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better plants from growing: a blank doth better in a room than an ill filling. The view of God's just judgments doth rather draw clients unto him, than alienate them. The kings of Israel had succeeded in idolatry and hate of sincere religion, yet the prophets multiply: persecution enlargeth the bounds of the church. These very tempestuous showers bring up flowers and herbs in abundance. There would have been neither so many, nor so zealous prophets in the languishment of peace. Besides, what marvel is it, if the immediate succession of two such noble leaders, as Elijah and Elisha, established and augmented religion, and bred multitudes of prophets ? Rather who cannot marvel, upon the knowledge of all their miracles, that all Israel did not prophesy? It is a good hearing that the prophets want elbow-room, out of their store, not out of the envy of neighbours, or incompetency of provision: where vision fails, the people perish; they are blessed where it abounds.
When they found themselves straitened, they did not presume to carve for themselves, but they craved the leave, the counsel of Elisha ; “Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a bcam, and let us make a place where we may dwell: and he answered, Go ye." It well becomes the sons of the prophets to enterprise nothing without the allowance of their superiors. Here was a building towards, none of the curiousest; I do not see them making means for the procurement of some cunning artificers, nor for the conquisition of some costly marbles and cedars, but every man shall hew and square, and frame his own beam. No nice terms were stood upon by these sons of the prophets; their thoughts were fixed upon the perfection of a spiritual building; as a homely roof may serve them, so their own hands shall raise it. The fingers of these contemplative men did not scorn the axe, and mallet, and chisel: it was better being there than in Obadiah’s cave; and they, that dwell now contentedly under rude sticks, will not re
fuse the squared stones, and polished contignations of better times. They shall be ill teachers of others, that have not learned both to want, and to abound.
The master of this sacred society, Elisha, is not stately, nor austere ; he gives not only passage to this motion of his collegiates, but assistance. It was fit the sons of the prophets should have convenience of dwelling, though not pomp, not costliness. They fall to their work; no man goes slackly about the building of his own house. One of them, more regarding the tree than the tool, lets fall the head of the axe into the river: poor men are sensible of small losses : he makes his moan to Elisha, “ Alas, master, for it was borrowed.” Had the axe been his own, the trouble had been the less to forego it; therefore doth the miscarriage afflict him, because it was of a borrowed axe. Honest minds are most careful of what they have by loan than by propriety. In lending there is a trust, which a good heart cannot disappoint without vexation. Alas! poor novices of the prophet, they would be building, and were not worth their axes; if they would give their labour, they must- borrow. their instruments.
Their wealth was spiritual; outward poverty may well stand with inward riches; he is rich, not that hath the world, but that can contemn it.
Elisha loves and cherishes this just simplicity; rather will he work a miracle than a borrowed axe shall not be restored. It might easily be imagined, he that could raise up the iron out of the bottom of the water, could tell where it fell in; yet even that powerful hand calls for direction. In this one point the son of the prophet knows more than Elisha. The notice of particularities is neither fit for a creature, nor communicable: a mean man may best know his own case: this novice better knows where his axe fell, than his master; his master knows better how to get it out than he. There is no reason to be given of supernatural actions: the prophet borrows an axe, to cut a helve for the lost axe; why did he not make use of that handle which had cast the head ? Did he hold it unworthy of respect, for that it had abandoned the metal wherewith it was trusted ? or did he make choice of a new stick, that the miracle might be the more clear and unquestionable? Divine power goes a contrary way to art: we first would have procured the head of the axe, and then would have fitted it with a helve: Elisha fits the head to the helve, and causeth the wood, which was light, and knew not how to sink, to fetch up the iron, which was heavy, and naturally incapable of supernatation. Whether the metal were stripped of the natural weight, by the same power which gave it being, or whether retaining the wonted poise, it was raised up by some spiritual operation, I inquire not; only I see it swim like cork upon the stream of Jordan, and move towards hand that lost it. What creature is not willing to put off the properties of nature, at the command of the God of nature? O God, how easy is it for thee, when this hard and heavy heart of mine is sunk down into the mud of the world, to fetch it up again by thy mighty word, and cause it to float upon the streams of life, and to see the face of heaven again!
Yet still do the sides of Israel complain of the thorns of Aram: the children of Ahab rue their father's unjust mercy. From an enemy, it is no making question whether of strength or wile. The king of Syria consults with his servants, where to encamp for his greatest advantage; their opinion is not more required than their secrecy. Elisha is a thousand scouts; he sends word to the king of Israel of the projects, of the removes of his enemy: more than once had Jehoram saved both his life and his host by these close admonitions: it is well, that in something yet a prophet may be obeyed. What strange state-service was this which Elisha did, besides the spiritual? The king, the people of Israel owe themselves, and their safety, to a despised prophet. The man of God knew, and
felt them idolaters; yet how careful and vigilant is he for their rescue: if they were bad, yet they were his own; if they were bad, yet not all; God had his number amongst their worst. If they were bad, yet the Syrians were worse. The Israelites mis-worshipped the true God, the Syrians worshipped a false ; that, if it were possible, he might win them, he will preserve them; and, if they will needs be wanting to God, yet Elisha will not be wanting to them. Their impiety shall not make him undutiful.
There cannot be a juster cause of displeasure, than the disclosing of those secret counsels which are laid up in our ear, in our breast. The king of Syria, not without reason, stomachs this supposed treachery. What prince can bear, that an adverse power should have a party, a pensionary in his own court? How famous was Elisha even in foreign regions! Besides Naaman, others of the Syrian nobility take notice of the miraculous faculties of this prophet of Israel
. He is accused for this secret intelligence. No words can escape him, though spoken in the bed-chamber. O Syrian ! whosoever thou wert, thou saidst not enough: if thy master do but whisper in thine ear; if he smother his words within his own lips ; if he do but speak within his own bosom, Eļisha knows it from an infallible information. What counsel is it, O God, that can be hid from thee? what counsel is it that thou wilt hide from thy seer? Even this very word that accuseth the prophet, is known to the accused. He hears this tale while it is in telling; he hears the plot for his apprehension. How ill do the projects of wicked men hang together! They that confess Elisha knows their secretest words, do yet confer to take him. There are spies upon him, whose espials have moved their anger and admiration. He is described to be in Dothan, a small town of Manasseh. A whole army is sent thither to surprise him: the opportunity of the night is chosen for the exploit. There shall be no want either in the number, or valour, or secrecy of these
conspired troops: and now, when they have fully girt in the village with a strong and exquisite siege, they make themselves sure of Elisha, and please themselves to think how they have encaged the miserable prophet ; how they should take him at unawares in his bed, in the midst of a secure dream ; how they should carry him fettered to their king ; what thanks they should have for so welcome a prisoner.
The successor of Gehazi riseth early in the morning, and seeth all the city encompassed with a fearful host of foot, horse, chariots; his eyes could meet with nothing but woods of pikes, and walls of harness, and lustre of metals; and now he runs in affrighted to his master, “Alas, my master, what shall we do?" He had day enough to see they were enemies that environed them, to see himself helpless and desperate; and hath only so much life left in him as to lament himself to the partner of his misery. He cannot flee from his new master, if he would; he runs to him with a woful clamour, “ Alas, my master, what shall we do ?”
Oh the undaunted courage of faith! Elisha sees all this, and sits in his chamber so secure, as if these had only been the guard of Israel for his safe protection. It is a hard precept that he gives his servant, “Fear not.” As well might he have bid him not to see when he saw, as not to fear when he saw so dreadful a spectacle. The operations of the senses are no less certain than those of the affections, where the objects are no less
proper. But the task is easy, if the next word may find belief, “For there are more with us than with them.” Multitude and other outward probabilities, do both lead the confidence of natural hearts, and fix it. It is for none but David to say, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about." Flesh and blood riseth and falleth, according to the proportion of the strength or weakness of apparent means.
Elisha's man looked about him ; yet his master prays, “Lord, open his eyes that he may see." Na