"Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honorable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria—he was also a mighty man of valor; but he was a leper."—2 Kings 5:1
"The king of Aram had high admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy."—2 Kings 5:1
Many are the pleasing and graphic incidents interspersed throughout Old Testament story, which have the scene of their occurrence laid in the Land of Promise. In the narrative, however, whose lessons are at present to engage our attention, we are called to cross the northern boundary of Lebanon to the contiguous kingdom of Syria, the long and troublesome rival of Israel. A period of quiescence had now happily supervened between the Hebrew tribes and their hereditary foe. King Benhadad and Joram were, for the time, on amicable terms, and a peaceful domestic picture opens to us, like a gleam of sunshine amid the storms of war.
Every country in the world has been proud of its illustrious soldiers. We may well believe that the empire of which Damascus was the capital, would not be behind in doing homage to military genius—that her highest honors would be heaped on "a mighty man of valor." Such was NAAMAN, the most conspicuous among the group of figures in our narrative chapter—"the Earl marshal," as an old writer calls him, "to the King of Aram"—the commander-in-chief of the Syrian hosts, the favored idol of a warlike race. Not long before, he had returned flushed with triumph at the head of his troops from the land of Israel. "By him," we read, "the Lord had given deliverance to the Syrians." According to Jewish tradition (in the Midrash Tehillim ) it is he who is spoken of in the last chapter of 1st Kings, as the "certain man who drew a bow at a venture, and smote Ahab between the joints of the harness," thereby deciding the fortunes of the day at Ramoth Gilead. By others, he is described in person as of colossal stature—the Goliath of the north—a giant cedar in Lebanon. We may picture him, at all events, as a man of consummate abilities—the trusted adviser of his king—the pride of the army—his name a household word alike in the palaces of Damascus and among the hamlets of Syria; invested, doubtless, by his master with the most distinguished insignia in the power of royalty to bestow—badges of "barbaric pearl and gold" conferred alone on rare personal prowess and in recognition of illustrious deeds.
His home, we may farther imagine, would be one of the "paradises" in that 'wilderness of gardens,'—a palatial dwelling, furnished and beautified with richest fabrics from looms of the old city—trophies of victory adorning its walls, shields and bucklers and spears that had been gathered as spoil in many a hard won fight—with all in external nature that could minister pleasure to eye and ear—the murmur of streams, the music of birds, the floral wealth of the most productive "climate of the sun."
So far, too, as we can gather from a few scattered hints contained in this brief narration, if we except the quick resentment and impatience of contradiction incident to the training of one born to be obeyed, Naaman's character seems to have been a noble one. He was not only "a great man with his master," but "honorable"—of an unblemished reputation. We may, moreover, claim for him (what is rare in such a proud position of eminence and power), traits of amiability, benignity, goodness. His was not the haughty and arrogant demeanor which forbade confidential freedom of communion with those in lowlier station. His servants were not afraid to call him "My father;" nor did a Hebrew slave tremble (as she would have done in the presence of a tyrannical superior) to offer kindly counsel on his behalf. Her affectionate interest in his circumstances, at once bespeaks her favorable regard for her master.
But there is something preying on that lofty soul. NAAMAN is supposed to mean "beautiful," "lovely," "goodly to look upon." Alas! the name in his case was little else now than a cruel mockery. A foul worm is shriveling up the gourd which trellised the earth-bower of his glory—a pestilential touch has turned his gold into base alloy. The most dreaded of Eastern diseases, and that, too, in its most malignant form, has assaulted his body, and will soon convert it into a living, loathsome charnel-house. If he had been a Hebrew by birth, he would have been doomed to cheerless solitude—shut up night and day, the lonely tenant of a darkened chamber, separated hopelessly from the outer world, and denied communion with his own domestic circle—warning all who came near him of the contagious nature of his plague, by the utterance of the cry, "Unclean! unclean!"
"Room for the leper! Room! And as he came,
Although it is evident from the narrative, that this rigid seclusion, so imperative in the case of the Jew, was not enforced in the country north of Hermon (for Naaman continued to discharge the duties of the highest civil office of the state), yet his must necessarily have been the most miserable of existences. The red spot, the well-known herald symptom, must at least have appeared, which would end in the ulcered face, the shriveled skin, the croaking voice, the glaring eyes, the decayed fingers (soon rendering him unable to draw the bow which had served him heir to his renown), the wreck of memory, the premature decay of a tortured body, the depression and despondency of mind, the constant dread of imparting to others the terrible disease, the feverish and chronic restlessness which made life a burden. That ever-present thought—rather, we should say, that terrible reality—would pursue him everywhere, dogging his heels like a hideous spectre. It would haunt him as he sat with his chiefs by watchfire and camp on the tented field. It would dim and fret and darken the hour of triumph, when amid the blare of trumpets and shout of citizens, he rode in the chariot of victory through the streets of Damascus. When he headed the festal throng, and entered Rimmon's Temple with his master, it would seem as if the grim idol, in some fit of wanton, retributive vengeance, had set upon him this terrible brand—selected him as victim of the supposed curse-mark of earth's avenging deities, which even the Hebrews considered to be Jehovah's visible scourge, and which they called "the finger of God." Of no avail to him were the thousand charms of his Eden-home. Each setting sun, as it tipped Hermon's crest with gold, chronicled the nearer approach of the enemy his valor could never vanquish.
Such was NAAMAN. "He was a great man with his master, and honorable, BUT he was a leper."
1.Let us learn from this touching history, the vanity of all earthly glory. On the lintels of that princely home in Aram's princely capital, are written the words, "All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man is as the flower of grass." He who seemed to have been once "fair" and "beautiful" as he was brave and generous, may have the Prophet's wail appropriately uttered over him—"How is the staff broken, and the beautiful rod!" His beauty "consumes away like a moth." Our hero, whose martial deeds the matrons and damsels of city and village, like those of Israel, had celebrated with timbrel and harp, would envy the lot of the fettered captive or squalid beggar in the cells or streets of Damascus.
"Put not your trust in princes, nor in man, in whom there is no help." "Verily, every man at his best state is altogether vanity!" In vain have courtly physicians lavished on him their skill. In vain have the balsam-orchards of the Abana distilled their healing treasures. In vain have sorcerers and magicians exercised their occult arts. In vain has he, again and again, in piteous supplication bent his knee in the national sanctuary, and loaded the shrine of the idol god with propitiatory bribes. The malady is inveterate. That plague-spot embitters every hour of life, and throws the shadows of despair on an anguished future. Earth has no remedy to soothe his tortured spirit; he looks forward to the quiet rest of the grave as the only and welcome release from his load of misery. As the vile worm, in a long future age, refuted the asserted divinity of King Herod; (Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people's worship instead of giving the glory to God. So he was consumed with worms and died)—so did this cruel monitor whisper the humbling lesson in the ear of the warrior—"Let not the mighty man glory in his might!"
"BUT he was a leper." True picture of human life! Go the round of existence—mark these varying waves which fret and chafe on its shores. Who is there that has not to tell of some similar shadow projected on an otherwise bright—it may be the brightest path—some flaw in the strong building, some blot on the fair temple pillar? Let us gather a few testimonies.
Here is one who has all that the world can bestow; BUT, as in the case of Naaman, disease is blanching his cheek, and appointing him wearisome days and restless nights. What to him, his ingots of gold and lavish luxuries and lordly palaces, with these weary vigils of pain and suffering, which rarest skill and tenderest affection strive alike in vain to mitigate and abbreviate?
Here is another (Daniel 5), with full health and strength; the magic circle of home is unbroken; no olive plant is missed around his table. He had boasted, moreover, in the multitude of his riches; he had won his coveted place amid 'the aristocracy of wealth'—the golden gate and key had been, as he thought, securely reached and won, opening into pleasure, ease, and splendor. But, "in the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the palace wall, 'Mene, God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it!'" His worldly means, which he was a lifetime in amassing, have taken wings to themselves and fled. One wave of adversity has strewn the beach with the fragile ruins. Seated amid the wreck of his gilded treasures, he pursues in silence the monotone of wounded pride and disappointed ambition—"All is vanity and vexation of spirit;" while an inward voice, like the whisper of some avenging angel, seems to take up the parable, "Look here, you rich people, weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh in hell. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgment." (James 5:1-3).
Here is another, into whose lap the fabled horn of plenty has been poured. In addition to the possession of that mere vulgar wealth which is the satisfying goal of so many, he has honors, family possessions, pride of rank, resources of intellect, cultivated tastes. He has risen to honorable distinction, and enjoyed the pageantry of power. Before him Fame has blown her trumpet. He is drinking, apparently to the full, luscious draughts of earthly glory; fondled and caressed by fawning crowds, the world points its finger, and says of him, "There, at least, is a happy man!" BUT, alas! it knows not the secret wound that is preying on his spirit and poisoning the fountains of life. It knows not how he has to lock up in the depth of his heart of hearts—the story of his profligate son; how his very affluence is extorted to pay the wicked debts or to feed the riot and excess of a profligate life.
Here is another, occupying some similar coveted pinnacle of distinction, who has reached the goal of success, and outdistanced his fellows in the uncertain race. BUT, muffled from the world's eye and estimate, "the heart knows its own bitterness." That very success has roused the spleen of jealous rivals. Maligned, misunderstood, vilified, he is doomed to bear in silence the shafts of envy—it may be, the treachery and detraction of trusted friends.
Here is another, who has health and wealth, and unbounded material prosperity. Poverty has never darkened his dwelling; the whisper of malice has never ruffled his peace; troops of true-hearted associates gather around his hearth; the widow and the orphan have been blessed out of his abundant treasure, and he himself has been made richer thereby. BUT, ah! another and more terrible foe has made sad incursions on his homestead. The names to him most familiar and best beloved have been carved on tombstones. "Joseph is not, and Simeon is not." He can add his sorrowful testimony to myriads of broken hearts, that no golden key or golden gate can exclude the sleepless foe—no golden bridle can rein in the "pale horse." His "but"—his soliloquy—is the saddest of all—"You have put lover and friend far from me, and my acquaintance into darkness!"
We need not enlarge. That little exceptional word "but" qualifies every condition of life, whatever the characteristics of that condition may be. It blurs the gilded ceilings of the rich; it leaves its impress, in diversified form, on the dwellings of the poor. It clips and ruffles the soaring wing of proud intellect. It puts its drag on the triumphal chariot in the hour of ovation. It is God's voice addressing the crowd of weary humanity—"Arise, and depart, for this is not your rest; it is polluted!"
2.This leads us to note, as a second general lesson, that we should regard our trials as designed by God for our good. Naaman's trial was indeed no ordinary one. Of all humiliations, what to him could be more chafing and galling? We know how captivating in the eyes of Orientals, were outward attractions—personal form and lordly demeanor and bearing. How touchingly the minstrel king laments the "beauty" of Israel—the twin heroes fallen in high places, who were "swifter than eagles and stronger than lions." Here was "the beautiful"—the admired leader of the Syrian armies—who was accustomed to be foremost in the fight, and last in the field—about to become helpless as a child, fit to be occupant not of the martial tent but of the lazar-house—"from the sole of the foot even unto the head no soundness in him, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores" (Isa. 1:6). And yet in his case the parable was expounded—"Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness" (Judges 14:14). From that leper's couch there rose, as in the patriarch's night-vision, a ladder reaching to heaven. He, who, in an earthly sense, here renounced and forfeited the name "beautiful," was to be clothed upon with the beauty of the God of Israel, and to have a name given him better than that of sons or of daughters!
And is it not so with the Lord's people still? His dispensations are often incomprehensible. His name to them is that which He gave to Manoah—"Wonderful," "Secret," "Mysterious." That wearing sickness, that wasting heritage of pain, these long tossings on a fevered, sleepless pillow; where can there be love or mercy there? But the silence and loneliness of the sickbed is the figurative "wilderness," where He "allures" that He may "speak comfortably unto them, and give them their vineyards from thence" (Hosea 2:14, 15), rousing them from the contemptible dream of earthly happiness, from the sordid and the secular, from busy care and debasing solicitude, to the divine and the heavenly!
Or, that unexpected heritage of poverty—the crash of earthly fortune—the forfeiture of earthly gain—the stripping the walls of cherished and familiar treasure, and sending those 'nursed in the lap of luxury' penniless on the world—where is God's mercy or love here? But it is through this beneficial, though rough discipline, that God weans from the enervating influence of prosperity, leading them to exchange 'the mess of earthly pottage' for 'the bread of life'—perishable substance for the fine gold of heavenly gain and durable riches.
Or, that cruel blighting of young hope and pure affection—the withering of some cherished gourd—the opening of early graves for the loving and beloved; holiest ties formed, but the 'memory' of which is all that remains. Where is God's kindness and mercy in creating bonds only to sever them; raising up friends only to bury them?—the plaintive experience and utterance of the lone mother in Israel, that of many—"Call me not Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me!" (Ruth 1:20).
But the 'shallow rills' are dried by Him, in order to lead to the 'great Fountainhead'; the links of earthly affection are broken, in order that stronger and more enduring ones may be formed above; the rents have been made in the house of clay, only to render more inviting "the building of God—the house not made with hands"—stimulating to live more for that world where there are no "buts"—where all is perfection—where we shall stand without a "but" and without a fault before the throne.
Yes, suffering Christian! believe it—your trials are designed by Him who sent them, as in the case of Naaman's leprosy, to bring you nearer Himself. They are His own appointed gateways, opening up and admitting to great spiritual blessings. The mother eagle is said purposely to put a thorn into her nest to compel her young brood to fly. If God gave us no thorn—if He never disturbed the downy nest of our worldly ease, we might be tempted to remain grovelers forever. He knows us better; He loves us better. The day will come when these "buts" in our present lot, will extract nothing from us but grateful praise; when we shall joyfully testify, 'Had it not been for these wilderness experiences—that leprosy—that protracted sickness—that loss of worldly position—the death of that cherished friend, I would still have been clinging to 'earth' as my portion, content with the polluted rill and the broken cistern, instead of drawing water out of the wells of salvation.'
As it was Naaman's malady which revealed to him his wretchedness and misery, and impelled him to cross the heights of Lebanon to the Prophet's home in Israel; so are God's children, by means of diversified trial, roused to the conscious reality of their spiritual danger—aye, and often too, to the presence and power of foes, fiercer than the beasts of prey which haunted these Syrian mountains. Thus are they prepared to listen, as they would not otherwise have done, to the Divine voice, as Naaman listened to it, though in another acceptation of the words, "Come with me from Lebanon—look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards. …Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire with spikenard; spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices—a fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon" (Sol. Song 4:8, 13-15).
3.We may gather a third lesson—Not to envy others; but to be content with our own lot, whatever that may be. We little know what trials may be lurking in what seems an enviable position of life—what 'adders' may be sleeping in the flowery bank, or amid the bed of roses—what rottenness and decay may be under the covering of virgin snow. "I was envious at the foolish," says Asaph, "when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They are not in trouble, as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency; for all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.…When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely You did set them in slippery places; You cast them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors" (Ps. 73:12-19).
Let us not be covetous of earthly greatness or exaltation—of climbing higher the 'dizzy pyramid of human opulence or ambition'. If we reached the envied summit, we might in all likelihood find new vexations and trials to which we are strangers in a humbler and lowlier lot. Though God has appointed a diversity in human rank, we believe there is a greater equality, a nicer proportionate adjustment in human happiness, than is at first supposed. The increase of riches or of honors brings too often only new cares, anxieties, and responsibilities. True substantial happiness is not dependent on circumstances, but on mind and character. Pass from many a splendid mansion in city or suburban life, its inhabitants pampered with all that wealth and luxury can give, but where, at the same time, there is pride or jealousy, or the smouldering fires of guilty passion—pass from this to some shepherd's hut in one of our lonely mountain glens, the abode of honest toil, essential virtue, and simple religion—where the debasement of malignant envy, and the effeminacy of demon vice are unknown—around whose frugal table a group of Nature's children are lovingly gathered—and say, whether true sterling happiness is found under the gorgeous glitter—or under the smoky rafter? Rather have the cottage with the "great gain" of godliness and contentment, than the palace without them. "A little that a just man has, is better than the riches of many wicked." Whatever be our earthly condition; whether it be at the extremes of opulence and poverty, or the commoner lot of lowly mediocrity, be this our alone object of aspiration and ambitious desire—to have God as our portion—the possession of that loving Father's smile, which transfigures, and beautifies all we are and all we have—transmuting the basest metal into the gold of Ophir. The poorest, so far as the world is concerned, if they have an interest in these better riches, can adopt as their own, the Apostle's paradox—"Having nothing, yet possessing all things."
"O Thou bounteous Giver of all good,
4.Finally, before closing these preliminary remarks, let us admire and adore the Divine sovereignty. What more unlikely subject to be humbled in the dust—brought to take the place of a little child, than that ignorant idolater of a heathen land—an utter stranger to the true Jehovah; inflated, as he could hardly fail to be, with the pride of rank and the pride of conquest; accustomed to adulation and flattery; moreover, with the scar of leprosy to stir into rebellion, every feeling of his better nature? It would seem easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for this commander of the hosts of Syria to seek for mercy at the hands of the God and the Prophet of a hated race! But that God had loved him with an everlasting love; and He will take His own means of saying "to the north, Give up," and of bringing this son "from afar." God goes to this poor victim of a loathsome disease, racked with torture amid the splendid mockeries of regal garments, and downy pillow, and tapestried chamber, (yet truly a bed of sackcloth and ashes), and says, "Though you have laid among the pots, yet shall you be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold" (Ps. 68:13). Oh, how wondrous are these sovereign purposes and decrees of Jehovah! Who can resist, "who has resisted His will?"
We love to think, that all events are in His hand—from the creation of worlds and the revolution of empires, to the fall of the raindrop and the sparrow—and that the complicated wheels of providence are ever revolving and evolving nothing but good. Is it nations, hatching schemes of wicked war, and wild ambition, and aggrandizement? How comforting to think that there is an eye upon every such seething cauldron of human passions! that there is a hand covering the craters of these slumbering volcanoes, preventing the imprisoned fires bursting forth until the Lord gives the word. No, more, that when the lava-stream breaks forth on its mission of desolation and judgment, it is only for an appointed season and an appointed reason; and that His own Church will come forth from the fierce boiling cauldron "fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners." There is One in heaven who has the hearts of kings in His hands, and who turns them even as He turns the rivers of waters. "O Assyrian, the rod of my anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. …Behold the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, shall lop the bough with terror, and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled! And He shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and LEBANON shall fall by a mighty One" (Isa. 10:5, 33, 34).
And He who rules over worlds and empires, rules over the individual human spirit; controls, in the case of each, the empire of thought and the fitful human will. See how, by the power of His omnipotent Spirit, He led this haughty soldier of Damascus; how in time He conquered the pride of rank, the pride of fame, the pride of riches, the pride of heathen religion, the pride of self-independence, and made him a monument of His grace and mercy! As we gaze upon Naaman in his solitary chamber, with ulcered body and reddened eye, shunned by his fellows, weary and desponding of life—moreover, the votary of a pagan divinity, and shrinking, as we would have thought, from recognizing the hand and owning the power of the tutelary deity of his country's enemies—we may well, on all human calculations, adopt the hopeless words of the Prophet in more than their literal sense—"Can the Ethiopian change his skin?" But what is impossible with men is possible with God! By a variety of simple coincidences in His providence, He is to bring the leper-warrior, like the Hebrew king, to disown all human confidences, and to say, "In the Lord put I my trust!" (Ps. 11:1).
Shall we, moreover, ask—What was it that recommended Naaman to the notice and regard of the Jehovah of Israel—leading Him to select that 'wild olive tree among the rocks of Syria', to be grafted into the true olive tree? Was it his valor, his victories, his warlike demeanor and noble bearing, his political sagacity or astute statesmanship, or brilliant talents? No! these were but the qualities of earth; there was nothing god-like about them; they won only the hosannahs of this world. Personal claim on God's favor—he had none. The whole secret of His selection is thus unfolded—"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." "I will call them my people who were not my people" (Rom. 9:25). God had, in the sovereignty of His own divine decrees, from all eternity inserted the name of this Aramite chief in higher and better than any military roll-call—one among a noble army of spiritual warriors who have since in every age "fought the good fight of faith, and laid hold on eternal life."
It is worthy of remembrance that the Divine Redeemer, in the course of His earthly ministry, took this same story of the Syrian soldier to enforce and illustrate the theme of which we speak. "And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian." (Luke 4:27). The lepers of the covenant-nation were passed by. The leper of a Gentile kingdom—and that kingdom, too, the sworn foe of Israel—was selected. Still does the same Lord, "who is rich unto all that call upon Him," love to manifest and magnify His sovereignty, and the sovereignty of His grace, in hardened hearts which He breaks, and stubborn wills He subdues, and proud spirits He brings to lie low and submissive at the cross of His Son! Still He can fashion the unlikeliest and unshapeliest stones for His heavenly temple, and show that it is not of him that wills nor of him that runs, but of Himself who shows mercy. "Who are you, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain." "This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty" (Zech. 4:6, 7). "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are—That no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Cor. 1:27-29). Side by side with Rimmon's shrine, is to be erected a new altar-stone, with the strange inscription carved upon it by a proud heathen, "JEHOVAH ROPHI"—"I am the Lord that heals you."
Are there any who read these pages, to whom the taint of a deeper and more malignant disease than that of Naaman is adhering, which is excluding them, as effectually as did the leprosy among the Jews of old, from all holy fellowship; and specially from fellowship and communion with the Great Father of Spirits—leaving them "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise?" All that you have, in the shape of material bliss, will avail you nothing in this dreadful self-isolation from goodness and from God—an isolation in which you feel you cannot in happiness live, and in which you dare not expect in peace to die. You may, like Naaman, have the world smiling on you—Fortune strewing your path with her capricious favors—your name borne on the plaudits of the multitude; but there is a fretful ulcer, a moral virus within, which poisons and destroys all outward good. Is there no voice of mercy, no message of peace for you, and such as you? "Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there?"
Yes! the gospel discloses a wondrous way, by which the spiritual leper—(and that, too, even if his case should be the worst—apparently excluded hopelessly from the camp of the true Israel), may have a new name given, and become in the true sense of the word—"Naaman," "beautiful." He who is the alone Ideal of "the Beautiful"—who appropriates to Himself the name of "the Beautiful Shepherd," who gave His life for the sheep (John 10:11), thus addresses you—"Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest"—"Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; and though they be red like crimson (red and revolting, like the hue on the skin of leprosy), they shall be as wool" (Isa.1:18).
A deep sense of the vileness of sin, and a longing to get rid of it, combined with the realized consciousness of your own inability to do so, are the only conditions of acceptance and cure. It is said in a striking verse, "He will beautify the meek with salvation;" and yet again, "The meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way." "The meek"—who are they? The contrite, the lowly, the broken-hearted—those who, like the Syrian warrior, are willing to cast all their own grounds of cobweb-confidence "to the moles and to the bats"—who, turning their back on the Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, and their face toward the waters of Israel, are ready to say, in the words of one who keenly felt the pain and bitterness, in a spiritual sense, of the leper's separation from the camp of the true Israel, and longed, above all, for reinstatement in the forfeited love and fellowship of Him whose favor is life—"Purge me with hyssop" (the leper's appointed means of purification), "and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…For You desire not sacrifice, else would I give it; You delight not in burnt-offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit—a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise" (Psalm 51:7, 10, 16, 17).