ; I cannot extinguish it. This message were for an enemy of Elijah; for a client of Baal: as for me, I have well approved my true devotion to God; my love to his prophets. What have I done, that I should be singled out, either to kill Elijah or to be killed for him?" Many a hard plunge must that man needs be driven to, who would hold his conscience, together with the service and favour of a tyrant. It is a happy thing, to serve a just master: there is no danger, no stain, in such obedience.
But, when the prophet binds his resolution with an oath, and clears the heart of Obadiah from all fears, from all suspicions, the good man dares be the messenger of that, which he saw was decreed in heaven.