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presage and desert of ruin, not to be warned : worthily are they made examples, that will not take them.
What marble or flint is harder, than a wicked heart? As if Ahaziah would despitefully spit in the face of heaven, and wrestle a fall with the Almighty, he will needs yet again set a third captain upon so desperate an employment.
How hot a service, must this commander needs think himself put upon! Who can but pity his straits? There is death before him, death behind him. If he go not, the king's wrath is the messenger of death ; if he go, the prophet's tongue is the executioner of death. Many a hard task will follow the service of a prince, wedded to his passion, divorced from God.
Unwillingly, doubtless, and fearfully doth this captain climb up the hill, to scale that impregnable" fort: but now, when he comes near to the assault, the battery that he lays to it is his prayers : his surest fight is upon his knees : He went up, and came, and fell upon his knees before Elijah, and besought him, and said unto him, O man of God, I pray thee let my life, and the life, of these fifty thy servants, be precious in thy sight. He confesses the judgment that befel his predecessors. The monuments of their destruction were in his eye, and the terror of it in his heart : of an enemy therefore he is become a suppliant; and sues, not so much for the prophet's yieldance, as for his own life.
This was the way, to offer violence to the prophet of God, to the God of that prophet, even humble supplications. We must deprecate that evil, which we would avoid. If we would force blessings, we must entreat them. There is nothing to be gotten from God, by strong hand; any thing, by suit. The life of the captain is preserved : Elijah is by the angel commanded to go down with him speedily, fearlessly.
The prophet casts not with himself; “What safety can there be in this journey? I shall put myself into the hands of rude soldiers, and by them into the hands of an enraged king. If he did not eagerly thirst after my blood, he had never sought it, with so much loss.” But, so soon as he had a charge from the angel, he walks down resolutely: and, as it were, dares the dangers of so great a hostility. He knew, that the same God, who had fought for him upon the hill, would not leave him in the valley. He knew, that the angel, which bade him go, was guard enough against a world of enemies. Faith knows not how to fear; and can as easily contemn the suggestion of perils, as infidelity can raise them.
The prophet looks boldly upon the court, which doubtless was not a little disaffected to him ; and comes confidently into the bedchamber of Ahaziah; and sticks not, to speak over the same words to his head, which he had sent him not long since by his first messengers. Not one syllable will the prophet abate of his
errand. It is not for a herald of Heaven, to be out of countenance; or to mince ought of the most killing messages of his God,
Whether the unexpected confidence, both of the man and of the speech, amazed the sick king of Israel; or, whether the fear of some present judgment, wherewith he might suspect Elijah to come armed, upon any act of violence that should be offered, overawed him; or, whether now, at last, upon the sight and hearing of this man of God, the king's heart began to relent, and check itself for that sin, for which he was justly reproved; I know not : but sure I am, the prophet goes away untouched. Neither the furious purposes of Ahaziah, nor the exasperations of a Jezebel, can hurt that prophet, whom God hath intended to a fiery chariot.
The hearts of kings are not their own. Subjects are not sa much in their hands, as they are in their Maker's. How easily can God tame the fierceness of any creature ; and, in the midst of their most heady career, stop them on the sudden, and fetch them upon the knees of their humble submission! It is good trusting God, with the events of his own commands; who can, at pleasure, either avert evils, or improve them to good.
Aecording to the word of the prophet, Åhaziah dies. Not two whole years, doth he sit in the throne of Israel, which he now must yield, in the want of children, to his brother. Wickedness shortens his reign. He had too much of Ahab and Jezebel, to expect the blessing, either of length or prosperity of government. As always in the other, so ofttimes in this world, doth God testify his anger to wicked men. Some live long, that they may aggravate their judgment; others die soon that they may
CONTEMPLATION V.-THE RAPTURE OF ELIJAH.
2 KINGS II.
Long and happily, hath Elijah fought the wars of his God; and now, after his noble and glorious victories, God will send him a chariot of triumph.
Not suddenly, would God snatch away his prophet, without warning, without expectation; but acquaints him beforehand, with the determination of his glory.
How full of heavenly joy was the soul of Elijah; while he foreknew and looked for this instant happiness! With what contempt, did he cast his eyes upon that earth, which he was now presently to leave ! With what ravishment of an inward pleasure, did he look upon that heaven, which he was to enjoy!
For å meet farewell to the earth, Elijah will go visit the
schools of the prophets, before his departure. These were in his way:
of any part of the earth, they were nearest unto heaIn a holy progress, therefore, he walks his last round from Gilgal, near Jordan, to Bethel; from Bethel, to Jericho; from Jericho to Jordan again.
In all these sacred colleges of divines, he meant to leave the legacy of his love, counsel, confirmation, blessing. How happy a thing it is, while we are upon earth, to improve our time and gifts, to the best behoof of God's Church; and after the assurance of our own blessedness, to help others to the same heaven!
But, O God, who can but wonder at the course of thy wise and powerful administrations? Even in the midst of the degeneration and idolatries of Israel, hast thou reserved to thyself whole societies of holy prophets; and, out of those sinful and revolted tribes, hast raised the two great miracles of prophets, Elijah and Elisha, in an immediate succession. Judah, itself, under a religious Jehoshaphat, yielded not so eminent and clearly illuminated spirits. The mercy of our provident God will neither be confined nor excluded ; neither confined to the places of public profession, nor excluded from the depraved congregations of his own people. Where he hath loved, he cannot easily be estranged: rather, where sin abounds, his grace aboundeth much more; and raiseth so much stronger helps as he sees the dangers greater.
Happy was Elisha, in the attendance of so gracious a master; and the more happy, that he knows it. Fain would Elijah shake him off at Gilgal; if not there, at Bethel ; if not yet there, at Jericho. A private message, on which Elijah must go alone, is pretended, from the Lord. Whether shall we say the prophet did this, for the trial of the constant affection of his careful and diligent servant; or, that it was concealed from Elijah, that his departure was revealed to Elisha? Perhaps, he, that knew of his own reception into heaven, did not know what witnesses would be allowed that miraculous act; and now his humble modesty affected a silent and unnoted passage.
Even Elisha knew something, that was hid from his master, now upon the threshold of heaven. No mere creature was ever made of the whole counsel of the Highest. Some things have been disclosed to babes and novices, that have been closed up to the most wise and judicious. In natural speculations, the greater wit and deeper judgment still carry it; but in the revelations of God, the favour of his choice sways all, not the power of our apprehension.
The master may both command and entreat his servant's stay, in vain. Elisha must be pardoned this holy and zealous disobedience; As the Lord livetħ, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. His master may be withdrawn from him : he will not be
withdrawn from his master. He knew, that the blessing was at the parting; and, if he had diligently attended all his life, and now slacked in the last act, he had lost the reward of his service. The evening praises the day, and the chief grace of the theatre is in the last scene : Be faithful to the death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
That Elijah should be translated, and what day he should be translated, God would have no secret. The sons of the prophets at Bethel, at Jericho, both know it, and ask Elisha if he knew it not; Knowest thou, that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head this day? and he answered, Yea, I know it ; hold ye your peace.
How familiarly do these prophets interknow one another! How kindly do they communicate their visions ! Seldom ever was any knowledge given to keep, but to impart: the grace of this rich jewel is lost in concealment.
The removal of an Elijah is so important a business, that it is not fit to be done without noise. Many shall have their share in his loss: he must be missed on the sudden : it was meet, therefore, that the world should know, his rapture should be divine and glorious.
I do not find, where the day of any natural death is notified to so many. By how much more wonder there was in this assumption, by so much more shall it be fore-revealed. It is enough for ordinary occurrents to be known by their event: supernatural things have need of premonition, that men's hearts may be both prepared for their receipt, and confirmed in their certainty.
Thrice was Elisha entreated, thrice hath he denied, to stay behind his now departing master; on whom both his eyes and his thoughts are so fixed, that he cannot give allowance, so much as to the interpellation of a question of his fellow prophets.
Together, therefore, are this wonderful pair come to the last stage of their separation, the banks of Jordan.
Those, that were not admitted to be attendants of their journey, yet will not be debarred from being spectators of so marvellous an issue. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off. I marvel there were no more.
any son of the prophets stay within the college walls that day; when he knew what was meant to Elijah? Perhaps, though they knew that to be the prophet's last day, yet they might think his disparition should be sudden and" insensible; besides, they found how much he affected secrecy in this intended departure : yet the fifty prophets of Jericho will make proof of their eyes; and, with much intention, assay who shall have the last sight of Elijah.
Miracles are not purposed to silence and obscurity. God will not work wonders without witnesses. Since he doth them an
purpose to win glory to his name, his end were frustrate without their notice. Even so, O Saviour, when thou hadst raised thyself from the dead, thou wouldest be seen of more than five hundred brethren at once; and when thou wouldest raise up thy glorified body from earth into heaven, thou didst not ascend from some close valley, but from the mount of Olives; not in the night, not alone, but in the clear day, in the view of many eyes; which were so fixed upon that point of thine heaven, that they could scarce be removed by the check of angels.
Jordan must be crossed by Elijah, in his way to heaven. There must be a meet parallel betwixt the two great prophets, that shall meet Christ upon Tabor ; Moses and Elias. Both received visions on Horeb: to both God appeared there, in fire and other forms of terror: both were sent to kings; one, to Pharaoh ; the other, to Ahab: both prepared miraculous tables ; the one, of quails and manna, in the desert; the other, of meal and oil, in Sarepta : both opened heaven; the one, for that nourishing dew; the other, for those refreshing showers: both revenged idolatries with the sword; the one, upon the worshippers of the golden calf; the other, upon the four hundred Baalites : both quenched the drought of Israel; the one, out of the rock; the other, out of the cloud : both divided the waters; the one, of the Red Sea; the other, of Jordan : both of them are forewarned of their departure : both must be fetched away beyond Jordan ; the body of Elijah is translated ; the body of Moses is hid: what Moses doth by his rod, Elijah doth by his mantle; with that, he smites the waters, and they, as fearing the divine power which wrought with the prophet, run away from him, and stand on heaps, leaving the dry channel for the passage of those awful feet. It is not long, since he mulcted them with a general exsiccation: now, he only bids them stand aside, and give way to his last walk; that he might with dry feet mount up into the celestial chariot.
The waters do not now first obey him. They know that mantle of old; which hath oft given laws to their falling, rising, standing. They are passed over; and now, when Elijah finds himself treading on his last earth, he proffers a munificent boon to his faithful servant; Ask what I shall do for thee, before I am taken from thee. I do not hear him say,
5 Ask of
my glorified condition, I shall be more able to bestead thee;" but, Ask, before I
We have a communion with the saints departed ; not a commerce. When they are enabled to do more for us, they are less apt to be solicited by us. It is a safe suing where we are sure that we are heard.
Had not Elijah received a peculiar instinct for this proffer, he had not been thus liberal. It were presumption to be bountiful on another's cost, without leave of the owner.