"Then he went down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God—and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean! And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came and stood before him."—2 Kings 5:14, 15.
Naaman's stormy passion is calmed. In accordance with the direction of Elisha, and yielding to the advice of his faithful attendants, he submits to the appointed means of restoration. We may picture in thought, the cavalcade moving from the Prophet's door along the low level plain towards the banks of the river. Shall we farther venture the supposition, that the time was at the approach of evening, when the sun was setting, and the Moab mountains were already assuming those purple and roseate hues so familiar to travelers at this day—one of the few features indeed in outer nature, unchanged since the times of the Syrian.
There are, generally, one or more, signal and momentous epochs which occur in every life, and especially in the lives of those who have left their mark and impress on the world. The night when Abraham was led out by his Almighty Protector to gaze upon the glories of an eastern sky, as the emblem and prophecy of his vast progeny. The night when Jacob wrestled with the angel-God at Peniel, and came forth halting, yet victorious; inspired with new and nobler impulses for the future. The, noontide hour, when the woman of Samaria owned the Pilgrim at the well of Sychar as the expected Messiah, abandoned forever her immoral life, and drank of the living water. The season and spot when "the anxious inquirer" in the desert of Gaza (Acts 8:26-39), had the darkened page he was reading illumined with glorious light, and when, the quest of a long pilgrimage gained, "he went on his way rejoicing."
Among historical instances in the Christian Church, we may instance the hour when Augustine obeyed the irresistible impulse awakened by the divine voice—"Take it up and read—take it up and read;" or when Luther, overtaken in the storm of thunder, and a lightning-bolt bursting at his feet, felt encompassed by the terrors of death; and throwing himself on his knees on the highway to Erfurth, became from that hour an altered man.
Similar, also, are individual experiences of everyday occurrence; when the favorable turn takes place in alarming sickness; when the life of some dear child, "balanced in a breath," is unexpectedly restored; when the preaching of the gospel comes home "in demonstration of the Spirit and with power," and the guilt and folly of a futile, wasted, neglected past is vividly realized, tearfully bewailed, and earnestly renounced. These, and similar critical seasons, become the birthday of nobler purposes and resolutions—"I will fulfill my vows to you, O God, and offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help. For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in your life-giving light." (Ps. 56:12-13).
Such was the crisis we have reached in the story of Naaman, when we read of him (ver. 14), "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 unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." We may picture the conflict of emotions, while, stepping down from his chariot, he disrobed himself of his gorgeous attire, and was about to plunge into the muddy stream—the expectant crowd of soldiers gathered around, all anxiety as to the result. It is done! The Lord of the Hebrews has been true to His word—"He shall deliver the needy when he cries, the poor also, and he who has no helper" (Ps. 72:12). The words of Joshua, uttered in a former age, near the same spot, have a new application and significance with reference to the Gentile chief—"Behold the Ark of the covenant of the Lord of the whole earth passes over before you into Jordan!" Naaman was henceforth included among "the sons of the stranger who join themselves to the Lord" (Isa. 56:6), on whom the divine promise is bestowed—"I will give them—in my house, within my walls—a memorial and a name far greater than the honor they would have received by having sons and daughters. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear!" (Isa. 56:5).
As he emerges from the waters, he feels the glow of new health tingling in his veins. No flower-bud, if gifted for the moment with sensation, could so feel the transition, when the closed petals bursts open at the summons of spring and sunshine, and blooms in loveliness and beauty. No creeping caterpillar could so feel the transition, when, from the dull and torpid cocoon, it becomes cognizant of "the tremble and flutter of its golden wings" and soars aloft in resurrection attire. If that man clasps his deliverer in tearful gratitude, who has snatched him from a watery grave, and brought him dripping to the shore; what must have been Naaman's emotions of "wonder, love, and praise" to that God who had delivered him from so great a death, and replenished him with joyous life?
Nobler and better too than outward healing, he felt, from that hour onwards, that he was renovated in soul as well as in body. Rimmon and his brotherhood of lying deities were henceforth abjured—a bill of divorcement was written against them all—"In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver and his idols of gold to the moles and to the bats." In the words of Krummacher, "the obstinate heathen with his 'I thought,' is left behind in the watery grave of the Jordan. The crude warrior, who was almost beside himself with rage and vexation, died; and a person, gentle and peaceful as a dove, has risen from his ashes."
'Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.' Thus speaks the man who, a few hours before, went about in the fetters of the most deplorable darkness. The infernal charm is dissolved; the snare is broken; the bird has escaped. A new creature, born of God, stands in unveiled beauty before our eyes." That triumphal band, inconspicuous in numbers, which wound its way from the fords of the Jordan up to the heights of Gilgal, possessed elements of lofty and sacred interest which belonged to no Roman procession ascending the steps of the Imperial Capitol in its palmy days. Naaman himself was familiar with the jubilant throngs that were used to welcome his own victorious legions through the gates of Damascus; but grander and diviner hosannahs than those of earth were greeting that chariot of peace, and its crowned and "beautified" conqueror.
Indiscernible to human vision, as were the chariots and horses of fire disclosed by the Prophet of Gilgal on the mountain at Dothan, the angels of God were now encamping round this new 'trophy of divine power and mercy'. Clad in nobler armor, and richer attire than could be furnished by spoils of earthly conquest, he could take up, in spirit, words which were before long to be sung by the great prophet-minstrel—"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness " (Isa. 61:10).
But without farther anticipating, let us endeavor to gather one or two of the more palpable practical reflections which this new turning-point in the story suggests.
1. Observe the power of God's upholding and sustaining grace.We have already commented on the sovereignty of that grace, in choosing a wild olive-tree from the soil of heathendom. We have now to note how that same grace, in another form, shielded the rash, impetuous warrior, when he had seemingly entangled himself in the toils of the great adversary, and his romantic pilgrimage was about to be ingloriously cut short by an outburst of wounded pride. "Surely in vain," says the Wise Man, "the net is spread in the sight of any bird" (Prov. 1:17). The Jehovah of Israel had not only, as we have seen, marked that Gentile Syrian from all eternity as His own, but, as in the case of each of His true people, having begun a good work, He will carry it on. For a moment, indeed—to follow the metaphor of the Hebrew philosopher—the net seems to have been too successfully and fatally spread; the ensnared victim—that haughty eagle from the cliffs of Lebanon—lies, apparently, with broken pinion and ruffled plumage, fluttering in the dust—or rather, when the cage was opened for freedom and flight, he dashes the wings of passion against the enclosing bars, rejecting in his folly, the offered blessing. We can well imagine, that if there was one person in the Valley of Jericho, less likely than another to listen to the calm words of 'reason', it was this blinded, imperious, unreflecting child of nature. If Naaman had been left to himself, he never would have returned to Damascus, the leper he had left it—with the foul spot on his brow, and disappointed rage, like a demon from the abyss, torturing his spirit—the last state of that man would have been worse than the first!
But "is there anything too hard for the Lord?" "The wisdom of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." As we see the chariot retracing its way to the Hebrew Prophet's dwelling, and the hero of the armies of Damascus already reaping that hardest of victories—over his own selfishness and pride—are we not constrained to feel that it is no mere power of human persuasion and admonition that has effected the change of purpose, stilling the waves of that stormy soul, and saying, "Peace, be still!" We behold in it the interposition of Him who "makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and restrains the remainder of His wrath." When nature was ready to fail—the vessel about to founder on the rocks—grace came to his aid, and effected the needed rescue. "He gives power to the faint, and to those who have no might He increases strength."
Some, possibly, as they ponder the narrative, may mark in its features notable resemblances to their own past experience; how at some memorable period of their history, when, forgetful of the way of duty and obedience, the too pliable chariot-wheels, obeying the impulse of passion and prejudice, selfishness and unbelief, were speeding onwards to destruction—a hand, stronger than human, reined in the wild steeds—some mysterious influence (call it what they may), confronted them, like the messenger of old, who, with glittering sword stood in the pathway of the Moabite Prophet, and a voice louder and diviner than that of either ministering or avenging angel was heard saying, "Turn! turn! why will you die?"
Truly "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance;" that is, they are independent of all human caprice, willful waywardness, fitful passion. But for His sustaining and restraining grace, how many would have been swept down, like rotten trees, before the hurricane. How many have reason to make the confession on life's retrospect, "Unless the Lord had helped me, I would soon have died. I cried out, 'My foot is slipping!' and your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me." (Ps. 94:17, 18). How many have to point to words which, in an age long subsequent to that of Naaman, were uttered by divine lips to one who partook not a little of the mingled elements in Naaman's complex character—"Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you as wheat—but I have prayed for you that your faith fail not" (Luke 22:32).
2. Let us mark the difference between relenting and unrelenting passion.Naaman "went away in a rage." This was reprehensible enough. Anger has been well called "a short madness." Few things are more humiliating than to see a man the deplorable and misguided victim and slave of his own irascible, ungovernable feelings—his bosom the crater of a burning volcano pouring down its hot lava-stream, a torrent of liquid fire—and that, also, too patent and visible to all around.
But worse, is the case of sullen, implacable anger. Bad enough is the fierce eruptic outburst of passion which expends itself in its own vehemence. But, sadder far, is the calm, vindictive, settled feeling—the confirmed, chronic malevolence—the devil-spirit, which seems to defy being exorcized; which no persuasion can melt, and no approach of kindliness can mollify or subdue. You might as well attempt to move the world, as turn the wheels of that man's chariot. All the while he thinks himself a martyr. There is to his own apprehension an imagined heroism and chivalry about his stubborn, unrelenting anger. With morbid, sullen self-complacency he encircles himself within these moats of wounded pride—pitied by none but himself.
It might have been so with Naaman. He might have muffled himself in his warrior-cloak, and the frown which gathered on his brow at the Prophet's door might have deepened as he proceeded on his way. In dogged silence he might have listened to his servant's admonitions, or ordered them, in a tempest of rage, back to their camels. He might have entered Damascus cursing the God of Israel, and vowing summary vengeance against the hated Hebrews and their lying prophets. But the voice of kindly admonition had prevailed. "A man's pride," says the Preacher, "shall bring him low; but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit" (Prov. 29:23). This "great and honorable man" is willing to be reasoned with, even by inferiors, and by them to have the folly and infatuation of his rage pointed out. The chariot is turned, and the next moment he is on his way down to the Jordan Valley. "He who rules his own spirit is greater than he who takes a city." "Be angry, and sin not—do not let the sun go down upon your wrath."
Who does not recall a nobler example for imitation? Think of the "Greater than Solomon"—across whose pure human soul no gust of angry passion ever passed its sirocco-breath—"Who when He was reviled, reviled not again—when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Pet. 2:23).
3. Let us observe, farther, the recompense of childlike obedience and unquestioning faith."So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him." 2 Kings 5:14
It may have been a great struggle for the baulked and humbled hero thus to return. It may—it must, have cost him no small effort to carry out these second thoughts. But it is "the instruction of the man of God"—and that is enough. Perhaps, too, when he reached the banks of the muddy river, and discerned, more vividly than he could do at a distance, the contrast with the crystal streams of Damascus, inclination would renew its promptings to cancel his purpose and resume his homeward journey. But, again, he remembers "it is the instruction of the man of God." The child-spirit has risen to the ascendant; the better nature and better resolve are dominant—on he proceeds, staggering not through unbelief.
Be it ours to cherish a similar devout, unquestioning reverence for the commands of God's inspired servants in His Holy Book; recognizing in their contents, not what man's wisdom teaches, but what the Holy Spirit teaches. Not receiving just so much as suits our dispositions and inclinations, or that squares with our carnal reasonings, and rejecting the rest. Not exclaiming, as Naaman in his folly did, "Behold, I thought!" (the essence alike of modern rationalistic philosophy and theology) but as he came to say, in his better mind, "Behold, I believe." Reason, untempered and unchastened by the spirit of faith, turns many a chariot in these days, from the door of the prophet and the prophet's God—indulging in the defiant spirit of the scoffers in the time of Ezekiel—"Ah, Lord God! does he not speak mysteries."
Others, venturing on more daring assertion, can see in the sublime simplicities of Scripture teaching, only the worn out and effete truisms and crudities of bygone centuries, out of harmony with an age of boasted advancement—an age which demands that revealed doctrines be accepted or rejected by what is called "the inner consciousness." God's inspired utterances dare not thus be degraded, by being subjected to the caprice of human manipulation. The true principle of the philosophy, applied to spiritual as to material things, ought to be this—not, "What do you think?" but, "What do you read?" not carving out our own hypotheses and conceptions on the sacred tablet of truth, but seeking, modestly and humbly, to decipher the divine hieroglyphics already there, and to the interpretation of which, faith and prayer together, afford the golden key.
Our use and treatment of the secular, in life's everyday experience, may well teach us a lesson in the higher regions of divine speculation. We do not analyze the bread we eat, or the water we drink, or the rays of the sun in which we bask, before venturing to enjoy the nutriment and refreshment of the one, or the brightness and warmth of the other. So it should be in our dealings with God's Holy Word. If we approach it with a carping, dogmatic, skeptical spirit, we shall never turn the wheels of the chariot in the direction of the waters of salvation. Once deflected from the old path of childlike docility and reverential submission and teachableness, there will be little chance of return. There are things, doubtless, in Revelation, which, to our limited reason, are "hard to be understood." It was not to be expected that "the deep things of God" could be all made patent and perspicuous, in a present economy, to our limited apprehension. Whatever is really needful for our personal salvation, is revealed in the pages of the lively oracles as with the light of a sunbeam. And if there be other vexed questions or unsolved problems there, trust the divine Author of the Book that He will one day be His own interpreter; and vindicate, regarding His inspired words, the truth of the Psalmist's saying regarding His works, that they are "right" and "done in truth." Meanwhile, let it be ours to recognize in these utterances, not merely the sayings of the men of God, but the statements of "holy men," who "spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (1 Pet. 1:21).
The quickening power of the Word, be it remembered, is the special result of the operation of that divine Agent on the receptive heart. "The Lord opened" the heart of Lydia, "that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul" (Acts 16:14). We may well say, with the Ethiopian eunuch, as, seated in his chariot he read the Scriptures, "How can I understand, unless someone should guide me?" But was it not the Savior's own promise, with reference to the great gift of the Paraclete contingent on His ascension—"He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13); "He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you" (16:14); "He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance" (14:26); "He will show you things to come" (16:13).
Oh for docility of faith to follow the instructions and leadings of that Holy Spirit, though these, at times, may refuse to dovetail with our preconceived theory and cherished speculation—wounding the pride of nature, and turning the impatient steeds and their chariot from the beaten highways down to places of humiliation! The vision of divine influence and power, seen by one of the minor prophets, was not among the cedar-clad heights, but "among the myrtle trees growing in the valley" (Zech. 1:8).
4.Let us gather, as a fourth lesson, the divine faithfulness, as manifested in the completion of Naaman's cure—"And his flesh was restored, like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." It was all as the Prophet, under divine direction, had declared.
We have already pictured in thought the scene. The leper descending into the waters of the Jordan—his servants remaining in suspense on the river-bank, watching with bated breath during these critical moments. Again and again, in obedience to the command of the Hebrew Prophet, does he plunge overhead in the stream. Six times has the immersion been repeated. But the faith and obedience which triumphed over pride and self-will, have as yet no indication of recompense. The leprosy still asserts its cruel sway over the ulcered body. Unbelief may have been tempted to make a final assault on the warrior, and, if possible, to carry defeat in the very moment of victory—just perhaps, as of old, within sight of the same spot, when, after six successive "encompassings," not a few hearts among the host of Joshua would be tempted to discredit the success of the divine injunction for the leveling of Jericho's ramparts. But, as on the seventh appointed round of that strange procession of the Covenant symbol, accompanied with trumpet-blast and shouting, Jericho, the capital of the Jordan Valley, became a ring and a heap of ruin—so was it now with Naaman.
Plunging boldly, for the seventh time, into the turbid waters, he proves that the word of God is unchangeable. He comes forth a healed man! The Ethiopian has changed his skin, and the leopard his spots—no, not only so, he stands before his servants, as we have already noted, a trophy and miracle of grace! A deeper taint than that of earthly leprosy has been purged away from his soul. The allegorical "great sheet" of a later age, in which the entranced apostle of Joppa saw clean and unclean animals indiscriminately mingled—is anticipated in the case of this Gentile of the Gentiles. In a truer and higher sense than appertaining to his mere physical frame, "he is not to be called common or unclean," "an alien from the commonwealth of Israel." "Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new."
Have we not the same ground to confide in the faithfulness of God to His declarations? "Your testimonies are perfect; they are entirely worthy of our trust." (Ps. 119:138). In outer nature, we have a standing and continual pledge and guarantee for the divine veracity—the regular alternation of day and night; sunset followed by morning dawn; spring treading on the heels of winter, and summer waiting with elastic step and beaming countenance, to pour her treasures into the lap of autumn. The stars in their courses move as obediently to the divine command at this hour, as they did 3000 years ago—"They continue this day according to Your ordinances—for all are Your servants" (Ps. 119:91). If God's volume of external nature be so undeviating, truthful, unerring—surely much more may we trust the volume of Revelation. All the promises therein are yes and amen. Jehovah himself, in a remarkable passage in the book of Jeremiah, takes the one covenant charter, written in visible characters on the material scroll, as a security for the fulfillment of the provisions in the charter of grace—"Thus says the Lord, If you can break my covenant of the day and my covenant of the night, and that there shall not be day and night in their season, then" (but not until then) "may also my covenant be broken with David my servant" (Jer. 33:20, 21). "He is faithful who promised" (Heb. 10:23).
On that same memorable occasion when, in the synagogue of Nazareth, our blessed Redeemer made reference to the case of "Naaman the Syrian"—it is added, "All bore Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth" (Luke 4:22). How many in bygone centuries—how many among ourselves, would be ready and able to bear similar attestation to the fidelity as well as graciousness of these divine utterances? Naaman himself, could he be summoned from his silent sepulcher among Aramite warriors, would be the first to offer his assenting testimony—acknowledging (what he may have been unable to see at the time)—the necessity and fitness of the various preliminary steps in the procedure of the God of Israel. Would he not say to each trembling, misgiving heart, "Trust that God of Israel—He will be better than His word. I came seeking only cleansing for the body, He has delivered my soul from death:" He has "forgiven all my iniquities" as well as "healed all my diseases, and redeemed my life from destruction." He has "satisfied my mouth with good things, so that my youth is renewed like the eagle's" (Ps. 103:3-6); "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! blessed is the man who trusts in Him" (Ps. 34:8).
Reader! have you thus "known and believed" the love and the word of God? Have you tested His faithfulness, specially in the promise of all promises—the gift of all gifts? Have you gone, like Naaman, to wash in the river of redeeming grace—the fountain of a Savior's atoning blood? or are you forfeiting the blessing, by indulging unnecessary misgivings as to your warrant to appropriate it? Be not faithless, but believing. Conjure up no erroneous impressions as to the inapplicability of the sure word of promise to you. It embraces all. All are warranted, all are welcome—"Him that comes unto me I will never cast out" (John 6:37).
On the other hand, reject this way of salvation, and there remains "no more," no other, "sacrifice for sin." Oh, if this Gentile idolater listened to the voice of a humble Hebrew prophet, turned his chariot, and submitted to what must have been, to his proud spirit, a humiliating cure—"How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" But why should any continue thus either to neglect or to reject? Why not credit God, that "He says what He means, and means what He says"—and laying your finger on the immutable, uncancelled, promise of the divine Promiser, thus urge the plea of an old pleader at the Mercy-seat—"Do as you have said!" (2 Sam. 7:25). Why not respond to the simple exhortation (quoted in the title-page) of one, who, in his God-given gifts of bodily healing, has earned the lasting gratitude of thousands in a suffering world, not to speak of the healing leaves which he loved to pluck and to give from the Tree of Life—"Can you not stoop down, wash like Naaman, and come out clean—come out a king?"
5.A farther point we may notice is, the GRATITUDE of the restored warrior. If he had been influenced by any remains of a spirit of selfishness and domineering pride, he would at once, after obtaining the cure, have given orders to his charioteer to evade the dwelling at Gilgal, and drive, by the nearest road, back to Syria. 'The Prophet,' he might have said, 'refused to grant me a personal audience. I need not now hold myself his debtor. I felt slighted by his not according me the homage to which, from my position, I was entitled—sending merely one of his servants with an oral message. I shall have my retaliation now for his discourtesy. Besides, why need I linger in this land of the Hebrews? I have got what I wanted. Why tarry to perform a mere piece of formal civility? After all, there may be no miracle in the matter. It may be some peculiar sanitary virtue in these Jordan waters which required neither Prophet nor priest to impart.' And so, he might have hastened to his Damascus home, to bow once more in the Temple of Rimmon, and forget all he owed to Jehovah and His Prophet.
No!—He went back to the man of God "clothed with humility;" to lay at his door the tribute of a grateful heart, and to make one of the noblest confessions a once blinded idolater ever uttered.
May we not learn from Naaman's example, the simple but often-forgotten lesson, how grateful and fitting is the remembrance and acknowledgment of kindness. Nothing is baser or more unworthy than to requite good deeds and loving labors—it may even be generous friendships—with coldness, rudeness, indifference, neglect. How often in this selfish world are those to be found, who have not a smile of thankfulness nor a word of gratitude for gifts conferred—heartless, pulseless, loveless beings—who grasp and take all they can get, as matters of course; proving, it may even be, at the end, like the frigid serpent of the fable, which stung the warm hand of the benefactor whose pity had reanimated it. Or, like the ten lepers of gospel story, whom our blessed Lord healed, but only one of whom returned to render thanks for deliverance. By all truly magnanimous souls, acts of goodness and beneficence can never be ignored or forgotten.
Look at David's gratitude for the many proofs of Jonathan's kindness, after that generous heart had long ceased to beat. How he loved the limping cripple Mephibosheth for the sake of his friend, and gave the daily substantial evidence of these uncancelled obligations, by having a seat reserved for the orphaned youth at the royal table! Or look at a later example in the same beautiful life—David's royal gratitude in the hour of returning prosperity and triumph—an hour when such debts are often, by ignoble people, apt to be forgotten. Barzillai, a brave old chieftain from the glens of Gilead, came to meet the restored sovereign near the very spot where Naaman now was, in order to offer his congratulations, and see the King of Judah safely across Jordan. He had come, not long before, with timely support and refreshment, when, in a season of humiliation and disaster, the son of Jesse was a fugitive from his throne and palace. The moment of ovation has not dimmed the memory of these seasonable gifts, and the still more seasonable sympathy of the benefactor. To this Patriarch Sheikh is also offered a special place at the royal table, and a heart-welcome to the royal dwelling in Jerusalem. Barzillai pled exemption, on account of his years, from the distinguished honor. But the king would not allow him to depart until he had imprinted on his furrowed cheek the kiss of grateful affection—"And all the people went over Jordan. And when the king was come over, the king kissed Barzillai, and blessed him; and he returned unto his own place" (2 Sam. 19:39). Nor did death itself extinguish these memories. In his last testamentary words, the names of Barzillai's children were commended, in sacred legacy, to the gratitude and love of David's successor (1 Kings 2:7).
Or, to do no more than simply refer to a New Testament illustration—listen to the prayer and benediction of one of the noblest hearts that ever beat in a human bosom—"May the Lord show special kindness to Onesiphorus and all his family because he often visited and encouraged me. He was never ashamed of me because I was in prison. May the Lord show him special kindness on the day of Christ's return. And you know how much he helped me at Ephesus." (2 Tim. 1:16, 18).
To the Great Almoner of blessings, alike temporal and spiritual, are we as thankful as we should be? After some special token of providential goodness to ourselves or our households—when the Almighty Disposer in His infinite mercy, relieves our fears, and with gracious deliverances crowns our fondest hopes and prayers—when, for example, raised up from protracted sickness, during which, the hope of restoration was faintly cherished, and the shadows of death appeared to be gathered ominously around—as the result of His restoring mercies—have the chariot-wheels always returned to the door of the Lord God of Elisha with tributary gifts of acknowledgment—whether these be in the shape of material thank-offerings poured into His treasury—or the better and more acceptable sacrifices of a purer, diviner life-consecration—we, as grateful recipients, exclaiming—"The living shall praise You, as I do this day!" "Your vows are upon me, O God, I will render praises unto You!"
Or rather, while the prayer has been heard and strength is restored, has the recorded vow of the sick-bed been forgotten, and the reproof too truthfully merited—"O Ephraim, what shall I do unto you? O Judah, what shall I do unto you? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goes away" (Hosea 6:4). The Christian's whole life, in the present world, may well be an anthem of gratitude; and its twofold theme will be prolonged and perpetuated in the Church above for the Redeemed in heaven are represented as still employed in singing "the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb"—the song of Providence and the song of Grace (Rev. 15:3). Yes—however feeble and stinted it may be here, the believer's gratitude will then rise to its true and noble proportions, as, in the fullness of the divine vision and fruition, it contemplates the height and the depth, the length and the breadth of the love of God in Christ!
6.Finally, let us deduce from the passage a new illustration of individual influence—"Then Naaman and all his company went back to the man of God. They stood before Elisha." 2 Kings 5:15
Unless Naaman had reconsidered his resolution, retraced his steps to Jordan, and washed in its waters, his attendants could not have been spectators of the miraculous cure. They would have gone back to Syria, like himself, bigoted idolaters as they came. But having witnessed the immersion and its supernatural results, they gladly accompanied him to the house of the Prophet, to join in the tribute of thanksgiving.
Is it a bold or unwarranted supposition, that the captain of that company was not the only one then and there brought to confess that there was no true God save the God of Israel? Is it not more than probable, that some of these heathen attendants had been led, in consequence of their master's restoration, to a similar acknowledgment—that they returned to their land, all of them profoundly impressed with the might of the Hebrew Jehovah—a few, it may be, resolved to bow in the Temple of Rimmon no more, but to exchange the impure and licentious rights of Astarte and Baal, for the simple worship of the God who dwells between the Cherubim?
How often do we find that those, like Naaman, as he is now pictured to us anew standing at the door of Elisha—or like penitent sinners resorting to a Greater—come not alone? They come "with a company." A minister of God, himself baptized with a fresh baptism of the Spirit, is personally raised and transfigured into a higher and diviner life—but his people—it may be a great congregation—are led to share also in the new consecration. A godly master, who has earned the appellation alike by precept and exalted character, brings his workmen to know of better than worldly wages, and to embark in their daily toil under the sway of loftier principles. A parent, by exemplary piety, consistency of conduct, singleness of motive, integrity of life, is made instrumental in securing as the name of his household "Jehovah Shammai"—"The Lord is there"—training and preparing the family on earth to become one family in heaven. A godly officer—one of the Naamans of modern times—who has himself fought the good fight of faith and laid hold on eternal life, has sounded in camp and barracks, a better than military bugle-note—numbers, alike among rank and file, rally responsive to the summons, and a higher victory and purer kingdom is won!
We dare not, however, forget the solemn converse. There is an ungodly as well as a godly influence. There are ungodly masters sowing profligacy and infidelity among their workmen. There are ungodly parents, traitors to an immortal trust, neglectful of the best interests of those committed to them—by their own mournful aberrations, deflecting their children's footsteps from the path of duty and the ways of God. There are ungodly pastors, not heeding to feed their flocks with understanding and the fear of the Lord; either keeping back the saving truths of the gospel, or setting up a low standard of piety—preaching smooth things—the trumpet giving forth an uncertain sound—and the slumbering multitude entrusted to their care, are unprepared for the battle.
The picture of the 'rich man' in the parable is surely one of the most impressive in sacred story. His own misery seemed to be nothing, compared with the consciousness of the evil influence he had exercised on others—the dread of having involved those of his own flesh and blood, who would naturally be molded by his example, in his own guilt and doom—"I beg you, therefore, that You would send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment!" (Luke 16:27, 28).
But let us not close with words or pictures of terror. Let the eye rather fall, once more, on the restored and regenerated Syrian, hastening with a new song on his lips across the plain of Jericho. Let us listen to old Jordan as it murmurs along, uttering, through the sacramental scene just witnessed on its banks, the great New Testament truth, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin." In Naaman we have a living epistle—a glorious Old Testament attestation to the power of God and the grace of His gospel. In one who, as the leader of their hereditary foe, had shed the blood of Israel and bowed in the temple of an obnoxious idol—we have an encouraging assurance that no adverse position, no unfortunate circumstances, can keep us back from the healing waters. No previous sin—no previously erroneous "religious views"—can disqualify us from seeking and obtaining salvation.
Let us only, like him, be brought to renounce all personal claim and title to the exercise of a mercy and grace whose glory it is to be free—leaving nature's laden chariot behind us, and listening to the beautiful words of the great Hebrew Prophet and preacher of a subsequent age—words which still ring in undying echoes, as they speak of unbought and unpurchasable blessings flowing from better than all earthly streams—"Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money—come, buy and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price!" (Isaiah 55:1)