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why the Prophet should be especially rigid in 'nis observance of the Law of the Master who sent him. God sends His Prophets to keep the Law, not to break it. He indeed who gave it might recall it; and a Prophet might be His instrument in recalling it, or in modifying, or in developing it; but while the Law continued, surely it was to be "magnified and made honourable,” not disregarded. Consider our Saviour's example, and you will acknowledge what I say. He came with greater miracles; He was Giver and Lord of the Law; and moreover, He actually came to supersede it; yet how reverently did He treat, how dutifully did He obey, His own ordinances! He went up to the Temple continually, and bade His hearers obey those who sat in Moses' seat; He sent those whom He cured to the Priests; He paid the Temple tribute; He did not destroy, till He had gained (so to say) a right to destroy, in that He had fulfilled. Not. till He could say, “It is finished," did the veil of the Temple rend in twain. Miracles, then, and a Prophet's office, are no warrant at all, as the conduct of the Holiest shows us, for the neglect of God's Law. Why then did He dispense with obedience in the instance of Elijah? why do we not hear of Elijah's going up to Jerusalem three times a year? why did he not do honour to the Priests, and to the Temple service ? Even in the last age of the Jewish Church, our Lord said to the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is of the Jews ";" and yet Elijah and Elisha, and their brethren, acquiesce in the disorders which surround them; and rather strive to make the best of things as they are, than to bring back a rule of religion which had passed away.
i John iv. 22.
Of course they acted at God's bidding. He can dispense with His laws when He pleases, as well as abrogate them; He did at that time dispense with them, as He abrogated them afterwards; but the strange circumstance is, that He should dispense with them. Yet observe what the matter of fact was: He raised up Elijah for a certain definite work, and for that alone, neither more nor less. First, the Prophet executed the Divine sentence upon Baal’s priests, in his own person; next, he was bidden to anoint Jehu for the same work, -a purpose which Elisha brought to effect. But he did no more; to this his mission was limited. How different from our usual way of viewing things! We are accustomed to say that nothing is done, unless all is done; but God's thoughts are not our thoughts, neither our ways
He raises up Prophets and gifts them with miraculous power, to do a half work; not to heal the division of the kingdoms, but to destroy idolatry; not to restore outward unity, but to repress inward unbelief; not to retrace the steps of the wanderers, but to keep them from wandering still farther.
What makes this providence stranger still, is, that a return to the Temple service might, in this particular instance, have seemed the very remedy of their idolatrous
The kingdom of Israel had been set up in idolatry; the ten tribes had become idolatrous by leaving the Temple, and they would have ceased to be idolatrous by returning again to it. The real removal of error is the exhibition of the truth. Truth supplants error; make sure of truth, and error is at an end : yet Elijah acted otherwise ; he suffered the people to remain where they were; he tried to reform them in that state.
Now why this was so ordered we do not know; whether it be, that when once a people goes wrong, it cannot retrace its steps; or whether there was so much evil at that time in Judah also, that to have attempted a reunion would have been putting a piece of new cloth into an old garment, and had it been effected, would have been an hollow, unreal triumph ; or whether such good works have a sort of natural march, and the nearer work must first be done, and then that which is farther removed, and men must undo their sins in the order in which they committed them, and thus, as neglect of the Temple was the sin of Jeroboam, and Baal-worship the sin of Ahab, so they must ascend back again from Ahab to Jeroboam ; but, whatever was the reason, so it
was, that Elijah and Elisha kept the people shut up under that system, if it might so be called, in which they found them, and sought rather to teach them their duty, than to restore to them their privileges. So had it been with the Israelites in the wilderness, when, after listening to the evil report of the promised land, and murmuring, they were condemned to wander outside its borders, yet not abandoned by the pillar of the cloud, and on their presumptuously attempting to fight the enemy and force a passage, were beaten back, and taught to exhaust the dreary days of the years of their pilgrimage in patience. So was it with Balaam, who, when he tempted God, was bidden to go with the enemies of Israel, yet with God's anger on him because he went. So was it with holy David, who cheerfully waited out the full term of years during which he was to be a wanderer on the mountains, and to cry, “When shall I come to appear before the presence of God ?” So was it not with Jeroboam, but so should it have been, who lost patience, and did not wait for the promise, but seized the kingdom before the destined time, and thereby lost that communion with Jerusalem which Elijah did not attempt to restore. So was it with wellbeloved Daniel, who in a heathen court led a saint's life, and was visited by Angels, when he could but look towards the Temple. Well then might the schools of the Prophets also be an "example of suffering affliction and of patience;" well might they be content not to go over Jordan, but to die in the wilderness; well might they feed their people with the mere elements of truth, with “milk not with strong meat," while they but obscurely signified Gospel doctrine; for there was envying and strife and division among them, and they were carnal, and were not able to bear the food of men and Angels. So the patient Prophets were satisfied with enforcing, not ecclesiastical duties, but the Ten Commandments; teaching the First and the Second to the multitudes on Carmel by the judgment on Baal's priests; and the Third to those who bade the “man of God” come down from the mountain, and were thereupon smitten with fire from heaven; and the Fifth to the little children who cried out “ Bald head;" and the Sixth and the Seventh and the Ninth, in the judgments on her who murdered Naboth, and whose whoredoms were so many; and the Eighth and the Tenth
on Ahab, who coveted the vineyard and also took possession ;--not sending the Shunammite to Jerusalem, nor eager for a proselyte in Naaman, yet making the heathen fear the Name of God, and proving to them that there was a Prophet in Israel.
Yes, surely, the Ten Commandments were the appropriate theme of a Prophet's preaching in that day; and Elijah would seem best to be renewing communion with Moses, if he went back to that elementary lesson, so solemnly impressed upon the favoured Lawgiver in the wilderness ;--what time in his solitary fast he heard the Lord pass by before him, and a Voice proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty !." And therefore when, at the season of which the text speaks, the Prophet had to flee for his life for fear of Jezebel, and in his heart thought that his mission had failed, he sought not the kingdom of David, he honoured not the precept of unity, he had no heart for that outward glory of holier times ; be passed by Jerusalem, he passed on, along a forlorn and barren way, into that old desert in which the children of Israel did wander, till he came to Horeb the Mount of God'. He fled to Antiquity, and would not stop short of it, and so he heard the words of comfort which reconciled him to his work and to its issue. He went in weariness and despondency, for “the children of Israel had forsaken God's covenant, thrown down His altars, and slain His 1 Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7.
9 Vide Mal. iv. 4, 5.