hostile power; where a tremendous message was laid upon their hearts
and lips to utter; where natural strength would fail; where they were
likely to be daunted or dazzled by temptations, by either the sweetness
or the terrors of material things, these two great heroes of the Old
Covenant, out of sight the strongest men in the old Jewish history,
steady themselves by one thought, - God lives, and I am His servant.
For that phrase, 'before whom I stand,' obviously means chiefly 'whom I
serve.' It is found, for instance, in Deuteronomy, where the priest's
office is thus defined: 'The sons of Levi shall stand before the Lord
to minister unto Him.' And in the same way, it is used in the Queen of
Sheba's wondering exclamation to Solomon, 'Blessed are thy servants,
and blessed are the men that stand before thy face continually.'
So that the consciousness that they were servants of the living God was
the very secret of the power of these men. This expression, which thus
started to their lips in moments of strain and trial, lets us see into
the very inmost heart of their strength. These two great lives, which
fill so large a apace in the records of the past, and will be
remembered for ever, were braced and ennobled thus. The same grand
thought is available to brace and ennoble our little lives, that will
soon be forgotten but by a loving heart or two, and yet may be as full
of God and of God's service as those of any of the great of old. We too
may use this secret of power, 'The Lord liveth, before whom I stand.'
What thoughts then, which may tend to lift and invigorate our days, are
included in these words? The first is surely this - Life a constant
vision of God's presence.
How distinct and abiding must the vision of God have been, which burned
before the inward eye of the man that struck out that phrase! 'Wherever
I am, whatever I do, I am before Him. To my purged eye, there is the
Apocalypse of heaven, and I behold the great throne, and the solemn
ranks of ministering spirits, my fellow-servants, hearkening to the
voice of His word.' No excitement of work, no strain of effort, no
distraction of circumstances, no glitter of gold, no dazzle of earthly
brightness, dimmed that vision for these prophets. In some measure, it
was with them as it shall be perfectly with all one day, 'His servants
serve Him, and see His face,' - action not interrupting vision, nor
vision weakening action. To preserve thus fresh and unimpaired, amidst
strenuous work and many temptations, the clear consciousness of being
'ever in the great Taskmaster's eye,' needs resolute effort and much
self-restraint. It is hard to set the Lord always before us; but it is
possible, and in the measure in which we do it, we shall not be moved.
How nobly the steadfastness and superiority to all temptations which
such a vision gives, are illustrated by the occasions, in these
prophets' lives, in which this expression came to their lips! The
servant of the Heavenly King speaks from his present intuition. As he
speaks, he sees the throne in the heavens, and the Sovereign Ruler
there, and the sight bears him up from quailing before the earthly
monarchs whom he had to beard, and in connection with whom three out of
the four instances of the use of the phrase occur. How small Ahab and
his court must have looked to eyes that were full of the undazzling
brightness of the true King of Israel, and the ordered ranks of
_His_ attendants! How little the greatness! How tawdry the pomp!
How impotent the power, and how toothless the threats! The poor show of
the earthly king paled before that awful vision, as a dim candle will
show black against the sun. 'I stand before the living God, and thou, O
Ahab! art but a shadow and a noise.' Just as we may have looked upon
some mountain scene, where all the highest summits were wrapt in mist,
and the lower hills looked mighty and majestic, until some puff of wind
came and rolled up the curtain that had shrined and hidden the icy
pinnacles and peaks that were higher up. And as that solemn white
apocalypse rose and towered to the heavens, we forgot all about the
green hills below, because our eyes beheld the mighty summits that live
amongst the stars, and sparkle white through eternity.
My brethren, here is our defence against being led away by the gauds
and shows of earth's vulgar attractions, or being terrified by the poor
terrors of its enmity. Go with that talisman in your hand, 'The Lord
liveth, before whom I stand,' and everything else dwindles down into
nothingness, and you are a free man, master and lord of all things,
because you are God's servants, seeing all things aright, because you
see them all in God, and God in them all.
Still further, we may say that this phrase is the utterance and
expression of a consciousness that life was echoing with the voice of
the divine command. Elijah stands before the Lord, not only feeling in
his thrilling spirit that God is ever near him, but also that His word
is ever coming forth to him, with imperative authority. That is the
prophet's conception of life. Wherever he is, he hears a voice saying,
'This is the way, walk ye in it.' Every place where he stands is as the
very holy place of the oracles of the Most High, the spot in the
innermost shrine where the voice of God is audible, All circumstances
are the voice of God, commanding or restraining. He is evermore
pursued, nay, rather upheld and guided, by an all-embracing law. That
law is no mere utterance of cold impersonal duty, - a thought which may
make men slaves, but never makes them good. But it is the voice of the
living God, loving and beloved, whose tender care for His children
modulates His tone, while He commands them for their good. He speaks
because He loves; His law is life. The heart that hears Him speak is
filled with music.
Ahab and Jehoram, and all the kings of the earth, may thunder and
lighten, may threaten and flatter, may command and forbid, as they
list. They and their words are nought to him whose trembling ears have
heard, and whose obedient heart has received, a higher command, and to
whom, 'across the storm,' comes the deeper voice of the one true
Commander, whom alone it is a glory absolutely to obey, even 'the Lord,
before whom I stand.' People talk about the consciousness of 'a
mission.' The important point, on the settling of which depends the
whole character of our lives, is - Who do you suppose gave you your
'mission'? Was it any _person_ at all? or have you any consciousness
that any will but your own has anything to say about your life? These
prophets had found One whom it was worth while to obey, whatever came
of it, and whoever stood in the way. May it be so with you and me, my
friend! Let us try always to feel that in the commonest things we may
hear the command of God; that the trifles of each day - trifles though
they be - vibrate and sound with the reverberation of His great voice;
that in all the outward circumstances of our lives, as in all the deep
recesses of our hearts, we may trace the indications and rudiments of
His will concerning us, which He has perfectly given us in that Gospel
which is 'the law of liberty,' and in Him who is the Gospel and the
perfect Law. Then quietly, without bluster or mock-heroics, or making a
fuss about our independence, we can put all other commands and
commanders in their right place, with the old words, 'With me it is a
very small matter to be judged of you, or of man's judgment; He that
judgeth me,' and He that commandeth me, 'is the Lord,' In answer to all
the noise about us we can face round like Elijah, and say, 'As the Lord
liveth, before whom I stand.' He is my 'Imperator,' the Autocrat and
Commander of my life; and Him, and Him only, must I serve. What
calmness, what dignity that would put into our lives! The never-ceasing
boom of the great ocean, as it breaks on the beach, drowns all smaller
sounds. Those lives are noble and great in which that deep voice is
ever dominant, sounding on through all lesser voices, and day and night
filling the soul with command and awe.
Then, still further, we may take another view of these words. They are
the utterance of a man to whom his life was not only bright with the
radiance of a divine presence, and musical with the voice of a divine
command, but was also, on his part, full of conscious obedience. No man
could say such a thing of himself who did not feel that he was
rendering a real, earnest, though imperfect obedience to God. So,
though in one view the words express a very lowly sense of absolute
submission before God, in another view they make a lofty claim for the
utterer. He professes that he stands before the Lord, girt for His
service, watching to be guided by His eye, and ready to run when He
bids. It is the same lofty sense of communion and consecration, issuing
in authority over others, which Elijah's true brother in later days,
Paul the Apostle, put forth when he made known to his companions in
shipwreck the will of 'the God, whose I am, and whom I serve.' We may
well shrink from making that claim for ourselves, when we think of the
poor, perfunctory service and partial consecration which our lives
show. But let us rejoice that even we may venture to say, 'Truly I am
Thy servant'; if only we, like the Psalmist, rest the confession on the
perfectness of what He has done for us, rather than on the imperfection
of what we have done for Him; and lay, as its foundation, 'Thou hast
loosed my bonds.' Then, though we must ever feel how poor our service,
and how unprofitable ourselves, how little we deserve the honour, and
how impossible that we should ever earn the least mite of wages; yet we
may, in all lowliness, think of ourselves as set free that we may
serve, and lift our eyes, as the eyes of a servant turn towards his
master, to 'the living Lord, before whom we stand.
Such a life is necessarily a happy life. The one misery of man is self-
will, the one secret of blessedness is the conquest over our own wills.
To yield them up to God is rest and peace. If we 'stand before God,'
then that means that our wills are brought into harmony with His. And
that means that the one poison drop is squeezed out of our lives, and
that sweetness and joy are infused into them. For what disturbs us in
this world is not 'trouble' but our opposition to trouble. The true
source of all that frets and irritates, and wears away our lives, is
not in external things, but in the resistance of our wills to the will
of God expressed by external things. I suppose that we shall never here
bring these wills of ours into perfect correspondence with His, any
more than we shall ever, with our shaking hands and blunt pencils, draw
a perfectly straight line. But if will and heart are brought even to a
rude approach to parallelism with His, if we accept His voice when He
takes away, and obey it when He commands, we shall be quiet and
peaceful. We shall be strong and unwearied, freed from corroding cares
and exhausting rebellions, which take far more out of a man than any
work does. 'Thy word was found, and I did eat it.' When we thus take
God's command into our spirits, and feed upon it with will and
understanding, it becomes, as the Psalmist found it, the 'joy and
rejoicing of our hearts.' Elijah-like, we shall 'go in the strength of
that meat many days.' The secret of power and of calm is - yield your
will to the loving Lord, and stand ever before Him with, 'Here am I,
We may add one more remark to these various views of the significance
of this expression, to which the last instance of its use may help us.
Here it is: 'And Naaman said, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy
servant. But he said, As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will
The thought, which made all Elisha's life bright with the light of
God's presence, which filled his ear with the unremitting voice of a
Divine Law, which swayed and bowed his will to joyful obedience,
chilled and deadened his desires for all earthly rewards. 'I am not thy
servant. I am God's servant. It is not your business to pay my wages. I
cannot dishonour my Master by taking payment from thee for doing His
work. I look for everything from Him, for nothing from thee.'
And is there not a broad general truth involved there, namely, that
such a life as we have been describing will find its sole reward where
it finds its inspiration and its law? The Master's approval is the
servant's best wages. If we truly feel that 'the Lord _liveth_,
before whom we stand, 'we shall want nothing else for our work but His
smile, and we shall feel that the light of His face is all that we
need. That thought should deaden our love for outward things. How
little we need to care about any payment that the world can give for
anything we do! If we feel, as we ought, that we are God's servants,
that will lift us clear above the low aims and desires which meet us.
How little we shall care for money, for men's praise, for getting on in
the world! How the things that we fever our souls by pursuing, and fret
our hearts when we lose, will cease to attract! How small and vulgar
the 'prizes' of life, as people call them, will appear! 'The Lord
liveth, before whom I stand,' should be enough for us, and instead of
all these motives to action drawn from the rewards of this world, we
ought to 'labour that, whether present or absent, we may be well-
pleasing to Him.'
Not the fading leaves of the victor's wreath, laurel though they be,
nor the corruptible things as silver and gold, whereof earth's diadems
and rewards are fashioned, but the incorruptible crown that fadeth not
away, which His hand will give, should fire our hope, and shine before
our faith. Not Naaman's gifts but God's approval is Elisha's reward.
Not the praise from lips that will perish, or the 'hollow wraith of
dying fame,' but Christ's 'Well done! good and faithful servant,'
should be a Christian's aim.
May we, brethren, possess the 'spirit and the power of Elias'; - the
spirit, in that we know ourselves to be the servants of the living God;
and then we shall have some measure of his dauntless power and heroic
Still better, may we have the Spirit of Him who was '_the_ Servant
of the Lord,' diviner in His gentle meekness than the fiery prophet in
his lonely strength! Make yours the mind that was in Christ, that you
too may say, 'Lo, I come! in the volume of the book it is written of
me, I delight to do Thy will, yea, Thy law is within my heart.'
_To the Young_
'... I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth. - 1 KINGS xviii.12.
This Obadiah is one of the obscurer figures in the Old Testament. We
never hear of him again, for there is no reason to accept the Jewish
tradition which alleges that he was Obadiah the prophet. And yet how
distinctly he stands out from the canvas, though he is only sketched
with a few bold outlines! He is the 'governor over Ahab's house,' a
kind of mayor of the palace, and probably the second man in the
kingdom. But though thus high in that idolatrous and self-willed court,
he has bravely kept true to the ancient faith. Neither Jezebel's
flatteries nor her frowns have moved him. But there, amid apostasy and
idolatry he stands, probably all alone in the court, a worshipper of
Jehovah. His name is his character, for it means 'servant of Jehovah.'
It was not a light thing to be a worshipper of the God of Israel in
Ahab's court. The feminine rage of the fierce Sidonian woman, whom Ahab
obeyed in most things, burned hot against the enemies of her father's
gods, and hotter, perhaps, against any one who thwarted her imperious
will. Obadiah did both, in that audacious piece of benevolence when he
sheltered the Lord's prophets - one hundred of them - and saved them from
her cruel search. The writer of the book very rightly marks this brave
antagonism to the outburst of the queen's wrath as a signal proof of a
more than ordinary devotion to the worship and fear of Jehovah. His
firmness and his religion did not prevent his retaining his place of
honour and dignity. That says something for Ahab, and more perhaps for
Most of you believe that you ought to 'fear the Lord': but you are apt
to put off, and so I wish to urge on you that you should give your
hearts to Jesus Christ at once.
I. The blessedness of youthful religion.
(a) It guards from many temptations, and keeps a character innocent of
Think of the dangers that lie thick in the streets of every great city,
and of a lad coming up from a country home of godliness, where he was
surrounded by a mother's love and an atmosphere of purity, and launched
into some lonely lodging, or some factory or warehouse with many
tempters. Nothing will be such a help to resistance and victory as to
be able to say, 'So did not I because of the fear of the Lord.'
(_b_) It will save from remorse. Even if a man 'sobers down' after
'sowing his wild oats,' which is a very problematical 'if,' what bitter
memories of wasted days, what polluting memories of filthy ones, will
haunt him! And if he does not sober down, what then?
It is folly to begin life on a wrong tack, in regard to which the best
that you can say is that you do not mean to continue it. If you do not,
then the wise thing is to get at once on to the road on which you do
mean to continue, and to save the weary work of retracing steps and the
painful consciousness of having made a false start. Are you so sure
that you will wish, or that it will be possible, to face right about
and get on to a new line? Fishermen catch lobsters and the like by
means of baskets with one opening, the withes of which are so set that
the entrance is easy, but that a ring of sharp points oppose all
attempts at turning back and getting out. The world lays 'pots' of that
sort, and many a young man and woman glides smoothly in, and finds it
impossible to get out.
(_c_) It usually leads to a deeper and more peaceful and
harmonious religion than is attained by those who have given the world
the better part of their days, and have only the last fragment of them
to give to God. Obadiah had feared God from his youth, and that had a
good deal to do with his brave stand against Jezebel. It is a grand
thing to enlist habit on the side of godliness.
II. The foes of youthful religion.
There are foes within .... the strong self-reliance and bounding life
proper to youth, without which at the opening of the flower, the bloom
would be poor and the fruit little, ... the power of appeals to the
unjaded and physically strong senses, ... the difficulty at such a stage
of life of looking forward and soberly regarding the end.
There are foes without ....the crowds of tempters of both sexes, men
and women who take a devilish pleasure in polluting innocent minds, ...
the companions whose jeers are worse to face than a battery, ... the
inconsistencies of so-called Christians, the anti-Christian literature
which is peculiarly fascinating to the young, with its brave show of
breaking with mouldy tradition and enthroning reason and emancipating
from rusty fetters.
III. The too probable alternative to youthful religion.
It is but too likely that, if a man does not 'fear the Lord' from 'his
youth,' he will never fear Him. Thank God, there is no time nor
condition of life in which the wicked man cannot 'forsake his way,' or
'the unrighteous man his thoughts,' and 'turn to the Lord' with the
assurance that 'He will abundantly pardon.' But it is sadly too plain
to observation, and to the experience of some of us, that obstacles
grow with years, that habits and associations grip with increasing
power, that in all things our natures become less flexible, the supple
sapling becoming gnarled and tough, that a middle-aged or old man is
more inextricably 'tied and bound by the cords of his sins,' than a
young one is.
Sin lies to us by first saying, 'It is too soon to be religious,' and
then it lies to us by saying, 'It is too late.'
The inclination diminishes.
The Gospel long heard and long put aside, loses power.
Contrast the beauty of a course of life, begun on the same lines as
those on which it ends, and being like 'the shining light, that shineth
more and more unto the meridian of the day,' with one which gave the
greater part of its years to 'the world, the flesh, and the devil,' or
at least to one's godless self, and the dregs of it only to God.
THE TRIAL BY FIRE
'And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose yon one bullock for
yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name
of your gods, but put no fire under. 26. And they took the bullock
which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of
Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there
was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar
which was made. 27. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked
them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he Is talking, or he
is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and
must be awaked. 28. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after
their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon
them. 29. And it came to pass, when midday was passed, and they
prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice,
that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
30. And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the
people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that
was broken down. 31. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the
number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the
Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: 32. And with the stones he
built an altar in the name of the Lord: and he made a trench about the
altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. 33. And he put
the wood in order, and cut the bullock in nieces, and laid him on the
wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt
sacrifice, and on the wood. 34. And he said, Do it the second time. And
they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And
they did it the third time. 35. And the water ran round about the
altar; and he filled the trench also with water. 36. And it came to
pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah
the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of
Israel, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel, and that
I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word.
37. Hear me, O Lord, hear me: that this people may know that Thou art
the Lord God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again. 38.
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. 39. 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 KINGS xviii. 25-39.
The place, the purpose, and the actors in this scene, make it among the
grandest in history. A nation, with its king, has come together, at the
bidding of one man, to settle no less a question than whom they shall
worship. There, on the slope of Carmel, with the brassy heaven gleaming
hard and dry above them, and the yellow, burnt-up plain of Jezreel at
their feet, the expectant people stand. The assembly was a singular
proof of Elijah's ascendency; for Ahab's bluster had sunk, cowed in his
presence, and he had meekly done the prophet's bidding in summoning
'all Israel' and the eight hundred and fifty Baal and Asherah prophets,
for an unexplained purpose. The false priests would come unwillingly;
but they came.
Then Elijah takes the command, and, though utterly alone, towers above
the crowd in the courage of his undaunted confidence in his message.
His words have the ring of authority as he rebukes indecision, and
calls for a clear adhesion to Baal or Jehovah. If the people had
answered, the trial by fire would have been needless. But their silence
shows that they waver, and therefore he makes his proposal to them.
Note that the priests are not consulted, nor is Ahab. The former would
have had some excuse for shirking the sharp issue; but the people's
assent forced them to accept the ordeal, - reluctantly enough, no doubt.
I. The vain cries to a deaf God. It is strange that one of the parties
to the test has power to determine its conditions, especially as
Elijah's prophetic authority was one of the things in dispute; but it