2 Kings 2:14. And he took the mantle of Elijah, that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah?
3. I shall give the reasons of the doctrine, or show that consideration of God’s presence with His people in former days, should bring the succeeding generations to the same God for the same reception. This consideration ought to work upon us in two ways:
1. By way of simple stirring up. When Elisha considered what God had done for Elijah, it set his soul on fire, inflamed his desires, set his heart longing after the Lord that He might deal with him in the same way. Thus the consideration of God’s gracious appearances to and for His people in former times should be a powerful motive to them to labour for the same or like experiences. It should inflame our hearts with a holy emulation and earnest desire for the blessed reception others have got before us at God’s door, for the following reasons:
(1.) So far as we come short of it, it is a sign we are so far off the way where the footsteps of the flock are to be seen (Song 1:8), and that is so dangerous that it may well strike a nail into our heart to think of it. What is the reason we fare not so well at the Lord’s hand as others before us? Have we not the same God to go to and the same covenant promises? We have the same breasts of divine consolations, as full as ever, but it seems we have much lost the art of sucking them, as sometimes has been our experience.
(2.) So far as we come short, it is a sign of God’s anger against us, that He hath some quarrel with us which He did not have with His people in former days of the right hand of the Most High. And may not this prick us to the heart and send us to our knees? “For our transgressions are multiplied before Thee, and our sins testify against us” (Is 59:12). What is it but the sins of the generation that stops the communication of the divine goodness? Does the Spirit of the Lord depart till He be grieved, or the holy fire go out till it be quenched? Does the Lord close His distributing hand till His people close their mouths? Does not the oil run while there are empty vessels to receive it? While the furious wind of persecution blew on God’s people in Scotland and the rains fell, sweeping away the earth from about them, the fountain of the divine goodness to them ran freely. But now, alas, through long ease, we have got the springs stopped with our mud and earth.
(3.) We have as much need as they had: “When he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough, and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise, and go . . . ” (Luke 15:17ff). If we be less at God’s door than others before us, it is not, I am sure, for any more wealth we have at home than they had; it is not that we do not stand in need, but that we are not so sensible of our need. Many of the Lord’s people have taken little rest, when they had more than we can pretend to; they have been very anxious to increase their stock when it was far above ours. And when we consider how fast they ran, when they had reached far above our small measure, should not that stir us up to mend our pace? “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:1-14).
(4.) These glorious examples should not be without due influence upon us. Example is a most efficacious incitement; Caesar grieved when he saw the statue of Alexander, and considered how he, at the age of 30, had conquered the world, and himself, being older, had done nothing. “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1). How may we blush when we consider the stature of those before us – they have been as the palm-tree while we, growing in the same soil, are like pitiful shrubs! Surely if our spirits were not mightily sunk and degenerate, the glorious example of the Lord’s people in former days would set our whole soul a-going after the God of Elijah.
2. By way of encouragement. Elijah’s example gave Elisha hope that he might find God the same to him as He had been to his predecessor. Encouragement is a notable spur to diligence. Why do we not wrestle for God’s presence as in former days? Because of unbelief, which tells us we need not be at the pains, for they will not succeed. But the report of the godly in former days contradicts the report of unbelief, and should therefore bring us back to God’s door. So if a beggar, who has called at a door for alms and is coming away without it, should meet with another that has been plentifully served there and says to him, That is a good house, and though one may stand long at the door ere they be served, yet they always give a liberal alms at length; would that not bring the beggar back again? So should the consideration of God’s presence with His people in former days bring us to Him for the same reception. For this there are the best reasons, such as:
(1.) The experiences of the Lord’s people in former days were put on record for that very end. All the experiences of God’s presence with His people in former days are as so many signs of peace on earth, and goodwill towards men. They, as it were, stand at God’s door, to invite and encourage those of succeeding generations to come in there for the same or like reception; and His people do but answer the design of them when they come and inquire, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” “That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7). “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the scriptures, might have hope” (Rom 15:4).
(2.) These experiences say there is enough to be had in God for the seeking, if we seek in His own way: “Our fathers trusted in Thee; they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them. They cried unto Thee, and were delivered; they trusted in Thee, and were not confounded” (Ps 22:4). The saints that have gone before us have spread a good report of God’s house, so that others after them might come to the same door. They have had the experience of the Lord’s help in all the cases that we can be in; and whatever be the difficult steps we have to go, if we mark them narrowly we will see the footsteps of the flock before us in these steps through which their God has graciously conducted them: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. . . . O taste, and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusteth in Him” (Ps 34:6,8). And their experiences are their testimony to the truth of His promises: “The words of the Lord are pure words, as silver tried” (Ps 12:6).
(3.) We have the same advantages that they had, yea, and more than some of them, that lived in darker days than we do. How many have groped their way to the throne of grace when they had not such light shining around them as we have to show the way. But, however we make the comparison, we have the same God to go to that they had, who has as much to give and is as gracious as ever: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jas 1:17). The same High Priest over the house of God is as well heard by the Father now as ever, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Heb 13:8). The covenant is the same, for it is everlasting; the promises are the same, whose truth and mercy endure for ever.
(4.) All that ever the best of the saints got was in the way of free grace. It was not only undeserved, but given over the belly of ill-deserving. And if it be free grace that opens the door, what needy sinner is there but may come forward for a share? All the love that was ever bestowed on any of them was free love, without the least deserving. If ye think there is any exception, look through them all, from Adam downwards, and name the man if you can. Paul challenges the world to do it: “Who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?” (Rom 11:35).
4. Some practical improvement.
1. A use of reproof. This deals a reproof to several sorts of persons, as:
(1.) Our modern blasphemers who reckon the saints’ experiences of the workings of the Lord’s Spirit on their spirits nothing but the effects of imagination, heat of fancy, or somewhat else. So true is it that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). But let us consider how, by the sanctifying effects of these operations felt on their spirits, their hearts are loosed from the lusts to which they were formerly glued, inflamed with love to God and His holy law. Thus they despise the world, rejoice in tribulation, joyfully suffer for Christ, and deny themselves to all that is dear to them in the world for His cause. We must conclude that these modern blasphemers do but new-model the doctrine of those that taught long ago that Christ cast out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils; and that, as their working is formal, suited to the spirit of the natural man; so their spirit is profane.
(2.) Those that slight the experiences of the people of God, and His appearances to and for them. They consider it not worth their notice, far less their pains, to get the same reception. Yet the people of God in the past did more service to the cause of God by their godly simplicity than we are like to do by our refined, prudential precepts – and no wonder, for if a man will be truly wise, “let him become a fool, that he may be wise” (1 Cor 3:18). A little faith and dependence on the Lord for light and strength will go farther than much carnal foresight. But in the past they had the spirit of preaching, praying and other things belonging to the service of God, but we have the bare act of it. The good Lord send back the Spirit, come of the act what will!
(3.) Those who are ready to talk big of the experiences of God’s people, and of God’s appearances for them in former days. Their consciences bearing them witness, they are not concerned, with their whole heart, to wrestle with God for themselves or others now, or to put their mind, in their several capacities, to the revival of practical godliness in the generation. But, on the other hand, they use it to the hardening of their own hearts, and to the contempt of ordinances and ministers. These are the genuine offspring of those who built the tombs of the prophets and garnished their sepulchres but are filling up the measure of their fathers’ iniquities (Mat 23:29). Whence I may observe: (1) Dead prophets are better liked by a formal generation than living ones, for they get less trouble of the dead than of the living. (2) Such would make a fine use of the means of grace that were in former days, which they are sure they cannot get, while they have no power to use the means that are at hand. (3) These will condemn their fathers’ misusing of the prophets that are gone, who yet will trample on their successors that remain.
(4.) Those who, when they look upon the experience of the Lord’s people in former days, improve it against themselves to the deadening, instead of the quickening, of their own spirits. By the subtlety of Satan, they are thereby discouraged and broken instead of being animated, as they ought, to seek the same reception. The remains of a legal disposition in any of the children of God is the source of discouragements arising from this direction. They look more to the goodness that was in the saints, and to the ill that is in themselves, than to the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, through which alone the divine goodness did flow to them, and through which it may flow as freely to themselves.
(5.) Those whose hard thoughts of God cannot be removed by the experience of all the saints since Adam. So vile are they, they conclude, that God’s heart cannot be towards them, though they have all the experiences of former saints, as so many depositions to confirm the welcome of all that come to Him through Christ, whatever they have been. O lay by these hard thoughts of God, so destructive to yourselves and so dishonourable to God. Look among all that ever came to God and see if ye can find one that died at His door. If that be your lot, you will be the first; but God’s Word says you shall not: “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Beware of hard thoughts of God, whatever your disappointments be; if the devil can get that point wrought up in you, he has you fair before the wind for hell – where the fearful and unbelieving land. And there is not a readier way on earth to create a hell within a man, a hell, I say, where sin and sorrow for sin are both at a height.
But here some may propose this Objection: No other person’s case is like mine. Answer: There is none good as the Lord; He is goodness itself, infinite goodness, and infinitely good to sinners in Christ; and that is sufficient to swallow up your matchless evil. What think ye of Paul, Manasseh, Adam? But though ye cannot see a case like yours among all the elect of God, you cannot thence conclude your case is marrowless any more than, if ye were in a wilderness where ye could see no marks of a person’s foot, ye might conclude no one was ever there before you. But suppose the saints’ experiences leave you, yet the Word will reach you: “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17). And if your case be quite new, God will do a new thing according to His Word. Some person must go foremost in every case; venture you, then, on Christ with that case of yours, so that others that may be in it afterwards may follow you, and ye shall find a matchless physician for a matchless malady.
2. A use of exhortation. Let me exhort all, especially communicants, to seek the Lord’s presence and glorious appearances as in former days. Make this your great business, never ceasing till He make himself known as in the days of old.
(1.) Seek His glorious presence to the spirits of His people as in former days. The Lord’s work here is at a sad stand. Cry, “Revive Thy work in the midst of the years” (Hab 3:2). Their bones are in that respect lying dry about the grave’s mouth. O cry for the Spirit of life to enter into them! Even the trees of God’s planting are become mighty sapless; God’s wheat is mighty withered at the root. Cry for a shower of divine influences, so that the work within, that is at such a stand, may go on yet, and soul-exercises may be set on foot again.
(2.) Seek a powerful manifestation of Himself, to purge the generation’s wickedness and to make holiness more common and shining in our day. There is a deluge of profanity overflowing the land. “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” Cry for His appearing, to turn the stream, to make iniquity hide its head, and holiness to settle in its room. There is a glorious promise to the gospel Church in the words: “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar” (Zec 14:20). Cry for the accomplishment of it to Him with whom is the residue of the Spirit.
(3.) Seek His glorious appearance in ordinances as in former days, so that He would beautify the place of His glory by His presence. Do your utmost to get Him into your mother’s house, for it is a heartless house when He is away. “We have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth.” “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”
(4.) Seek His glorious appearance for His Churches now, when they are so low and the band of the Antichristian faction is so high – for your mother-church in particular, against which many are gathered, saying, Let Zion be defiled. “Remember the Lord afar off, and let Jerusalem come into your mind” (Jer 51:50). Behold how pin after pin in her tabernacle is loosed, so that it must quickly lie along upon the ground if the Lord Himself do not appear to hold it up. Seek for the revival and preservation of the covenanted work of reformation, that sacred pledge transmitted to us at the expense of the precious blood of many of the saints, the bearing down and destroying of which is like to make these nations yet swim with blood. Our rowers have rowed as into deep waters, where they have sunk our nation and solemnly buried our covenants in the ruins of it. “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”
Cry for their resurrection; and if ye can do no more, ye may do as Martha and Mary, that owned their relation to their brother while in the grave. Say as Mary, and those with her when Christ asked, “Where have ye laid him?” (John 12:3) “Lord,” say they, “come and see.” For motives,
(1.) Consider that the Lord’s appearances and manifestations of Himself, as He made to His people in former days, would be a pleasant change on the face of affairs this day; it would be as life from the dead: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God” (Is 35:1,2). It would renew the earth’s withered and decayed face. If, therefore, you have any respect for the thriving of your own souls, any pity on the perishing souls of a graceless multitude, any regard to God’s honour and ordinances, any concern for His ark and work, seek His glorious appearance for His Church.
(2.) Consider that matters are come to such a pass with us now that nothing less than God’s gracious appearance for us and presence with us, as in former days, can prevent our ruin. We have all grounds to fear an arousing stroke from the hand of the Lord by means of a French, Popish and malignant faction, set to raze our Jerusalem to the very foundation, whose tender mercies are cruelty. And if we should miss it, which is not likely by all appearance, there will be a blacker sight seen on this Church and these nations, by reason of that spirit of enmity against the purity of religion, and against all practical religion, that has made such dreadful advances this day, that will, through time, wear out the saints of the Most High, if God do not seasonably strike in.
(3.) Consider the glorious things spoken of the latter times, to which the world seems to be advancing apace. The extraordinary efforts made this day for advancing the kingdom of the devil in the Christian part of the world, the universal decay of piety in the churches look like a critical juncture, when the honour of God is called upon to “arise like a giant refreshed with wine”, to purify a people to Himself, and to strike his enemies on the hinder-parts. Whatever sad work may be made on the Churches before that come, O cry, “Awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days” (Is 51:9). I shall chose with a few advices:
(1.) Stir up yourselves to repent and reform: “Strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die” (Rev 3:2). It is high time we were bending to our feet, when the fire has begun to catch hold of our bed of sloth. We have slept long enough; labour now to get and keep matters clear between God and your souls.
(2.) Lament after the Lord: “And all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord” (1 Sam 8:2). They then had occasion to set up another Ebenezer. The tears of the Lord’s people after a departed God are the ready way to bring back their tender-hearted Lord. Mourn over your own sin, and the sins of present and former times.
(3.) Study unity, and beware of division (Ps 133:3). Be more afraid of your own than of other people’s sins. This Church at best is but weak; let us not by divisions make ourselves an easier prey to the common enemy, lest God be provoked to cast us into the fire, to make us burn together.
(4.) Lay out yourselves for the advancement of piety, to stir up one another to holiness, love and good works. Put your hand this way to hold up a standard for Christ in the world. The devil’s agents are busy, not only against the outworks of religion, but to sap the foundations of it. What are you doing to strengthen them? To talk and complain about the defections of the time will not do it, but apply your main force to advance and strengthen the vitals of religion in yourselves and others.
(5.) Labour to put yourselves in a posture for suffering. Cast the burden of earth off your back, and let your shoes be on your feet, your eye on the prize. Pursue it over the belly of all hardships you may meet with, and you will readily find God will be with you.
(6.) Pray, pray, lift up a cry for the remnant that is left; let us kneel continually at the throne of grace, ministers and people, to meet with Him in His ordinances, and to wrestle for His presence.
1. The second of two sermons on this text. It is reprinted, slightly edited, from The Works of Thomas Boston, vol 9. In last month’s sermon, Boston gave out his doctrine: The consideration of God’s presence with His people in former days should bring the succeeding generation to the same God for the same reception. He spoke on the first two heads: 1. A few of these experiences of God’s people in former days. 2. How we should come to God for the same reception. Here he goes on to speak on the remaining two heads.