Page images
PDF
EPUB

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. Oh, 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 darkness.

CONTEMPLATION VII.

ELISHA WITH THE SHUNAMMITE.

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 Elisha 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 thy 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 love 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 secrecy. 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 holy invocation. Out of one small jar was poured out so much oil, as, by a miraculous multiplication, filled all those empty casks. 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; could we hold more, O God, thou wouldst 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 streets 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 debt, 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

N

VOL. II.

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 kindnesses, doth by turns receive them. Elisha hath relieved a poor woman, is relieved by a rich. The Shunammite, a religious and worthy 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 Shunammite, that might make herself the hostess of Elisha! As no less dutiful than godly, she imparts her desire to her husband, whom her suit hath drawn into a partnership in this holy hospitality: blessed of God is that man, whose bed yields him a help to heaven. The good Shunammite desires not to harbour Elisha in one of her wonted lodgings ; she solicits her husband to build him a chamber on the wall apart; she knew the tumult of a large family unfit for the quiet meditations of a prophet. Retiredness is most meet for the thoughts of a seer: neither would she bring him to bare walls, but sets ready for him a bed, a table, a stool, and a candlestick, and whatever

« PreviousContinue »