2 Kings 2:6-22.
I should like to ask this question: If the Lord Jesus were to say to us this evening, on the eve of His departure out of this world (supposing that He had not as yet left it, and that we had been the companions, as His disciples were, of His blessed path down here) — "Ask what I shall do for you, before I be taken from you;" what answer would you give? I desire solemnly to exercise every heart here as to this. Because, remember well that whatever would be your request, whatever the nature of your petition, so would be indicated distinctly the object of your heart. Your request would declare what was in your heart; and hence it is that our prayers are the expression of the real state of our souls more than anything else, even than our conversation. What is really in our hearts, whatever is the commanding object of our affections, that which sways us, comes out more in prayer than we might suppose. If, then, you can put yourselves in this place for a moment, just reflect, if the Lord Jesus were to put that question to you now — "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee" — what would you ask? You can see that it is a solemn question. I ask you, What is the dearest and nearest thing to your hearts? This scripture I have read will answer the question as to what we should ask if Christ were all to us. The one commanding desire of a heart that is really loyal to Him would be this — "I want to represent you on this earth." That was the nature of Elisha's request; and it would be the nature of the request of every heart in this company that was really true to Christ. If you were really true and devoted, if you really loved the Lord Jesus — I do not mean with natural affection, that is not worth anything — but if you loved Him divinely, if you had divine affection for Christ, if you had affection by the Holy Ghost in the new man for Christ, the one ruling desire in your heart would be — "Lord Jesus, my desire is to represent you when you are not in this world." That was Elisha's desire respecting Elijah, as can be seen in this chapter before us.
Elijah, as you know, was on the eve of being taken, and he was about to leave Elisha behind him. Elisha was attached to Elijah — would not leave him. He said, in effect, "I will not leave you. As long as you are here, I will cling to you." "Well," Elijah says, "I am about to be taken from you; what then?" "Then," said Elisha, as it were, "when I cannot have you, let me represent you." It is a wonderful thing to think of it: "Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me;" meaning not simply double in the ordinary sense of quantity, but as if he had said — "The desire of my heart is, that when you are removed you may still be here in me." That, I believe, is the thought, beloved friends — That I may represent you so distinctly, that it will be, as it were, a reproduction on this earth of the absent one. That is what I desire; the one thought and longing of my heart.
Now that requires power; and that is what I am anxious to speak of at this time. I spoke the last evening of our place both in heaven and on earth, and I wish this evening to look at what I feel properly follows that, and that is power. I do not want power to maintain my place in heaven, but I do want it to maintain my true place for Christ on earth; for we are in a world (and may we all feel it more, and have the sense of it more deeply in our hearts) where we are absolutely destitute as regards the place itself. We ought to expect nothing but opposition from this world; nothing but trial, difficulty, and hindrance at every turn; and this not only from bad things, but from good things. The tendency of everything, even the best on this earth, is to make us forget that we do not belong to it. You may think that very sweeping; but, I repeat, it does not matter what it is, even the best thing that belongs to this world has the tendency to make us forget that we do not belong to it. Thus everything becomes a test to us; mercies test us, favours test us; and we find that we cannot trust ourselves even for a moment.
As I was saying last week, the two things that make up our life here — as was the case with Israel in the wilderness — are, sustainment and resistance. The sustainment is necessary in order that we may be able more effectually to resist; not that we may sit down and say, "Resistance is over," but that we may resist the more. The more we are sustained, the more we can resist; and the more we resist, the more we are sustained. It may seem strange, but it works from both sides. It is not what many people think, that having come to a certain point in your history you may then as it were lay down your arms and settle into quietness. I believe it is resistance to the end of the journey; and I am confident the more you are walking with God, the more you must expect the resistance to increase instead of decrease.
Now the first thing I desire to notice in the portion I have read is this, and I beg you to mark it well, that Elijah first of all carries Elisha, in the power that belonged to himself, across Jordan. He took his mantle and smote the waters, and he carries Elisha over with him. Now every child of God has been, in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by His power, carried over Jordan; of course I mean positionally. If you are a Christian, you are over Jordan. He has carried you over. And note that it is not until they are across the river that any communication takes place between them. When they get over Jordan, Elijah says, as it were, "You are about to be left without me. You will have to be alone in this world; you can no longer have me, or count upon my wing to protect you. You have hitherto had my sustainment, my presence, personally with you; but now you can have it no more; and before I depart ask what I shall do for thee!" Elisha's reply is, "Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me." And Elijah said, "Thou hast asked a hard thing; nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee it shall be so unto thee." Now there you have what I wish to speak about; that is, power. What Elisha wanted, and what he asked for, was power, in order that he might be a true representative of the one who was absent; and this is what the true saint of God desires; it is the longing of all who are devoted to Christ. He does not say, "I want to get all the blessing I can — heaven secured, and everything in the future made good — taking no thought about the present." This is not true-heartedness for Christ; it is not loyalty and affection for Him. A person who, as it were, says, "I am very glad to take all the blessings, all the good of Christ's death, all the advantages that flow to me from what He has done: I shall be in heaven with Christ, in glory with Him; but as to this world He does not expect me to do anything save the best I can" — such an one has no loyalty, or devotedness, or true-heartedness, to His rejected Lord. True-heartedness, on the contrary, says, "I delight that He has brought me into all the blessings, but at the same time my heart longs to be for Him here, and all the more so because there was nothing for Him here but rejection." Is it not a wonderful thing to think that before the blessed Lord takes His throne in this world — for He has no throne in it yet, though He will have — He condescends to take a throne in our poor hearts; and the one who is really loyal to Him delights to say, — Before He has His throne here I will give Him the throne of my heart. I delight in my affections to antedate the day when He will sway that sovereignty over the whole universe. I delight He should do it in my heart now — that Christ should be Lord of every motion there, the sovereign of my heart; that there should not be a single motion — wonderful though it be to say it — not a single motion of which He is not the spring, and source, and satisfaction. Thus it is the heart longs to represent Him here. It knows He has sent us here to be for Him, and it wants to be in his mind as to this; it longs thus practically to be the friend of Christ. Now this is true loyalty to the Lord Jesus. Of course it is at best in a poor, feeble way; but still, no matter how feeble it is, what He looks at is the heart. Remember there may be a great deal of show and profession that has no reality in it; but if He sees that at cost, and loss, and trial, we place all we have on one side, in order that we may truly represent Him in this world, it delights His heart. It was this Elisha wanted, and asked for. He asked for nothing else — not for usefulness, not that he might be the great benefactor of his age, or some wonderful person that all would look up to, and record him as the means of blessing to hundreds and thousands of his fellow-creatures. Not a word of it; it was something infinitely beyond that, and it was expressed just in these simple words "I pray thee let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me." And the reply is as simple; viz., "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." Now the very thing we require for that is power, as I have already said. Therefore, when we come to the doctrine in the New Testament, we find that when the Lord Jesus Christ went away from this world the Holy Ghost came down. It is extremely interesting, as well as important for us, to look at the order of this in Acts 1. There you will find that the word "taken," which is used here in 2 Kings — "if you see me taken" — occurs no less than four times, and that in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ going up. "He was taken" — that is the thought running all through that chapter. Afterwards the Holy Ghost came down. Christ being taken up, the Holy Spirit descended. So Elijah being taken, his mantle descended upon Elisha.
If you are a Christian, you have the Holy Ghost dwelling in you, hence no one ought to turn away and say, "I cannot represent Christ." That word "cannot" should never be in our vocabulary. Think of your body being "a temple of the Holy Ghost!" Could you imagine anything more profound or more solemn than that our poor weak bodies should be the vessels of the Holy Ghost's dwelling? Is power the question? Why the power of God dwells in my body. The real question is, How I use it? But I need not ask God for power, because power has come down; the difficulty and confusion so many Christians are in, arises from this, they are asking God for power, and thus denying the power that is there ready to work. I fear the common sorrow is in this, that the cross of Christ is practically set aside, and the world cultivated, and the world's ways adopted, and then saints ask God for power. Why, if we act so, we are grieving God the Holy Ghost, who dwells in us, who is the power. I say power has come down, and in no less a way than this, in the person of God the Holy Ghost, who dwells in our bodies; and hence it is we can say there is any amount of power for a Christian.
Now let me point out two or three things about this power, which will make it more simple. This power acts in two ways, and in two circles, and we have an illustration in the chapter before us. The first way is by resistance. This is a very quiet thing; it is not some great display, some wonderful achievement which stirs a city. Power in itself is most noiseless. When you see the element's charged with electricity, and hear the solemnizing clap of thunder over your head, it might be thought how mighty the power there displayed; but it is not so, the power is before that, the power has then passed, it is not in the noise. The power is in the lightning, not in the thunder. It is noiseless, but irresistible.
Well, as I have said, this spiritual power resists. Let me give an illustration of it; in swimming there are two actions quite distinct. The first is a resistance of the element the swimmer is in. If he does not resist, he himself will sink beneath the waves; for he is in a hostile element, which otherwise will engulf him. This is the very first action. But now, observe, there is another; viz., he must introduce into that element a new motion altogether. He brings in a new principle which is really a new aspect of power. He resists the element he is in, but in the power of a new force completely. Now those are the two things that are connected with power — there is first of all resistance, and next to it expression. There is the resistance of the element that is there, and the expression of a new motion, foreign entirely to what is there. And so when you see a man walking in the power of the Spirit of God in this world you will find those two things, not only the resisting of the influences that are around him, but the bringing in of a new principle of action altogether.
Now, beloved friends, are we exhibiting this power? This is the question. May I be allowed to ask the younger brethren and sisters here this evening how many of them are afraid of the influences that surround them in this world? It is the very essence of all security, to fear the hostility of the element by which we are surrounded. It always cheers one to see godly, holy, child-like fear and trembling; and one is always doubtful when, on the contrary, one sees assumptive confidence. I say that a Christian who is afraid of the influences that are around is alive to the dangers he is passing through; but one who is not afraid is in great danger of being carried down the flood-tide of the age. If you are afraid, you will resist. "Happy is the man that feareth always." I am told the difference between a dead and a living fish is this — the living fish goes against the stream, and the dead fish with it. Just so is it with Christians. And hence the power of that word, "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." The Lord give each one here that holy, watchful fear of all around us; for we are in a terrible element, full of every kind of snare and trap, full of all that is calculated to turn aside the careless and unwary. Hence, too, the Spirit says, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Why? Because we are in the land of an enemy, hostile to us every step we take. And therefore I say again, and very affectionately I press it, the very first thing your soul must learn, if you want to act in power for Christ here, is, you must resist. Oh, be well assured if you give way in the smallest particular you will soon give way in other things more important! The hardest step downward is the first, the others come wonderfully easy afterwards. Terrible thought that is! May the Lord then keep it before your heart, that to be for Christ in power on earth you must resist.
And then there is the expression of this new and wonderful energy. We find it in Elisha's history. What was the first thing he did when this mantle of the departing Elijah descended on him? How did he show that a double portion of his spirit had descended upon him, enabling him to be a worthy representative of the taken-up Elijah? What was the first proof of it? This, "He took hold of his own clothes and rent them in two pieces;" and there I get what I call the first circle. And I tell you this solemnly, if you do not resist in the inner circle you never will in the outer. Many people say, "You don't know what a terrible position I am in; you don't know how I am placed in my family, in my associations, in my business, and so forth." Let me say this to you, beloved, granting full weight to all that, fully allowing that you may be in trying circumstances, yet, if in your soul you had learned that you must resist what is inside first, you would find what strength and purpose you would have in resisting the outside; and therefore I say the first circle is the difficult one. Here, in the figure, the thing that was nearest to Elisha — what was more himself, so to speak, viz., his own mantle — was that which he was able, in the first instance, to set aside.
Turning to the New Testament, you have in Luke 9 what answers to this: "If any man will come after me, let him" — "take up his cross, and follow me?" Is that it? Not in the first instance — that is the outside — but "let him deny himself;" that is the inside circle. Then it is, "Let him take up his cross daily, and follow me." In this way you have both inside and outside; and where there is a true desire to represent Christ in that power which He has given us, the first thing is, I must rend my own mantle, I must refuse myself. This I take to be the meaning of "denying myself." Not merely abstaining from certain things, but I refuse myself. Wonderful liberty! I know nothing more wonderful than this. I refuse myself in toto completely. I get motives, springs, thoughts, objects, altogether from another, and hence I can deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus.
You have these things beautifully set forth here in figure. Elisha laid hold on his own mantle, and rent it in two pieces. Then he takes up the mantle of Elijah, and says, as it were, "I do not shrink from Jordan now. I can now meet death. I look for nothing but death in this world out of which my Master has gone. I recross Jordan. I am not now surprised to be surrounded by sorrow, suffering, and shame in this world; and I can thank Him who has given me to accept it, because my heart's desire is that I may represent the one who is not here."
But let me here refer to another point of great importance. A person may say to me, "How am I to get this power?" In one sense, as I said, we all have the power. The Holy Ghost, through God's wonderful grace and sovereign goodness, has come down to dwell in us. But then how is this power of the Holy Ghost practically realized in us and through us? Thank God, the Spirit of God dwells in our bodies. But how is the power exercised, and what is the principle of it? It is very beautiful to see the illustration of it here. Nothing can be more simple; it is, "If you see me taken." I know well that the very simplicity of it is a stumbling-block to some. "If you see me taken." We do not read that he ever saw him more than the once; on the contrary, it says, "He saw him no more." But he saw him taken, and that is the point. Now I ask you, Could you conceive anything more wonderful than that? Show me the sovereign, the potentate, of this world who ever could say to his subject, "If you see me in a certain position, I will impart something of myself to you." That is what we have here. "If you see me taken, it shall be so unto you." The only question was, Will he fix his eye upon him? Will he accept the affecting challenge of the departing Elijah, and simply, earnestly fix his eye upon him as he goes? This is the question. I will show you from Scripture how that principle runs all through. It is the blessed reality of looking outside and apart from everything to Christ. When the eye is turned away from all else to Him, then we find the power of the Holy Ghost in active operation. It is the beautiful simplicity of it that is so wonderful.
Let me give you another instance of a like kind. Turn to that scene in Matt. 14, and look at Peter. What does he say? "Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water." The Lord Jesus says, "Come!" He left the boat, and walked on the water, to go to Jesus; and it is a wonderful thing to think of — as long as ever his eye was simply on that blessed One, he walked the water as scathless as Christ Himself. There was no question as to the power that was there; it was manifest. How could a man walk the water, except by supernatural power? It is the very power I am speaking of — supernatural power; not unnatural, but supernatural — power outside of nature altogether. But see, beloved friends; presently the winds and waves became boisterous, and Peter, beginning to look at the water, was about to sink. As long as ever the Lord Jesus Christ simply filled his eye, he walked that tempestuous ocean in the security of the Lord Himself. A scathless journey it was; and I say it matters not what the difficulties are, they need only call forth occupation with the Lord. Our eye fixed on Him keeps us above them. People often say to me, "If I take this path or that path, I shall lose everything." Very well, I reply, suppose you do. Is not Christ worthy of it all? You will, moreover, never have another opportunity of both proving and showing forth the sufficiency of Christ. And there is another thing as well: in proportion as you have lost for Christ, you will get the most blessed, the most wonderful sense of the joy of it from the Lord Himself to you; you will be paid back a thousandfold in another way. It is a subject past all mere human conception, that the moment my eye rests on Christ as He is now in glory, I can accept everything here — the shame, the opprobrium, the hatred, the rejection. Why? Because it is Christ's power that is with me. I can accept His place on earth — and why? Because now I see Him in glory, and I am one with Him there.
Now take another instance; that of Stephen, in Acts 7. No one since has ever been in exactly like circumstances to him. Just look at him for a moment. There he was in the midst of an infuriated mob, pressing upon him, gnashing upon him with their teeth, and thirsting for his blood. He looks up steadfastly into heaven, and sees the glory of God, and Jesus. Nothing moves him. He kneels down and prays for his murderers, and commits his spirit into the hands of the Lord Jesus. Where did he get the power for it? He, full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly at the One who was taken. Just as Elisha saw Elijah taken, and received his mantle, so Stephen, when he looked up at his Master, could lay down his life here, could bear all the terrible hatred, the stones, the murderous assaults of his enemies, and fall down and pray for the men who were killing him.
There is one thing more connected with this which is very important for our hearts, and that is, how this power is displayed. Granted that it is there, what is the characteristic way in which it comes out? There is one scripture, Hebrews 11:27, which will, I think, bring this out. Speaking of Moses' history, the Holy Ghost says, "He endured, as seeing Him who is invisible." The one word which is prominent here is that which specially and distinctly characterizes the exercise of this power, and that is endurance. How is this reached? Trace it here in Moses' history. What is the first thing he did? He refused. It is just what I have spoken of: he resisted his circumstances. I know, beloved friends, that people constantly say, referring to their circumstances, "Well, it was God who put me there. You know Providence placed me in this extraordinary position, and why do you say that I must turn my back upon it? It was the Providence of God that set me in this place." There is no person living, I care not who, that can show me a providence so distinct or marked as Moses' was. It was the Providence of God that rescued him from a watery grave in the ark of bulrushes, that sent down the daughter of the monarch to the river side, that opened her heart and made her lenient to that poor babe. It was the Providence of God that put Moses into the position of being the adopted child of the daughter of the monarch. It was all Providence from first to last.
But, beloved friends, there was a day when faith came and that is what people forget. As soon as faith became operative in Moses' heart, he refuses the most wonderful position that a man ever had. He refuses the very post that naturally every man would have tenaciously grasped in the interest of his nation. It might have been said, perhaps was said, "He is just the man to deliver Israel. Look at the place he is in; he is the reputed son of the daughter of the monarch — the greatest man in Egypt next to the king himself. He will bring in a wonderful deliverance." But think of this — he gives it all up. "He refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter." He is the swimmer in the hostile element, and he resists it. In his case the circumstances appeared to be friendly, though they were really hostile. This is the terrible thing. They appeared to be advantageous, but were really adverse. What does he do afterwards? He chooses suffering. He gives up ease, and chooses hardship. He gives up luxury, and chooses degradation. He gives up the very thing that the heart would delight in, and chooses the very thing that flesh and nature shrink from. He resists the ease of Pharaoh's court, he refuses the dignity of the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and chooses suffering and affliction with the most crooked people that were ever upon the face of the earth — a people that he himself suffered from all his life. And what is the commentary of the Holy Ghost upon that act? What was it worth in God's sight? What was God's value of it? We get it in Heb. 11:17. It was the "reproach of Christ" that was esteemed greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. What a wonderful thing for the Holy Ghost to give such a testimony as that to Moses' act!
And then there was one thing more — he forsook Egypt. First of all he gives up the luxury of it, and chooses affliction with the people of God; and now he turns his back upon the whole thing. What was the power of His endurance? He saw the one who was taken — the invisible God. "He endured as seeing Him who is invisible." So with us; the invisible power works in us, as the invisible Christ is seen by our eye of faith. As our eye sees Christ in heaven, who is invisible to everyone but the man of faith, the invisible power works in us.
But most of all do I particularly call your attention to this instance of Moses, because I know it has a warning voice respecting the snare and danger of the people of God at this present moment, and especially the younger ones. And observe, it is not so much the bad things of the world that are the present snare — I quite own that many, thank God, have a conscience that would prevent them desiring the bad things — but it is the good things of this world that are sought after by so many a saint of God. I affirm solemnly, that such ways are a total denial of Christ's pathway of suffering and rejection. How different it would all be if you could henceforth truly say to the Lord Jesus (and that is what I began with this evening), "I desire to represent you on this earth. The one object of my heart is to represent you. I long therefore for a double portion of your spirit, now that you have left this scene, that I may be here the faithful expression, exponent, and manifestation of yourself, and that in the very world that rejected you and cast you out!"
Let me say one word to cheer and encourage our hearts. It is the most wonderful comfort to know that the power is so easily received. "If you see me taken." Have you ever by faith looked at Him in glory? You say to me, "You do not know what my snares and my difficulties are." But have you tried the power? that is the question. Did you ever turn your eye away from everything, and simply fix it upon Christ in heaven? And could you tell me to-night that you have done that really and truly, and that you have not the power? Beloved friends, I am sure you could not. The one follows the other inevitably.
May God grant you the heart to be for Christ on this earth! You will never get the opportunity in heaven. There will be glory and blessedness; but this moment will never be again. I have this one life, and for what? I am sent for this little moment into this unreconciled, hostile world that I may walk the path of that blessed One through this scene, representing Him in the very world that would not have Him, in the very place where He was hated, scorned, and crucified. Verily it is a moment of surpassing importance. I do not in the least question but that we shall have loss; but what of that if it be for Christ's sake? Loss in the world for Christ's sake! There is none who loves Him, none who has any affection for Him, but would rejoice to be counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Would you not suffer for a person you loved in this world? Then what kind of affection is yours for Christ if you could not suffer for Him?
The Lord, by His Spirit, give our hearts the sense of what it is to be here as vessels of God's power! As I look at the Lord Jesus Christ, as the eye in faith simply rests upon Him, not thinking of myself, the power comes to enable me to represent Him. It is not a question of what I can do, or how I can get through the difficulties. Dwelling on that will never be of any use. You will never get through if you think of getting through; but if your eye is simply on Christ, the cross becomes the sweetest thing to you, (what can be more wonderful than that I am allowed to walk the path of the Lord Jesus Christ through this world?) and the suffering becomes sweet, and the shame of it as nothing, because of the joy of being with Him above it all where He is. Thus it is the soul expands into all the blessed fulness and infinite glory of that place. It was so with Abraham and Lot. Lot — the type of a worldly Christian, got the cities of the plain. When he went there, and had the thing his eyes looked on and his heart desired, it was a scene of trouble from beginning to end. But to Abraham God says, "Lift up thine eyes;" and he lifts them up to God, and then gets all those divine communications, and divine succour as well. He becomes God's friend, and is allowed into most wonderful intimacy with the blessed God Himself.
The Lord by His Spirit so encourage each of our hearts, and make Christ so really the one portion of our souls, that each one may be able to say, "My one desire is to represent the Lord Jesus Christ in this evil world;" and may we know for ourselves this wonderful power. The Lord secure the allegiance of every one of our hearts for Himself, that we may regard it not only as our calling, but one of the greatest favours and privileges that could be conferred upon us, to be sent here where Christ was refused, to stand fast for Him in evil days.