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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: The Lesser Epistles

Chapter 67 - James 5:17; 1 Kings 19:10-18 - Human Despondency and Divine Encouragement Light & Truth: The Lesser Epistles by Bonar, Horatius




Human Despondency And

Divine Encouragement.


"Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are."

-James 5:17; 1 King 19:10-18.



     Without dwelling on the words of the Apostle James regarding Elijah and the 'commonness of feeling' between us and him (?μοιοπαθ?ς), we turn to one of those narratives out of which the statement of the apostle springs. Let us (though with reference to James 5:17) dwell at length on the narrative in First Kings regarding Elijah.

     The place of the vision and conversation (recorded in the latter part of this 19th chapter) is Horeb.[10] We are carried back to Moses both by the scene and the utterances. As God and Moses met in this wild mountain face to face, so did God and Elijah. And we may notice in passing, that Moses and Elias are connected both with the mountain of the transfiguration and the mountain of the law. (Moses was buried and Elijah ascended from the same place.) And in the history of these two prophets we find the number forty curiously associated.

     But it is with the interview between God and Elijah that we have at present to do. In the 14th verse we have the utterance of Elijah's feelings, and, in the 18th, the answer of God. In these we note the two following things:-

     I. Human despondency.-All men have, more or less, their despondencies or depressions. 'I am desolate and afflicted,' said David. In like manner did Job and Jeremiah express themselves; and we can trace a similar feeling in several expressions of the Apostle Paul. But there is something peculiar in Elijah's case. Jonah and he are considerably alike, though there is much more that is noble and patriotic and unselfish in Elijah's feelings than in Jonah's. Elijah's despondency is not very unnatural, though it is without excuse. He did stand, and act, and speak very much alone, without any to lean on or sympathize with. He was fiercely opposed by kings and princes; the people did not side with him; his life was threatened; he was compelled to flee; his prophetic work seemed a failure, in so far as bringing back Israel was concerned. He appeared to have accomplished nothing, and now he was flying for his life into the wilderness. His faith failed him; his equanimity gave way; he wished himself dead. Not that he doubted his sonship. With Bible saints a doubt as to that was impossible. It would have implied doubts as to the very being and word of Jehovah. But he had sunk down into the lowest spirits, and everything seemed dark around him. He had been most wonderfully owned of God; clothed with superhuman power and authority; enabled to do most amazing miracles. He had confronted kings, and captains, and priests. Yet now he sinks low. Jezebel's threats and her pursuit of him had unmanned and unnerved him, nay, had almost destroyed his faith. Ah, truly, he was a man subject to like passions as we are; and there is something almost peevish as well as profane in the way he seems to reproach God for not having done greater things by him: 'I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts. The children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away.' Elijah, the man of faith, and prayer, and power, had given way. Unbelief for the time triumphs, and has made everything look black. There is weakness, cowardice, despair, pride, self-esteem. He has become weak as the weakest of us. We are thankful for this. We see him at our side, down to our level, this lofty and unapproachable saint. This eagle of Gilead has fallen, maimed and broken, at our feet. An arrow from the evil one has pierced him. We do not triumph over him: we are stirred with profound sympathy; yet we are comforted. He is a man of like passions, like unbelief, subject to fits of depression like our selves. Let us be warned, however, and beware of such things as the following:-

     (1) Of self-importance; (2) of impatience; (3) of exaggerating evils; (4) of looking only at the dark side of providences; (5) of ingratitude to God; (6) of misjudgment of others; (7) of unbelief; (8) of hasty views; (9) of writing bitter things either against ourselves or others. The root of all these evils is the unbelieving heart departing from God.

     II. Divine encouragement.-God upbraideth not. No word of reproof for his dejection and unbelief. The Lord pities His servant too much to speak of these. He at once proceeds to deal with him on the same familiar and honourable footing as before. He indicates no want of confidence in His dejected and complaining prophet, but entrusts him at once with a new errand; and then utters the cheering words of our text, 'Yet I have left seven thousand men in Israel.' Elijah's eye, dimmed and disturbed by unbelief, saw no worshipper of Jehovah but himself; he thought he was alone. God removed the dimness, drew aside 'the curtain, and showed him seven thousand! What a glorious revelation! What a rebuke to his despondency! It needed but the brushing away the clouds of unbelief and lo, there sparkled out seven thousand stars! Elijah was far wrong, though a prophet. He interpreted the age and the land by his own sad feelings, and he thought that God had forsaken Israel. And yet the day was a dark one, and the land given over to idolatry; for what was seven thousand to the whole nation? But oh the grace, the pity, the tenderness, the patience of Jehovah, in this dealing with His sorrowful servant! Yes, the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy. His thoughts are not ours, His ways are not ours. Oh, let us never wrong Him by an evil thought or dark suspicion; nor think, when we do go wrong, that He must punish before He restores.

     Let us here learn such lessons as the following; for the words suit us well in these last days:-

     (1.) God sees not as man sees.-Some things He sees worse than man does,-much worse; others He sees better. Man looks at the outward appearance whether for good or ill; the Lord looketh at the heart. He never wrongs, nor misjudges, nor misunderstands, nor makes a man worse than he is. God's judgments are not so harsh as man's. He hates evil, yet He deals graciously with the evil doer; He does not upbraid, nor cast off the backslider, or inconsistent saint. He is exceeding charitable, and thinketh no evil. He takes the most favorable view of every case that can be taken.

     (2.) God finds Christians in unexpected places.-Man searches in vain. Even a prophet sees nothing. An Elijah traverses the whole land, and says there is not a believing man to be found. God says, I see seven thousand! A few in this village, a few in that. One in this hut among the mountains, another in the dreary desert. No light comes from them to you; but I see the hidden light, and I own it.

     (3.) God is satisfied with even very little faith and knowledge.-'He has compassion on the ignorant.' As in Philadelphia He accepted the 'little strength,' so here. 'He that is not against us is for us.' These true Israelites could not have been very bright, else seven thousand would have made themselves seen. They burned very dimly, yet God recognized them. He does not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. He hears the secret sigh, the low breathing, the upturned eye. 'I heard (no one else, perhaps) Ephraim bemoaning himself.' The feeblest cry of the helpless, or of the little child, He hears,-all the more for their feebleness, as it is the weak, low voice of his sick child that touches a father's heart. God accepts the very least measure of faith and prayer. It does not need violence, nor loudness, nor length. The feeble groan will do. The simple desire will do. The low breathing will do. How often He seems to speak as if He would accept any who did not positively reject Him!  For it is the blood on the mercy seat that gives efficacy to these low faint cries of the weak and needy, the whispers of the weary soul. As God loves to speak to us in His still small voice, so He loves to hear our still small voice. It is the fragrance of the priestly incense that makes the very poorest of these sighings so sweet to God, that He cannot turn away nor refuse.

     (4.) God accepts very unlikely persons.-Not many wise, nor noble, nor great, but the poor, the obscure, the babes. And some of those characters recorded as so abundantly blessed by Him do not bear the features which would have attracted us,-such as Jacob, or Samson, or Gideon, or Rahab, or Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite. Rough saints these were of old. Yet, as believing men, God owns them as His, and deals with them as such. Who more repulsive than Jacob? yet who gets so many visions and revelations, and, in the end, so many blessings?

     What a rebuke to censoriousness is all this! Let us beware of sitting in judgment on others, or pronouncing them no Christians, because not cast in our mold, nor able to pronounce our shibboleth. Let us be just to the age we live in, and the men among whom we live.

     What encouragement to the weak! 'God is mighty, yet despiseth not any.' He is merciful and gracious; very pitiful and patient, listening for the faintest cry or moan that comes up to Him from earth. Let none be discouraged; let none distrust; let none think themselves overlooked by God. He is quick to hear and to recognize the cry of a sinner, however low and broken. He did chasten Jacob; but, instead of punishing before He restored and blessed him, He restored and blessed him before He punished. These marvelous visions came immediately on the back of his sins. The publican said very little: 'Be merciful to me.' God heard and blessed. The thief said merely, 'Lord, remember me!' How simple, how easy, how suitable, how blessed! 'Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.'