"Aren't the Abana River and Pharpar River of Damascus better than all the rivers of Israel put together? Why shouldn't I wash in them and be healed?"  2 Kings 5:12

One gospel memory alone is connected by clear inference with the Abana and Pharpar, but that is a very interesting one. It must have been in the waters of these rivers of Syria which Naaman loved so well, that Saul of Tarsus was baptized into the name of "that same Jesus" who met him on the Damascus highway, and transformed the persecutor into a chosen vessel of mercy. In these days when so much stress is laid on "sacramental efficacy" and the alleged virtue of "apostolic succession," it is surely worthy of note, that the holiest of saints, the greatest and most eminent of inspired apostles, had the baptismal rite administered to him, not from the sacred streams of Kedron, or Siloam, or Jordan, or other waters in the land of his fathers, but from "the golden river" of pagan story. Moreover, as there was no real or imaginary charm in the element, neither was there in the administrator of the ordinance. He received the sacramental sign by sprinkling or immersion, not from Peter, or James, or John—not from any apostle, or boasted "successor of the apostles," but from the hands of a humble, lowly, unknown disciple—"one Ananias"—whose best apostolical succession was his simple faith and brotherly love (Acts 9:17, 18). Surely that one act of Christian baptism, specially appointed by God Himself for His greatest disciple, minister, and missionary, conveys an impressive testimony and rebuke to all "who teach for doctrine the commandments of men," that "neither is he who plants anything, neither he who waters, but God that gives the increase" (1 Cor. 3:7).

Nor can we wonder that the comparison on the part of Naaman, between the one only river of Palestine and these mountain streams of Syria, should have been depreciatory as regards the former. Art, combined with the foregone conclusions of enthusiastic travelers, has done its best to make the "Waters of Israel" beautiful and picturesque. But these (and we speak of the Jordan specially)—though ever enshrined, independent of all accessories and surroundings, in the sanctuary of holiest thought—must be content, so far as 'natural attractiveness' is concerned, to accept the unchanged verdict of the Syrian commander. Disguise it as we may, no memory of Palestine is so disappointing. The Jordan, at its most consecrated portion—the spot where in all likelihood the miraculous crossing took place, possibly not very far from the still holier locality of the Savior's baptism, and with greater probability still, where at the summons of the Baptist "there went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins" (Matt. 3:5)—is uninteresting in the extreme. Its waters are flanked by enormous mud-banks, partially and poorly hidden by coarse vegetation; a reedy jungle relieved by no pebbly shore—no rocks tinted with lichen and moss—no bright foliage to hang in graceful tresses over the brown torrent. It is with a shock, those who are conversant with the clear, limpid waters of other countries, gaze for the first time on the stream associated to them with recollections so hallowed—whose very name, in manifold ways, has been incorporated in sacred-hymn and song—"the Border river," washing the shores of "the Better Land"—the "shining fields" "on the other side Jordan." In one word, after having visited both the streams of Syria and of Palestine, we can emphatically endorse the verdict pronounced 2800 years ago—"Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?"

But we hasten from these features of mere local and geographical interest, to illustrate the "imperishable spiritual lessons" suggested and unfolded in this graphic tale of the pilgrimage of a Gentile soldier from his distant Lebanon home to the land of Israel. That river of which we have just spoken, transmuting barrenness into fertility, life into death, was to have its moral counterpart in the case of this cleansed leper and heathen chief.

The 'votary of Rimmon' is made a 'trophy of Divine grace', and, by loyal adhesion and allegiance to Israel's God, becomes the first of that "handful of grain in the earth upon the top of the mountains," the fruit whereof is one day to "shake like Lebanon" (Ps. 72:16).

The writer, fully conscious, in the subsequent pages, of his shortcomings in the treatment of an interesting subject, cannot better draw these introductory remarks to a close, than in the words of D. Rogers, an old and quaint divine of the seventeenth century, who has written a copious volume on the incidents of this same chapter, and who thus terminates his dedicatory epistle—"Therefore, to conclude, I shall desire you, good reader, to apply yourself with your best care and prayers to peruse what God has herein presented you withal; and if you pick anything out, bless Him, and pray for me."

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