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fathers; as if this last royalty were too good for him, who had forgotten the law of humanity. Some vices are such, as nature smiles upon, though frowned at by divine justice. Others are such as even nature itself abhors; such is this of ingratitude, which therefore carries so much more detestation from God, as it is more odious even to them that have blotted out the image of God.
JOASH, WITH ELISHA DYING. The two kingdoms of Judah and Israel, however divided both in government and affection, yet loved to interchange the names of their kings: even Israel also had their Joash, no better than that of Judah ; he was not more the father of the latter Jeroboam, than, in respect of mis-worship, he was the son of the first Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin. Those calves of Dan and Bethel, out of a politic misdevotion, besotted all the succession of the ten usurped tribes. Yet even this idolatrous king of Israel comes down to visit the sick bed of Elisha, and weeps upon his face.
That holy, prophet was never any flatterer of princes, neither spared he invectives against their most plausible sins: yet king Joash, that was beaten by his reproofs, washes that face with the tears of love and sorrow, which had often frowned upon his wickedness.
How much difference there was betwixt the Joash of Israel and the Joash of Judah! That of Judah, having been preserved and nurtured by Jehoiada the priest, after all professions of dearness, shuts up in the unkind murder of his son, and that merely for the just reproof of his own idolatry; this of Israel, having been estranged from the prophet Elisha, and sharply rebuked for the like offence, makes love to his dying reprover, and bedews his pale face with his tears. Both were bad enough: but this of Israel was, however vicious, yet good-natured: that of Judah added to his wickedness an ill disposition, a dogged humour. There are varieties even of evil men; some are worse at the root, others at the branch ; some more civilly harmless, others fouler in morality. According to the exercise of the restraining grace, natural men do either rise or fall in their ill.
The longest day must have its evening. Good Elisha, that had lived some ninety years, a wonder of prophets, and had outworn many successions in the thrones of Israel and Judah, is now cast upon the bed of his sickness, yea, of his death. That very age might seem a disease, which yet is seconded with a languishing distemper
. It is not in the power of any holiness to privilege us from infirmity of body, from final dissolution. He that stretched himself upon his bed, over the dead carcass of the Shunammite's son, and revived it, must now stretch out his own limbs upon his sick bed, and die. He saw his master Elijah rapt up suddenly from the earth, and fetched by a fiery chariot from this vale of mortality; himself must leisurely wait for his last pangs, in a lingering passage to the same glory. There is not one way appointed to us by the Divine Providence, unto one common blessedness; one hath more pain, another hath more speed; violence snatcheth away one; another, by an insensible pace, draws every day nearer to his term: the wisdom and goodness of God magnifies itself in both. Happy is he, that after due preparation, is passed through the gates of death ere he be aware. Happy is he, that by the holy use of long sickness, is taught to see the gates of death afar off, and is addressed for a resolute passage: the one dies like Elijah, the other like Elisha ; both blessedly. .
The time was, when a great king sent to Elisha to know if he should recover: now the king of Israel, as knowing that Elisha shall not recover, so had his
consumption spent him, comes to visit the dying prophet; and when his tears would give him leave, breaks forth into a passionate exclamation ; “O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" Yet the calves of Dan and Bethel have left some goodness in Joash: as the best man hath something in him worthy of reproof, so the faultiest hath something commendable. Had not the Spirit of God himself told us, that Joash did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, we had admired this piety, this reverent respect to the prophet. The holiest man could not have said more. It is possible for the clients of a false worship to honour, out of another regard, the professors of truth. From the hand of Elisha had Jehu, the grandfather of Joash, received his unction to the kingdom ; this favour might not be forgotten.
Visitation of the sick is a duty required both by the law of humanity, and of religion. Bodily infirmity is sad and comfortless: and therefore needs the presence and counsel of friends to relieve it: although, when we draw the curtains of those that are eminently gracious, we do rather fetch with Joash, than bring a blessing
How sensible should we be of the loss of holy men, when a Joash spends his tears upon Elisha! If we be more affected with the foregoing of a natural friend, or kinsman, than of a noted and useful prophet, it argues more love to ourselves than to the church of God, than to God himself.
What use there was of chariots and horsemen in those wars of the ancients, all histories can tell us ; all the strength of the battle stood in these; there could be neither defence nor offence but by them : such was Elisha unto Israel. The greatest safeguard to any nation is the sanctity and faithfulness of their prophets, without which the church and state lie open to utter desolation.
The same words that Elisha said of his master
Elijah, when he saw him taken up from the earth; doth Joash now speak of Elisha, near his dissolution; “Oh, my father, my father, the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!” The words were good, the tears were pious, but where are the actions? Oh, Joash! if the prophet were thy father, where was thy filial obedience? He cried down thy calves, thou upholdest them; he counselled thee to good, thou didst evil in the sight of the Lord.
If the prophet were the chariot and horsemen of Israel, why didst thou fight against his holy doctrine? If thou weepest for his loss, why didst thou not weep for those sins of thine that procured it ?
Had thy hand answered thy tongue, Israel had been happy in Elisha, Elisha had been happy in Israel and thee. Words are no good trial of profession ; the worst men may speak well
. Actions have only the power to descry hypocrites.
Yet even a Joash, thus complying, shall not go away unblessed. This outward kindness shall receive an outward retribution. These few drops of warm water, shed upon the face of a prophet, shall not lose their reward. The spirit of prophecy forsakes not the death-bed of Elisha : he calls for bow and arrows, and puts them into the hand of Joash, and putting his hand upon the king's hand, he bids to shoot eastward, and while the shaft flies, and lights, he says, “The arrow of the Lord's deliverance from Syria ; for thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou have consumed them.” If the weak and withered hand of the prophet had not been upon the youthful and vigorous hand of the king, this bow had been drawn in vain: the strength was from the hand of the king, the blessing from the hand of the prophet. He whose real parable hath made the earth to be Syria, the arrow revenge, the archer Joash, hath obtained for his last boon from God to Israel, that this archer shall shoot this arrow of revenge into the heart of Syria, and wound it to death. When then the hand of the king and of the prophet draws together, there cannot choose but success must follow.
How readily doth Elisha now make good the words of Joash! How truly is he the chariots and horsemen of Israel ; Israel had not fought without him, much less had been victorious ; if theirs be the endeavour, the success is his. Even the dying prophet puts life and speed into the forces of Israel ; and while he is digging his own grave, is raising trophies to God's people.
He had received kindness from the Syrians; amongst them was he harboured in the dearth, and from some of their nobles was presented with rich gifts: but their enmity to Israel drowns all his private respects; he cannot but profess hostility to the public enemies of the Church, neither can he content himself with a single prediction of their ruin. He bids Joash to take the arrows, and smite upon the ground; he sets no number of those strokes, as supposing the frequence of those blows, which Joash might well, upon this former parabolic act, understand to be significant. The slack hand of the king smites but thrice. So apt we are to be wanting to ourselves 3; so coldly do we execute the commands of God. The sick prophet is not more grieved than angry, at this dull negligence. Doubtless, God had revealed to him for his last gratification, that, upon his fervent prayers, so often as Joash should voluntarily, after his general charge, smite the earth, so oft should Israel smite Syria. Elisha's zeal doth not languish with his body; with a fatherly authority he chides him who had styled him father, not fearing to spend some of his last breath in a mild reproof. “Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times, then thou hadst smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it ; whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice.” Not that the unchangeable decree of the Almighty meant to suspend itself upon the uncertain issue of Joash's will; but he that puts this word into the mouth of