1 Kings 18:41-46 And Elijah said to Ahab, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain." So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
"Go and look toward the sea," he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
"There is nothing there," he said.
Seven times Elijah said, "Go back."
The seventh time the servant reported, "A cloud as small as a man's hand is rising from the sea."
So Elijah said, "Go and tell Ahab, 'Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.' "
Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.
The great blessing of faith is that it links our souls with God. It is a secret communication, establishing relations of confidence and repose between the heart and God. Faith exists unknown to anyone but its possessor and God. It shows its vitality by works, but its vitality is its enjoyment, and not its power of demonstrating itself.
The history of its action is an interesting, instructive study. Dependence on God, or faith, is the first element of our new life, the great antagonistic principle of the old nature. "Whatever is not of faith is sin" is the abstract rule of life. My will, in nature, being errant, all my power, natural or acquired, acts so as to sustain what is wrong, that is, my natural will. Well, but now as quickened by the life of Christ into the sensibilities of His nature, I am constantly finding that difficulties occur to me, all the greater because my will runs counter to God’s will. Nay more, I find that many new desires are awakened within me, which I have no power in nature to gratify. In both these cases, I learn that I must lean on God; and as I lean—and I know what is His mind or intention towards me—so have I faith or confidence in Him about any given result.
It is evident we know too little of this blessed sentiment, and this arises from our great self-dependence. Whether it be as regards difficulties in our path unsurmounted, or good desires ungratified, we do not lean sufficiently on the Lord, and have not the sweet and invigorating consciousness of His direct assistance in supplying our need. We are constantly helped by His mercy and providence, and though we may then recognize His hand and thank Him, yet this is not walking in faith. Faith, I repeat, is the great principle of life. I open my eyes, confident that I shall see; if I did not it would be a real marvel to me; and every demand that my natural mind makes on me assumes that my life and strength are equal to that demand, and will accord it. So likewise with living faith. My difficulties and desires are before the Lord. I know they are, and I know that He is the true source of help; and as I make demand on Him, I know the amount which He will render to me according to my sense of His ability as engaged for me. A man who rightly knows his own powers would never tax them beyond their ability, wisely ordered, but so far as he feels their ability, he can tax them to the utmost; and this is faith. It is then a secret conviction, known only to myself, of God’s grace towards me. I rest in it; my heart is strengthened and blessed by it. There is nothing so blessed as to understand that faith is an individual secret between our souls and God—that God Who gave His Son for us. This is always the proof to us of what His heart is, for no other blessing could ever establish us before Him as this does.
Now then, seeing that faith is an individual secret, how comes it that so many desire that which is so close, personal, solemn, and divine, should be proved as having existed by evidences that will convince the crowd? Your secret exists, and you cannot explain it, and you ought not; it is too sacred, and yet you wish that the public should know that this sacred confidence has produced certain results in a very distinguished manner. That there will be results, there can be no question—perfect results, accurate according to the demand you made, and (as I have said) to your sense of God’s ability as engaged for you; but that the results or answer should be to anyone outside the range or the necessity, I cannot and must not expect. Suppose I entrust my difficulties or desires to a human friend, who I am sure will cooperate with me and relieve me; is it necessary that in doing so, he must publish his assistance and service? By no means. If he has convinced me of it, no matter how he accorded it, he has assured the affection and confidence which reckoned on him; and this we desire from a friend far more than that others should acknowledge what he has done.
God, in His love, wants to reveal Himself to our souls, and if He answers our faith so as to make us feel that it is He alone that has done it, He cares not for the publication of it. Nay more, He will often make it of very insignificant appearance, in order that the soul may be kept in the blessing of the secret assurance of faith, which will progress, step by step, with the evidence, if the evidence is not too great to make faith no longer necessary. The moment we are in sight, we are out of faith. God could never desire to put us outside faith now; hence, even in answering our faith, He so answers it that we want it in a moment again, even while enjoying the result. He cannot distinguish man as man, but He loves man and will make man depending on Him to FEEL it; consequently, in order to keep the soul in full blessing, the Lord must keep it in faith; and if He communicates to my own heart the answer to my faith, He has done all I have required of Him. The apostle Paul knew God’s love and power in the answer which he received to his faith in the salvation of the crew (Acts 27), though to human eye it was a sorry provision and a scrambling escape to save 276 souls, "some on boards and some on broken pieces of the ship."
But what matter how man judged, if the heart of the apostle had its secret confidence responded to? If he knew that the power of God had interposed for him, he was not careful that others should know more than the result. In the passage before us, 1 Kings 18:41-46, which is referred to in James 6 as an exposition of "effectual, fervent prayer," we find, first, the faith which can say to Ahab, "Get thee up, eat and drink, for there is a noise of abundance of rain." Faith cometh by hearing; the intimation had reached the prophet, he had heard the sound thereof—he had the secret consciousness in his soul that he was drawing on the abilities of God to meet the case; and he could speak of what that power would accomplish, though as yet he had no more intimation of it than a "sound." No one understood this "sound" but himself, neither could he communicate it to another, although he could speak of the effect. This conviction of the soul comes from communion with God. It is but a conviction—a "sound;" but yet it is the warrant to the soul, knowing the strength and grace it rests on, to expect an amount of relief commensurate with its reliance on them. In a word, it is resting on the strength offered me by God, and my soul receives the conviction of what that power can and will do. Elijah can without hesitation propose to the king to "get up, eat and drink," in the assured hope of rain.
But what is his own course? He retires to the top of Carmel, casts himself upon the earth and puts his face between his knees. This teaches us the condition of a believing soul. It has the intimation of the coming blessing—it can speak of it. But this does not lead to indifference or indolence; nay, rather, the soul, burdened by the wondrous reality of trusting God, is engrossed with the subject the more as it approaches fulfillment. According to the exhortation in Col. 4:2, it "continues in prayer and watches in the same," being quite awake to the manifestations of fulfillment. The prophet sends his servant to look towards the sea, but there is nothing to be seen at first. The word is, "Go again seven times;" prayer and watching must be perfect. "And it came to pass the seventh time, that he (the servant) said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand." Could there possibly be a smaller indication of coming rain? A cloud the size of a man’s hand is hardly visible on the horizon. What patience to send seven times! What carefulness of observation to discern anything so insignificant, and after all to learn so little! But faith wanted no more; the soul rested in God, and only prayed and watched till demonstration was granted; and at the smallest notice, the heart was entirely assured, and the prophet tells Ahab, "Prepare thy chariot; get thee down, that the rain stop thee not." Thus are we instructed in the nature of the "effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man," i.e., one seeking to go rightly. No one can lean on God to be sustained in wrong; but to be sustained in, and strengthened for, what is right, is not only to be expected, but it is sin if we seek relief otherwise; because we must, in that case, be leaning on something besides God, and what we lean on we magnify.
In conclusion, we require, first Faith (or the secret conviction of help from
God) to invigorate the soul with a sense of the ability which is engaged for it.
Secondly, the praying, wakeful condition of soul which is conscious of the solemn blessing vouchsafed to it until the moment of fulfillment comes.
Lastly, not to seek great or pompous evidences of the fulfillment, but with the true sensibility of affection to interpret the smallest notification, because the more intimate anyone is with another, the sooner and easier will they understand their simplest gestures and promptings.
The Lord give us grace to enter into the life of the one blessed Man down here, ever leaning on God, ever sensible in Himself of the sweet consciousness that He could count on the ability of God. "Father, I thank Thee that Thou has heard Me, and I knew that Thou hearest Me always;" and this is the blessed One Who lives for us, and whose life is ours with all its susceptibilities, "to Whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."—excerpted from "Girdle of Truth" (available from Present Truth Publishers)