I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of
the great and dreadful day of the Lord'' (Malachi 4:5).
''For all the
prophets and the law prophesied until John."
''And if you are
willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come''
Elijah and John the
Baptist are in view in these passages of Scripture, and
much for our help can be learned from their experiences.
In the first place, we
must take account of their ministries. The two men are
brought together in a mysterious identification by the
Lord Jesus, and from various fragments it is quite clear
that their ministries were one in principle and nature;
that is, in a day of fairly general spiritual smallness
and weakness, these two servants of God were His
instrument and vessel for making a way and a place for
Himself in greater fullness. They were way-makers for the
Lord, pioneers and pathfinders for His larger purposes
and desires. In the familiar words used by John: ''He
must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
That was the key to the ministry of both Elijah and John
the Baptist, the increase of the Lord amongst His people.
Both lived in a time of
transition. The principle of transition is clear,
firstly, in that Elijah is brought over into full view at
the very end of Malachi's prophecies, at the close of the
Old Testament, an end-time, a period of transition unto
the Lord's coming; in that case, of course, His first
coming. But I do not think that what the Lord said about
Elijah, in Malachi and later, was exhausted by the first
coming of the Lord; the great and terrible day of the
Lord is still to come.
We will not enlarge too
much on details, but be content to note that that time of
transition was governed by the ministry of both these
men, and was marked by the gathering out of a real people
from among the professing people of the Lord. Malachi
makes that perfectly clear:
''Then they that feared
the Lord spake one with another; and the Lord hearkened,
and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before
Him, for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon
His Name . And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of
hosts, even Mine own possession, in the day that I do
make'' (Mal. 3:16-17). Out from the professing, religious
realm there is seen in these words to be a true people
for the Lord.
Undoubtedly that was the
mark of John' s ministry, for tradition, formalism,
legalism were the dominant features of religion in his
day, and it was against these that he hurled his weight
to secure a people unto Christ in fullness, in utterness.
He sought a transition from one spiritual state to
another, and, in the light of a change of dispensation,
to secure a people wholly for the Lord. That wants
dwelling upon very much more fully, but I think that is
enough to give us the clue to the ministry of these men
and to relate them in a vital way to our own day -
another end-time transition period that is surely
ushering in another coming of the Lord and that also is
characterized by the need for the gathering out of a real
people from among those who profess to be the Lord's. We
may expect that what was true in the experience of Elijah
and John in their day will in principle be found in God's
dealings with instruments of His choice today.
It become clear then
that for such a great purpose, to make a way and to make
room for the Lord, God had, and has, His instruments,
known to Himself and secretly under His hand being
prepared. Elijah comes on to the scene mysteriously,
almost out of nowhere, after deep secret preparation and
discipline. John has spent all his life in the wilderness
waiting for the day of his appearing to Israel. Something
has been going on in secret. God has had these men in
hand in deep preparation, vessels to meet this particular
need in the time of transition - transition from a state
which the Lord can no longer accept as answering to His
known will to a state which will satisfy Him.
He must have a vessel
for such a purpose. It may be individuals, as it often
is, but it has also through the ages proved to be a
corporate vessel, a company of the Lord's people prepared
in this way. These instruments, known and secured by God
in secret, have, in a secret history with Him, been
learning to know the Lord as their heavenly sustenance.
Elijah, at a time when earth could not provide any
sustenance, was sustained from heaven. John the Baptist,
in the wilderness for many years, where he had to know
the Lord in loneliness and apart from men, was having to
learn the Lord as his heavenly life and his heavenly
provision. Such is the preparation, the equipment, of any
vessel to serve God in this greater purpose of His heart.
Extract from "Behold My Servant", Chapter 7. First published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, Nov-Dec 1949, Vol 27-6