1Ki_18:24. Call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
UNBOUNDED is the dominion which God exercises over the minds of men: “the hearts of kings are in his hands, and he turneth them whithersoever he will.” The heart of Ahab was exasperated against Elijah in the highest degree; insomuch that he sought him not only throughout his own kingdom, but through all the neighbouring kingdoms, in order that he might wreak his vengeance upon him. Yet, behold, now Elijah presents himself before him; and the hands of the infuriated monarch are tied; yea, the prophet sends him word that he is coming to meet him; and yet the king, who might have had a band of soldiers at his command, uses no means whatever to apprehend him. Moreover Elijah retorts upon him his injurious accusation, and tells him plainly, that he was “the troubler of Israel, by forsaking the Lord and following Baalim:” nay more, he enjoins the king to summon all the prophets of Baal to meet him at Mount Carmel; and the king obeys the mandate, as if he had been the subject, and Elijah the sovereign. When they were convened, the prophet appears in the midst of them all, unprotected and alone; yet can neither the king, nor the people, put forth a hand to touch him; so awed were they and restrained by the invisible agency of Jehovah.
The challenge which Elijah gave the worshippers of Baal on this occasion, is the first point to which we shall call your attention—
Neither Ahab nor his prophets would submit to the declarations of God’s word: of course, any appeal to the Mosaic writings would have been in vain. But the claims of Baal and of Jehovah might be tried by an appeal to miracles: to them therefore, doubtless by divine direction, he makes his appeal; and proposes, that “the God who should answer by fire,” should be acknowledged as the true and only God. Mark,
The test proposed—
[No proposal could have been more wise than this. By such a test as this, the matter might be decided without giving any undue advantage to the worshippers of Baal. On their side were the king, the court, the prophets; so that, if any thing could have been effected by means of a confederacy, no doubt they would have strained every nerve to gain their point: and he, being alone, would have been borne down, as it were, by the popular current: but here was no scope for fraud; no contrivances of theirs could counterfeit the sign proposed; nor could any doubt remain on the minds of the spectators when the sign itself should really appear.
Nor could any proposal be more equitable. The very idea of a God supposes, that he is one who can vindicate his own honour, and maintain his own authority; and that he will do so when a just occasion calls for it. When therefore the point at issue between Jehovah and Baal was to be settled for the satisfaction of the whole world, it was reasonable that there should be some display of omnipotence resorted to as the means of establishing their respective claims.
Of all tests that could have been devised, none could be more decisive than that proposed. Omnipotence alone could so control the elements, as to send down fire at the request of man. Satan indeed is called “the prince of the power of the air;” and on some occasions he has agitated the elements in a tremendous way. But his power is limited; and he can exert it only when, and as far as, God sees fit to suffer him. Could he have produced the sign in favour of Baal, doubtless he would have been glad to do so: but God’s own character was at stake; and no such permission could be given him.]
The issue of the trial—
[The worshippers of Baal prepared their sacrifice, and continued from morning to mid-day imploring from Baal the proposed evidence of his divinity. No answer coming to them, Elijah taunted them, and ridiculed their vain hopes — — — But they did not yet despair; yea rather, they renewed their application to Baal with redoubled earnestness, leaping upon, or around, his altar, and cutting themselves with knives and lancets, to mix their own blood with that of their sacrifice. But all their efforts were in vain: no voice, no answer came; and Baal was proved an impotent and senseless idol.
At the time of the evening sacrifice, the very hour when the sacrifice was offered at Jerusalem, Elijah repaired an altar of the Lord, which had been broken down, and laid the bullock upon it in order, and, to shew that there was no collusion on his part, poured water in great abundance on the sacrifice, and on the wood, and filled with water also the trench that was round about the altar, and then made his supplication to his God, imploring from him the appointed sign, for the establishment of his own honour, and for the conversion of the people’s souls. Instantly God answered in the appointed way; “a fire came down from heaven, and consumed not only the sacrifice and the wood, but the very stones of the altar; and licked up the water that was in the trench.”
No doubt now remained. The people in the first instance had approved the proposed method of determining the point; and now “they fell upon their faces, and exclaimed, The Lord, He is the God! the Lord, He is the God!”
Thus we see the triumphant issue of the contest, and the indisputable right of Jehovah to the worship and service of the whole world.]
We now propose to give a similar challenge to all who worship the idols of their own hearts—
That all men are by nature idolaters is certain; for they all without exception “worship and serve the creature more than the Creator [Note: Rom_1:25.].” The prophet speaks of men “setting up idols in their own hearts;” and what those idols are, we are at no loss to declare; they are “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life” — — —
Now we have before established the principle, that the right of any Being to our worship ought to be judged of by his power to benefit those who devote themselves to him. Even the worshippers of Baal acknowledged the equity of this saying in reference to it, “It is well spoken.” Let us then examine the claims of the world, and of Jehovah, by this test. Which of them ever has “answered by fire,” or ever imparted spiritual blessings to his worshippers? Which can communicate the blessing
[Behold the votaries of the world; What insight have they ever gained into any one spiritual truth? What do even the most learned amongst them know of the evil of sin, the beauty of holiness, the glory of Christ, or of a thousand other subjects connected with the spiritual life? Is it not found a truth, that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned [Note: 1Co_2:14.]?” — — —
On the other hand, is it not found, that the followers of Christ have the “eyes of their understanding enlightened;” and that “the things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, are revealed unto them by the Spirit [Note: 1Co_2:9-10.]?” Yes, it is as true at this day, as it was in the hour when our Lord himself declared it, that “God hath hid these things from the wise and prudent, and has revealed them unto babes; even so, because it seemeth good in his sight [Note: Mat_11:25-26.].” He can have very little knowledge of the Christian world who is not acquainted with innumerable instances, wherein this assertion of our Lord is verified.]
[What lust have the votaries of the world been ever able to subdue? All, it is true, are not equally enslaved; but all are slaves to sin and Satan, though they do not all serve him in precisely the same way: as children of disobedience, they are under him as their god [Note: Eph_2:2.]; nor do any “recover themselves out of his toils, till Jehovah gives them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth [Note: 2Ti_2:26.]” — — — Indeed the people of the world themselves confess this; for, when urged to walk according to the commandments of God, they do not hesitate to vindicate their disobedience by saying, that the obedience required of them is impracticable.
But does not our blessed Lord and Saviour communicate strength to his followers, so that they are enabled to “over-come the world,” to “mortify the flesh,” and to “bruise even Satan himself under their feet?” Yes, there is armour provided for them, through the proper use of which they are made victorious over all their enemies; “nor does any sin retain its dominion over them” — — — They do indeed often cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of sin and death?” but they may always add, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”]
[The voice of inspiration has plainly told us, that “there is no peace to the wicked.” Their consciences indeed are often stupified, and even “seared as with a hot iron,” so that they are altogether insensible of their state: and this insensibility is often mistaken for peace: but the votaries of this world are strangers to that delightful feeling which results from a sense of acceptance with God, and an assured hope of dwelling with him for ever — — —
But the follower of Christ has “a peace that passeth all understanding.” “Being justified by faith, he has peace with God,” together with a “joy unspeakable and glorified.” This peace he has even when all his guilt is most present to his mind, and when death and judgment appear close at hand; because “he knows in whom he has believed,” and is assured, that “there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Hence he determinately obeys that injunction, “Thou shalt know no God but me: for there is no Saviour besides me [Note: Hos_13:4.].”]
Such are, in some little measure, the grounds on which we may decide between God and the world. We beg leave then to put to this whole assembly the following Questions;—
What is your judgment?
[Which has the better title to your love and service,—the world, or God? If “God be a wilderness to Israel,” or, if the world can do more for you than He, then we are content that the world shall be your god, and that Jehovah shall hold an inferior place in your esteem: but if God is a fountain of living waters, and the whole creation be only as broken cisterns, then we call upon you to acknowledge “God as your God for ever and ever” — — —]
What should be your determination?
[“Every man, as the prophet tells us, will walk in the name of his God,” whatever his idol may be, whether pleasure, or riches, or honour: “and we also should walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever [Note: Mic_4:5.].” In this resolution we should be fixed [Note: Hos_14:8.]. What though all Israel be against us, and we stand alone? shall we withhold our testimony on that account? No: truth is truth, whether embraced by many or by few. The prophets of Baal were not at all the more right in their views, because they were so numerous; nor was Elijah the less right, because he had none to concur with him: nor did he account his singularity in what was good any reason for relinquishing it: on the contrary, though alone, he determined to adhere with all steadfastness to the Lord; and we in like manner should say with Joshua, “Though all Israel should depart from God, we and our houses will serve the Lord [Note: Jos_24:15.]” — — —]