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THE ASCENSION OF ELIJAH.
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.—2 Kings ii. 11.
"By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death hath passed upon all men, because all have sinned. Death is called the way of all the earth; and the grave, the house appointed for all living. No distinction of age, of rank, of character, has secured the possessor from the stroke of mortality. The young as well as the old, the rich as well as the poor, the honourable as well as the obscure, the learned as well as the illiterate, have successively gone down to the dust, and seen corruption. Yea, the righteous themselves die. Though infinitely dear to God, and distinguished by inestimable privileges, they are not exempted from the afflictions of life, or the necessity of dissolution.
This invariable law of mortality has, however, been dispensed with in two cases. Enoch lived before the flood. "By faith Enoch was translated, that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." Two thousand one hundred and twentyone years after, we behold, in like manner, Elijah the Tishbite received up into glory. "And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that behold there appeared a chariot of fire, and
horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven."
Observe, first, how he was employed at the time of his removal: they were going on, and talking. Without this information, many would have concluded, that after he had received the intimation of his speedy departure, he was engaged alone in meditation and prayer. But it is a mistaken sentiment, that a preparation for heaven is to be carried on only by abstraction, contemplation, devotion. No inconsiderable part of it consists in diligence in our stations, and endeavours to be useful to our fellow creatures to the last. "Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing.' "" It is observable, that our Saviour ascended while he was addressing his disciples: "And he led them out as far as to Bethany; and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.
A little of the conversation is recorded. "And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing; nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee: but if not, it shall not be so. A veil is thrown over the remainder of this interesting discourse. Perhaps it turned upon the heavenly world; perhaps it respected the state of the church he was going to leave; perhaps it furnished instruction and consolation to his successor in office. However this may be, the conver
sation was doubtless such as became the solemnity of the occasion. For what could be more awful, and impressive? He knew that he was standing on the verge of eternity, and expected every moment the signal of his leaving this world-and could he be vain? Could he trifle? And since "ye know not the day, nor the hour in which the Son of man cometh, what manner of persons ought ye to be, in all holy conversation and godliness!-Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. If any man offend not in word, he is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body."
Secondly, observe how he was conveyed from earth to heaven: "There appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." Was he removed by the instrumentality of a luminous cloud approaching and enclosing him, and then rising with a rapid curling motion?-or was he removed by the ministry of angels disguised under these forms? This seems more probable. For "Are, they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister unto them that shall be heirs of salvation?" Is it not said, that "He shall send forth his angels, and gather together his elect from the four winds, from the one end of heaven to the other?" Is it not said, that "La zarus died, and was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom?"
Though these glorious beings "excel in strength, they do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word." And we know that they have been often held forth under the allusions here em
ployed. "And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them as in Sinai, in the holy place."
But let us hasten to something less questionable, and more important. Let us take several views of this wonderful transaction.
I. Let us consider it as a gracious recompense of singular piety. Not that Elijah was perfect. We are expressly told, that he was a man of like passions with us. And we read, that once he was afraid, and fled, and wished in himself to die. But in judging fairly of a person, you are to bring forward the whole of his character; and to remember, that casual infirmities no more destroy the effect of general excellency, than the hills and valleys of the earth destroy its globosity; or a few motes, or clouds a solar day. The circumstances, also, in which he lived should be fairly weighed; for, the power and degree of religion are often to be estimated by the unfavourableness of our situation, and the difficulties we have to
Elijah was a man whose religion was uncommon: "He was jealous for the Lord of hosts:" and faithful and steadfast in his adherence to the true worship of God in times of peculiar defection and degeneracy. He was, indeed, mistaken when he said, I am left alone: there were seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal, and whose lips had not kissed him." But though this was a considerable number, compared with his conclusion, it was nothing compared with the bulk of the country. The na
tion was gone astray from God: idolatry universally prevailed: all classes pleaded for Baal.
He had, therefore, to oppose numbers. And numbers take off the too common restraints of fear and shame; and constantly present to the eye, familiar and seducing examples. It is no easy thing to avoid following a multitude to do evil.
He had also to oppose superiors, whose influence is peculiarly corrupting. He lived under the reign of the worst of all the bad kings of Israel: "For Ahab, the son of Omri, did evil in the sight of the Lord, above all that went before him. And Ahab made a grove. And Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger, than all the kings of Israel that were before him."
He had also to oppose the established ministers of state. Behold him encountering the whole priesthood of Baal. Behold him challenging to a public trial, four hundred and fifty of his sycophant prophets, and, with unparelleled firmness, ordering them all to be put to death-when he knew the altar was defended by the throne: " And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal: let not one of them escape. And they took them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there."
All this naturally drew upon them reproach. Ahab called him the troubler of Israel. Jezebel abhorred him, and bound herself in an oath to slay him. But God often appeared for him: he gave him the keys of the clouds; he fed him with ravens; he commanded strangers and foreigners to entertain him; he destroyed captains and their men for his sake-and at last he made an exception in his favour, and took him to heaven without dying; carrying him more than a conqueror,