Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

What shall not be done for a Jehoshaphat? For his sake, shall those two other princes and their vast armies live and prevail. Edom and Israel, whether single or conjoined, had perished, by the drought of the desert, by the sword of Moab : one Jehoshaphat gives them both life and victory. It is in the power of one good man, to oblige a world. We receive true, though insensible favours, from the presence of the righteous. Next to being good, it is happy to converse with them that are so: if we be not bettered by their example, we are blest by their protection.

Who wonders not, to hear a prophet call for a minstrel, in the midst of that mournful distress of Israel and Judah? Who would not have expected his charge of tears and prayers, rather than of music? How unseasonable are songs to a heavy heart ! It was not for their ears, it was for his own bosom, that Elisha called for music ; that his spirits, after their zealous agitation, might be sweetly composed, and put into a meet temper for receiving the calm visions of God. Perhaps it was some holy Levite, that followed the camp of Jehoshaphat, whose minstrelsy was required for so sacred a purpose. None but a quiet breast is capable of divine revelations. Nothing is more powerful to settle a troubled heart, than a melodious harmony. The Spirit of Prophecy was not the more invited, the prophet's spirit was the better disposed, by pleasing sounds. The same God, that will reveal his will to the prophet, suggests this demand; Bring me a minstrel. How many say thus, when they would put God from them! Profane mirth, wanton music, debauches the soul ; and makes no less room for the unclean spirit, than spiritual melody doth for the divine.

No prophet had ever the Spirit at command. The hand of the minstrel can do nothing, without the hand of the Lord. While the music sounds in the ear, God speaks to the heart of Elisha ; Thus saith the Lord, Make this valley full of ditches ; ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain ; yet that valley shall be full of water, &c.

To see wind and rain in the height of that drought, would have seemed as wonderful, as pleasing ; but, to see abundance of water without wind or rain, was yet more miraculous. I know not how the sight of the means abates our admiration of the effect. Where no causes can be found out, we are forced to confess omnipotency. Elijah relieved Israel with water, but it was out of the clouds, and those clouds rose from the sea ; but whence Elisha shall fetch it, is not more marvellous than secret.

All that evening, all that night, must the faith of Israel and Judah be exercised with expectation. At the hour of the morning sacrifice, no sooner did the blood of that oblation gush forth, than the streams of waters gushed forth into their new

channels, and filled the country with a refreshing moisture. Elijah fetched down his fire, at the hour of the evening sacrifice; Elisha fetched up his water, at the hour of the morning sacrifice. God gives respect to his own hours, for the encouragement of our observation. If his wisdom hath set us any peculiar times, we cannot keep them without a blessing. The devotions of all true Jews, all the world over, were in that hour combined: how seasonably doth the wisdom of God pick out that instant, wherein he might at once answer both Elisha's prophecy, and his people's prayers !

The prophet hath assured the kings, not of water only, but of victory. Moab hears of enemies, and is addressed to war. Their own error shall cut their throats ; they rise soon enough to beguile themselves: the beams of the rising sun, glistering upon those vaporous and unexpected waters, carried, in the eyes of some Moabites, a semblance of blood. A few eyes were enough, to fill all ears with a false noise : the deceived sense miscarries the imagination; This is blood ; the kings are surely slain, and they have smitten one another ; now therefore, Moab, to the spoil. Civil broils give just advantage to a common enemy: therefore must the camps be spoiled, because the kings have smitten each other. Those, that shall be deceived, are given over to credulity. The Moabites do not examine, either the conceit or the report ; but fly in, confusedly, upon the camp of Israel ; whom they find, too late, to have no enemies but themselves. As if death would not have hastened enough to them, they come to fetch it ; they come to challenge it: it seizeth upon them unavoidably: they are smitten, their cities razed, their lands marred, their wells stopped, their trees felled ; as if God meant to waste them but once.

No onsets are so furious, as the last assaults of the desperate. The king of Moab, now hopeless of recovery, would be glad to shut up with a pleasing revenge. With seven hundred resolute followers, he rushes into the battle, towards the king of Edom; as if he would bid death welcome, might he but carry with him that despited neighbour; and now, mad with the repulse, he returns; and, whether as angry with his destiny, or as barbarously affecting to win his cruel gods with so dear a sacrifice, he offers them, with his own hand, the blood of his eldest son, in the sight of Israel, and sends him up in smoke to those hellish deities. O prodigious act, whether of rage, or of devotion ! What a hand hath Satan over his miserable vassals! What marvel is it, to see men sacrifice their souls, in an unfelt oblation, to these plausible tempters, when their own flesh and blood hath not been spared? There is no tyrant to the prince of dark

ness.

96

CONTEMPLATION VII.-ELISHA WITH THE

SHUNAMITE.

2 KINGS IV.

2

The holy prophets under the Old Testament did not abhor the marriage bed. They did not think themselves too pure, for an institution of their Maker.

The distressed widow of one of the sons of the prophets comes to Elijah, to bemoan her condition. Her husband is dead ; and dead in debt. Death hath no sooner seized on him, than her two sons, the remaining comfort of her life, are to be seized on, by his creditors, for bondmen. How thick did the miseries of this poor afflicted woman light upon her! Her husband is lost; her estate, clogged with debts; her children, ready to be taken for slaves ! Her husband was a religious and worthy man. He paid his debts to nature ; he could not, to his creditors. They are cruel; and rake, in the scarce closed wound of her sorrow; passing an arrest, worse than death, upon her sons. Widowhood, poverty, servitude have conspired, to make her perfectly miserable.

Virtue and goodness can pay no debts. The holiest man may be deep in arrearages, and break the bank ; not through lavishness, and riot of expense; (religion teaches us to moderate our hands, to spend within the proportion of our estate ;) but through either iniquity of times or evil casualties.

Ahab and Jezebel were lately in the throne. Who can marvel, that a prophet was in debt! It was well, that any good man might have his breath free, though his estate were not.

Wilfully to overlash our ability cannot stand with wisdom and good government ; but no providence can guard us from crosses. Holiness is no more defence against debt, than against death. Grace can keep us from unthriftiness ; not from want.

Whither doth the prophet's widow come to bewail her case, but to Elisha ? Every one would not be sensible of her affliction; or if they would pity, yet could not relieve her : Elisha could do both. Into his ear doth she unload her griefs. It is no small point of wisdom, to know where to plant our lamentation ; otherwise, instead of comfort, we may meet with scorn and insultation.

None can so freely compassionate the hard terms of a prophet, as an Elisha. He finds, that she is not querulously impatient; expressing her sorrow, without murmuring and discontentment; making a loving and honourable mention of that husband, who had left her distressed : readily therefore doth he incline to her succour; What shall I do for thee? Tell me what hast thou in the house?

Elisha, when he hears of her debt, asks of her substance. Had her house been furnished with any valuable commodity, the prophet implies the necessity of selling it for satisfaction. Our own abundance can ill stand, with our engagement to others. It is great injustice, for us to be full of others' purses.

It is not our own, which we owe to another. What is it other than a plausible stealth, to feed our riot with the want of the owner?

He, that could multiply her substance, could know it. God, and his prophet, loves to hear our necessities out of our own mouths ; Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil. It is neither news nor shame, for a prophet to be poor.

Grief and want, perhaps, hastened his end : both of them are left, for the dowry of his careful widow.

She had complained, if there had been any possibility of remedy at home. Bashfulness had stopped her mouth thus long, and should have done yet longer, if the exigence of her children's servitude had not opened it. No want is so worthy of relief, as that which is lothest to come forth. Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels ; borrow not a few; and when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, and thou shalt set aside that which is full

. She, that owed much and had nothing, yet must borrow more, that she may pay all. Poverty had not so discredited her with her neighbours, that they should doubt to lend her those vessels empty, which they had grudged full.

Her want was too well known : it could not but seem strange to the neighbours, to see this poor widow so busily pestering her house with empty tubs, which they knew she had nothing to fill. They knew well enough she had neither field, nor vineyard, nor orchard ; and therefore must needs marvel, at such unprofitable diligence.

If their curiosity would be inquiring after her intentions, she is commanded secresy. The doors must be shut upon herself and her sons, while the oil is increasing: no eye shall see the miracle, in working ; enough shall see it, once wrought. This act was no less a proof of her faith, than an improvement of her estate : it was an exercise of her devotion, as well as of her diligence. It was fit her doors should be shut, while her heart and lips were opened in a holy invocation.

Out of one small jar was poured out so much oil, as by miraculous multiplication filled all that empty cask. Scarce had that pot any bottom; at least, the bottom that it had, was to be measured by the brims of all those vessels : this was so deep, as they were high: could they have held more, this pot had not been empty. Even so the bounty of our God gives grace and glory according to the capacity of the receiver: when he ceaseth to infuse, it is for want of room in the heart, that takes it in:

ܕ

[blocks in formation]

could we hold more, O God, thou wouldest give more: if there be any defect, it is in our vessels ; not in thy beneficence.

How did the heart of this poor widow run over, as with wonder so with joy and thankfulness, to see such a river of oil rise out of so small a spring! To see all her vessels swimming full, with so beneficial a liquor !

Justly is she affected with this sight : she is not transported from her duty. I do not see her run forth into the street, and proclaim her store; nor calling in her neighbours, whether to admire or bargain : I see her running to the prophet's door, and gratefully acknowledging the favour, and humbly depending on his directions ; as not daring to dispose of that, which was so wondrously given her, without the advice of him, by whose powerful means she had received it. Her own reason might have sufficiently suggested what to do: she dares not trust it; but consults with the oracle of God. If we would walk surely, we must do nothing without a word. Every action, every motion, must have a warrant. We can no more err with this guide, than not err without him.

The prophet sets her in a right way; Go sell the oil, and pay thy debts, and live thou and thy children on the rest. The first care is of her debts ; the next, of her maintenance. It should be gross injustice, to raise means for herself and her charge, ere she have discharged the arrearages of her husband. None of the oil was hers, till her creditors were satisfied ; all was hers that remained. It is but stealth, to enjoy a borrowed substance. While she had nothing, it was no sin to owe; but when once her vessels were full, she could not have been guiltless, if she had not paid before she stored. God and his prophets were bountiful : after the debts paid, they provide not only against the thraldom of her charge, but against the want. It is the just care of a religious heart, to defend the widow and children of a prophet, from distress and penury.

Behold the true servant and successor of Elijah. What he did to the Sareptan widow, this did to the widow of a prophet. That increase of oil was by degrees, this at once; both, equally miraculous: this, so much more charitable, as it less concerned himself.

He, that gives kindness, doth by turns receive them. Elisha hath relieved a poor woman, is relieved by a rich. The Shunamite, a religious and wealthy matron, invites him to her house ; and now, after the first entertainment, finding his occasions to call him to a frequent passage that way, moves her husband to set up and furnish a lodging for the man of God.

It was his holiness, that made her desirous of such a guest. Well might she hope, that such an inmate would pay a blessing for his house-rent. O happy Shunamite, that might make herself the hostess of Elisha !

« PředchozíPokračovat »