The Spirit and Power of Elijah

Luke 1:17.---" He shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah.

We know what hold that prediction took of the Jewish mind, how it echoed through the vacant centuries which parted the to dispensations, how the Jews sent officers to ask the very first who gave promise of renewing the longed-broken succession of the prophets, ' Art thou Elisa?' They looked for the actual reappearance of that strange weird figure which had once been so suddenly projected upon the page of their national history and as suddenly withdrawn.

What was particularly remarkable about the spirit and power of Elijah? What did this man specially stand for? Wherein lies his importance? He appeared at a time when tendencies and influences that were perilous to the religious and also the moral life of his country were being admitted without much question. They were days of large tolerance. People were being led to believe that they could worship and serve Jehovah, and at the same time worship and serve Baal; that they could admit into their life what was uplifting had been inspiring, and at the same time give a place to what was degrading in debasing; that they could live a double life with a certain amount of recognition of Jehovah on the one hand, and steep themselves in the pollutions of Baal on the other. It was the double Life spoken of by the Master as the attempt to serve God and Mammon; spoken of by St. Paul as drinking a cup of the Lord and the cup of devils. And the spirit and power of Elijah were the spirit and power to contest that view of things, to call for decision the one way or the other. It cannot be both, he said. You cannot limp between the two. If it be God, then serve Him; if it be Baal, then serve him. He brought things to an issue, that is to say; has stood out as the champion of a pure religion and a pure morality.

Now it was in the spirit and power of this man that the Baptist came. He found in his day easy views of religion couple with loose morals; this double life; this drinking of the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils. And he went forth with ' repentance ' as his watchword; called upon men to quit the double life and come out clear for God and His righteousness; called upon them to step down with him into the Jordan, to be baptized there in token that they were making a clean cut from the evil past and were coming out for the Lord and His ways---in token booth that there was to be no more limping between two opinions and two modes of life; they were to be out and out for God. And because that was this man's attitude, not for others only, but for himself in his own life, not for his on life only, but for others; because this took possession of all his soul and all his being as the thing that simply ought to be---he is called 'great in the sight of the Lord. ' And the Master said, ' among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist. '

The Spirit and power of Elijah, then, may be seen in two ways.

In superiority to the world.---The prophet must be manifestly not of the world. His home here is the desert. His citizenship is in heaven. It is God dwelling in man. The Elijah spirit in power cannot be a man of the world. In the world, as a man of flesh and blood, he must be, as a man knowing the misery and sin and the ruin to which he is to be voice and hand and medicine; knowing the disease better more intimately than others, as possessing the gift of God is discernment and its cure---in the world, therefore, but not of it. They who would accept his ministry must go to him in the wilderness. They will not find him by idle curiosity which might just watch the waving of the reeds on the banks of the Jordan. There will not find him by that sort of worldly seeking which might bring them out to see flaunting by the wearers of soft clothing and the dwellers in luxurious courts of the kings. They must go after him into his desert, and seek him there as God's prophet.

A man can no more live two lives than he can serve two masters. There's a sense, indeed, in which it is quite easy, quite common, to combine these contraries. But such a man must discard the hope of being employed in God's work as here described. An Elijah cannot live two lives. Living for God, he lives not for the world. What is it to him if Ahab calls him enemy, or Jezebel hunts his life? What is it to him whether Herod hears him gladly, or makes a present of his head to Herodias's daughter? His life is hidden---hidden with God; hence his courage, his truth, his spirit, his power. He is above the world. He can confront earth's threatening, because he has trodden underfoot earth's enticements.

The other striking point in the spirit and power of Elijah is its earnest controversy with idols.---The crisis of Elijah's life was so Carmel. There through a whole day he did battle on a material stage with a vile and sensual demon-worship. He brought to issue for that age the question between God and Baal. And the chapter which details his conflict in victory is still as full of Divine pathos and fire as when it was written.

It is even more instructive to observe in what sense the Baptist was an iconoclast. Israel, carried captive to Babylon, unlearned effectually is inveterate tendency to idolatry. There was no subsequent relapse into image-worship. At first sight we might almost suppose that John neither possessed nor wanted the Elijah power. When you look below the surface you see, in his brief ministry, a yet closer and sterner combat with idolatry as God sees it. The idolatry which then prevailed was more secret, more insidious. There had been the change, between Elijah's day and the Baptist from ancient to modern. The state of religion, as John found in Palestine, was substantially that of modern today. It consisted in a simple substitution of form for spirit, of name for reality, of religion, the factor common for faith, the liberty and the life. When John the Baptist boldly met the Pharisees who came, with patronizing condescension, to submit up to his baptism as the fashion of the moment, with the tremendous denunciation, 'O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance,' he was reenacting by the Jordan the very slaughter of the brook Kishon; he was entering the lists with a subtler that any visible idolatry; he was proving himself master, in the might of the Spirit, of those lying vanities which counterfeit piety; it was laying an ax to the very root of the tree of falsehood in its most perilous, most poisonous development A man must be a brave man, independent of the world, in advance of this time, to do this half of Elijah's work thoroughly. Each section of the Church, each period, each congregation, has its idolatries. In one it may be the exaggeration the form, in another it may be the disparagement of duty; and one, the deification of Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas---some honored church-name consecrated; in another, an ignorant parade of the boastful 'I am of Christ' as an assertion of a higher spirituality than can consist at all with subordination to human authority. Any side, any particular, any feature of truth can be distorted into an idol; you have but to isolate it, you have to make it swallow up his check and its correction, lying on the same page or another page of Holy Scripture, and it becomes a idol at once, which only the power of an Elijah can beat into the Nehushtan which it must be made. In Christ, timothy. maranatha