LVI. "THEN THE FIRE OF THE LORD FELL." 1 KINGS xviii. 38.
It was fire that came direct from heaven. It was not the first time it had fallen; we read of it in Leviticus 9:24 as coming from before the Lord, and consuming the sacrifice. It was God's way of showing His power and his favour, and it was something that could neither be imitated nor produced by anyone else besides Jehovah.
I.--- THIS FIRE CAME AT A TIME OF APOSTACY. The nation, headed by King Ahab, had gone very far away from God. They needed some signal display of God's power to win them back again. It is interesting to notice that God has been in the habit of manifesting Himself in a remarkable way just at the time when his foes seem to be triumphing. The religion of Jehovah was almost forgotten, the rites of unclean idols were popular both in court and cottage, and it was then that the word of the Lord came to Elijah. When Satan can produce Ahab, God can assert Himself by raising up the seer who shall put him to shame. Has it not been so many times since? When the rulers had put Jesus to death, He proved His resurrection by sending tongues of fire on those who kept His word by remaining at Jerusalem. When Popery had placed its iron heel upon the head of Gospel truth, Martin Luther was converted; and later on, when a cold rigour was upon Christendom, Wesley and Whitefield felt the fire of God in their very bones, and were sent out to tell of the Jesus that delivers the vilest of men.
May we not expect in these days of blasphemy and rebuke that the fire shall fall upon the Church, and that some shall be so filled with the Holy Ghost that the enemies of God shall be delivered to derision and contempt? Let us not be dismayed by the power and number of those who are arrayed against us. Elijah was in a minority of one. He had the king and queen against him; hundreds of well-fed priests opposed him; the whole nation had turned its back on God, and were opposed to this single- handed prophet. If the fire did not fall, he would become their victim; but they could not prevent the fire coming from heaven. It is the unseen forces that are to be dreaded by the enemies of God. There was no sign of this fire; but there was a needs-be that Jehovah should prove his supremacy, and He did it unmistakably, for the fire of God fell!
II.--- THE FIRE WAS SOMETHING BAAL'S PRIESTS COULD NOT PRODUCE.—The Creator has a pre-emption on His universe. He has not given the key of His treasury to any man or angel. Those heathen priests may have been—some of them doubtless were—sincere. They had cried unto Baal for help; they had implored his assistance; but neither the deaf idol nor the listening devil who had invented idolatry could reach the source of the flame which was to come, but not in reply to their desire.
It is well for us who are sometimes in perplexity because of the power of evil to look at the helplessness of sin when in extremity. These shrieking priests of Baal are a picture of many a one since, who has cried for help and had no reply. Let the cholera come a little nearer our shores. As I write these words I hear it is in Spain; it may be in London before this is printed. There may be in the printing-office some infidel compositor, but though he sneers at religion and those who believe the Bible, he cannot keep away from the pestilence as silently it steals along the street where he sleeps! The cholera would drive infidelity away from many a scoffer were it but to slay a few hundreds of Englishmen. How powerless are God's foes at such a time!
Should there come a universal drought that meant famine if there were not showers to come copious and lasting, how many would look up to God who now never think of Him! What could science and skill do for us when rain is needed? A famine would make Bradlaugh very unpopular. "If the God of the Christians does not help us by sending rain, what can we do but starve," would be the cry. These prophets cutting themselves and howling their own shame supply a picture of the powerlessness of sin when confronted with necessity.
III.--- THE FIRE FELL IN ANSWER TO PRAYER. What a scene is depicted in verses 29 and 30! There were neither voice nor any to answer, nor any that regarded, and Elijah said, "Yes, if we are on the side of God and righteousness we can afford to wait." There will be a time when even those who have opposed us shall long to see us act. The prophet waited for his turn, and it came. How the priests would watch him as he repaired the broken and neglected altar of God? Digging a trench round the stones he had piled, and then laying the bullock on the wood, he sent down to the shore for water, which he continued to pour on the sacrifice till it had filled the trench. Ah! if the fire can consume that, it is no trick. Those who live as near to God as Elijah did, can get fire enough to conquer all His opponents, and need not fear the issue.
And now he is about to pray. How all would listen as each word smote upon their ears. He puts God to the proof, and asks Him to show who is master, Baal or Jehovah. Do we not need more of this kind of prayer? Would there not be more of it if there was only greater faith? Who is the God we serve? Have we Elijah's Lord to cry unto? Then how is it we allow the servants of Baal to triumph over us? Prayer is as great a power to-day as it ever was, if only we have faith in Him who tells us, "Knock, and the door shall be opened." Dare we put Him to the test, and ask for that which is sure to bring glory to Him, feeling that if our prayers are not answered it is God's name that will be dishonoured more than ours? Whenever Christians come up to this standard they will prevail in prayer, and be able to call down celestial fire. Pentecost will repeat itself whenever the whole Church will wait on the Lord, as the early Christians did, with one accord. To believe otherwise is to reckon that God has no care either for His glory or for a perishing world.
IV.—THE FIRE CONQUERED ALL OPPOSITION. The physical difficulties were as nothing, it consumed and licked up all. Flesh, stone, wood, and water alike were wrapped in flame, and appeared no more. Difficulties are fuel to the heaven-sent fire! Opposition is opportunity to omnipotence. Does not the history of the Church teach this over and over again? The Israelites crossed the Red Sea "By crystal walls protected." The three Hebrew children "walked unburned in fire." Do not let us be afraid of physical or spiritual difficulties if there is a promise or command.
The prophet wished to have his countrymen converted, and prayed that their hearts might be turned back, and this miracle convinced them that Jehovah "was alone among the gods, that all their idols were as nothing before Him. And what is wanted to bring about moral victories is the fire from above, the same fire that fell at Pentecost, tongues of fire, whether we shall see them or not; the people must feel our words to burn them if we have the heaven-sent fire. Nothing will save England and the world but this, and do we not read, "Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly? Why should not future writers say Jones or Robinson, or whatever your name is, was a man, and he prayed, and there was a mighty revival?
All opposition will fall before the fire. Neither Sacerdotalism nor Atheism can hold its ground before the celestial burnings. What the enemies of Jesus have to fear is for the Church to fall upon its knees. Those who bow before the Lord can stand upright in the presence of His enemies. The man who, later on in this chapter, we are told cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees when he prayed, was wont to say, "As the Lord God liveth before whom I stand." Let us only be mighty in prayer, and we shall be mighty enough to make wicked men tremble. HE WHO CAN WIN FAVOUR IN PRAYER CAN WIN VICTORY IN BATTLE.
THE DEVIL IS A GOOD ANGLER,