Broken Down Altars
by Billy Sunday (1862-1935)
"He repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down."-- I Kings 18:30
There is something more than history in the chapter from which my text is taken, just as there is always more in a picture than is seen at first glance. The state of affairs at this time the chapter opens was as bad as is possible for the human mind to conceive. The country was in an awful condition because of idolatry, adultery and all other sins associated with a nation that had forgotten God and was given, unbridled, to all lust and evil desires.
That talk had in it no "as it were", "in a degree", "perhaps", or "in a measure" or "so to speak". He didn't qualify it by any adjectives; every word had a ring like chilled steel as it cut like a Damascus blade into the putrefying abscesses of his day.Ahab and Jezebel were on the throne. A more vicious, iniquitous, rotten man or vile woman never disgraced the earth than these two. Wickedness had the right of way throughout the kingdom; Ahab and Jezebel set the pace and others followed. There were no depths of iniquity, adultery, licentiousness and vileness to which Ahab and Jezebel did not sink. Baal was worshiped; true religion was on the sidetrack, and hell had the main line.
It is true that there were a few faithful, like Obadiah and Naboth, who had not bowed to Baal, but they were in a sad minority. Many had been compelled to hide in cavesand dens. If it was a woman who dared say she believed in and worshiped Jehovah, she was an outcast and her children were murdered; if it was a man, he was subjected to infamies that no tongue would attempt to describe. So rampant had idolatry, adultery, and kindred evils had become that in order to try to stem the deadly tide, God sent the prophet Elijah to shut off the water supply and bring on the famine.
As we read the Bible we will notice that always in a dark time God sends a prophet to arouse, stir and call the people back to the true God. So in this instance, when the situation looked dark, God sent His messenger to warn the people of the judgment which they were bringing on themselves because of sin and iniquity. The old Tishbite bobbed up before weak-kneed Ahab with all the abruptness of a thunderclap out of a clear sky, and without banners or bands or furbelows or salaam, spoke out in the first breath in a way that brought a deadly pallor upon the cheeks of the miserable wretch Ahab:" As the Lord of hosts liveth…" ( I Kings 18:15)."As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand…" cried the prophet. that ought to be the preacher's cry ever y time he walks into the pulpit. That kind of faith makes the devil get up and dust every time! Such confidence in God as the prophet had as he stood before Him would make granite out of soapstone. And to know God as Elijah knew Him, and to have the same unbroken sense of His presence, is better preparation for a great career in the ministry than a degree from any college you can name.I am not discounting the value of education. I consider a mind without education as something like marble in a quarry, which shows none of the inherent beauty until the skill of the polisher fetches out the color and discovers every ornamental vein that runs through the marble. Education draws out many virtues and perfections which otherwise would never come to the surface and never be seen. I believe in education, but education alone cannot make character-never! It takes acquaintance with God to do that.
It takes purity of heart as well as brilliancy of intellect to make one great for God. But I have no sympathy with anybody who would exclude anyone, educated or uneducated. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God" is as much in force tonight as it was two thousand years ago. Any man who does that will have a stirring time and will give the devil the best run for his money he ever had. Nothing was as much needed in Israel as a sweeping revival: and God sent the right man to bring it about. Let us see how Elijah did it
Elijah Was Sensational
He repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. Elijah did his work in a way that was natural but unconventional. He had backbone. He wasn't pinned down or dominated by the personality of other men. He didn't try to add anybody's peculiarities or eccentricities; he had plenty of his own and the nerve to use them, too, and to be himself.
The preacher who is afraid to be like Elijah in this respect will be as weak in his ministry as Samson with his hair cut: he will have no power. I tell you, whenever God calls a man to preach, He expects him to do it as naturally as he sneezes or snores. His individuality is to him what the steel frame is to a skyscraper. And when he surrenders it, he becomes like other people. Down go his ministerial methods; his candlestick is taken away, and God casts him into the dust of His displeasure.
Lots of us are afraid that we do something sensational. I have no more patience with such a man than I have with a horse that will shy at a wheelbarrow, or a woman who will go into hysterics over the sight of a mouse. Everything that Elijah did was sensational; that is why he aroused the country. If shutting off the water supply, shutting up the heavens for three years so there was not a drop of rain or dew to fall on the earth, wasn't sensational, trot out something that was. It raised the biggest stir that that whiskey-soaked, licentious, idolatrous, corrupt, godless, blasphemous country had ever seen or had ever recorded; and it made Ahab and Jezebel mad enough, I think, to spit fire.
If you wish to see a dead church awakened, do something out of the ordinary. There's plenty of Bible authority for not pushing a thing aside just because it seems sensational. When Noah built the ark and loaded it with strange cargo, that was a sensation. When Jonah walked down the streets of Nineveh covered with seaweed crying, "Repent! Repent!"-that was sensational. Jesus Christ created a sensation when He went into the synagogue at the beginning of His ministry and taught, not as the sribes, but as one who had authority.
GET A LITTLE ENTHUSIASM FOR JESUS!
The preacher who can't preach as one who has authority has no call from God to open his mouth! Matthew 23 is sensational preaching in words that cut like a razor.
John the Baptist was sensational in what he said as well as in what he did, and in the clothes that he wore; and because he was not like one of the bunch, all Jerusalem and Judaea came out to hear God's lion-hearted preacher hurl anathemas of the Lord into the ranks of sin-high, low, rich and poor!
"Why don't people go to church?" is a question always asked. My guess is that it is because it is too much like going to a cemetery or a funeral parlor. Put more life in it and you won't have so many complaints. Many a time the prayer meeting is dead because a corpse is leading it. When Ahab saw Elijah, he put on a long, prayer-meeting face and with a sort of sanctimonious whine said to him, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?"
The prophet of God came back with an uppercut and old Ahab got it under the fifth rib. Elijah straightened up like a fire ladder and, with a look that went through that old licentious king like an x-ray, thundered out, "I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed Baalim." If that wasn't sensational, show me something that was! Elijah expected results from his kind of preaching. If some preachers would talk that plain to some of the big sinners on the front seats, we would soon see them begin to crowd the pews. If your churches are full of men who are working overtime for the devil-working seven days and then doing overtime at night-tell them so! If you will call a spade a spade, you will hear things begin to rattle like castanets for Jesus Christ.
One reason why there are so few revivals and why religion and morality are at such an awful low tide is because there is so little of the Tishbite kind of preaching done today to the chief sinners who occupy the chief seats in the synagogues. If Bible results are expected, there must be Bible preaching. God will honor that, no matter who may do the preaching.
I wouldn't give a rap for preaching which never lets a sinner know he is an old hell-bound sinner. There is sure to be discontent and disappointment for the preacher who is always shooting with nothing in his gun but bird shot. When David killed Goliath, he did it because he went against him with suitable ammunition. He loaded his sling according to the size of the job that he had on hand. Oh, some would have tried to kill the giant with a little sand in a blowpipe; but you can't do it that way. David didn't waste any time skirmishing for position; he took dead aim and put enough muscle behind the throw to crack the giant's bean the first throw out of the box. If he had only meant to wing him, there would have been no mourning in the camp of the Philistines. Where no definite result is expected, nothing out of the common will happen. Elijah trusted God to take care of the consequences
The next thing we learn about Elijah is-he knew his God well enough to trust Him. Some of us are so very slightly acquainted with the Lord that we are afraid to do this. many of us get little help from God because we are afraid to trust Him to do very much for us. We won't trust Him any further than we have to. We are like the little girl who said, "I don't have to pray anymore that I won't get scarlet fever because I've got a sulphur bag around my neck." We won't go any further than we seemingly have to for the Lord.
Elijah had a God who made the ravens feed him. The widow's oil and meal failed not. He wasn't afraid of anything that could happen. So many of us are, and that is why we accomplish so little. As soon as the Lord told Elijah to go show himself to Ahab, Elijah girded his loins and started out. He didn't loose a minute considering what great odds were against him; he thought only of the help God would give him to go out and win that conflict.
Think of the help that God will give you to succeed in life, then you will not moan about the tremendous odds against you when you try to live for Jesus and His truth. Faith says; "Amen" to everything God says. Faith takes God at His word, without any "if's" or "and's". Faith says, "I believe it" and rests on that and stands pat for Jesus. If some of us had had more raven experiences yesterday, there would be more mountains moved for God today. We wouldn't go through this life as nonentities, accomplishing nothing for Jesus and His truth.
The prophet knew his God well enough to set out for the front without a tremor, and when he got there, he wasn't afraid of what would happen. His only concern was to meet the conditions as they had been made known to him, knowing that when he had done his prayerful best, he could trust God to take care of the consequences. When a farmer plows his ground and plants the seed, he has done his best; then he has to trust God to make that seed grow. When he puts that seed in the ground, he trusts the rest to a law which he cannot Understand, a law which he did not originate and which he cannot control. When you have done your prayerful best, you can bank on it that God Almighty will do His part. You never need fear or lose any sleep over the Lord. When Elijah challenged the opposition, he defied them to their worst, giving them all the rope they wanted.
Elijah Asks That They Choose Whom They will Serve; We, Too, Must Choose!
A great camp meeting, or revival was to be held on Mount Carmel. The opposition did all the advertising. Hear this:" Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel. And Elijah came and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." He said," Take your choice!" That is fair enough, isn't it? Nothing could be more reasonable. If we are better by all getting drunk, them let us all quit being sober and go and get drunk.
If we are better because we curse and do not pray, let us all quit praying and go to cursing. If we are better because we are impure, then let us all stop living decent lives and go out and live for the devil. If we are better with saloons and beer joints than with churches, then let us close the churches and build more breweries and saloons. Take your choice! If you are better, if this city is better without Jesus Christ than with Him, then I'll quit, go home and stop preaching. That is a fair deal. What was fair and reasonable then, is fair and reasonable today. "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him." Make up your mind how it will be- the Lord God or the devil.
Now if the Bible came from God, find out what it tells you to do, then do it. If it is God's book, you have to do that or God Almighty is against you just as sure as you breathe. If the Bible comes from God, then there must be an easy way for every willing mind to find it out. If you want to know if the Bible came from God, square your life by its teachings and see if it will not make out of you the kind of man it says it will.
Give it a chance! Give it a test! The fact that God proved His existence on Mount Carmel is proof that God can do it today in Richmond. And He will do it every honest doubter who wants to know.
Elijah's Faith Held Midst Tremendous Opposition
Now the purpose of that meeting on mount Carmel was to have the people know that there was a God, and to have them get right with that God. That is the reason I sweat every drop of perspiration; that is the reason I preach with every ounce of my manhood. You haven't money enough in your bank vaults in Richmond to hire me to spend my energy and strength if I didn't believe that you were bound for Hell without Christ.
The man is either insane or a fool who deliberately fights against God and lives without God. Why, it would be as wise for him to stand on a railroad track and contest his strength with that of steel and steam as to fight against God.
It always thrills me to the end of my toes to see how bravely the old prophet of God stood up before that jeering, howling, sneering, blatant, blaspheming mob of licentious, adulterous, degenerate cutthroats who stood there and defied him. How utterly indifferent he was to the tremendous odds that were against him!
And, judging by appearances, all were against him.
It didn't look as if God were within a hundred miles of that meeting on top of mount Carmel. The whole country was reeking and stinking with filth; and as the old prophet of God stood up and scanned the blackened plains-turned black because no rain or dew had fallen on them-there wasn't a green thing in sight. As he looked into the brutal faces of that mop of blasphemers, jeering and sneering upon him, nothing but unshaken confidence in God could have kept him from stampeding and hitting it for the woods. But his faith held him!
Oh, faith is a mightier force than dynamite and electricity! Elijah helped many as he stood there alone. And if science and discovery can take the Bible from us, then the sooner they do it , the better. If the Bible came from God, you can no more hurt it by anything blatant blasphemers can say than the waves of the ocean can be stopped by blowing a tin whistle against them. If the Bible came from God, nothing you can do can hurt it, anymore than you can dam Niagara Falls with toothpicks, any more than you can knock Gibraltar down by shooting green peas against it with a popgun.
And if the preacher has no faith, it becomes apparent when things go wrong. If he undertakes to hold a meeting and it rains the opening night, it chills his marrow. He is sure that it isn't God's set time to work, if those whom he counted on are sick or away from home, or if they knock him and won't come near him. How anxious he is if the janitor goes over to the side of the devil and the building is too hot or too cold. And he concludes that God has forsaken him if the organist gets on her high horse and won't come out and play, and if there is nobody present to lead the singing. Think of Elijah. In spite of all that was against him, he could stir up the opposition to do their worst. He said to them," Cry louder!" as they cried for old Baal. " Cry louder; perhaps he's asleep! Or maybe he's gone off to hunt or fish; cry louder and awaken him!"
Elijah Urged Immediate Decision
He addressed himself to the conscience of the people. That is my aim when I preach. He urged immediate decision according to their honest conviction. You do the same! If everyone would act according to his or her conviction, there wouldn't be a sinner left on God's earth. He said," if the Lord be God, follow him"-appealing to their conscience and reason. Now he gave the people to understand that God would manifest himself in a God-like way.
In these days we are prone to belittle the work of the Holy Spirit. We depend too little on God and too much on the kitchen, or the choir loft, or something or somebody. Miraculous work of grace must be expected and prayed for God is still the wonder-working God and He always will be. The salvation of a sinner is as much a miracle as the raising of the dead.
Human Conditions Must Be Met
God has spiritual laws that are as positive in their working and as subject to conditions as the natural laws. The laws of faith are just as certain as the laws of steam and electricity. There are laws of spiritual growth and fruitage, just as there are laws that govern the growth of a potato or a hill of corn. And to secure spiritual results, human conditions must be set.
The man who plows with a forked stick gets all the crop that he deserves. And the man who prays the same old rat-eaten prayer is on the same par with him. Get something new! To have God's help in obtaining a crop, the farmer has to do certain things, at certain times, in certain ways; if he doesn't, there will not be a potato for him to stick his fork into, nor a loaf of bread for him to cut. If one doesn't work in harmony with God, then he can have nothing to eat.
There are, I say, spiritual laws in this old world, just as there are natural laws. And to have God's help in spiritual things one must put himself in right relationship with God. The farmer must put himself in right relationship with God and in right relationship with the ground and nature by plowing and preparing it, then by planting the seed.
You must put yourself in right relationship with God or He can do you no good. You have to put yourself in right relationship with the physician by taking his medicine and following his directions; else all the skills on God's green earth will never drive the disease away.
There are natural laws to follow.
There is common sense in everything. The prophet used it when he prepared the broken-down altar. He knew it was a waste of breath to pray for God to answer by fire if he did not do his part. It is absolutely useless to ask Him to save and bless this city if the church and preacher do not do their part. Elijah was smart enough to know that. And before you can pray right, you must begin to live right. Whatsoever is wrong must be righted. Even if it is as valuable to you as your right eye or arm, get rid of it if it is wrong, if you want God's blessing and favor and partnership with you. When this kind of repentance takes place, then the step from death to life is a mighty short one.
Rebuild Your Broken-Down Altars
He repaired the altar of sacrifice when it was broken down. Oh, God's warriors must first be God's worshipers. Uncle Sam's soldiers must first be Uncle Sam's citizens! Get things cleared away. If you want Heaven on your side, the broken-down altars must be rebuilt in your heart. Give yourself to God. Confess your sins. Stand as a solid phalanx for Christ.
There are enough men and women in this tabernacle tonight to rewrite the religious and moral history of this God-forsaken, whiskey-soaked city and transform it for Jesus Christ, if you would go out and do God's will, if you would line up absolutely as one man and woman for Jesus. But before God will pay any attention to a call for fire, Christians must get right. It is a great mistake to expect a crop without planting the seed. It is a great mistake to expect a blessing without first doing your part.
Christian, can anything more important command your attention than to give God a chance in your hear? Perhaps years ago something crept in your life and you have never had a moment of peace since. Whatsoever it was has poisoned your joy and has made serving God the hardest job in the world. Perhaps only God and you knew about it. Your friends never suspected, yet it has been there blighting and blasting. Wherever you go, that secret goes with you. You have cried and sighed to be free. But you haven't taken the course God pointed out to you. You have crucified your conscience.
Nothing will give
back that peace until you build up that altar in your heart, renew that
vow and covenant. Take a clean-cut stand for Jesus. Until you do, you will
stay as cold and unresponsive as a stone.
No matter what
has broken down the altar, build it up. Maybe it is the breaking of vows,
or neglect of prayer, or neglect of family worship, or failure to get anything
worthwhile done for God; maybe it is that you never go to prayer meeting,
or that your business practices are crooked, or that you have been a coward
about witnessing for Christ.
The broken-down altar at Mount Carmel was built up-not in the name of the prophet, not in the name of the scribes, but Elijah built up the broken altar in the name of the Lord. And the fire of God fell. The man who undertakes anything in His name will not have the Devil for a silent partner!
The mother who undertakes to train her child in the name of the Lord will have more anxiety about his salvation than she will about her own standing in society.
Note how carefully
the broken-down altar was built up. Elijah began at the ground and cleared
away the rubbish. A stone represented each tribe. He took the stones according
to the twelve tribes of Israel, leaving out not one stone; if he had, there
would have been no fire all that day. God is particular about important
things. Now don't try to short measure God. When God says 36 inches for
a yard, don't make it 32. When God says one hundred cents on a dollar,
don't make it 94. When God says 2,000 pounds for a ton, 1,700 won't work.
Don't try to put one over on God.
How particular the surgeon is to sterilize his instruments in order that all the dangerous germs may be kept from the wound and thus keep the patient from being put into the grave. And before fire will fall from Heaven there must be a clean place for it to fall. If the clean place is prepared, then it will come.
How is your praying? Unselfish? Or is it, "God bless me, my wife and my son John"? Are you unselfish in what you want to do? Is there anybody you won't speak to? When you get down on your knees, is there hatred in your heart against someone? Then He won't listen. The command to forgive is as positive as the command not to steal, not to commit adultery. No difference. It is just as positive as the command to insulate before you touch a wire.
Do what God says-step by step, not mile by mile. Never mind about tomorrow. We may not have a chance to do anything tomorrow; do it today and see if God doesn't bless you.
Elijah Expected Results
The next thing I notice is, Elijah went to the mountain prepared for results. He had no doubt about its being God's set time to work. He knew God so well that he was willing to meet the horde for Him. That is why he nagged the opposition to do their worst.
Trust God to give you great things. Don't be afraid of the Devil outflanking the Lord. Never! God has never lost a battle and God will never lose a battle.
Elijah wanted the prophets of Baal to humble themselves. He knew that the more fuss they made, the easier it would be to show that they were a bunch of frauds and humbugs.
It has been computed by naturalists that one mustard plant will ripen and scatter through a season thousands of seeds, and that if they all took root and grew and then scattered their seeds, in ten years all vegetation in the United States would be choked out and killed.
One saloon or beer joint in a community can smother, choke and kill enough manhood, womanhood and childhood to blight the entire community.
I read of a woman in New York called "Typhoid Mary." She was known by scientists as a carrier of the dreaded disease. After recovering from typhoid fever, a strange phenomenon happened- the germ remained with her. Wherever she went she scattered those germs. Giving typhoid fever to scores of people. To keep from further spreading the germs, she was finally put in a hospital.
The saloon is
a germ-spreader, spreading the germ of drunkenness, the germ of crime,
the germ of poverty, the germ of hereditary mental and physical weakness.
Liquor curses and blights the world!
Now nothing was slighted, and nothing was hurried through. Too many of you are in a hurry to get this meeting over. You pay closer attention to your watch than to the preacher. Men will go fishing and stand up to their knees in water for hours without even a nibble, and say they are having a good time. Yet they will fidget around when they go to church like a boy with a hornet in his pants! Don't be in a hurry with God. You can't put the pressure on when you want to get through.
Be Sure You Pray to the Right God!
In their prayer meetings, the prophets of Baal were as much in earnest as anybody else. They called on Baal from morning until evening, saying, "O Baal, hear us!" They tore their clothes, they cut themselves until blood gushed out, thinking that that self-inflicted suffering might appeal to Baal. Elijah said, "Cry louder! You've got on the soft petal. Cry louder! He's talking or perhaps he's hunting, or he's gone on a journey, or perhaps he's asleep or gone joy-riding! Cry louder!"
Hold on! It's a waste of time to pray to the wrong god. Don't pray to money; don't pray to culture; don't pray to philanthropy; don't pray to social greatness! Baal never heard-never! And he will never hear. Elijah addressed a prayer to the God from whom he expected help. And he had his answer before sundown! The three years that he spent out there in the cave taught him how to get a prayer through to the throne of God in three minutes-something that has never been taught in any theological seminary!
Charon and Serapis had their drawbacks, yes; but they also had their advantages. War has both its advantages and its drawbacks. Many of the blessings, which we enjoy today, were bought with blood on the battlefield. There are some things that you never get without war. Nobody wants war. But there are some things we never get without it. Never! Therefore, out in the cave Charon and Serapis had their drawbacks-as well as their advantages.
I have met a lot
of people on my
Elijah called upon the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God who made the ravens feed him every morning and every night; the God who made the clouds obey Him; the God who made the stars witness that He was true; the God who burned Sodom and Gomorrah with fire; the God who drowned the world with a flood; the God who saved Noah; the God who said," Let there be light"; the God who shut the lions' mouths for Daniel; the God who didn't let the fire burn Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in the furnace because they wouldn't bow down to Nebuchadnezzar and his idol of gold.
The prayer that Elijah offered to God that brought fire down from Heaven was short-only sixty-three words-and it burned up and consumed everything. When the fire fell, everyone on the mount knew it was the fire of the Lord. It licked up the water; it licked up the dust; it licked up the stone; and the people fell on their faces-all except these 450 stiff-necked, uncircumcised, black-hearted, white-livered false prophets of Baal.
Oh, hear me! God has plenty of the same kind of fire up in Heaven to pour down on us! And He will give it to us and to our country just as freely as He poured it down on the altar on Mount Carmel.
When the fire fell, how soon there was purity on the mountain! Oh, let God's blessing fall and there will not be a house of ill-fame; there will not be a drunkard; a thief, a panderer, a prostitute, there will not be a stick-up nor a gunman to do the job. There will not be one blasphemer left on God's dirt. Everything that stands in the way of the Lord will be consumed.
The idolatrous prophets-all of them-had to die before dark. What happened then will always happen when God has a chance to reveal Himself. The prophets of Baal must die. When God appears on the scene, other things must go. It won't do to parole these prophets of Baal on their good behavior. They had to do what they did on Mount Carmel-put them to the sword. They had to be slain.
You will have to slay uncleanliness; you will have to slay lasciviousness; you will have to slay adultery; you will have to slay enmity; you will have to slay strive; you will have to slay jealousy; you will have to slay wrath; you will have to slay divisions; you will have to slay heresies; you will have to slay these infamous lies that men are preaching from their pulpits that lead people away from God. You will have to slay envy; you will have to slay drunkenness; you will have to slay lying; you will have to slay stealing; you will have to slay reviling. Before the fire from God comes, the prophets of Baal must die, sir!
Do you want God's blessing? Do you want it on you home? In your church? On your city? On America? Then slay utterly! Repair the altar of the Lord that is broken down!
-Administrator, News For Christians Dot Com
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