Altars and Altar Fires
1 Kings 18:24
And call you on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answers by fire, let him be God…

I suppose that the altars built by Elijah and the prophets of Baal would be very much alike. To all outward seeming they were equally promising, and we should have been unable to surmise to which of them the fire would be sent. Anybody can build an altar; we need a God for the creation of a fire!

1. Any one can build an altar; it requires a God to provide the flame. Anybody can build a house; we need the Lord for the creation of a home. A house is an agglomeration of bricks and stones, with an assorted collection of manufactured goods; a home is the abiding-place of ardent affection, of fervent hope, of genial trust. There is many a homeless man who lives in a richly furnished house. There is many a fifteen-pound house in the crowded street which is an illuminated and beautiful home. The sumptuously furnished house may only be an exquisitely sculptured tomb; the scantily furnished house may be the very hearthstone of the eternal God. Now the Christian religion claims to be able to convert houses into homes, to supply the missing fire, and to bring an aspiring flame to the cold and chilling heap. Here, then, are two houses. In both of them there is no love, no joy, no peace, no rest. There is no flame of geniality and radiant hope. Let us bring the Christian religion into one of the houses, and do as you please with the other. In one house the tenants shall all kneel before King Jesus. They shall be one in common purpose, and they shall strive together with common mind and will. What will assuredly happen? With absolute certainty the house will become a home! That is a glorious commonplace in the history of the Christian faith. Where Christ has been enthroned, and every member of the family becomes a worshipper, there steals into the common life a warmth of affection which converts even trivial relationships into radiant kinships. God changes houses into homes; let Him be God!

2. Any one can proclaim a moral ideal; we need the Lord for the creation of moral enthusiasm. But the possession of a moral ideal does not necessarily transfigure the life. A man might draw up, for the guidance of his fellow-men, an exalted code, and yet he may be the most notorious scamp in the city. The erection of moral ideals is the building of an altar. Now we want the flame, the fire of a passionate, moral enthusiasm. Where shall we get the fire? We exalt our moral ideals in the minds of our children, but bow shall we get them to love the right, and to fervently aspire after it? The Christian religion claims to answer the question. Here are two lives. In both of them there is knowledge of the moral ideal. In both of them the character is immoral. Let us bring the Christian religion to the one, and you shall do as you please with the other. "He will baptize with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." The issue of fellowship with the Christ is to be the inspiration, whose influence shall be felt like fire. Love becomes a factor in the life, and cold duty becomes a fervent delight. How will you deal with the other man? How will you bring to him the fire? I confess I know no answer. Apart from the Christ, there seems to be no way of bringing fire on to cold altars.

3. Any nation can make legal enactments against crime. We need the law to make men hate it. The only defence against crime is not a punitive law, but a passionate, spiritual recoil. If we would deliver men from sin, we must make them loathe it. Some way or other we must kindle a holy hatred in man, the fire of blazing indignation. There are many men who are kept from crime, who nevertheless do not dislike it. We must make men hate it. How shall we light the fire? Let us turn to the Christ. Let a man love the virtuous, and he will loathe the vicious.

4. Any municipality can coerce men into charity. We need the Lord for the creation of philanthropy. The Poor Law system may compel us into giving, but in the gift there may be nothing of the fervour of a passionate goodwill. How can we get cold charity converted into radiant philanthropy? Who will bring the fire to the frozen altar? There is an old man in the Christian Scriptures who speaks in this wise: "He loved me and gave Himself for me"; "we love, because He first loved us"; "the love of Christ constraineth me." Out of that love for the Master there spring all the beautiful ministries which seek the welfare of our fellow-men. Love for the Lord just blossoms into philanthropy.

(J. H. Jowett, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.

WEB: You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of Yahweh. The God who answers by fire, let him be God." All the people answered, "It is well said."

The God that Answereth by Fire
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