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CONTEMPLATION VIII.--ELISHA WITH NAAMAN.
2 KINGS V.
Of the full showers of grace, which fell upon Israel and Judah, yet some drops did light upon their neighbours. If Israel be the worse for her nearness to Syria, Syria is the better for the vicinity of Israel. Amongst the worst of God's enemies, some are singled out for mercy.
Naaman was a great warrior, an honourable courtier, yet a leper. No disease incident to the body is so nasty, so loathsome, as leprosy. Greatness can secure no man, from the most odious and wearisome condition. How little pleasure did this Syrian peer take, to be stooped to by others, while he hated to see himself. Even those, that honoured him, avoided him : neither was he other than abhorred of those that flattered him ; yea, his hand could not move to his mouth, without his own detestation : the basest slave of Syria would not change skins with him, if he might have his honour to boot. Thus hath the wise God thought meet, to sauce the valour, dignity, renown, victories, of the famous general of the Syrians. Seldom ever was any man served with simple favours. These compositions make both our crosses tolerable, and our blessings wholesome.
The body of Naaman was not more tainted with this leprosy, than his soul was tainted with Rimmon; and, besides his idolatry, he was a professed enemy to Israel, and successful in his enmity. How far doth God fetch about his purposes ! The leprosy, the hostility, of Naaman shall be the occasions of his salvation : that leprosy shall make his soul sound ; that hostility shall adopt him a son of God.
In some prosperous inroads, that the Syrians, under Naaman's conduct, have made into the land of Israel, a little maid is taken captive: she shall attend on Naaman's wife; and shall suggest to her mistress the miraculous cures of Elisha. A small chink may serve to let in much light. Her report finds credit in the court ; and begets both a letter from the king and a journey of his
peer. While the Syrians thought of nothing but their booty, they bring happiness to the house of Naaman. The captivity of a poor Hebrew girl is a means, to make the greatest lord of Syria a ject to God.
It is good to acquaint our children with the works of God, with the praises of his prophets. Little do we know how they may improve this knowledge, and whither they may carry perhaps the remotest nations may light their candle at their coal.
Even the weakest intimations may not be neglected : a child, a
servant, a stranger may say that, which we may bless God to have heard.
How well did it become the mouth of an Israelite to extol a prophet; to wish the cure of her master, though an Aramite ; to advise that journey, unto the man of God, by whom both body and soul might be cured! True religion teacheth us pious and charitable respects to our governors, though aliens from the commonwealth of God.
No man, that I hear, blames the credulity of Naaman. Upon no other ground, doth the king of Syria send his chief peer, with his letters to the king of Israel; from his hands requiring the
The Syrian supposed, that whatever a subject could do, a sovereign might command ; that such a prophet could neither be out of the knowledge, nor out of the obedience to his prince. Never did he dream of any exemption ; but, imagining Jehoram to be no less a king of prophets than of people, and Elisha no less a subject than a seer, he writes, Now when this letter is come to thee, behold, I have herewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy.
Great is the power of princes : every man's hand is theirs ; whether for skill, or for strength. Besides the eminency of their own gifts, all the subordinate excellencies of their subjects are no less at their service, than if they were inherent in their persons. Great men are wanting to their own perfections, if they do not both know and exercise the graces of their inferiors.
The king of Israel cannot read the letter, without amazement of heart, without rending of garments ; and says, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends to me, to recover a man of his leprosy? Wherefore consider and see, I pray you, hou he seeketh a quarrel against me.
If God have vouchsafed to call kings gods, it well becomes kings to call themselves men, and to confess the distance wherein they stand to their Maker. Man may kill; man cannot kill and make alive; yea, of himself he can do neither. With God, a worm or a fly may kill a man; without God, no potentate can do it: much less, can any created power both kill and revive; since, to restore life is more than to bereave it, more than to continue it, more than to give it: and if leprosy be a death, what human power can either inflict or cure it?
It is a trouble to a well-affected heart, to receive impossible commands. To require that of an inferior, which is proper to the Highest, is a derogation from that supreme power, whose property it is. Had Jehoram been truly religious, the injury done to his Maker in this motion, as he took it, had more afflicted him, than the danger of his own quarrel. Belike, Elisha was not in the thoughts of the king of Israel. He might have heard, that this prophet had made alive one, whom he killed not: himself, with the two other kings, had been eye-witnesses, of what Elisha could do ; yet now the calves of Dan and Bethel have so often taken up his heart, that there is no room for the memory of Elisha : whom he sued to in his extremity, now his prosperity hath forgotten. Carnal hearts, when need drives them, can think of God and his prophet : when their turn is served, can as utterly neglect them, as if they were not.
Yet, cannot good Elisha repay neglect and forgetfulness. He listens what is done at the court; and, finding the distress of his sovereign, proffers that service, which should have been required; Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes ? Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.
It was no small fright, from which Elisha delivers his king. Jehoram was in awe of the Syrians, ever since their late victory; wherein his father Ahab was slain, Israel and Judah discomfited. Nothing was more dreadful to him, than the frowns of these Aramites. The quarrel, which he suspected to be hatched by them, is cleared by Elisha : their leper shall be healed : both they and Israel shall know, they have neglected a God, whose prophet can do wonders. Many eyes, doubtless, are fastened upon the issue
of this message.
But what state is this, that Elisha takes upon him? He doth not say, “I will come to him;" but, Let him come now to me. The three kings came down once to his tent: it is no marvel, if he prevent not the journey of a Syrian courtier. It well beseems him, that will be a suitor for favour, to be obsequious. We may not stand upon terms of our labour or dignity, where we expect a benefit.
Naaman comes, richly attended with his troops of servants and horses, and waits in his chariot at the door of a prophet. I do not hear Elisha call him in ; for though he were great, yet he was leprous : neither do I see Elisha come forth to him, and receive him with such outward courtesies, as might be fit for an honourable stranger: for in those rich clothes the prophet saw an Aramite, and perhaps some tincture of the late-shed blood of Israel : rather, that he might make a perfect trial of the humility of that man, whom he means to gratify and honour, after some short attendance at his door, he sends his servant with a message to that peer, who could not but think the meanest of his retinue a better man than Gehazi's master.
What could the prophet have done other, to the lacquey of Naaman’s man? He, that would be a meet subject of mercy, must be thoroughly abased in his own conceit ; and must be willingly pliable, to all the conditions of his humiliation.
Yet, had the message carried in it either respect to the person or probability of effect, it could not have been unwelcome; now it sounded of nothing, but sullenness and unlikelihood; Go, and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.
What wise man could take this, for any other than a mere
scorn and mockery ; Go, wash? Alas! what can water do! It can cleanse from filthiness ; not from leprosy. And why in Jordan? What differs that from other streams ? And why just seven times? What virtue is either in that channel or in that number?
Naaman can no more put off nature, than leprosy. In what a chafe did he fling away, from the prophet's door ; and says, “ Am I thus far, to fetch a flout from an Israelite? Is this the issue, both of my journey and the letters of my king ? Could this prophet find no man to play upon, but Naaman? Had he meant seriously, why did he think himself too good, to come forth unto me? Why did he not touch me with his hand, and bless me with his prayers, and cure me with his blessing? Is my misery fit for his derision? If water could do it, what needed I to come so far for this remedy? Have I not oft done thus, in vain ? Have we not better streams at home, than any Israel can afford? Are not Abana and Pharphar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel ?"
Folly and pride strive for place, in a natural heart; and it is hard to say, whether is more predominant: folly, in measuring the power of God's ordinances, by the rule of human discourse and ordinary event; pride, in a scornful valuation of the institutions of God in comparison of our own devices.
“ Abana and Pharphar, two for one : rivers, not waters of Damascus, a stately city, and incomparable: Are they not? Who dares deny it? Better, not as good ; than the waters, not the rivers ; all the waters, Jordan and all the rest ; of Israel, a beggarly region to Damascus."
No where shall we find a true pattern of the disposition of nature : how she is altogether led by sense and reason; how she fondly judges of all objects by the appearance ; how she acquaints herself only with the common road of God's proceedings; how she sticks to her own principles; how she misconstrues the intentions of God; how she over-conceits her own; how she disdains the mean conditions of others; how she upbraids her opposites, with the proud comparison of her own privileges. Nature is never but like herself. No marvel, if carnal minds despise the foolishness of preaching, the simplicity of sacraments, the homeliness of ceremonies, the seeming inefficacy of censures. These men look upon Jordan, with Syrian eyes; one drop of whose water, set apart by divine ordination, hath more virtue, than all the streams of Abana and Pharphar.
It is a good matter, for a man to be attended with wise and faithful followers. Many a one hath had better counsel from his heels, than from his elbows. Naaman's servants were his best friends. They came to him, and spake to him, and said, My father, If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldst thou
not have done it? How much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
These men were servants, not of the humour, but of the profit of their master. Some servile spirits would have cared only to soothe
up, not to benefit their governor; and would have encouraged his rage, by their own : "Sir, will you take this at the hand of a base fellow? Was ever man thus flouted? Will let him carry it away thus? Is any harmless anger sufficient revenge, for such an insolence? Give us leave at least to pull him out by the ears, and force him to do that by violence, which he would not do out of good manners. Let our fingers teach this saucy prophet, what it is to offer an affront to a prince of Syria. But these men loved more their master's health, than his passion; and would rather therefore to advise, than flatter: to draw him to good, than follow him to evil. Since it was a prophet, from whom he received this prescription, they persuade him not to despise it; intimating there could be no fault in the slightness of the receipt, so long as there was no defect of power in the commander ; that the virtue of the cure should be in his obedience, not in the nature of the remedy.
They persuade, and prevail. Next to the prophet, Naaman may thank his servants, that he is not a leper. He goes down, upon their entreaty, and dips seven times in Jordan. His flesh riseth ; his leprosy vanisheth: not the unjust fury and techiness of the patient shall cross the cure; lest, while God is severe, the prophet should be discredited.
Long enough might Naaman have washed there in vain, if Elisha had not sent him. Many a leper hath bathed in that stream, and hath come forth no less impure. It is the word, the ordinance, of the Almighty, which puts efficacy into those means, which, of themselves, are both impotent and improbable. What can our font do to the washing away of sin ? If God's institution shall put virtue into our Jordan, it shall scour off the spiritual leprosies of our hearts; and shall more cure the soul, than cleanse the face.
How joyful is Naaman, to see this change of his skin, in this renovation of his flesh, of his life! Never did his heart find such warmth of inward gladness, as in this stream.
Upon the sight of his recovery, he doth not post home to the court, or to his family, to call for witnesses, for partners of his joy; but thankfully returns to the prophet, by whose means he received this mercy. He comes back with more contentment, than he parted with rage.
Now will that man of God be seen of that recovered Syrian, whom he would not see leprous. His presence shall be yielded
the gratulation, which was not yielded to the suit. Purposely did Elisha forbear before, that he might share no part of the