One Question with Two Meanings

"What do these Hebrews here? "—I Samuel xxix. 3.
"What doest thou here, Elijah ?"—1 Kings xix. 9.

These two questions are not only alike in form, but bear on one subject, as appears if they are placed in their respective settings. The first was flung at David and his men, when they came as a contingent of the Philistine forces before the fatal fight at Gilboa. The Philistines were suspicious of such allies, as Englishmen would have been if, on the night before Waterloo, a brigade of Frenchmen had offered their help to fight Napoleon. "These Hebrews" were in the wrong place, and even the troops whom they meant to aid felt it. So the question was an extremely natural one, and it was answered in the only possible way, by the subsequent departure of David and his men.

The other question was addressed to Elijah, who had fallen into the mood of depression which so often follows great nervous tension. He had just offered the sacrifice on Carmel, and brought all Israel back to the Lord, and Jezebel had flamed out and threatened his life. The usually undaunted prophet was afraid, deserted his work, flung himself into solitude, and shook the dust off his feet against Israel. So the voice came, "What doest thou here, Elijah? Go back to your work; to Ahab, to Jezebel, to death if need be." Putting the two questions together, they suggest thoughts as to the Christian duty of separation from the world, and point out the limits, as well as the necessity, for it.

The question to the prophet draws its force from the necessity and duty of God's servant mingling with "the world." The parable of the tares and the wheat teaches not so much a lesson in regard to the constitution of the Church, as in reference to the inseparable intertwining in society, as now constituted, of Christians with others. "The field is the world," and in it the roots of wheat and tares are matted together, so that the one cannot be pulled up without bringing up the other whose fibres are interlaced with it. Society, in which the kingdom of God in its earthly form is planted, is not organised on the basis of religious affinity; but family, kindred, business, and a thousand other ties knit us together and make separation impossible. God does not mean that good men should club together and leave the bad to rot and stink. Jesus told His disciples that they were "the light of the world," and lest that image should suggest that they might ray out their light like a lamp on a high pedestal, while they kept apart, He told them, too, that they were "the salt of the earth," and salt has to be in contact with, and well rubbed into, that which it is to keep sweet. Elijah ran away from his work. The monastic ideal of flying into solitude to look after one's own soul, and gathering up one's skirts so as to keep them unspotted from the world, crops up in new forms in each age. Whether in the monk with bare feet and cowled head and a rope round his brown robe, or in a modern believer who tries to keep himself aloof from the wicked world and cultivate his own religious life, instead of flinging himself into the places where the world's sickness is most pestilential in order to bring healing, we have a repetition of Elijah's fault which needs Elijah's rebuke. Intermingling is inevitable in the present state of things; and family, kindred, business, social and political movements, all require that Christian people should work side by side with men who are not possessors of "like precious faith." If ever there have been individuals or communities that have tried to traverse that law, they have developed narrowness and bitterness and stunted growth, and a hundred evils that we all know.

But the other question suggests that separation is as imperative as intermingling is. Much of our lives remains over and above the necessary intercourse with "the world." And the question is: What do we do when we are left free to follow the bent of our own deepest affinities? When the weight is taken off the sapling, it springs back to its natural uprightness. Is that like what we do when we are at liberty to obey our heart's promptings ?" Being let go, they went to their own company." Where do we go, in like circumstances, and what sort of lives do we live in the moments when our own voluntary choice determines our action? We need not lay down special regulations, for they have done more harm than good; but we do need to bring that spirit of separation from the world into all our lives.

It should influence our selection of associates; Noscitur a sociis—a man is known by his company. It says little for the depth of our Christianity if we are more at home with non-Christians, because they suit us in certain other respects, than with those who are one with us in what ought to be the deepest and strongest element in our characters and lives.

It should influence our recreations and occupations. We should ask ourselves the two questions concerning these: Can I pray for a blessing on this which I am now doing? Does it help or hinder my communion with God? If we will take these two questions with us as tests of conduct and companionship, it is not likely that we shall go far wrong, either in the choice of our companions, or in the choice of our surroundings of any kind, or in the choice of our recreations and our occupations. But if we do not, then it is certain that we shall go wrong in them all. "What communion hath light with darkness?" "What agreement hath the temple of God with idols? Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord."

The main question is, do I grasp the aim of life, with clearness and decision, as being to make myself by God's help such a character as God has pleasure in? If I do, I shall regulate all these things thereby.

We have to stand this question from men and from God.

The lords of the Philistines said, "What do these Hebrews here?" They saw the inconsistency, if David and his men did not. They were sharp to detect it, and David and his band did not rise in their opinion when they saw them marching there, behind Achish, and ready to flesh their swords in the blood of their brethren. We neither recommend our religion nor ourselves to men of the world by inconsistently trying to identify ourselves with them. There are a great many professing Christians nowadays whose mouths are full of the word "liberality," and who seem to try to show how absolutely identical with a godless man's a God-fearing one's life may be made. Does the world respect that type of Christian, or think that his religion is a kind of thing to be admired? No; the question that they fling at such people is the question by which David was humiliated when it was pitched at his head—" What do these Hebrews here?"—"Let them go back to their mountains. This is no place for them." The world respects an out-and-out Christian; and neither God nor the world respects an inconsistent one.

But there is another question, and another Questioner—" What doest thou here, Elijah?" God did not ask Elijah the question because He did not know the answer; but because He wished to make Elijah put his mood into words, since then Elijah would understand it a little better, and, when he iound the tremendous difficulty of making a decent excuse, would begin to suspecc that the conduct that wanted so much explaining was not exactly the conduct fit for a prophet. And so let us think that God is looking down upon us, in all our occupation of our free time, and that He is wishing us to put into words what we are about, and why we are where we are. What would we say if, in some of these moments of unnecessary intermingling with questionable things and doubtful people, we suddenly had to formulate into some kind of plausibility our reason for being there? It would be a very lame and ragged set of reasons that many of us would have to give. Better that we should answer the question "What doest thou here?" than that we . shall have to fail in answering the future question after we have done with the world: "What didst thou there?"

Let us cleave to Christ, and that will separate us from the world. If we cleave to the world, that will separate us from Christ. We are set in the world in order to grow like our Master, and their tendency to help to that likeness is the one test of all occupations, recreations, and companionships, by which we may know whether we are in or out of the place that pleases Him. And if we are in it, that blessed hope will come full of sweetness and of strength to us, that, yonder, men will be grouped according to their moral and religious character; that the tares will be taken away from the wheat, and, as Christ says, "Then shall the righteous flame as the sun in their heavenly Father's kingdom."