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2 Kings 5:1-19
Now Naaman, captain of the host of the King of Syria.
The History of Naaman’s disease and cure; illustrative of certain forces in the life of man
I. The force of worldly position. Why all the interest displayed in his own country, and in Israel, concerning Naaman’s disease? The first verse of this chapter explains it. “Now Naaman, captain of the host of Syria, was a great man,” etc. Perhaps there were many men in his own district who were suffering from leprosy, yet little interest was felt in them. They would groan under their sufferings, and die unsympathised with and unhelped. But because this man’s worldly position was high, kings worked, prophets were engaged, nations were excited for his cure. It has ever been a sad fact in our history that we magnify both the trims and the virtues of the grandees, and think but little of the griefs and graces of the lowly.
1. This fact indicates the lack of intelligence in popular sympathy. Reason teaches that the calamities of the wealthy have many mitigating circumstances, and therefore the greater sympathy should be towards the poor.
2. It indicates the lack of manliness in popular sympathy.
II. The force of individual influence. The influence of this little slave girl should teach us three things.
1. The magnanimity of young natures.
2. The power of the humblest individual.
3. The dependence of the great upon the small.
III. The force of self-preservation. The instinct of self-preservation is one of the strongest in human nature. “Skin for skin; all that a man hath will he give in exchange for his life.” Men will spend fortunes and traverse continents in order to rid themselves of disease and prolong life. This strenuous effort for recovery from disease reminds us oral. The value of physical health. This man had lost it, and what was the world to him without it? Bishop Hall truly says of him, “The basest slave in Syria would not change skins with him.”
2. The neglect of spiritual health.
IV. The force of caste-feeling. “And the King of Syria said, Go to; go, and I will send a letter to the King of Israel.” He, forsooth, was too great to know a prophet--too great to correspond with any one but a king.
1. Caste-feeling sinks the real in the adventitious. The man who is ruled by it so exaggerates externalisms as to lose sight of those elements of moral character which constitute the dignity and determine the destiny of man. He lives in bubbles.
2. Caste-feeling curtails the region of human sympathies. He who is controlled by this feeling, has the circle of his sympathies limited not only to the outward of man, but to the outward of those only in his own sphere. All outlying his grade and class are nothing to him.
3. It antagonises the Gospel. Christ came to destroy that middle wall of partition that divides men into classes. The Gospel overtops all adventitious distinctions, and directs its doctrines, and offers its provisions to man as man.
V. The force of guilty suspicion. “And it came to pass when the King of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? Wherefore, consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me?” The construction that the monarch put upon the message of his royal brother was, instead of being true and liberal, the most false and ungenerous. Where this suspicion exists, one of the two, if not the two following things, are always found.
1. A knowledge of the depravity of society. The suspicious man has frequently learnt, either from observation, testimony, or experience, or all these, that there is such an amount of falsehood, and dishonesty in society, as will lead one man to take an undue advantage of another.
2. The existence of evil in himself. The suspicious man knows that he is selfish, false, dishonest, unchaste, and he believes that all men are the same.
VI. The force of remedial goodness. Though the king could not cure, there was a remedial power m Israel equal to this emergency. That power, infinite goodness delegated to Elisha. The passage suggests several points concerning this remedial power.
1. It transcends natural power. “When Elisha, the man of God, had heard that the King of Israel had rent his clothes, . . . he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” The monarch felt his utter insufficiency to effect the cure. Natural science knew nothing of means to heal the leper.
2. It offends human pride.
3. It clashes with popular prejudice. “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean?”
4. It works by simple means.
5. It demands individual effort. “Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God.” Naaman had to go down himself to the river, and to dip himself seven times in its waters.
6. It is completely efficacious. “His flesh came again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”
VII. The force of a new conviction. Observe--
1. The subject of the new conviction. What was the subject? That the God of Israel was the only God. He felt that it was God’s hand that healed him.
2. The developments of this new conviction. A conviction like this must prove influential in some way or other. Abstract ideas may lie dormant in the mind, but convictions are ever operative. What did it do in Naaman?
(1) It evoked gratitude. Standing with all his company before the prophet, he avowed his gratitude “Now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.
(2) It annihilated an old prejudice. Just before his cure he despised Judaea. Jordan was contemptible as compared with the rivers of Damascus. But now the very ground seems holy. He asks of the prophet liberty to take away a portion of the earth.
(3) It inspired worship. Thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice, but unto the Lord.”
VIII. The force of associates.
IX. The force of sordid avarice. Gehazi is the illustration of this in his conduct as described in 2 Kings 5:20-22. In his case we have avarice--
1. Eager in its pursuits.
2. This avarice is in one associated with the most generous of men. He was the servant of Elisha.
3. This avarice sought its end by means of falsehood.
X. The force of retributive justice. There is justice on this earth as well as remedial goodness, and Heaven often makes man the organ as well as the subject of both. Elisha, who had the remedial power, had also the retributive. Here we see retributive justice in--
1. Detecting the wrongdoer.
2. Reproving the wrongdoer.
3. It punishes the wrongdoer. (Homilist.)
Naaman the Syrian
1. There is not a man or woman living, however happy or prosperous, in whose description sooner or later we do not come to a “but.” There is always some drawback here, some drop in every cup that needs extraction, some thorn in every path to be removed. And even though this “but” were not in our health and circumstances, it is always in our nature. Leprosy is God’s one great disease in the Bible to represent sin. It meant exclusion from the camp and distance from our fellowmen. Hideous and revolting in itself, it poisoned the springs of man’s existence. Hence it strikingly represents that sin which is in man, and, in the absence of everything else, is the terrible “but” which mars and spoils the fairest earthly picture. Like man by nature, Naaman carried within him that disease which none but God could heal.
2. Contrast with this great man and honourable, the little maid. Torn away from her home and friends by rude hands, and probably amid the bitter tears of parental affection, she had been taken captive and sold as a slave. But amid all these discouraging circumstances she possessed a secret to which Naaman, with all his greatness, was a stranger. She knew of God and God’s healing grace. Naaman felt the disease, she knew the healing. This made all the difference between her and Naaman. This makes all the difference between a Christian and one who is not. This makes the mighty difference between one man and another.
3. God disposes each lot in life. Naaman has his own peculiar sorrow, and so has the little maid hers. They are widely different. Yet God measures out to each one their position and circumstances, their blessings and afflictions, as will best show forth His glory. God had been leading her, through that strange way, to do for this great man and honourable what he could not do for himself, nor any one in the royal court of Benhadad. “The Lord had need of her” for this His great work. Before passing on, notice another truth. Nanman’s heavy trial had no power to subdue his haughty spirit. Sorrow of itself can never sanctify. Men may pass through God’s hottest furnaces and only come out harder than ever. It is only when the Holy Spirit uses our sorrows--when we put them into His hands to use--that they will ever be made a blessing to us. Let us learn again, from the difference between Naaman and this little maid, that inequalities of social position are divine, and are means of blessing. We have seen two characters here, both of them representative--Naaman and the little maid. Let us now look at a third--Benhadad, King of Syria. In him we have man in his loftiness and arrogance. Nothing can be done, he feels, but through him. He prepares his litter, his gold and silver and raiment. All this is worldly religion--man’s proud thoughts about God’s ways. And yet all he does is but “labour lost.” There is yet another character--Joram, King of Israel. Here is a man who knows about the true God, knows the revelation of His will, knows of the true Elisha at his very door, and yet, with all this knowledge, unable to take his true place and act God’s part in directing the poor leper to the healer in Israel. Here is the man of religion, of true religion, of many privileges above others around him, yet all lost, and he utterly unable to direct the diseased one to the saviour prophet!
4. Let us now turn to the saviour prophet, Elisha, and his dealing with the poor leper. The King of Syria prepares a great price--£7500 value of our money. Naaman sets out with it on his journey, and King Jehoram acquiesces m it. Thus the idea of each is that the healing is to be obtained by a price. It is the latent thought of every man by nature. “Without money and without price” is God’s Word, and this narrative of the healing of Naaman, and Elisha’s dealings with him, are an illustration of this. And what is Elisha’s message? “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.” How simple, how plain! Then what am I to do with the £7500 and the raiment? Has it no value? None whatever in the eyes of Elisha. None whatever before God. Take it back with thee as the dregs of the sinner’s righteousness, and learn that all thou art to receive, all that is to set thee free from sin and death and make thee a new creature in Christ Jesus, is of the free sovereign grace of God. Thus we see the pride of the natural heart. “Are not Abana and Pharpar better?” Here is the leper taking his own way of healing, and regarding it as better than God’s. “He turned and went away in a rage.” Here is the despising of God s remedy and the enmity of the natural heart showing itself. And Naaman was right. Abana’s waters were clear and beautiful. Jordan’s were clayey and muddy. There was nothing for Sight in all this. It was only for faith. It was God choosing the base things of this world to bring to nought the mighty. Is it not so still? “What is this blood of Christ?” the sinner says. “What! are all my prayers, my good deeds, my sacraments, all my honest efforts to do my best and to please God to go for nothing? But the grace that can provide for a leprous soul can plead with a reluctant heart. It can use a ministry as well as open a fountain; and this ministry is, like the remedy, simple and artless, and exactly suited to its end, for one is divine as the other. Like the “little maid” before, it is the “servants” now, for such are God’s means at all times. Human righteousness and greatness, and all nature’s fond conceits are set aside completely.
5. Observe the effects of the healing the form in which it was manifested: “his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child.” This is the new birth. It is put before us m this form in other parts of Scripture: “if there be a Mediator with him, the One above the thousands of angels to show man (God’s) righteousness, then He is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found the ransom. His flesh shall be fresher than a child’s: he shall return to the days of his youth” (Job 33:23-24). Here the same truth is brought before us. Again we have it in the New Testament: “Except a man be born from above he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away: behold, all things are become new.”
6. Observe, in the next place, the manifestation of this new nature in the conduct of Naaman. From this point it is seen there is a great change in him. His spirit, his tone, his language, his whole bearing seems from this moment to form a striking contrast to all that has gone before, so much so that, had his name not been mentioned, we should have said it could not possibly be the same man. “And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him, and he said: Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.” Observe the fruits of the new nature here, in their order. Naaman stands with all his company before Elisha. It is not now the proud and haughty Naaman, but the subdued and humbled one. Here is the first-fruit of the Holy Spirit in his character. He was humble because he was washed. Secondly, he makes a goodly confession of the one and only God. He had learnt the true God through the virtue of His grace exerted on himself--through the health and salvation he had received from Him. This is the only way the soul can ever learn Him. Thirdly, he presses his gifts upon Elisha, not now to purchase the healing, but because he has been healed. He has been forgiven much, therefore he loves much. Fourthly, he “will henceforth know no other God.” To this end he seeks materials to raise an altar to the true God. And fifthly, he has now a renewed conscience, quick and sensitive about any, even apparent, departure from the God who had so blessed him. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
Namman the Syrian
There is scarcely a story in all Scripture of deeper interest than this of Naaman, the Syrian.
I. The character and condition of Naaman. There is no mention of Naaman in the Bible, save in this connection. There is, however, a Jewish tradition as old as the time of Josephus, which identifies him as the archer whose arrow struck Ahab with his mortal wound, and thus gave deliverance to Syria. Whether this be true or not, some brave deed of Naaman had lifted him into special prominence, and crowned him with exceptional honour. But he was a leper! This made him loathsome and a burden to himself. Here we learn that no honour, no valour, no victory, can place men beyond the reach of the sorest calamities of life. These are as likely to visit the rich as the poor; are as likely to fall on princes as on peasants. No king is always happy; no prime minister of state but has his fears and sorrows, Naaman stood next the king, but he was a leper, afflicted more than many a slave in Syria. There is no possession so vast, no position so high, no attainment so conspicuous, no employment so congenial, no association so sweet, as not to have its “but,” revealing sorrow, or some great unmet want. There is, however, “a skeleton in every home.” Each heart has, and knows, its own bitterness. One reaps advantage of one kind here, another of another kind there, but every man reaps disadvantage of one kind or another. The good and ill of life are far more evenly distributed than most imagine.
II. The character and service of the little maid. She was by birth an Israelite, carried captive into Syria. There she became a servant in Naaman’s household. In her early home, and among her own people, she had become familiar with the worship and history of Israel. It is possible that she had met the prophet Elisha. Those homes of Israel were schools for the household. The children there were trained to believe in, and worship, the God of their fathers. History with them was sacred. With scepticism and atheism those Israelitish homes were not darkened and afflicted as our homes are. Egypt, Sinai, Samaria were all alive with Divine deliverances, which old and young alike appreciated. God was among the people, and this the children understood. The confidence of children is remarkable in the beneficence of God and in the influence of the good with Him. Children may be, not only our greatest comforters, but our wisest teachers and our divinest helpers. In their simple, childish faith they often put us to shame, and in their generous desire to serve others, often rebuke our indifference.
III. The miraculous cure. It appears that Naaman somehow heard of the desire and faith of this little maid in his home, and was encouraged to make trial of the prophet. It appears further, that, aside from the maid, none was more anxious for the cure than the king. Through the instrumentality,--possibly of some one overhearing the conversation of this maid with her mistress, or possibly of some one informed by this woman, and sent by her, or, it may be of Naaman himself, the king learned of the wish and the faith. It is more than probable that both Naaman and the king had heard of Elisha as a worker of wondrous miracles; for his fame must have reached to the farthest bounds of the kingdom. But be this as it may, the leper sighs for help, and is ready for the experiment of seeking Elisha. Poor man! There he stood at the prophet’s door, a leper, full of large expectations; yet dictating as to the manner of the cure, and falling into a frenzy because it was not to be effected with pomp and parade such as he thought became his rank and station. Why the prophet bade him go to Jordan instead of the waters of Damascus, he could not understand. He seems to have forgotten that Jordan belonged to the God of Israel, and that, in a miraculous cure, relation to God was of far more importance than the depth or beauty of the stream. Besides, Jordan was the river appointed; and if Naaman is to be cured by Divine power he must obey the Divine will. He was, however, proud and haughty--style and rank were offended. What now? Jordan has become a healing stream for this afflicted man. No longer shall he compare that river with the waters of Damascus. No longer shall Elisha be regarded as an enemy, or as indifferent to his welfare. To be cured of such a disease in such a manner was enough to convince Naaman of the power of God, and of Elisha as a true prophet of God. Experience is a wonderful teacher. This cure had been effected by consciously supernatural means. This he was ready to confess. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Naaman, the Syrian
I. In turning to the story of this Naaman, the first thing that I would notice is a contrast in service. We set him before us dwelling in the stately palace of the king, the commander of the king’s armies; with authority to speak to the whole nation, and all men are ready to obey him: with troops of horses and hosts of chariots, and servants that wait upon him and minister to him. Altogether, in council and in camp, the foremost man in Syria. And as brave as he was wise, of whose valour many a stirring tale was told. Here is greatness: great in himself, great in his position, great in his possessions, great in his achievements, great in his authority: no element of greatness is lacking. Then do you notice how beside this word great there is set the word little; and alongside of this mighty man of valour is put the record of this captive maid? Poor little thing, her story is a very sad one. A troop of Syrians marching one day into Israel--fierce fellows, burning the homesteads of the villagers, before whom the frightened people fled to the mountains or caves--had come to some cottage, and there, it may be, tending a sick mother, too feeble to escape, or guarding some little one of the family whom she would not forsake, this girl is taken captive and carried away by the soldiers. They sell her as a slave to Naaman’s wife. A stranger in a strange land, with the memory of her bitter griefs--in thought and feeling, and hope and religion, severed from those about her, so she must wait upon her mistress and do her bidding, with none to befriend her. We can think of her sighing in her loneliness. “Ah, me; if I were only King of Syria, or even this great lord, I would set right the wrongs of the poor folks, and bid the cruel soldiers stay at home. I would have no burning cottages, no ruined homes, and no poor captive men or maidens if I were king. How good it must be to be so great! But I am only a little maiden; what can I do? here there are so many troubles? It is dreadful to be so weak and little.” And yet this little maid it is who brings deliverance to the great man of Syria, for in her are two things that are never little--a kind heart and faith in God. So, in the great world, with its sorrows, there is always room for loving-kindness and for faith in God. It is not greatness that the poor world wants mostly, not chief captains or men of valour; but love. The little, and the least, with love and faith, can always find a place for service; a service that is always blessed, and shall have its golden wages. Our measure for service is not in position, nor in gifts, nor in greatness, but in love. Her tender love and simple faith do set this little maid alongside of this great captain. Take it, I pray you, for whom it is meant, and give thanks to God. Say it and sing it within yourself: “If in this great world I can do nothing else, I can do this--and since I can do this I will envy none. Wherever I am I can keep a simple faith in God and a kind heart.” Thank God, little one, that He has a place for thee.
II. Notice the wisdom of Naaman. He no sooner hears that there is a chance of his being cured than he sets off for the prophet. He does not despise the suggestion because it is a prophet of Israel who has the power. If this is a chance of his being cured he will go forth and seek it. He might very naturally have said, “I will get my master, the King of Syria, to write a letter to the King of Israel, and he can send the prophet to see me. The prophet is much better able to travel than I am; and it is altogether more fitting that he should come here. It is an enemy’s country, and the people may oppose my coming, and I am ill fit to journey. I will send my horses and chariots, and a company of soldiers for his escort, and I will pay him well for his coming.” So he might have said, but that will not do. He will go himself. There must be no delay. If there is a chance of being cured he will do his best to avail himself of that chance. At once everybody in the place is set to work to hasten his going. Now do not let this Naaman the Syrian rise up in judgment against us. We have heard that in Jesus Christ is our salvation; that there is One who is able to break the power of our sin, to rid us from its loathsomeness, and to make us whole. To us the testimony concerning the salvation which is in Christ Jesus comes from ten thousand who have found in Him their deliverance from the curse and power of sin, the cleansing from its foul leprosy. Think if he should bid his musicians sing of this: Elisha, and chant his greatness, and week after week should sit and listen to the story of the captive maiden. “I like to hear her,” says he, “she is so much in earnest, and her gestures are so graceful, and her words so well chosen.” O fool! and all the time the leprosy is eating into him with horrid cruelty, deeper and deeper, and every day he is growing more hideous and scarred, and his case becomes more desperate. And the longer he delays the more he questions about going at all. And now the King of Syria comes to see him. “Well, have you been?” he asks. “Been where?” saith Naaman. “Why, to the great prophet that can heal thee of thy leprosy,” cries the king, wondering. “No,” saith Naaman, “I have not exactly been to him, you know. But I have heard all about him, and have got quite familiar with his name and history, and what he has said and done.” “But surely,” cries the astonished king, “it were as well never to have heard of him if you do not go.” Then one day the tidings spread, “Naaman is dead”; died of his leprosy. Dead! and he knew so much about the prophet. And in the palace is heard the wail of the little maiden, “Would God my lord had gone to the prophet that is in Samaria.” Alas! it is only in religion that men play the fool like this: only in the deeper and more dreadful leprosy of the soul! Can you imagine any greater folly, hearing of Christ as the Saviour, year in and year out, and yet never coming to Him?
III. Notice the needless preparation. (M. G. Pearse.)
Naaman, the leper
Men who are called to like positions in our own day are generally the objects of envy. Doubtless, Naaman was such an object in the eyes of many. But how greatly were they mistaken in the estimate they formed. Naaman knew, before others knew, that the leprosy had marked him as its victim. The small spot, herald of the approaching disease, was upon him; the worm was at the root of the gourd; the cancer was beginning to prey upon his very vitals; the heart was already feeding upon its own bitterness. Naaman, the illustrious,--Naaman, the captain of the king’s hosts,--Naaman, with all his greatness, must henceforth carry about with him a monitor of his own weakness, yea, his own sinfulness. And, upon the face of the record, do we not read this lesson,--
I. The sinfulness of pride in the sight of God? All pride will be humbled in like manner. “God resisteth the proud” (James 4:6) always, at all times, and in all eases. “He that exalteth himself shall be abased” (Luke 14:11). Pride is the idolatry of self. Where pride reigns, God cannot reign, but God will judge. Let each beware of pride. Pride does not help a man to fill his station; it leads him to overstep his station. Humility ennobles, for it is a Divine grace; but pride degrades, for it is earth-born, a satanic spirit. If the proud man does not seek the throne of grace, and humble himself there, pride will prove his ruin.
II. Another truth, of which the experience of Naaman may remind us, is this,--our entire and absolute dependence upon God. We are not the arbiters of our own destiny. We cannot determine our own future. Even to-day’s bread is dependent on God’s bounty. “As He will,” is the law of our condition, absolutely and without qualification. Naaman, the captain of the host of Syria, the mighty man of valour, was no exception to this law. In his leprosy he carried about with him a silent but a faithful monitor of the supremacy of God. There was manifestly a will above his will,--a will that had determined his affliction, irrespective of himself.
III. But there is yet another, and a principal lesson, which the experience of Naaman enforces,--the insufficiency of earthly good to confer happiness upon the possessor. Naaman possessed fame, and honour, and friends, and wealth; but he was a leper. I ask, Is there not always some “but,” or some “if,” to act as a drawback on the earthly portion? Has the man ever lived who, being “of the earth, earthy,” living for this world only, could say he was so happy as not to need something to be added or to be taken away? It has even become a proverb, “Man never is, but always to be, blest.” “Is the child happy?” asks one of our Puritan Fathers. “He will be, when he is a man. Is the peasant satisfied? He will be, when he is rich. Is the rich man satisfied? He will be, when he is ennobled. Is the nobleman satisfied? He will be, when he is a king. Is the king satisfied? Listen! for one is speaking, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’” Each is devising a portion for himself, in which he thinks happiness will be found; but none attain happiness. Riches may be pursued and acquired; but riches cannot confer happiness. It is a true testimony, which all experience confirms: “They that increase riches, increase sorrow with them.” There is always some “but” attached to the best estate. The knowledge that God is our God for ever and ever--that we are reconcried to Him by faith in Christ Jesus--that He will be our guide, the director of our steps, even until death,--this is the knowledge which alone discovers to us the secret of happiness--this is the knowledge which places in our possession the key which may be said to open to man a Paradise regained. (C. Bullock.)
Some modern lessons from an ancient story
This whole story of Naaman, ancient as it is, is not one out of relation with our present lives. It is a story which can easily teach us some most valuable modern lessons.
I. The universal subtraction from our addition. Consider them in Naaman’s case.
1. Consider the addition.
(1) Captain of the host of the King of Syria.
(2) A great man with his master.
(3) And honourable.
(4) Because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria.
(5) He was also a mighty man in valour.
How many items in this addition, and how large the sum of their values--high military command, great favour at court, splendid reputation, success, great personal bravery.
2. Consider the subtraction--one vast damaging item, but he was a leper. Take a New-Testament instance, that of Paul (2 Corinthians 12:1-21).
(1) Addition. Rapture (2 Kings 5:2). Presence in Paradise (2 Kings 5:4). Vision of the unspeakable glories (2 Kings 5:4). Abundant revelations (2 Kings 5:7).
(2) Subtraction--thorn in the flesh (2 Kings 5:7). Are not those instances more or less exactly parallel in our own lives? You can add together many a favouring circumstance and possession: then here is sure to come the subtracting--but. Why is this? Why, in our common lot, must there be this universal subtraction from our addition? If this life were all, and were intended to be all, it would be cruel. But there is another life. These subtractions from our additions are allowed, lest we should somnolently settle into the feeling that this life is all.
II. That of faithfulness to one’s religion in strange place and circumstance. The little Hebrew maid (2 Kings 5:2-4) how unlike her are those professing Christians who, moving to a new place or city, will not use their church letters but drop into the sad throng of non-churchgoers!
III. The unwisdom of making beforehand plans for god.
1. Behold the ancient picture--the letter; the presents worth $50,000; the ostentatious arrival before the prophet’s door; the message; the reply and rage (2 Kings 5:11-12).
2. Behold the modern counterpart. Simple was the remedy the prophet ordered--the washing in the Jordan. So simple is the Gospel--personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. But men, thinking their thoughts, making beforehand plans for God, say, “Are not the Abana and Pharpar of my moralities better?” or, “Are not the Abana and Pharpar of my penances better?” or “Are not the Abana and Pharpar of some shining experience I have imagined better?”
IV. The wisdom of doing first what God says (2 Kings 5:14). Have you not been delaying, and thinking, and imagining, and holding to your way long enough? Now, in the beginning of this New Year, will you not wisely submit to God, as Naaman did? Will you not accept Jesus Christ and so, in the only possible way, find forgiveness for your sin? (Homiletic Review.)
The method of grace
There is much modern application in these Old Testament circumstances. There is so much humaneness in the Bible which makes it always a new book. Principles know nothing of years. Truth is not hampered by time. The Scriptures are as old as eternity, and yet as new as every morning. The Gospel in the narrative may thus be developed.
I. The gospel appeals to the man, not his accidents. The prophet’s message was to the leper, not to the courtier. Naaman came with his horses and with his pageantry. He came in a lordly air, but the prophet did not even meet him. The true man is never moved by glitter. Some of us would have bowed as sycophants; it would have been the reddest-letter day of our lives, if the premier of Syria had stood at our door. Even if a trinket, or a book, be given to us by a royal hand, we transmit it as an heirloom. There is a nobility of office, but there is a higher nobility of character. There is a kingliness of name, but there is also a kingliness of nature. We should not judge by appearance, but judge by righteous judgment. The prophet saw through all the haughtiness of Naaman, leprous man. God sees through all life’s accidents--all our intelligence, parade, wealth, and respectability--a heart of corruption and sorrow. He sees that the “imagination of the thoughts of man are evil continually.” The message is to man, not to his circumstances. It speaks to us as sinners. It speaks, not to contingencies, but to the human nature that is in us all. It was man that fell, and to man the message is sent. “He came to seek and to save that which was lost.”
II. The gospel message and conditions are always simple. It speaks in a language all can understand. It speaks to the heart, and the heart has but one language, the wide world over. The tongue speaks many a vernacular, and the lips chatter many dialects, but the heart’s voice never varies. The great universal heart beats in us all. The Gospel sees us fallen, and it sends forth the common message and a universal welcome. “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden.” The message is one, but its emphasis is varied according to our deafness, and its strokes to our hardness. The stone is hard, and the sculptor’s mallet must be heavy, and his chisels sharp. The wound is deep, and the corrosive must burn, and the instrument probe deeply. The jewel is encased in adamant, and the lapidary must select his instruments accordingly. Our prejudices are great, our hearts are haughty, and the conditions are adapted. Christianity is to us what we are. Loving in disposition, it “speaks in a still small voice.” Impenitent in heart, it speaks in thunder-tones. Some are so deaf that they can only hear thunder; others are so divinely sensitive, they can hear angels’ whispers, and God’s steps on the wind. According to our heart-life, God is either a Father, or a consuming fire. A revengeful God is the creation of a wicked life. The Gospel speaks to the heart, and of necessity must temper its voice to its disposition and difficulties. It is a message so simple that a child can understand it, and yet its inexhaustibleness challenges the highest mind. So plain, that the “wayfaring man” need not Stumble; and yet its sublimity creates a sensation new in angel bosom. Its simplicity reveals its wonders, as its stoop manifests its height.
III. The gospel conditions are repulsive to human prejudices. We might swear that it is night when the sun shines, but the light would only prove our insanity. We may curse the Book, but its truth is inviolable. We may blaspheme the Gospel, but the loudness of our voice may only reveal the perfectness of our idiocy. How presumptuous is man?
1. How we presume on God’s ways? “I thought he would surely come out to me,” etc.
2. How we presume on God’s means? “Are not Abana and Pharpar . . . better than all the waters of Israel?”
3. How we presume on God’s patience? “And he turned away in a rage.”
4. How we presume on self-sufficiency? “Some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it?” The conditions of the Gospel may arouse our resentment, but to resist is to be blind to our best interests. The prophet said: “Wash and be clean”; and Naaman turned away in a rage. Christ says: “Sell all thou hast and give to the poor”; and the young man went away sorrowing. The Gospel says: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”; and we are disgusted with the conditions. The Cross to the “Jew may be a stumbling-block,” and to the “Greek, foolishness,” but to as many as believe, it is the “power of God unto salvation.” The answer to all our prejudices is, that it is God’s appointed way. There is no royal road. The conditions are, believe and live, and the authority is, “he that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.” Our prejudices may recoil, and we may turn away in wrath. But we turn our face from the sun only to see our shadow. (W. Mincher.)
Let us cast our eyes upon Naaman himself; and then upon the method of his restoration.
I. Naaman’s condition.
3. Bodily. “But he was a leper”--the one drawback, and that a terrible one.
II. Naaman’s restoration.
1. First notice the providence of God. It was by means of a little captive maid.
2. Thus, what must have seemed a great calamity to the little maid’s friends and to herself--to be captured and carried away into an idolatrous country--became a blessing.
3. Then we have the picture of Naaman, with his equipage and servants, in state at the door of Elisha, and the prophet sending a message to him with the command in the text.
4. Let us see the moral and spiritual purposes of Elisha’s treatment. The spirit of pride had to be subdued. The prophet’s method is unexpected, but not without design. There is no prayer or personal contact, only a message by a servant.
5. But for the kindly expostulation of the servants, Naaman would have returned into his own country a leper, as he set out from it.
1. From instances of natural virtue in the heathen world, we learn that nature, though fallen, is not totally corrupt. We must keep a middle course between Pelagius and Calvin.
2. What weak and often unworthy means God uses for making known His truth!--the enslaved Israelite maid!
3. How children should strive to remember what they were taught in youth about God and His ministers, that it may be a blessing to themselves and to others! (Canon Hutchings.)
Greatness secondary to goodness
The great Augustine discovered this when a young man. His father, a heathen, had said to the lad, “Be great.” His mother, Monica, a devoted Christian, had whispered, “Be good.” “I will be both,” he answered, “but great first.” And when, after years of folly and then of philosophy, he resolved to “be good,” he found himself a slave to sin. Not till he cast himself wholly on Divine power and grace did he gain the “new heart.” Then, the things he had once been afraid to lose he cast from him with joy. “Thou expellest them,” he cried, in an ecstasy of joy, “and comest in Thyself instead of them.” Thus Augustine the sinner became Augustine the saint.
But he was a leper.
The fruits of adversity
How many might be tempted to envy him, how many of his fellow-men might be tempted to say, within themselves, “Would that I were in his place, would that I could have done with all these anxious cares, and weary disappointments which I meet with every day! Would that I could be free from all this drudgery, and see, at any rate, some result of all my toil! Here am I fighting every day against difficulty and hardship, yet gaining never a victory; here am I passing the best part of my days in obscurity, with never a prospect of rising in the world; there seems to be nothing for me but toils and cares from morning till night, from year’s end to year’s end. Would that I could be successful in life as Naaman was, could reach a high and honoured position as he did! Yet stay, Naaman has his drawback, he is not by any means the happy man you take him to be. “But he was a leper.” Do not these words--five in English, but only two in the original Hebrew--seem to throw a deep, dark shadow over the whole life of Naaman? We cannot possibly know, as well as Naaman did, all that those words meant. None but a leper can truly know the meaning of leprosy. Yet we do know that it was something terrible; that it was a serious affliction; that it made life dark, gloomy, unbearable. There is, in fact, something in the life-history of every man which gives, or should give to him, lowly views of himself, which is intended to keep down his pride, and to remind him that this world is a pathway leading to a country where alone there is nothing to mar our pleasure, no interruption to our happiness, where alone there is no drawback. There is a “but” in the history of every soul on this side of the grave. That rich man you see, and upon whose wealth you may often have looked with envious eye, is the victim of some serious disorder; death is, as it were, staring him in the face. That strong and healthy man, who seems able and willing to do battle in the great world, who possesses an energy equalled by few, and surpassed by none, is yet a poor man; there is a large family depending upon him; many mouths to be filled, many backs to be clothed; and that strong, willing worker, heaves a sigh as he thinks that his earnings will prove miserably inadequate to the needs of his household. And, if you trace the matter right through, you will find that this drawback is a very common experience, known and felt not only by the poor, but also by the well-to-do; not only by those low down in the world, but also by those occupying high positions. And yet there is a value in these drawbacks; they are not so utterly hopeless as many would feign imagine; we are apt to look upon them as a great evil, with not a single redeeming feature. Not a few might feel disposed to ask, “Why should these things exist at all? Why cannot I be allowed to pass through life without having to encounter all these difficulties--these things which interfere so greatly with my happiness? Life is short, why should it be made miserable? Why should I not be able to enjoy, to my heart’s content, these days and weeks, these months and years, which are passing all too quickly away?” These are the questions which probably are going forth from thousands of hearts to-day; they seem practical questions; let us deal with them in a practical way. Let us bear in mind that these things come to us not by chance, they are sent. That difficulty of yours, that matter which is costing you so many weary days, and sleepless nights, that great heart-sorrow, that heavy burden has not visited you at random as it were, but has been sent to you; that is the first thought, the first fact to be carefully remembered. And the Sender; Who is the Sender? God, the God who loves you with an amazing love, pities you with wondrous pity, sends you that very thing which is the cause of much vexation, and which you could heartily wish had never been sent. Brethren, it seems strange, almost like a contradiction, but it is neither. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:19; 1 Peter 4:13). This is the kind action of a loving Father; He is training us and educating us for heaven. Never let us forget that, and honestly let us ask ourselves what would be the result if we had everything just as we wished. If, in this life, there were no difficulties, or trials, or sorrows to meet, what feelings and thoughts would take possession of us? Should we be filled with earnest longing to reach the heavenly city? Much of the choicest, holiest portions of a man’s character is formed in those seasons of his life which call forth the pity of those about him. When they are pitying, heaven is rejoicing; rejoicing that the feet are turned Zionwards, that the wanderer is returning home. Brethren, let it be so with us. Remember “they who suffer with Christ shall also reign with Him,” and that, “All things work together for good to those who love God.” (E. F. Chapman, M. A.)
The conquest of disadvantages
1. Among the figures of the Old Testament there is hardly any more interesting or more attractive than that of Naaman the Syrian. He belongs, indeed, to a class of persons which never fails to arrest notice and evoke admiration, the class of those who, afflicted by physical disadvantages which are commonly incapacitating, have such constancy of purpose, such strength of will, such nobility of character, that they triumph over their infirmities, and take rank among the leaders of mankind. Habitual suffering does incapacitate for exertion; physical infirmity disables the will and abashes the courage. Marked out from the rest by defects, repulsive or ludicrous, or practically disadvantageous, men are humbled and cowed by a consciousness of inferiority, which not rarely becomes a vague sense of wrong, a dreary feeling of unmerited exile from the common society, and along with these, an embitterment of character, which, in its turn, adds yet further obstacles to frank fellowship with ordinary folk. The annals of the English monarchy, for instance, contain no worthier names than those of Alfred, the traditional founder of our constitution, and of William III., its champion and restorer, and both those admirable sovereigns were chronic invalids. Our literature has no greater name than that of Milton, who was a blind man when he wrote his principal poem; no name more venerable than that of Johnson, who from childhood was afflicted with a repulsive malady. It would be hard to find among modern politicians a name more justly honoured than that of Henry Fawcett, whose sight was destroyed by a lamentable accident when he was twenty-five years old, but who “bore the calamity with a superlative courage,” and won for himself a niche in the Temple of Fame. These show the class to which Naaman belonged, the class of the intrinsically heroic, to whom, whatever their creed or career, the description of Scripture seems properly to belong, “who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power Of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens.”
2. It is matter of common experience that the class of heroes which Naaman represents, is a very large class; we all have known and could name from among our acquaintance persons who belong to it. Nay, in some sense, we all ought ourselves to come within it, for there is none of us, however fortunately placed, who is altogether without some disadvantage, which is capable of daunting and” disabling us. Of course--if you will--this is the tritest of moralisations. But he knows little of human life as it proceeds in its cycles of customary work and common association, who has not discovered that immense injury to character, and waste of energy, and loss of happiness arise from the single cause of that sustained resentment of disadvantage which is one of the commonest of human faults. Perhaps there are reasons why, under the circumstances of modern life, such resentment should tend to increase among us. It is matter of common observation that among all classes there is a passion for enjoyment, which easily induces disgust of work and discontent with all limitations of liberty. Religion, we shall all agree, is the source of fortitude and the spur of moral effort. When religion loses authority over the will, and fails to move the heart, men fall inevitably under the empire of circumstance, having nothing outside themselves to sustain them under misfortune, nothing beyond the native resources of character.
3. The disadvantage in Naaman’s case was one for which we may believe that he was not personally responsible; the hideous disease by which he was stricken may have been inherited, or contracted by accidental contact with persons similarly afflicted, or the result of privations endured in his campaigns. He could not, in any case, blame himself as the cause of his calamity. In this respect the valorous Syrian represents a great multitude of afflicted persons. I notice that Mr. Samuel Laing ascribes the prevalence of pessimistic theories among us to this very circumstance. “In ruder states of society,” he says, “such weaklings were got rid of by the summary process of being killed off, while with the more humane and refined arrangements of modern times they live on and “weary deaf heaven with their fruitless cries.” It must be allowed that weak health and chronic pain ordinarily tend to induce such gloomy and morbid mental dispositions, and it is impossible not to feel compassion for those who, however deluded, are still the victims of their own undeserved misfortunes; but here, as in all other human affairs, there is an extraordinary latent power in man himself, which, if brought into action, can turn back the natural tendency of his circumstances, and bend those very circumstances to new and higher interests. The magnanimity of the ancient Stoics rises in the case of the sickly and crippled Epictetus to a genuine piety. “Dare to look up to God,” he says,” and say, Deal with me for the future as Thou wilt: I am of the same mind as Thou art; I am Thine; I refuse nothing that pleaseth Thee; lead me where Thou wilt; clothe me in any dress Thou choosest; is it Thy will that I should hold the office of a magistrate, that I should be in the condition of a private man, stay here or be in exile, be poor, be rich? I will make Thy defence to men in behalf of all these conditions.” There is a ring of personal affection in such words which argues that the Stole philosopher was (though he knew it not) a Christian in spirit. St. Paul s curiously similar language includes the confession of a discipleship which Epictetus could not own. “I know how to be abased.”
4. But, though physical afflictions that are undeserved may bring a sore strain to bear on the character, and can hardly fail, save in the case of a few extraordinary persons, to cast a gloom over the mind, and give a melancholy tinge to the whole life, still it is not in such calamities that the most disabling and daunting influences are found. There are men among us, richly endowed with gifts of intellect, of character, of fortune, who are held in a state of degrading idleness by the disabling memory of some moral treason in the past. Men wonder at them, knowing nothing and suspecting nothing--but to their own consciousness the sinister fact stands out with threatening prominence. They have lost faith in themselves; self-respect, the backbone of character, is broken. I might borrow the words of the text to describe such a man--“a mighty man of valour, but a leper.” (H. H. Henson, B. D.)
The “buts” of life
There you have a romance and a tragedy summed up in a single verse. You only need a little imagination to fill in the details, and lo! you have a book of human life, with its prides and humblings, its grandeurs, and its shames. The writer tells you in the same breath of this man’s glory and of his awful cross. “But!” Ah, if we could only get rid of that little word, how happy we should be! Alas! it is always popping in to disturb our self-congratulating reflections, It drops into human speech at every turn. It is found at every stage of human experience. I hear it every day in the common talk of the people about me. I catch my own lips dropping it unawares times without number. There is always something to qualify our congratulations, praises, and thanksgivings. Fortune has dealt well with you, but! You have had a smooth and prosperous career, but! Your husband is almost perfection, but! Your children are doing well, but! That friend of yours has many admirable qualities, but! Your employer is generous and considerate, but! Your partner is honest and capable, but! Your church is orthodox and peaceable, and pre-eminently respectable, but! Your minister is a wonderful preacher, but! There is always that little or big cloud athwart your sunlight, always the wasp in the honey-cup, always the seamy side to your bliss, always the dull leaden background to the shield whose face is all gold. Mercy and judgment meet, and the darkness and the light make up one picture in every human lot. Naaman was a great man, and honourable, but he was a leper. Now sometimes we forget this other side in our thoughts of others, and frequently we make too much of it in thoughts of ourselves. And if the other side relates to character, we reverse the process, making too much of it in others and overlooking it in ourselves.
I. Remember that every Naaman has his cross. The side of the shield which he shows to the world is perhaps polished gold, but he who walks behind it sees the heavy iron casing. How foolish we are to envy the great their greatness, the rich their riches, the honourable their honours, and the wise their wisdom, and to fancy that because they have more of these things than we they are necessarily happier and more contented. And how blind we are to overlook our own blessings and joys, and repine because others seem more fortunate than we. Uneasy is the head that wears any sort of crown. Where Fortune drops its choicest honours, it imposes its heaviest burdens, and the path which is lined with roses has most of the prickly thorns of care. The more brilliant the sunlight, the darker the shadows. The more a man gets his own way, the more he frets when he cannot get his own way. You cannot climb high to pluck the choicest fruit and flowers without getting many a prick and bruise. The man who wears purple and fine linen before the world has often underneath, if you could see it, rough sackcloth and chafing cords; and there is a cloud of cares weighing like midnight on many a heart in which outward fortune seems constantly to smile. In the old ballad the queen tides by on her gallant palfrey, with cloth of gold and glittering jewels, and splendid array of attendants, and the village maiden, looking out of her lattice window, sighs, “Oh! to be a queen!” while the queen, looking up, sighs far more deeply, and whispers to her heart, “Oh! to be free from all this burden, and like that happy careless maiden!” Yes; there are cold blasts on the heights which those below never feel. And many a time, when all the things of the world go well with a man, his inner life is anything but right with God. The leprosy of doubt, or the leprosy of sin has crept over all his thoughts, and corrupted his human affections, and put a withering blight upon his world, and he knows nothing of the peace and gladness in which your simple faith walks continually.
II. You are not likely to forget your own cross. No; but do not make too much of it. No doubt there is a seamy side to your life. It is not all sunlight. But it is not well to keep the seamy side always uppermost and talk as if tears and cares and worries were your meat and drink continually. Why cannot we let our cheerful thoughts have free course sometimes without stopping them with that everlasting “but”? “Yes; I have many things to be grateful for, but I” That word often expresses the concentrated essence of ingratitude. It is a volume of murmurings and fretfulness bound up in three letters. Do not make too much, I repeat, of that other side. Your house is not so large as you desire. No; but maybe there is far more love and happiness in it than in many a bigger house. Your children are not all shaping as you would wish. No; but some of them, let us hope, bring brightness to your homes and put music into your hearts continually. Your business prospects are not brilliant maybe. No; but you have never lacked a sufficiency of comforts, and your way has always so far been made clear. We should be far happier and far more generous-hearted men if we did not make so much of that “but” in thinking of and discussing those who love us and whom we love. They please us in many things, but! Ah, well, magnify the many things, and let that other side go by. (J. Greenhough, M. A.)
Alloy in grandeur
Naaman was a mighty man, but he was a leper. Every man has some “but” or other in his character--something that blemishes and diminishes him--some alloy in his grandeur--some damp to his joy: he may be very happy--very good; yet, in something or other, not so good as he should be, nor so happy as he would be. (Matthew Henry.)
2 Kings 5:2-4
And the Syrians had gone out by companies.
The Hebrew maid
I. Her faith in God. Plainly she had very strong faith; and it was of the right sort. For there are wrong kinds of faith. Mere belief even of the truth may be perfectly powerless. The question is, what side does ]our belief make you take? It should be a living trust in a living person, a whole faith in the whole Saviour. Notice the beautiful signs of this girl’s faith. In that land of idols and idolaters she was not ashamed to own her Lord. And her charity proved her faith sincere. What wonder if she had nursed revenge, and said in spite, “I’m glad my master is a leper: it is God’s judgment upon him: it serves him right.” How beautiful, how Christ-like her forgiving spirit! We should like to know how she became such a believing child of God. The people of Israel were then desperately wicked. It was the time of Elijah, of Ahab and Jezebel; and thousands had forsaken Jehovah for idols. But probably she had such a good mother as Timothy had. From her lips she learnt about the God of Abraham. Her mother’s prayers were heard in heaven; and when sin rioted around, faith found a home in the heart of this dear child.
II. Her faithfulness. Faithfulness is more than faith. As the Word shows, it is the fulness of faith. She had so much of the true faith that it filled her whole nature, and made her faithful under terrible trials. It wrought in her loving loyalty to her loving God: it made her leal-hearted. Peter had faith, but not enough of it to make him faithful in the palace of the high priest. How sad that many who go to heathen countries are faithless to their religion. They act as if their religion should be shaped by the region where they happen to dwell; they are as the softest wax on which public opinion may set any stamp: men they are in this without manhood, who do not belong to themselves but to any owner who boldly claims them; they are tossed about like pitiable atoms in the centre of a whirlwind. We greatly value this unselfish loyalty to a cause that seems lost. The Bible is always pleading with us to be loyal to God, and true to our trust, whatever it may be.
III. Her fruitfulness. “Nothing but leaves,” cannot be applied to her. Seeming the meekest human being in Syria, she proved one of the mightiest. “I am but one, but I am one. I cannot do much, but I can do something; and all that I can do I ought to do, and by God’s grace will do.” Thus she became really a great apostle and missionary. By her the true religion was known and respected in Syria, and Naaman became a worshipper of Jehovah; and so she has been thought worthy of a large place in God’s book. But take care not to fall into a mistake here. You may fancy that you are to do good only by a great and happy effort once in a while. “How long did you take to paint that picture for which you ask £100?” a gentleman once said to a famous painter. “Two days,” he replied. “And do you expect £100 for the work of two days?” “You forget,” answered the painter, “that my whole life was a preparation for the work of these two days.” So a few words from this girl moved the household of Naaman; but it was her whole life that prepared her for giving these few words at the right time, and in the right way. (J. Wells.)
The little lady’s maid
Syria was a kingdom near to Canaan. For some time a little girl lived in Syria. She may not have been more than eight or ten years old. We wish to say seven things about her.
I. This little girl was a Jewess. She belonged to the best land and the best people. What advantages she had! In this respect you are equal, yea, superior to her; Canaan and the Israelites then compared with England and the English now. A complete Bible and a Saviour who has come. To whomsoever much is given, of them much shall be required.
II. This little girl was a slave. Think on her sad condition. Forced away from her land, home, friends, and parents. Many children have been in the same circumstances--Rome, Greece, America. Some even in the present day--Madagascar and Africa. “Slaves cannot breathe in England.” Why? Education. Government. Above all, the Gospel. Should you not believe it and love it?
III. This little girl worked as a slave in the house of Naaman. She was in his house, and waited on his wife. A lady’s maid. From this we learn that, though young, she was clever, and did all her work well. Imitate her in these things. Never be careless about what you do. Try to read, write, spell, etc., in the best way. In after-life you will then do things easily and well. This will be a great comfort to yourselves and others.
IV. This little girl was very kind. Here was kindness to one who had not been kind to her. This was the spirit of Jesus. Hear Him and see Him on the cross. It should be your spirit. You cannot have it without a new heart, any more than there can be a stream without a fountain. Because the little maid had the one, she had also the other. He who gave her a new heart will give you one. Ask Him for it.
V. This little girl was exceedingly intelligent. This is how she reasoned: Elisha, who, by the power of God, could raise a dead body to life, could also, if it pleased God, restore a diseased body to health. Wonderful reasoning for a little girl. Learn to put things together in your minds. Do this with your school lessons; when you are reading books, looking at persons, watching the birds flying, and the ships sailing. You will then be not dull, but clever, and so be able to push your way through the world.
VI. This little girl did a great amount of good. Naaman was delivered from his leprosy, and likewise from his heathenism. Besides, the whole narrative has been used by thousands to illustrate the Gospel, by which multitudes have been saved from sin to holiness. Similar results have been produced by a single book, tract, action, or word. You can all do good; do it every day.
VII. This little girl was highly honoured. By the attention she received from so many in Syria; by obtaining a place in the Bible; by having thousands speaking well of her, as we have been trying to do. Her case illustrates the text, “Them that honour Me, I will honour.” Go ye and do likewise. Speak for God, like her. Speak for others, and especially the suffering, like her. (A. M’Auslane, D. D.)
The faith of a little maid
We are deeply attached to this impulsive officer, of sterling character but many faults, and to the little maid who, though a caged bird, sang so sweetly the songs of Zion that she led her master into the liberty of the sons of God.
1. See, then, one whom God determined to bless. Naaman was a heathen. Naaman was living in Damascus, a city which had stood for some 1100 years, and was enriched with the wealth and splendour of empires. God wanted a witness in that great city; and so this heathen general, dwelling in all the luxury of that great capital, became the object of God’s peculiar favour. He was certainly one of fortune’s favourites. Everything had gone well with him. He was a man of many victories. By him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria. This popular and successful man, who had gained all the world could give him, was the man God determined to bless.
2. But mark the mysterious means adopted. Strong measures were necessary, for such favourites of fortune are not easily won. First of all, Naaman was smitted with leprosy. What we think our greatest troubles often prove our chief mercies. But there was to be trouble and disaster in another quarter. A quiet country village on the borders of Palestine is disturbed by a sudden alarm. A band of Syrian horsemen is rapidly approaching. The peasants flee in terror and hide in the hills; but some are captured, and amongst them a little maid. And her friends, when they hear of it, wish that she were rather dead than the prey of the infidel. But God was working His purpose out. These two desolate homes were not a work of wantonness, but a part of the Divine programme of blessing.
3. Consider now the special instrument used. We love to dwell upon the scene in Naaman’s home. The little maid soon found out that there were sore troubles in the world besides her own, and her heart was at once drawn out in sympathy with her mistress. It must have seemed like a nightingale’s song from a distant grove, heralding the advent of spring. It was a gleam of sunshine breaking in upon a night of hopeless gloom. Naaman’s house was full of idols. Sacrifices and libations without stint had been offered to gain the favour of the Syrian gods. And all had been in vain. But now this Hebrew child tells of a prophet who can save, of certain healing to be had in her own land of Samaria. No one could doubt either the sincerity of her confidence or the genuineness of her sympathy. It was the candid, artless statement of a truthful child, and it carried conviction to all who heard it. It reached the ears of the King of Syria, and he determined to act upon it at once. We see here the permanent results of early religious training. This captive maiden, because she had been taught to know and trust God, was so strong in faith that she was the means of bringing salvation to the house of her captivity, and of raising up a testimony for God which rang through the whole land of Syria.
4. But see the peculiar character of a child’s faith. It is concrete and objective. It was the prophet who filled her whole area of vision. Though she knew well all about God’s dealings in times past with her nation, her view of religion was summed up practically in this: the prophet that is in Samaria can raise the dead, heal lepers, or do anything. It is a splendid testimony to Elisha’s character and influence, that he had awakened such confidence in the soul of this little maid. There is something wrong in the teacher or preacher if he cannot enlist the enthusiastic love of children. How simple and how real a child’s faith becomes when the substance of the teaching is the living Christ! It is specially easy, alas! to inculcate error--to develop superstition instead of faith--false confidence in images and relics and human priests, rather than trust in the unseen Saviour. When father and mother can do such wonders, it is obvious to their simple minds that God can do greater wonders still, dealing with laws, and touching secret springs of influence unknown to the wisest men. This little maid was confident that Elisha could and would heal her master. It was nothing to her simple, generous faith that his disease was incurable, and.. he himself outside God’s covenant. Surely a bigoted, sectarian child is one of the most unnatural and most odious monstrosities to be found on earth. Alas for England, if such a spirit ever prevails in those elementary and public schools which form the nursery of the nation. Oh for more of the child-spirit among Christians! “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” Genuine faith in a real God and a real heaven makes the whole Church one.
5. And notice how far-reaching may be the influence of the most insignificant child of God. This captive maid would have been looked upon as the least influential person in all Damascus. Her simple faith was the means of winning her master, who became a living witness to all Syria; and, by her bright faith, she has been preaching to millions of Bible students for nearly three thousand years. When Naaman left Damascus, he took with him treasures amounting to about £12,000 sterling. But he had with him also what was of infinitely greater value--the prayers of the little maid. Oh, children of God, live up to your high calling! In this, the land of your exile, you are only strangers and pilgrims. Confess it. Declare your faith in heaven, and your acquaintance with One who is able to save to the uttermost. (F. S. Webster, M. A.)
The captive maid
The rich and the poor meet together. The mighty and the ignoble, the monarch and the slave, are, after all, near companions on the pilgrimage of life. Naaman the Syrian, mighty and honourable, is a dweller beneath the same roof with the little captive maid of the land of Israel.
I. We notice, her recognition of God in providence. She might have looked at the dark cloud of adversity hanging over her, and failed to discern a gleam of light; but she believed that the God of providence was behind the cloud, and would disperse it in His own good time. She had the conviction that God had directed, and would still direct, her steps. Is not her example a pattern to believers? The captive maid does indeed reprove and exhort us, in our mistrust of God in providence. Christian experience may well be tested by the Christian precept which enjoins us, as believers, to be “careful for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). Afflictions, trials, disappointments, rightly regarded, would help us in the application of this test. We might safely reason thus: If we cannot commit the ordering of our earthly way to our Father, who hath loved us, and “blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:3); if we cannot confide in His wisdom, and trust in His goodness, under the trials and afflictions lie may send us, have we not reason to examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith at all? Assuredly the measure of our faith in the God of grace will find no uncertain index in the measure of our faith in the God of providence.
II. We notice, secondly, the usefulness of the captive maid in the humble position she occupied. We see in her an illustration of God’s employment of simple means to accomplish mighty ends. How great is their folly who despise the day of small things! There is no station so humble, but God is able to find in it those who may render valuable service in His Church. Humility of circumstance, when attended with humility of character, especially commends a man as a fitting co-worker with God. “Not many wise men after the flesh,” etc. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Let us beware of the delusive thought, which paralyses so much Christian exertion, that our station is too humble, our sphere of influence too circumscribed, to allow of Christian usefulness.
III. As a concluding remark on the history of the captive maid, we notice the inestimable value of her piety, both to herself and others. This lesson may be commended to us in a twofold form. It may remind us of the value of a pious servant in every household, and of the value of piety to every servant. It is recorded of the Rev. Henry Venn, that he often thanked God for a pious servant; and he once said to his children respecting her, “Ruth is my servant here; but if your father is found at her feet at the Great Day his place will not be a low one.” Happy the servant who, by a life of piety, so “adorns the doctrine of God her Saviour,” as to win from those whom she serves such a testimony of her worth! (C. Bullock.)
A young captive
In the story of this Syrian girl there are some things which may suggest thoughts of sympathy with girls nearer home.
I. The first suggestion is that of a child’s helplessness. We often say, “as helpless as a child.” The child of our story was a girl--an orphan girl, so far at least as she was bereft of the parental care--and she was a slave-girl. Thus the child of the Syrian household stands before us in a situation so pathetic, and seems to plead for her little sisters of our own time.
II. The second suggestion of the text is of another kind, namely, a child’s helpfulness. Helpless as she was, the little maid of the story helped her master to the recovery of health, and the knowledge of God. Now the basis of her helpfulness was her religious training. She could help man, because she knew God. When they carried her away captive she could sing them the Lord’s song in a strange land. This child knew the Psalms better than some of us know them, and some of Naaman’s servants got the girl now and then to chant them. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” It was as if they had brought an angel in their train when they carried that godly child to Syria. (Samuel Gregory.)
The little captive maid
I. God can do very great things by very feeble instruments. The cleansing of Naaman from bodily leprosy was a very great thing. By means of it he was converted to the worship of the true God--a far greater thing. But, in all likelihood, had it not been for the little captive maid he would have died a feller and a heathen.
II. God can make the sinful acts of men to praise Him. Bringing this little maid a captive out of her native country was a sinful act. But she was brought into the household of Naaman, and God made her a means of unspeakable good to him. Very likely, after his conversion, Naaman proved a blessing to others. If so, she had a share therein.
III. Whither-soever we go, we should take our religion with us. This little Israelitish maid, though she was living in a heathen household, was not ashamed to own herself to be a worshipper of Jehovah. Many who are attentive to the outward duties of religion at home act like those who make no profession when they go among strangers.
IV. We should love our enemies. This little maid was a captive in Naaman’s household. It would, therefore, have not been at all unnatural had she hated him. But, instead of that, she pitied him as a leper, and manifested her kindly feelings toward him by telling her mistress where he could obtain deliverance from his sad condition. The Lord, by His servant, the prophet Jeremiah, said to the captive Israelites in Babylon: “Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it.”
V. The mighty of the earth should not despise the lowly. The former do not know how greatly they may yet be indebted to the latter. No doubt, many a time Naaman, the commander-in-chief of the Syrian army, envied the robust health of a private. For that--could he have done it--he would cheerfully have given him his wealth and honours. But it was utterly impossible for him, in any way, to buy that unspeakable blessing. At length he obtained it, but he did so “without money and without price.” (T. Fenwick.)
A helpful girl
The keeper of a lighthouse on the coast of Cornwall went ashore one day, and was seized and held a prisoner by a band of wicked men. They thought that thus they would prevent the lighting of the light, and ships would be dashed upon the rocks, and then they could get the spoils. But they forgot the little daughter of the lighthouse keeper. When it came time, all alone and frightened as she was, she climbed the long stairs and lit all the lights. Many of God’s purposes are imposed in small agents for fulfilment. The Lord seems to delight in fulfilling His will by feeble instrumentalities. A child’s hand can move the lever which launches a mighty ship.
2 Kings 5:5-7
And the King of Syria said, Go to, Go.
The problem of Naaman the leper
Naaman the Syrian was a brave, intelligent, resourceful, and successful soldier, but he was a leper. And that “but” was the fly in the ointment which made all his brilliant qualities of no worth. The problem was to remove the fly from the ointment before it was too late. The fact that Naaman was so capable and indispensable to his sovereign made the necessity the more urgent. The economist could not bear to see such magnificent plant lying idle. The patriot felt it grievous that the country should be deprived of the services of so valuable and loyal a servant. But the question was “How?” Leprosy was as incurable as it was incapacitating. A man might avoid it, but once within its toils he could in no wise escape. So every one thought until a chance word of an Israelite slave-girl reawakened hope. The little maid spoke with such confidence of the possibility, nay the certainty, of her master’s cure, could he but be with the prophet in Samaria, that her suggestions became the staple of the conversation of the court, and finally reached the ears of the king. Her words carried such conviction that the courtiers found themselves actually taking the cure for granted, and proceeding to discuss the method by which it could be accomplished. On that matter everybody had his own theory. The problem is still with us. On every side are men and women of amiable qualities and natural ability, capable of estimable service to their day and generation, who, because of some moral defect, inherited or acquired, are missing their opportunity, and proving a burden to the commonwealth instead of a gain. Think for a moment not only of the personal suffering endured, but of the jeopardy in which the community stands, and the loss of service it sustains through the prevalence of the leprosy of impurity and drunkenness; of covetousness and gambling; of jealousy and falsehood; of hate and strife; of ostentation and laziness. The need of today then, as in Ben-hadad’s Syria, is to cure the Naamans. Let us briefly glance at the suggested solutions of the problem.
1. The king’s idea was to send the leper to the King of Israel. So the letter was despatched whose contents put the King of Israel ha such alarm. “Am I God,” said the perturbed monarch, “to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? But consider now how he seeketh quarrel against me.” This time, however, the shrewd suspicion of Jehoram was at fault. The request was in good faith. It proceeded from a genuine expectation that if the cure was to be performed at all it must be by the king. In whom else would the requisite authority be vested? Quaint as the notion seems, it expresses a distinctly modern creed. For king read State, and you are in the twentieth century at once. Nothing is more remarkable, and in some respects more pathetic, than the rapid growth of the widely held belief in the power of the State as an instrument of reform. And without a doubt the State can accomplish much--much that was formerly thought not merely beyond its power, but beyond even its cognizance. It can restrain evil-doers, and reward them that do well. It can remove sources of temptation, adjust inequalities, and secure to every man a fair chance. It can alter conditions, and so modify habits. But its methods are slow, and subject to great alternations. Its chief instrument of immediate reformation is restraint, separation, stamping out. It keeps society healthy by shutting up the infected. The result of which is that, lest they should be found out, men cover up their leprosy and drive it below the skin. But they are lepers still. A change in the direction of a more equitable distribution of the results of industry would not in itself be a cure for covetousness. Prohibition of the sale of intoxicating liquors will not be followed by an immediate cessation of the desire for strong drink. The State has large and undoubted powers, but the best and truest advocates for the wide extension of its scope of action and administration nevertheless recognise its limitations, and disclaim on its behalf any attempt at usurpation of the prerogative of God, or of authority to remove the leprosy of sin.
2. To do Naaman justice, he did not set much store by the letter to the king. It was, of course, courteous and expedient first to present himself at the court. But his hope lay in an interview, not with Israel’s king, but with Israel’s prophet. So, as soon as he could, he relieved the king of the embarrassment of his presence, and turned the heads of his magnificent thoroughbreds to the humbler quarter of the city where dwelt the prophet. He had, of course, indulged in speculation as to the method the prophet would follow. The sequel shows how thoroughly he was mistaken. But Naaman’s ideas still persist. The great feature in modern schemes of reformation is the attempt to preserve a man’s self-respect, or, to use the expressive phrase we have, borrowed from the East, “to save his face.” If he is a leper, for pity’s sake don’t tell him so, or let him think that you think he is. Treat him as though he was not. Soon he will begin to think he isn’t, and then he won’t act as though he was. And then he won’t be! So seems much current teaching. Further, it conduces much to a cure that a little ceremony and some symbolic act shall be introduced, with just a suggestion of magic or the occult! There is a growing trust in formalism.
3. There remains the suggestion of the unsophisticated and faithful servants of Naaman, and that was the way they had been taught to tread the way of humility and obedience, Consent to be, and to be treated as the leper you know yourself to be. Rid yourself of the idea that consideration is due to you on the ground of station, attainments, endowments, wealth, reputation. Consent to be just a leper, a vile leper. And then obey. Don’t dispute the prescription, but follow it. Don’t argue that, even if you agree to wash, it would surely be better to wash in the clear, limpid, and beautiful streams of Damascus than in the turbid waters of Jordan. Possibly Abana and Pharpar are all you think them to be. But Jordan is the stream chosen. It is a simple thing. Try it. Dip, dip seven times. (F. L. Wiseman.)
This artless child-utterance opens unexpectedly to the diseased and despairing hero a door of hope--puts a new guiding-star into his midnight of darkness. “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy” “Whosoever believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Yes; blessed be God, these and similar declarations are addressed to every spiritual leper in this sin-stricken world. As with the warrior of Damascus, so with them: they have a gracious “missive,” a “letter of commendation” to the King of kings. There is a Greater than the greatest prophet in Israel, who can “recover them of their leprosy.”
1. Naaman’s first impulse, before setting out on his journey, was to go and tell his lord. Before he can adopt the suggestion of the young Hebrew, be feels it his duty, though the most exalted of Ben-hadad’s subjects, to go to his sovereign, make him acquainted with his design, and receive the royal sanction. This reads us the preliminary lesson, regarding even the minor, ordinary everyday details of life, to be careful in observing its proprieties and courtesies. “Be courteous,” “Let all things be done decently and in order,” are alike moral and religious obligations. But is there not also a higher spiritual lesson here for the Christian in his hour of difficulty and peril? When environed with perplexing paths and providences, and at a loss which to follow, swaying between the opposing forces of inclination and duty, may he not--ought he not, like Naaman, to repair to the King of kings--“to tell his Lord” of what is burdening his spirit?
2. Observe Naaman’s departure and journey. “And,” we read, “he departed” (2 Kings 5:5). His promptitude, in the true soldier-spirit of instant surrender to duty--“Go, and he goeth,” is noteworthy. How unlike the case of many in spiritual things; who stagger through unbelief; allowing solemn monition and conviction to pass unheeded; conjuring up to themselves some supposed necessity for postponement and delay; resolving to set out on the pilgrimage at some time, but “not yet”; imagining the chariots and horses of salvation to be at their call whenever they wish, and their malignant leprosy a thing that may be safely postponed for a death-bed cure. As Naaman felt, so well may they, that restoration may be with them “now or never.” The king said to the sufferer, “Go to, go.” It is thus our Lord speaks. This is the Great Physician’s prescription to the seeking soul, Wait not a moment; linger not in all the plain; confer not with any earthly adviser. Let the chariots be ordered. Haste thee; flee for thy life! “Go to! go!” for a long eternity is suspended on the resolve.
3. Let us note Naaman’s reception. The journey is accomplished; the chief and his retainers have reached Samaria, the capital of Israel, situated on its steep hill; a city “which combined in a union not elsewhere found in Palestine, strength and beauty.” Naaman sends one of his troop to the palace of Jehoram with the royal letter of Ben-hadad. The monarch reads it. Commencing, doubtless, with the wonted Oriental complimentary salutations, the perusal leads to a burst of indignant anger. It seemed little else than an insult; an arrogant imposition on royal credulity; the studied, designed occasion of a fresh quarrel. He sees in the letter only a pretext for drawing swords again, for anew ravaging his territories and deluging his valleys with blood. Alas! will the monarch of Israel--the head and ruler of the theocratic tribes--refuse to give glory to whom, as it specially became him to testify, glory is due? (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
2 Kings 5:11-12
But Naaman was wroth, and went away.
Pride overcoming want
The great man and all his cortege are kept outside, and God’s servant will not even come out, but sends the message, “Go and wash in Jordan.” That un-courtly reception is no piece of vulgar arrogance, like the pride of a pope that keeps an emperor standing in the snow in the castle yard for three days, before he will absolve him. It is the wise dealing of that Divine Word. With soldier-like quickness of temper and pride, he flashes all at once into a blaze. The characteristics which offended Naaman, are the characteristics of God’s cure for the leprosy of our spirits. They are its glory even though men may stumble at them. Look at them as brought out here.
I. Note then, what in this man’s eyes was a fault,-what, to clearer vision, is a glory--the utter indifference of the Gospel to all distinctions among men. The community in the sickness of sin destroys all distinctions. There is a prince lying on that bed; there a stable-boy on that. They are ill of the same disease,, which affects the man, not his office. They need the same treatment, and--thank God!--they get it from Him who is no respecter of persons. Such treatment is true to the fact of man’s condition. For it is a fact that we are all alike in sin. In us all there has been and is a voluntary divergence and deflection from the line of right, which darkens a man’s soul. “All the world is guilty before God”! You cannot refute, and you will not mend that old saying about man’s condition. Let me put it into plain English. Whether do you think it matters most in your relation to God--yours and mine--that we are sinners or that we are cultivated people? Whether do you think it matters most that our hearts have started aside from Him and our hands have done evil, or that we can read Latin and Greek books and are scholars? There is something for you. If the distinctions on which you pride yourselves are worth anything, they will help you to apprehend and profit by God’s gift. For this treatment of all men as alike sinners, is the precursor of as universal a mercy. All are alike in two facts--that we have sinned, and that Christ has died for us. And, therefore, some men turn away from it. There is the narrow gate! Plenty of room for you--no room for the load of adventitious distinctions that you carry upon your shoulders. And so “he turned, and went away in a rage”! And let me remind you how this superb indifference of the Gospel to all these distinctions of man from man, is its true glory, and has wrought wonderful things. The Gospel came into a world all swathed in ligatures, all cleft into classes, parted from one another by deep gulfs which there was no bridging, where nations frowned at one another from their battlements, and caste and class and race and culture rent men apart from their fellows, and nothing but the grip of an iron hand and the false unity of conquest held them together. The Gospel, the true democracy, came and struck the bonds from the slave, taught the sentiment of fraternity, gave a new word and a new thought to the languages of earth--“humanity”--made men and women equal possessors of an equal grace! “He turned and went away in a rage”! And the world turns, and will yet do so in all its peoples and classes--no longer parted, but blended in one faith and one Lord, to Him who is the equal Saviour to the whole race of men.
II. We may draw from these words an illustration of what I venture to call the naked simplicity of God’s Gospel. He said, “Behold, I thought he will come, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and so by all that ceremonial he will recover the leper.” And what does he get instead of all this? “Go and wash and be clean.” It was very like a heathen, accustomed to muttered spells and magical incantations, whose whole religion clung close to the low levels of earth, whose gods and whose worship, whose hopes and whose fears were alike material, to crave for some external ritual of cleansing. It was very like a man to long for something visible and tangible for his wavering confidence to lay hold upon--some fixed point belonging to solid earth to which he might fasten the filmy frailty of his faith. It was very like God to contradict the desire and to give him instead--only a promise to grasp, and a command to obey, which was chiefly a test of his obedience, since common sense told him that water could not wash away the eating evil, and national pride rebelled against the pre-eminence of the river of Israel. The like apparent antagonism between men’s wishes and God’s ways meets us in the Gospel--and the like correspondence between God’s ways and men’s real wants. Christianity comes to us--or rather instead of that abstract word let us say Christ, who is Christianity, comes to us--trusting wholly and only to spiritual remedies. He, too, says “wash and be clean.” The one power that cleanses is His blood for pardon, His spirit for holiness. The one condition of receiving these is simple faith in Him; all externals are nothing. And so people feel out of their element in a region thus purely spiritual and immaterial. The heathenism which is in all of us, the sense.bound materialism which sways us all, lays hold of the pure Gospel which Christ wrought and gives, and reforms it by tacking on to it an incongruous and heterogeneous appendage of rites and ceremonies, and by investing the simple ordinances which He enjoined with mysterious power.
III. Then, there is connected with this consideration, and yet somewhat distinct from it, the other, the utter rejection by the Gospel of all our co-operation in our own cleansing. The words of Naaman himself do not explicitly contain his refusal to do what was required, on the ground that it was so small a thing. But that was evidently in his mind, as well as the other grounds of offence; and it comes out distinctly in the common-sense remonstrance by which his servants brought their irascible master to reason, Men would be a great deal more willing to accept God’s way of salvation if it gave them some share in their own salvation. But its characteristic is that it will have none of our work--not even so much as this man had to do in his healing. The Gospel rejects our co-operation just because it demands our faith. For what is faith? Is not an essential part of it the consciousness that we can do nothing, the forsaking and going out of ourselves, accompanying the flight to Him? The under side of faith is self-abnegation; the upper side is confidence in Christ. In like manner, remember that the same principle is further established because our faith is not the means of our cure, but only the bringing of our sickness into contact with the means. God’s love in Christ, Christ’s perfect work of reconciliation, Christ’s Spirit poured out--these be the energies that heal; our faith is but lifting the eyelid that the light may fill the eye, but opening the door that the physician may enter. And, therefore, because there is not a crevice in the whole process where self-trust can creep through, because from beginning to end God is all and man nought, our hearts rebel, We do not like to be paupers. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Syrian leper
I. The causes which induced Naaman to reject the remedy prescribed by Elisha.
1. He expected a direct communication of supernatural influence (2 Kings 5:11). 2 He sought, in the means appointed, that virtue which belonged to the promise of God (verses 10-12).
3. He shrank from the humiliation involved, as he conceived, in the use of those means (2 Kings 5:12-13).
II. The unreasonableness of his conduct.
1. It was not for him to dictate the method of his recovery.
2. He Ought to have tried the means before denouncing them.
3. He should have sacrificed his feelings to his good. The whole case teaches:--
1. The influence of self-government.
2. The value of faithful counsel.
3. The advantages of religious knowledge. (Homilist.)
This irritation of Naaman is so natural that it hardly requires any words of explanation. We recognise in a moment what vexed him so, just because we have been so often vexed ourselves. Naaman expected a striking and startling cure. He knew how the Syrian magicians would conduct themselves; they would come forth in procession muttering their incantations, and moving their hands in mysterious and magnetic fashion over the sufferer. Something of this kind, no doubt, Naaman was expecting when he rode up in state to Elisha’s door. Then came Elisha’s message, “Go and wash in Jordan”--go and do something that any man could do.
I. The widespread irritation at the commonplace was fairly manifested in the case of Naaman. I think I need hardly remind you of another Bible story where the most intense dislike makes itself manifest. “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Do we not know his brothers?” It was with such words that the Jews discredited Jesus. Like Naaman, they were intensely irritated with the commonplaceness of this Messiah. It was a prevalent belief among the Jews that the second Adam would come in full-grown manhood like the first. They had the convenient habit, which we all possess, of forgetting the prophecies they wanted to. Suddenly, in some effulgence of glory, perhaps from the secret of the Temple, Christ would appear. They were looking for some spectacular performance, like Naaman when he came posting to Elisha. Then Christ was born in a little hillside village, and he wrought with Joseph who was a village carpenter, and he played with his comrades in a village street. But to come nearer home, and think of ourselves. Are we not all prone to the same irritation? Think, for example, of how we regard our newspapers. A man takes up his paper with a feeling of expectancy always, and almost always lays it down with a feeling of disappointment. We say, “There is nothing in the newspaper this morning--nothing;” and so we throw it down. What we really mean is there is nothing startling, nothing to thrill us, and hold us by its tragedy. For every morning there is the record of birth in it, the echoing music of new created life; every morning there is the record of death in it, with its untold sorrow and its unimagined fears. “There is nothing in it.” Is that vain vexation not akin to Naaman’s when he was bidden by Elisha to go and wash in Jordan? Does it not indicate it is very hard to realise the value of the ordinary? The fact is, we are half savage at our heart yet, and we have all the savage’s delight in glaring colours. I cannot help thinking, too, that much of man’s world-weariness, much of the disappointment that middle life brings with it is connected by very real, yet subtle, ties with this deep-seated vexation at the commonplace. When we are young we all dream heroic dreams. We are all going to be soldiers, sea-captains, car-drivers. We start from childhood, as Naaman started from Syria, not knowing anything, but seeing glorious visions. Like Naaman, we are bidden go wash in Jordan. Our joys have nothing remarkable about them; they are just the joys of every one else in the terrace. Our sorrows have nothing spectacular about them. There are a thousand hearts that have been torn like ours. We are not such geniuses as we once thought we were. Matched with the great world we have come to find our level. My point is that the wrong handling of that discovery is at the back of half the disappointment of maturity, at the back of half of its sin, and of its drunkenness and its divorce. How many men turn away in a rage from life’s plain duty, not because it is difficult, but because it is dull. And in our Christian experience, for we are here under the banner of Christ as Christians, have we not known something in our Christian experience of Naaman’s disappointments? I think that many men come to Jesus of Nazareth as the commander of Syria came to the prophet Elisha--we come because we need Him. We come because of the leprosy of sin. We have read such wonderful things about that great revival moving in the very heart of Wales, that we come all eager with glorious expectation. God forbid that I should even hint that these expectations are disappointed; He is able to save even to the uttermost. But when we come and cannot see Him, when we hear a voice that says, “Go, wash in Jordan,” when instead of swift miracle there is only plain command that we have heard from our childhood, when instead of great deeds there is dull and dreary service, have not men, not to say women, been moved even against Christ with this feeling that animated Naaman? You must resist that feeling, you must fight it down. To turn away from Elisha in a rage was a very poor and pitiable thing; but to turn away from Christ Jesus in a rage is the one fatal act of a man’s life.
II. There are few things more dangerous than this dislike. Let me indicate to you three very plain reasons that make it so perilous to cherish this irritation.
1. Will you remember, first, that the commonplace is the warp and woof of life? It is the material out of which our days are made. Take yesterday; think how you spent it till sunset and evening star, and you have the record of a thousand ordinary things. The fabric of our common days is commonplace. We waken, we eat, we work, we pray--God grant it--and we sleep. We go through the dull routine of daily duty; we have our little undistinguished share of trial. One of our modern novelists says a wise thing about greatness, that sadly outraged and mismanaged word. Greatness, he says, is to take the common things of life and to walk truly among them. No matter how stirring your life may be, it will be a failure if you have never been wakened to the glory of the usual. There is no happiness like the old and common happiness--sunshine, love, duty, the laughter of little children. Only a fool could think that yacht or motor-car was to be laid in the balance with these abiding things. •
2. Then the commonplace, remember, is God’s preparation for the great. It prepares us to meet great hours when they come. Simple obedience to a very plain command, for us as for Naaman, is the path to glorious hours. What did our Lord mean in that parable when He makes the Master say, “Be thou ruler of ten cities”? What did He mean when He said, “Out of thy mouth I condemn thee, thou wicked servant. Take from him the pound and give it to him that hath ten pounds?” he meant that the capacity for royal government, the power to rise to great situations and play the king, was rooted in the brave and faithful handling of the commonplace and ordinary pound. It is always so. Trace back the failure that makes all the city talk, and you will find its roots in ill-regulated years. All a man’s hope for a radiant to-morrow lies in his use of a commonplace to-day. If you cannot be faithful now when all is dreary, there is little hope of any victory then.
3. Think how Christ insists upon the commonplace. We all wish, do we not, to follow Him? The more I study Christ s life the more I am impressed by the value He sets upon the ordinary. He took a common lily that grew in tens of thousands, and He said, “Not even Solomon, in all his glory, is arrayed like one of these.” He took a commonplace child--not over clean perhaps, but with such eyes--and said, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” For Christ there was a whole universe within the mustard seed; for Christ there was a revelation in the sparrow. Instead of fretting like Naaman we shall say, “Yes, Lord, because Thou biddest me, I will go and wash in Jordan seven times. (G. H. Morrison, M. A.)
Behold I thought.
The danger of preconceptions
Naaman had heard of a man who could cure his leprosy,--so he thought out how this would be accomplished. He made a plan in his own mind, as we see in the eleventh verse. The great mistake that we have made is, that we thought we could find out a religion--we could make one. So we have set our inventiveness to work, and we have said, God must be thus and so. Religion must surprise by showing the unexpected way of doing things. Religion is not a condition of our a priori thinking. The religion of the Bible never professes to meet us half-way, to do half the work if we will do the other half. Man would rather be flattered and commended, and it would be pleasant to him to hear the old prophets say: “Thou art a clever man, and thy astuteness must be most pleasing to God and His angels; thou hast found out the secret of the Almighty; by thine own right hand hast thou captured the prizes of heaven.” Who would not be pleased by such commendation? But it is never given. The Bible pours contempt upon the thought which preoccupies the mind, and has no blessing but for those who are poor in heart, meek, lowly, contrite, broken in spirit, childlike, who say with a tender loving reverence, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to be and to do? To this man will I look.” How expectation is excited by that introduction. “Who is the man?” To this man will I look, who is of a broken and contrite spirit, and who trembleth at my word. Let us apply this suggestion to two or three of the most vital religious inquiries.
1. Apply it to the subject of inspiration. Instead of coming to the Book without bias and prejudice, simply to hear what the Book has to say for itself, we come with what is termed a theory of inspiration. As if there could be any balance between the terms, as if in any degree or sense they could be equivalent to one another. Theory equal to inspiration--inspiration equal to theory. The word theory must be an offence to the word inspiration! Inspiration is madness, ecstasy, enthusiasm, the coronation of the soul, the mind in its widest, grandest illumination. Now open the Book. The Book is as nearly not that as it is possible for a book to be. What is the consequence? The Book is not inspired, because, forsooth, it does not answer our preconception of inspiration! What does Naaman say about the Book? “Behold, I thought it would be all written in polysyllables; I expected it would be all sublime, with an unprecedented sublimity too grand for our language, and would need a language of its own too superior for our atmosphere, and would need an air created for itself.” And, behold, it is so simple, so graphic, so abrupt, so social. What you have to do with the Bible is to read it straight through, without saying anything to anybody. You have not to dip into it just as you please, you have to begin at the beginning and read through to the final Amen. In doing so you have to be as fair to the Book as you would be to the meanest criminal that ever stood at the bar of justice. When you have read the Book thus straight through, there is no reason why you should not form a distinct opinion about it. Nowhere will the Book take away your power of thought, reason, and judgment. It will rather challenge you at the last to say, “Who or what say ye that I am?” The same suggestion has its application to the great question of Providence. Here, again, we lose much by the indulgence of preconception. Given God and man. God, almighty, all-wise, and man as we know him to be, to find out the course of human history. “Behold, I thought it would he thus. The good man will have a bountiful harvest every year. The praying man will see every day close upon a great victory of life. Honesty will be rewarded, vice will be put down, crushed, condemned, by the universal voice. The true man will be king, and the untrue man will be hated and despised. Virtue will lift up her head, and vice will pray some sevenfold night to hide its intolerable ghastliness.” That was your preconception, what is the reality? Sometimes the atheist has a better harvest than the man who prayed in the seedtime, and prayed every day until the autumn came. Sometimes the righteous man has not where to lay his head. Sometimes the true man is put down, and the false man is highly exalted. Our preconception is so different from this that we feel the violence of a tremendous shock, and possibly may turn and go away in a rage. Let us consider and be wise. What business have we to invent a theory of Providence? We cannot tell what a day may bring forth. We have already forgotten all the incidents of yesterday, to-morrow we are never sure of: we are of yesterday and know nothing. What ought to be our mental attitude and moral mood? The Christian ought to stand still and say, “Lord, not my will, but Thine, be done. What I know not now I shall know hereafter. I am but of yesterday and know nothing. Thou art from everlasting to everlasting, and Thou knowest all the system of compensation which Thou Thyself hast established. In the long run Thou wilt justify thy providence to man.”
3. What applies to Inspiration and to Providence applies, of course, to the greater question of Redemption. We had thought that the plan of redemption would be this or that, and all our preconceptions fail to reach the agony of the cross, and the mystery of a sacrificial death. You see the redemption once and the vision passes, you feel the mystery, and after that the life is transfigured and becomes itself a sacrifice. If the cross has got no further than your invention, your intellect, your range of scheming, and theorising, it is not a cross, it is but a Roman gallows. There is no theory of the heart. There is no theory of love. There is no theory of a mother’s sacrifice for her ailing and dying child. You must feel it, know it by the heart, see it by some swift glance of a similar spirit, and after that you will have an understanding that cannot be put into words and phrases. As in the case of Naaman, so now. The surprise of Christian revelation is always in the direction of simplicity. Naaman had a programme, Elisha a command. Naaman had a ceremony, Elisha a revelation. Naaman required a whole sheet of paper on which to write out his elaborate scheme, Elisha rolled up his address into a military sentence, and delivered his order as a mightier soldier than Naaman. Let us burn our theories, inventions, preconceptions, prejudices, and our forecasts about God, Providence, Inspiration, Redemption, and human destiny, and throw ourselves into the great arms, asking only to be and to do what God would have us be and do. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Dangers of preconception
The history of Naaman, his position, disease, journey to Elisha, and the cure, so different from what he had expected.
I. It is natural for us to have preconceptions. We instinctively form opinions in advance. Picture the looks of a person whom we expect to meet, or of a place we expect to visit. Imagine how we will feel and conduct ourselves under certain circumstances. So with Naaman, who had pictured an impressive, dramatic scene. The prophet would come out to him, the great soldier, and there would be much ceremony and pomp. Men have conceptions.
1. Regarding the strength of conviction for sin. Wait for a certain kind and intensity. It is to be something that will take away sleep and appetite, that follows them day and night. They are to endure horrors, to be almost irresistibly driven to the Saviour. Is not this a widespread idea?
2. As to the manner of conversion. It is to be as if the heavens opened. Overwhelmed with joy and ecstasy. Not saved unless they pass from death to life shouting.
3. As to religious experience. A certain intensity of enjoyment. Clear and constant faith and joy, unmoved serenity, like that of some one else they knew.
4. As to the manner of dying. Clear mind, sight of angels, shouting. And yet the conviction, conversion, and religious experience may be altogether different from what we imagined or wished it to be.
II. Why we should not be influenced by preconceptions.
1. May lose our souls by waiting for what will never come to us. Naaman had perished had he relied upon his way alone--had he not renounced his preconception. Such conviction, such conversion as you desire, may not be yours.
2. We will be rendered unhappy if we fall short of them. Better not have them. We will be unhappy because our conversion is not like that of some one else. We can’t feel like others--we can’t shout, and therefore think there is something wrong with us. Many good men are miserable because they have not the experiences of others.
3. God works along the line of individuality and temperament. No two look, or love, or are impressed alike. We are not cast in iron moulds. One man is reached through his reason, another through conscience, another through his emotions. One is alarmed by the thunders of Sinai, another melted by the Cross on Calvary. A man’s conversion and religious experience are much like his temperament. There may be sudden light, like Paul saw, or it may come like dawn He may speak in the tempest, or in the “still small voice.” There may be ecstasy, or only a sense of quiet peace.
4. Our conceptions have nothing to do with our salvation. God’s own way for each, not for others to say what it shall be. Nothing in the Bible about kind of feeling--mode of conversion--a command to all--“Repent”--“Believe.” You are lepers exposed to death, Christ the only physician, repentance and faith the only means of salvation. Do not be deceived by false ideas. It is Christ or death. Call upon Him, obey Him, and you will be saved. (J. L. Elderdice.)
At the outset, however, we will have a few words for believers. Preconceptions of what ought to be the Lord’s mode of action are very injurious, even to those who have true faith in God, and yet they are very frequently indulged. We map out beforehand the path of Providence and the method of mercy, forgetting that the Lord’s way is in the sea, and His path in the great waters, and His footsteps are not known. This folly is seen in believers sometimes in reference to their way to heaven. They are like the children of Israel when they came out of Egypt. There is a straight road to Canaan, why are they not allowed to take it? Does not Providence often perplex you, and run counter not only to your wishes, but to your deliberate judgment? That which for many reasons seems to be the best does not happen to you, while that which appears to be distressingly injurious overtakes you. Your forecastings do not come true, your day-dreams are not realised, your schemes for life are not carried out. The like fault will arise in connection with our prayers. We pray believingly, and an answer comes, for believing prayer never falls; but the answer comes in an unexpected fashion and not at all as we thought. We prayed God to bless our family, and, lo, our wife is taken away, or our child sickens. “I thought,” say you, “but oh, how different from my thoughts!” Yes, but how much better than your thoughts I You shall find that the Lord is doing for you exceeding abundantly above all that you asked or even thought. God is enriching you by your poverty, He is healing you by your sickness, and drawing you nearer to Himself by driving you further away from creature confidence. We have cried with Jacob, Joseph is not, Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away. All these things are against me.” May God save us from that cruel “I thought,” which torments us and belies our God. On the other hand, we sometimes make flattering forecasts of the future which are equally untrue. “In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. Lord, by Thy favour Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong.” That was David’s thought. Everybody else might be tossed to and fro, but he would be calm and confident. Now listen to the sequel: “Thou didst hide Thy face, and I was troubled.” Like any other man, he feared, and his firm mountain turned out to be only a rolling cloud which fled before the blast. Preconceived notions of the way of salvation are great hindrances to the very existence of faith in the minds of the unconverted.
I. How could you expect to find out the way of salvation by your own thoughts? There are a great many things which men can discover, and the inventiveness of the human mind about earthly things appears to have scarcely any limit; but, with regard to heavenly things, the natural man has not the faculty of discerning, and never did make a discovery yet, and never will. Whatever is known of God is made known by God. Upon the face of nature the existence of God is written, but we look in vain for any indication of a plan of salvation. Jesus alone is the Saviour: how can you imagine that His way of saving can be known to men except as He has revealed it? If you could discover the way to heaven for yourself, why has the Lord given you the Bible? That inspired volume is a superfluity if your thoughts are to appoint the way of salvation. I will ask every awakened sinner here who has been settling in his thoughts what the plan of salvation ought to be, what peace his thoughts have brought to him? How far have your inventions brought you? They have led you to physicians of no value; they have caused you to spend your money for that that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not.
II. Should the plan of salvation be arranged according to your well and judgment? You are a sinner and want pardon, your nature is, depraved, and needs renewing: should the plan of forgiving and regenerating you be shaped to please your tastes and whims? Should the great Lord of mercy wait upon you, and consult you as to how He shall work out your salvation? As a reasonable man I beg you to tell me, has not the Lord an absolute right to dispense His favours as He pleases? Shall He not do as He wills with His own? You yourself perhaps are a man of generous spirit, and you relieve the poor; but suppose a poor man should dictate to you how he should be helped, and in what shape you should bestow your charity, would you listen to him for a moment? “No,” you would say, “I am not bound to give you anything. If I give, I give freely, but I am not going to be bound by rules which you may choose to make.” Beggars must not be choosers. Now, you, O unsaved one, are a beggar needing alms of God. Do you intend to dictate to the Most High how and in what manner He shall give His salvation to you? Act not so foolishly; as a reasonable man renounce such an idea. Furthermore, do you not think that, if the plan of mercy were left to your choosing, you would become very self-conceited? If you had the sketching of the system of salvation, and it were well done and fully accomplished, you would say, “My methods were admirable! Am I not wise? Did I not arrange it well?” Moreover, consider, O man, you who desire to sketch for yourself the road to heaven; do you not see how you derogate from the glory of God? Did the Lord ask your judgment when He made the heavens? when He digged the channels of the deep? when He poured out the water-floods? when He balanced the clouds? when He set the stars in their places? With whom took He counsel? who instructed Him? Who was with Him to stretch the line or hold the plummet? He Himself, in the old creation, made all things by His infinite wisdom; think you that He needs your aid in the new? In the work of redemption, did He ask your help or take your counsel when He made the covenant of grace and fixed it by firm decree?
III. By what rule are you able to preconceive that plan? You refuse to be told what that plan really is, because you think you know beforehand. Now by what rule have you judged? I will tell you in one word. The most of sinners conceive the plan of salvation to be what they wish it to be. They thought; but their wish is father to their thought. But you assure me that you have conceived the way of salvation according to your understanding. Well, then, you have conceived it wrongly to a certainty, for what is your understanding compared with the understanding of God? “Well,” say you, “but I have received my ideas from my parents.” Well, then, who were your parents? for that is a very great point in such a case. Who were they, and were they saved? Suppose your parents were lost, is that a reason why you should be? Nobody here who has a blind father would consider it his duty to put his eyes out by way of honouring his parents. If a man were born of a crippled parent, and God blessed him with all his limbs and faculties, he would not consider himself obliged to limp, or use a crutch, or twist his foot. We have an old proverb that if a man were born in a stable he need not be a horse; nor should a man be of a false religion because of his family connections. If our parents were mistaken, that is no reason why we should be. We regret it for their sakes; but with the Word of God in our hands we do not intend to follow them any farther than they were led by God. “Well,” say you, “my idea of how I ought to be saved is gathered from what I have read and observed. I cannot submit to be saved by simple trust in Jesus, for I have been reading the biography of a good man, and I want to feel just as he felt: moreover, I noticed how my cousin was troubled in mind, and I observed that she had a very remarkable dream; and, beside, she obtained very extraordinary joys, and unless I have some of these I shall never believe.” But, do you think that God is tied down to give to each penitent the same line of experience? “Yes,” says one, “but I judge by the general current of society, and the opinions that I meet in everyday life. I am a man of the world, and I form my opinion from men of the world.” Then, for certain, you form a wrong opinion, for the mind of the world never was the mind of God, and never will be. “Ye are of God, little children.” saith John, “and the whole world lieth in the wicked one.” To form your opinion of what light is by sojourning in darkness is ridiculous. To fashion a notion of liberty from the prison-house, or to describe life by observations made in a charnel-house, would be absurd.
IV. How would it be, supposing your thoughts were the fact? Let us examine the matter. You have thought, perhaps, that you ought to be saved by undergoing a ceremony. Suppose it were so; it would be a calamity. For it would give pardon without penitence, forgiveness without a change of heart. It would be a very unfortunate thing for you, if by external operation guilt could be removed, because it is clear that your evil heart would remain, and, therefore, you would still have no communion with God, and no fitness for heaven. You must be born again, you must believe in Jesus; these are the necessities of your nature if you are to be happy. True faith in Jesus works by love and purifies the soul: that is the Lord’s way, accept it, and forsake your own thoughts. You wish, perhaps, to be saved by good works; self-righteousness is your thought. Alas, if this were the way it would be an impossible way for you, for you cannot perform good works. If you can, why have you sinned at all? Perhaps you think that God might as well pardon you at once and have done with it; that is your plan. Suppose He did so. Suppose that He at once blotted your sin from His book, and there was an end of it; what peace would that give you? What security for the future? A God who could pardon without justice might one of these days condemn without reason.
V. Let me ask you, then, do you mean to be damned for the sake of a whim? Do you mean to lose heaven and be cast into hell for ever for the sake of your proud fancies? For, oh, I assure you in God’s name His plan will not alter for you. If the Lord should alter His gospel for you, then He must alter it for another, and another, and it would be as shifting as a quicksand. There it is; take it or leave it, but alter it you cannot. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” is always true, and the other side of the question is true too,--“He that believeth not shall be damned.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Man’s thoughts and God’s thoughts
1. How often are these words employed with regard to the dealings of Providence. In the midst of mysterious dispensations which befall us, whether as individuals or as communities, how apt are we to impugn the Almighty’s faithfulness, question the wisdom of His procedure, and set up our wills in opposition to the Divine. Is not this oftentimes the silent utterance of the misgiving heart,--“Behold, I thought”--it were better had such an event been ordered otherwise? What is the answer to these and suchlike unworthy surmisings? “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). To the eye of sense, however baffling and mysterious be the ways of the Supreme disposer, it is not for us to “think,” but to believe; not to question, but like Job, to kneel and to adore: not to say, “Behold, I thought” that Thy judgments are right, and I have been deceived; but, I know that they are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me: not, “I thought” that “all things are working together for good”; but, “I know” they are so.
2. But these three brief words admit of more solemn interpretation, and more solemn lessons still, if we connect them with the sinner and with an eternal world. Let us anticipate the scene. Let us conjure up some of those “thoughts” which, up to that moment, may have deluded and deceived, but which will then dissolve like a rope of sand.
(1) “Behold, I thought,” we may suppose one to say, “that I was as good as my neighbours. I saw no reason for curbing passion and leading an overstrict life. I brought myself to regard the tendencies and vices of a corrupt nature as pardonable weaknesses, too readily crediting the condoning verdict of my fellows, as they laughed at my scruples, and told me that there was no great harm after all in indulging these failings and foibles--that I was but a child of Adam at the best, and that no perfection was to be looked for here.” And is not this the very dream which many are daily cherishing--the false and fatal casuistry which is luring them to destruction? They are content to measure themselves by themselves, and to compare themselves among themselves. With blunted moral sensibilities, and confounding moral distinctions, they invoke upon themselves the doom of the prophet--“Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil, that put darkness for light and light for darkness!”
(2) Another, we may suppose, will then be ready to say, “Behold, I thought” I might with safety procrastinate. I thought I could presume on a strong pulse and vigorous arm and unwrinkled brow. I thought I had a long future yet to build upon; not an autumn-tint seemed to be on the leaf; the sun was yet far from the western sky; I was floating down the stream with arms folded, apparently secure in my barque, little imagining that the cataract was at hand. I was convinced of my folly, when I found myself suddenly in the swirl and vortex of the dark waters. I am here to bear awful testimony to the truth often listened to, but listened to in vain, that “as men live, so do men die!” And is not this, too, the daily reasoning of multitudes? Why, it may be asked, revert so often to this unwelcome theme of the peril of postponement? Just because it forms the submerged rock that has strewn the sea of life with more of mournful wrecks than any other.
(3) We may imagine the avowal of another to be this--“Behold, I thought” that God would be too merciful to punish. “I thought” that He would never surely visit such stern retribution on the creature of His own hands; “I thought,” when I came really to confront His bar, that He would either modify His recorded threatenings, or else, perchance, by a great affluent exercise of His love, grant a universal reprieve and amnesty. “I thought,” when I gazed on His outer visible creation, I saw no hieroglyphic of wrath. I saw love pencilled on every flower; I heard it murmured in every breeze, sung in the chorus of birds, proclaimed by the gleaming sun by day, and serenaded by the silent stars at night. Moreover, in looking around me on the moral world, I imagined some dim foreshadowings might be seen of the Divine oblivion of sin and reluctance to punish. “Sentence against an evil work” was not, in the earthly economy, “executed speedily.” I saw, ofttimes, virtue languishing unrewarded, and vice raising unrebuked her brazen forehead. When the Almighty did these things, and “kept silence,” “behold, I thought” that He was “altogether such an one as myself!” To refute similar “thoughts,” to which, it is feared, multitudes are clinging, and who, in doing so, reduce the unchangeable Creator to a level with the vacillating creature,--it is enough, surely, to point to the Incarnation and Passion of the Divine Redeemer, and the awful lessons which cluster around them.
(4) From another crowd in that great day of retribution, there will be heard the utterance of a more fearful “thought” still;--“Behold, I thought” that the whole world of spiritual realities was a myth--that religion was a falsehood--that God and heaven were illusions of fond fancy--that hell was a tale and nightmare of priestly terror--Revelation a repertory of artful and antiquated forgeries which superstition had palmed from age to age on a credulous world. “I thought” that there was light enough in my own intellectual nature to guide me. I heard the priests of the Temple--the recognised interpreters of the oracles of God--proclaim truths which were unaccredited and unauthenticated by any other testimony. External nature seemed to belie them. They spake of “the end of all things”; the dissolution of the existing economy; the coming of the Son of God in the clouds of heaven. I looked abroad on the material earth, with its canopy of firmament; it seemed to anticipate and echo my own sceptic thought--“Where is the promise of His coming?” All things continued as they were. Why practise a life of self-denial, as I see others do, on a mere peradventure? The visible testimony of the globe I live on is more reliable than the averments of some old parchment scrolls and devout dreamers. I shall take my chance of these alleged premonitions of coming wrath. Reason shall be the priestess of my altar, and Pleasure the enshrined goddess. Mine shall be the happy creed, of death an eternal sleep, and the grave a last, long home, whose slumbers no fictitious trumpet-peal of Judgment shall ever break! How many, in this age of rampant infidelity and unbridled licence, are deluding themselves with these very “thoughts”? The Divine injunction, with reference to those sceptic imaginations, is “message of tender compassion and love--Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him, and unto our God, and He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).
(5) What is the great lesson to us all from this subject? Is it not now to take God at His word? Like Naaman, we “think,” and pause, and hesitate, when the Divine injunction and exhortation is, “Only believe.” (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
What bars the way
Naaman went to the prophet’s door to tell him how to preach, and because the prophet did not take his lesson from Naaman, Naaman went home in wrath. My brethren, salvation is not cut to your pattern. Leprosy is not cured on your prescription; its true and only cure has laws, and rules, and obediences, and submissions, and sacrifices of its own that may all anger you to be told them, but it can be had in no other way. What do you say to humble yourself for once, and to try the thing that has hitherto most exasperated you to be tied down to it? All the chances are that your salvation lies not in the direction of your pride, and self-importance, and self-pleasing, and saving yourself of all trouble and pain. It may lie in the direction of far more secret prayer, far more self-denial, far less eating and drinking, far less talking, and far more submission of your opinions and habits of life to other men. It may lie in putting away all your present reading, and giving up much more of your time and attention to books that treat of the soul, its diseases, its discipline, and its salvation. I advise you to get over your temper, and to try that very way that you have up till now been so hot and so loud against. It will humble you to do it, and you are not a humble man; but if you ever come back from Jordan with your flesh like the flesh of a little child, you will be the foremost to confess that you had almost been lost through your pride, and your prejudice, and your ill-nature. (Alex. Whyte, D. D.)
Pride must give way
Pride has to be broken; his lofty spirit must have a fall. One of the greatest oculists that ever studied the structure of the human eye was Von Grafe, who devoted himself, body and soul, to the hospital in the city in which he lived. His services were given to the poor. He took a delight in walking the hospital and in putting the results of his medical skill at the disposal of all. The Dowager Queen of Prussia was very anxious that Von Grafe should come and see her about her eyes; but he refused again and again. At last he gave way to the pleading of those at court, and left the hospital for Potsdam, where the Queen resided. A special train brought him to Potsdam, the carriages were waiting there to bring him to the palace. Upon his arrival there the lady-inwaiting of Her Majesty came to him and said that Her Majesty was not up yet, but “she says that she will receive you in an hour.” Von Grafe took out his watch and said, “In an hour I will be in the hospital in Berlin.” No such words had ever been spoken in the palace before. Yes, in an hour, you can tell her, I will be back in my hospital.” And she came, she hurried; three minutes did her, for Von Grafe had the royalty of manhood, while she had only the royalty of artificiality. And Von Grafe, after hearing and examining her, was back in his hospital in Berlin, with ten minutes to spare of his hour. Oh, you sometimes send word to God’s messenger that it is not convenient just now; that if He will wait your convenience you will come and see Him; and Naaman just fell into that mistake. “Go and tell the prophet to come.” Pride has to be broken, and God took a means, as He takes a means with all of us to break our pride, and tumble us in the mud, and make us glad to be saved. (J. Robertson.)
The two roads
There are two roads before us. The one steep, rough, narrow, hard, but always climbing steadily upward, and sure to reach its goal; the other broad, easy, flowery, descending, and therefore easier than the first. One is the path of obedience for the love of Christ. In that path there is no death, and those who tread it shall come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. The other is the path of self-will and self-pleasing, which fails to reach its unworthy goal and brings the man at last to the edge of a black precipice, over the verge of which the impetus of his descent will carry his reluctant feet. “The path of the just is as the shining light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness; they know not at what they stumble.” (Alexander Maclaren, D. D.)
I remember a gentleman taking exception to an address based upon the words of God concerning Jew and Gentile, that both are guilty before God. I remarked, “But the Word of God distinctly says, ‘There is no difference, for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’” (Romans 3:22-23). My friend replied, “Do you mean to say that there is no difference between an honest man and a dishonest one, between an intemperate man and a sober man?” “No,” I remarked; “I did not affirm that there was no room for comparison between such cases; but my position is, that if two men were standing here together, one an intemperate man and the other a sober man, I should say of the one, ‘This man is an intemperate sinner, the other is a sober sinner.’” My friend did not know how to meet the difficulty, but answered, “Well, I don’t like such teaching.” Very quietly I replied, “Then I will make some concession, and meet your difficulty. I will admit that many are ‘superior sinners’ and that you are a superior sinner.” I shall not soon forget my friend’s expression of countenance when he had taken stock of the argument. (Henry Varley.)
Divine prescriptions must be heeded
When you take a prescription to the chemist you do not expect him to originate some medicine of his own imagining, but to make up exactly what the physician has written down. So we have not to discover some new remedy for sick souls, but to give them what the Great Physician has prescribed. His cure is infallible.
Seeking entrance at the wrong door
There are some even now who cannot make up their minds to come to God as sinners. Like the Pharisee, they go to Him with words of self-congratulation on their lips, thanking Him that they are not as other men. Pastor Spurgeon used to tell the story of a man who came to him in deep distress because he could gain no assurance of his soul being saved. He had been under religious influence from childhood, had read the Bible regularly, prayed, attended church, and lived a moral life, yet could not be sure that he was really a Christian--that he had been born again. He explained all this to Mr. Spurgeon, and asked him what he should do. “So you are not sure that you are in God’s family,” that you have entered His household? “No.” “Did you ever try to enter at the sinner’s door? You know, in great houses there is a door for visitors, and a door for servants. Perhaps you have been trying to go in at the wrong door. If you go to God as a sinner, instead of as a good man, you will get in. None are refused who go in that way. It was sinners, not the righteous, Jesus came to call.” The man went away meditating. He did not consider himself so great a sinner as others. But eventually he went to God pleading for mercy and claiming the promises made to sinners, and found peace.
Misconception as to what is primary
James Matthews tells that he called one time on an acquaintance in the West, where a young woman was boiling sorghum sap to make sugar. This is not a very cleanly business, as may well be supposed. Persons get daubed and begrimed with dirt and smoke and syrup, and hence are not in a very presentable condition. When the young woman saw “the minister coming,” she hurried away from her work,--not to wash her face and hands, but to put on some brass earrings and a breastpin, to make herself presentable. “So,” said Mr. Matthews, “there are people who are anxious about dressing when they really need washing. They need to be cleansed up, and instead of that they go and ornament themselves.” The first thing needful for a Christian is cleansing, not adorning
2 Kings 5:12
Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel.
Mr. Evil Questioning tried and executed
Proud Self and Evil Questioning are two of Satan’s firmest allies, and two of the chief destroyers of the souls of men. Both of these adversaries attacked Naaman at once.
I. Let us detect old Mr. Evil questioning. He does not go by that name in the world. When he was brought up to be tried as a traitor, he had the impudence to tell the Judge that his name was not Evil Questioning at all. “My Lord,” he said, “my proper name is Honest Enquiry, not Evil Questioning. There may be a man of the name of Evil Questioning, but I am not that person at all, and I hope it will never become a sin for a man to make an honest enquiry, and freely to ask the ground of any truth that is propounded to him. For, my Lord, if we are to take things upon mere credence, matters of faith upon the witness of men, indeed we shall soon make great fools of ourselves. My name is ‘Honest Enquiry,’ my Lord, and I think myself to be a very honest citizen.” Since Evil Questioning goes by that name, then, and you will not, therefore, readily detect him, I must take you round to see if we can find him out by his speech, for it is not by his name, but by his prating, that you may know this fellow. Now, Lord Will-be-will, according to John Bunyan, in his allegory of the Holy War, kept an officer called Mr. Diligence, who used to go about listening under people’s windows, catching every word he beard, and then he would bring to his Lord intelligence if any traitor were harboured within the gates. Let me play the part of Mr. Diligence, and we will listen a moment or two while we hear old Mr. Evil Questioning talk. He is a ready fellow, he can talk upon almost any subject; I heard him the other day preach a sermon upon doctrine. This minister had preached the truth as it is in Jesus, and he had earnestly exhorted him to lay hold on Christ Jesus, but Mr. Evil Questioning put it thus--“Now, if there are so many to be saved, and there are a certain number of people that are not to be saved, then it can make no difference to me, I had better leave it as it is; for if I am to be saved I shall be saved, and if I am not to be saved I shall not be saved. Besides,” said he, “it is irresistible grace that saves men. Now, if God sends that grace into my heart, then I shall be saved, and if he does not, why I cannot do anything, and therefore I may as leave sit still as try and do anything you know. I hear the minister say that faith and repentance are the gift of God; well, if they are the gift of God, how inconsistent he was to exhort me to believe and repent. The man does not understand logic. I shall not believe, I shall not repent. For, do you not see that it does not stand to reason that I should try to do either the one or the other, because they are both the gift of God.” Thus the man satisfied himself, and while I heard him talking, I thought to myself, “I know you, Mr. Evil Questioning, well, and I know your father too; you are a descendant of the old fellow that was hanged in Bad Street, in old Bunyan’s time, and I only wish I had the hanging of you again.” He went another day to hear a preacher. He heard this preacher talking about the universal love, and the universal mercy of God; and this minister exhorted him to lay hold on Christ. But Mr. Evil Questioning is like a spider, he can suck gall out of any flower; so he went home and he said--“Well, if God is so infinitely merciful, then my sins are very little things indeed. I need not make all this fuss and bother about them. I will just go on in them, and no doubt God will not be hard with me at the last, but will just forgive those sins off-hand, whether I believe or not. And, besides,” said he, “His mercy is so lasting, that when I come to die I will just say, ‘Lord, have mercy upon me,’ and then I shall enter into the kingdom of heaven as well as the best of them. And what is the use of that man exhorting me to believe and to repent, for he told me I might fall from grace? I might as well not begin, as begin now, presently to leave off, so I will wait till the end of my life before I begin, and then I shall run the less risk of falling from grace afterwards.” Thus he reasoned with himself. Now whenever you hear that kind of argument, you may know at once there is a traitor there. You have discovered him. That is old Mr. Evil Questioning. Do not lose a moment, run straight up to your chamber, and tell the Lord that you have found out a traitor; ask Him to send at once a warrant after him, to arrest the fellow who is doing the utmost he can to destroy your soul.
II. We will go on to describe him. Mr. Evil Questioning often boasts that he is the child of Human Reason; but I will let you know a secret or two about his parentage. Mr. Human Reason was once a very respectable man. He had a country-seat in the garden of Paradise, and he was then great and honourable. He served his God with all his might, and many a great and marvellous thing did he discover for the good of mankind; at that time he had a family, and they were all like himself, right good and loyal. But after the fall this man married again, and he took to himself one called Sin to be his partner, and this old Evil Questioning was one that was born after the fall. He does not belong to the first family at all. The first family was not so numerous as the last. There was one called Right Judgment born at that time. I hope he is still alive, and I believe he is. But the second family was very black and of tainted blood. They did not take at all after the father, except in one point, that at the time of the fall Mr. Human Reason lost his country-seat at Paradise, and together with the rest of the servants of Adam fell from his high estate and became perverted and depraved. His children are like him in their depravity, but not in their power of reasoning. They take after their mother, and they always have a predilection for sin, so that they “put darkness for light and light for darkness, bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” The old gentleman never mentions his mother’s name if he can help it. He always likes to boast that he is a lineal descendant of Human Reason, and so indeed he is, but he is a descendant of fallen Human Reason, not of Human Reason as it was in its glorious perfection. Now, all the powers of Adam were by the fall spoiled and ruined. They are there, but their bias was turned from that which is good to that which is evil, and now reason is not a trustworthy guide. Enlightened by the Spirit of God it can judge righteous judgment, but unenlightened and uninstructed, its bias is towards that which shall excuse man in his rebellion, which shall dishonour God, and which shall seek to raise the human race in proud rebellion against their Lord and Master. Understand then, that the parentage of Evil Questioning lies here; man’s perverted reason meets with man’s love of sin, and these twain do join to bring forth these evil questions. It is not your reason that makes you talk against God, except it be your perverted reason. It is your love of sin that sets your reason on the wide-awake watch to try and discover some difficulty, and to make that a pretence why you should not be obedient to the heavenly command.
III. Having thus described this old enemy I bring him out to execute him. I must give you a hit from John Bunyan’s Holy War, for it is so wonderfully suggestive, and so thoroughly worthy of its quaint author. Mr. Evil Questioning was detected harbouring four doubters, who had come to attack the town of Mansoul; when he was brought up, the indictment was that he had studied the ruin of the town of Mansoul, that he had feloniously and treacherously harboured four of the king’s enemies, and that he had expressed in the hearing of one Mr. Diligence his wish that there were ten thousand such doubters in Mansoul. The old fellow when he was brought before the bar, first denied his name, and said his real name was Mr. Honest Enquiry, but when it was proved that he was old Evil Questioning, for Lord Will be-will in the time of his evil estate had known him very intimately, then the old fellow pleaded “Not Guilty,” and he began at once to utter his defence. “I answer,” said Evil Questioning, “the men that came into my house were strangers, and I took them in, and is it now become a crime in Mansoul for a man to entertain strangers? That I also nourished them is true, and why should my charity be blamed? As for the reason why I wished ten thousand of them in Mansoul, I never told it to the witnesses nor to themselves. I might wish them to be taken, and so might wish well to the town of Mansoul. I also bid them take heed that they fell not into the Captain’s hands, but that might be because I am unwilling that any man should be slain, and not because I would have the king’s enemies escape.” So Mr. Evil Questioning was true to his name, he kept on questioning till the verdict was given, the sentence of death pronounced, and carried into execution; for they hanged him, as Bunyan says, opposite the door of his own house at the top of Bad Street. Ah! but I am afraid that he is alive now, still living and going about: I wish therefore to bring him up again to trial, and we will see if we cannot bring some charges against him; we will empanel an honest jury, and I know what the sentence will be, we shall lead him out to execution. Men and brethren, if you have been questioning, instead of believing, if you have been making enquiries, instead of saying, “What must I do to be saved?” which is the only allowable question, let me first beg of you to drive out this Evil Questioning, because he is a traitor to the King of heaven. He does not wish your good, but your ill; more than this, he is sent by Satan to prevent your obeying the commands of God: he is come to betray you. And then, again, I beseech you turn him out, for he is a liar. All the conclusions to which he has brought you are false ones, and you know they are. Another accusation I bring against him is this: he has led you into a world of mischief. This habit of questioning has often blunted the edge of some sermon that you have heard; when the Word was coming right home to your conscience, this Mr. Evil Questioning has held up a shield and prevented the point from entering into your heart; besides that, have you not sometimes when under the influence of his delusive logic gone off to the place where your lust has been cultivated, and where your conscience has been lulled to sleep? I have one other charge, and then I shall have closed up the accusation. Men and brethren, this man must die, for he has been a murderer. Oh I what millions of souls has Evil Questioning sent to hell! There are many gates to hell, but this is one of the widest and it is one of the most frequented, because it is a respectable gate.
IV. Old Mr. Evil Questioning is the father of a large family, and John Bunyan tells you about his family. He says, he married one called Miss No-hope, she was the daughter of old Dark, and when old Dark was dead, her uncle Incredulity took her and brought her up as his own daughter, and then he gave her to old Evil Questioning, and he had by her several children. I will give you the names of them, because it shall be my earnest endeavour to fire a shot at them this morning, as well as at their old father. Their names are these--Mr. Doubt, Mr. Legal Life, Mr. Unbelief, Mr. Wrong Thoughts of Christ, Mr. Clip Promise, Mr. Carnal Sense, Mr. Live-by-Feeling, and Mr. Self Love. All these were the offspring of the father, and against all these a warrant was issued by the prince Immanuel that they should be hunted down, and every one of them given to the sword. Now, I will take the eldest son, there is Mr. Doubt,--Is he not the child of Evil Questioning? Why, you can see his father’s image in his face. Another child is Mr. Clip-Promise. Do you know him? He does not doubt the promise, but he clips the edge of it. He makes out that it will not all be fulfilled, only a part of it. Now there is a proclamation issued against Mr. Clip-Promise, that whoever will arrest him shall be greatly honoured, for he is a notorious villain, by whose doings much of the King’s coin was abased, therefore it was expedient that he should be made a public example. And, Bunyan says, “They did take him, and they first set him in the pillory, and afterwards they tied his hands behind him and they whipped him through the streets of Mansoul, bidding all the children and servants whip him, and then at last they hanged him. And,” says mine author, “this may seem very hard treatment, but when one considers how much loss the town of Mansoul may sustain by the clipping of the promises which are the coins with which they trade, I can only say I hope that all his kith and kin may be treated with the like severity.” Oh! if you have attempted to cut the promise down, have done with it I pray you; and do take it as it stands in all its plenteousness of grace and all its sufficiency. Then there is Mr. Wrong Thoughts of Christ. Do you know him? Do you know what this fellow had the impudence to tell me? He said, “Oh! Christ will never receive such a sinner as you are.” And when I had come to Christ, and He received me, he said, “Oh! Christ will not hold you fast.” He will if you let Him, but then you will not let Him, for you are such a sinner He cannot hold you, and He will not. He has often made me doubt my Master’s immutability or His faithfulness, or His power to save. But as far as I am personally concerned of late, I was able to seize him, and I have laid him in prison; I think he is dying of a consumption, for I have not heard much of him lately. Glad enough shall I be to have him buried once for all. There are two others whom some of you may have known, Mr. Legal Life, and Mr. Live-by-Feeling. I think they were twins. Mr. Legal Life sometimes gets hold of the Christian and makes him judge himself by legal evidences, and not by evangelical evidence. When the Christian has kept a commandment, Mr. Legal Life will say, “There, now, you live by your works.” He knows that Christians would die by their works, and that the best of them can only live by faith. And when a Christian has made a slip, and has not kept the commandment, in comes Mr. Legal Life, and he says, “You are a lost soul, for you have not kept the commandment,” though he knows right well, “that if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Yet he tries to make his life by the law, which no Christian ever did do or ever will do, for the law is of death and not of life. Then there is Mr. Live-by-Feeling, who makes us judge ourselves according to what we feel. If we feel happy and devout, “Oh,” he says, “now you are in a blessed frame, the Master will accept you.” Anon you feel unhappy, and dull, and cold, and dead. “Oh,” says Mr. Live-by-Feeling, “you are no child of God, or else you would not be like this.” Now catch both these fellows, if you can, and away with them; away with such fellows from the earth. One of the children of old Evil Questioning was Mr. Carnal-Sense. Now John Bunyan tells us, and I believe that he is right, at least I have his authority for it, and that is no mean authority, that there is a proclamation set up in the market-place at Mansoul, that whosoever shall bring Mr. Carnal-Sense, dead or alive, to the King Immanuel, shall be made a nobleman, shall have a right to sit at the king’s table every day, and moreover, he shall be made keeper of the treasury of the city of Mansoul. There, you see, is a noble opportunity for you. There remains another one upon whom I must speak just for a minute. It is one called Mr. Self-Love. Ah, he is one of the biggest of the children of Mr. Evil Questioning. Now Mr. Self-Love was tried and condemned to die, but he had so many friends in the city, that they did not like to hang him outright. There was, however, a brave man in the king’s army, a common soldier, a man that was used to sleep out in the fields at night, and to do much hard work--his name was Mr. Self-Denial, and coming out from the midst of the crowd, just when the prisoner was going to be acquitted, he said, “If such villains as these are winked at in Mansoul I will lay down my commission.” He then took him from the crowd and had him among the soldiers, and there he was put to death. For this, the king made the common soldier a lord, and he was honoured in the town of Mansoul. “Though,” says Bunyan, “there were a good many people in the town that did not like it, and they used to mutter at it, but they did not say much as long as King Immanuel was there. Oh, do you know that old Self-Love? You will never get rid of him unless you get Mr. Self-Denial to help you; unless you are ready to deny the affections and lusts, to pluck out right eyes, and cut off right hands, and to yield up one delight after another, that so self may be trodden under foot, and Jesus Christ may be all in all. There is one other child--I have left him to the last--and then I have done with the family--Mr. Unbelief. “Now,” says Bunyan, “Unbelief was a nimble fellow.” He was often caught, but he was like the hero of the wicked Shepherd, he always broke his prison and was out again. Although he has often been kept in hold, he has always escaped, and he is every day about somewhere or other. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s way and ours
“And Naaman said . . . Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage” (2 Kings 5:12). We have here another illustration of the truth that a man himself is not necessarily the best judge of his condition, or of the course he should take to improve it.
I. Our attainment of knowledge, and of that practical wisdom which fits us for our earthly life. We cannot acquire this without laborious study, patient observation, repeated thought and consideration. The mastery of the elements of learning often seems to be wearisome drudgery, and if we do not “go away in a rage,” we are tempted to break off in vexation and to long for the “royal road” to learning and wisdom. But we must accept the method which God has prescribed for us, or remain in ignorance or folly.
II. The formation of our character. We wish to be strong and brave, to be characterised by fortitude and endurance, to be masters of ourselves, to be able to respect ourselves, and to command the esteem of the wise and good. We should like to be all that is admirable and, if possible, all that is noble in the character that we form. But how shall we build up within ourselves this honourable character? God has arranged that we do this
(1) by the hourly discipline of the home, by parental and fraternal instruction, direction, correction, and even friction;
(2) by the conscientious and careful discharge of daily duties, some of them of infinitesimal consequence;
(3) by meeting and mastering the vexations, the minor difficulties and disappointments of our lot, as well as
(4) by enduring the larger sorrows of life and gathering experience therefrom. But it may not be. “This is the way, walk ye in it.”
III. Our entrance into the kingdom of truth. We want to know all that can be learned about God, about our spiritual nature and its capacities, about our human life and its possibilities, about the future world. We prefer to solve these great problems by the exercise of our mental faculties, by interrogating our own nature, by scientific researches, by logical and philosophical reasoning. But this is not the path that conducts to the gate of heavenly wisdom. We must become “as little children” if we would enter the kingdom of truth--must be docile, trustful, inquiring.
IV. Our possession of eternal life. Of all the great questions we ask, the greatest and most practical is this, What shall we do that we may enter into the life which is eternal, that life which is found in the favour, the likeness, the near presence of God? Here we are disposed to insist upon the course which commends itself to our own judgment. (W. Clarkson, B. A.)
God’s method of healing offensive to the pride of man
I. That great men are not exempted from the evils which attach to our common nature. From one class of evils riches might exempt their possessors--the evils of poverty, perplexity, anxiety, and embarrassment. But from other ills they have no exemption.
1. None from those which attach to the body.
2. None from those which attach to the soul. Great men like others are involved in the effects of the original transgression.
II. That there are no evils attaching either to body or soul, which God cannot remove.
1. He can heal the body.
2. He can heal the soul.
III. That the simplicity of God’s remedies are frequently offensive to the pride of man. Look at the ease before us. What could be more easy than the remedy suggested? “Go, and wash in Jordan seven times.” But its simplicity was that which rendered it objectionable with Naaman.
1. It led the Jews to reject Christ. They desired the Messiah, as Naaman desired a cure.
2. It leads many to reject the peculiar doctrines of the gospel. The divinity of Christ, the doctrine of the atonement, and spiritual regeneration.
3. It hinders many from closing in with God’s method of justifying the ungodly. He offers a free pardon to men as sinners. The pride of the human heart rejects this, and brings a price--comparative innocence, works Of righteousness, acts of charity, or tears of penitence.
IV. When God’s remedies are adopted, they never fail to succeed. Look at the case before us, verse 14. In the cures by the brazen serpent, in the case of the man whose eyes were anointed with clay, in the conversion of St. Paul, of the Philippian jailer, of the great cloud of witnesses in every age, and especially of the present. Conclude--
1. With an address to those who are insensible of their disease. See how the moral leprosy has affected all your powers.
2. Address those who desire to be healed. The Jordan is flowing, the fountain is open. Come now, wash and be clean. (Skeletons of Sermon.)
Submission to God’s way of salvation
Mr. Moody remarks: “A man dreamt that he built a ladder from earth to heaven, and when he did a good deed up went his ladder a few feet. When he did a very good deed it went still higher, and when he gave away large sums of money to the poor, up it went further still. By and by it went out of sight, and as years rolled on, it went up, he thought, past the clouds, clear into heaven. When he died, he thought he would step off his ladder into heaven, but he heard a voice roll out from paradise: ‘He that climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.’ Down he came, ladder and all, and he awoke. He said if he wanted to get salvation he must get it in another way than by good deeds, and he took the other way, which is by Jesus Christ.”
Saved in an irregular way
When we were in Scotland during a former visit to Great Britain, there was an employer who became converted, and he then went to work among his employees and tried to lead them to Christ. He tried to get them to the meetings and succeeded, with one exception. The young man with whom he experienced the difficulty said, “If I am going to be converted, it shall be in the regular way--in the Presbyterian Church. As for those two impertinent Americans, Moody and Sankey, I am not going to hear them. His employer tried every way to induce him to come, but he did not succeed. We went into the north of Scotland, to Inverness; this employer sent the young man to that city on business, thinking he might possibly there come to hear us. One day we were out on the banks of the river preaching. The young man happened to be passing, and seeing a crowd gathered, he wondered what was going on. He came to see, and the text pierced him like an arrow. The truth entered his soul. The man was saved; he was converted in the very way in which he said he would not be converted. (D. L. Moody.)
2 Kings 5:13
And his servants came near, and spake unto him.
Naaman, a type of the world
The Syrian Naaman, whose story is contained in the chapter from which our text is taken, was a type of the world. As race answereth to face in water, so the heart of man to man; and we cannot read this story without discovering in it the history of ourselves. It needs no argument to convince men that they are sinners, They all acknowledge it--at times with sorrow and grief. They feel the corruption of their own hearts, how incapable they are to live up to their own standard, much more to attain perfection. While they think they are still masters, they have became slaves, and sin holds them in an inexorable grasp; its chains are iron. You have all seen such a man, perhaps the intemperate, striving with tears and sighs against the evil that beggars his family and ruins himself, and alas! how often striving in vain. Then perhaps, when you have found how vain is human help, when you have learned by painful experience how true is that Scripture doctrine of man s inability to reform and save himself, you take up your Bible or you go to church, with the inquiry in your heart, if not on your lips, what must I do to be saved? Go, wash in Jordan seven times, is the reply you hear. Repent of your sins, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; use the means of grace God has placed in your hands, the sacraments and ordinances of the Church. Like Naaman, you are wroth, and go away. You thought surely the prophet would come out to you. You expected, or at least you wished, some miraculous call--that there might be some wonderful interposition of Providence on your behalf; that, like St. Paul, you might see a light from heaven or hear a voice; that, like Cornelius, you might see a vision, or, like the wife of Pilate, dream a dream. So doing, you would give the true reason of your present refusal and delay. You would answer the question of Naaman’s servants “My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?” Simply to wash and be clean, simply to repent and believe, to seek grace in the waters of baptism, or in the broken body and shed blood of their dying Lord, or in the laying on of hands, gives them no credit. It adds nothing to their glory; it undervalues, as they think, the Abana and Pharpar of their love. It mortifies their vanity and humbles their pride; for it shows them that, so long as they refuse to look at the brazen serpent or to step into the troubled pool, so long they are not only wretched, but helpless; so long must they be content to move on, great men and honourable it may be, but lepers still. It takes away all pretence for human merit; it is mercy and grace, and not a deserved gift. It robs the rivers of Damascus of their pretended virtue, and remits the world to that fountain in which alone Judah and Jerusalem may wash; which, taking its rise in the blood of the Cross, has extended its cleansing streams into all lands. It is offered freely and without price, and men refuse to purchase; it is the gift of grace, and they will not accept it. What we need is to realise the nature of our own hearts, and to feel that God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble, that obedience is better than sacrifice, and that the humble and contrite spirit is with God of greater price than the rivers of Damascus, or all that the wit of man can devise. (G. F. Cushman, D. D.)
Relation between master and servants
Naaman must have been a considerate master, and his servants must have been reliable men, or that sensible and timely remonstrance of theirs would have been impossible. It implied friendly relations on both sides. Among the ruins of ancient Rome was discovered not long since a broken urn containing some half-burned bones. They were really the ashes of one who, as appeared from the inscription on the tablet, had belonged to the Imperial Household, and whose virtues as a faithful, honest, and devoted servant the emperor himself had taken means to record. Near the “grey metropolis of the North” is a cemetery, where can be seen a monumental stone, erected by the late Queen Victoria to the memory of an attached and honoured domestic. The gifted John Ruskin once wrote: “There is no surer test of the quality of a nation than the quality of its servants”
2 Kings 5:14
Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan.
The story of Naaman’s cure is a brief, yet beautiful, episode in the current of Jewish history. It is inserted in order to convey an impressive lesson. That lesson is, God’s particular interest in each individual.
I. Note Naaman’s disease. “He was a leper.”
1. There is a singular equity in God’s administration. In every station of life there is some drawback.
2. This affliction was specially severe. Whether it was the direct effect of personal sin in Naaman (as in others), history does not say. The core of the calamity was this: it was incurable by art or skill of man. If there be anywhere a remedy for leprosy stored up in the cells of herbs, it has never been discovered.
3. Leprosy is an emblem of human sin. The Jewish prophets were accustomed thus to view it. For, like leprosy, sin gradually spreads its malignant virus through the whole man. It degrades, and corrupts, and destroys every part. And as leprosy, in olden time, excluded a man from temple worship, so still the leprosy of sin creates a gulf between man and God. “Your sins have separated between you and Me, saith the Lord.”
II. Note the simple prescription. The prescription was that he should dip himself seven times in Jordan.
1. The prescription was marked by great simplicity. The prophet’s counsel was as plain as language could run. There was no difficulty on the ground of painfulness or expense. No course of treatment could be easier; nothing could be pleasanter than to bathe in the cool stream. If, disregarding so simple a remedy, he should retain his disease, would not his soul be stung with remorse? Would he not become a laughing-stock among his comrades? And is not the remedy of the Gospel equally simple? To repose a sincere trust in the Son of God is simplicity itself. The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son, cleanseth from all sin.
2. Yet the prescription was galling to Naaman’s pride. It is pride that keeps men back from a frank confession of their sins. Pride prevents our making reparation for the wrong done to others. Pride hinders us from putting our whole trust in God’s mercy. Pride blinds our moral vision, so that we do not see the baseness of our deeds; and often the pride in us disdains to be saved on the same terms as thieves and harlots. “Pride goeth before destruction.” “The proud, our God knoweth afar off.” Humility is the first essential to salvation.
3. The prescription obtained all its value from the power of God. “My soul! wait thou only upon God.”
III. Observe the speedy cure.
1. The cure was almost missed. Seldom has a man been so near the margin of ruin, and yet been rescued. His soldierly pride had been a tremendous stumbling-block. He had actually turned his back upon the healing stream; but the tender appeals of his own servants loosened the tenacity of his pride. An hour or two more, and his mettled steeds would have left afar in the rear the vale of Jordan, and death would have put his irrevocable seal upon him. The hour of opportunity was just about to close, the last days were fading in the west, when lo! his self-will relented. He turned his face toward Jordan.
2. The cure was sudden. Life was a new experience, the dawn of a better day. Speedily his home was invested with fresh charms, filled with an atmosphere more sacred than before. He would bestow an earthly fortune upon that little serving-maid. Already he foresaw the festive welcome that awaited him on the threshold of his palace. Already he heard the congratulations of his army, the congratulations of his king. The suddenness of his joy was a very peril to his life. The winter of his misfortune was in a moment transformed into summer glory.
3. Such gladness may be the symbol of our own. (J. Dickerson Davies, M. A.)
The cure of Naaman
But in studying our subject of the cure of Naaman, let us note:
I. That he got to the wrong house. In the community there are other houses which are strong beside those which seem so, which are strong on invisible and Divine lines. In estimating the forces which make for “the health of my people.” we must not leave out of count the most effective of all--those homes, whether rich or poor, where God is honoured, His laws observed, His name revered, His love enjoyed. These are the homes which are the healthgivers of the community, the places from which the Divine and vitalising leaven works which is to leaven the whole of the body politic. You cannot enumerate the salvatory forces of the world and leave the man of God out. He may be overlooked or sneered at, as he sometimes is, but the fact remains that if he is true to himself, to his fellows, and to the God whose commission he bears, he is one of the uplifting forces, and one of the strongest. Remove all such prophets, vocal or silent, and try to get on without them. Leave in those forces which work in the same direction, such as healthy writers and philanthropic institutions. They will run on for a time, like a coach slipped from a railway train; but at length there will be a slowing down, a stop, then a rush back down the recline to crash and wreck. Such men keep God’s waterway open, keep it from silting up; they are dredgers, if you like, true ministers, serving men’s best interests by bringing to bear God’s truth and power upon the world’s life.
II. When he got to the right house, he lost his temper. “And he turned and went away in a rage.” Now, what is it that is the matter with Naaman? It is that which is the fruitful mother of hindrances to God’s doing His best for men--“the pride of life.” Elisha’s method is “not good enough,” not great enough. Naaman wants something which shall be more on a level with his position, something more adequate to that society standard which is, of course, the unquestioned standard. By no means is Naaman without his modern representatives. Thousands of proud men do not understand, or will not recognise that, for the most part, the power of God moves on lowly levels. It is in a peasant child and in lowliest circumstances that He incarnates Himself when He comes for the world’s salvation; Divine and authoritative wisdom comes from the lips of the working man of Nazareth. His throne of redeeming power and grace is a Cross, and Naaman joins hands with those to whom the Cross is folly or a stumbling-block. Yet it is the power of God unto salvation. It is a pity when a man holds his head so high that he cannot see God at his feet. It is both a pity and a mistake when a man resents and forsakes the methods of God’s communication with him because theirs are “not good enough”; when the river of their spiritual Israel and of their healing becomes too small, or too something; when that Church or agency which has, under God, laid the foundation of our home, and has fostered all that is best in our character, is forsaken and ignored, and that not for conscientious reasons, against which, of course, no objection could be raised, but simply from motives which rule in the social world. It is a pity and a mistake both, when the birthright is sold. Abana and Pharpar are not better, for healing purposes, than all the waters of Israel.
III. Naaman had the grace and good sense to fall in with the Divine arrangement. New heavens and a new earth opened to Naaman when, coming up out of the Jordan waters, he found that his flesh was as that of a little child. The steadily accumulating mortal burden of years is lifted off, and he swings free, clean shoulders; the east wind fades out of the sunshine; the fatal flaw is remedied. How he must have longed to go post haste to tell his wife the good news! It says much for the natural goodness of this fine character that at once he recognised the God who had healed him. He will take home two mules’ burden of earth on which to erect an altar that he may always sacrifice to Jehovah. And so the story which begins in a heathen land, in a palace, in pride, in leprosy, finds a resting-place, for the present, in Israel, at the prophet’s humble door, m a lean heart and a right spirit, in cleanness and sweetness and health. It is on parallel lines with the whole Gospel story, with all the saving operations of the Almighty as we know them. The law of entrance is the humbling of our pride; the lintel of the door is low, and we must bend our heads to get in. But when we do bend our heads and enter in, the oppressive burdens are removed, the soul is cleansed from all its defilement of flesh and spirit, and we go free into all the gracious liberty wherewith God makes His children free. (J. Feather.)
God’s plan of salvation
We propose to take the narrative as illustrative of the great truth--the necessity of conforming with God’s plan to secure salvation.
I. That God’s plan is contrary to the expectations of man. So it was here. Naaman had been thinking within himself how the prophet would act. “Behold, I thought,” etc. Men would cross the ocean and wander in far-off lands in search of wisdom, they would survey the heavens, and descend to the lowermost parts of the earth, but God’s word of life is nigh unto us, in our mouth and in our heart. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
II. That God’s plan tends to humble the pride of man. Naaman thought there was some royal cure for a royal patient, and an honourable way to deal with such an honourable man. How indignant he felt when the prophet only sent a messenger to him, and the remedy prescribed being so humiliating too. So God’s plan of salvation is mortifying to the pride of the sinful heart. The Pharisees were offended at the Saviour for making no distinction between them and the sinners. We find Peter, having received the consent of the Master, walking on the sea; but the moment he began to trust himself, and feel safe in the power of his own strength, the boisterous winds and the treacherous waves frightened him, and, conscious of his weakness, he with gladness entered the ship, and was “safe in the arms of Jesus.” The gate is strait, and the road is narrow, but he who is humble and obedient is led at last to safety and bliss.
III. That he who truly feels his need will accept God’s plan. Though Naaman was at first most seriously disappointed, and turned away in a rage, yet on the counsel of his servants, strengthened by his own need and his inward conviction, he complied with the directions given by the prophet. When the sinner really feels sin a burden, and believes that the meek and lowly Jesus is powerful to remove it, he will not quarrel with the method of salvation, but will Come at once and cast his burden down, and when he truly feels his guilt he will come to the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness.
IV. That conformity to God’s plan will secure a man’s salvation. Naaman obeyed, and he was accordingly cured. “His flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”
1. Some means are generally used. The miracles of the Old and New Testaments are similar in this, that means were used in bringing about such wonderful deeds.
2. The means were not sufficient in themselves apart from the blessing of God to cure his leprosy, but as it was God’s plan it effected its purpose.
3. Naaman’s cure was instantaneous. What a happy moment for him when he discovered that the cause of his anxiety, trouble, and humiliation was removed. So the man who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, and flees to Him for refuge, is from that moment free from condemnation. The Son hath made him free, and he is free indeed.
4. His cure was complete. His flesh was made like “the flesh of a little child.” So he who accepts God’s plan is wholly renewed, created anew in Christ Jesus. (H. C. Williams.)
2 Kings 5:15-16
Now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.
This chapter contains valuable lessons concerning money; how the servants of God ought to use and to regard it. Some of our Lord’s weightiest and most solemn sayings were addressed to those who had much money, or were spoken with reference to them, as in the case of the rich fool, the man clothed in purple and fine linen, and the young ruler. The prominence given to this matter m Scripture need not be wondered at; for,
1. Money represents the good things of this world, which all are prone to love too well (Mark 10:22).
2. As the Lord Jesus has bought us, He claims absolute proprietorship over us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and therefore His claim extends to our money.
3. The manner in which a man acknowledges or repudiates this claim is, to a great extent, decisive of his spiritual condition (Matthew 6:21). In the latter part of this chapter the money test is applied to three characters, Naaman, Elisha, and Gehazi:
I. Naaman longs at once to prove his gratitude, convinced that he was indebted to the God of Israel for the cure of his leprosy (Psalms 116:12; Luke 17:15). He was wealthy, and to offer Elisha a present was the most natural way of showing his thankfulness. It is well when thank-offerings are common in families, when special gifts are offered for special mercies received by individual members of the household; thus the young are trained to recognise God’s claim on their possessions. But, more generally, a man who, through the cleansing power of the blood of Christ, has been cured of the leprosy of sin, will (if he has the means) pour his grateful offerings into the Lord’s treasury (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
II. But Elisha firmly declined the gift. He feared lest Naaman should imagine him to be influenced by selfish considerations, and to be exercising the prophet’s craft for filthy lucre’s sake. He must not leave Naaman with false impressions as to the principles of the worshippers of the true God. Bishop Patrick says: “It gives great authority to a teacher of virtue, not to be covetous.” This example shows what an all-pervading principle true piety is; it leads its votary to make the glory of God his supreme end, and to shape his course accordingly (cp. Acts 8:20; 1 Corinthians 9:15).
III. Tried by the money test, Gehazi is found wanting. He had every religious advantage: the constant attendant of Elisha, the witness of his miracles, the hearer of his words, the observer of his godly life, he ran well for a time. Covetousness, the love of money, is his ruin (1 Timothy 6:10; see verse 20). It made him a liar, and his lie made him a leper (Proverbs 21:6). Compare the cases of Judas and Demas. (F. F. Goe, M. A.)
2 Kings 5:18-19
In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant.
Naaman returned to Elisha; full of gratitude and generous recognition of his own error and Elisha’s successful power, he and all his company came and stood before He paid a willing and a grateful homage to the God of the conquered Israelites, and like Saul of old, with the same generosity and openness and natural disposition, he was compelled at once upon conviction to own the errors of the past, and to declare his firm intention of reformation for the future. His next act was the offering a gift to Elisha; free and generous in heart, he noticed the poverty of the prophet, and he wished to relieve it. On the refusal, Naaman put forward the request to be permitted to have two mules’ burden of earth: for, said he, “thy servant shall henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord.” This request is based on the old impression that the Syrian earth was sacred, as especially belonging to the land that God had blessed. Of course he might have taken as much as he pleased, but the gift of the prophet, in Naaman’s eyes, consecrated the burden. He probably intended to raise an altar in his own land, on which to sacrifice to the true God, from an impression of the high sanctity of the country in which Elisha ministered, and the healing Jordan flowed. It is a singular circumstance that there was a strong impression amongst the heathen nations that earth conveyed a sanctifying influence. The Mahometans value the smallest modicum of earth from Mecca; and the Jews themselves have so high a veneration for the earth of Palestine, that they count it their highest privilege to be carried from the land of their sojourn to be laid in the dust of their fathers. If this is impossible, their custom is to have small portions of the sacred earth, which is placed under the head of the corpse. This m the case at this day among the Jews in England, so that earth is brought over in quantities continually to be laid in and consecrate their graves. Elisha seemed to imply that Naaman might do as he wished, and take what he would. Are we right in dissembling our real opinions and faith in God in deference to the opinions of another, even though he be our superior and master? Is the permission of Elisha to extend to all eases of difficulty such as the one in which Naaman was placed? or is there some exceptional condition in the position of the Syrian, which excepts the applicability of his case to our own? But we must find the solution to this difficulty in the peculiar kind of difficulty which Naaman represents, and for that purpose we must look back to the traits which I have mentioned. We have seen throughout that there was a consistency as well as a peculiarity in his condition. He was like thousands around us--honest in heart and in intention; earnest-minded and desirous to do their duty; nevertheless, as being in the position of recent converts or of young beginners in religion, such men are placed in positions of difficulty and peril: everything depends on the sincerity and integrity of their purpose and the simplicity of their mind. These were determined in the case of Naaman by certain traits of character. The disposition must be tried by the standard of these traits before the conduct of the individual can be included within the limitations to which Elisha’s permission was granted. Here lies the point of the question. Once sufficiently show that the character be exactly that of the Syrian captain--so simple, so sincere, so little open to second motive, so fresh and earnest in its efforts to know and serve God, and Elisha’s permission takes effect. If God be satisfied with the integrity of our purpose, if with a full and fair opportunity of knowing our character, a religious teacher grant us a permission to act as Naaman wished to act, we are safe in doing it; but where such conditions do not exist, we take that permission to the peril of our souls. But I will take some cases in order to illustrate more clearly my meaning. A young person in the bosom of a family, whose parents have called forth from him deep sentiments of respect and affection, has a strong conviction that a certain course of conduct, hitherto pursued under the sanction and wish of those parents, is wrong, and can only be persevered in to the danger of the soul, and at the expense of duty to God. It may be that a certain circle of society in which such a man has hitherto moved bears to him an irreligious aspect; or an amusement has been indulged in which appears in a more than doubtful character. It is difficult, in such cases, for a young person to appear to set himself up as a teacher by breaking away from what his parents have hitherto esteemed harmless. May he continue the suspected practice in deference to the wish of the parent, and despite the violation of his own sense of right? or is he bound at once to denounce the practice, and virtually those who defend it, by suddenly giving it up? Where there is an entire simplicity and honesty of heart in such a person towards God, may we not feel that, in deference to Elisha’s permission, he had better still pursue the suspected course? And may we not feel that where a religious adviser can discover such traits of simplicity as the prophet might have done in the Syrian, that he may grant the permission to succumb externally to the prejudices and mistaken notions of others who stand in the relationship of authority. And that for many reasons, partly lest vanity or an over-strong expression of egotism be developed in the young; partly lest sincere intention, though mistaken judgment, might be so hindered in such a manner as to cheek religion or improvement in the character altogether. If, however, there be a swerve from perfect integrity of purpose, such advice would be out of place. Our own infirm nature and the world outside us offer so many temptations for lowering the standard of truth, that we should live in continual anxiety lest the conditions laid down above be not applicable to our case. Then the bowing in the house of Rimmon would simply be an attempt to serve God and Mammon. (E. Monro.)
I have often found myself wishing that this incident was not recorded in the Bible, not because it is not possible to offer a guarded justification of Elisha’s consent to what was undoubtedly an insincere action, but because under the shelter of his prophetic authority so many deeds of moral cowardice and hypocrisy have contrived to exist. To any one who is a believer in a progressive revelation, and who does not expect to find in the Old Testament as final a statement in regard to what is right and what is expedient as in the New, it is sufficient to say that this sanction of Elisha to Naaman’s request belongs to an early stage in the education of the conscience. So long as a man believes in polytheism, or so long as he believes nothing, no moral problem presents itself. But when a man is driven to the conviction that this faith and worship alike are false and idolatrous, and that they hold back mind and soul from the recognition of the true God, clearly a serious problem in ethics arises. May a man with such a belief render in the temple of idols even an external and formal homage to that from which his whole soul revolts? To what extent is it possible here to have what we call a compromise? Is it right that any man should act so as deliberately to suggest that he believes what he does not believe, and supports what he cannot support? Is it right that action should speak one way and conscience another, and that attitude should be allowed to contradict the sacred conviction of the mind? This is the problem. Naaman has enough, shall I say, of the spirit of the diplomatist left to foresee the situation that must arise when he returns to his duties at the Court. He tells Elisha that on no consideration will he ever again offer burnt-offering or sacrifice unto other gods, but only unto Jehovah. But on those occasions when his duty binds him to accompany the king to the idol temple to worship, and when he is required to bow down in formal homage to the idol of the house, he prays to be forgiven this offence against truth and conscience. Elisha reassures him, and tells him to go m peace. Now, one can easily see how far this view of compromise might carry a man, and how disastrous it might become to sincerity and reality in matters of religion. It is, if I may say so without any offence, the perilous theory that is inseparable from a State establishment of religion. We have had, for instance in England, eminent examples of kings, such as Charles II. and James II., who were Romanists at heart, and even avowedly. Their position, however, as head of a Protestant Church, required them to take an oath denouncing their own most cherished convictions. They did it. I daresay they would have said that they bowed down in the house of Rimmon. But clearly the one horrible result of such an attitude is that you can no longer believe that any one speaking in that capacity does honestly and heartily mean what he says. As soon as you begin to transfer the casuistry of diplomacy to the sphere of religion you inflict an irreparable injury upon the religious life. Men begin to make statements, sign creeds, wear vestments, and perform ceremonies which it is diplomatic to make and sign and wear and perform. And the suspicion soon ripens into conviction in the popular mind that even in the sphere of religion men do not act out of a perfectly sincere, honest heart, but having regard rather to what is expedient than to what is right and true. Unreality and insincerity may be, and are, objectionable everywhere. Nobody likes them in social life. They create in business life an atmosphere of distrust. But they are mortal to religion. If Christianity is not built upon conscience, it is a mockery. We are so often told of the harm that is done by being over-scrupulous--a temptation which does not appear so especially to beset the twentieth century--that we may do well to trace out a little further the education of the conscience. Elisha sanctioned this particular compromise, under which Naaman was permitted diplomatically to honour where conscientiously he abhorred. But now pass on to a piece of Old Testament literature which, as we know, was the product of a much later age. What was the view taken of the obligations imposed by conscience, and the possibilities of compromise, in the Book of Daniel? The Book of Daniel introduces us again to the problems connected with a State-established religion. Here is the narrative of the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up, and to which all the nation was compelled by law to do homage. Now notice how convenient to the three Hebrew youths had been Elisha’s sanction of compromise if they had only felt able to plead it. They were only required to bow down in the house of Rimmon. An outward and formal gesture of conformity was all that was necessary, and a man may keep his thoughts to himself. But during the interval it is quite evident the sense of the obligations due to conscience as a Divine monitor had developed. Compromise of the Elisha sort has become impossible, even contemptible. A man must avoid even the appearance of falsehood, and face the most fiery ordeal sooner than lend formal sanction to what his conscience and intellect condemn. That is an early part of the Book of Daniel. Later on comes an even closer parallel to the case of Naaman. For Daniel himself is a Government official, a State officer, as was Naaman; and what is required of Daniel is not a public overt homage to a false and idolatrous system, but merely to refrain from any conspicuous practice of his own forms of religious worship. Hero surely is a proper case for compromise. As one in influence at Court, it will not be politic to resist the law. And, after all, no law could prevent his putting up silent petitions to Jehovah, though he were compelled for the time to discontinue a religious custom. But so inexorable has become the law of conscience that to cast a slight upon his own sacred convictions and a slur upon his own sacred convictions and a slur upon his own religion, to discontinue the public confession and worship of the God of him and of his fathers, is a thing now unthinkable. And it remains true, I think, that, in the sober judgment of mankind, Daniel’s protest on behalf of liberty to worship God after his own fashion was not an impolitic act, diplomatically foolish, but an honourable and heroic deed of moral integrity. Well, now, the question will, I doubt not, arise whether Christianity strengthened or modified these later Jewish beliefs as to the sovereignty of conscience. I have always personally maintained that Christianity is transcendent common sense. When its principles came to be applied among people who lived under other governments, and in the presence of various idolatrous customs which had the sanction of the State, problems arose exactly similar to those presented in the Book of Daniel. We are all of us familiar with that popular pictorial representation of the fair young Christian maiden offered life on condition that she would drop the sacred bean into the censer of Diana. It was understood to be merely a formal compliance with a State Custom, and she could preserve her faith and her life by consenting to this compromise. According to the diplomatic view of religion, she would have been entirely exonerated if she had been governed rather by policy than by principle. But the early Church, less confused, perhaps, by casuistries and doctrines of expediency than we are, was inflexible in its resistance to what used to be called in England, in later days, occasional conformity. The State censer of Diana remained empty and the uncompromising Christian carried her clear, free conscience to the scaffold, and died without a blot upon her escutcheon, or a stain upon her honour. And mark, it is vain to deny that it was this heroism of constancy that broke down the power of an established paganism, as it never would have been broken down if Christianity had consented to weak compromises. The clear dictates of conscience are the beliefs which require and deserve to be supported, even by the awful final argument of martyrdom. At the same time, we must fairly and frankly recognise that even then all Christian people did not take the same view as to what conscience demanded, and many people who would never have abjured the faith did, for the sake of what they would have called, I think, peace and social harmony, feel justified in doing things which to others were doubtful, if not criminal. So far I have been rather stating principles than dealing with the practical difficulties of their application. But I do not want to deny or to ignore those difficulties. There are plenty who say, “These principles are possible of application in the Church, but impracticable in the State.” The great thing we need in the State is a modus vivendi. If the Daniels of Society insist upon their own personal convictions against the settled judgment of the general citizenship, Society becomes impossible. There must be give and take. The majority must rule, and the minority must accept its ruling, and cheerfully submit. To that statement of civic duty there is clearly something to be added. It becomes the problem of a wise State not to intrude into that sanctuary where a man’s religious beliefs have their being, and not to seek to compel him to give direct sanction and support to what he believes to be error and falsehood. Of course, this is a modern principle of civic life. In Mr. Morley’s classic discussion of compromise he has some very caustic things about the theory of what he calls the “plenary inspiration of majorities” and “the House of Commons’ view of human life.” We are familiar with the idea. If a man happen to be intellectually and spiritually built so that he is in a permanent minority in this country, he may, therefore, be compelled to contribute financial aid to institutions against which his most sacred convictions hourly protest. Political attempts to outrage religious convictions are few and far between, and, despite recent experience, they will become less and less frequent until it is recognised, as it must be recognised some day, that what is impolitic is not the resistance of the individual to laws that outrage his conscience, but the action of the State that can endeavour to put such laws into operation. But, men and women, there remains a larger and nobler cause to plead. The religion of Jesus Christ is the religion of no compromise. In this sense I mean: He asks all or nothing. Paganism would have given Him a place in the Pantheon among all other deities. It is impossible; He will accept no divided loyalty. When He speaks He expects to be obeyed. Lord, suffer me first to do this or that. No, no; Christ first, and this or that afterwards. No master was ever so exacting. The half-and-half life may succeed here and there; it is a deadly failure in Christianity. Christ’s service is to command our uncompromising support. No man ever made his mark as.a Christian who was not out and out. “Put on,” said Paul, “the whole armour of God.” To wear one piece of the harness, or two, is to invite failure, and it is to play at Christianity. Christ’s will--the whole of it; Christ’s teaching--the whole of it; Christ’s blessed gift of life--pardon, sanctification, redemption, all He has to give and all He stoops to ask--the whole of it. No compromise. That is Christianity. God give us grace to seek Him and serve Him with all our heart. (C. S. Horne, M. A.)
The house of Rimmon; or, questionable conduct
What is related in the context concerning Naaman may help us in some measure to account for these words. He does not appear to be a thorough-going, substantial, steady character; on the other hand, he is turned about by every wind. After having expressed his unqualified contempt of the waters of Israel, which he had no occasion to do, in a very short time he professes such attachment to the soil of Israel, that he begs two mules’ burden of it to carry home with him, which is equally unreasonable. Surely, then, the man who could thus fly from one absurd extreme to another, in obedience to mere impulse, was not one from whom we should have expected great consistency of conduct. We should have expected the very reverse; we should have expected him to be weak, changeable, and undetermined--professing the highest reverence for God, and yet doing what he feared God would not approve of. Possibly the prophet made allowances for him on this account; he knew something of the instability of his character, still, he would hope the best concerning him; hence, instead of reading him a lecture upon the necessity of firm, consistent, uncompromising adherence to duty, he simply said, “Go in peace,” trusting, perhaps, that as he became more enlightened in Divine truth, his loyalty to it would increase in proportion. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent; and no man needs to understand this more than God’s prophet; for even the most excellent speech, if spoken at an inopportune moment, may produce a certain amount of positive harm. The conduct of Naaman was to some extent excusable. Had it not been so, it is not probable that the prophet would have said, “Go in peace.”
1. He was but imperfectly enlightened in Divine truth. This must have been the case; for he was a benighted heathen upon whom the light of knowledge was only beginning to dawn. We read of no one about his person who could have instructed him, except, indeed, the little captive maid who dwelt in his house; but it is not very likely that she had the power to teach him a great deal, and it is still less likely that she had the opportunity of doing so. When a heathen is converted to Christianity in our own day, the missionary is not so sanguine as to hope to find him at once a fully developed Christian. He is glad to witness the beginning of the Divine life in his heart; he despises not the day of small things; he is content, if by months, or even years, of diligent instruction, he will grow into anything like the full proportions of Christian manhood. But we may look nearer home. When an aged sinner, who has all his lifetime been accustomed to do evil, comes under the saving influence of the gospel, we hardly expect great things from him. We know the terrible power of vicious habits, especially such as have been long contracted, and the immense difficulty with which they are overcome. Consequently we excuse divers imperfections in him which we should have deemed unpardonable under different circumstances. We need not wonder, therefore, that the prophet, while really disapproving of Naaman’s conduct, should be disposed to say at the time, “Go in peace.”
2. It may be that Naaman’s patriotism led him to speak thus. In spite of certain shortcomings he was unquestionably “a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria”: he was also a mighty man in valour. It appears that he was, in fact, the king of Syria’s right-hand man. By his wisdom in counsel and bravery in battle, he had saved his country from the power of its enemies. His services were therefore essential to the well-being of his nation. But it is just possible, that by refusing to accompany the king into the house of Rimmon, he would have disqualified himself in the eye of the law for the post which he held. He may have reasoned thus: “If I decline to take part in this trivial ceremony, this bowing down in the house of Rimmon, I shall deprive myself of all my power to serve my country; and what real advantage after all will the truth gain by my consigning myself to a life of obscurity? Will it not be far better for me to retain my position--influence--power, when it can be done at so small a sacrifice, and employ them in promoting the welfare of my people and the interests of truth?” To a man in his circumstances, I think such thoughts as these would have naturally suggested themselves. Be it observed, however, that though Naaman may have been excusable, in consequence of the peculiarities of his condition, still you must not rashly conclude that all others are excusable, who may adopt a similar policy. The Jesuits hold that no act is blameworthy by which their own sect may be served. No matter how unjustifiable the act may be in itself, the object secured is a sufficient set-off, The end, they say, sanctifies the means. This is a most pernicious doctrine. Moreover, the conduct of Naaman himself, though excusable, was nevertheless extremely dangerous.
3. By going into the house of Rimmon, he might have relapsed again into idolatry. He might have been gradually, and almost unconsciously, led to give over sacrificing to Jehovah, and think of calling upon no other god than Rimmon, his old and first love. We have seen men who had indulged for years in certain vicious habits, mustering sufficient courage to renounce them at once and for ever. By one tremendous effort they broke their bonds asunder, and reached the vantage-ground of liberty. But these invariably found, that their safety lay in avoiding their former associates, their former haunts, their former ways, everything, in fact, that might have tempted them to fall back into their old sins.
4. By going into the house of Rimmon he set a bad example before others. He occupied a high position, he was popular among his countrymen, he was looked up to as a man of sterling worth and blameless conduct. It would have been impossible to estimate the influence he must have wielded, he could have had no conception of it himself, people whom he had never known, never seen, never heard of, watched his movements and copied his example. Have you ever thought of the responsibility by which power is ever accompanied? No matter how trivial, how insignificant, the power may be, there always attaches to it a certain amount of responsibility.
5. Let us, therefore, dwell upon the following subject:--The evil of following a questionable course of conduct. I do not merely affirm that it is wrong to do what is positively bad--what is considered wicked by universal consent, but I maintain that it is wrong to do that concerning which we have any misgivings, that which we only suspect to be evil, that respecting which the heart entertains but a vague dissatisfaction. Consider that--
(1) It degrades the conscience. That conscience of yours is a sacred trust, a precious inheritance; and no sacrifice should be deemed too great to be made for its preservation. A good conscience is better than gold, better than power, better than fame, for it puts man on a level with the angel, directs his steps in perplexity, and strengthens him to endure sorrow; while a bad conscience makes man a demon, leaves his ruthless passions without a curb, and ultimately sinks him down to the lowest hell. That man is utterly lost whose goodness is altogether dependent upon external influences, who has within him no sense of justice and honour by which to shape his conduct. This, however, is precisely the state in which men with depraved consciences find themselves. The law of the land, public opinion, worldly interest--these are the only cheeks upon his vices. But I would give little for the restraint of law, or of public opinion, or of worldly interest; for there are innumerable circumstances in which they can exercise no power whatever. What is it, then, that degrades the conscience? This must be a question of unspeakable importance. I should like, therefore, to give it a straightforward answer. The conscience is degraded when its judgments are spurned, when its voice is silenced, when its reproofs are softened down. And no one does this more effectually than the man who knowingly pursues a course of conduct whose righteousness is questionable.
(2) It weakens the moral power. True strength--real power--of whatever kind it may be, ought to be coveted. Weakness is no advantage, either to yourself, or to the world at large. Hence the apostle said, “Quit you like men, be strong.” In what sense? Bodily?--intellectually? Doubtless the apostle appreciated strength in both senses. But he referred in these words to a nobler strength--moral strength--which is after all the true strength of a moral being, and without which he is the embodiment of weakness itself. When Martin Luther faced the great Council at Worms, and declared, at the peril of his life, that he would not recant one iota of the principles of the Protestant Reformation, he displayed his moral power. This is at once the grandest and the mightiest power which man can possess. In proportion as we have it are we great; in proportion as we lack it are we small, worthless, and despicable. Now, mark! your going into the house of Rimmon, your doing things which are not strictly right, is sure to paralyse your moral nature. The thought of this will haunt you when you least expect it; the consciousness of it will make you feel powerless when you need most to be strong.
(3) It hampers spiritual aspirations. This is the worst thing of all about it. Man has been created in God’s image; his soul is a temple for the Holy Ghost to dwell in; he is satisfied--content--happy, only as he is able to hold communion with the Infinite. (D. Rowlands, B. A.)
This portion of Scripture is often misunderstood. It is thought by many that Naaman asks permission to offer some measure of worship to Rimmon while he mainly worshipped Jehovah; and that the prophet grants his request. An examination of the passage will, however, set it in a different light.
1. Naaman came to Elisha as an idolater and a leper. The miracle by which he was cleansed made such an impression upon him, that he became a convert to the Jewish religion, and he asked from the prophet permission to take two mules’ burden of earth from the land of Israel, as possessing superior sanctity, to build therewith an altar, as is generally supposed, in his own country, declaring his resolution to offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord. It is very evident that Naaman does not ask permission to worship Rimmon, for he had lust asserted that he would henceforth offer no sacrifice to any god, but the Lord. And we may observe that our translators have marked their sense of the passage, by using two different words in our text to express Naaman’s act, and his masters: “When my master goes to worship, and I bow myself,” an interpretation of which the original is susceptible, so that he asks no permission, in their opinion, to worship Rimmon. It seems that it was Naaman’s duty to attend the king of Syria when he went to pay his idol homage, and as the king leaned upon him with his arm upon his shoulder, and bowed very low, he could not well avoid bending his own body with the king. And he meant to ask, whether, if he did this out of duty to his master, and not of reverence to the idol, he should commit sin. It showed great tenderness of conscience in him. If the same question were put to us, we should say that it would depend very much upon circumstances whether it would be right or wrong for Naaman to do this. Elisha said unto him, “Go in peace,” that is, Do as you have said, and you will not sin. Was not the prophet right in this decision? There was a precisely similar question in the apostles’ days. The meat in the markets had generally been offered before some idol, then taken away and sold, and it became a matter of scruple whether a Christian might eat of that meat. St. Paul decided the question just as Elisha did a similar one. If any ate of it without intending to honour the idol at all, there was no sin in eating; but if their act was considered as sanctioning idolatry, they were to abstain. There are cases of a similar nature occurring in the present day, that may be similarly settled. A Christian traveller sometimes gains admission to a mosque, but is required to put off his shoes at the entrance; now he does not consider that as sanctioning Islamism, nor does his guide suppose that he has changed his religion thereby; therefore, there is no sin in it.
2. But there is another explanation of our text which may be more satisfactory, though that already given seems conclusive. We need not consider Elisha’s answer as at all deciding Naaman’s question. He saw, perhaps, that Naaman was already doubtful as to the expediency of the thing; he knew that his heart was, in the main, right, and he may have preferred to leave him to the teachings of his own conscience, as he became more enlightened, rather than to give him a solution of his scruples. And therefore he may have waived the question, bid him go in peace, and not trouble himself for the present in the matter. Now, taken in this view, it is easy to justify the prophet’s answer. Some regard must be had, in unfolding truth, to the state of the inquirer’s mind. The natives of Hindostan, for instance, are divided into castes. If the missionaries were to insist at the outset on the entire renunciation of caste, they could do nothing, and therefore they prudently say but little upon the subject, and gain the beliefs of their converts to the great truths of Christianity, trusting that they will gradually renounce caste, as indeed they do, But it would be a very different thing to attempt to introduce caste into a Christian country. There was a like state of things in the apostles’ days. Many of the Jewish converts were strongly attached to their old Jewish rites. They believed in Christ, and yet kept the laws of Moses. Now the apostles allowed them to go on in their customs, and to become gradually weaned from them, and did in effect say to them as Elijah did, “Go in peace.” But when the question was, whether the Gentile converts should come under Jewish rites, every apostle was opposed to it. Let none call this a time-serving doctrine, nor condemn the prophet for not as decidedly refusing Naaman’s request. Let none say that the whole truth should be told, and that every man must come up at once to the standard of duty. The whole truth must, indeed, be told, but some regard must be had to the order and mode of telling it, as our Lord has taught us in saying, that new wine must not be put into old bottles. We do not let in the full blaze of noon on the eyes of one just recovering his sight. Religion has its milk for babes and its strong meat for men. When a city is besieged, the first point is to gain the chief defences, and the besiegers do not stop to carry every private house that may contain an enemy, but press on and seize the fortress first, and then proceed to take other posts in detail. So Elisha was satisfied for the present with having gained the citadel of Naaman’s heart, and expected that he would gradually yield in everything to the truth.
3. We may learn from our text, so explained, some useful lessons on the subject of worldly conformity. What Rimmon, Baal, and Belial were to ancient believers, the riches, honours, and pleasures of the world are to Christians. The only safe guide in the matter is a heart filled with the love and the Spirit of God. Elisha left Naaman to this guidance, and God leaves the Christian to the same. If we love God supremely, we shall be in no danger of loving the world too much; and if we love our fellow-men, we shall not embitter them against religion by any fanatical austerity.
4. We may learn, again, from our text, that no Christian can always judge how far his fellow-Christian may go in conformity with the world.
5. And finally, while we are charitable in our judgment of others, we ought to be strict in watching against worldly conformity in ourselves. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
Bowing in the house of Rimmon
Peculiar characteristic of the Bible that its claims upon us are of a sovereign order. We may dispute its authority. But friends and foes alike confess that the Bible makes pretensions which other books fail to make or to sustain in anything like the same degree. Those who assail the Scriptures say that this very claim is their weakness. They point to commands which they allege are immoral or unjust, and which yet, they say, are asserted to have come from God, and they ask how can the Book be inspired which lends its sanction to immorality and injustice. And it must be admitted that the apologists of the Bible have not always been wise in their defence. They have treated every part of Scripture alike. They have not been careful to distinguish between what the Bible narrates and that which the Bible authorises. These remarks apply directly to the narrative in my text. Here we find Naaman making an excuse, it is said, for dissembling his religious convictions, and Elisha accepting the plea. Naaman is convinced that Jehovah is the true God, and will worship Him, but is not prepared to make any sacrifice for his faith. To bow in the house of Rimmon is the condition on which he retains rank and honour and his master’s favour, and the prophet does not forbid the outward act o| idolatry. What is this but to open a wide door for every species of dissimulation, and to make expediency, not truth, the rule of conduct? Now, to state the question thus is to answer it to every honest mind. But to state the question thus is not to state it fairly.
1. In the first place, even if Elisha did not accept Naaman’s plan, it would not follow that he was right. An inspired prophet was not equally inspired at all times. Except when he distinctly claims to speak as a messenger of God, there is no reason to suppose that any Divine sanction attaches to his words (St. Peter publicly rebuked by St. Paul).
2. But in the next place, did Elisha accept Naaman’s plea? The evidence turns entirely upon Elisha’s answer: “Go in peace.” These words, it is said, do give the permission which Naaman craves. But is it so? These words do not imply all that they may seem to our western ears to imply. They are the common form of Oriental leave-taking. Sometimes, it is true, in Holy Scripture, the phrase means something more than “Farewell,” conveys apparently the further notion of approbation. (Instances: Exodus 4:17-18; Judges 18:6; 1 Samuel 1:16-17.) And we know how in the New Testament our Lord has given a sanctity to the phrase (Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50). Such words in His lips were more than valedictions; they were benedictions also. But in the Old Testament they would have no such fulness of meaning. On the part of Elisha they do not necessarily express even acquiescence in the conduct which Naaman was seeking to excuse. They may have been little more than a courteous dismissal. Hence he would not sanction Naaman’s want of consistency on the one hand, nor condemn it on the other. He declines the office of judge. He leaves conscience to do her work. Elijah would have thundered in his ears, “If the Lord be God, then follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.” Elisha says, “Go in peace.” The prophet saw Naaman’s weakness, but he saw also Naaman’s difficulty. Put the worst construction upon his words, and you will say he evades the question. Put the best, and you will say he exercises a wise forbearance.
4. But a question remains which may fairly be asked: how far is Naaman to be excused in urging the plea which he urges in the text for compliance with an idolatry which he professed to have renounced? If we would judge a righteous judgment we shall not judge Naaman by a light and according to a standard which he did not possess. We shall look fairly at his circumstances, we shall consider his opportunities. The miracle had deeply impressed him. He vows that henceforth he will worship no God but Jehovah. Doubtless he was perfectly honest in the expression of his convictions. He intended to make no secret of them; for he was prepared to build an altar to Jehovah. He was even alive to the inconsistency of his conduct; he felt that he was asking an indulgence for what he could not wholly justify--“The Lord pardon thy servant in this thing.” But we see also that superstition mingled with his faith. He thought that one place was holier than another. The soil of Israel must, he thought, be holier than the soil of Syria; and so he will have two mules’ burdens of earth of the prophets that he may build an altar to Jehovah. It is not from such a man that you could look for clear insight or heroic resolution.
5. But another and different question is suggested to us by this history. How far is Elisha’s conduct a guide for those who go as missionaries to the heathen now? (1 Corinthians 8:10-11). Here we have the broad principle of truth and charity which Elisha had not the knowledge, even if he had the courage, to lay down. But Naaman had no “weak brother” to be offended by his conduct. And the mighty, overpowering motive, “for whom Christ died”--Naaman knew nothing of this. Naaman had not heard, Elisha had not heard of One “Who being in the form of God,” etc. (Philippians 2:6-30 that He might breathe into them something of His own spirit of self-sacrifice; that He might teach them to take up their cross daily and follow Him. (The Dean of Peterborough.)
There are no little sins
Some suppose that Naaman referred to the past; that when he said, “In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant,” he entreated forgiveness of what he now saw was criminal; and that when the prophet answered, “Go in peace,” he announced the pardon entreated; but to this view of the case there is a serious objection. To avoid it, therefore, others conclude, and with them I fully concur, that Naaman spoke prospectively, and that the prophet, aware of Naaman’s conviction, that bowing with the king in the house of Rimmon was wrong, left it to produce its effect; assured, that by the grace of God, he would soon see that idolatry must be totally abandoned, and that he who would serve God acceptably, must abstain from the appearance, as well as the reality of evil. Incorrect views of the evil of sin are, however, still entertained by those whose minds are altogether unenlightened; or only, as was most probably the case with Naaman, partially illuminated. Every attempt to extenuate sin discovers great depravity. You do not proceed thus as to trespasses against yourselves and society. Does a man take away, without authority, a part of your property? You do not call it a mistake, or a misappropriation, but a theft. Yes, in such cases you are sagacious in discerning, and inexorable in judging; you make no allowance for the suddenness of surprise, or the power of temptation; a single failure convinces you of the absence of moral principle, and is deemed sufficient to blast the reputation--to destroy the character of him who discovers it. But, I ask, are you thus eagle-eyed, jealous, and rigorous, as to sins against God? Let the expressions current among us furnish a reply. Is a man proud? He is said to maintain his proper dignity. Is he full of wrath? It is said, the things he suffered were enough to make him angry. Is he profane? It is said, he has contracted an unfortunate habit. Does he eat and drink to excess? It is said, he lives rather too freely.
I. That many acts which men account little, have been visited with signal expressions of God’s displeasure. Why, for instance, were Ananias and Sapphira struck dead? It was in each case for a single act of equivocation! Why was a prophet devoured by a lion? because he yielded to the solicitations of another prophet, to eat and drink, instead of pursuing his way? Why were forty-two young persons torn in pieces by bears? because they mocked Elisha! Why was an Israelite stoned to death? because he gathered sticks on the Sabbath Day!
II. To assign some reasons for the Divine procedure. And be it remarked,
1. That an act in itself inconsiderable, may indicate the existing state of feeling as clearly as one that is more palpable. As the motion of a leaf shows the quarter from which the wind blows, as certainly as the agitated branches of an oak, so you may gather any one’s dislike, though he does not strike you, or abuse you, or attempt insidiously to destroy your reputation.
2. That a sinful act is not isolated and alone, but is commonly the commencement of a series of iniquities. So it is in reference to the individual. “Sins,” says Henry, “are like circles in the water, when a stone is thrown in; one produces another.” Gehazi committed the sin of avarice,--this urged to the sin of fraud; and the sin of fraud prepared for the sin of falsehood. Cain cherished the sin of unbelief,--this gave rise to the sin of anger; and the sin of anger issued in the sin of murder. One leak may sink a vessel;--one spark may explode a fortress;--one wound may kill the body;--one lust may damn the soul!
3. That every sin is inimical to the character and government of God. A common and sound principle of judgment has determined that the guilt of an act depends, in part, on the object at which it is aimed. To strike a beast wantonly is inhuman--to strike a father is parricidal--to strike a king is traitorous, and, by the consent of nations, merits death. “Against thee, O Lord, against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.”
III. To trace the bearings of this subject on our knowledge and practice.
1. The subject casts a revealing light on the future punishment of the wicked.
2. The subject urges on us faith in Christ, and habitual dependence on Divine influence.
3. The subject demands the cultivation of Christian delicacy. This is easily distinguished from hypocritical scrupulosity; the one regards great things, the other all things the one is accompanied by bitterness, the other by kindness of spirit; the one is merely public, the other is secret also; the one is transient and occasional, the other regular and habitual.
IV. This subject should stimulate us to the employment of every counteractive and every preventive of sin. Some of you are in possession of means of usefulness, which God has greatly owned and blessed. As heads of families, walk before your households with a perfect heart, and “train up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” As teachers of the young, aim diligently and devoutly to lead them to Him, who “gathers the lambs with his arm, and carries them in his bosom.” As visitors of the ignorant,--the poor,--the destitute, show with affection, faithfulness, and zeal, how they may become “rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven.” And consecrating your time, your talents, your property, your influence, to the cause of God, go forward, until the curse shall be removed, and “righteousness and praise spring forth before all nations.” (C. Williams.)
The new convert and idolatry
On Naaman’s bowing in the house of Rimmon, and Elisha’s non-interference (2 Kings 5:18-19), Dean Farrar writes thus: “Elisha’s permission must not be misunderstood. He did not hand over this semi-heathen convert to the grace of God . . . The position of Naaman was wholly different from that of any Israelite. He was only the convert, or the half-convert, of a day . . . To demand of one who, like Naaman, had been an idolater all his days, the sudden abandonment of every custom and tradition of his life, would have been to demand from him an unreasonable, and, in his circumstances, useless, and all-out impossible self-sacrifice. The best way was to let him feel and see for himself the futility of Rimmon-worship . . . But the general principle that we must not bow in the House of Rimmon remains unchanged.”
Von Zealand, Frederick the Great’s finest general, was a Christian although his Royal master was a scoffer. One day he was making his coarse jokes about the Saviour, and the whole place rang with guffaws of sympathetic laughter; and it was too much for old Von Zealand. Standing up amid the hush of the Court flatterers and parasites, shaking his grey old head solemnly he said: “Sire, you know I have not feared death. I have fought and won thirty-eight battles, but I am an old man, and shall have soon to go into the presence of a greater than thou, the Mighty God who saved me from my sin, the Lord Jesus Christ, against whom you blaspheme. Sire, I cannot stand to hear my Saviour spoken of, as thou hast spoken of Him. I salute thee, sire, as an old man who loves the Saviour, on the edge of eternity.” Then he sat down. Frederick, with a trembling voice, replied, “General, I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon.” The company dispersed in silence, and the king that night reflected as he had never done before on the King of kings whom his brave general reverenced as his Saviour. (Life of Faith.)
True to conscience
Our late Queen, Victoria the Good, once noticed a sergeant of the Scots Guard drilling one of the Duke of Connaught’s children, and being pleased with him she invited the sergeant to appear at some private theatricals. The sergeant hesitated, and then asked if Her Majesty would graciously allow him to decline, for the theatre had been a snare to him in the past. The Queen agreed at once, and said she liked to have about her men who kept to their convictions, and shortly afterwards sent him a token of royal favour.
2 Kings 5:20-27
Gehazi, the servant of Elisha.
The name Gehazi means “valley of vision,” and is appropriate enough if we think of what Gehazi saw as to the nature of wickedness when the prophet opened his eyes.
1. Gehazi was “the servant of Elisha, the man of God.” Surely then he would be a good man? Can a good man have a bad servant? Can the man of prayer, whose life is a continual breathing unto God of supreme desires after holiness, have a man in his company, looking on and watching him, and studying his character, who denies his very altar, and blasphemes against his God? Is it possible to live in a Christian house and yet not to be a Christian? Cause and effect would seem to be upset by such contradictions. There is a metaphysical question here, as well as a question of fact. A good tree must bring forth good fruit; good men must have good children; good masters must have good servants; association in life must go for something. So we would say--emphatically, because we think reasonably. But facts are against such a fancy. What is possible in this human life? It is possible that a man may spend his days in building a church, and yet denying God. Does not the very touch of the stones help him to pray? No. He touches them roughly, he lays them mechanically, and he desecrates each of them with an oath. Is it possible that a man can be a builder of churches, and yet a destroyer of Christian doctrine and teaching generally? Gehazi did not understand the spirit of his master. He did not know what his master was doing. How is it that men can be so far seperated from one another? How is it that a man cannot be understood in his own house, but be thought fanciful, fanatical, eccentric, phenomenally peculiar? Gehazi had a method in his reasoning. Said he in effect: To spare a stranger, a man who may never be seen again; to spare a beneficiary, a man who has taken away benefits in the right hand and in the left; to spare a wealthy visitor, a man who could have given much without feeling he had given anything; to spare a willing giver, a man who actually offered to give something, and who was surprised, if not offended, because his gift was declined! there is no reason in my master’s policy. It never occurred to Gehazi that a man could have bread to eat that the world knew not of. It never occurs to some men that others can live by faith, and work miracles of faith by the grace of God.
2. Gehazi prostituted an inventive and energetic mind. He had his plan (v. 22). The case was admirably stated. We have no hesitation in saying that the men of the world in most cases overmatch the men of the Church in matters of strong thinking regarding practical subjects and practical ministries and uses. We who are in the Church are afraid: we want to be let alone; not for the world would we be suspected of even dreaming of anything unusual; we would have our very dreams patterns of neatness, things that might be published in the shop windows, and looked upon without affronting the faintest sensibility on the part of the beholders. But the Gehazis, if they were converted, they would be men of energy, dash, courage, fire; we should hear of them and of their work.
3. But Gehazi was successful. Now all is well: lust is satisfied, wealth is laid up; now the fitness of things has been consulted, and harmony has been established between debtor and creditor, and Justice nods because Justice has been appeased. Were the test to end with the twenty-fourth verse we should describe Gehazi as a man who had set an example to all coming after him who wished to turn life into a success. Who had been wronged? Naaman pursues his journey all the happier for thinking he has done something in return for the great benefit which has been conferred upon him. He is certainly more pleased than otherwise. The man of God has at last been turned, he thinks, into directions indicated by common sense. All that has happened is in the way of business; nothing that is not customary has been done. Gehazi is satisfied, and Elisha knows nothing about it. The servant should have something even if the master would take nothing. It is the trick of our own day! The servant is always at the door with his rheumatic hand ready to take anything that may be put into it. We leave nothing with the master; it would be an insult to him. So far the case looks natural, simple, and complete; and we have said Elisha knows nothing about it. Look at Elisha: fixing his eyes calmly upon Gehazi, “Went not mine heart with thee?” Oh that heart! The good man knows when wickedness has been done: the Christ knows when He enters into the congregation whether there is a man in it with a withered hand; He says, There is a cripple somewhere in this audience. He feels it. “Went not mine heart with thee?” Was I not present at the interview? Did I not hear every syllable that was said on the one side and on the other?
4. Then the infliction of the judgment: “The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever” (v. 27). Thou hast touched the silver, thou didst not know that it was contagious and held the leprosy; thou didst bring in the two changes of garments, not knowing that the germs of the disease were folded up with the cloth: put on the coat--it will scorch thee! “He went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.” A splendid conception is this silent departure. Not a word said, not a protest uttered; the judgment was felt to be just. Men should consider the price they really pay for their success. Do not imagine that men can do whatever they please, and nothing come of it. Every action we perform takes out of us part of ourselves. Some actions take our whole soul with them, and leave us poor indeed. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Defilement of God’s work by covetous men
It is at once most surprising and most saddening to know that some of the best works that have been done on earth for God, and some of God’s most eminent workers, have been defamed and lowered, if their influence has not been actually counteracted and nullified, by inferior workers and by unworthy men. This defiling of God’s work has generally come from one source, and is the result of one vile lust or passion, covetousness--the desire for the means of gaining power or wealth, or place, or self-indulgence; the desire for dominion or money as the means of self-exaltation and aggrandisement. As illustrating this I need only mention the repulsive histories of Balaam, of Achan, of David’s impious numbering of Israel, the story of Gehazi now before us, and the dark atrocity of the life and death of Judas Iscariot.
1. The action and duplicity of Gehazi are of singular unworthiness. Like so many other histories they show that intercourse with good men and association with God-like work may become only the occasion of worse vileness in a man. The followers of Luther were seldom worthy of him. The followers of Calvin have not been true to their master. The adherents of the hallowed Wesleys did not take their sacred work only. The converts of Paul almost broke his heart. And the followers and servants of Jesus--where is there one of us who is worthy of his Master? Too often has it been found that one of the most repressive influences about the work of great men and good servants of Jesus Christ is in the fact that some of their nearest followers have had unworthy souls; and could turn their Master’s greatness into the service of their own inferior aims and into the means of advance in this world. Do not many of us come to Christ with selfish feelings and serve our God for hire? Being with the good and great will not necessarily make us similar; otherwise Gehazi would have been a better man.
2. Gehazi’s covetousness was of a gross, material kind--the love of money; and the miserable influence of it upon him is seen in this: that it produced inability to appreciate Elisha’s spiritual motives. All that Gehazi let himself see was, that with the departing Naaman so much money went away too. More especially, however, notice that, as with Gehazi, so, generally, the covetous and unprincipled man lowers himself to a level on which he is unable, in daily life and business, to appreciate other motives than those of getting gain; or to measure anything in life’s movements and enterprises by any other gauge than that of the money that can be gained or must be lost. Because of this abasing and prostituting of nature, Paul earnestly declares covetousness to be practically idolatry, and has its legitimate consequences on man’s inner life, in antipathy to Jesus, and self-mutilation, with much sorrow. Gehazi could not feel the power of Elisha’s spiritual motives in sparing Naaman and letting him go free of payment. He rather thought--why should my master not have taken the money? What good was it to let the talents of silver and gold and the beautiful Syrian robes go? The fair damask raiment of Damascus--why should it be lost? Naaman could afford it; and it would be far less than the equivalent of what he had received from Elisha. Look which way he would, the money that had been lost, the gain that had not been made, was ever alluring his debased soul Elisha’s noble determination that the mercy of his God should, in Naaman’s case, be had literally “for the asking”: his resolve that the goodness of God should be then, as we say now, of grace, and not of buying or deserving, either before or after it had been obtained,--this to such a soul as Gehazi’s was useless, fanciful, intangible.
3. In several other ways Gehazi’s covetousness involved him in sin, and further defiled the good work that had been wrought by Elisha. To notice these is to see a testimony to a law of God that the young cannot heed too much--the law that forbids the possibility of solitary sins, isolated transgressions. There are no lonely, single sins. Sin needs sin to help it along, to buttress it, to back it, and give it success. One deception leads to another, and needs it. One lie begets another, and requires it to succeed. And it may be well for us all to remember that all the good and gains of this grand world are not worth one little lie.
4. Now we come, as men say they have so often in daily life and business, to face this misery--the success of the lie. The falsehood has thriven; to deceive has been found to be the short road to wealth; to insult God, to defame His work, to misrepresent Elisha and plunder Naaman, these things have “paid,” as men say. (G. B. Ryley.)
A voice of warning
I. Let us note the danger of unimproved and abused spiritual privileges. Gehazi’s religious advantages, in all probability, began at a date anterior to the time and mission of Elisha. One tradition speaks of him as the boy who sped at the bidding of the Tishbite to the top of Carmel, to watch the rising of the expected cloud over the Mediterranean, precursive of the longed-for rain. This, at all events, we know, that seven years previous to Naaman’s pilgrimage, he was the witness of Elisha’s greatest miracle, when he brought back the Shunammite’s son to life. Doubtless, during these intermediate years, he had seen many other signs and wonders authenticating his master’s Divine call He had mingled with the youths--his own contemporaries and fellow-students--in the college of the prophets: and, above all, in common with them, and more than them, he had been the privileged eye-witness of the pure, exalted character and consistent walk of his honoured superior. Alas! that no fall is so low and so fearful as the fall of a man “once enlightened,” and who has “tasted of the heavenly gift.” No recoil to sin is so terrible as the recoil on the part of one who has “tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come.” The religious training and pious fellowship which softens and ameliorates the docile, teachable heart; if abused and rejected, will only serve to stir up the natural, innate tendencies of evil. Let us write “Beware” on our seasons of loftiest privilege, and on our moments of highest inspiration. “Beware” of a spirit of indifference to Divine things, harbouring aught that would blunt the fine edge of conscience, and grieve the Holy Spirit of God; allowing religion to become a weariness; outwardly professing godliness, while inwardly in league with the world, the flesh, and the devil.
II. A second lesson we may learn from the story of Gehazi, is the certainty of sin’s detection. It was a boldly conceived and a boldly executed scheme of the audacious criminal. Such were the air-castles which Gehazi, in common with thousands of accomplished graduates in crime, have reared for themselves. But he forgot, or tried at least to bury from remembrance, the truth which he had embodied in his own thoughtless imprecation, that “Jehovah liveth.” It is true that sentence against an evil work is not always (indeed, is seldom) executed speedily. God many times seems to “keep silence”--to be like the Baal of Carmel, “asleep.” The daring and presumptuous venture their own sceptic conclusions on this forbearance of the Most High, in thinking Him “altogether such an one as themselves”--“The Lord doth not see, neither doth the God of Jacob regard” (Psalms 94:7). If, however, there be in the present state, exceptions to this great retributive law in God’s moral economy, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And as the detection will be sure, so also will the punishment be commensurate with the crime. In the case of Gehazi, most meet and befitting was the nature of the retribution. He would rob the restored Commander of his festal garment; a white garment, too, he shall have in return, but very different truly from the one he has avariciously appropriated:--a garment of terrible import, which in a terrible sense shall “wax not old,” for it shall go down a frightful heirloom to his children’s children. It is a robe of leprosy, “white as snow.” Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap!”
III. A third lesson we may draw from the narrative is, the tendency of one sin to generate another. When the moral sense becomes weakened, and moral restraints are withdrawn, the horde of demons gather strength;--the avalanche of depravity acquires bulk as well as velocity, in its downward course of havoc and ruin. “These wild beasts--the wolves of the soul--may hunt at first singly, but afterwards they go in packs, and the number increaseth the voraciousness thereof.” When the citadel of the heart is carried by assault, one bastion after another is dismantled, and its treasure abandoned to the enemy. The Reaper angels, in the final harvest of wrath, are pictured as gathering, not single stalks, or even sheaves, but “bundles to be burnt.” Mark the sad experience of Gehazi:--
1. Note his covetousness. Avarice was the besetting sin of his nature--the prolific parent of all the others.
2. But the motive-power of covetousness roused into action other depraved, and, till now, slumbering forces. We have to note next, his untruthfulness. Isaac Watts’ child-hymn, in simplest child-language, expresses in brief the sad experience of this covetous attendant--
For he who does one fault at first,
And lies to hide it, makes it two.
3. Scarcely distinguishable from Gehazi’s sin of falsehood--akin to it, and a part of it--(a sister-spirit of evil)--let us note his hypocrisy. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
I. That the highest religious advantages, unless duly improved, will fail to produce any saving results.
II. That where unholy dispositions are cherished in the heart, they will break forth, when a favourable opportunity presents itself, in corresponding action.
III. That while we proceed in a course of iniquity, it is in vain for us to expect either concealment or impunity.
1. All your sin is known to God. Man cannot read the heart of his fellow-man without a special revelation from heaven; but though man can only judge from outward appearances, and is consequently incapable of forming a right estimate, all things are known to God. “I, the Lord, search the heart and try the reins of the children of men.”
2. All sin thus beheld is abhorred by God. The Lord is a God of infinite purity and righteousness. There is no object we can contemplate or conceive, that is half so offensive to the most delicate eye as sin is to God.
3. God, in His infinite wisdom, has a thousand means which we cannot conceive, of bringing to light the hidden works of darkness. Gehazi thought that his secret wickedness would never be discovered; but the whole scene passed, as it were, in panoramic view before his master. The Lord can suggest a single thought to the mind of a person acquainted with us, that may lead to a train of reflections, observations, and inquiries which will discover our secret iniquities. (T. Jackson.)
Let us derive a few general and useful reflections from the whole narrative.
I. Persons may be very wicked under religious advantages. The means of grace and the grace of the means are very distinguishable from each other, and are frequently found separate.
II. Here is a warning against the love of money. “Take heed, and beware of covetousness.”
III. See the encroachments and progress of sin; and learn how dangerous it is to give way to any evil propensity.
IV. How absurd it is to sin with an expectation of secrecy! “There is no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity can hide themselves.”
V. Abhor and forsake lying. It is in common peculiarly easy to detect falsehood. Hence it is said that every liar should have a good memory. And what an odious character is a liar! How shunned and detested when discovered! To every mortal upon earth, the appellation of a liar is the most detestable. A liar is the emblem of “the devil, who was a liar from the beginning, and abode not in the truth.” (W. Jay.)
In dwelling on our subject we have suggested:--
I. Gehazi’s inestimable privileges. He held no ordinary position. He was servant to the greatest of prophets, and lived in an atmosphere of the most exalted purity and the highest piety. He had an example to contemplate which few others have been favoured with. Hence he could not excuse himself by the plea of ignorance. He had the means of knowing what was right. He was in constant contact with God’s Divine word, and knew well the Divine law. He saw and probably enjoyed the ministrations of his master. Yet notwithstanding all this he sinned in a notable and presumptuous manner.
II. Gehazi’s complicated sin. How one crime is tied to another! They follow like children of a family. They are like the birds that collect after carrion. We seldom see one prominent sin hovering in the moral atmosphere unaccompanied by others. Bad men consort together. Bad spirits seek congenial company.
III. Gehazi’s exemplary punishment. We may imagine the radiant glee of Elisha’s servant as he returned home well satisfied with his day’s work on his own behalf. He was proud at the success of his well-contrived and ably executed stratagem. With these self-complaisant thoughts he went in and stood before his master, and glibly covered his sin with the lie. As if he could deceive God! He went out! In one moment he was transformed, both body and soul. We sometimes come upon these sudden revulsions of feeling, when in a single instant the whole current of a man’s life is changed at once and for ever. The lessons which this subject has for ourselves are manifest:--
1. We see the danger of a covetous spirit. It is the mainspring of half the sins of the present day, as it has been the exciting cause of half the wars and crimes of the world.
2. We see in Gehazi the type of all sin. All sin is like his in its method. It never remains stationary. It grows and stretches from one thing to another. All sin is like Gehazi’s in its selfishness. Surely he might have respected his master’s honour and position in the sight of the foreign prince. Sin is selfishness. It is placing personal interests and ease and aggrandisement before the interest of others. And the simile is continued in the last point. All sin is alike in the certainty of its punishment. The wicked may persuade themselves that their wickedness is unobserved, but it will soon be manifest that every thought is known and that the day of reckoning must arrive. (Homilist.)
One man’s blessing another man’s curse
Judging only as we are able to do of one another now, Gehazi’s plan had succeeded, and he had done well for himself. But he had left out of his scheme the remembrance that God had something to do with it.
I. Lying and false ways of earthly prosperity always leave out God. Liars and deceivers ignore God’s interest in their life, God’s knowledge of their plans and schemes and the execution of them. And in their apparently untroubled doing without God these men and their actions become most hurtful stumbling-blocks to many tender souls, such as that most pure and deep thinker Asaph--or the man who wrote psalms for his use, who mourned over the wicked that they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High? Behold these are the ungodly who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.” Such sin is either a practical ignoring of God altogether, atheism in daily action and business (which is much more pernicious than atheism of intellect), or it is a defaming and insulting of God’s omniscience.
II. One sin, one lie, makes others easier and worse. The lie came from him easily and readily: for he had prepared himself beforehand, and the lie he had told to Naaman trained him to insult, by deceiving, his master. The way to perdition is downhill, on a slippery way, with a descent that is ever quickening.
III. Gehazi’s exposure and shame come now before us. How soon the scheme came to an end, and such an end! How soon the bubble burst! Gehazi had deceived Naaman and had gotten his money, but he had misled himself much more.
IV. Elisha’s patriotism cried out against Gehazi’s sin.
V. Gehazi pierced through with many sorrows. He had sought his good here; but with Naaman’s money he got his leprosy, too. The blessing of the Syrian became the curse of the servant of the man of God. (G. B. Ryley.)
The covetousness of Gehazi
I. We have here covetousness seeking to make gain of a connection with goodness. Gehazi was the servant of Elisha. It was surely no small privilege to be an attendant upon the prophet of God,--to be brought into such close connection with a man so good and holy. One might have supposed that he could scarcely help feeling the influence of Elisha. Now, covetousness of any kind is bad enough; but covetousness hanging on the skirts of goodness,--covetousness taking advantage of some outward connection with religion, and even with unselfishness,--this is surely one of the lowest forms of vice. Oh, it is a fearful thing when a man comes to value his religious reputation chiefly as a portion of his stock-in-trade.
II. We have here covetousness leading on to falsehood and theft.
III. We have here covetousness hindering the progress of the divine kingdom. Like a true prophet as he was, Elisha was seeking to advance the kingdom of God. He cared far more for the extension of Jehovah’s name and the promotion of Jehovah’s glory than for his own advantage. If he magnified his prophetic office and stood on his honour, it was that, through him, Jehovah might be honoured. This was no doubt the secret of his treatment of Naaman. (T. J. Finlayson.)
Deception detected and punished
I. The deception practised. Naaman was proceeding on his way, thoughtful, grateful, prayerful, hopeful, joyful. He is overtaken by Gehazi, who, unknown to his master, asks a gift of him. After all Gehazi’s profession and all his religious opportunities, who would have expected such action? Influences of pious homes, etc., are sometimes all lost. The secret of Gehazi’s action was covetousness. This is a rock on which many split. Gehazi thinks of all Naaman is taking back, and of his willingness to make the prophet a present. He regrets the loss of an opportunity of gain. He longs for the silver, etc. He resolves to seek for it. It is dangerous to parley with temptation. Unobserved, as he supposes, by the prophet, he pursues after Naaman. Unheard, as he supposes, by the prophet, he tells his story.
II. The deception succeeding; that is, for the time, and so far as regards the obtaining of that for which he asked, and more than he asked for. Naaman pauses, descends from his chariot, kindly inquires after the prophet’s welfare, listens to Gehazi’s application, grants all he sought and more. Note the confidence, the artlessness, the unsuspiciousness of a young convert to the faith of the God of Israel. He cannot suppose a prophet’s servant could be guilty of a falsehood. Men expect much of those who profess godliness; guilty indeed are they who, by disappointing such expectations, cast a stumbling-block in the way of young believers (Matthew 18:6). Gehazi obtains his desire; but how does he feel as he returns to his master?
III. The deception detected. Verse 24, “When he came to the tower.” In the Revised Version that reads--“When he came to the hill”; probably the hill brow from which he could see his master’s house, and where his master, therefore, might possibly see him, he then hid his ill-got treasure. He did not think of that eye that over sees (Psalms 139:1-12; Jeremiah 23:24). Could he think to hide from the prophet, of the Lord that which he had done? He did so think; but it was not hidden (verses 25, 26). He thought he had managed all very cleverly! . . . Deception led to falsehood; it often does. Yet only ultimately to increase the shame of detection. “Be sure thy sin will find thee out.”
IV. The deception punished. Shortlived is the prosperity of the wicked. If Gehazi will have Naaman’s treasure, he shall have Naaman’s leprosy. (Homiletic Magazine.)
Avarice a fatal vice
Andrew Fuller one day went into a bullion merchant’s, and was shown a mass of gold. Taking it into his hand, he very suggestively remarked, “How much better it is to hold it in your hand than to have it in your heart. Goods m the hand will not hurt you, but the goods in the heart will destroy you. Not long ago, a burglar, as you will remember, escaping from a policeman, leaped into the Regent’s Canal, and was drowned--drowned by the weight of the silver which he had plundered. How many there are who have made a god of their wealth, and in hasting after riches have been drowned by the weight of their worldly substance! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
When disguises are removed
A large lake in a nobleman’s park was a little time ago drained off for repairing purposes. During the day it had shone under the sunlight like a sheet of gold, and at night a silver sheen from the moon turned it into poetic beauty. It looked an emblem of purity and peace. But when the water was drawn away what an awful contrast! Down in the oozy slime at the bottom of the lake were thousands of crawling and wriggling abominations of reptile and parasitic order. The waters, so fair in outward seeming, were a very haunt of evil squirming horrors. What a terrible revealing will the withdrawing of life make to many a Christless soul. When all disguises, veils, and falsities are taken away, and the horrors of cherished sin are all laid bare. (H. O. Mackey.)
2 Kings 5:25
Thy servant went no whither.
A lie sticks
A little newsboy, to sell his paper, told a lie. The matter came up in the Sunday school. “Would you tell a lie for a penny?” asked a young lady teacher of one of her boys. “No ma’am,” he answered very decidedly. “For sixpence, then? No ma’am.” “For a shilling? “No, ma’am?” “For a thousand shillings?” Dick was staggered. A thousand shillings looked big. Wouldn’t it buy a lot of things? While he was thinking, another boy behind him called out, “No, ma’am.” “Why not?” asked the teacher. “Because,” said the boy, “when the thousand shillings are all gone, and all the things they’ve got with them have gone too, the lie is there, all the same.” It is so. A lie sticks. Everything else may be gone, but that is left, and it must be carried with you, whether you will or not.
Heredity not wholly a disadvantage
A young man complains to Jupiter that in consequence of his father’s debaucheries he is pierced with pangs and punished with pains for sins not his own. Jupiter replies that in accordance with the very law of which he complains, he also receives from his father delicate nerves, vigorous muscles, and keen senses which are inlets of joy and many noble capacities and faculties of mind and heart. Jupiter offers in his case to suspend the offensive organic law; but warns him that, in losing his pain, he shall also lose all advantages and benefits through that same law of hereditary descent. And he further reminds him that even his pain is a monitor to warn him from the paths of vice trodden by his father. The sufferer withdraws his complaint, resigns himself, and resolves by pious obedience to all bodily laws to bring back his body to a normal and healthy state. (Combe on the ”Constitution of Man. ”)
Continuity of evil influences
Suppose a company of shipowners started a sea captain with an imperfect chart and with an unseaworthy vessel, and after the vessel has been gone five days they feel sorry about it, and wish they had not let the vessel go out in that way. Does that make any difference to those who have gone out? No! In the first storm the captain and the crew go down. And if you come to God in the latter part of your life, when you have given your children an impulse in the wrong direction, those ten, or fifteen, or twenty years of example in the wrong direction will be mightier than the few words you can utter now in the right direction. So it is with the influence you have had anywhere in community. If you have all these years given countenance to those who are neglecting religion, can you correct that? (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Heredity may transmit predisposition to disease
We know from experience that a full measure of health is not often the happy condition of human tissues; we have, in short, a variety of circumstances which, as we say, predispose the individual to disease. One of the commonest forms of predisposition is that due to heredity. Probably it is true that what are known as hereditary diseases are due far more to a hereditary predisposition than to any transmission of the virus itself in any form. Antecedent disease predisposes the tissues to form a nidus for bacteria; conditions of environment or personal habits frequently act in the same way. Damp soils must be held responsible for many disasters to health, not directly, but indirectly, by predisposition; dusty trades and injurious occupations have a similar effect. Any one of these three different influences may in a variety of ways affect the tissues and increase their susceptibility to disease. Not infrequently we may get them combined. (Newman, “Bacteria.”)
Verse 27 The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever.--
Gehazi smitten with leprosy
The sin which led to this punishment suggests--
I. That it is a mark of the highest contempt of the Holy God to link His name with our sinful purposes. “As the Lord liveth,” said Gehazi, “I will take somewhat of him” (2 Kings 5:20). To stamp base metal with the image and name of the king is regarded as a great crime against the country and the monarch. How much greater the crime of stamping upon our evil actions the name of God. Yet some of the most diabolical acts that stain the page of history have been wrought in the name of the sinless Redeemer.
II. That the transgression of the first table of the moral law is a step to the transgression of the second. The man who will speak lightly of a good master will find it an easy matter to misrepresent the character of his fellow-servant. The child who dishonours a good parent will not be likely to be a kind brother. Those who “fear not God,” will as a rule “regard not men” (Luke 18:2). The sin against the less, comes easily after the sin against the greater. Gehazi first profaned the name of God, and then wronged his earthly master.
III. That those who will lie in order to deceive, must lie in order to conceal. Gehazi’s lie to Naaman was soon followed by another to Elisha. It has been said that “a lie has no legs.” There are men in the world who have no limbs upon which they can walk, and are indebted to the artificial help of crutches to make their way in the world. So a lie must be kept up by the crutches of other lies. The punishment for the sin teaches--That those who sin and seek to cover it by concealment, will be compelled, in time, to be the means of its revelation. (Outlines of Sermons by a London Minister.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Kings 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany