« PreviousContinue »
goes to fetch it. The prophet and his man had not looked with the same eyes, upon the Syrian treasure; the one with the eye of contempt, the other with the eye of admiration and covetous desire. The disposition of the master may not be measured, by the mind, by the act of his servant. Holy Elisha may be attended by a false Gehazi. No examples, no counsels will prevail, with some hearts.
Who would not have thought, that the followers of Elisha could be no other than a saint? yet, after the view of all those miracles, this man is a mirror of worldliness. He thinks his master either too simple or too kind, to refuse so just a present, from a Syrian; himself will be more wise, more frugal. Desire hastens his pace: he doth not go, but run, after his booty.
Naaman sees him; and, as true nobleness is ever courteous, alights from his chariot, to meet him. The great lord of Syria comes forth of his coach, to salute a prophet's servant; not fearing that he can humble himself overmuch, to one of Elisha's family. He greets Gehazi with the same word, wherewith he lately was demitted by his master; Is it peace? ? So sudden a messenger might seem to argue some change.
He soon receives from the breathless bearer, news of his master's health, and request; All is well. My master hath sent me, saying, Behold, even now there be come to me from Mount Ephraim, two young men of the sons of the prophets : give me, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments. Had Gehazi craved a reward in his own name, calling for the fee of the prophet's servant, as the gain so the offence had been the less now, reaching at a greater sum, he belies his master, robs Naaman, burdens his own soul.
What a sound tale, hath the craft of Gehazi devised; of the number, the place, the quality, the age of his master's guests; that he might set a fair colour upon that pretended request: so proportioning the value of his demand, as might both enrich himself, and yet well stand with the moderation of his master! Love of money can never keep good quarter with honesty, with innocence. Covetousness never lodged in the heart alone: if it find not, it will breed wickedness. What a mint of fraud there is in a worldly breast! How readily can it coin subtle falsehood for an advantage!
How thankfully liberal was this noble Syrian! Gehazi could not be more eager in taking, than he was in giving. As glad of so happy an occasion of leaving any piece of his treasure behind him, he forces two talents upon the servant of Elisha; and binds them in two bags, and lays them upon two of his own servants. His own train shall yield porters to Gehazi. Cheerfulness is the just praise of our beneficence. Bountiful minds are as zealous in over-paying good turns, as the niggardly are in scanting retributions.
What projects do we think Gehazi had all the way? How did he please himself, with the waking dreams of purchases, of traffic, of jollity! And now, when they are come to the tower, he gladly disburthens and dismisses his two Syrian attendants, and hides their load, and wipes his mouth, and stands boldly before that master, whom he had so foully abused.
O Gehazi! where didst thou think God was this while! Couldst thou thus long pour water upon the hands of Elisha, and be either ignorant or regardless of that undeceivable eye of Providence, which was ever fixed upon thy hands, thy tongue, thy heart? Couldst thou thus hope, to blind the eyes of a seer? Hear then thy indictment, thy sentence, from him, whom thou thoughtest to have mocked with thy concealment; Whence comest thou, Gehazi? Thy servant went no whither.
He, that had begun a lie to Naaman, ends it to his master. Whoso lets his tongue once loose to a wilful untruth, soon grows impudent in multiplying falsehoods.
Of what metal is the forehead of that man, that dares lie to a prophet? What is this, but to outface the senses?" Went not my heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Didst thou not till now know, O Gehazi, that prophets have spiritual eyes, which are not confined to bodily prospects? Didst thou not know, that their hearts were often, where they were not? Didst thou not know, that thy secretest ways were overlooked, by invisible witnesses? Hear then, and be convinced: hither thou wentest; thus thou saidst; thus thou didst; thus thou spedst."
What answer was now here, but confusion? Miserable Gehazi! how didst thou stand pale and trembling, before the dreadful tribunal of thy severe master; looking for the woeful sentence of some grievous judgment, for so heinous an offence? "Is this a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and, which thou hadst already purchased in thy conceit, olive-yards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and men servants, and maid servants? Did my mouth refuse; that thy hands might take? Was I so careful, to win honour to my God and credit to my profession, by denying these Syrian presents, that thou mightest dash both in receiving them? Was there no way to enrich thyself, but by belying thy master; by disparaging this holy function, in the eyes of a new convert? Since thou wouldst needs therefore take part of Naaman's treasure, take part with him in his leprosy ; The leprosy of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for
Oh, heavy talents of Gehazi! Oh the horror of this one unchangeable suit, which shall never be but loathsomely white, noisomely unclean! How much better had been a light purse and a homely coat with a sound body, a clear soul! Too late doth that wretched man now find, that he hath loaded himself
with a curse; that he hath clad himself with shame. His sin shall be read ever in his face, in his seed: all passengers, all posterities shall now say, "Behold the characters of Gehazi's covetousness, fraud, sacrilege!"
The act overtakes the word; He went out of his presence a leper as white as snow. It is a woeful exchange, that Gehazi hath made with Naaman. Naaman came a leper, returned a disciple; Gehazi came a disciple, returned a leper: Naaman left behind both his disease and money; Gehazi takes up both his money and his disease. Now shall Gehazi never look upon himself, but he shall think of Naaman, whose skin is transferred upon him with those talents; and shall wear out the rest of his days in shame, and pain, and sorrow. His tears may wash off the guilt of his sin; but shall not, like another Jordan, wash off his leprosy: that shall ever remain, as an hereditary monument of divine severity. This son of the prophets shall more loud and lively preach the justice of God by his face, than others by their tongue. Happy was it for him, if, while his skin was snow-white with leprosy, his humble soul were washed white as snow, with the water of true repentance.
CONTEMPLATION IX.-ELISHA RAISING THE IRON; BLINDING THE ASSYRIANS.
1 KINGS VI.
THERE was no loss of Gehazi: when he was gone, the prophets increased. An ill man in the Church is but like some shrubby tree in a garden, whose shade keeps 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 beam, and let us make us 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 refuse 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 more 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 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 super
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 the 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 misworshipped the true God; the Syrians worshipped a false. That, if it were possible, he might win them, he will preserve