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coarse mantle, on the top of the hill, and commands the heavens, and they obey him ; “Let fire fall down from heaven.” He needs no more but say what he would have done: the fire falls down, as before upon the sacrifice in Carmel, so now upon the soldiers of Ahaziah. What is man in the hands of his Maker ? One flash of lightning hath consumed this one-andfifty: and if all the hosts of Israel, yea of the world, had been in their rooms, there had needed no other force. What madness is it for him whose breath is in his nostrils, to contend with the Almighty! The time was, when two zealous disciples would fain have imitated this fiery revenge of Elijah, and were repelled with a check; the very place puts them in mind of the judgment: not far from Samaria was this done by Elijah, and wished to be done by the disciples. So churlish a rejection of a Saviour seemed no less heinous, than the endeavour of apprehending a prophet ; “ Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, as Elias did ?" The world yielded but one Elias: that which was zeal in him, might be fury in another; the least variation of circumstance may make an example dangerous ; presently, therefore, do they hear, “ Ye know not of what spirit ye are.” It is the calling that varies the spirit: Elijah was God's minister for the execution of so severe a judgment; they were but the servants of their own impotent anger ; there was fire in their breasts which God never kindled. Far was it from the Saviour of men to second their earthly fire with his heavenly. He came indeed to send fire upon earth, but to warm, not to burn; and if to burn, not the persons of men, but their corruptions. How much more safe is it for us to follow the meek Prophet of the New Testament, than that fervent prophet of the Old! Let the matter of our prayers be the sweet dews of mercy, not the fires of vengeance.
Would not any man have thought Ahaziah suffi
ciently warned by so terrible a judgment ? Could he choose but say, It is no meddling with a man that can speak lightning and death? What he hath said concerning me is too well approved by what he hath done to my messengers ; God's hand is with him, mine shall not be against him. Yet now, behold, the rage of Ahaziah is so much the more kindled by this fire from heaven; and a more resolute captain, with a second band, is sent to fetch Elijah to death. This man is in haste, and commands not only his descent, but his speed: “ Come down quickly.” The charge implies a threat ; Elijah must look for force, if he yield not. There needs no other weapon for defence, for offence, than the same tongue, the same breath. God hath fire enough for all the troops of Ahaziah. Immediately doth a sudden flame break out of heaven, and consume this forward leader and his bold followers. It is a just 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 execution 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 supplicant, 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 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 aught 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 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 so 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.
According to the word of the prophet, Ahaziah 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 hasten it.
THE RAPTURE OF ELIJAH.
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 a 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 heaven. In 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 administration! 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.