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VI. ELIJAH—PASSIONATE IN PRAYER
“Lord, teach us to pray.”—Luke xi. 1.
“Elias . . . prayed in his prayer.”—Jas. v. 17 (Marg.).
ELIJAH towers up like a mountain above all the other prophets. There is a solitary grandeur about Elijah that is all his own. There is an unearthliness and a mysteriousness about Elijah that is all his own. There is a volcanic suddenness—a volcanic violence indeed—about almost all Elijah’s movements, and about almost all Elijah’s appearances. “And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. . . . And the King of Samaria said unto them, What manner of man was he which came up to meet you, and told you these words? And they answered him, He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins. And the King said, It is Elijah the Tishbite.”
And, then, this is the very last word of the very last prophet of the Old Testament. “Behold, saith the Lord, I will send you Elijah the prophet, 67 before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” And, then, in the opening of the New Testament, we hear our Lord speaking with great pride of the great austerity, the great solitariness, the great strength, and the great courage of Elijah. “What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. . . . And, if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come!”
Elijah had a heavenly name: but he had, to begin with, an earthly nature. He was a man, to begin with, “subject to like passions as we are.” Elijah was a man indeed of passions “all compact.” We never see Elijah but he is in a passion, as we say. In a passion of anger at Ahab. In a passion of scorn and contempt at the priests of Baal. In a passion of fury and extermination against all idolatry, and against all organised uncleanness. In a passion of prayer and intercession. And, once —for, after all, Elijah is flesh and blood, and not stone and iron—once in a passion of despondency and melancholy under the juniper tree. Elijah was 68 a great man. There was a great mass of manhood in Elijah. He was a mountain of a man, with a whirlwind for a heart. Elijah did nothing by halves. What he did, he did with all his heart. And what a heart it was! He, among us, who has the most heart: he, among us, who has the most manhood: he, among us, who has the most passion in his heart—the most love and the most hate; the most anger and the most meekness; the most scorn, and the most contempt, and the most humility, and the most honour; the most fear, and the most faith; the most melancholy, and the most sunny spirit; the most agony of prayer, both in his body and in his soul, and the most victorious assurance that his prayer is already answered before it is yet offered—that man is the likest of us all to Elijah, and that man has Elijah’s mantle fallen upon him.
James, the brother of the Lord, and the author of this Epistle, was nicknamed “Camel-knees” by the early Church. James had been so slow of heart to believe that his brother, Jesus, could possibly be the Christ, that, after he was brought to believe, he was never off his knees. And when they came to coffin him, it was like coffining the knees of a camel rather than the knees of a man, so hard, so worn, so stiff were they with prayer, and so unlike any other dead man’s knees they had ever coffined. The translators tell us that they have preserved 69 James’s intense Hebrew idiom for us in the margin: and I, for one, am much obliged to them for doing that. For, if I am saved at last, if I ever learn to pray, if I ever come to put my passions into my prayers,—I shall have to say to “Camel-knees,” and to his excellent editors and translators, that I am to all eternity in their debt. The apostolic and prophetic idiom in the margin takes hold of my imagination. It touches my heart. It speaks to my conscience. And it must do all that to you also. For, even after we have, in a way, prayed, off and on, for many years, in the pulpit, at the family altar, and on the platform in the prayer-meeting,—how seldom, if ever, we “pray in our prayers”! We repeat choice passages of Scripture. We recite, with sonorous voices, most excellent evangelical extracts from Isaiah and Ezekiel. We declaim our petitions in a way that would do credit to a stage surrounded with spectators. We praise one man, and we blame another man, in our prayers. We have an eye, now to this man present, and now to that man absent. We pronounce appreciations, and we pass judgments in our prayers. We flatter the great, and we fall down before Kings. We tell our people what the Queen said to us, and what we said to her. We argue, and we debate, and we reason together, sometimes with men, and sometimes with God. “Come, now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” Are you old enough to 70 remember Dr. Candlish’s forenoon prayer? We used to say that his first prayer was enough for the whole of that day. He so “prayed in that prayer.” He so came and reasoned together with God in that prayer. Sometimes he would take us to our knees till we had knees in those days like James the Just, as he led us through the whole of Paul’s reasoning with God and with man in the Epistle to the Romans. Sometimes he would argue like Job, and would not be put down; and then he would weep like Jeremiah and dance and sing like Isaiah. That great preacher was an Elijah both in his passions and in his prayers. He would put all his passions at one time into an Assembly speech as he stood before Ahab, and at another time into a great sermon to his incomparably privileged people: but I liked his passions best in his half-hour prayer on a Sabbath morning; he so “prayed in that prayer.”
You have not Elijah’s prophetical office, not James’s apostolical inspiration, not Dr. Candlish’s oratorical power: but you have plenty of passion if you would but make the right use of it. You are all vicious or virtuous men, prayerful or prayerless men; and, then, you are effectual or unavailing men in your prayers—just as your passions are. You have all quite sufficient variety and amount of passion to make you mighty men with God and with men, if only your passions found their proper vent 71 in your prayers. You have all passion enough—far too much—in other things. What an ocean of all kinds of passion your heart is! What depths of self-love are in your heart! And what a master-passion is your self-love! Like Aaron’s serpent, your passion of self-love swallows all the rest of the serpents, of which your heart is full. What hate, again, you have in your heart, at the persons and the things you do so hate! What hope also for the things you so passionately hope for! Oh, if only you had that passionate hope in your heart, which maketh not ashamed! “Yea, what clearing of yourselves” there is in your hearts! “Yea, what indignation! Yea, what fear! Yea, what vehement desire! Yea, what zeal! Yea, what revenge!” Yes: you have passions enough to make you a saint in heaven, or a devil in hell: and they are every day making you either the one or the other. We have all plenty of passion, and to spare: only, it is all missing the mark. It is all sound and fury, a tale told, a life laid out and lived, by an idiot. Our passions, all given us for our blessedness, are all making us and other people miserable. Our passions, and their proper objects, were all committed to us of God to satisfy, and to delight, and to regale, and to glorify us. But we have taken our passions and have made them the instruments and the occasions of our self-destruction. We are self-blinded, and self-besotted 72 men: and it is the prostitution of our passions that has done it. Does the thought of God ever make your heart swell and beat with holy passion? Does the Name of Jesus Christ ever make you sing in the night? Do His words hide in your heart like the words of your bridegroom? Do you tremble to offend Him? Do you number the days till you are to be for ever with Him? And so on—through all your passions of all kinds in your heart? No, oh no! Your daily life among these men and women is full of passion: but your heart in your religion is as dead as a stone. And you are not alone to blame for that. Your father and your mother, your tutor and your governor, taught you many branches of learning and perfected you in many accomplishments, as they are called: but they could not teach you to keep this passion in your heart, for they did not know the way. You never heard them say so much as the word “passion” in connection with prayer. And your ministers have not mended matters. They did not study the passions at college: at least, never in this light. They graduated in mental philosophy; but it was falsely so called. Their first-class honours puffed them up: but they edified them not. And ever since; their own passions are all in disorder and death, and how then could they correct or instruct you? Their own passions are not aflame within them with God, and with their Saviour Jesus 73 Christ, and with His Cross, and with His throne of judgment, and with heaven; and with hell.
The Bible, naturally, shows a preference for men of “like passions” with itself. The more passionateness any man puts into his prayer, the more space and the more praise the Bible gives to that man. Jacob will come at once to every mind. Now, why does Jacob come to all our minds at this moment? Simply because he was a prince in the passionateness of his great prayer at the Jabbok. What a tempest of passion broke upon the throne of God all that night! What a storm of fear and of despair, and of remorse, and of self-accusation, and of recollection, and of imagination, and of all that was within Jacob! Jacob’s passions literally tore him to pieces that terrible night. His thigh-bones were twisted, and torn out of their sockets: his strongest sinews snapped under the strain like so many silk threads. There was not another night like that for passion in prayer for two thousand years. Esau also often “halted upon his thigh”: but that was with hunting too hard; that was with running down venison, and leaping hedges and ditches after his quarry. Esau wrestled with wild beasts. But Jacob,—he wrestled with the angel. And take Hannah as an example to wives and mothers. What a passionate, heart-broken, half-insane woman was Hannah! For, how she “prayed in her prayers”! She was absolutely drunk with her 74 sorrowful passion. She would have fallen on the floor of the sanctuary as she reeled in her passion, had she not caught hold of the horns of the altar. And Isaiah,—“Oh, that Thou wouldest rend the heavens,”—and he rent them as he prayed: “that Thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at Thy presence. . . . But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away”—and a thousand such passionate passages, both in preaching and in prayer. What a passion for holiness had that great Old Testament orator! And Ezra, who is too little known. “At the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God, and said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to Thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. . . . Now when Ezra had prayed, and when he had confessed, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, there assembled unto him out of Israel a very great congregation of men and women and children: for the people wept very sore.” There also is passion in prayer for you; and men, and women, and children, all joining in it!
But time would fail me to tell all the passionate 75 prayers of the prophets, and the Psalmist, and the friend at midnight, and the importunate widow, and all ending in the Garden of Gethsemane. No: not all ending there—alas, alas! would God that they did,—for our Lord passionately foretells certain passionate scenes that we shall all see, if we do not take a passionate part in them. “For, when once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without . . . saying Lord, Lord, open unto us! there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the Kingdom of God, and you yourselves cast out.” There is passion in that prayer, and in this: “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb!”
And, now to sum it all up, and to lay it all to heart. Let every man here, henceforth “pray in his prayers” like Elijah and like James. That is to say, let every man put his passion into his prayers. And, then, what will take place in every man and in every man’s house who lays up in his heart, and practises in his life, the lesson of this great Scripture? This will take place in every such man, and in every such man’s household. His heart will, by degrees, be drawn off the things of this deceitful and sinful world: and it will be directed in upon the great world within him, the 76 great world before him, and the great world above him. The heat of his heart will all begin to burn after heavenly things. And the man will, gradually, as he continues to pray, become a new man, a new son, a new lover, a new husband, a new father. His passions that made him so impossible to live with will all become subdued, and softened, and sweetened, till he will be like a little child in your hands. He was at one time so hard, .and so harsh, and so impossible to please, and so full of his own ideas and opinions and prejudices and passions, so loud and so wilful: but you never hear him now; he thinks you so much better than himself; he so despises himself and so respects and honours you. Patience and meekness and silence, and his daily cross, are now the only passions of his heart. Perhaps all that is taking place and going on in your own house, and you do not see it or aright understand it. James did not see nor understand Jesus till Jesus was glorified. But it has been prayer that has been doing it. Nothing does all that in any house but prayer. Nothing silences, and subdues, and sanctifies our passions but prayer: His Prayer when you were asleep! His Prayer with passion, that had to wait for its full utterance and for its full agony till you were fast asleep! His Prayer also when you were neglecting Him, and trampling upon Him!
Oh, I think you should cheer on and encourage 77 your minister to preach more about prayer! And about the place of the passions in prayer! You should buy the best books about prayer! You know their names, surely. You should send presents of the best books about prayer! It would soon repay you! It would soon be returned—into no bosom so soon as into yours!—if you had even one in your whole household who “prayed in his prayers.”78
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