THE author hesitated in committing these pages to the press, for the same reason which he believes has deterred others, viz., that the life of the greatest of the Prophets of the kingdom of Israel has been already so graphically portrayed, and its sacred lessons enforced, in the admirable volume of Dr Krummacher.
It is not certainly with the presumptuous expectation of either rivaling or excelling that well-known work, that he has ventured to occupy the same ground. The gifted and now venerable pastor of Elberfeld, whose writings have enjoyed a long and deserved popularity, will always retain his own peculiar pedestal in the Christian Church as the biographer of the Tishbite. But what is true in all departments of literature, is surely specially so in the case of sacred literature and Bible biography, that no human works - not the very best can possibly be exhaustive:- there are always harvest-gleanings, if not sheaves, for the diligent reaper.
A character like that of Elijah, at once so unique and so complex, and a life so varied in incident, must ever be suggestive of new lines and phases of thought. More than this, much interesting light and information since Krummacher wrote, has been thrown upon the times of the Great Prophet and upon the scenes of his labour, tending further to illustrate and vivify the events in his heroic career.
While the writer, therefore, has endeavoured to give as faithful a photograph as he can, of "the grandest and most romantic character Israel ever produced," 1 he has made it his special aim, to draw manifold practical and gospel lessons from a history so replete with evangelic truth, as well as so suggestive of noble life - thoughts for this earnest and busy age. 2
The name given to this volume, "PROPHET OF FIRE," will afford its own explanation.
It seems the most befitting of epithets as applied to him who was truly one of the SERAPHIM (the "flaming ones") of earth;- "a burning and shining light;" - a beacon-blaze of warning set on the hill-tops of Israel.
Pagan mythology has put a gleaming thunderbolt in the hands of Olympian Jupiter. Such was our Prophet in the hands of the living and true GOD;- Jehovah's messenger of wrath to a guilty age. In the words of the Son of Sirach, quoted in the title-page, "He stood up as a Fire, and his word burned as a lamp." The most graphic and memorable incidents, moreover, in Elijah's life, seem, so to speak, to be illumined with the element and symbol of FIRE.
It was the empire of Baal - the Fire-god - he came to shake and overthrow. Fire fell at his intercession on the sacrifice at Carmel.
GOD shewed him, as we shall see, in the sublime manifestation at Horeb, the reflection of his own character in the Fire which preceded the "still small voice." He called down Fire on the captains of fifties; and in a chariot of Fire he went up to Heaven.
To him, with a better acceptation, the name of the old Canaanite king specially belonged - Adoni-bezek, ("the lord of lightning.")
Like a fiery meteor, he appears all at once in the sacred firmament, and as a fiery meteor he vanishes.
A remarkable Jewish legend regarding the birth of Elijah is quoted by Krummacher:- "His father on that occasion is said to have seen a vision, in which a number of men, dressed in white and shining garments, appeared to stand round the child, and then wrapped him up, with every token of reverence, in swaddling bands of Fire, and fed him with blazing flames. The priests are said to have interpreted the vision thus:- that the family of Elijah should come to great distinction, and that he himself should judge Israel with the Fire of his mouth. And what prediction was ever more exactly fulfilled." 3
"Recalling his life and his terrible vengeance," remarks a very different writer, "it seems as if this man had the thunder of the Lord for a soul, and that the element in which he was borne to Heaven was the one in which he was brought forth." 4
It is in another sense as the PROPHET OF FIRE, that he reads the great lesson to the Church of the future. As such, he has a living voice for the times. It is Fire we need;
- not the fire of fitful impulse;
- not the flame of intemperate bigotry;
- not the kindlings of unregulated enthusiasm;
- not the ignis-fatuus gleam of bewildering human reason;
- not the strange fire of deified intellect - sparks of their own kindling, with which the sons of Aaron are prone as ever to dishonour and desecrate GOD's altar.
But the living fire of burning words and burning deeds, lighted from the inner sanctuary;- men instinct with divine, God-derived energy,- who feel that they have got their high consecration from Him, who alone "takes the censer and fills it with the fire of the altar" (Revelation 8:5).
All other spurious fires will sooner or later go out in darkness. This alone is the true vestal flame of Heaven, which burns pure and bright, and shall thus burn for ever.
PROPHET OF FIRE! resume thy sacred mission!
And in days when the mournful question is too often prompted- "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" may the GOD "who answereth by Fire" raise up many "in the spirit and power of Elias," who shall rekindle the smouldering ashes on the Church's altar, to consume the dross, and refine the gold.
"And since we see, and not afar,
The twilight of the great and dreadful day;
Why linger till Elijah's car
Stoop from the clouds! Why sleep ye!
Rise and pray, Ye heralds seal'd,
In camp or field
Your Saviour's banner to display.
"Thou Spirit, who the Church didst lead
Her eagle wings to shelter in the wild,
We pray Thee, ere the Judge descend,
With flames like these, all bright and undefiled,
Her watch-fires light,
To guide aright
Our weary souls by earth beguiled!"
1 Dr Stanley's "Sinai and Palestine," p. 325.
2 I have taken care to make reference in foot-notes to any sources of information to which I have been indebted. I have to acknowledge my obligations, among other modern writers, especially to Dr Stanley's works, Kiel on Kings, and an excellent and learned article on "Elijah" in Dr Smith's Bible Dictionary. Also, as throwing further light on the localities connected with the Prophet's life, to the travels particularly of Van de Velde, Dr Robinson, and Dr Bonar. Although deeming it unnecessary to make in all cases specific reference, I have gratefully to acknowledge the help derived throughout from Dr. Krummacher.
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4 Lamartine's "Holy Land," vol. i., p. 189.