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where they are maligned; Elijah doth at once reprove the king, and require of him the improvement of his power, in gathering all Israel to Carmel, in fetching thither all the prophets of Baal. Baal was rich in Israel, while God was poor ; while God hath but one hundred prophets hid closely in Obadiah's caves, Baal hath eight hundred and fifty; four hundred and fifty dispersed over the villages and towns of Israel, four hundred at the court; God's prophets are glad of bread and water, while the four hundred trencher-prophets of Jezebel feed on her dainties; they lurk in caves, while these lord it in the pleasantest groves. Outward prosperity is a false note of truth. All these, with all Israel, doth Elijah require Ahab to summon unto Carmel. It is in the power of kings to command the assembly of the prophets; the prophet sues to the prince for the indication of this synod. They are injurious to sovereignty who arrogate this power to none but spiritual hands. How is it, that Ahab is as ready to perform this charge as Elijah to move it? I dare answer for his heart, that it was not drawn with love ; was it out of the sense of one judgment, and fear of another? He smarted with the dearth and drought, and well thinks Elijah would not be so round with him for nothing. Was it out of an expectation of some miraculous exploit which the prophet would do in the sight of all Israel ? or, was it out of the overruling power of the Almighty? “The heart of kings is in the hands of God, and he turns it which way soever he pleaseth."
Israel is met together; Elijah rates them, not so much for their superstition, as for their unsettledness and irresolution. One Israelite serves God, another Baal; yea, the same Israelite, perhaps, serves both God and Baal: “How long halt ye between two opinions ? if the Lord be God, follow him ; but if Baal, then follow him." Nothing is more odious to God than a profane neutrality in main oppositions of religion: to go upright in a wrong way, is a less eyesore to God, than to halt betwixt right and wrong. The Spirit wishes that the Laodicean were either hot or cold: either temper would be better borne than neither, than both: in reconcilable differences nothing is more safe than indifferency both of practice and opinion ; but in cases of so necessary hostility as betwixt God and Baal, he that is on neither side is the deadliest enemy to both ; less hateful are they to God that serve him not at all, than they that serve him with a rival.
Whether out of guiltiness or fear, or uncertainty, Israel is silent, yet, while their mouth was shut, their eyes were open. It was a fair motiớn of Elijah ; "I am only remaining a prophet of the Lord, Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty ; let them choose one bullock, let me choose another: their devotion shall be combined, mine single; the God that consumes the sacrifice by fire from heaven, let him be God.” Israel cannot but approve it; the prophets of Baal cannot refuse it; they had the appearance of the advantage in their number, in the favour of king and people.
Oh strange disputation, wherein the argument which must be used is fire; the place whence it must be fetched, heaven; the mood and figure, devotion; the conclusion, death to be overcome!
Had not Elijah by divine instinct been assured of the event, he durst not have put religion upon such hazard; that God commanded him this trial, who meant confusion to the authors of idolatry, victory to the truth. His terror should be approved both by fire and by water; first by fire, then by water; there was no less terror in the fire, than mercy in the rain: it was fit they should first be humbled by his terrors, that they might be made capable of his mercy; and by both might be won to repentance. Thus still the fears of the law make way for the influences of grace; neither do those sweet and heavenly dews descend
upon the soul, till way be made for them by the terrible flashes of the law.
Justly doth Elijah urge this trial. God's sacrifices were used to none but heavenly fires ; whereas the base and earthly religion of the heathen contented itself with gross and natural flames.
The prophets of Baal durst not, though with faint and guilty hearts, but embrace the condition; they dress their bullock, and lay it ready upon the wood, and send out their cries to Baal from morning until mid-day; “O Baal, hear us." What a yelling was here of four hundred and fifty throats tearing the skies for an answer! what leaping was here upon the altar, as if they would have climbed up to fetch that fire which would not come down alone! Mount Carmel might give an echo to their voice, heaven gave none; in vain do they roar out, and weary themselves in imploring a dumb and deaf deity. Grave and austere Elijah holds it not too light to flout their zealous devotion: he laughs at their tears, and plays upon their earnest : “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is travelling, or he is sleeping, and must be awaked.”
Scorns and taunts are the best answers for serious idolatry ; holiness will bear us out in disdainful scoffs, and bitterness against wilful superstition. No less in the indignation at these insulting frumps, than zeal of their own safety and reputation, do these idolatrous prophets now rend their throats with inclamations; and that they may assure the beholders they were not in jest, they cut and slash themselves with knives and lancets, and solicit the fire with their blood. How much painfulness is there in mis-religion! I do not find that the true God ever required or accepted the self-tortures of his servants; he loves true inward mortification of our corruptions, he loves the subduing of our spiritual insurrections by due exercises of severe restraint ; he takes no pleasure in our blood, in our carcases :
they mistake God that think to please him by destroying that nature which he hath made, and measure truth by rigour of outward extremities; Elijah drew no blood of himself, the priests of Baal did. How fain would the devil, whom these idolaters adored, have answered the suit of his suppliants ! What would that ambitious spirit have given, that as he was cast down from heaven like lightning, so now he might have fallen down in that form upon his altar
God forbid it: all the powers of darkness can no more show one flash of fire in the air, than avoid the unquenchable fire in hell. How easy were it for the power of the Almighty to cut short all the tyrannical usurpations of that wicked one, if his wisdom and justice did not find the permission thereof useful to his holy purposes.
These idolaters, now, towards evening, grew so much more vehement, as they were more hopeless ; and at last, when neither their shrieks, nor their wounds, nor their mad motions could prevail, they sit down hoarse and weary, tormenting themselves afresh with their despairs, and with the fears of bitter suc. cess of their adversary; when Elijah calls the people to him, the witnesses of his sincere proceedings, and taking the opportunity, both of the time, the just hour of the evening sacrifice, and of the place, (a ruined altar of God, now by him repaired,) convinces Israel with his miracle, and more cuts these Baalites with envy, than they had cut themselves with their lances.
O holy prophet, why didst thou not save this labour ? what needed these unseasonable reparations ? was there not an altar, was there not a sacrifice ready prepared to thine hand ? That which the prophets of Baal had addressed, stood still waiting for that fire from thee, which the founders threatened in vain : the stones were not more impure, either for their touch or their intentions. Yet such was thy detestation of idolatry, that thou abhorrest to meddle with aught which their wickedness had defiled: even that altar, whose ruins thou didst thus repair, was miserected, though to the name of the true God; yet didst thou find it better to make up the breaches of that altar which was mis-consecrated to the service of thy God, than to make use of that pile which was idolatrously devoted to a false god. It cannot be but safe to keep aloof from participation with idolaters, even in those things, which not only in nature, but in use are unclean.
Elijah lays twelve stones in his repaired altar, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob. Alas! ten of these were perverted to Baal. The prophet regards not their present apostasy; he regards the ancient covenant that was made with their father Israel ; he regards their first station, to which he would reduce them: he knew that the unworthiness of Israel could not make God forgetful; he would, by this monument, put Israel in mind of their own degeneration and forgetfulness. He employs those many hands for the making a large trench round about the altar, and causes it to be filled with those precious remainders of water which the people would have grudged to their own mouths, neither would easily have parted with, but as those that pour down a pailful into a dry pump, in the hope of fetching more. The altar, the trench, is full. A barrelful is poured out for each of the tribes, that every tribe might be afterwards replenished. Ahab and Israel are no less full of expectation; and now, when God's appointed hour of the evening sacrifice was come, Elijah comes confidently to his altar, and, looking up into heaven, says, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and 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: hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know