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Elijah. He stands prominent for many reasons, but challenges attention chiefly by two incidents of unique and astonishing character, his miraculous translation from earth in the chariot of fire, and his appearance with Moses at the transfiguration of our Lord nine centuries later. These are mysteries which we cannot penetrate, but the facts themselves give us a glimpse and suggestion of worlds so near, and yet so utterly unknown to us, that we are awestruck and amazed.
We are so accustomed to have all things accounted for, explained in terms of science, and neatly classified and filed in the categories of philosophy, that we are shocked by the sudden Aash of light on a field that we believe exists, but which we are accustomed to ignore, that is the realm of departed spirits. We hope—nay we are confident, that life is not limited and bounded by the grave. Death is, after all, only an incident of our lives. It is only an event in the course of our existence,
a very serious event indeed, but only that; we are convinced of this, yet when, for a moment, the veil is drawn aside and we have a glimpse of what we had accepted on faith, we are disturbed and to a large degree incredulous. The translation of Elijah, and his appearance on a great occasion of our Lord's earthly ministry, is quite outside of all other human history; yet is is not incongruous, not out of harmony with anything we know. It is transcendent, supernatural—as we know nature-but not unnatural; and withal, it is in the most perfect accord with the whole course of revelation, and thoroughly consistent with the truth we have from all other sources.
Much the same may be said of the miracles recorded of both Elijah and Elisha. However we may strive to account for everything by the orderly operation of forces according to usual method—which is all that the laws of nature ever means—; however we may refuse to believe all that transcends such operation, we have only pushed the mystery one step further back.
There is nothing more marvelous about coming to life a second time than about coming to life the first time; nothing in itself more wonderful in fire falling from heaven in answer to prayer, than in its falling as the lightning falls according to nature's ordinary rule or law.
The whole question of the credibility of the miracles of these prophets is one of evidence. We have heard the voices of our friends at the telephone a thousand miles away; we have looked through the flesh of our hand and seen the bones; we have sent messages through the empty air three thousand miles away. Why should we say that miracles are incredible? We need not suppose them to be in any way inconsistent with the laws of nature; we are not to assume that they violate in the least degree the order of the world with which we are acquainted; we need not be concerned to understand them-do you understand the telephone? All we want is credible evidence that these things were really done.
These stories of miracles come to us with all the presumptions of truth, and with the cumulative evidence of a consistent and harmonious course of history, which, in the main, is beyond all doubt or question.
The remarkable feature of these miraculous deeds is their ordinary and practical purpose. The miracles wrought by Elijah are all attributed to his prayers. "He prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it rained not on the land for three years and six months.” On Mt. Carmel he repaired the sacred altar and sacrificed according to the ritual of his time, and then he prayed, saying "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and of Israel let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel Hear me O Lord, hear me that this people may know that thou art the Lord God." Then the fire of God fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice and the wood and licked up the water that was in the trench.
The miracles were the prophets' credentials, the evidence of
their divine commission. When we consider the vast stretch of time covered by the sacred narrative, the miracles there recorded are of extremely rare occurrence; and when considered in connection with their occasions, purposes and circumstances, will be found to be perfect harmony with the whole course and plan of revelation-one of the "divers manners" in which God spake to the fathers.
The great mission of Elijah and of Elisha was to warn and to protest against the moral corruption and the spiritual degeneration of their times. They were the earnest voice of a loving God striving with his rebellious children to save them from self-destruction.
Their messages were for the most part given in actions rather than in words, and for this reason, they seem more marvelous, more incredible than messages in words, but they were not really so. We should rather say that the lofty visions and transcendent insight of Hosea, who was but a little later than Elisha, seem to involve a higher kind of inspiration, a more divine afflatus than the wonder-working gift of Elijah or Elisha.
These two prophets were so much alike in their spirit and their methods, in their times and circumstances that we have considered them together. But in many respects they were very different.
Elijah seems to have been somewhat of a hermit, dwelling apart from social life and the activities of his time, remote and different from ordinary men; yet we are assured that he was only "a man, subject to like passions as we are."
Elisha was more like other men, more fully associated with the life of the community, and though by no means an ordinary man, he was not so far removed from the common experience and circumstances of his people.
He was but a young man, when Elijah called him from his farm to share with him the hardships and the honor of the prophetic office.
It is hard for us to realize that such a call demanded the very highest grade of heroism. The task of turning Israel back from ruin seemed utterly hopeless. Prudence would urge that it was a useless sacrifice. To give up his wealth—for he was wealthy by the standards of his time-to throw away his opportunities, to renounce his prospects, to join this forlorn hope would seem to most men quite too much to ask. But Elisha took the higher view. He did not even hesitate. He took two yoke of his oxen and made a feast to celebrate his call, and straightway went with Elijah to be his servant and disciple.
There is something very fine in the willing consecration of a young man to any great cause of public benefit. It is not very difficult to enlist under the enthusiasm of popular applause, to make great sacrifices in the moment of excited zeal; but to choose the right simply because it is right, to leave allor, indeed, to leave anything of value, to follow the call to serve our fellow men is the real heroism.
Such was Elisha's enlistment in the cause of Israel—the cause of the uplift of his people. It was neither a popular nor promising cause, but in it he won the noble title which his own prophetic appreciation had given Elijah fifty years before "The chariot of Israel and the horseman thereof"; for such men are indeed the strength and defense of their nation. This is one of the distinct and brilliant revelations that has come to the world by the Hebrew prophets that the strength and glory of a nation are its loyalty to truth and righteousness, and he who most promotes these is indeed the chariot and the horseman of his time.
THE THEMES OF PROPHECY
The subjects of prophetic discourse were chiefly moral; and the great majority of their deliverances were just such exhor
tations to godliness and virtue as constitute the staple of such sermons and orations as the good and great of every
nation and of every time have offered to their hearers.
The only remarkable feature of these admonitions was their high and consistent tone.
Though the prophets whose writings are preserved to us lived at widely separated times, stretching over more than a thousand years, and though the circumstances of the people to whom they spoke differed as widely as human circumstances could differ, and though the prophets themselves were from every rank or society, and of various degrees of culture, education and personal temperament, yet they all teach the same doctrine; they all present the same ideal, and they all uphold the selfsame standard of righteousness. From the splendid orations of Moses, to the poetic visions of Zachariah we have the same moral code expounded, and the very identical conception of righteousness and life.
The unity of the sacred scriptures—the oneness of their ultimate source and authorship,—could not be more conclusively demonstrated than by this remarkable fact, that, through the books that compose our Bible from Genesis to Malachi, there is not one jarring note. The "sweet singer of Israel,” the rugged seer of Mt. Carmel and the subline Isaiah chant the various parts of the same majestic anthem, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts." "Ye shall therefore be holy for I am holy."
But while the bulk of prophecy is thus devoted to teaching of morality and the admonition to godly living, there is another element of greater value and of higher quality. Above the fervid tones of moral exhortation, is ever heard the sweeter notes of the gospel ; the glad tidings of a mighty salvation provided from heaven; the glorious vision of a messiah; a Saviour mighty to save, who should come in God's own good time to take upon his omnipotent shoulder the burden of a broken