OUR REACTION TO THE BROKEN ALTARS
D. M. PANTON, M. A.
Elijah at Horeb is a marvellous revelation - doubtless designedly so - for our dying dispensation. For Elijah is the man who is never to see death, but to be rapt to heaven: face to face with the deepening apostasy of God’s own people, a man of like passions with us and overwhelmed with the tragedy he is watching, he retreats into a cave: there God gives him an apocalyptic disclosure of the Divine character and the Divine action in such a crisis: re-strengthened, re-commissioned, he is sent back into the tremendous struggle which is to precede the chariots of fire. It is the man of God caught in the whirlpool of the collapse of a great dispensation.
Now in answer to God’s challenge – “What doest thou here, Elijah?” the prophet, in the cave, confronts Jehovah with the facts, and with the facts alone. He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts” - I have exhausted my resources for Him; “for the children of Israel” - it is the apostasy of God’s people, not the world, that faces him – “have (1) forsaken thy covenant, (2) thrown down thine altars, and (3) slain thy prophets with the sword” (1 kings 19: 10): they have abandoned Thy Word; they have wrecked the Atonement (the broken altars); they are now stamping out the Faith: first a deserted Creed; then an overthrow of Divine institutions; lastly, a murderous assult.* All Elijah does, perfectly legitimately, is to place the facts, and the facts alone, before God.
[* The fierce contempt with which ‘fundamentalists’ are now regarded is but a prelude to active persecution when the exasperation deepens and the political conditions allow.]
Jehovah at first is silent. But in a moment the Prophet is aware of a panorama of miracle, so like the profundity and majesty of God that it plunges us almost out of our depth. “Behold, the Lord passed by”: first, in a hurricane so powerful that it rent even mountains; then in an earth-shock; finally, in lightning, far the swiftest and most dangerous of all. Now these are to be the portents of the Advent. “The earth shook and trembled, the foundations also of the mountains moved, because he was wroth: he made darkness his hiding place, his pavilion round about him” - the Parousia – “thick clouds of the skies: he bowed the heavens also, and came down; he sent out lightnings manifold, and discomfited them. He sent from on high, he took me” (Ps. 18: 7). The rapture of the watchful, and the storms of judgment, are timed, approximately, for the same epoch.
But suddenly all miracle ceases: “and after the fire a still small voice”: the perfect calm of perfect knowledge based on perfect power. And an exceedingly penetrating comment states a fact. “But the Lord was not in the wind,” not in the earthquake, not in the fire; but when Elijah heard the still, small voice, he veiled himself, in awe; and as he stood outside the cave, a second time came the challenge – “What doest thou here, Elijah?” and a second time, in exactly the same words, he confronts God with the universal bankruptcy! of Faith.
Now this hieroglyphic telegram of God, together with what follows, is designed to solve our modern problem. For Elijah, standing at the mouth of the cave, embodies God’s devoted modern worker (and all conceivable moods are in that mantled figure) standing on the brink of the judgments. We may confront the facts baffled, and with shaken faith at the incredible disaster we are watching; or with black depression, as we see our own lifework merging into universal darkness; or with hot anger at apostates who have betrayed the truth; or with despair for the future of the work of God and the world. So God first satisfies the sense of justice in the heart of Elijah. Jehovah says:- “Go, return: him that escapeth from the Sword of Hazacl shall Jehu slay; and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay.” So the Most High first reassures the wounded heart of His servant with miraculous proofs, not only of His omnipotence, but of His concern and wrath. There are times when we are tempted to exclaim, not, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious?” but, “Hath God forgotten to, be righteous?” The answer is unutterably solemn. A hurricane of judgments will sweep the earth; under the last earth-shock (Heb. 12: 27) the world itself will disappear; and beyond lies the unquenchable fire.
But now the Most
High gives the second, and vastly more important, half of the hieroglyphic
telegram. The wilderness vision reveals
the essential and abiding character of God. A world may be, and will be, convulsed with
war, or swept with pestilence, or decimated with famine, when “the Lord passes by”; but it is in “the still small voice” - the whisper of conscience,
the appeal of love, the flutter of the Dove’s wings, the hidden work in the
hidden man of the heart - that God dwells. The Lord accompanies judgment,
but He is love. The thunders of Sinai
are not so essentially what Deity is as the seven utterances from the Cross. All
So now the second
utterance of Jehovah counters the one error in Elijah’s statement, and the
frequent miscalculation of every tired servant of God – “I, even I only, am left”; and for the only time in the
history of the world, so far as we know, God reassures His servants in the face
of apostasy by a revelation of the secret divine work of which we knew nothing.
work never ceases because we are bankrupt of hope, or because the Church
becomes bankrupt of faith. “I HAVE LEFT FOR MYSELF
SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL” (Rom. 11: 4). The round, even number reveals not only a work
enormously larger than Elijah imagined, but it brings to light a hidden
tapestry wrought in the design of a perfect pattern, with no ravelled edges, no
ragged ends: God’s work ripens right through the rage of earth, and as many as
are ordained to eternal life believe. Probably
unknown in camp or court, obscure, simple-hearted, humble, despised, God’s
saints are slowly massing the
So the practical
command is – “Go, RETURN.” Plunge back into the battle, and help God
create the seven thousand of every age: only eternity will reveal how many of
those seven thousand of whom he had never heard the Prophet himself had
created: Elijah never again turned back until suddenly confronted with chariots
of fire. As the work shrinks and each
soul becomes more difficult to win, each soul won is a more glorious work than
any won before: jewels are priced according to their rarity. And how exquisite is the change in the
prophet’s prayer-life! In the cave
Elijah (as Paul says,
Will there be many Elijah-spirits on the eve of rapture? It is profoundly to be hoped that a remarkable forecast made some years ago by the Great Commission Prayer League is correct. “Our prediction is that not a generation remains between us and the formation of a mighty body of believers, the strongest and the most powerful that ever shook the world: they are massing from the rivers to the ends of the earth. They are ready to break with any and all denominations when the call of God shall sound. They will not abide the presence of that foe who would cut the Old Book to shreds, depose Jesus Christ from His throne of Deity, and rob the heart of man of the mighty change, known as the New Birth, and taught by the fathers, whose eyes were fixed on the Cross and whose messages never wandered far from a fountain of blood. It will all but tear the heart out of some of us when the rending of the timbers is heard. For we love the churches in which we were cradled. We are ready to give our lives to them. We are even ready to shed our blood for them. But we will not be led into the trap of the deceiver and the snare of the despoiler by our leaders. They must lead toward God or we will refuse to follow.”