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requests! Not seldom, doth his bounty over-reach our thoughts; and meet us with those benefits, which we thought too good for us to ask.
Greatness, and inexpectation, makes the blessing seem incredible. Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie to thine handmaid. We are never sure enough of what we desire. We are not more hard to believe, than loth to distrust, beneficial events.
She well knew the prophet's holiness could not stand with wilful falsehood. Perhaps, she might think it spoken by way of trial, not of serious affirmation: as unwilling therefore, that it should not be, and willing to hear that pleasing word seconded, she says, Do not lie to thine handmaid.
Promises are made good, not by iteration, but by the effect. The Shunamite conceives; and bears a son, at the set season. How glad a mother she was, those know best, that have mourned under the discomfort of a sad sterility.
The child grows up and is now able to find out his father in the field, amongst his reapers. His father now grew young again, with the pleasure of his sight: and more joyed, in this spring of his hopes, than in all the crops of his harvest.
But what stability is there, in these earthly delights? The hot beams of the sun beat upon that head, which too much care had made tender and delicate. The child complains to his father of his pain! Oh, that grace could teach us what nature teaches infants, in all our troubles to bemoan ourselves to our heavenly father! He sends him to his mother. Upon her lap, about noon, the child dies; as if he would return his soul into that bosom, from which it was derived to him.
The good Shunamite hath lost her son; her faith she hath not lost. Passion hath not robbed her of her wisdom. As not distracted, with an accident so sudden, so sorrowful, she lays her dead child upon the prophet's bed: she locks the door: she hides her grief, lest that consternation might hinder her design : she hastens to her husband; and, as not daring to be other than officious in so distressful an occasion, acquaints him with her journey, though not with the cause; requires of him both attendance and conveyance.
She posts to mount Carmel, She cannot so soon find out the man of God, as he hath found her. He sees her afar off; and, like a thankful guest, sends his servant hastily to meet her, to inquire of the health of herself, her husband, her child. Her errand was not to Gehazi; it was to Elisha. No messenger shall interrupt her: no ear shall receive her complaint, but the prophet's. Down she falls passionately at his feet; and, forgetting the fashion of her bashful strangeness, lays hold of him, whether in a humble veneration of his person, or in a fervent desire of satisfaction. Gehazi, who well knew how uncouth, how unfit this gesture of salutation was for his master, offers to remove her,
and admonisheth her of her distance. The merciful prophet easily apprehends, that no ordinary occasion could so transport a grave and well-governed matron; as therefore pitying her unknown passion, he bids, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me. If extremity of grief have made her unmannerly, wise and holy Elisha knows how to pardon it. He dares not add sorrow to the afflicted. He can better bear an unseemliness in her greeting, than cruelty in her molestation.
Great was the familiarity, that the prophet had with his God; and, as friends are wont mutually to impart their counsels to each other, so had the Lord done to him. Elisha was not idle on mount Carmel. What was it that he saw not from thence? Not heaven only, but the world was before him; yet the Shunamite's loss is concealed from him: neither doth he shame to confess it. Ofttimes, those, that know greater matters, may yet be ignorant of the less. It is no disparagement to any finite creature, not to know something. By her mouth, will God tell the prophet, what, by vision, he had not; Then she said, Did I desire a son of my lord? Did I not say, Do not deceive me?
Deep sorrow is sparing of words. The expostulation could not be more short, more quick, more pithy. "Had I begged a son, perhaps my importunity might have been yielded to, in anger. Too much desire is justly punished with loss. It is no marvel, if what we wring from God prosper not. This favour to me was of thine own motion: thy suit, O Elisha, made me a mother. Couldst thou intend to torment me with a blessing? How much more easy had the want of a son been, than the miscarriage barrenness, than orbation? Was there no other end of my having a son, than that I might lose him? O man of God, let me not complain of a cruel kindness. Thy prayers gave me a son; let thy prayers restore him. Let not my dutiful respects to thee be repaid with an aggravation of misery. Give not thy handmaid cause to wish, that I were but so unhappy as thou foundest me. O woeful fruitfulness, if I must now say, That I had a son !"
I know not, whether the mother or the prophet were more afflicted; the prophet for the mother's sake, or the mother for
Not a word of reply do we hear, from the mouth of Elisha : his breath is only spent in the remedy. He sends his servant with all speed, to lay his staff upon the face of the child; charg ing him to avoid all the delays of the way.
Had not the prophet supposed that staff of his able to beat away death, why did he send it? And if upon that supposition he sent it, how was it that it failed of effect? Was this act done out of human conceit, not out of instinct from God? Or
did the want of the mother's faith hinder the success of that cure?
She, not regarding the staff or the man, holds fast to Elisha. No hopes of his message can loose her fingers; As the Lord liveth, and as my soul liveth, I will not leave thee. She imagined, that the servant, the staff, might be severed from Elisha: she knew that wherever the prophet was, there was power. It is good relying on those helps, that cannot fail us.
Merit and importunity have drawn Elisha, from Carmel to Shunem he finds his lodging taken up by that pale carcass: he shuts his door, and falls to his prayers: this staff of his, whatever became of the other, was long enough, he knew, to reach up to heaven: to knock at those gates; yea, to wrench them open. He applies his body, to those cold and senseless limbs. By the fervour of his soul, he reduces that soul; by the heat of his body, he educeth warmth out of that corpse. The child neeseth seven times; and, as if his spirit had been but hid for the time, not departed, it falls to work afresh: the eyes look up; the lips and hands move. The mother is called in, to receive a new life, in her twice-given son: she comes in, full of joy, full of wonder, and bows herself to the ground, and falls down before those feet, which she had so boldly laid hold of in Carmel.
O strong faith of the Shunamite, that could not be discouraged with the seizure and continuance of death; raising up her heart still, to an expectation of that life, which, to the eyes of nature had been impossible, irrevocable! O infinite goodness of the Almighty, that would not suffer such faith to be frustrate; that would rather reverse the laws of nature, in returning a guest from heaven, and raising a corpse from death, than the confidence of a believing heart should be disappointed!
How true an heir is Elisha of his master; not in his graces only, but in his actions! Both of them divided the waters of Jordan; the one as his last act, the other as his first: Elijah's curse was the death of the captains and their troops; Elisha's curse was the death of the children: Elijah rebuked Ahab to his face; Elisha, Jehoram: Elijah supplied the drought of Israel, by rain from heaven; Elisha supplied the drought of the three kings, by waters gushing out of the earth: Elijah increased the oil of the Sareptan; Elisha increased the oil of the prophet's widow Elijah raised from death the Sareptan's son; Elisha, the Shunamite's both of them had one mantle, one spirit; both of them climbed up one Carmel, one heaven.
CONTEMPLATION VIII.-ELISHA WITH NAAMAN. 2 KINGS V.
Or the full showers of grace, which fell upon Israel and Judah, yet some drops did light upon their neighbours. If Israel be the worse for her nearness to Syria, Syria is the better for the vicinity of Israel. Amongst the worst of God's enemies, some are singled out for mercy.
Naaman was a great warrior, an honourable courtier, yet a leper. No disease incident to the body is so nasty, so loathsome, as leprosy. Greatness can secure no man, from the most odious and wearisome condition. How little pleasure did this Syrian peer take, to be stooped to by others, while he hated to see himself. Even those, that honoured him, avoided him: neither was he other than abhorred of those that flattered him; yea, his hand could not move to his mouth, without his own detestation : the basest slave of Syria would not change skins with him, if he might have his honour to boot. Thus hath the wise God thought meet, to sauce the valour, dignity, renown, victories, of the famous general of the Syrians. Seldom ever was any man served with simple favours. These compositions make both our crosses tolerable, and our blessings wholesome.
The body of Naaman was not more tainted with this leprosy, than his soul was tainted with Rimmon; and, besides his idolatry, he was a professed enemy to Israel, and successful in his enmity. How far doth God fetch about his purposes! The leprosy, the hostility, of Naaman shall be the occasions of his salvation: that leprosy shall make his soul sound; that hostility shall adopt him a son of God.
In some prosperous inroads, that the Syrians, under Naaman's conduct, have made into the land of Israel, a little maid is taken captive: she shall attend on Naaman's wife; and shall suggest to her mistress the miraculous cures of Elisha. A small chink may serve to let in much light. Her report finds credit in the court; and begets both a letter from the king and a journey of his peer. While the Syrians thought of nothing but their booty, they bring happiness to the house of Naaman. The captivity of a poor Hebrew girl is a means, to make the greatest lord of Syria a subject to God.
It is good to acquaint our children with the works of God, with the praises of his prophets. Little do we know how they may improve this knowledge, and whither they may carry it: perhaps the remotest nations may light their candle at their coal.
Even the weakest intimations may not be neglected: a child, a
servant, a stranger may say that, which we may bless God to have heard.
How well did it become the mouth of an Israelite to extol a prophet; to wish the cure of her master, though an Aramite; to advise that journey, unto the man of God, by whom both body and soul might be cured! True religion teacheth us pious and charitable respects to our governors, though aliens from the commonwealth of God.
No man, that I hear, blames the credulity of Naaman. Upon no other ground, doth the king of Syria send his chief peer, with his letters to the king of Israel; from his hands requiring the cure. The Syrian supposed, that whatever a subject could do, a sovereign might command; that such a prophet could neither be out of the knowledge, nor out of the obedience to his prince. Never did he dream of any exemption; but, imagining Jehoram to be no less a king of prophets than of people, and Elisha no less a subject than a seer, he writes, Now when this letter is come to thee, behold, I have herewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy.
Great is the power of princes: every man's hand is theirs; whether for skill, or for strength. Besides the eminency of their own gifts, all the subordinate excellencies of their subjects are no less at their service, than if they were inherent in their persons. Great men are wanting to their own perfections, if they do not both know and exercise the graces of their inferiors.
The king of Israel cannot read the letter, without amazement of heart, without rending of garments; and says, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends to me, to recover a man of his leprosy? Wherefore consider and see, I pray you, how he seeketh a quarrel against me. If God have vouchsafed to call kings gods, it well becomes kings to call themselves men, and to confess the distance wherein they stand to their Maker. Man may kill; man cannot kill and make alive; yea, of himself he can do neither. With God, a worm or a fly may kill a man; without God, no potentate can do it: much less, can any created power both kill and revive; since, to restore life is more than to bereave it, more than to continue it, more than to give it: and if leprosy be a death, what human power can either inflict or cure it?
It is a trouble to a well-affected heart, to receive impossible commands. To require that of an inferior, which is proper to the Highest, is a derogation from that supreme power, whose property it is. Had Jehoram been truly religious, the injury done to his Maker in this motion, as he took it, had more afflicted him, than the danger of his own quarrel. Belike, Elisha was not in the thoughts of the king of Israel. He might have heard, that this prophet had made alive one, whom he killed not himself, with the two other kings, had been eye-witnesses, of what Elisha could do; yet now the calves of Dan and Bethel have so often