“Let it be known that I have done all these things at thy word.”— 1 Kings xviii. 36.
THE acts of Elijah were very singular. It had not been known from the foundations of the earth that a man should shut up the doors of the rain for the space of three years. Yet Elijah suddenly leaped upon the scene, announced the judgment of the Lord, and then disappeared for a time. When he reappears, at the bidding of God, he orders Ahab to gather the priests of Baal; and to put to the test the question as to whether Baal or Jehovah was indeed God. Bullocks shall be slain and laid upon the wood without fire; and the God who shall answer by fire shall be determined to be the one living and true God, the God of Israel. We might question within ourselves what right the prophet had to restrain the clouds, or to put God’s honour under test. Suppose the Lord had not willed to answer him by fire; had he any right to make the glory of God hang upon such terms as he proposed? The answer is that he had done all these things according to God’s word. It was no whim of his to chastise the nation with a drought. It was no scheme of his, concocted in his own brain, that he should put the Godhead of Jehovah or of Baal to the test by a sacrifice to be consumed by miraculous fire. Oh, no! If you read the life of Elijah through, you will see that whenever he takes a step it is preceded by, “the word of the Lord came unto Elijah the Tishbite.” He never acts of himself; God is at his back. He moves according to the divine will, and he speaks according to the divine teaching; and he pleads this with the Most High,— “I have done all these things at thy word; now let it be known that it is so.” It makes the character of Elijah stand out, not as an example of reckless daring, but as the example of a man of sound mind. Faith in God is true wisdom: childlike confidence in the word of God is the highest form of common-sense. To believe him that cannot lie, and trust in him that cannot fail, is a kind of wisdom that none but fools will laugh at. The wisest of men must concur in the opinion that it is always best to place your reliance where it will certainly be justified, and always best to believe that which cannot possibly be false. Elijah had so believed, and acted on his belief, and now he naturally expects to be justified in what he has done. An ambassador never dreams that his authorized acts will be repudiated by his king. If a man acts as your agent and does your bidding, the responsibility of his acts lies with you, and you must back him up. It were, indeed, an atrocious thing to send a servant on an errand, and, when he faithfully performed it to the letter, to repudiate your sending him. It is not so with God. If we will only so trust him as to do as he bids us, he will never fail us; but he will see us through, though earth and hell should stand in the way. It may not be to-day, nor to-morrow, but as surely as the Lord liveth, the time shall come when he that trusted him shall have joy of his confidence.
It seems to me that Elijah’s plea is to obedient saints a firm, ground for prayer, and to those who cannot say that they have acted according to God’s word, it is a solemn matter for question.
I. To begin with, this is A FIRM GROUND FOR PRAYER. YOU are a minister of God, or a worker in the cause of Christ, and you go forth and preach the gospel with many tears and prayers, and you continue to use all means, such as Christ has ordained: do you say to yourself, “May I expect to have fruit of all this? Of course you may. You are not sent on a frivolous errand: you are not bidden to sow dead seed that will never spring up. But when that anxiety weighs heavily upon your heart, go you to the mercy-seat with this as one of your arguments, “Lord, I have done according to thy word. Now let it be seen that it is even so. I have preached thy word, and thou hast said, ‘It shall not return unto me void.’ I have prayed for these people, and thou hast said, ‘The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much’; let it be seen that this is according to thy word.” Or, if you are a teacher, you can say, “I brought my children in supplication before thee, and I have gone forth, after studying thy Word, to teach them, to the best of my ability, the way of salvation. Now, Lord, I claim it of thy truth that thou shouldest justify my teaching, and my expectation, by giving me to see the souls of my children saved by thee, through Jesus Christ, thy Son,” Do you not see that you have a good argument, if the Lord has set you to do this work? He has, as it were, bound himself by that very fact to support you in the doing of it; and if you, with holy diligence and carefulness, do all these things according to his word, then you may come with certainty to the throne of grace, and say unto him, “Do as thou hast said. Hast thou not said, ‘He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him’? Lord I have done that. Give me my sheaves. Thou has said, ‘Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days.’ Lord, I have done that; and therefore I entreat thee fulfil thy promise to me.” You may plead in this fashion with the same boldness which made Elias say in the presence of all the people, “Let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I have done all these things at thy word.”
Next, I would apply this teaching to a whole church. I am afraid many churches of Christ are not prospering. The congregations are thin, the church is diminishing, the prayer-meeting scantily attended, spiritual life low. If I can conceive of a church in such a condition which, nevertheless, can say to God, “We have done all these things at thy word,” I should expect to see that church soon revived in answer to prayer. The reason why some churches do not prosper is, because they have not done according to God’s word. They have not even cared to know what God’s Word says. Another book is their standard. A man is their leader and legislator, instead of the inspired Word of God. Some churches are doing little or nothing for the conversion of sinners. But any man, in any church, who can go before God, and say, “Lord, we have had among us the preaching of the gospel; and we have earnestly prayed for the blessing; we have gathered about thy minister, and we have held him up in the arms of prayer and faith; we have, as individual Christians, sought out each one his particular service, we have gone forth each one to bring in souls to thee, and we have lived in godliness of life by the help of thy grace, now, therefore prosper thy cause,” shall find it a good plea. Real prosperity must come to any church that walks according to Christ’s rules, obeys Christ’s teaching, and is filled with Christ’s Spirit. I would exhort all members of churches that are in a poor way just now, to see to it that all things are done at God’s word, and then hopefully wait in holy confidence. The fire from heaven must come: the blessing cannot be withheld.
The same principle may be applied also to any individual believers who are in trouble through having done right. It happens often that a man feels, “I could make money, but I must not; for the course proposed would be wrong. Such a situation is open, but it involves what my conscience does not approve. I will rather suffer than I will make gain by doing anything that is questionable.” It may be that you are in great trouble distinctly through obedience to God. Then, you are the man above all others who may lay this case before the Most High: “Lord, I have done all these things at thy word, and thou hast said, ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’ I beseech thee interpose for me.” Somehow or other God will provide for you. If he means you to be further tried, he will give you strength to bear it; but the probabilities are that now he has tested you, he will bring you forth from the fire as gold.
“Do good and know no fear,
For so thou in the land shalt dwell,
And God thy food prepare.”
Once again. I would like to apply this principle to the seeking sinner. You are anxious to be saved. You are attentive to the word, and your heart says, “Let me know what this salvation is, and how to come at it, for I will have it whatever stands in the way.” You have heard Jesus say, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” You have heard his bidding, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth to life eternal.” You long to enter the strait gate, and eat of the meat which endureth; you would give worlds for such a boon. Thou hast well spoken, my friend. Now, listen merit:— thou canst not have heaven through thy doings, as a matter of merit. There is no merit possible to thee, for thou hast sinned, and art already condemned. But God has laid down certain lines upon which he has promised to meet thee, and to bless thee. Hast thou followed those lines? For if thou hast, he will not be false to thee. It is written,— “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”— can you come before God, and say, “I have believed and have been baptized”? then you are on firm pleading ground. It is written again,— “Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall have mercy.” When you have confessed them, and forsaken them, you have a just claim upon the promise of God, and you can say to him, “Lord, fulfil this word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope. There is no merit in my faith, or my baptism, or my repentance, or my forsaking of sin; yet as thou hast put thy promise side by side with these things, and I have been obedient to thee therein, I now come to thee, and say, ‘Prove thine own truth, for I have done all these things at thy word.’” No sinner will come before God at last, and say, I trusted as thou didst bid me trust; and yet I am lost.” It is impossible. Thy blood, if thou art lost, will be on thine own head; but thou shalt never be able to lay thy soul’s damnation at the door of God. He is not false: it is thou that art false.
You see, then, how the principle can be applied in prayer: “I have done these things at thy word; therefore, O Lord, do as thou hast said.”
II. We shall go a little over the same ground while I ask you to put yourselves through your paces by way of SELF-EXAMINATION as to whether or not you have done all these things at God’s word.
First, let every worker here who has not been successful answer this question— Have you done all these things at God’s word? Come. Have you preached the gospel? Was it the gospel? Was it Christ you preached, or merely something about Christ? Come. Did you give the people bread, or did you give them plates to put the bread on, and knives to cut the bread with? Did you give them drink, or did you give them the cup that had been near the water? Some preaching is not gospel; it is a knife that smells of the cheese, but it is not cheese. See to that matter.
If you preached the gospel, did you preach it rightly? That is to say, did you state it affectionately, earnestly, clearly, plainly? If you preach the gospel in Latinized language, the common people will not know what it means; and if you use great big academy words and dictionary words, the market people will be lost while they are trying to find out what you are at. You cannot expect God to bless you unless the gospel is preached in a very simple way. Have you preached the truth lovingly, with all your heart, throwing your very self into it, as if beyond everything you desired the conversion of those you taught? Has prayer been mixed with it? Have you gone into the pulpit without prayer? Have you come out of it without prayer? Have you been to the Sabbath school without prayer? Have you come away from it without prayer? If so, since you failed to ask for the blessing, you must not wonder if you do not get it.
And another question— Has there been an example to back your teaching? Brethren, have we lived as we have preached? Sisters, have you lived as you have taught in your classes? These are questions we ought to answer, because perhaps God can reply to us, “No, you have not done according to my word. It was not my gospel you preached: you were a thinker, and you thought out your own thoughts, and I never promised to bless your thoughts, but only my revealed truth. You spoke without affection; you tried to glorify yourself by your oratory; you did not care whether souls were saved or not.” Or suppose that God can point to you, and say, “Your example was contrary to your teaching. You looked one way, but you pulled another way.” Then there is no plea in prayer: is there? Come, let us alter. Let us try to rise to the highest pitch of obedience by the help of God’s Spirit: not that we can merit success, but that we can command it if we do but act according to God’s bidding. Paul planteth, and Apollos watereth, and God giveth the increase.
And now let me turn to a church, and put questions to that church. A certain church does not prosper. I wish that every church would let this question go through all its membership: do we as a church acknowledge the headship of Christ? Do we acknowledge the Statute Book of Christ— the one Book which alone and by itself is the religion of a Christian man? Do we as a church seek the glory of God? Is that our main and only object? Are we travailing in birth for the souls of the people that live near us? Are we using every scriptural means to enlighten them with the gospel? Are we a holy people? Is our example such as our neighbours may follow? Do we endeavour, even in meat and drink, to do all to the glory of God? Are we prayerful? Oh, the many churches that give up their prayer-meetings, because prayer is not in them! How can they expect a blessing? Are we united? Oh, brothers, it is a horrible thing when church members talk against one another, and even slander one another, as though they were enemies rather than friends. Can God bless such a church as that? Let us search through and through the camp, lest there be an Achan, whose stolen wedge and Babylonian garment, hidden in his tent, shall bind the hands of the Almighty so that he cannot fight for his people. Let every church see to itself in this.
Next I speak to Christian people who have fallen into trouble through serving God. I put it to them, but I want to ask them a few questions. Are you quite sure that you did serve God in it? You know there are men who indulge crotchets, and whims, and fancies. God has not promised to support you in your whims. Certain people are obstinate, and will not submit to what everybody must bear who has to earn his bread in a world like this. If you are a mere mule, and get the stick, I must leave you to your reward; but I speak to men of understanding. Be as stern as a Puritan against everything that is wrong, but be supple and yieldable to everything that involves self-denial on your part. God will bear us through if the quarrel be his quarrel; but if it is our own quarrel, why then we may help ourselves. There is a deal of difference between being pig- headed and being steadfast. To be steadfast, as a matter of principle in truth which is taught by God’s Word, is one thing; but to get a queer idea into your heads is quite another.
Besides, some men are conscientious about certain things, but they have not an all-round conscience. Some are conscientious about not taking less, but they are not conscientious about giving less. Certain folks are conscientious about resting on the Sabbath; but the other half of the command is, “Six days shalt thou labour,” and they do not remember that portion of the law. I like a conscience which works fairly and impartially: but if your conscience gives way for the sake of your own gain or pleasure, the world will think that it is a sham, and they will not be far from the mark. But if, through conscientiousness, you should be a sufferer, God will bear you through. Only examine and see that your conscience is enlightened by the Spirit of God.
And now to conclude. I want to address the seeking sinner. Some are longing to find peace, but they cannot reach it; and I want them to see whether they have not been negligent in some points so that they would not be able to say with Elijah, “I have done all these things at thy word.”
Do I need to say that you cannot be saved by your works? Do I need to repeat it over and over again that nothing you do can deserve mercy? Salvation must be the free gift of God. But this is the point. God will give pardon to a sinner, and peace to a troubled heart, on certain lines. Are you on those lines wholly? If so, you will have peace; and if you have not that peace, something or other has been omitted. To begin with, the first thing is faith. Dost thou believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Dost thou believe that he has risen from the dead? Dost thou trust thyself wholly, simply, heartily, once for all, with him? Then it is written,— “He that believeth in him hath everlasting life.” Go and plead that. “I have no peace,” says one. Hast thou unfeignedly repented of sin? Is thy mind totally changed about sin, so that what thou didst once love thou dost now hate, and that which thou didst once hate thou dost now love? Is there a hearty loathing, and giving up, and forsaking of sin? Do not deceive yourself. You cannot be saved in your sins; you are to be saved from your sins. You and your sins must part, or else Christ and you will never be joined. See to this. Labour to give up every sin, and turn from every false way, else your faith is but a dead faith, and will never save you. It may be that you have wronged a person, and have never made restitution. Mr. Moody did great good when he preached restitution. If we have wronged another we ought to make it up to him. We ought to return what we have stolen, if that be our sin. A man cannot expect peace of conscience till, as far as in him lies, he has made amends for any wrong he has done to his fellow-men. See to that, or else perhaps this stone may lie at your door, and because it is not rolled away you may never enter into peace.
It may be, my friend, that you have neglected prayer. Now, prayer is one of those things without which no man can find the Lord. This is how we seek him, and if we do not seek him how shall we find him? If you have been neglectful in this matter of prayer, you cannot say, “I have done all these things at thy word.” May the Lord stir you up to pray mightily, and not to let him go except he bless you! In waiting upon the Lord he will cause you to find rest to your soul.
Possibly, however, you may be a believer in Christ, and you may have no peace because you are associated with ungodly people, and go with them to their follies, and mix with them in their amusements. You see you cannot serve God and Mammon. Thus saith the Lord, “Come out from among them: be ye separate: touch not the unclean thing, and I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” I know a man who sits in this place: he is probably here to-night: and concerning him I am persuaded that the only thing that keeps him from Christ is the company with which he mingles. I will not say that his company is bad in itself, but it is bad to him; and if there be anything that is right in itself, yet if to me it becomes ruinous, I must give it up. We are not commanded to cut off warts and excrescences, but Jesus bids us cut off right arms, and pluck out right eyes— good things in themselves,— if they are stumbling-blocks in our way so that we cannot get at Christ. What is there in the world that is worth the keeping if it involves me in the loss of my soul? Away with it. Hence many things which are lawful to another man, perhaps, to you may not be expedient because they are injurious. Many things cause no harm to the bulk of men, and yet to some one man they would be the most perilous things, and therefore he should avoid them. Be a law to yourselves, and keep clear of everything that keeps you away from the Saviour.
Perhaps, however, you say, “Well, as far as I know, I do keep out of all ill associations, and I am trying to follow the Lord.” Let me press you with a home-question,— will you be obedient to Jesus in everything?
“For know— nor of the terms complain—
Where Jesus comes he comes to reign.”
If you would have Christ for a Saviour, you must also take him for a King. Therefore it is that he puts it to you “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Will the baptism save me? Assuredly not, for you have no right to be baptized until you are saved by faith in Jesus Christ; but remember, if Christ gives you the command— if you accept him as a King— you are bound to obey him. If instead of saying “Be baptized” he had simply said, “Put a feather in your cap,” you might have asked, “Will putting a feather in my cap save me?” No, but you are bound to do it because he bids you. If he had said, “Put a stone in your pocket, and carry it with you”; if that were Christ’s command, it would be needful that you take the stone, and carry it with you. The less there seems to be of importance about a command, often the more hinges upon it. I have seen a rebellious boy, to whom his father has said, “Sir, pick up that stick. Pick up that stick.” There is no very great importance about the command, and so the youth sullenly refuses to obey. “Do you hear, sir? Pick up that stick.” No: he will not. Now, if it had been a great thing that he had been bidden to do, which was somewhat beyond his power, it would not have been so dear an evidence of his rebellion when he refused to do it, as it is when it is but a little and trifling thing, and yet he refuses to obey. Therefore, I lay great stress upon this— that you who do believe in Jesus Christ should do according to his word. Say, “Lord, what wouldest thou have me to do? Be it what it may, I will do it, for I am thy servant.” I want you, if you would be Christ’s, to be just like the brave men that rode at Balaclava.
“Yours not to reason why;
Yours but to do and die”—
if it need be, if Jesus calls you thereto. Be this your song—
“Through floods and flames if Jesus lead,
I’ll fellow where he goes.”
That kind of faith which at the very outset cries, “I shall not do that, it is not essential”; and then goes on to say, “I do not agree with that, and I do not agree with the other”; is no faith at all. In that case it is’ you that is master, and not Christ. In his own house you are beginning to alter his commands. “Oh,” says one, “but as to baptism” I was baptized, you know, a great many years ago, when I was an infant.” Say you so? You have heard of Mary when her mistress said, “Mary, go into the drawing-room, and sweep it and dust it.” Her mistress went into the drawing-room, and found it dusty. She said, “Mary, did you not sweep the room, and dust it?” “Well, ma’am, yes I did: only I dusted it first, and then I swept it.” That was the wrong order, and spoiled the whole; and it will never do to put Christ’s commands the other way upwards, because then they mean just nothing. We ought to do what he bids us, as he bids us, when he bids us, in the order in which he bids us. It is ours simply to be obedient, and when we are so, we may remember that to believe Christ and to obey Christ is the same thing, and often in Scripture the same word that might be read “believe,” might be read “obey.” He is the Author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him, and that is to all them that believe on him. Trust him then right heartily, and obey him right gladly. You can then go to him in the dying hour, and say, “Lord, I have done all these things at thy word. I claim no merit, but I do claim that thou keep thy gracious promise to me, for thou canst not run back from one word which thou hast spoken.”
God bless you, beloved, for Christ’s sake.