the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
THE instructive story of Naaman is known to all. His valiantness in battle, his greatness with his master, and the high honour in which he was held among his own people; and, with all that, his incurable leprosy-in two or three of his most eloquent strokes the sacred writer sets Naaman most impressively and most memorably before our eyes. The little captive maid also who whispered to Naaman's wife, 'Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria, for he would recover him of his leprosy.' And, then, how Naaman came to Samaria with his horses and his chariot; how Elisha sent out and told him to go and wash seven times in Jordan; how Naaman was wroth and would not wash in Jordan, but went away home in a rage: how his excellent servants reasoned with their angry master and how he repented and went and washed in Jordan till his flesh came again like the flesh of a little child-all that is told in fourteen as solid and as eloquent verses as ever were written. They have a miraculous talent of style, those Old Testament authors. Our very best authors cannot hold the candle to them. And those who are counted worthy to stand second to those Old Testament artists have come to their skill by reading nothing else but their Bible day and night. But we have opened our Bible this night-not to study the excellent art of writing, excellent art as it is; but to seek in our Bible the salvation of our souls; without which salvation, all our writing, and all our reading, and every other art and science of human life, is but whitewashing a sepulchre, which all the time is full within of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.
With all his valiantness, and with all his honours, Naaman was nothing better all the while than a dead man. For Naaman was a leper. Naaman had all that heart of man could wish; but, what of that, when he was what he was? Leprosy was feared and fled from in Israel as the stroke of God. Leprosy was the most fearful and the most hateful disease known to man. Leprosy was so loathsome, and so utterly incurable and deadly, that it was not looked on as an ordinary disease at all: but, rather, as a special creation in His anger, and a direct curse of God, both to punish sin, and, at the same time, to teach His people something of what an accursed thing sin really is; till the whole nature of leprosy and all the laws laid down for its treatment, and the miraculous nature of its so seldom cure, all combined to work into the imagination, and into the conscience, and into the heart, and into the ritual, and into the literature of Israel, some of her deepest lessons about the terrible nature and the only proper treatment of sin.
For sin is like leprosy in this, that it is the most mysterious, stroke-like, malignant, loathsome, and mockingly incurable of all our incurable ills. Sin is like Naaman's leprosy in this also, that a man is great with men, and honourable, and a mighty deliverer-but all the time he is a sinner. And all a sinner's life, and all his greatness, and all his honour, and all his praise is but dressing a dead body with rich ornaments, and sprinkling a sepulchre with sweet smells. It needed no divine grace in Naaman to teach him that he was a leper. Day and night; in the council-chamber and in the field; eating and drinking; waking and sleeping, Naaman was a leper. But it needs a wisdom, and a truth, and an experience, and a stage of salvation that few men have attained to, before a sinner knows that he is a sinner; really and truly knows it, as Naaman knew his leprosy. Some men do: one here and another there. If you have made the discovery that you are a leprous sinner: if you have found no figure that so well describes you as Naaman's leprosy,-then you have made the greatest discovery a man can make in this world. 'What was your greatest discovery, Sir James?' asked an interviewer of the discoverer of chloroform. 'That I am a sinner,' answered the saintly man, 'and that Jesus Christ is my Saviour.' Yes, that was out of all sight Sir James's greatest and most fruitful discovery, for that made him a great man with his Master; and it made him full of love and honour among all the best people in the land. You will not yet believe it, but you also begin to belong to the race of the greatest men that have ever lived when you begin to make the deadly discovery that you are a leper at heart. Nay; not only is that the beginning of all your true greatness; but your knowledge of sin all along to the end of life-that is the best measure of your true greatness. All our true greatness has been lost to us through sin; and it is in sin, and through sin, and by escaping out of sin, that we shall not only recover all our lost greatness but shall attain to a far greater greatness than that we had lost. I do not care a straw to go to see the greatest scholar, or the greatest author, or the greatest preacher, or the greatest soldier, or the greatest statesman. But I would go a long way to see the greatest sinner; to see and to converse with that man still on this earth who has the deepest knowledge of his own heart. The man who has made that discovery, and who is daily and hourly making that discovery, and who is every hour of every day acting before God and man on that discovery-that is the man of all men to me. The fifty-first Psalm is David's masterpiece to me. Isaiah's greatest chapters to me are his fifth and his fifty-third. Paul's greatest passage is his immortal morsel of autobiography in the seventh of the Romans. Augustine's best book is his Confessions and John Bunyan's his Grace Abounding, and Jacob Behmen's his Way to Christ. 'Sin?' exclaims even our own Carlyle in indignation; 'the deadliest sin of all is to be conscious of no sin.' And so it is.
But, leprosy and all, Naaman was still a very proud man; for all the leprosy in the world will not make a proud man meek and lowly in heart. When Naaman was told how he could be made clean, because the prophet's counsel did not fit in with Naaman's prejudices and his sense of his own importance, he was wroth at Elisha, and went home, leprosy and all, in a rage. 'Behold, I thought, he will surely come out, and stand, and will call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.' And there are men among ourselves who go home in the same rage as often as they are told their deadly disease and the only way of recovery from it. With all your prepossessions and prejudices, many of you must know that you are not one step nearer anything that could be called salvation than ever you were. There is as much leprosy in your heart tonight as ever there was. And in your best moments you would give ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment to be for ever rid of it. What do you say just to give a trial to the things that hitherto have most angered you to hear them spoken about? The real spiritual nature of salvation has always been an unwelcome subject to you. Preaching you greatly enjoy, and you are a great judge of it. Naaman went to the prophet's house to tell him how to preach, and because the prophet did not take his lesson from Naaman, Naaman went home in a rage. 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 out 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.
What a fool that man Naaman must have been! everybody has exclaimed over his history ever since his day. He did not deserve to be healed! Surely he was not so ill after all! Either he had not much leprosy upon him, or else he was a perfect madman to do as he did. Yes; but madman with pride, and self-importance, and self-will as he was, Naaman will stand up in the day of judgment and will condemn some of us who have his history before us; for, like him at one time, we do not even yet feel the full curse and deadliness of our sin, else we would do very differently with it. Other men who see what the things are that stand between us and the salvation of our souls are astounded at us. Naaman's very heathen servants were astounded at him, till they broke through all their fear of him and told him so. We sell our souls every day for such contemptible things; such a small outlay would buy us eternal life. Jacob bought his birthright by denying himself just a single mess of pottage. And all that stood between Naaman and perfect health and long life was just to ascend his chariot, and let himself be driven to Jordan, when his servants would have undressed him and dipped him seven times; and, ere ever he was aware, he would have come up out of the water as sweet as a child. O son of Naaman, the suicidal leper! Day after day, year after year, you go on selling the health, the strength, the sweetness, and the whole salvation of your soul for a thing that I may not name; it is so impossible to be believed. It is so mad in you, so self-murderous. The devil, who so deceives you, laughs before God at the price you put upon the blood of His Son, and upon the grace of His Spirit, and upon your own soul. 'My father,' his servant came near and said to Naaman, 'if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather, then, when he saith to thee: Wash, and be clean?'
But, to speak still more face to face. To put away all types, and figures, and metaphors, however true and terrible. You all know, surely, what the true leprosy is. You all know what the leprosy of your own soul is. It is sin; yes, it is sin. Or, rather, to speak still more true and plain to you, it is yourself. Sin is self. Your true leprosy is yourself. There is no leprosy, there is no sin, but yourself. Get yourself killed in your heart; and God, and love, and heaven, and holiness, and eternal life are all, from that moment, in you. Self is an evil mother big with children tenfold more the children of hell than herself. And her firstborn is your pride, and your anger, and your envy, and your ill-will, and your hatred of so many men around you. O leper! leper! go out with thy loathsome and deadly heart from among living men. Go to thy charnel-house at once; or else, for thou art still a man, and not yet fully and finally a devil, go wash in Jordan.
Go in God's name. Go in God's strength. Go in God's pity, and patience, and mercy. Go on the spot. Go this moment, and go every day, and every hour of every day, and, blessed be God, every moment, as often as thy self-filled heart again stirs and sins in thee. There is a fountain filled with blood. Filled, that is, with the humiliation, and the obedience, and the submission, and the whole life and death of the Son of God. O son of sin and Satan, O child of wrath, wilt thou not submit thyself to be saved? Wilt thou not so much as wash thyself? Wilt thou not say there is a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness like mine? And wilt thou not go down into it continually, saying without ceasing: O Holy God. O pure, and clean, and sweet, and blessed Son of God. Pity a man made of sin. Pity this leper of all lepers. Pity, if Thou hast such pity, the most miserable man on the face of the earth. A man who, as Thou seest, does nothing before Thee but sin. O pity and spare me, my God, for my sin is ever before me. Oh, able to save to the uttermost, wash me, Saviour, or I die! 'How,' asks the disciple in Jacob Behmen's Supersensual Life, 'How shall I be able to subsist in all this anxiety and tribulation so as not to lose the eternal peace?' And the Master answers; 'If thou dost once every hour throw thyself by faith beyond all creatures into the abysmal mercy of God, into the sufferings of our Lord, and into the fellowship of His intercession, and yieldest thyself fully and absolutely thereunto, then thou shalt receive grace from above to rule over death and the devil, and to subdue hell and the world under thee. And, then, thou mayest not only endure in all manner of temptation, but be actually the better and the brighter because of all thy temptations.' Then went he down and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God, and his flesh came again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Naaman'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​n/naaman.html. 1901.