Monday Club Sermons
1 Kings 18:19-40
Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel to mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty…
Mendelssohn has wrought the harmonies and discords of this scene into a grand oratorio, and the painter or poet can find in it abundant material for his art. The actors are a king and royal court, hundreds of priests in splendid vesture, masses of people, anxious and hungry-eyed; and over against them a single man, big, fearless, with hairy mantle and leathern girdle, and loose locks waving like a mane about his stern face. Our lesson to-day stops short with the failure of the priests. We may call it the helplessness of heathenism. Who was Baal? Whence did he come? Where did he get his power? How did he rule? There was no such being. He never lived, never blessed a servant, or crushed a foe. When the priests cried, there was no answer, because there was no one to hear. Yet the name had a fiendish personality in the history of Israel, as a most alluring and ruinous force. An actual Baal never lived, possibly the ideal Baal has never died.
I. THE HEATHENISM OF TO-DAY. We still find idolatrous nations, with the same licentiousness, cruelty, and error. One African tribe has six words for murder, not one for love. The missionary who goes among them is an Elijah pleading for Jehovah against Baal. May the prophet's mantle fall upon such, and may the Lord be with them as he was with Elijah. One definition of a heathen is "an irreligious, unthinking person"; a pagan, "one who is neither a Christian, a Mohammedan, nor a Jew." A cleaner and brighter heathenism appears in the high-bred infidelity, of which we hear more than its worth demands. This is not ignorant and boorish, but elegant and learned. It affects to look down on the simplicity of believers, as the gorgeously robed priests may have sneered at Elijah's rough mantle. It uses the terms of science and philosophy. Its worship is mostly of the silent sort before an unknown God. Investigating the development of religious belief, it finds everywhere the longing, but nowhere the Creator who inspires it; everywhere the child's heart, nowhere the infinite Father. Speaking for art, it forgets that faith has inspired its masterpieces, and would put its visions above Him who made the splendours of earth, sea, and sky, human face divine, teeming brain, and skilful hand. Be not deceived by them. The greater number of sound thinkers and investigators are to-day, as in the past, believers. It is easy to see the paganism in such cases; not so easy where it touches us more closely in the heathenism of worldliness. Baal-worship was popular because it was gay, festal, splendid, while the Mosaic ritual was calm, earnest, self-controlled, chaste. Under the first, men could do what they liked best, and yet pass for religious. It dignified self-indulgence, and deified strength and lust. Love of God is the source and crown of all delights; but, to a multitude of meaner impulses in us, the world appeals with more flattery and promise than heaven. Let us hold fast to the Bible, in which speaks the only living and true God. If we turn from Jehovah, the deity we make ourselves will prove a Baal. Earth-born religions are dishonourable to the conscience, false to the intellect, and cruel to the heart. And if we acknowledge Jehovah to be God, let us follow Him.
II. THE TESTING OF HEATHENISM. Anything which claims our service and our love should be able to support us in emergencies. Infidelity and worldliness may do very well in good times, when bright suns and genial rains mingle to bless our lot; so did Baal. And so all blasphemy, and polite infidelity, and every. thing that is not of God, when it has had its fling, and tried its power, drops back, helpless to save its followers. The testing is not often so dramatic as upon Carmel, but is continually repeated.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table.