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schools of the prophets, before his departure. These were in his way: of any part of the earth, they were nearest unto heaven. In a holy progress, therefore, he walks his last round from Gilgal, near Jordan, to Bethel; from Bethel, to Jericho; from Jericho to Jordan again.
In all these sacred colleges of divines, he meant to leave the legacy of his love, counsel, confirmation, blessing. How happy a thing it is, while we are upon earth, to improve our time and gifts, to the best behoof of God's Church; and after the assurance of our own blessedness, to help others to the same heaven!
But, O God, who can but wonder at the course of thy wise and powerful administrations? Even in the midst of the degeneration and idolatries of Israel, hast thou reserved to thyself whole societies of holy prophets; and, out of those sinful and revolted tribes, hast raised the two great miracles of prophets, Elijah and Elisha, in an immediate succession. Judah, itself, under a religious Jehoshaphat, yielded not so eminent and clearly illuminated spirits. The mercy of our provident God will neither be confined nor excluded; neither confined to the places of public profession, nor excluded from the depraved congregations of his own people. Where he hath loved, he cannot easily be estranged: rather, where sin abounds, his grace aboundeth much more; and raiseth so much stronger helps as he sees the dangers greater.
Happy was Elisha, in the attendance of so gracious a master; and the more happy, that he knows it. Fain would Elijah shake him off at Gilgal; if not there, at Bethel; if not yet there, at Jericho. A private message, on which Elijah must go alone, is pretended, from the Lord. Whether shall we say the prophet did this, for the trial of the constant affection of his careful and diligent servant; or, that it was concealed from Elijah, that his departure was revealed to Elisha? Perhaps, he, that knew of his own reception into heaven, did not know what witnesses would be allowed that miraculous act; and now his humble modesty affected a silent and unnoted passage.
Even Elisha knew something, that was hid from his master, now upon the threshold of heaven. No mere creature was ever made of the whole counsel of the Highest. Some things have been disclosed to babes and novices, that have been closed up to the most wise and judicious. In natural speculations, the greater wit and deeper judgment still carry it ; but in the revelations of God, the favour of his choice sways all, not the power prehension. The master may
both command and entreat his servant's stay, in vain. Elisha must be pardoned this holy and zealous disobedience; As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. His master may be withdrawn from him : he will not be
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withdrawn from his master. He knew, that the blessing was at the parting ; and, if he had diligently attended all his life, and now slacked in the last act, he had lost the reward of his service. The evening praises the day, and the chief grace of the theatre is in the last scene: Be faithful to the death, and I will give thee a. crown of life.
That Elijah should be translated, and what day he should be translated, God would have no secret. The sons of the prophets at Bethel, at Jericho, both know it, and ask Elisha if he knew it not; Knowest thou, that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head this day? and he answered, Yea, I know it ; hold ye your peace.
How familiarly do these prophets interknow one another! How kindly do they communicate their visions ! Seldom ever was any knowledge given to keep, but to impart: the grace of this rich jewel is lost in concealment.
The removal of an Elijah is so important a business, that it is not fit to be done without noise. Many shall have their share in his loss: he must be missed on the sudden : it was meet, therefore, that the world should know, his rapture should be divine and glorious.
I do not find, where the day of any natural death is notified to so many
By how much more wonder there was in this assumption, by so much more shall it be fore-revealed. It is enough for ordinary occurrents to be known by their event: supernatural things have need of premonition, that men's hearts may be both prepared for their receipt, and confirmed in their certainty.
Thrice was Elisha entreated, thrice hath he denied, to stay behind his now departing master; on whom both his eyes and his thoughts are so fixed, that he cannot give allowance, so much as to the interpellation of a question of his fellow prophets.
Together, therefore, are this wonderful pair come to the last stage of their separation, the banks of Jordan.
Those, that were not admitted to be attendants of their journey, yet will not be debarred from being spectators of so marvellous an issue. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off. I marvel there were no more.
How could any son of the prophets stay within the college walls that day; when he knew what was meant to Elijah? Perhaps, though they knew that to be the prophet's last day, yet they might think his disparition should be sudden and insensible; besides, they found how much he affected secrecy in this intended departure : yet the fifty prophets of Jericho will make proof of their eyes; and, with much intention, assay who shall have the last sight of Elijah.
Miracles are not purposed to silence and obscurity. God will not work wonders without witnesses. Since he doth them on
purpose to win glory to his name, his end were frustrate without their notice. Even so, O Saviour, when thou hadst raised thyself from the dead, thou wouldest be seen of more than five hundred brethren at once; and when thou wouldest raise up thy glorified body from earth into heaven, thou didst not ascend from some close valley, but from the mount of Olives; not in the night, not alone, but in the clear day, in the view of many eyes; which were so fixed upon that point of thine heaven, that they could scarce be removed by the check of angels.
Jordan must be crossed by Elijah, in his way to heaven. There must be a meet parallel betwixt the two great prophets, that shall meet Christ upon Tabor ; Moses and Elias. Both received visions on Horeb: to both God appeared there, in fire and other forms of terror: both were sent to kings; one, to Pharaoh ; the other, to Ahab: both prepared miraculous tables ; the one, of quails and manna, in the desert; the other, of meal and oil, in Sarepta : both opened heaven; the one, for that nourishing dew; the other, for those refreshing showers: both revenged idolatries with the sword; the one, upon the worshippers of the golden calf; the other, upon the four hundred Baalites : both quenched the drought of Israel; the one, out of the rock; the other, out of the cloud : both divided the waters; the one, of the Red Sea ; the other, of Jordan: both of them are forewarned of their departure : both must be fetched away beyond Jordan ; the body of Elijah is translated; the body of Moses is hid: what Moses doth by his rod, Elijah doth by his mantle; with that, he smites the waters, and they, as fearing the divine power which wrought with the prophet, run away from him, and stand on heaps, leaving the dry channel for the passage of those awful feet. It is not long, since he mulcted them with a general exsiccation : now, he only bids them stand aside, and give way to his last walk; that he might with dry feet mount up into the celestial chariot.
The waters do not now first obey him. They know that mantle of old; which hath oft given laws to their falling, rising, standing. They are passed over ; and now, when Elijah finds himself treading on his last earth, he proffers a munificent boon to his faithful servant; Ask what I shall do for thee, before I am taken from thee.
I do not hear him say, “ Ask of me, when I am gone; in my glorified condition, I shall be more able to bestead thee ;” but, “Ask, before I go.” We have a communion with the saints departed ; not a commerce. When they are enabled to do more for us, they are less apt to be solicited by us. It is a safe suing, where we are sure that we are heard.
Had not Elijah received a peculiar instinct for this proffer, he had not been thus liberal. It were presumption to be bountiful on another's cost, without leave of the owner. The mercy
of our good God allows his favourites, not only to receive, but to give ; not only to receive for themselves, but to convey blessings to others. What can that man want, that is befriended of the faithful?
Elisha needs not go far, to seek for a suit. It was in his heart, in his mouth ; Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. -Every prophet must be a son to Elijah ; but Elisha would be his heir; and craves the happy right of his primogeniture, the double share to his brethren. It was not wealth, nor safety, nor ease, nor honour, that Elisha cares for. The world lies open before him; he may take his choice: the rest he contemneth; nothing will serve him, but a large measure of his master's spirit.
No carnal thought was guilty of this sacred ambition. Affectation of eminence was too base a conceit, to fall into that man
He saw, that the times needed strong convictions ; ho saw, that he could not otherwise wield the succession to such a master; therefore he sues for a double portion of spirit: the spirit of prophecy, to foreknow; the spirit of power, to work. We cannot be too covetous, too ambitious, of spiritual gifts ; such especially, as may enable us to win most advantage to God in our vocations. Our wishes are the true touchstone of our estate. Such as we wish to be, we are. Worldly hearts affect earthly things ; spiritual, divine. We cannot better know what we are indeed, than by what we would be.
Elijah acknowledges the difficulty, and promises the grant of so great a request ; suspended yet upon the condition of Elisha's eyesight: If thou see me, when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be. What are the eyes, to the furniture of the soul? What power is there in those visive beams, to draw down a double portion of Elijah's spirit? God doth not always look at efficacy and merit in the conditions of our actions, but at the freedom of his own appointments. The eye was only to be employed, as the servant of the heart, that the desires might be so much more intended with the sight. Vehemence is the way to speed, both in earth and in heaven. If but the eye-lids of Elisha fall, if his thoughts slacken, his hopes are dashed. There must be fixedness and vigilance, in those that desire double graces.
Elijah was going on, and talking, when the chariot of heaven came to fetch him. Surely, had not that conference been needful and divine, it had given way to meditation ; and Elijah had been taken up, rather from his knees, than from his feet. There can be no better posture or state, for the messenger of our dissolution to find us in, than in a diligent prosecution of our calling. The busy attendance of our holy vocation is no less pleasing to God, than an immediate devotion. Happy is the servant, whom the master, when he comes, shall find so doing.
Oh the singular glory of Elijah! What mortal creature ever
had this honour, to be visibly fetched by the angels of God to his heaven? Every soul of the elect is attended and carried to blessedness by those invisible messengers; but what flesh and blood was ever graced with such a convoy ?
There are three bodily inhabitants of heaven, Enoch, Elijah, our Saviour Christ: the first, before the Law; the second, under the Law; the third, under the Gospel : all three, in a several form of translation. Our blessed Saviour raised himself to and above the heavens, by his own immediate power : he ascended as the Son; they, as servants : he, as God; they, as creatures. Elijah ascended by the visible ministry of angels ; Enoch, insensibly. Wherefore, O God, hast thou done thus, but to give us a taste of what shall be ? to let us see, that heaven was never shut to the faithful? to give us assurance of the future glorification of this mortal and corruptible part? Even thus, O Saviour, when thou shalt descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trump of God, we, that are alive and remain, shall be caught up, together with the raised bodies of thy saints, into the clouds, to meet thee in the air, to dwell with thee in glory.
Many forms have those celestial spirits taken to themselves, in their apparitions to men; but, of all other, most often hath the Almighty made his messengers a flame of fire : never more properly, than here. How had the Spirit of God kindled the hot fires of zeal, in the breast of Elijah! How had this prophet thrice commanded fire from heaven to earth! How fitly now, at last, do these seraphical fires carry him from earth to heaven!
What do we see in this rapture of Elijah, but violence and terror, whirlwind and fire; two of those fearful representations, which the prophet had in the rock of Horeb? Never any man entered into glory with ease. Even the most favourable change hath some equivalency to a natural dissolution. Although, doubtless, to Elijah, this fire had a lightsomeness and resplendence, not terror ; this whirlwind had speed, not violence. Thus hast thou, O Saviour, bidden us, when the elements shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be flaming about our ears, to lift up our heads with joy, because our redemption draweth nigh. Come death, come fire, come whirlwind; they are worthy to be welcome, that shall carry us to immortality.
This arreption was sudden ; yet Elisha sees both the chariot, and the horses, and the ascent; and cries to his now changed master, between heaven and earth, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. Shaphat, of Abel-meholah, hath yielded this title to Elijah; the natural father of Elisha, to the spiritual. Neither of them may be neglected ; but, after the yoke of oxen killed at the farewell
, we hear of no more greetings, no more bewailings, of his bodily parent; and now, that Elijah is taken from him, he cries out like a distressed