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world meet in the same temple and worship the same idol—that chief of idols in these modern days—success.
With one consent, the children of men dread failure. By failure is meant the absence of visible, evident, and undeniable success. When a man of business can scarcely keep his balance on the right side at the New Year's stock-taking, he regards his affairs as in a threatening condition, and should he discover that the balance is on the wrong side, he is a failure. Failure in business means inability to keep the balance on the safe side of the sheet. This must be a mistaken or a narrow notion of failure. Of two tradesmen, the one of whom resists the temptation to defraud his customers, and is therefore outdistanced in the race of competition by the less scrupulous, while the other commits the sin, and thereby carries all before him, the first is morally and in the sight of God successful, though the world talks about his failure, and the latter is a decided failure, though the world ranks him with its successful men. An author writes a book, which is bought by few and read by fewer in his lifetime; but which is the first of a series of works—the cause of a revolution in opinion,—whose results in after ages are incalculably more beneficial than any score of contemporary popular treatises. The world esteems the book a failure, because it has not sold, and its author has not won popular applause. Posterity (the refuge of failures, the sneering critic says) reverses the verdict, and the book is discovered to have been a great success. The life of Columbus was, as men judge of lives, a failure. He set out from Spain to discover a new route to India by the Western Ocean. Again and again he repeated the attempt; but he never gained his object. The world thought Columbus a failure ; for he was neglected in his old age, abandoned by patrons and friends, and left to poverty and obscurity. Failure attended all his efforts; his fortunes, his hopes, his happiness, were alike shipwrecked, and he lost his all. A century or two changed the failure to a success, and the worshippers of successful men now do homage at the shrine of Christopher Columbus. In churches failure implies the absence of the many, or the want of wealth, or few, if any “additions.” Whatever else a minister may do, if he does not attract a goodly number to hear him, or attach a few rich families to the place of worship in which he preaches, or "add ” converts to the church, the people and himself equally regard his ministry as a failure. Some may object, that this is the worldly view of failure. True, but it is also the view generally taken by the spiritually-minded. The age worships success, and hates failure--so does the Church.
The writer (that is, 1-may I drop the impersonal, and use the first person singular? Assuming that the answer will be Yes, I proceed to do so.) I have been thinking how best I could illustrate a failure in the worldly sense of the word) and point its lessons. To take a few excursions—one into the realms of statecraft, another into the region of philosophic speculation, a third among and with navigators and discoverers, yet another into the kingdom of letters, a fifth to the homes of inventors (most of whom have been great failures, and their inventions as great successes), and a last to our churches and chapels—would enable me to lay vast spoils at the feet of my readers, and to discourse at any length upon apparent failures which have been real successes; yes, and upon apparent successes which have been real failures. Another course is open to me, to select one instance of seeming failure, to look at it from every side, to examine it (as our transcendental writers would say) from all possible “standpoints," and in this way to compel conviction, and to shut up my readers to the conclusion which I mean to reach. All things considered, the latter is perhaps the better mode of gaining my object. But even now there remains the difficulty of choice. The failures have been so many and so striking that a thousand well-known candidates for notice challenge our attention and call for remark. One man is seen among them whom all the world reverences, upon whom not a few successful men have been formed, the personification of moral power, and the type of the truly great—the prophet Elijah. The work of the Tishbite was a failure--not really, but apparently. Any preacher who laboured as Elijah did, and with no other result, in the present day, would be classed with the failures. Let us turn aside and see this great sight, the failure of the prophet Elijah.
In Elijah we meet with all the requisites of success. As he steps across the stage of life, you recognise a full-grown man, with a majestic and imposing form. His eye flashes with the fire of genius; his every gesture is suggestive of power; his very step is firm as the ground on which he treads. The Tishbite stands before us as a man made to command; his voice arrests attention, and his words enchain it. And then he is as bold as a lion. Does Ahab seek him to take away his life?“ Send Ahab to me,” is the injunction which he lays upon Ahab's messenger. Among all the prophets, he is pre-eminent for courage, the bravest of the brave seers of Jewry. Still, he is as tender as the softest-hearted of women. Witness his conduct in the widow's house, aul the restoration to life of the widow's son. Like the valiant Great-heart, of whom John Bunyan tells, the Hebrew prophet would fight with and conquer the giants, while he was equally at home in befriending the widow and her orphans. Elijah also rejoiced in inspiration of the highest kind. To him “the word of the Lord came ”-revelation was his; and
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he “spake as he was moved by the Holy Ghost.” In the strength of the mighty God of Jacob, filled with the fulness of the Deity, the prophet went about his work, and discharged the duties of his office. In him, therefore, we have no weakling, inviting failure by the feebleness of his character and by his utter incapacity; but we have one whose marvellous manhood and supernatural endowments seemed to guarantee success. I have often followed the prophet to his work. Confronting wicked Ahab, he delivers the just judgment of Heaven on him and his wicked people—"there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” With a faithfulness rarely equalled (John the Baptist preaching before Herod is one of the few parallels to it) Elijah rejoins, when Ahab asks him, “ Art thou he that troubleth Israel ?”“I have not troubled Israel ; but thou and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim.” This, reader, was the style of Elijah's court preaching. Controversy was as popular in Israel as it is in England. The prospect of a contest between the prophet Elijah and the prophets and the priests of Baal led thousands to Mount Carmel. The king and his nobles were there. Thechiefs of the tribes, and the heads of families, and the common people, crowded the sides of the mountain. Elijah appeared before the multitude, unattended by admirers, without adherents, the most unpopular man in all Israel. And yet when he asked for an audience, the vast congregation listened in solemn silence. Every ear heard, and many hearts felt, the appeal, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.” This was the text. The sermon is not reported. Had a Carmel "Pulpit” been published, we might have read the words of the wonderful preacher, whose honest eloquence and homely appeals were ever “like sharp arrows in the hearts of the king's enemies.” Elijah was not a workman who had need to be ashamed. He was a prophet, and made “full proof of his ministry.” Head and shoulders taller than the tallest of our successful men, with more power in his little finger than the greatest of them has in his whole body, Elijah nevertheless failed.
I do not forget that the multitude cried, when a miracle was wrought, “The Lord he is God;" nor do I forget that they seized the priests of Baal and hurried them to the slaughter. This, however, was done in a moment of enthusiasm. The people were surprised into acts of justice. When they returned to their homes they resumed their former courses, and went on in their old ways. I do not read that Ahab and his court amended their manners or forsook their iniquities. A certain scene at Jezreel points in the direction of a contrary conclusion. It is not written that the Israelites henceforth worshipped the Lord ; but the history leads us to think that they repented of their haste in killing the prophets of Baal, and listened to the teaching of their successors. As far as reformation was concerned, Elijah “ laboured in vain, and spent his strength for nought.” He sought to recover Israel from the service of Baal; but Israel persisted in the service of that strange god. And this was the prophet's own estimate of his work. Jezebel, when she heard of the slaughter of her prophets, vowed vengeance against Elijah. The Tishbite fled from the fury of the queen. A forty days' journey into the desert led him to a cave, in which he took up his abode. The Lord challenged him in his solitude, “ What doest thou here, Elijah ?" There is something very touching in the conclusion of the prophet's answer, “I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away.” Elijah wanted to give up in despair. To him it seemed a fruitless toil. Work yielded no result; victory brought no advantage ;—failure attended all his efforts. Let those who sneer at “failures," as they call the unsuccessful, think of Elijah, and cease to sneer; and let the unsuccessful who serve God and their generation faithfully, but who see not the signs of success, remember Elijah, and take courage.
I hesitate to write it, and yet it is a serious fact, the God who sent the prophet failed to win back His erring children. The famine had been sent to chastise and to correct the Israelites. Alab and his wicked wife, the princes of the people, and all Israel, knew that the famine was sent as a punishment, and to bring the nation from the service of Baal to the worship of “ the only living and true God.” For three years and six months the heavens were as brass, neither rain nor dew falling upon the parched ground. One incident on record illustrates the severity of the sufferings of the people. The widow to whom the prophet was sent said, in reply to his urgent request for a morsel of bread, “ As the Lord liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse; and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.” Many a family in Israel had, in like manner, prepared their last meal, eaten it in solemn silence, and lain down to pass through the agonies of hunger and thirst to the realms of death. It was an arousing sermon which God was preaching. From the cloudless sky, from the empty water-courses, from the leafless trees, from the barren clods, and from the withered vineyards, God had been preaching to them about their sin, its folly and its consequences. Famine and fever crossed their path, and cried aloud to them as they journeyed on " the broad road,” “Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die ?"
“O, the wasting of the famine!
O, the blasting of the fever!
But it was to no purpose. On the people passed along the path which had been beaten by the feet of Baal's worshippers, meeting in their downward career famine and fever, and being by them mercilessly cut down. Three years and six months of judgment failed to arrest the wicked Israelites in their coursethey continued to worship Baal. The failure of the miracle is more striking, because it seemed at one time a success. Baal's prophets could not obtain a response from their divinity. When they had tried to bring fire from the heavens to consume their sacrifice, but had found from morn till noon, and from noon to eventide, no favour with the invisible powers, Elijah's turn came. There could be no collusion. Not only were doubtful hearts waiting, but jealous eyes were watching. The altar was built and the sacrifice was laid upon it. The thrice-repeated pouring of water upon the sacrifice, the deep and well-filled trench round about the altar, and the presence of the prophets of Baal, rendered the simulation of a miracle impossible. Elijah prayed his simple prayer. The end and object of his ministry find expression in the reason which he urges why God should answer him. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.” As the prophet concluded his prayer, “the fire of the Lord” fell from heaven, in the presence of all the people. They saw it slowly but steadily descend till it reached the sacrifice. The fire consumed the wood, the stone, the dust, and everything about the altar; and there was left the trench only, whose waters even were licked up by “the fire of the Lord.” There was no withstanding such evidence—no denying the miracle. It prostrated the Israelites, and exacted from them the cry, “The Lord he is God. "They were convinced, but not converted. Like millions more, they proceeded to sin against light and knowledge. The miracle did not "turn their heart back again” to God. Much is heard now-a-days about the omnipotence of goodness. Certain preachers contend that if their brethren would but preach the love of God, sinners would be won for Christ. The Lord tried His loving-kindness in this case, but it was not more successful than His wrath. Elijah's first message to Ahab. “There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word,”