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?
Among all those who have through faith obtained a good report, none is more remarkable than Elijah the Tishbite. He was a person altogether extrordinary. In his exercise and experience he was singularly distinguished. His translation to heaven was a striking loss to the Church of God. It was, however, not irreparable; his exercises were, in some measure, patterns to the people of God in after ages; his experiences were powerful encouragements to following him who through faith and patience had inherited the promises. What was of still greater importance, Elijah’s God still lived, and is the same yesterday, today, and for ever, He was to be the object of hope and confidence to His people in all generations. In all their straits He was to be looked to and inquired after, for His presence with them and His blessing upon them. Thus, we see in the verse before us, was Elisha exercised; for when overwhelmed and in perplexity, “he took the mantle of Elijah, which fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” This verse shows us:1. What Elisha did. (1.) He took Elijah’s mantle that fell from him. God so ordered that it fell in Elisha’s sight for his comfort, that he might have it as a token of the spirit of Elijah resting on him. He willingly took it up; he did not say, What avails the mantle now, when it is not above Elijah’s shoulders? No, the God that did wonders by it before can do the same again, on whose shoulders soever, by divine appointment, it may be. Even so the ordinances of God are to be prized for the Lord’s sake, not slighted for the sake of the instruments, though they are not likely to fill the room of those that went before them. (2.) He smote the waters with it. He was to go back to the schools of the prophets in Jericho. Though the Lord take away eminent instruments, His work must not be neglected. Those who are left behind must bestir themselves to carry on the Lord’s work. Jordan was between him and them, as oftentimes depths of difficulties will be found in the way of duty. He might have gone over it by boat; that was the easiest way, and to the carnal eye the safest. But it was not the way his godly predecessor took before him; therefore, having the same spirit as he had, he would rather venture on the waters in the faith that God would carry him through, as He did Elijah before him. So he smote the waters.
2. What he said when he smote the waters: “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” It is a vehement exclamation for the presence of that God that was with Elijah: “Where is . . . ?” or a most ardent prayer for it: “Where art Thou . . . ?” as some read it; for neither is nor art is in the original. He inquires no more after Elijah; he has no petitions to that saint when once he was departed; that would have been impious. What he had to ask of him, he asked while he was on earth. He does not sit down and weep and pore over the loss of Elijah, as if there was no more hope of good days since he was gone; but he betakes himself to Elijah’s God. Though Elijah was gone, his God still remained. Elijah’s experience of good from Elijah’s God, kindled in Elisha’s heart a surprising desire after Him and filled him with hope of a good reception at the door where Elijah had come with such success, for these are not words of diffidence, but of mighty earnestness and strong faith, as appears by considering:
3. The issue of the whole, which was according to his wish. God was present with him the same way as he had been with Elijah before. Jordan was divided. These words, he also, are emphatic to show the freedom of God’s grace, which is tied to none, but open and free to all that come to Him for it in the way that others received it. From these words, I take this:
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. In speaking to this doctrine, I shall:
1. Instance a few of these experiences of God’s people in former days.
2. Show how we should come to God for the same reception.
3. Give the reasons of the doctrine.
4. Add the improvement.
1. I shall instance a few of the sweet and desirable experiences of God’s people, which should bring us to the gracious Giver for the same. I shall instance none but those of Elijah, who, you must remember, was a man subject to like passions as we are (Jas 5:17), and to these I think the text leads me.
1. The God of Elijah gave him the sweet experience of keeping warm and lively in a very cold and dead generation, so that he was best when others were worst. His zeal for God burnt most vigorously when the generation was turned most cold, halting between God and Baal. It was like true fire that burns most keenly in the winter frost, when a chill and cold air was the only air about him. By the warm blowings of the Spirit from above upon him, he was kept warm within. When nothing but deadness was on every hand, the Spirit of life from above kept him lively. So it was with Noah in the old world: “Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generation” (Gen 6:9). And Lot: “That righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” (2 Pet 2:8).
But where is the Lord God of Elijah in these dregs of time, when professing Christians generally are carried away with the stream of impiety from all the liveliness and tenderness that sometimes have been among them, when, the more wickedness sets up its head, the more is piety made to hide its head? It is a sad evidence that God is gone from us when the standard of wickedness makes such advances and that of shining holiness is retreating, and hands can hardly be got to hold it. I will tell you two sad experiences, common at this day.
(1.) The fulfilling of that scripture: “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold (Mat 24:12)”. It is a time when atheism, deism and immorality make prodigious advances, and practical godliness is under a deep decay. I doubt if Satan ever had more hands at work to overthrow revealed religion and to raze the foundations of it than at this day, and this effort of Satan’s against the Church has joined with it a most lamentable decay of the vitals of practical religion in those that are called by the Lord’s name, so that we are like to be exposed to this furious attack, lacking the best piece of our armour against it – an experience and feeling of the power of truth on our own souls. Ah, “where is the Lord God of Elijah?”
(2.) What heat there is, strikes all outwardly, while in the meantime folks are icy-cold within – a sad sign of a distempered body. It is not hard to discern several showing a great deal of concern in the lamentable occurrences of our day, but how hard it is to find a man that is truly awakened to the exercise of godliness by all the alarming dispensations of our day, that is moved with fear and busy preparing an ark for the evil day, labouring to get the particular controversy between God and his soul removed, putting out of his way the stumbling-block of his iniquity and setting matters in order for the day of the Lord! Nay, sirs, though some talk in their sleep, it seems we will all sleep together till God’s heavy hand give us a fearful awakening. “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”
2. The God of Elijah gave him the sweet experience of the power of prayer: “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months; and he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit” (Jas 5:17). He was mighty in prayer; by his prayers the bottles of heaven were opened, the key of the clouds turned, nay, the bands of death loosed (1 Ki 17). He was a great favourite of heaven, whose cries pierced the clouds, got in to the throne and returned, like Noah’s dove, with an olive-branch of peace in his mouth. Such experience of the power of prayer had Jacob: “Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed” (Hos 12:4, Gen 32). Many times the Lord’s people, when closed up on every side, have found a sweet outgate, their souls flying upward in prayer. The prayers of the saints have been the great ordinance of the Church, have frustrated the plans of enemies and turned them back on their own heads.
But where is the God of Elijah, while the trade with heaven by prayers is so very low? Alas for the dead, cold and flat prayers, that come from the lips of professing Christians at this day, so weak and languishing, that they cannot reach heaven! Sometimes the Lord let loose enemies on His people, tossed them from vessel to vessel, and then the way between heaven and them was well occupied. They still had some particular suits lying before the throne, and they could have given a good account of their receipts. But long ease has made them lose their tongue, so that the experience of many in that point can hardly now be named unless they turn back to former days. There is one experience of Elijah which, I fear, is not uncommon among praying folk at this day, and that is a restraint laid on them, so that they cannot wrestle with God for the averting of wrath from the generation of God’s wrath (1 Ki 17:3-9). Such a sad experience Jeremiah had also, before the Babylonish captivity (Jer 14:11,15:1). And though God doth not so reveal His mind now in particular cases, yet I suppose it will be found that those who live near God, and have the spirit of prayer in such cases, may find something equivalent thereto in their liberty and confidence with the Lord, according to the subject of their requests. “Thus saith the Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them” (Ezek 36:37).
3. The experience of the sweet fruits of dependence on the Lord, and of a little going far, with His blessing: “The barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord” (1 Ki 17:16). Elijah saw so very few on the side of God in his day that he thought he was alone, and the Lord strengthened his faith by such experiences. Many times God’s people have had such experiences of the Lord bringing about great things by small beginnings, as the cloud like a man’s hand, according to the promises: “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov 4:18), “His going forth is prepared as the morning, and He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth” (Hos 6:3). God has many ways of working in the experience of His people; and when He works by means, He sometimes does great things by small means, as feeding Elijah, the widow and her son so long on a handful of meal and a little oil in a cruse; and Haman’s hellish plot was overturned by the king falling from his rest one night (Est 6:1). Sometimes God works by contrary means, as Elijah was fed by the ravens who were more likely to have picked flesh from him than to have brought it to him.
But where is the God of Elijah at this day, when what we have seems to be blown upon, that it comes in effect to nothing? Our table is plentifully covered, yet our souls are starved. Our goodness sometimes looks as a morning cloud; it blackens the face of the heavens and promises a hearty shower, but quickly proves to be as a little cloud, like unto a man’s hand, which is ready to come to nothing. Yea, the generation is blinded by means that have a natural tendency to give light. Ah, “where is the God of Elijah?”
4. The experience of a gracious boldness to face the most daring wickedness of the generation he lived in, though it was one of the worst. This eminently appeared in his encounter with Ahab, his standing alone against 450 of Baal’s prophets (1 Ki 18:1). Whatever his natural temper was, he owed this to the grace of God, for when he was left to his natural courage, it failed him (19:2-4); but the Lord strengthened his spirit then for the hard work he had to do, so that he feared nothing in his Master’s cause. “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they marvelled, and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
But where is the God of Elijah now, while the iniquities of our day meet with such faint resistance, while a love for the cause of God, a tongue to speak for Him, and a heart to act, are so much wanting. The wicked of the world, though they have an ill cause in hand, yet they pursue it boldly; but, alas, the people of God put their honest cause to shame by their cowardice and faint appearing in it. If God does not give us another spirit, more fitted for such a day, we will betray our trust and bring the curse of the succeeding generation on us.
5. The experience of a glorious and powerful manifestation of God, in a solemn ordinance, the sacrifice on Mount Carmel, which was ushered in with the spirit of prayer in Elijah: “Hear me, O God, hear me, that this people may know that Thou art the Lord God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces, and they said, The Lord He is the God, the Lord He is the God” (1 Ki 18:37-39). That was a glorious day’s work, when Satan fell like lightning from heaven, from which day, no doubt, many dated their conversion, some their revival, and the people there generally felt somewhat divine on their spirits. Such glorious days the Church has often had in the ordinances, which have been as a high stream-tide of the gospel, so that 3000 were converted at one sermon (Acts 2:41).
But where is the God of Elijah, when so little of the Spirit’s influence is found in ordinances, even solemn ordinances? Here is the mantle, but where is the God of Elijah? Here are the grave-clothes in which sometime the Lord was wrapt up, but where is He Himself? Communion days have sometimes been glorious days in Scotland, and sometimes the gospel hath done much good, so that ministers have had almost as much to do to heal broken hearts as now to get hard hearts broken, but “where is the God of Elijah?”
6. The experience of being enabled to go far upon a meal (1 Ki 19:8). But where now are such experiences, when there is so little strength in the meals to which we sit down? This is a time wherein there is much need of such an experience; the Lord seems to be saying to His people, “Rise and eat, for the journey is long”. And what a hard journey some may have ere they get another meal, who knows?
7. The experience of the Lord removing difficulties out of his way when he himself could do nothing about them – Jordan divided. So Peter had the iron gate opened to him of its own accord, for when the Lord takes the work in hand, were it never so desperate as to us, it will succeed well with Him. Sure we have need of his experience this day. How is the case of many souls so embarrassed at this day that they cannot extricate themselves? By reason of long and continued departures from God, they are fighting and going backward. Ah, “where is the God of Elijah” to dry up those devouring deeps? Enemies have surrounded the Church and brought her to the brow of the hill, ready to cast her over. “Where is the God of Elijah” to make a way for her escape?
2. How we should come to God for the same reception. Elisha did two things for the presence of God to be with him, as He had been with Elijah.
1. He prayed for it, sent his prayer to heaven for it; and if we would have the experience of God’s presence as in former days, we must pray the throne of grace for it this night. And there are three things in his prayer, which must be in ours:
(1.) A most pressing sense of need, where he saw he could not venture into Elijah’s post without Elijah’s God. Sense of need makes earnest prayers. What is the reason we see not the glory of the Lord as formerly? We reign as kings without it; men have found out ways of their own to get comfort without communion with God; they have the creatures’ breasts to suck at, when the Lord’s consolations are not dropping into them. But if ever the Lord return to this generation, there will be a hunger raised in them, that all the world will not be able to satisfy.
(2.) A most vehement desire of His presence; “Where is the God of Elijah?” There was a flame of desire after the Lord that could not be satisfied without Him. Some have observed in nature that the tongue is tied by a double string to the heart in man. If so, it seems it has been designed that the tongue should be a stringed instrument, to sound out only the language of the heart. Were the heart more eager for the divine communications, we would wrestle with God in earnest and not let Him go till He bless us, but, alas, our cold prayers do but beg a denial.
(3.) There was great faith in his prayers: ” Where is the God of Elijah?” Faithless prayers will be inefficacious prayers to the end; but the hand of faith will pierce through the cloud wherewith the Lord covereth Himself. First, he believed God could do what he sought, therefore he calls Him Jehovah, and the God of Elijah, who had discovered His power in dividing the waters before. Second, he believed God would do it, for he had God’s call to the work. Elijah was taken away from him, but he had Elijah’s mantle in his hand, as a token God would be with him as He was with Elijah before. He was not faithless, but believing. So, if we would see the glory of God, we also must believe, not only the power, but the good-will of God; “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is” (Jer 17:6,7).
2. He used the means Elijah used before him for gaining God’s manifestation of Himself. He smote the waters, no matter though the means were unlikely to produce the effect, if they be of God’s appointment. And in faith we must stretch out the withered hand, if we would have it restored, and venture on the work upon the credit of the promise.
As a conclusion to this discourse, let me exhort you to go to the Lord Jesus this night, and wrestle for His presence as in former times. And let the consideration of God’s presence with His people in former times take you to the same God for the same reception. To prevail with you, I would offer the following motives:
1. Consider it is too evident the Lord has forsaken this generation in great measure. He is writing bitter things against this Church and this land. The beauty of all her assemblies is marred. Where the cloud of glory sometime rested, we may write Ichabod! Hence so few are converted in our day; and the Lord’s own children, though they get some food, do not fare so well as in former times. Why? Because the Lord has withdrawn in His anger. The sun of the gospel in Scotland is as a winter sun, and looks as if it is near setting, at least getting under a dark cloud, “There is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee, for Thou hast hid Thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities” (Is 64:7).
2. This would be the way to get a blessing; importunity prevails much in heaven. Were we thus exercised, we might get a blessing to this Church, a blessing to this communion: “I found Him whom my soul loveth; I held Him, and would not let Him go, until I had brought Him into my mother’s house, and into the chambers of her that conceived me” (Song 3:4) – a blessing we should seek from Him for ourselves. Though the Lord is sometimes so angry with a generation that there is no turning away of His wrath, yet the serious seekers of His face will always get the blessing: “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings” (Is 3:10).
3. The door we set you to is a door where many have been liberally helped before you, and the Lord’s arm is not shortened. The saints that were richest in experience got all there, and He was the God of all the fair ones now in glory. He was with them in life and death, and now after death. Let the good report of His house, then, make you flock about His door, for there is no ground for that temptation: “Call now, if there be any that will answer thee, and to which of the saints wilt thou turn?” (Job 5:1).
4. It is a door where nothing is given for personal worth. All that ever was given there to any of the children of fallen Adam, was given with that protestation, “Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel!” (Ezek 36:32), so that the most unworthy in all succeeding generations might see they were welcome for His own sake; and that cannot change.
5. What will ordinances avail without His presence? Nay, they will do ill, instead of doing us good; they will bring on us a curse instead of a blessing. Therefore wrestle with Him, and say: “If Thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence” (Ex 33:15). The sermons will be to you as an empty sound and the Lord’s table as an empty chair of state, when the King is away. If His presence be not given you, you will get no spiritual feast. And one had better be at a common table than at the Lord’s table, when they do not feed, “for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself” (1 Cor 11:29). If the King be away, then there will be no provision for trials, none for the evil day that seems to be approaching quickly, none for a dying day that is awaiting all of us. Now, if ye would find Him, seek Him in Christ, look for Him in the various means of His appointment. Put away everything that mars His presence with you.
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.