The Power and Spirit of Elijah
January 15th, 1967 @ 10:50 AM
2 Kings 2:1-14
THE POWER AND THE SPIRIT OF ELIJAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Kings 2: 1-15
1-15-67 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Power and the Spirit of Elijah. If you would like to turn to the passage from whence the message is preached, turn to 2 Kings, second chapter and these are the words in the Bible—2 Kings, second chapter:
And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.
And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the Lord hath sent me to Bethel. And Elisha said unto him, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel.
And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel came forth to Elisha, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master today? And he said, Yea, I know it.
And Elijah said unto him, Elisha, tarry here, I pray thee; for the Lord hath sent me to Jericho. And Elijah said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they came to Jericho.
And the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho came to Elisha, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master . . . today? And he answered, Yea, I know it.
And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry, I pray thee, here; for the Lord hath sent me to Jordan. And Elisha said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on . . .
And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off: and they two stood by Jordan.
And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
And Elijah said, Thou hast asked an 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.
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
And Elisha saw it.
[2 Kings 2:1-12]
He had his request, “Let a double portion, I pray thee, of thy spirit rest upon me [2 Kings 2:9]. And Elijah answered, If thou doest see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so” [2 Kings 2:10].
And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And Elisha saw Elijah no more: and Elisha took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of the Jordan;
And Elisha took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? When he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.
And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha.
[2 Kings 2:12-15]
And the younger man began his greater and prophetic ministry; the spirit and the power of Elijah. Not in human story, nor in the sacred Word of God, has there ever appeared a more colorful and majestic character than Elijah the Tishbite. He was as rough and as rugged as the majestic mountains of Gilead from whence he came. And so deep was the impression that Elijah made upon Israel that thereafter, a prophet who presented himself as a prophet, always dressed like Elijah—his uncut hair, his rough garments gathered around his loins with a girdle, and ascetic in disposition and in manner of life [Matthew 3:4], and bold and uncompromising and fearless in his delivery of the word of God.
And yet, there is a spiritual discernment in this young man Elisha that is so impressive and inspired of God. For Elisha was able to see, as few men have been and are; Elisha was able to see that the power of God lay not in Elijah’s outward appearance, his rugged dress, his ascetic disposition, his sudden appearances, the bold astaccato by which he spoke. But Elisha was able to see that the power of the older prophet lay in the Spirit of the Lord God upon him [Luke 1:17]. And the younger man was able to see that for him to mimic the outward appearance of Elijah—to dress like him, to have his hair uncut like him, to be ascetic in nature like him, all of these things of manner and place in life—for the younger prophet to mimic the outward appearance of Elijah would have been folly and stupid. For Elisha was able to see that the power of the man lay in the Spirit of God upon him. So in the request, when Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for thee before I be taken away from thee,” by inspiration, and by penetrating discernment and understanding, the younger man said, “I pray thee that a double portion of thy spirit fall upon me” [2 Kings 2:9].
This is very noticeable to me because of what I see among our preachers, and what I read in the story of their lives. Every powerful preacher, every moving preacher has his own very distinct personality; all of them do, every one that has ever lived has. Most of them have little old personal peculiarities and eccentricities. And when the young preacher looks at a powerful man of God, he is greatly impressed with those little peculiarities and eccentricities. And he’ll go off and copy them inevitably.
For example, there was a great preacher, a powerful preacher by the name of Len Broughton. And in the days of Broughton’s greatest glory, he wore long hair, long hair, and a long coat. And from one side of our Baptist Zion to the other, you would find ministers, preachers, with long hair and long coats. John A. Broadus was our greatest scholar, student of the Word of God, the professor of Greek in the Louisville seminary. And in the last century, John A. Broadus who was so much a leader among our people, John A. Broadus had studied so much and pored over books so much that he developed a stoop in his stature and pulpit stance. And from one side of the convention to the other, there were preachers who when they stood up in the pulpit they all stooped over to preach, just like John A. Broadus.
One of the most eloquent men of all time and certainly the most eloquent preacher that the continent of North America has ever produced in his eloquence was T. De Witt Talmage. And T. De Witt Talmage had a manner of breaking up his words, breaking up his sentences. He spoke in broken sentences, and from one side of this continent to the other there were preachers who when they spoke, they spoke in those same broken sentences like T. De Witt Talmage.
And almost in your generation, there was a very colorful and famous evangelist by the name of Billy Sunday, and he did not break up sentences but he broke up chairs in the pulpit. And all over the whole English-speaking world there were preachers who broke chairs in the pulpit imitating Billy Sunday.
And of course—especially sensitive to you—would be the countless numbers, the countless numbers of young preachers who sought to imitate and to mimic the stentorian, majestic voice of George W. Truett. Why, you could stand outside most any convention hall and listen to the preacher as he preached, and half of them would be up there trying to say those words in that whole roundedness, that pathos of tone that so beautifully and marvelously characterized the preaching of George W. Truett, but it was such a sorry imitation in those who tried to mimic it.
I have just chosen these instances that you might see how easy it is to fall into the impression that the power of a man lies in something that you can see or observe; in the manner that he speaks, or the way that he dresses, or the asceticism or non-asceticism of his life. These things are outward, and it is my firm and studied judgment that they have nothing at all to do with the power of the man of God—how he dresses, how he cuts his hair, or any other thing of his personality or eccentricity that characterizes him.
The power that lies in the man, the power that lies in the church, the power that lies in the service, the power that lies in the denomination, the power that lies in the thrust, the power that lies in the missionary enterprise is inevitably and always the power of the presence of the Spirit of God. It is God that makes the difference; it is God [Zechariah 4:6]. So I say that when Elisha answered the question of Elijah, “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee,” the younger prophet was inspired from heaven when he said, “Oh! I pray thee, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit fall upon me” [2 Kings 2:9].
Now in the few minutes that I have, may I speak of that double portion of God’s Spirit upon us? First, God’s Spirit upon us in a divine enablement, enabling [2 Kings 2:9]; it is almost unbelievable what God can do with an ordinary man, a plain, unostentatious, sometimes untrained, ordinary man. Nor is this a speculative persuasion on my part. I have seen it, read it large on the page of the Word of God, and I have seen it no less in my ministry working among our people. In the Word of God, how many, how very many, how almost all many will you find God’s servants are plain, ordinary men. They are carpenters [Matthew 13:55], they are tentmakers, they are fishermen [Matthew 4:18-22], they are tax gatherers [Matthew 9:9], they are shepherds [Luke 2:8-16], they are herdsmen [Amos 1:1], but God has lifted them up and exalted them with His divine presence, with His enablement from heaven.
Take for example Amos. Oh, if I had my life to live over again, I’d be Amos Criswell. Where is one of those programs? It’s too late now for me to start, but for a long time I had my full name printed here. Wallie Amos Criswell: what an unspeakable name, but that’s what I was born into. And so they asked me, “Why did you change that?”—I see they’ve changed it back—“Why did you change that?”
“Well,” I said, “I was going to start off Wallie Amos Criswell, then after a little while I was going to have it W. Amos Criswell. Then I was going to have it Amos Criswell,” ‘cause when I was preaching through the Bible and came across that prophet and studied him, I just fell in reverent awe at the ministry of that man of God.
Well, who was he? He was a shepherd, he was a herdsman, and he lived in the southern part of Judea [Amos 1:1]. But God spoke to him [Amos 1:3], and when you see Amos appearing, he is in Bethel, in the capital city of Jeroboam II [Amos 7:10, 13], one of Israel’s greatest kings, but an idolater [Amos 3:14]. And Amos comes from Tekoa in southern Judea [Amos 1:1]. And he stands before the golden altar and before the golden calves of the King Jeroboam [1 Kings 12:29], and he denounces the idolatry and the wickedness of the people of northern Israel [Amos 1:2-7:9]. And while he is preaching, there appears before Amos in confrontation the chaplain of the king himself. His name is Amaziah [Amos 7:10], and he says to Amos, “Shut your mouth and leave this place, for this is the king’s court and this is the king’s chapel, and you have no right to speak here” [Amos 7:12-13]. And do you remember what Amos replied? Amos said, “It is true. It is true. I am no prophet, neither am I a prophet’s son. I was an herdsman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit: And the Lord God took me from following the flock and said unto me, ‘o, prophesy unto My people Israel” [Amos 7:14-15]. “The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God has spoken, who can but prophesy?” [Amos 3:8].
That’s what I’m talking about, plain ordinary men touched by the power of God. Think of the many poor fishermen in the days of Peter, James, and John, and God touched their souls [Matthew 4:18-22]. Think of the many tax gatherers in the days of Matthew, and God touched his heart [Matthew 9:9]. Think of the uncounted thousands of Hellenists, Greek-speaking Jews, scattered over the whole Greco-Roman world, and God touched the heart of Stephen and of Philip [Acts 6:5].
Think of the thousands of the tinkers in the days of John Bunyan. A tinker is a man who welds, who mends a pot or a pan. Think of the thousands of tinkers in the days of John Bunyan, and he saw visions of God. Think of the thousands of poor shoe cobblers in the days of William Carey; and he would sit at his last, cobbling shoes with an open Bible on one side and with a map of the world on the other, and God touched his heart. Plain, ordinary people whom God hath poured out upon the double portions of His Spirit [2 Kings 2:9]; some of our finest Sunday school teachers, some of our best leaders, some of our most God blessed people are some of the humblest workmen in our congregation. It is God that makes the difference. “Ask,” said Elijah, “what I shall do for thee,” and Elisha said, “I pray thee that a double portion of thy spirit fall upon me” [2 Kings 2:9].
I speak now, in the second place, of the Spirit of God falling upon us in divine worship, in the sanctuary of the Lord, in the house of the faithful, in the gathering of the church. Forever and forever, the convocation of God’s people is lifted out of the ordinary, the terrestrial, the mundane into the realm of the heavenly, the celestial, the supernatural, because of the presence of God among us. Matthew 18:20: “[For] where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” Two or three—look around you, there are some thousands of us here in this holy place this morning, and Jesus, God is here. God’s name is name, singular. God’s name is Father, Son, Holy Spirit; these three are one [Matthew 28:19]. There is one God [Mark 12:29]; we know Him as Father [1 Corinthians 8:6], we know Him as Savior [Jude 1:25], we know Him as Comforter [2 Corinthians 1:3] and Keeper of our souls [2 Timothy 1:12]—and that great God is here [1 Corinthians 6:19].
“Well, how is He here, pastor?” Sometimes I fall into speculative thinking, like a little boy: “Jesus is here, where is He? Is He there? Does He stand here? Do I push my hand through Him—is He standing there? Perchance here? Do I push my hand through Him as He stands here? How is it that He is here?” He is here in two especial ways: one, He is here in my heart—the Holy Spirit of Jesus, the divine presence poured out in the world—Jesus is here in my heart. He is in your heart, Jesus is present in these souls of His people [1 Corinthians 6:19]. But there is also another, over and beyond, that I cannot delineate in language. There is a theology of this, a teaching of this, a revelation of this in the Word of God that I cannot encompass in language. It is so infinite and beyond us that we cannot delineate it or circumscribe it by syllable and sentence. But there is another way that God is here in the assembling of His people. In the convocation of His saints, Jesus is present in an unusual and a glorious and a powerful way.
May I illustrate it? In preaching through the Revelation—oh, how again it was impressed upon my soul!—the figure of the resurrected and glorified Lord Jesus walking among His churches. For the seven lampstands, He said, are the seven churches [Revelation 1:20]—and there are seven because the number represents completeness—all of His churches [Revelation 1:12-13]. And when John looked upon those seven lampstands, he saw in their midst One like unto the Son of God, His face, His countenance shined above the brightness and the brilliance of the midday sun. His feet were as they burned like burnished brass in a furnace. His voice was as the sound of many waters, and John saw Him walking in the midst of His churches [Revelation 1:12-15].
There is a sense, there is a way, there is a theology that I cannot express in which, when God’s people gather together as a church, that in power and in glory, our Lord is in our midst [1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19]. That’s why we have a church. There are powers of influence. There are barbed thrusts from heaven that we never experience except in the convocation of God’s people. The Lord is here [Matthew 18:20]. Doubly so, Master, doubly so. “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken from thee,” and Elisha said, “I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit fall upon us” [2 Kings 2:9]. Lord, doubly to feel Thy presence, doubly to be moved and sensitive to Thy Spirit. Doubly, Lord, to be near, doubly welcome, doubly precious. Let a double portion of God’s Spirit rest upon us.
And the third, and briefly: let a double portion of Thy Spirit fall upon us; the divine enablement working with us, powerfully [2 Kings 2:9]—the divine presence, the breath and Spirit of God in the service [1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19; Matthew 18:20]. And a third: a double portion of Thy Spirit fall upon us, Lord, in our heavy and difficult assignment. There is not anything that does not hinder and impede the witness and the testimony of God’s servants. It is difficult and more difficult. It is hard and growing harder. We come to the First Church in Dallas, and we look at these vast throngs, and we think and say, “O Lord, surely the millennium is coming.” This is the most exceptional church I know of. And for us, as for all, it is increasingly difficult. To get men to Jesus, to win men to Christ is difficult. It is increasingly difficult on our mission fields. It is increasingly difficult in our great cities. And it becomes increasingly difficult in our own community of Dallas.
How do you win men to Jesus? How do you get men to the Lord? Lord, that a double portion of Thy Spirit might rest upon us [2 Kings 2:9]; that God will bless our efforts, our witness in the school, in the office, in the merchandizing establishment, in the days of the workweek. God bless our testimonies spoken and unspoken, silent and expressed, lived by pattern, pled by word of mouth, God bless our witness.
Stir me, stir me, Lord! I care not how,
But stir my heart in passion for the world;
Stir me to give, to go, but most of all to pray;
Stir, till thy blood-red banner be unfurled
O’er lands that still in deepest darkness lie,
O’er homes where no cross is lifted high.
Stir me, O stir me, Lord! Thy heart was stirred
By love’s intensest fire, till Thou didst give
Thine only Son, Thy best-beloved One,
Even to the dreadful cross, that I might live;
Stir me Lord to give myself so back to Thee
That Thou canst give Thyself again through me.
[“Stir Me!” Bessie Porter Head]
“Ask what shall I do for thee, before I be taken from thee,” and Elisha prayed, “O God, O Lord, let a double portion of the spirit of Elijah fall upon me, rest upon me” [2 Kings 2:9]. Do it, Lord, do it upon me; do it upon our people. Do it upon this church; do it upon our blessed denomination. Baptize us Lord anew; afresh from heaven, fill us with the Holy Ghost of glory—Lord, do it again; do it again.
And while we sing this appeal, if God presses the invitation to give your heart to Jesus, if God calls for you, answer with your life—do it. “I take the Lord as my Savior, and here I come, here I stand.” “We’re putting our letters and our lives in the church, pastor, and here we come.” However God shall say, shall speak, shall press the appeal, make it this morning, make it now. On the first note of the first stanza when you stand up, stand up coming. In the balcony round there’ll be time and to spare. If we were to close the invitation while you were coming, there’d be some of us stay here all day and all night—waiting just for you. Do it now, giving your life in trust to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10, 13], or putting your life in the fellowship of this dear church, come, come now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.