« PreviousContinue »
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: but 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
say, Am I come 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 bless
ing? 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 Pharpar, 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 Pharpar," 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 Damas
us. Nowhere shall we find a truer 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 Pharpar.
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 you let him carry it away thus? Is
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 had 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 flesht 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, 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 departed with
Now will the man of God be seen of that recovered Syrian, whom he would not see leprous: his presence shall be yielded to the gratulation, which was not yielded to the suit. Purposely did Elisha forbear before, that he might share no part of the praise of this work with his Maker, that God might be so much more magnified, as the means were more weak and despicable. The miracle hath its due work. First doth Naaman acknowledge the God that wrought it; then, the prophet by whom he wrought it. "Behold, now I know there is no god in all the earth, but in Israel.” O happy Syrian, that was at once cured of his leprosy, and his misprision of God! Naaman was too wise to think that either the water had cured him or the man; he saw a divine power working in both, such as he vainly sought from his heathen deities; with the heart therefore he believes, with the mouth he confesses.
While he is thus thankful to the Author of his cure, he is not unmindful of the instrument. “Now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant." Naaman came richly furnished with ten talents of silver, six thousand pieces of gold, ten changes of raiment: all these, and many more, would the Syrian peer have gladly given to be delivered from so noisome a disease; no marvel if he importunately offer some part of them to the prophet, now that he is delivered ; some testimony of thankfulness did well, where all earthly recompense was too short. The hands of this man were no less full of thanks than his mouth. Dry and barren professions of our obligations, where is power to requite, are unfit for noble and ingenuous spirits.
Naaman is not more frank in offering his gratuity, than Elisha vehement in refusing it: “ As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none." Not that he thought the Syrian gold impure; not that he thought it unlawful to take up a gift where he hath laid down a benefit: but the prophet will remit of Naaman's purse, that he may win of his soul. The man of God would have his new convert see cause to be more enamoured of true piety, which teacheth her clients to contemn those worldly riches and glories which base worldlings adore, and would have him think that these miraculous powers are so far transcending the valuation of all earthly pelf, that those glittering treasures are worthy of nothing but contempt, in respect thereof. Hence is it, that he who refused not the Shunammite's table, and stool, and candlestick, will not take Naaman's present. There is much use of godly discretion in directing us when to open, when to shut our hands.
He that will not be allowed to give, desires yet to take. “Shall there not, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' load of earth? For thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice to other gods, but unto the Lord.” Israelitish mould lay open to his carriage, without leave of Elisha ; but Naaman regards not to take it, unless it may be given him, and given him by the prophet's hand. Well did this Syrian find that the man of God had given a supernatural virtue to the water of Israel ; and therefore supposed he might give the like to his earth; neither would any earth serve him but Elisha's, else the mould of Israel had been more properly craved of the king, than the prophet of Israel.