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CONTEMPLATION VII.-ELISHA WITH THE
2 KINGS IV.
The holy prophets under the Old Testament did not abhor the marriage bed. They did not think themselves too pure, for an institution of their Maker.
The distressed widow of one of the sons of the prophets comes to Elijah, to bemoan her condition. Her husband is dead ; and dead in debt. Death hath no sooner seized on him, than her two sons, the remaining comfort of her life, are to be seized on, by his creditors, for bondmen. How thick did the miseries of this poor afflicted woman light upon her! Her husband is lost; her estate, clogged with debts; her children, ready to be taken for slaves ! Her husband was a religious and worthy man. He paid his debts to nature ; he could not, to his creditors. They are cruel ; and rake, in the scarce closed wound of her sorrow; passing an arrest, worse than death, upon her sons. Widowhood, poverty, servitude have conspired, to make her perfectly miserable.
Virtue and goodness can pay no debts. The holiest man may be deep in arrearages, and break the bank ; not through lavishness, and riot of expense; (religion teaches us to moderate our hands, to spend within the proportion of our estate ;) but through either iniquity of times or evil casualties.
Ahab and Jezebel were lately in the throne. Who can marvel, that a prophet was in debt? It was well, that any good man might have his breath free, though his estate were not.
Wilfully to overlash our ability cannot stand with wisdom and good government; but no providence can guard us from crosses. Holiness is no more defence against debt, than against death, Grace can keep us from unthriftiness ; not from want.
Whither doth the prophet's widow come to bewail her case, but to Elisha? Every one would not be sensible of her affliction; or if they would pity, yet could not relieve her: Elisha could do both. Into his ear doth she unload her griefs. It is no small point of wisdom, to know where to plant our lamentation ; otherwise, instead of comfort, we may meet with scorn and insultation.
None can so freely compassionate the hard terms of a prophet, as an Elisha. He finds, that she is not querulously impatient; expressing her sorrow, without murmuring and discontentment; making a loving and honourable mention of that husband, who had left her distressed: readily therefore doth he incline to her
What shall I do for thee? Tell me what hast thou in the house?
Elisha, when he hears of her debt, asks of her substance. Had her house been furnished with any valuable commodity, the prophet implies the necessity of selling it for satisfaction. Our own abundance can ill stand, with our engagement to others. It is great injustice, for us to be full of others' purses.
It is not our own, which we owe to another. What is it other than a plausible stealth, to feed our riot with the want of the owner ?
He, that could multiply her substance, could know it. God, and his prophet, loves to hear our necessities out of our own mouths ; Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil. It is neither news nor shame, for a prophet to be poor.
Grief and want, perhaps, hastened his end : both of them are left, for the dowry of his careful widow.
She had complained, if there had been any possibility of remedy at home. Bashfulness had stopped her mouth thus long, and should have done yet longer, if the exigence of her children's servitude had not opened it. No want is so worthy of relief, as that which is lothest to come forth. Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels ; borrow not a few ; and when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, and thou shalt set aside that which is full.
She, that owed much and had nothing, yet must borrow more, that she may pay all. Poverty had not so discredited her with her neighbours, that they should doubt to lend her those vessels empty, which they had grudged full.
Her want was too well known : it could not but seem strange to the neighbours, to see this poor widow so busily pestering her house with empty tubs, which they knew she had nothing to fill. They knew well enough she had neither field, nor vineyard, nor orchard ; and therefore must needs marvel, at such unprofitable diligence.
If their curiosity would be inquiring after her intentions, she is commanded secresy. The doors must be shut upon herself and her sons, while the oil is increasing: no eye shall see the miracle, in working ; enough shall see it, once wrought. This act was no less a proof of her faith, than an improvement of her estate : it was an exercise of her devotion, as well as of her diligence. It was fit her doors should be shut, while her heart' and lips were opened in a holy invocation.
Out of one small jar was poured out so much oil, as by miraculous multiplication filled all that empty cask. Scarce had that pot any bottom; at least, the bottom that it had, was to be measured by the brims of all those vessels : this was so deep, as they were high: could they have held more, this pot had not been empty. Even so the bounty of our God gives grace and glory according to the capacity of the receiver: when he ceaseth to infuse, it is for want of room in the heart, that takes it in:
could we hold more, O God, thou wouldest give more : if there be
any defect, it is in our vessels ; not in thy beneficence.
How did the heart of this poor widow run over, as with wonder so with joy and thankfulness,
to see such a river of oil rise out of so small a spring! To see all her vessels swimming full, with so beneficial a liquor !
Justly is she affected with this sight: she is not transported from her duty. I do not see her run forth into the street, and proclaim her store; nor calling in her neighbours, whether to admire or bargain : I see her running to the prophet's door, and gratefully acknowledging the favour, and humbly depending on his directions ; as not daring to dispose of that, which was so wondrously given her, without the advice of him, by whose powerful means she had received it. Her own reason might have sufficiently suggested what to do: she dares not trust it; but consults with the oracle of God. If we would walk surely, we must do nothing without a word. Every action, every motion, must have a warrant. We can no more err with this guide, than not err without him.
The prophet sets her in a right way; Go sell the oil, and pay thy debts, and live thou and thy children on the rest. The first care is of her debts ; the next, of her maintenance. It should be gross injustice, to raise means for herself and her charge, ere she have discharged the arrearages of her husband. None of the oil was hers, till her creditors were satisfied ; all was hers that remained. It is but stealth, to enjoy a borrowed substance. While she had nothing, it was no sin to owe; but when once her vessels were full, she could not have been guiltless, if she had not paid before she stored. God and his prophets were bountiful : after the debts paid, they provide not only against the thraldom of her charge, but against the want. It is the just care of a religious heart, to defend the widow and children of a prophet, from distress and penury.
Behold the true servant and successor of Elijah. What he did to the Sareptan widow, this did to the widow of a prophet. That increase of oil was by degrees, this at once ; both, equally miraculous: this, so much more charitable, as it less concerned himself.
He, that gives kindness, doth by turns receive them. Elisha hath relieved a poor woman, is relieved by a rich. The Shunamite, a religious and wealthy matron, invites him to her house ; and now, after the first entertainment, finding his occasions to call him to a frequent passage that way, moves her husband to set up and furnish a lodging for the man of God.
It was his holiness, that made her desirous of such a guest. Well might she hope, that such an inmate would pay a blessing for his house-rent. O happy Shunamite, that might make herself the hostess of Elisha!
As no less dutiful than godly, she imparts her desire to her husband, whom her suit hath drawn to a partnership in this holy hospitality. Blessed of God is that man, whose bed yields him a help to heaven.
The good Shunamite desires not to harbour Elisha in one of her wonted lodgings: she solicits her husband to build him a chamber on the wall, apart. She knew the tumult of a large family unfit for the quiet meditations of a prophet : retiredness is most meet for the thoughts of a seer.
Neither would she bring him to bare walls ; but sets ready for him a bed, a table, a stool, and a candlestick, and whatever necessary utensils, for his entertainment. The prophet doth not affect delicacy: she takes care to provide for his convenience. Those, that are truly pious and devout, think their houses and their hands cannot be too open, to the messengers of God; and are most glad, to exchange their earthly commodities for the others' spiritual. Superfluity should not fall within the care of a prophet, necessity must.
He, that could provide oil for the widow, could have provided all needful helps for himself. What room had there been, for the charity and beneficence of others, if the prophet should have always maintained himself, out of power?
The holy man is so far sociable, as not to neglect the friendly offer of so kind a benefactor. Gladly doth he take up
his lodging; and, as well pleased with so quiet a repose and careful attendance, he sends his servant Gehazi, with the message of his thanks, with a treaty of retribution ; Behold, thou hast been careful for us, with all this care : What is to be done for thee? Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host ? An ingenuous disposition cannot receive favours, without thoughts of return. A wise debtor is desirous to retribute in some kind, as may be most acceptable to his obligers. Without this discretion, we may offer such requitals, as may seem goodly to us; to our friends, worthless. Every one can choose best for himself. Elisha therefore, who had never been wanting in spiritual duties to so hospitable a friend, gives the Shunamite the election of her suit, for temporal recompense also. No man can be a loser, by his favour to a prophet.
It is a good hearing, that an Elisha is in such grace at the court that he can promise himself access to the king, in a friend's suit. It was not ever thus. The time was, when his master heard, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? Now, the late miracle which Elisha wrought, in gratifying the three kings with water and victory, hath endeared him to the king of Israel; and now, “Who but Elisha?" Even that rough mantle finds respect, amongst those silks and tissues. As bad as Jehoram was, yet he honoured the man of God. He, that could not prevail with
an idolatrous king, in a spiritual reformation, yet can carry a civil suit.
Neither doth the prophet, in a sullen discontentment, fly off from the court, because he found his labours unprofitable ; but still holds good terms with that prince, whom he cannot reclaim; and will make use, notwithstanding, of his countenance, in matters, whether of courtesy or justice. We may not cast off our due respects; even to faulty authority ; but must still submit and persist, where we are repelled.
Not to his own advancement; doth Elisha desire to improve the king's favour, but to the behoof, to the relief of others. If the Shunamite have business at the court, she shall need no other solicitor. There cannot be a better office, nor more beseeming a prophet, than to speak in the cause of the dumb; to befriend the oppressed ; to win greatness, unto the protection of inno
The good matron needs no shelter of the great ; I dwell among mine own people ; as if she said, “ The courtesy is not small in itself, but not useful to me. I live here quietly, in a contented obscurity; out of the reach, either of the glories or cares of a court; free from wrongs ; free from envies : not so high, as to provoke an evil eye : not so low, as to be trodden on. I have neither fears nor ambitions. My neighbours are my friends; my friends are my protectors ; and, if I should be so unhappy as to be the subject of main injuries, would not stick to be mine advocates. This favour is for those, that either affect greatness, or groan under oppressions : I do neither; for, I live among mine own people.” O Shunamite, thou shalt not escape envy! Who can hear of thy happy condition, and not say, "Why am not I thus!"
If the world afford any perfect contentment, it is in a middle estate; equally distant from penury, from excess: it is in a calm freedom, a secure tranquillity, a sweet fruition of ourselves, of
But what hold is there, of these earthly things? How long is the Shunamite thus blessed with peace? Stay but a while, you shall see her come on her knees to the king of Israel; pitifully complaining, that she was stripped of house and land : and now, Gehazi is fain to do that good office for her, which was not accepted from his master. Those, that stand fastest upon earth, have but slippery footing. No man can say, that he shall not need friends.
Modesty sealed up the lips of the good Shunamite : she was ashamed to confess her longing: Gehazi easily guessed, that her barrenness could not but be her affliction. She was childless : her husband old : Elisha gratifies her with the news of a son ; About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace u son! How liberal is God, by his prophet, in giving beyond her