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main, shall be caught up, together with the raised bodies of thy saints, into the clouds, to meet thee in the air, to dwell with thee in glory.
Many forms have those celestial spirits taken to themselves, in their apparitions to men; but, of all other, most often hath the Almighty made his messengers a flame of fire : never more properly, than here. How had the Spirit of God kindled the hot fires of zeal, in the breast of Elijah! How had this prophet thrice commanded fire from heaven to earth! How fitly now, at last, do these seraphical fires carry him from earth to heaven!
What do we see in this rapture of Elijah, but violence and terror, whirlwind and fire ; two of those fearful representations, which the prophet had in the rock of Horeb? Never any man entered into glory with ease. Even the most favourable change hath some equivalency to a natural dissolution. Although, doubtless, to Elijah, this fire had a lightsomeness and resplendence, not terror; this whirlwind had speed, not violence. Thus hast thou, O Saviour, bidden us, when the elements shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be flaming about our ears, to lift up our heads with joy, because our redemption draweth nigh. Come death, come fire, come whirlwind; they are worthy to be welcome, that shall carry us to immortality.
This arreption was sudden; yet Elisha sees both the chariot, and the horses, and the ascent; and cries to his now changed master, between heaven and earth, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. Shaphat, of Abel-meholah, hath yielded this title to Elijah ; the natural father of Elisha, to the spiritual. Neither of them may be neglected; but, after the yoke of oxen killed at the farewell, we hear of no more greetings, no more bewailings, of his bodily parent; and now, that Elijah is taken from him, he cries out like a distressed orphan, My father, my father; and when he hath lost the sight of him, he rends his clothes in pieces, according to the fashion of the most passionate mourners.
That Elisha sees his master half way in heaven, cannot take away the sorrow of his loss. The departure of a faithful prophet of God is worthy of our lamentation.
Neither is it private affection, that must sway our grief, but respects to the public : Elisha says, not only, My father, but the chariot and horsemen of Israel. That we have foregone a father should not so much trouble us, as that Israel hath lost his guard. Certainly, the view of this heavenly chariot and horses, that came for Elijah, puts Elisha in mind of that chariot and horsemen, which Elijah was to Israel. These were God's chariots ; Elijah was theirs. God's chariot and theirs are, upon the same wheels, mounted into heaven. No forces are so strong, as the spiritual. The prayers of an Elijah are more powerful, than all the armies of Hesh. The first thing that this seer discerns, after the separation of his master, is, the nakedness of Israel in his loss. If we muster soldiers, and lose zealous prophets, it is but a woeful exchange.
Elijah's mantle falls from him, in the rising. There was no use of that, whither he was going; there was, whence he was taken, Elisha justly takes up this dear monument of his glorified master; a good supply for his rent garments : this was it, which, in presage of his future right, Elijah invested him withal, upon the first sight, when he was ploughing with the twelve yoke of oxen ; now it falls from heaven to his possession. I do not see him adore so precious a relique : I see him take it up; cast it about him.
Pensive and masterless doth he now come back to the banks of Jordan ; whose stream he must pass, in his return to the schools of the prophets. Erewhile, he saw what way that river gave to the mantle of Elijah. He knew that power was not in the cloth, but in the spirit of him that wore it; to try therefore, whether he were no less the heir of that spirit, than of that garment, He took the mantle of Elijah, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? Elisha doth not expostulate and challenge, but pray. As if he had said ; "Lord God, it was thy promise to me by my departed master, that, if I should see him in his last passage, a double portion of his spirit should be upon me. I followed him with my eyes, in that fire and whirlwind; now therefore, O God, make good thy gracious word to thy servant: shew some token upon me for good : make this the first proof of the miraculous
power, wherewith thou shalt endue me: let Jordan give the same way to me, as it gave to my master.” Immediately, the stream, as acknowledging the same mantle, though in another hand, divides itself, and yields passage to the successor of Elijah.
The fifty sons of the prophets, having been afar off witnesses of these admirable events, do well see, that Elijah,
though translated in body, hath yet left his spirit behind him. They meet Elisha, and bow themselves to the ground before him. It was not the outside of Elijah, which they had wont to stoop unto, with so much veneration : it was his spirit; which, since they now find in another subject, they entertain with equal reverence. No envy, no emulation, raiseth up their stomachs against Elijah's servant; but, where they see eminent graces, they are willingly prostrate. Those, that are truly gracious, do no less rejoice in the riches of others' gifts, than humbly undervalue their own. These men were trained up in the schools of the prophets; Elisha, at the plough and cart; yet now they stand not upon terms of their worth and his meanness, but meekly fall down before him whom God will honour. It is not to be regarded, who the man is, but whom God would make him. The more unlikely the means is, the more is the glory of the workman. It is the praise of a holy ingenuity, to magnify the graces of God, wherever it finds them.
These young prophets are no less full of zeal, than reverence; zeal to Elijah, reverence to Elisha. They see Elijah carried up
in the air ; they knew this was not the first time of his supernatural removal; imagining it therefore possible, that the Spirit of God had cast him upon some remote mountain or valley, they proffer the labour of their servants to seek him. In some things, even pro-. fessed seers are blind : Could they think God would send such a chariot and horses, for a less voyage than heaven?
Elisha, knowing his master beyond all the sphere of mortality, forbids them. Good will makes them unmannerly : their importunity urges him, till he is ashamed: not his approbation, but their vehemence, carries at last a condescent: else, he might perhaps have seemed enviously unwilling, to fetch back so admired a master; and loth to forego that mantle. Some things may be yielded, for the redeeming of our own vexation, and avoidance of others' misconstruction, which, out of true judgment, we see no cause to affect.
The messengers, tired with three days' search, turn back, as wise as they went. Some men are best satisfied, when they have wearied themselves in their own ways: nothing will teach them wit, but disappointments. Their painful error leads them to a right conceit of Elijah's happier transportation.
Those, that would find Elijah, let them aspire to the heavenly Paradise. Let them follow the high steps of his sincere faithfulness, strong patience, undaunted courage, fervent zeal. Shortly, let them walk in the ways of his holy and constant obedience : at last, God shall send the fiery chariot of death, to fetch them up to that heaven of heavens, where they shall triumph in everlasting joys.
2 Kings ii.
ELISHA HEALING THE WATERS, CURSING THE CHIL
DREN, RELIEVING THE KINGS. It is good making use of a prophet, while we have him. Elisha stayed some while at Jericho : the citizens resort to him, with a common suit : their structure was not more pleasant, than their waters unwholsome ; and their soil, by those corrupt waters: they sųe to Elisha for the remedy.
Why had they not, all this while, made their moan to Elijah ? Was it, that they were more awed, with his greater austerity Or was it, that they met not with so fit an opportunity of his commoration amongst them? It was told them, what power Elisha had exercised upon the waters of Jordan; and now they ply him for theirs. Examples of beneficence easily move us, to a request and expectation of favours.
What ailed the waters of Jericho ? Surely, originally they were not ill affected. No men could be so foolish, as to build a city, where neither earth nor water were useful. Mere prospect could not carry men to the neglect of health and profit. Hiel, the Bethelite, would never have reedified it, with danger of a curse, so lately as in the days of Ahab, if it had been of old notorious for so foul an annoyance. Not therefore the ancient malediction of Joshua, not the neighbourhood of that noisome lake of Sodom, was guilty of this disease of the soil and waters, but the late sins of the inhabitants: He turneth the rivers into a wilderness, and water
springs into a dry ground; a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein. How oft have we seen the same field both full and famishing! How oft, the same waters both safe, and by some irruption or new tincture, hurtful! Howsoever natural causes may concur, heaven, and earth, and air, and waters follow the temper of our souls, of our lives; and are therefore indisposed, because we are so.
Jericho began now to make itself capable of a better state, since it was now become a receptacle of prophets. Elisha is willing to gratify his hosts. It is reason, that any place should fare the better for the presence of divines.
The medicine is more strange, than the disease; Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. Why a cruse? why new? why salt in that new cruse? How should salt make water potable? Or, if there were any such virtue in it, what could a cruseful do to a whole current ? Or, if that measure were sufficient, what was the age of the cruse to the force of the salt? Yet Elisha calls for salt in a new cruse. God, who wrought this by his prophet, is a free agent. As he will not bind his power to means, so will he by his power bind unlikely means to perform his will. Natural properties have no place in miraculous works. No less easy is it for God, to work by contrary, than subordinate powers.
The prophet doth not cast the salt into the channel, but into the spring, of the waters. If the fountain be redressed, the streams cannot be faulty ; as contrarily, the purity and soundness of the stream avails nothing, to the redress of the fountain. Reformation must begin at the well head of the abuse. The order of being is a good guide to the method of amending. Virtue doth not run backward. Had Elisha cast the salt into the brooks and ditches, the remedy must have striven against the stream, to reach up to the spring : now it is but one labour, to cure the fountain. Our heart is a well of bitter and venomous water; our actions are the streams: in vain shall we cleanse our hands, while our hearts are evil.
The cruse and the salt must be their own; the act must be his; the
power, God's: he cast the salt into the spring, and said; Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barrenness. Far was it from Elisha, to challenge ought to himself. Before, when he should divide the waters of Jordan, he did not say, " Where is the power of Elisha ?” but, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? And now, when he should cure the waters of Jericho, he says not, “ Thus saith Elisha," but, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters. How careful is the man of God, that no part of God's glory should stick to his own fingers ! Jericho shall know, to whom they owe the blessing; that they may duly return the thanks. Elisha professes he can do no more of himself, than that salt, than that cruse: only God shall work by him, by it; and whatever that Almighty hand undertakes cannot fail, yea is already done. Neither doth he say, “ I will heal,” but, I have healed. Even so, O God, if thou cast into the foun
tain of our hearts but one cruseful of the salt of thy Spirit, we are whole : no thought can pass, between the receipt and the remedy.
As the general visitor of the schools of the prophets, Elisha passeth from Jericho to that other college at Bethel. Bethel was a place of strange composition: there were, at once, the golden calf of Jeroboam, and the school of God: true religion and idolatry found a free harbour, within those walls. I do not marvel, that God's prophets would plant there : there was the most need of their presence, where they found the spring head of corruption : physicians are of most use, where diseases do abound.
As he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said to him, Goup, thou baldhead; Go up, thou bald-head. Even the very boys of Bethel have learned to scoff at a prophet : the spite of their idolatrous parents is easily propagated. Children are such as their institution. Infancy is led altogether by imitation : it hath neither words nor actions, but infused by others : if it have good or ill language, it is but borrowed; and the shame or thank is due, to those that lent it them.
What was it, that these ill-taught children upbraided to the prophet, but a slight natural defect, not worthy the name of a blemish, the want of a little hair? at the best, a comely excrement, no part of the body. Had there been deformity in that smoothness of the head, which some great wits have honoured with praises, a faultless and remediless eyesore had been no fit matter for a taunt,
How small occasions will be taken to disgrace a prophet! If they could have said ought worse, Elisha had not heard of this. God had crowned that head with honour, which the Bethelitish children loaded with scorn.
Who would have thought the rude terms of waggish boys worthy of any thing but neglect ? Elisha looks at them with severe brows, and, like the heir of him that called down fire upon the two captains and their fifties, curses them in the name of the Lord. Two she-bears out of the wood hasten to be his executioners, and tear two and forty of them in pieces. O fearful example of divine justice! This was not the revenge of an angry prophet: it was the punishment of a righteous judge. God and his seer looked through these children, at the parents, at all Israel. He would punish the parents' misnurturing their children, to the contemptuous usage of a prophet, with the death of those children, which they had mistaught: he would teach Israel, what it was to misuse a prophet : and, if he would not endure these contumelies unrevenged in the mouths of children, what vengeance was enough for aged persecutors ?
Doubtless, some of the children escaped, to tell the news of their fellows. What lamentation do we think there was, in the streets of Bethel! How did the distressed mothers wring their hands, for this woeful orbation! And now, when they came forth to fetch the remnants of their own flesh, what a sad spectacle it was, to find the fields strewed with those mangled carcases ! It is an un