“And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice….And behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, ‘What doest thou here, Elijah?’” – 1 Kings 19:12-13.
Charles Spurgeon was well acquainted with disappointment in ministry, and the same was true for the prophet Elijah. As Spurgeon read this Scripture, he observed that “Elijah no doubt expected that after the wonderful display of God’s power on Carmel the nation would give up its idols.” However, this had not come to pass. Rather Jezebel’s “rule over vacillating Ahab” continued, ensuring that “the idol gods would sit safely on their throne.” This thought was “gall and wormwood to the idol-hating prophet.”
And so, Elijah “became so despondent that he was ready to give up the conflict.” He could not bear to “live in the land where the people…honour Baal,” and so “flies into the wilderness.”
To Spurgeon, Elijah’s flight was both extraordinary and yet predictable. Spurgeon exclaimed with shock “what a retreat before a beaten enemy!” “How the mighty are fallen! Is this my lord Elijah, crouching in a cavern?” But as Spurgeon observed, Elijah’s reaction was commonplace for he was “fainthearted and weary, and therefore had fled his Master’s service.” As Spurgeon said, “It is well for us who are always weak that we can so clearly see that the strong are only strong because God makes them so.”
Yet, in the midst of Elijah’s weakness God cared for his weary servant. The Lord “knew that [Elijah] needed quiet as well as sleep and food, and there among the crags…Elias found himself somewhat at home.” But when he arose so did the thunder and lightning, the earthquake, and the fire. The mountain shook, but God was not in the tempest. Rather, it was the “still small voice by which Jehovah called his servant near.”
In the first section of his sermon, Spurgeon focused on “the chosen agency.” Here he directed his hearers to “Notice, at the outset, what it was not.” It was not the “terrible,” “tremendous,” or “overwhelming” which “conquered Elijah’s brave heart,” rather it was the “still small voice.”
Accordingly, Spurgeon noted that the “still small voice” of the gospel “succeeds where ‘terrible things’…are of no avail.” recognized that this truth ran counter to the world’s expectations. He observed that “We still cling to the idea that outward pomp of power tremendous would advance the kingdom of God.” Indeed, “In our religious exercises we are too apt to rely upon carnal force and energy.”
However, Spurgeon believed that “the Lord is not in the fire. The furious energy of unbridled fanaticism the Lord does not use.” Rather that which will “quicken, enlighten, sanctify, and really bless” is the “still small voice” of the gospel empowered by the Holy Spirit.
In the second section of his sermon, Spurgeon expounded upon “The choice effects.” First, Spurgeon noted that “the man was subdued.” Turning to the case of the needy sinner, Spurgeon remarked, “when the Spirit of God comes in his gentle power upon any of you, then you will resist no longer: you will be subdued and conquered by his soft and tender touch.”
Second, Spurgeon explained that since “Love is the triumphant power” which “leads the heart in glad captivity,” “obedience” would soon follow.” In short “Grace makes us tender in the matter of obedience” because the Christian’s “desire is to know the Lord’s will, and promptly to fulfill it.”
In the third section of his sermon, Spurgeon reflected on “The lesson which Elijah himself learned.” First, he declared that “God does not always use the means which we suppose he will use.” He warned his congregation not to be “too fond of favourite methods” because God “as a rule, does not use our schemes.”
Second, Spurgeon asserted that “all means are useless apart from [God].” Simply, “All wind, all fire, all earthquake, all power and grandeur, fail unless the still small voice be there and God in it.” Finally, Spurgeon observed that “our weakness may be our strength.” When the “success of Carmel melted like the morning mist” Elijah thought “his career had been a failure.” But nonetheless, “God had blessed Elijah’s testimony” in the preservation of the seven thousand. And in conclusion Spurgeon pleaded, “let the listening be practised at once, most reverently.”
Why you should take up and read:
Charles Spurgeon was well acquainted with disappointment in ministry. But he found comfort in the example of Elijah which taught him that “the strong are only strong because God makes them so.” The real power was not in “the tempest” but rather in “the still small voice.” For the reader wanting to be refreshed and strengthened for service please take up and read.
Here is a link to the Sermon of the Week:https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-still-small-voice#flipbook/
Phillip Ort serves as the Director of The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City while studying in The Residency Ph.D. program.