"And Elisha took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him. and smote the waters, and said: Where is the Lord God of Elijah, and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither, and Elisha went over.—II Kings 2:14
The supreme object for human hearts is to seek after God. It is good to come to His house, where prayer is wont to be made, but our coming is a vain thing without the touch of God upon us when we do come. It is a good thing to read the Bible, but it is a vain thing if the Bible is read without the quest in the heart to find God.
The supreme object for human search is God. Job said exactly the right word in the day of dismay and trouble that came to him: "Oh that I knew where I might find Him!" And the Psalmist said exactly the right word when he exclaimed: "Whom have I on earth beside Thee and whom in heaven but Thee?" Heaven itself would be incomplete without God. "Man was made for God," as the great Augustine taught, nor can any man find real and sufficient rest until he rests in God. The true goal for human souls is God, the Maker, the Preserver, the Redeemer, the Savior, the one Teacher, the one rightful Master of our race and our world.
Especially is it to the last degree desirable to find God, when like Elisha, we are called to some new work and some new experience. Elisha was called to be the successor of Elijah. The fiery Elijah had just gone away, while his pupil Elisha stood looking after him as he went up in that whirlwind that God had sent to carry him to heaven. The great leader and inspirer, the intrepid Elijah, the invincible Elijah, the fearless Elijah, had been translated, and Elisha, gentle by nature and tractable, altogether different from Elijah, was to take Elijah's place. The mantle of Elijah had descended to Elisha. The young man must take up the work which that mighty prophet had laid down.
In that hour the sense of his need came upon him appallingly, and he remembered what every man must remember: "Though I have the mantle of Elijah, that mantle is but a mere symbol. Though I have the office of Elijah, though I stand in his place, though I am his successor as a prophet, all is vain—whatever my symbols, whatever my titles, whatever the mantle, whatever the ceremonies and the forms—all is vain without the help of God." Therefore, Elisha came back to the Jordan river and said: "I know whence my help comes; it does not come from forms; it does not come from symbols; it does not come from the position, the station, the title that is mine. My help comes from God." And smiting the same waters with the same mantle, as did his old master, he cried as he smote them: "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" And the waters parted, and he crossed over Jordan as did he and his master a little while before.
This ancient story of Elijah and Elisha holds some lessons for us today, which we may well lay to heart. We have here first of all the closing hours of a great life vividly portrayed before us. In some way Elijah had a prevision of his approaching departure from earth. Evidently that prevision was given him by God. And his pupil and younger friend, Elisha, had the same kind of intimation that the time of the going of his great master was at hand. And even the sons of the prophets, the young students who were to be prophets had a similar prevision of the going away of the great head of the prophet company. They ventured to say to Elisha: "Dost thou not know that today the master is to be taken away?" He said: "Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace."
Elijah knew that the time of his departure was quite near, and he was filled with a desire in that last day to make the day count vitally for the welfare of men. It is wonderfully revelatory to see how a man comes down to the end of his life. It is a tragedy too ghastly for human speech, if, as a man nears the end, he draws all his lines in, and thinks only of himself. The way will be gloomy through the dark waters for any man who takes that view of it.
Elijah, in the last day that was given to him to live, cast his eyes about him and said: "I must make this day count. I must do all that I can do." And so he planned a journey to those three schools of the prophets, at Jericho, at Gilgal, and at Bethel, where the students were being taught, for Elijah was not only a defender of the faith himself, a defender all in a class to himself, but he saved religion from dying out of his nation. He flung himself into the breach, and spared not himself anywhere. He confronted kings and false gods and every sort of false statement and false leaders, and this great invincible man, without any hesitation gave his life unreservedly to defending the truth, and the right, and the claims and calls of God.
But that was not all. Elijah gave himself to fortifying the truth so that it would endure when he should have gone away. He helped teach those groups of students called "schools of the prophets" and in that way instilled into them the right things. He gave them the right counsel. He inspired them with the right spirit. He filled them with the right ideals. He set before them the right objectives, and then when the old man knew that he was soon to cleave the skies, he said: "I must go and see those young men again. I must give them some final words. Standing before the open gate to the world eternal I must give vital counsel from my heart to these young men who are to become spokesmen for God in the years to come. Israel will need their testimony."
That very event is to a remarkable degree revelatory of the great Elijah's heart and character. You may have no faith in a man who is not concerned for the condition of the people that are to follow him. You may beware of a man who is not concerned that his children and his children's children after him may be the right kind and do the right things. That man who draws the lines about himself and simply says: "I am going to make my exit from time into eternity in the most comfortable and self-centered way I can," you may beware of him. His conception of life is a fatal one.
So Elijah, when he knew that he must go, said: "I must make these last hours count. I must visit again these young men who are impulsive, plastic, teachable, responsive and aspiring. They are the hope for the future. Let me impart to them a final impression before my departure." And so he betook himself on this journey to the three "schools of the prophets." How significant it is!
The difference between John Wesley and George Whitefield strongly illustrated the far-sightedness of Elijah in planning for the future of God's work. George Whitefield was a flaming, intrepid, fiery evangel of the grace of Christ. When Whitefield spoke to the people, the whole land went out to hear him, as long, long before they had gone out to hear his Master. But George Whitefield simply witnessed personally. John Wesley was not the flaming evangel that Whitefield was, but he trained and organized his followers with the result that a mighty denomination, a great host of valiant Christians walk in the steps of a man who said: "I will not only defend the faith myself, but I will organize so that uncounted thousands, and millions even, may take care of the faith when I am gone and forgotten."
Elijah projected himself far into the future. Theological schools and many other kinds of schools through the thousands of years following, have received inspiration because of what Elijah did back yonder for the "schools of the prophets." Oh, how vital that these institutions of every kind—theological, medical, scientific—shall be fortified with the right kind of support and shall be directed by the right kind of teachers. Those who would wisely provide for the future must in some measure follow the example of Elijah.
Now, for some reason it would seem that Elijah desired to make his journey alone. Mark you, for years Elisha had been with him. Years before, this same Elijah came to young Elisha ploughing yonder with his oxen in the field, and put upon this plain country boy his mantle. For years they had companied together, and Elijah had taught him by example, by precept, by spirit.
Elisha is a different personality. Elisha is not the copyist. Elisha is not the echo. Elisha stands out in his own unspoiled individuality. And when Elijah sought for some reason to go alone, saying to his pupil and friend: "You tarry here, while I go yonder, and yonder, and yonder," Elisha would not hear to it, but with the strongest possible determination said: "As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee."
These two men loved one another. Those mighty friendships that come out of a common task and a common work and a common aim, how tremendous such friendships are! David and Jonathan had such a friendship as that. John and his Master had a friendship tender beyond words. Paul and Timothy had a friendship like that. Melanchthon and Luther had a friendship like that. The young man said: "I will not leave thee." It may have been that Elijah simply wanted to test the younger man. It may have been that Elijah wanted to depart in the solitude yonder alone. At any rate, Elisha, the pupil said: "I will not leave thee," and they twain went on.
When they came to the Jordan, which they were to cross, the mighty prophet took his mantle and smote the waters, and they parted, and the two men went across on dry land. When they had crossed the Jordan, the elder man, still concerned to the last hour to make his life worthful and vital, said to the younger man: "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I go away. Can I yet do something for you, my pupil, my young friend, my successor? Ask what I shall do for you."
What will Elisha ask? What he does ask will be revelatory of his own heart. It will be revelatory of what is in his own spirit. The old teacher, the great leader is leaving him. "If there is something, Elisha, that I can do for you, ask it." Elisha made his request. It was not for riches. It was not for honor. It was not for worldly prestige and power. "Just one thing, O Elijah, I ask, that you let a double portion of your own spirit be upon me." What did he mean? He did not mean that he would be twice as great as Elijah. He did not mean that he would be twice as strong and effective and vital as Elijah. According to the old custom of the centuries back there, he meant to ask: "Let me have that double-portion that comes to the oldest son in a family. Let me have that relation to you, so that there shall come from you much of your spirit, and of your power, and of your guidance so that when I go to my work I shall not be a failure but a successor to you, worthful and worthy, and according to God's great glory." Just that. "Thou hast asked a hard thing," said the great Elijah, "nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, thy request shall be granted." "And they two went on." That is all the record of what they said, but you know, they said much more, after they had crossed Jordan. Doubtless it was a conversation to which the angels listened.
And suddenly there came down a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and the two men, walking side by side, were parted, and in that whirlwind God sent down from heaven, the older man went up. As Elisha looked and saw, he cried:
"My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!" By which he probably meant: "My father, my father, thou art the chariot of Israel. The best defence Israel ever had was thee."
The best defence any country ever has is the right kind of men. The true palladium of a country's liberty and defence is the right kind of men. Emerson's test of civilization is forever the correct one—"the kind of men that the country turns out." Civilization is a dismal, ghastly failure, no matter how noisy its commerce, nor how wonderful its achievement in the material realm, if character is not the chief thing exalted in such civilization. Elisha saw, and he saw the true source of Israel's power. He saw the defence that had been about Israel like a wall of fire. The best kind of fortification for the earth is the right kind of men in it. The best kind of fortification for our country is not thousands of armed forts along our borders, but the right kind of men and women in our country, whose spirit shall permeate the nation.
The true defence of Israel had gone, and Elisha laid it to heart. His request was granted. "I want a double portion of thy spirit" said the pupil to his master. What was the spirit of Elijah? Trace his life, and right on its surface there it is. For one thing, it was the spirit of unhesitating faith in the presence and power of God. Elijah believed God. Elijah walked with God. Elijah trusted God. God was real to Elijah. Moses of old, we are told, "endured as seeing Him who is invisible." Elijah endured because he saw God and he trusted God. Above all the noise of Ahab, the king, and above all the threatening of Jezebel, the queen, Elijah saw God, and said: "What does it matter to me that the mutterings of this man and this woman and all the mutterings of a profligate court, are echoing in my ears? What does that matter? I see God, high and holy and lifted up!"
The man who sees God, and trusts God, and clings to God, and believes God, and walks with God is the man whose spirit I want, because there is victory. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith in God." Elijah said: "There is a God, and His presence and power are in human affairs. To this court that now sways Israel into idolatry and to this king and this queen who flagrantly set up idol worship throughout Israel, there shall come a day when their every idol shall be laid in the dust, and when their purple robes shall be besmirched with their humiliation and defeat, because God lives."
That is the spirit of Elijah. John Knox had that spirit yonder in Scotland. So vital and powerful was that same spirit incarnated in John Knox, that it is no wonder that every time bloody Queen Mary heard of him, she shuddered and one day blurted out her cry: "I fear the prayers of John Knox more than I fear an army of ten thousand men." And well she might.
Luther had exactly the same spirit when he said: "I must, I must, I must. Talk to me as much as you please about evil forces lying in wait to take my heart's blood and cut off my life, I would go to the Diet of Worms and speak out to that company what my soul knows to be true, if every tile on every roof in Wurttemberg were a devil. I must." It was because he believed God. No man who does not believe God will do that.
The spirit of Elijah was the spirit of faith in God. And what else? The spirit of Elijah was the spirit of unhesitating obedience to God. He did not ask any questions. When God gave him the command to go on this errand or the other, he went, scorning the consequences.
He confronted Ahab, who, out of his covetous heart, had robbed Naboth, the poor man, of his little piece of property—the vineyard. He stood at Naboth's gate, and when Ahab came to take possession of the vineyard, there the shaggy and intrepid Elijah stood, and when the thief of a king saw the prophet there at the gate, his heart went as weak as water, and he threw up his hands and said: "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?"
And Elijah said: "I am not your enemy. I am the best friend you have in the kingdom. I am the man who tells you that as a man sows so shall he reap. Nobody else tells you that. I am the man who tells you that a man's deeds have children. I am the man who tells you that if a man sows falsely and vainly, there is a crop coming up to mock him and to plunge poniards of sorrow through his heart. I am not your enemy. I am the man who tells you that over all the affairs of men there is One standing behind the shadows whose arm is all powerful, and that every man of us shall answer to Him, for He hath made us, and we are dependent on Him and are responsible to Him. I am not your enemy. I am the one friend you have. These sycophantic courtiers who have led you on, and cajoled you, and petted your pride and flattered your vanity, every one is your enemy. I am your friend, and I stand at this gate to tell you that there is a reckoning with God coming for you and for me, and for every other person."
Elijah obeyed God. He did not ask any question about the difficulty. He obeyed God. He went into the cave of the mountain at the right time. He came out of the cave at the right time. He stood on Carmel's height, one lone man, and confronted those several hundred false prophets of Baal, saying: "There will be a test here. If Baal be God, we are going to know it and if the Lord Jehovah be God, we must know that. Let the test be made." And one lone man made the test in every detail at the direction of the Lord concerning the test between the power of God and the power of Baal, and stood there, fearless, intrepid, and absolutely obedient.
Oh, the glory there is in faith, and then the glory there is in obedience that scorns all the consequences and would ask no question except: "What is the will of Him who commands?" Oh, the glory of obedience! "To obey is better than sacrifice."
Many a man is today a poor infidel because he has not lived up to the light he had. Many a man today calls in question a hundred things, because he has trifled with the light God gave him. And as certainly as you breathe this morning, if you trifle with the light God gives you, you turn it into darkness, and your case is lost, and your feet go the downward way.
One of the rich and prominent women of Europe long years ago was confronted by a mighty man of God. "Why" she said, "I do not believe one word about religion, but, if there is anything in it, I really would like to know it. If your convictions, sir," said she, "are correct, I am of all women the most miserable, and my defeat and doom will be the most terrible." Then the man of God said: "I can tell you how you can find out." She said: "Pray tell me, quickly." He said: "Act from this minute as though God were, and you will come to know that He is." And within three days, she came back and said: "God is, and He has saved me."
Horace Bushnell, yonder in great old Yale, was the outstanding agnostic in all that faculty, and he was the man who had the boys in the grip of his hand, so powerful was his personality. Years ago, when the greatest meeting that ever came to Yale was on, Horace Bushnell stood between those men and the gospel that was preached, by the very power of his personality. He did not have to say anything.
A man does not have to say anything to destroy his family. A man does not have to laugh at a church. A man does not have to mock at a preacher and pick his frailties to pieces. A man can ignore it all and go down like Samson, pulling the crumbling temple down on his whole house.
Horace Bushnell did not talk his skepticism,�