The present state is a state of trial, not reward; the time of retribution is reserved for that future world, when all shall be rewarded according to their works; when the great Arbitrator shall pronounce the unalterable doom of each, and of all; and exactly apportion the rewards and punishments, according to the merits and demerits of every individual.
From hence we may perceive the folly, as well as impiety, of pronouncing concerning the moral condition of any of our fellow -creatures, from their circumstances, either of prosperity, or adversity in this life: these are promiscuously distributed here below; and whilst we frequently find the basest characters “clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day,” we find, on the other hand, the most pure, the most upright, the most truly devoted to God, in circumstances of calamity and of distress; destitute, afflicted, tormented, contending from childhood to old age with the various ills of life, with poverty, with sickness, or with the distressing evils arising from tyranny and persecution. These observations are confirmed by innumerable examples, as recorded in the word of God: many of the saints are therein characterized, as subject to afflictions innumerable; and among the rest, the Prophet Elijah, who is now proposed as the subject of our serious and attentive consideration.
Among the prophets of the Old Testament, Elijah stands peculiarly distinguished. His courage in the ser vice of God was signal; his abstemiousness and abstraction from society were remarkable. In this respect, be strongly resembled the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist, concerning whom it was said, that he should possess the spirit of Elijah. In other respects also, the character of this great man is calculated to arrest our attention: he is one of the few of all the offspring of Adam who now appears in heaven with a human body, having been translated, that he should not see death: and when our blessed Lord appeared on the mount of transfiguration, he and Moses were selected for the peculiar honour of at tending him on that occasion. The Evangelist informs us, that when our Lord prayed, " the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became white and glistening. And behold there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias, who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” What honour does not God confer upon his faithful servants! They are held by him in everlasting remembrance. Elijah, whilst in the world, honoured God; as a witness of the truth, he boldly reproved the King and people of Israel: in return, he was exalted to heaven, dwelt with saints and angels; and now with Moses he appears in glory on the mount, there addressing familiarly the Saviour of men, and acquainted with the counsels of the Most High, speaks concerning that wonderful death to which the Lord of life was about to submit, in order to effect the salvation of a world.
This wonderful man was raised up during the reign of the wicked Ahab, concering whom it is said, he sold him self to do evil. Then he was sent to the rebellious people of Israel. His office he fulfilled with singular fidelity; their idolatry he condemned; the cause and worship of the true God he pleaded. Though clothed in mean apparel, he acted and spoke with majesty and authority; and while he earnestly called sinners to repentance, he reproved, rebuked, and exhorted; and fearless even of the wrath of the king, he boldly denounced the judgment of God against him and his people.
Without any mention of his parentage, or extraction, Elijah is first introduced, (1 Kings xvii. 1,) as threatening to impious Ahab a drought upon the land of Israel. According to the word of the prophet, for three years and a half the heavens gave no rain, and the earth denied her increase. He in some measure partook of the general distress; but, at the same time, was under the immediate care of heaven. With parental tenderness the Lord provided for him; and that his bread might not fail, the course of nature was overruled; “Get thee hence,” said God, “and hide thyself by the brook Cherith; and thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; and the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the evening, and he drank of the brook.” How unlimited is the sway which God exercises over all his creatures! He has a thousand ways of ministering to the necessities of his servants. To effect the former, we see, as in this case, the rain of heaven withheld, and the fruitful land become a wilderness: to effect the latter, birds the most ravenous, are made to forego their own indulgence, and by regular supplies to sustain the prophet. Let the wicked fear, since God can soon dry up all the sources of their enjoyment: and oh! let the children of the most High ever confide in his care and protection. “The young lions may lack and suffer hunger, but they who seek the Lord shall not want any good thing."
The excessive drought so prevailed, that the waters of the brook which supplied the Prophet failed. This was a most alarming circumstance; but the Lord being his helper, an expedient was not wanting: “Arise," said the Lord, "get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there; behold I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee: so he arose and went to Zarephath; " and when he came to the gates of the city, behold the widow woman was there gathering of sticks. The salutation of this poor widow, appears to have been extremely distressing. In answer to the request of the Prophet, she exclaims, “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 cruise; and behold I am gathering a few sticks, that I may dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it and then die. And the Prophet said, Fear not, but go and do as thou hast said; for thus saith the Lord, (how infinitely condescending in Deity, thus to regard a worm of the earth!) thus saith the Lord God of Israel, the harrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruise of oil the fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon earth. And she went and did as Elijah said unto her, and she, and be, and her house, did eat many days: and the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruise of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by his servant Elijah.” How wonderfully were all these circumstances ordered! the brook dried up, nearly at the same time when the poor widow's store was almost exhausted. At this time of need, the Prophet is sent to her; she came out of the city just as the Prophet arrived there: she appears disposed to forego her own support for his assistance, and he, in return, announced to her the consolatory tidings, that God would take care that all her wants should be supplied by the riches of his bounty. Oh, let us ever trust in the watchful providence of the universal Parent, who feeds the young ravens when they cry. He who clothes the grass of the fields, shall he not much more feed and clothe the children of his peculiar care? Oh! let us “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all needful blessings will be added unto us. " is still the same, still looks upon his servants God with tender regard, and he still has the fulness of the earth at his command.
After this, we find the prophet, in obedience to the command of God, appearing before the wicked Ahab. Fearlessly he charged him and his house as wicked apostates from the true religion, as shameful violators of the commandments of the Lord, and as worshippers of Baalim. At the instance of Elijah, this idolatrous king is made to summon the priests and the people to Mount Carmel. What is the object? —That the vanity of the idols which they worshipped might be exposed, and the divinity of the God of Israel demonstrated. “How long, (said the magnanimous Elijah, upon this occasion,) how long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, follow him.” Then, with holy fervour, addressing himself to Jehovah, he prays— “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day, that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.” Immediately the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the sacrifice: the priests of Baal were confounded; the people fell on their faces, crying out “The Lord, he is God! the Lord, he is God!" After this signal triumph, we find him pouring out his soul before God, imploring rain; and in answer to this intercession, the heavens became black with clouds and winds, and there was great rain. How powerful is faithful prayer with God! Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth, by the space of three years and six months. He prayed again, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. (James v. 17, 18.)
Notwithstanding these many and convincing proofs of his divine authority, as a prophet of the Most High; and notwithstanding the seasonable supply of rain, when the nation was almost ruined for lack of it, which through his intercession was granted; the infamous Jezebel, instead of being grateful, thirsted for his life. To escape her implacable resentment, he flies into the wilderness. He appears in this situation, to be almost ready to sink. In the time of trial, however, God appeared to his comfort; and as before, he commanded the ravens and the widow to support him, so now he sends an angel to give him food. “The angel of the Lord, (saith the scriptures,) came the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise, and eat, because the journey is too far for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat, forty days, and forty nights, into Horeb, the Mount of God.”
After the death of Ahab, we find this wonderful man, announcing to the messengers of Ahaziah, Ahab's son, that the death of their master, (concerning whom they had been sent to inquire of the idol god of Ekron,) was just at hand. This enraged the dying prince; and to apprehend the prophet, he sent a band of fifty armed men. These, by fire from heaven, were destroyed: and another fifty, for the same presumptuous temerity, met with the same fate. With the third fifty, despatched upon the same errand, he was directed by the angel of the Lord to go: he went, and with undaunted courage stood before the king, declared the anger of the Lord against him, and pronounced the dreadful mandate:—“Thou shalt surely die.” The effect which this had upon the king, we know not; but certainly his fury appears to have been turned away, and probably his of violence defeated. Let us fear no danger in purpose the path of duty: God will keep the feet of his saints; and by strength shall no man prevail against him.
As the life of this singular man was marked with a variety of wonderful incidents, so his end was extraordinary. In company with Elisha, his successor, he crossed the River Jordan—the waters obeying the mandate of the prophet, and leaving to him and his companion a passage on dry ground. And as they still went on, behold a glorious convoy was prepared for the translation of the prophet. A chariot of fire, and horses of fire, appeared, and parted them both asunder: and Elijah went up by the whirl wind into heaven. He, like Enoch, was translated that he should not see death; and this too, in a public, visible manner, as a testimony of God's approbation, and a proof infallible to those few godly persons who remained, that it is not in vain to serve the Lord.
Do we desire, my readers, to ascend with Elijah to heaven? Then let our affections be fixed on the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Let us give ourselves to the Lord; let us serve and love him: and though our bodies must awhile sleep in the dust, our spirits shall be conveyed by the ministry of angels, into the mansions of the blessed.