The Danger of Preconceptions
2 Kings 5:11-12
But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand…

Naaman had heard of a man who could cure his leprosy, — so he thought out how this would be accomplished. He made a plan in his own mind, as we see in the eleventh verse. The great mistake that we have made is, that we thought we could find out a religion — we could make one. So we have set our inventiveness to work, and we have said, God must be thus and so. Religion must surprise by showing the unexpected way of doing things. Religion is not a condition of our a 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.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.

WEB: But Naaman was angry, and went away, and said, "Behold, I thought, 'He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of Yahweh his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leper.'

The Commonplace
Top of Page
Top of Page