But Naaman went away angry, saying, "I thought that he would surely come out, stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the spot to cure my leprosy.
I. THE INTERPOSITION OF ELISHA. Naaman was on the point of being sent away, when Elisha interposed. God's prophet vindicates God's honor.
1. Elisha sends to the king. "He sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes?" etc., His words were:
(1) A rebuke of faithlessness. The king was not God, to kill and to make alive; but was there not a God in Israel who could? Has he already received no proofs of this God's power? Wherefore, then, had he rent his clothes? How much of our despondency, fear, despair, arises from want of faith in a living God!
(2) An invitation to seek help in the right quarter. "Let him come now to me." The proof that there was a prophet, and behind the prophet a living, wonder-working God, in Israel, would be seen in deeds. Why does the sinner rend his clothes, and despair of help? Is Christ not able to save? Does he not invite him to come?
2. Naaman comes to Elisha.
(1) He seeks cleansing.
(2) Yet with unhumbled heart.
His horses and chariot drive up to Elisha's door. The great man has no thought of descending to ask the prophet's blessing. He waits till he comes out to him. He is the man of rank and wealth, whom Elisha should feel honored in serving. But Elisha does not come out. Not in this spirit are cures obtained at the hand of God. Naaman must be taught that gold, silver, horses, chariots, rank, avail nothing here. To be saved the highest must become as the humblest. Pride must be expelled (Philippians 3:7, 8).
II. THE MODE OF CURE.
1. Elisha's direction. Instead of himself appearing, Elisha sent a messenger to Naaman, directing him to wash seven times in Jordan, and he would be clean. The means of cure was:
(1) Simplicity itself. Nothing could be simpler or more easy than to bathe seven times in Jordan. Any leper might be glad to purchase cleansing by plunging in a river. God's way of salvation by Christ is characteristically simple. It involves no toilsome pilgrimages, no laborious works, no protracted ceremonies. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31).
(2) Symbolical. Jordan was the sacred stream of Israel; bathing was the Levitical mode of the purification of a leper (Leviticus 14:8, 9); seven was the sacred number. Leprosy, as the type of sin, was fitly cleansed by these purificatory rites. That which answers to the bathing in the spiritual sphere is "the washing of regeneration, and of renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5).
(3) In its very simplicity, fitted to humble the proud heart. As we are immediately to see, it humbled Naaman. It did not strike him as a sufficiently great thing to do. Thus many are offended by the very simplicity of the gospel. It seems treating them too much like children to ask them simply to believe in the crucified and risen Savior. Their intellectual eminence, their social greatness, their pride of character, are insulted by the proposal to efface themselves at the foot of the cross.
2. Naaman's anger. "Naaman was wroth, and went away." The causes of his anger were:
(1) His expectations were disappointed. He thought the prophet would have shown him more respect; would have employed impressive words and gestures; would have given the cure more eclat. Instead of this, there was the simple command to wash in Jordan. What a down-come from the imposing ceremonial he expected! Men have their preconceived ideas about religion, about salvation, about the methods of spiritual cure, which they oppose to God's ways. They say with Naaman, "Behold, I thought, He will surely do this or that. The Jews rejected their Messiah because he was" as a root out of a dry ground" (Isaiah 53:2); they rejected Christianity because its spiritual, unceremonial worship did not accord with their sensuous ideas. Others reject the gospel because it does not accord with the spirit of the age, is not sufficiently intellectual, philosophical, or aesthetical. God reminds us, "My thoughts are not your thoughts," etc. (Isaiah 55:8).
(2) He was required to submit to what seemed to him a humiliation. He was told to bathe in the waters of Jordan, a stream of Israel, when there were rivers as good, nay, better, in his own country, to which, if bathing was essential, he might have been sent. "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus," etc.? It seemed like a studied slight put upon his native rivers, an intentional humiliation put upon himself, to require him to go and bathe in this local stream. How often does wounded pride rebel at the simple provisions of the gospel, because they involve nothing that is our own, that reflects glory on self, or allows glory to self! This is the very purpose of the gospel. "Where is boasting, then? It is excluded" (Romans 3:27). Things are as they are, "that no flesh should glory in his presence" (1 Corinthians 1:29). When Christ's atonement is extolled, the cry is, "Have we not rivers, Abanas and Pharpars, of our own?" "Naaman came with his mind all made up as to how he was to be healed, and he turned away in anger and disgust from the course which the prophet prescribed. He was a type of the rationalist, whose philosophy provides him with a priori dogmas, by which he measures everything which is proposed to his faith. He turns away in contempt where faith would heal him" (Sumner).
3. Naaman's obedience. Thus a second time the blessing was nearly missed - this time through his own folly and obstinacy. But, fortunately, a remonstrance was addressed to him, and he proved amenable to reason.
(1) The remonstrance of his servants. They, looking at things through a calmer medium, and with Jess of personal pique, saw the situation with clearer eyes. They addressed him soothingly and affectionately. They touched the core of the matter when they said, "My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?" It was Naaman's pride that had been offended. But they pointed out to him, in very plain terms, the folly of his conduct. Was it not a cure he wanted? And if it was, then, surely, the simpler the means prescribed the better. Why quarrel with the conditions of cure because they were so simple? The same reasoning may be applied to the gospel. It is the simplicity of its arrangements which is the beauty of it. If men really wish to be saved, why quarrel with this simplicity? Surely the simpler the better. Would men not he willing to do "some great thing" to obtain peace with God, pardon of sin, renewal and purity of heart? How much more, then, when it is said, "Wash, and be clean"?
(2) The washing in Jordan. Naaman's ire had cooled. He felt the force of what his servants urged. He might prefer Abana and Pharpar, if he liked; but it was Jordan the prophet had named. If he did not choose to submit to bathe in this river, he must go without the cure altogether. "Neither was there salvation" (Acts 4:12) in any other river than this one. This decided him. He went down without further parley, bathed seven times in Jordan as directed, and, marvel of marvels, "his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." So speedy, sure, and complete was the reward of his obedience. As effectual to procure salvation and spiritual healing is the look of faith to Jesus, the appropriation of the merit of his blood, the spiritual baptism of the Holy Ghost.
III. NAAMAN'S GRATITUDE AND PIETY. What joy now filled the heart of the newly cleansed Naaman! How clearly he saw his former folly! How glad he was that he had not allowed his anger to prevail against the advice of his servants and his own better reason! At once he returned to Elisha; and it was very evident that his heart was overflowing with gratitude, and that he was a changed man. Like the leper in the Gospel, he returned "to give glory to God" (Luke 17:17, 18). Gratitude is most becoming in those who have received great mercies from God. Salvation awakens joy; gratitude prompts to consecration - not in order to salvation, but as the result of it, man becomes "a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17). We observe:
1. His acknowledgment of God. "Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel." This is not a comparative statement, but an absolute one. Naaman is convinced that the gods of the heathen are nullities, and that the God of Israel is the only true God. He was brought to this acknowledgment through the great miracle God had wrought upon him. It is God's mighty acts in and for men which give the best evidence of his existence.
2. His offer of reward. It was no longer the heathenish notion of purchase, but a pure motive of gratitude, which led Naaman to press the wealth he had brought upon Elisha. The prophet, however, had no desire for his goods. With an emphatic asseveration, he declared that he would accept nothing.
(1) He must keep his act free from the possibility of misconception.
(2) A miracle of God must not be vulgarized by being made the occasion of money presents.
(3) Naaman's instruction must be completed by teaching him that money gifts do not pay for spiritual blessings. Yet Naaman's motive was a right one. It is right also that, from the motive of gratitude, we should consecrate our wealth to the Lord's service.
3. His determination to worship. If he cannot persuade Elisha to accept gifts, he himself will become a suppliant, and ask a favor from the prophet. He entreats that he may be permitted to take with him two mules' burden of earth of the Holy Land, that he may form an altar for the worship of Jehovah; for he is resolved henceforth to worship him only. This was granted. His altar would connect his sacrifices with the land which God had chosen as the place of his special habitation. Real religion will express itself in acts of worship. It will not content itself with cold recognition of God. It will build its altars to Jehovah, in the home, in the closet, in the church, and in the chief places of concourse.
4. His religious scruple. One point alone troubled him. In attending his royal master, it would be his duty to wait on him in his state visits to the temple of Rimmon, and, as his master leaned on his hand in bending before that idol, he would be under the necessity of seeming to bend before it, and yield it obeisance also. He asked that the Lord might pardon him in this thing. Elisha bade him go in peace.
(1) His act was not really worship, nor did he mean it to pass for such either before the king or the other worshippers.
(2) "An idol is nothing," and, if he understood that clearly, his conscience would not be "defiled" (1 Corinthians 8:4-7). There is need for great care, even in outward acts, lest they expose the doer to misconception, or hurt the consciences of others. Life, however, is woven of intricate threads, and it is impossible but that in public, social, and official positions the Christian will sometimes find himself in situations of all the concomitants of which he can by no means approve. It will not do to say of these that it is his duty at all hazards to come out of them; for it is frequently through his duty that he is brought into them, and to escape them entirely he would require to "go out of the world" (1 Corinthians 5:10). If active participation in anything sinful is sought to be forced on him - as if Naaman were required actually to bow the knee in worship to Rimmon - then he must refuse (Daniel 3.). - J.O.
But Naaman was wroth, and went away.
I. Note then, what in this man's eyes was a fault,-what, to clearer vision, is a glory — THE UTTER INDIFFERENCE OF THE GOSPEL TO ALL DISTINCTIONS AMONG MEN. The community in the sickness of sin destroys all distinctions. There is a prince lying on that bed; there a stable-boy on that. They are ill of the same disease,, which affects the man, not his office. They need the same treatment, and — thank God! — they get it from Him who is no respecter of persons. Such treatment is true to the fact of man's condition. For it is a fact that we are all alike in sin. In us all there has been and is a voluntary divergence and deflection from the line of right, which darkens a man's soul. "All the world is guilty before God"! You cannot refute, and you will not mend that old saying about man's condition. Let me put it into plain English. Whether do you think it matters most in your relation to God — yours and mine — that we are sinners or that we are cultivated people? Whether do you think it matters most that our hearts have started aside from Him and our hands have done evil, or that we can read Latin and Greek books and are scholars? There is something for you. If the distinctions on which you pride yourselves are worth anything, they will help you to apprehend and profit by God's gift. For this treatment of all men as alike sinners, is the precursor of as universal a mercy. All are alike in two facts — that we have sinned, and that Christ has died for us. And, therefore, some men turn away from it. There is the narrow gate! Plenty of room for you — no room for the load of adventitious distinctions that you carry upon your shoulders. And so "he turned, and went away in a rage"! And let me remind you how this superb indifference of the Gospel to all these distinctions of man from man, is its true glory, and has wrought wonderful things. The Gospel came into a world all swathed in ligatures, all cleft into classes, parted from one another by deep gulfs which there was no bridging, where nations frowned at one another from their battlements, and caste and class and race and culture rent men apart from their fellows, and nothing but the grip of an iron hand and the false unity of conquest held them together. The Gospel, the true democracy, came and struck the bonds from the slave, taught the sentiment of fraternity, gave a new word and a new thought to the languages of earth — "humanity" — made men and women equal possessors of an equal grace! "He turned and went away in a rage"! And the world turns, and will yet do so in all its peoples and classes — no longer parted, but blended in one faith and one Lord, to Him who is the equal Saviour to the whole race of men.
II. We may draw from these words an illustration of what I venture to call THE NAKED SIMPLICITY OF GOD'S GOSPEL. He said, "Behold, I thought he will come, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and so by all that ceremonial he will recover the leper." And what does he get instead of all this? "Go and wash and be clean." It was very like a heathen, accustomed to muttered spells and magical incantations, whose whole religion clung close to the low levels of earth, whose gods and whose worship, whose hopes and whose fears were alike material, to crave for some external ritual of cleansing. It was very like a man to long for something visible and tangible for his wavering confidence to lay hold upon — some fixed point belonging to solid earth to which he might fasten the filmy frailty of his faith. It was very like God to contradict the desire and to give him instead — only a promise to grasp, and a command to obey, which was chiefly a test of his obedience, since common sense told him that water could not wash away the eating evil, and national pride rebelled against the pre-eminence of the river of Israel. The like apparent antagonism between men's wishes and God's ways meets us in the Gospel — and the like correspondence between God's ways and men's real wants. Christianity comes to us — or rather instead of that abstract word let us say Christ, who is Christianity, comes to us — trusting wholly and only to spiritual remedies. He, too, says "wash and be clean." The one power that cleanses is His blood for pardon, His spirit for holiness. The one condition of receiving these is simple faith in Him; all externals are nothing. And so people feel out of their element in a region thus purely spiritual and immaterial. The heathenism which is in all of us, the sense.bound materialism which sways us all, lays hold of the pure Gospel which Christ wrought and gives, and reforms it by tacking on to it an incongruous and heterogeneous appendage of rites and ceremonies, and by investing the simple ordinances which He enjoined with mysterious power.
III. Then, there is connected with this consideration, and yet somewhat distinct from it, the other, THE UTTER REJECTION BY THE GOSPEL OF ALL OUR CO-OPERATION IN OUR OWN CLEANSING. The words of Naaman himself do not explicitly contain his refusal to do what was required, on the ground that it was so small a thing. But that was evidently in his mind, as well as the other grounds of offence; and it comes out distinctly in the common-sense remonstrance by which his servants brought their irascible master to reason, Men would be a great deal more willing to accept God's way of salvation if it gave them some share in their own salvation. But its characteristic is that it will have none of our work — not even so much as this man had to do in his healing. The Gospel rejects our co-operation just because it demands our faith. For what is faith? Is not an essential part of it the consciousness that we can do nothing, the forsaking and going out of ourselves, accompanying the flight to Him? The under side of faith is self-abnegation; the upper side is confidence in Christ. In like manner, remember that the same principle is further established because our faith is not the means of our cure, but only the bringing of our sickness into contact with the means. God's love in Christ, Christ's perfect work of reconciliation, Christ's Spirit poured out — these be the energies that heal; our faith is but lifting the eyelid that the light may fill the eye, but opening the door that the physician may enter. And, therefore, because there is not a crevice in the whole process where self-trust can creep through, because from beginning to end God is all and man nought, our hearts rebel, We do not like to be paupers.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Homilist.I. THE CAUSES WHICH INDUCED NAAMAN TO REJECT THE REMEDY PRESCRIBED BY ELISHA.
1. He expected a direct communication of supernatural influence (ver. 11). 2 He sought, in the means appointed, that virtue which belonged to the promise of God (vers. 10-12).
3. He shrank from the humiliation involved, as he conceived, in the use of those means (vers. 12, 13).
II. THE UNREASONABLENESS OF HIS CONDUCT.
1. It was not for him to dictate the method of his recovery.
2. He Ought to have tried the means before denouncing them.
3. He should have sacrificed his feelings to his good. The whole case teaches: —
1. The influence of self-government.
2. The value of faithful counsel.
3. The advantages of religious knowledge.
I. THE WIDESPREAD IRRITATION AT THE COMMONPLACE WAS FAIRLY MANIFESTED IN THE CASE OF NAAMAN. I think I need hardly remind you of another Bible story where the most intense dislike makes itself manifest. "Is not this the carpenter's son? Do we not know his brothers?" It was with such words that the Jews discredited Jesus. Like Naaman, they were intensely irritated with the commonplaceness of this Messiah. It was a prevalent belief among the Jews that the second Adam would come in full-grown manhood like the first. They had the convenient habit, which we all possess, of forgetting the prophecies they wanted to. Suddenly, in some effulgence of glory, perhaps from the secret of the Temple, Christ would appear. They were looking for some spectacular performance, like Naaman when he came posting to Elisha. Then Christ was born in a little hillside village, and he wrought with Joseph who was a village carpenter, and he played with his comrades in a village street. But to come nearer home, and think of ourselves. Are we not all prone to the same irritation? Think, for example, of how we regard our newspapers. A man takes up his paper with a feeling of expectancy always, and almost always lays it down with a feeling of disappointment. We say, "There is nothing in the newspaper this morning — nothing;" and so we throw it down. What we really mean is there is nothing startling, nothing to thrill us, and hold us by its tragedy. For every morning there is the record of birth in it, the echoing music of new created life; every morning there is the record of death in it, with its untold sorrow and its unimagined fears. "There is nothing in it." Is that vain vexation not akin to Naaman's when he was bidden by Elisha to go and wash in Jordan? Does it not indicate it is very hard to realise the value of the ordinary? The fact is, we are half savage at our heart yet, and we have all the savage's delight in glaring colours. I cannot help thinking, too, that much of man's world-weariness, much of the disappointment that middle life brings with it is connected by very real, yet subtle, ties with this deep-seated vexation at the commonplace. When we are young we all dream heroic dreams. We are all going to be soldiers, sea-captains, car-drivers. We start from childhood, as Naaman started from Syria, not knowing anything, but seeing glorious visions. Like Naaman, we are bidden go wash in Jordan. Our joys have nothing remarkable about them; they are just the joys of every one else in the terrace. Our sorrows have nothing spectacular about them. There are a thousand hearts that have been torn like ours. We are not such geniuses as we once thought we were. Matched with the great world we have come to find our level. My point is that the wrong handling of that discovery is at the back of half the disappointment of maturity, at the back of half of its sin, and of its drunkenness and its divorce. How many men turn away in a rage from life's plain duty, not because it is difficult, but because it is dull. And in our Christian experience, for we are here under the banner of Christ as Christians, have we not known something in our Christian experience of Naaman's disappointments? I think that many men come to Jesus of Nazareth as the commander of Syria came to the prophet Elisha — we come because we need Him. We come because of the leprosy of sin. We have read such wonderful things about that great revival moving in the very heart of Wales, that we come all eager with glorious expectation. God forbid that I should even hint that these expectations are disappointed; He is able to save even to the uttermost. But when we come and cannot see Him, when we hear a voice that says, "Go, wash in Jordan," when instead of swift miracle there is only plain command that we have heard from our childhood, when instead of great deeds there is dull and dreary service, have not men, not to say women, been moved even against Christ with this feeling that animated Naaman? You must resist that feeling, you must fight it down. To turn away from Elisha in a rage was a very poor and pitiable thing; but to turn away from Christ Jesus in a rage is the one fatal act of a man's life.
II. THERE ARE FEW THINGS MORE DANGEROUS THAN THIS DISLIKE. Let me indicate to you three very plain reasons that make it so perilous to cherish this irritation.
1. Will you remember, first, that the commonplace is the warp and woof of life? It is the material out of which our days are made. Take yesterday; think how you spent it till sunset and evening star, and you have the record of a thousand ordinary things. The fabric of our common days is commonplace. We waken, we eat, we work, we pray — God grant it — and we sleep. We go through the dull routine of daily duty; we have our little undistinguished share of trial. One of our modern novelists says a wise thing about greatness, that sadly outraged and mismanaged word. Greatness, he says, is to take the common things of life and to walk truly among them. No matter how stirring your life may be, it will be a failure if you have never been wakened to the glory of the usual. There is no happiness like the old and common happiness — sunshine. love, duty, the laughter of little children. Only a fool could think that yacht or motor-car was to be laid in the balance with these abiding things. ?
2. Then the commonplace, remember, is God's preparation for the great. It prepares us to meet great hours when they come. Simple obedience to a very plain command, for us as for Naaman, is the path to glorious hours. What did our Lord mean in that parable when He makes the Master say, "Be thou ruler of ten cities"? What did He mean when He said, "Out of thy mouth I condemn thee, thou wicked servant. Take from him the pound and give it to him that hath ten pounds?" he meant that the capacity for royal government, the power to rise to great situations and play the king, was rooted in the brave and faithful handling of the commonplace and ordinary pound. It is always so. Trace back the failure that makes all the city talk, and you will find its roots in ill-regulated years. All a man's hope for a radiant to-morrow lies in his use of a commonplace to-day. If you cannot be faithful now when all is dreary, there is little hope of any victory then.
3. Think how Christ insists upon the commonplace. We all wish, do we not, to follow Him? The more I study Christ s life the more I am impressed by the value He sets upon the ordinary. He took a common lily that grew in tens of thousands, and He said, "Not even Solomon, in all his glory, is arrayed like one of these." He took a commonplace child — not over clean perhaps, but with such eyes — and said, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." For Christ there was a whole universe within the mustard seed; for Christ there was a revelation in the sparrow. Instead of fretting like Naaman we shall say, "Yes, Lord, because Thou biddest me, I will go and wash in Jordan seven times.
(G. H. Morrison, M. A.)
Behold I thoughta priori thinking. The religion of the Bible never professes to meet us half-way, to do half the work if we will do the other half. Man would rather be flattered and commended, and it would be pleasant to him to hear the old prophets say: "Thou art a clever man, and thy astuteness must be most pleasing to God and His angels; thou hast found out the secret of the Almighty; by thine own right hand hast thou captured the prizes of heaven." Who would not be pleased by such commendation? But it is never given. The Bible pours contempt upon the thought which preoccupies the mind, and has no blessing but for those who are poor in heart, meek, lowly, contrite, broken in spirit, childlike, who say with a tender loving reverence, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to be and to do? To this man will I look." How expectation is excited by that introduction. "Who is the man?" To this man will I look, who is of a broken and contrite spirit, and who trembleth at my word. Let us apply this suggestion to two or three of the most vital religious inquiries.
1. Apply it to the subject of inspiration. Instead of coming to the Book without bias and prejudice, simply to hear what the Book has to say for itself, we come with what is termed a theory of inspiration. As if there could be any balance between the terms, as if in any degree or sense they could be equivalent to one another. Theory equal to inspiration — inspiration equal to theory. The word theory must be an offence to the word inspiration! Inspiration is madness, ecstasy, enthusiasm, the coronation of the soul, the mind in its widest, grandest illumination. Now open the Book. The Book is as nearly not that as it is possible for a book to be. What is the consequence? The Book is not inspired, because, forsooth, it does not answer our preconception of inspiration! What does Naaman say about the Book? "Behold, I thought it would be all written in polysyllables; I expected it would be all sublime, with an unprecedented sublimity too grand for our language, and would need a language of its own too superior for our atmosphere, and would need an air created for itself." And, behold, it is so simple, so graphic, so abrupt, so social. What you have to do with the Bible is to read it straight through, without saying anything to anybody. You have not to dip into it just as you please, you have to begin at the beginning and read through to the final Amen. In doing so you have to be as fair to the Book as you would be to the meanest criminal that ever stood at the bar of justice. When you have read the Book thus straight through, there is no reason why you should not form a distinct opinion about it. Nowhere will the Book take away your power of thought, reason, and judgment. It will rather challenge you at the last to say, "Who or what say ye that I am?" The same suggestion has its application to the great question of Providence. Here, again, we lose much by the indulgence of preconception. Given God and man. God, almighty, all-wise, and man as we know him to be, to find out the course of human history. "Behold, I thought it would he thus. The good man will have a bountiful harvest every year. The praying man will see every day close upon a great victory of life. Honesty will be rewarded, vice will be put down, crushed, condemned, by the universal voice. The true man will be king, and the untrue man will be hated and despised. Virtue will lift up her head, and vice will pray some sevenfold night to hide its intolerable ghastliness." That was your preconception, what is the reality? Sometimes the atheist has a better harvest than the man who prayed in the seedtime, and prayed every day until the autumn came. Sometimes the righteous man has not where to lay his head. Sometimes the true man is put down, and the false man is highly exalted. Our preconception is so different from this that we feel the violence of a tremendous shock, and possibly may turn and go away in a rage. Let us consider and be wise. What business have we to invent a theory of Providence? We cannot tell what a day may bring forth. We have already forgotten all the incidents of yesterday, to-morrow we are never sure of: we are of yesterday and know nothing. What ought to be our mental attitude and moral mood? The Christian ought to stand still and say, "Lord, not my will, but Thine, be done. What I know not now I shall know hereafter. I am but of yesterday and know nothing. Thou art from everlasting to everlasting, and Thou knowest all the system of compensation which Thou Thyself hast established. In the long run Thou wilt justify thy providence to man."
3. What applies to Inspiration and to Providence applies, of course, to the greater question of Redemption. We had thought that the plan of redemption would be this or that, and all our preconceptions fail to reach the agony of the cross, and the mystery of a sacrificial death. You see the redemption once and the vision passes, you feel the mystery, and after that the life is transfigured and becomes itself a sacrifice. If the cross has got no further than your invention, your intellect, your range of scheming, and theorising, it is not a cross, it is but a Roman gallows. There is no theory of the heart. There is no theory of love. There is no theory of a mother's sacrifice for her ailing and dying child. You must feel it, know it by the heart, see it by some swift glance of a similar spirit, and after that you will have an understanding that cannot be put into words and phrases. As in the case of Naaman, so now. The surprise of Christian revelation is always in the direction of simplicity. Naaman had a programme, Elisha a command. Naaman had a ceremony, Elisha a revelation. Naaman required a whole sheet of paper on which to write out his elaborate scheme, Elisha rolled up his address into a military sentence, and delivered his order as a mightier soldier than Naaman. Let us burn our theories, inventions, preconceptions, prejudices, and our forecasts about God, Providence, Inspiration, Redemption, and human destiny, and throw ourselves into the great arms, asking only to be and to do what God would have us be and do.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. IT IS NATURAL FOR US TO HAVE PRECONCEPTIONS. We instinctively form opinions in advance. Picture the looks of a person whom we expect to meet, or of a place we expect to visit. Imagine how we will feel and conduct ourselves under certain circumstances. So with Naaman, who had pictured an impressive, dramatic scene. The prophet would come out to him, the great soldier, and there would be much ceremony and pomp. Men have conceptions.
1. Regarding the strength of conviction for sin. Wait for a certain kind and intensity. It is to be something that will take away sleep and appetite, that follows them day and night. They are to endure horrors, to be almost irresistibly driven to the Saviour. Is not this a widespread idea?
2. As to the manner of conversion. It is to be as if the heavens opened. Overwhelmed with joy and ecstasy. Not saved unless they pass from death to life shouting.
3. As to religious experience. A certain intensity of enjoyment. Clear and constant faith and joy, unmoved serenity, like that of some one else they knew.
4. As to the manner of dying. Clear mind, sight of angels, shouting. And yet the conviction, conversion, and religious experience may be altogether different from what we imagined or wished it to be.
II. WHY WE SHOULD NOT BE INFLUENCED BY PRECONCEPTIONS.
1. May lose our souls by waiting for what will never come to us. Naaman had perished had he relied upon his way alone — had he not renounced his preconception. Such conviction, such conversion as you desire, may not be yours.
2. We will be rendered unhappy if we fall short of them. Better not have them. We will be unhappy because our conversion is not like that of some one else. We can't feel like others — we can't shout, and therefore think there is something wrong with us. Many good men are miserable because they have not the experiences of others.
3. God works along the line of individuality and temperament. No two look, or love, or are impressed alike. We are not cast in iron moulds. One man is reached through his reason, another through conscience, another through his emotions. One is alarmed by the thunders of Sinai, another melted by the Cross on Calvary. A man's conversion and religious experience are much like his temperament. There may be sudden light, like Paul saw, or it may come like dawn He may speak in the tempest, or in the "still small voice." There may be ecstasy, or only a sense of quiet peace.
4. Our conceptions have nothing to do with our salvation. God's own way for each, not for others to say what it shall be. Nothing in the Bible about kind of feeling — mode of conversion — a command to all — "Repent" — "Believe." You are lepers exposed to death, Christ the only physician, repentance and faith the only means of salvation. Do not be deceived by false ideas. It is Christ or death. Call upon Him, obey Him, and you will be saved.
(J. L. Elderdice.)
I. HOW COULD YOU EXPECT TO FIND OUT THE WAY OF SALVATION BY YOUR OWN THOUGHTS? There are a great many things which men can discover, and the inventiveness of the human mind about earthly things appears to have scarcely any limit; but, with regard to heavenly things, the natural man has not the faculty of discerning, and never did make a discovery yet, and never will. Whatever is known of God is made known by God. Upon the face of nature the existence of God is written, but we look in vain for any indication of a plan of salvation. Jesus alone is the Saviour: how can you imagine that His way of saving can be known to men except as He has revealed it? If you could discover the way to heaven for yourself, why has the Lord given you the Bible? That inspired volume is a superfluity if your thoughts are to appoint the way of salvation. I will ask every awakened sinner here who has been settling in his thoughts what the plan of salvation ought to be, what peace his thoughts have brought to him? How far have your inventions brought you? They have led you to physicians of no value; they have caused you to spend your money for that that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not.
II. SHOULD THE PLAN OF SALVATION BE ARRANGED ACCORDING TO YOUR WELL AND JUDGMENT? You are a sinner and want pardon, your nature is, depraved, and needs renewing: should the plan of forgiving and regenerating you be shaped to please your tastes and whims? Should the great Lord of mercy wait upon you, and consult you as to how He shall work out your salvation? As a reasonable man I beg you to tell me, has not the Lord an absolute right to dispense His favours as He pleases? Shall He not do as He wills with His own? You yourself perhaps are a man of generous spirit, and you relieve the poor; but suppose a poor man should dictate to you how he should be helped, and in what shape you should bestow your charity, would you listen to him for a moment? "No," you would say, "I am not bound to give you anything. If I give, I give freely, but I am not going to be bound by rules which you may choose to make." Beggars must not be choosers. Now, you, O unsaved one, are a beggar needing alms of God. Do you intend to dictate to the Most High how and in what manner He shall give His salvation to you? Act not so foolishly; as a reasonable man renounce such an idea. Furthermore, do you not think that, if the plan of mercy were left to your choosing, you would become very self-conceited? If you had the sketching of the system of salvation, and it were well done and fully accomplished, you would say, "My methods were admirable! Am I not wise? Did I not arrange it well?" Moreover, consider, O man, you who desire to sketch for yourself the road to heaven; do you not see how you derogate from the glory of God? Did the Lord ask your judgment when He made the heavens? when He digged the channels of the deep? when He poured out the water-floods? when He balanced the clouds? when He set the stars in their places? With whom took He counsel? who instructed Him? Who was with Him to stretch the line or hold the plummet? He Himself, in the old creation, made all things by His infinite wisdom; think you that He needs your aid in the new? In the work of redemption, did He ask your help or take your counsel when He made the covenant of grace and fixed it by firm decree?
III. BY WHAT RULE ARE YOU ABLE TO PRECONCEIVE THAT PLAN? You refuse to be told what that plan really is, because you think you know beforehand. Now by what rule have you judged? I will tell you in one word. The most of sinners conceive the plan of salvation to be what they wish it to be. They thought; but their wish is father to their thought. But you assure me that you have conceived the way of salvation according to your understanding. Well, then, you have conceived it wrongly to a certainty, for what is your understanding compared with the understanding of God? "Well," say you, "but I have received my ideas from my parents." Well, then, who were your parents? for that is a very great point in such a case. Who were they, and were they saved? Suppose your parents were lost, is that a reason why you should be? Nobody here who has a blind father would consider it his duty to put his eyes out by way of honouring his parents. If a man were born of a crippled parent, and God blessed him with all his limbs and faculties, he would not consider himself obliged to limp, or use a crutch, or twist his foot. We have an old proverb that if a man were born in a stable he need not be a horse; nor should a man be of a false religion because of his family connections. If our parents were mistaken, that is no reason why we should be. We regret it for their sakes; but with the Word of God in our hands we do not intend to follow them any farther than they were led by God. "Well," say you, "my idea of how I ought to be saved is gathered from what I have read and observed. I cannot submit to be saved by simple trust in Jesus, for I have been reading the biography of a good man, and I want to feel just as he felt: moreover, I noticed how my cousin was troubled in mind, and I observed that she had a very remarkable dream; and, beside, she obtained very extraordinary joys, and unless I have some of these I shall never believe." But, do you think that God is tied down to give to each penitent the same line of experience? "Yes," says one, "but I judge by the general current of society, and the opinions that I meet in everyday life. I am a man of the world, and I form my opinion from men of the world." Then, for certain, you form a wrong opinion, for the mind of the world never was the mind of God, and never will be. "Ye are of God, little children." saith John, "and the whole world lieth in the wicked one." To form your opinion of what light is by sojourning in darkness is ridiculous. To fashion a notion of. liberty from the prison-house, or to describe life by observations made in a charnel-house, would be absurd.
IV. HOW WOULD IT BE, SUPPOSING YOUR THOUGHTS WERE THE FACT? Let us examine the matter. You have thought, perhaps, that you ought to be saved by undergoing a ceremony. Suppose it were so; it would be a calamity. For it would give pardon without penitence, forgiveness without a change of heart. It would be a very unfortunate thing for you, if by external operation guilt could be removed, because it is clear that your evil heart would remain, and, therefore, you would still have no communion with God, and no fitness for heaven. You must be born again, you must believe in Jesus; these are the necessities of your nature if you are to be happy. True faith in Jesus works by love and purifies the soul: that is the Lord's way, accept it, and forsake your own thoughts. You wish, perhaps, to be saved by good works; self-righteousness is your thought. Alas, if this were the way it would be an impossible way for you, for you cannot perform good works. If you can, why have you sinned at all? Perhaps you think that God might as well pardon you at once and have done with it; that is your plan. Suppose He did so. Suppose that He at once blotted your sin from His book, and there was an end of it; what peace would that give you? What security for the future? A God who could pardon without justice might one of these days condemn without reason.
V. Let me ask you, then, DO YOU MEAN TO BE DAMNED FOR THE SAKE OF A WHIM? Do you mean to lose heaven and be cast into hell for ever for the sake of your proud fancies? For, oh, I assure you in God's name His plan will not alter for you. If the Lord should alter His gospel for you, then He must alter it for another, and another, and it would be as shifting as a quicksand. There it is; take it or leave it, but alter it you cannot. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" is always true, and the other side of the question is true too, — "He that believeth not shall be damned."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)1. How often are these words employed with regard to the dealings of Providence. In the midst of mysterious dispensations which befall us, whether as individuals or as communities, how apt are we to impugn the Almighty's faithfulness, question the wisdom of His procedure, and set up our wills in opposition to the Divine. Is not this oftentimes the silent utterance of the misgiving heart, — "Behold, I thought" — it were better had such an event been ordered otherwise? What is the answer to these and suchlike unworthy surmisings? "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord" (Isaiah 55:8). To the eye of sense, however baffling and mysterious be the ways of the Supreme disposer, it is not for us to "think," but to believe; not to question, but like Job, to kneel and to adore: not to say, "Behold, I thought" that Thy judgments are right, and I have been deceived; but, I know that they are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me: not, "I thought" that "all things are working together for good"; but, "I know" they are so.
2. But these three brief words admit of more solemn interpretation, and more solemn lessons still, if we connect them with the sinner and with an eternal world. Let us anticipate the scene. Let us conjure up some of those "thoughts" which, up to that moment, may have deluded and deceived, but which will then dissolve like a rope of sand.(1) "Behold, I thought," we may suppose one to say, "that I was as good as my neighbours. I saw no reason for curbing passion and leading an overstrict life. I brought myself to regard the tendencies and vices of a corrupt nature as pardonable weaknesses, too readily crediting the condoning verdict of my fellows, as they laughed at my scruples, and told me that there was no great harm after all in indulging these failings and foibles — that I was but a child of Adam at the best, and that no perfection was to be looked for here." And is not this the very dream which many are daily cherishing — the false and fatal casuistry which is luring them to destruction? They are content to measure themselves by themselves, and to compare themselves among themselves. With blunted moral sensibilities, and confounding moral distinctions, they invoke upon themselves the doom of the prophet — "Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil, that put darkness for light and light for darkness!"(2) Another, we may suppose, will then be ready to say, "Behold, I thought" I might with safety procrastinate. I thought I could presume on a strong pulse and vigorous arm and unwrinkled brow. I thought I had a long future yet to build upon; not an autumn-tint seemed to be on the leaf; the sun was yet far from the western sky; I was floating down the stream with arms folded, apparently secure in my barque, little imagining that the cataract was at hand. I was convinced of my folly, when I found myself suddenly in the swirl and vortex of the dark waters. I am here to bear awful testimony to the truth often listened to, but listened to in vain, that "as men live, so do men die!" And is not this, too, the daily reasoning of multitudes? Why, it may be asked, revert so often to this unwelcome theme of the peril of postponement? Just because it forms the submerged rock that has strewn the sea of life with more of mournful wrecks than any other.(3) We may imagine the avowal of another to be this — "Behold, I thought" that God would be too merciful to punish. "I thought" that He would never surely visit such stern retribution on the creature of His own hands; "I thought," when I came really to confront His bar, that He would either modify His recorded threatenings, or else, perchance, by a great affluent exercise of His love, grant a universal reprieve and amnesty. "I thought," when I gazed on His outer visible creation, I saw no hieroglyphic of wrath. I saw love pencilled on every flower; I heard it murmured in every breeze, sung in the chorus of birds, proclaimed by the gleaming sun by day, and serenaded by the silent stars at night. Moreover, in looking around me on the moral world, I imagined some dim foreshadowings might be seen of the Divine oblivion of sin and reluctance to punish. "Sentence against an evil work" was not, in the earthly economy, "executed speedily." I saw, ofttimes, virtue languishing unrewarded, and vice raising unrebuked her brazen forehead. When the Almighty did these things, and "kept silence," "behold, I thought" that He was "altogether such an one as myself!" To refute similar "thoughts," to which, it is feared, multitudes are clinging, and who, in doing so, reduce the unchangeable Creator to a level with the vacillating creature, — it is enough, surely, to point to the Incarnation and Passion of the Divine Redeemer, and the awful lessons which cluster around them.(4) From another crowd in that great day of retribution, there will be heard the utterance of a more fearful "thought" still; — "Behold, I thought" that the whole world of spiritual realities was a myth — that religion was a falsehood — that God and heaven were illusions of fond fancy — that hell was a tale and nightmare of priestly terror — Revelation a repertory of artful and antiquated forgeries which superstition had palmed from age to age on a credulous world. "I thought" that there was light enough in my own intellectual nature to guide me. I heard the priests of the Temple — the recognised interpreters of the oracles of God — proclaim truths which were unaccredited and unauthenticated by any other testimony. External nature seemed to belie them. They spake of "the end of all things"; the dissolution of the existing economy; the coming of the Son of God in the clouds of heaven. I looked abroad on the material earth, with its canopy of firmament; it seemed to anticipate and echo my own sceptic thought — "Where is the promise of His coming?" All things continued as they were. Why practise a life of self-denial, as I see others do, on a mere peradventure? The visible testimony of the globe I live on is more reliable than the averments of some old parchment scrolls and devout dreamers. I shall take my chance of these alleged premonitions of coming wrath. Reason shall be the priestess of my altar, and Pleasure the enshrined goddess. Mine shall be the happy creed, of death an eternal sleep, and the grave a last, long home, whose slumbers no fictitious trumpet-peal of Judgment shall ever break! How many, in this age of rampant infidelity and unbridled licence, are deluding themselves with these very "thoughts"? The Divine injunction, with reference to those sceptic imaginations, is "message of tender compassion and love — Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him, and unto our God, and He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7).(5) What is the great lesson to us all from this subject? Is it not now to take God at His word? Like Naaman, we "think," and pause, and hesitate, when the Divine injunction and exhortation is, "Only believe."
(J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
(Alex. Whyte, D. D.)
(Alexander Maclaren, D. D.)Romans 3:22, 23). My friend replied, "Do you mean to say that there is no difference between an honest man and a dishonest one, between an intemperate man and a sober man?" "No," I remarked; "I did not affirm that there was no room for comparison between such cases; but my position is, that if two men were standing here together, one an intemperate man and the other a sober man, I should say of the one, 'This man is an intemperate sinner, the other is a sober sinner.'" My friend did not know how to meet the difficulty, but answered, "Well, I don't like such teaching." Very quietly I replied, "Then I will make some concession, and meet your difficulty. I will admit that many are 'superior sinners' and that you are a superior sinner." I shall not soon forget my friend's expression of countenance when he had taken stock of the argument.
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